and introducing: Hotkey
The team embarks on a run of more successful missions after that last embarrassment, and surveils the meeting between Evelyn North and the CIA head, who both seem to indeed be undercover Black Lodge members. North reports in in a confusing conversational code, but the team gleans a lot of interesting info. They use a super low-tech battery powered, magnetically shielded recorder, hidden and retrieved in the restaurant where the meeting took place a day before/after. Old school gets the goods. The BL seems to also be seeking Bryson Church, and worried about what powers he may have with the dagger. They are also keeping an eye on Tan Robe activities, as well as tarot stuff. They also catch a hint about a BL spy in STV, confirming Schmidt’s suspicions.
The team then makes a recon pass by Church’s motel safehouse after doing some local shadow digging to find out where he might’ve gone. He seems to be turning and controlling shedim who come looking for him from Arlington, as well as providing a source of bodies between motel guests/staff and the large tent city in the parking lot adjacent. They call up Ben Maddox for additional support, and plan an assault. The plan goes pretty well, and they kill Church and retrieve the dagger with no deaths, though many serious injuries, in the team. Maddox proves to be skilled but a bit of a wildcard, though his use of the Crystal Bloodblade (unknown to him) free Jonny from it’s curse. Over in Ethiomalia, deep in a hidden delta lab, he begins his reconstruction.
Church seems to have acquired secret magical abilities to not only summon and control shedim, but also to summon and bind shadow spirits. His death frees the 2 shadow spirits he has bound, who begin causing chaos around DC (and who easily demanifest to escape Kinnie’s grav ray). The team decides to pass the dagger along to Fargus Sol’s contact, who turns out to be the great feathered serpent Arleesh, who has a rep for helping to protect metahumanity from dangerous magic. This improves their loyalty with Fargus, Madeline gets the benefit of controlling the situation without the boon of the dagger, which she doesn’t seem to consider too great of a loss (given her worries about infiltrators at the firm).
However, while they were assaulting Church’s hideout, the Shedim at Arlington staged an attack on the Black Wolf. It seems to have eventually reached some kind of detente, and was heavily covered up. Schmidt wants details. The team digs into it, and determines that the shedim and BL have some sort of peace deal (impossibly) and presumably know who and what they have in Malcolm West by now. They watch the bar and see that the BL has ramped up security significantly. They see some shedim roll up on the quarter moon, and be allowed in- seemingly some sort of power-sharing deal. Worried about what this entails, they decide to tip off Otto Stevens.
He responds quickly, setting off a small EMP locally, and sending in Firewatch sniper teams to clear out the BL exterior guards, as a few large vans dump a bunch of mixed-type bugs into the front of the bar. An FW team follows up with one of the portal disruption devices from Project: Bottleneck, which Maddox ID’s. After this seems to disrupt the ritual, a large box truck rolls up out front, and a Dr. Ellis (the team’s contact person, via Stevens), emerges to oversee the use of some sort of new ARES project: some kind of bug/tech merge that easily eliminates the other mixed bugs as they are chased out of the Black Wolf. ARES clears out, and the team follows, as the BL begins to re-establish a perimeter. Most of the shedim also survived, it seems, and the team knows they’ve only bought a little time- at least a quarter moon, at most a lunar cycle.
The good news is, Schmidt has 2 leads as to who the moles at STV may be, given the fact that two junior associates have been doing a lot of back and forth negotiating, seemingly on behalf of BL and Shedim interests. She wants them checked out to see if/how corrupted they are. The team also does some further experimentation on the Bloodblade, and Kinnie transfers the curse to himself as a test, with only a minimal use, to keep Maddox from taking massive damage every morning. They debate passing it off to Arleesh, but hold off for now. 6 Cyl receives a new 6WT card as a bonus from Sol, and the team examines it and discusses the prophecies again. Some on the team also get some exciting new gear through Sol’s connections to the Ex-Corporate Scientist lab.
Schmidt also wants them to look into an item called the Devil’s Seal, that can supposedly close off portals to metaplanes, and which all 3 factions badly want. The shedim may not be aware of it yet, but the insect mole at STV was looking into before his death. They decide to prioritize the moles, and start digging. One of the woman, Deirdre Green, seems to be a competitor of Schmidt’s within the firm, and likely is representing the shedim as clients, but doesn’t seem to have been compromised. Shane Berkwerth, on the other hand, seems to be fully controlled by the Black Lodge. He seems to have some resentment of his situation but is using encrypted burners to set meets in the woods near Langley, and the team knows the BL has heavily infiltrated the CIA, including it’s head.
