Lodestone waits in the hospital with the coma-state Zuberi until the ex-Tir Paladins that Ehran the Scribe sent finally arrive. Rooster and LS grab a drink, and Rooster secretly slips some nanotags into LS’ drink, as part of the setup for an epic prank (having been getting the itch from his trickster mentor spirit). Rooster then says his goodbyes, and flies to Montreal, before heading for the backcountry domicile of LS’ clan. Their anti-government libertarian philosophies leave them a bit suspicious of the smooth-talking outsider, but Rooster is eventually able to convince them of his plan to throw a surprise birthday celebration for LS, by luring him to a party using a fake kidnapping of his family as the ruse. He travels with them to Seattle, to rendevouz with LS and TY (and maybe Zuberi?) once they arrive.
Saul takes off to visit Mir Cossint, in order to make amends for sullying her name by stealing from the Doctor Faustus Society while attending their gala on her invitation. Wanting to stay in good with Saeder-Krupp, he needs to make this right, so he tells the team he will meet them when he is able.
The Paladins arrive, and LS helps them set up, while TY provides security. Their combat hacker hooks Zuberi up to UV node via a sophisticated trode array, and they wake him up in the UV node, which he takes as reality, filtered through whatever drugs they have him on. LS fills Zuberi in on the true nature of the Dark Realm, based on his research and his recent near-death experience. Zuberi doesn’t seem super receptive, and tries to cast some spells- being in a UV node, he is surprised to find himself unable to access his usual mana source. He assaults the two Paladins in the node, and they easily ko him. LS then suggests that they medically kill Zuberi, allowing him to see the Dark Realm for himself, and then resucitate him. They do so.
Zuberi sees the Dark Realm, and recognizes that the ritual he has been performing has been sending people’s spirits there as he thought. However, there is a 2nd, hidden portion of the ritual that he is able to determine is a form of the sacrifice metamagic which is powering the slaughter spirit with whom his ancestors made their fatal pact. It seems the spirits are ripped apart or possibly destroyed in the process- this is not the wya he was taught the DR would be. As he slips further from life, he finds himself pulled towards a dark swirling mass of pain, suffering, and terror- a sort of elemental fear encompasses him. He initially resists being brought back to life, wishing to learn more. He is able to deduce the basics of a ritual to break the spirits connection to it’s personal area of the metaplance, and then brought back to life by the paladins, after some sort of spiritual energy tentacle reaches out of the dark swirling mass encompassing much of his sphere of vision, heavily injuring, and ending his resistance to the healing that the Paladins are offering.
Zuberi tells LS that he will help him banish this spirit, who Zuberi sees as an impostor in the DR. LS insists that Zuberi must stop doing the ritual, and sending people there, and powering the spirit. But Zuberi says that he will defeat the spirit and take over the DR for himself, and continue on to his destiny of being the last living being. LS tells the Paladins to kill him, as he is totally intractable. They run a fatal feedback loop through Zuberi’s mind, erasing his personality and sending him into a permanent vegetative state- they wish to leave his body alive to deny the spirit the additional power it would gain from Zuberi’s death. Zuberi experiences a rising wave of ecstasy ending in his dissolution- which he believes is his personal ascension to the Dark Realm, though his quest is incomplete. Zuberi was idly drawing out his ritual to separate the spirit from the source of it’s power on the bedsheet in his own blood while they had their convo, and LS makes note of the symbols, to be analyzed later.
TY is disturbed by the fact that LS would turn on as old an comrade as Zuberi, fearing for his own longterm safety, but keeps it to himself, as Zuberi was a bit of a problem. TY and LS head to the airport, Ehran having wired them money to purchase tickets on a suborbital business flight to Seattle to meet in person. The Paladins say they will deal with storing Zuberi’s body, using his collection of gems to pay for his upkeep. TY, feeling paranoid, checks out the other passengers, but doesn’t get anything notable. They both have their ’ware deactivated, and LS is put in mage cuffs, which will deliver a powerful shock if he tries to go astral of cast any spells.
At the height of the semi-ballistic’s arc, TY notices a man slump over half the plane up. The steward approaches the man, and is grabbed by his seatmate, who has freed himself from his restraints (being in super low-g, these are mandatory), and who appears to have his ‘ware active, as he pops out some cyberclaws to menace the steward with. He claims to have had a bomb implanted in his head, and says that his co-conspirator on the plane will detonate it if the people on the plane don’t kill LS and TY. He also says that he has taken out the Corporate Air Marshal, pointing to the slumped man. TY bursts his bonds as LS casts a spell, risking the shock. He drops the hijakcer with an overpowered stunbolt, but between the drain and the magecuff shock, he is ko’d also. As the hacker loses consciousness, he says “Hamshallow sends his regards…” which disturbs the team. TY leaps to the front, and after intimidating the steward to get together, they pry the emergency escape open, and chuck the hijacker out, just before he explodes. TY almost falls out of the plane also in the decompression rush, but is just able to haul himself back in. The pilot deploys emergency oxygen (not having lot of control over the arc-ed portion of their flight), and advises everyone to hold on tight during descent and pressurization. TY hops back to his seat, hooks LS up to his mask so he doesn’t suffocate, and then leaps forward again, and straps into the erstwhile hijacker’s seat, as his straps were ruined.
They land safely, and the steward, a dwarf who introduces himself as Luca Barone helps them escape (pretending that they are forcing him), just before they plane is boarded by airport security- they also had a military jet escort flying in. Barone thanks them for saving his life (and the plane), and tells them that he will try to safely get their luggage to them, and gives them his contact for when they have somewhere to have it delivered. They flee, with Baelor providing concealment. They are briefly spotted while breaking though the fence, but manage to ditch pursuit in an industrial area nearby and find a cab. TY calls Jinichiro Utse, who tells them he can hook them up with a hacker to get all their ’ware back on (and their datatrails hacked) if