They eventually manage to track Berkwerth to one of the meets, using a combo of physical, magic, and drone surveillance, and Holly takes him out afterwards, and grabs his comm, though unfortunately is spotted by a powerful spirit that accompanied whoever he met with. Ben Maddox splits off from the team since they didn’t find a shedim infiltrator for him to target, and returns to working with Loveland on her investigations- she warns the team that he’s getting pretty gung-ho about raiding one of the shedim bases to get some revenge.
Meanwhile, in Hong Kong, Prot0 has been running some prep missions for the big raid on the Wuxing Frequency factory in Canton, and has recruited and tried out some local talent. He liked a hobgoblin decker named Hotkey, but he was forced to flee HK due to his political agitating for a Mongolian goblinized state. Prot0 recommended that Hotkey head for DeeCee, as he knew the team needed a new decker. Hotkey links up with the crew and makes introductions, he’s also a Conservatory member to they regain access to that resource. In Ethiomalia, Jonny’s extensive rebuild continues.
Back in DeeCee HK helps hack Berkwerths comm, and finds some gnarly IC on there- he nearly gets fried, but gets some comms logs helping prove Berkwerth’s status as a double agent, linked up with the surveillance data the team got, which Schmidt says will be useful if she ever had to justify her actions. Schmidt also reports that Green spotted their surveillance attempts on her and has used it as leverage for an internal power play. In order to keep her position and make peace, Schmidt has had to arrange for Green to have use of the team for an unspecified future job.
They next turn their attention to the Devil’s Seal, and get some info from the Catholics, from 6C’s secret BL knowledge, from Tarantula/000 000 000, and from HK’s matrix digging. They find a list of a half dozen potential properties that it could have wound up at, if it is indeed in DC, and start checking them out. The eccentric billionaire who owned it had diverse interests and holdings so they spend the better part of a day cruising around town before finding the site, and also discover that one of the powerful shadow spirits that they freed by killing Bryson Church has set up a trap house in the blood dust barrens with a bunch of feral ghouls, to feed on misery. There is a still a bounty posted for the spirits, so they debate taking it out, but decide to hold off. They also see that there’s a bounty posted for Holly for her murder of Berkwerth- they don’t have a perfect image, but pixies are very rare in DC.
At the likely site of the Devil’s Seal, they find a strange astral phenomena, as promised: an aspected mana void. It seems to prevent summoning and unravel bindings of spirits. They make contact with a squatter community there, and meet it’s “representative”, a scarred pale man named Cairo, who refuses to confirm they have the Seal but also refuses to hand it over or let the team further into the bank vault they call home. The bank and other nearby businesses seem to be flourishing more so that the surrounding area, though not in a super conspicuous way, and the team does some digging. Apparently Cairo and some others in the community are known to be magic users with strange powers, and have good connections to some local runners. When Guy calls around, he gets ahold of that team, who seem to be hooders, and when HK analyzes their data trails, they seem to be watching the team at the moment. They have a funny exchange where the team agrees to leave, for now, being told by the the hooders that they’d prefer not to shed blood but feel compelled to defend their friends in the bank.
They puzzle it out a bit and do more research before contacting Cairo again, and confirm that he is indeed a free spirit, and it seems like he and some others of his kind who accidentally were set free by their binders bringing the unwittingly into the Devil’s Seal’s range have made a little community there, and seek to free other spirits in their same situation. They also look after the other drifters, runners, shopkeeps and whatnot who make up their community, with magical support and protection. The team makes a complex deal, after 6C and some others insist on not fucking this community over, to get the Seal to Arleesh, in exchange for protection of the community. They get Schmidt on board by having her act as the middleman for the deal- she is upset about not gaining the Seal for the firm, but having a connection to a great dragon and some powerful free spirits is also a win. Schmidt helps get the spirits legal ID’s in jurisdictions that recognize them as entities, and Arleesh makes them her emissaries locally. STV agrees to continue upkeep of the wards and whatnot that the spirits installed in the area as a “charitable venture” funded by a donation from Arleesh.
This increases Fargus Sol’s trust in the team enough that he finally connects them with Emily Llanfrechfa, the Welsh tarot seer who makes large oil paintings of the art on the cards based on her visions. He says that if the team has visual information they need to know from a card they haven’t encountered, he can share what she has seen, which may prove helpful. They also hear back from Loveland that the shedim are worried the BL is close to acquiring, or may have, another artifact called the Sable Blade, or the Sword of Serrin Sol, which supposedly can completely destroy spirits. They do some research and find some descriptive info. Schmidt tracks down an auction where a blade matching the description is being sold, and tells the team to get there asap and acquire it for the Firm- she fears this is why the BL was willing to cooperate with the shedim temporarily after the raid on the Black Wolf- they had an expectation of acquiring this weapon which could totally wreck shedim, seemingly. Schmidt also wants them to track down Camille Rivers, aka Agent X, who has gone missing.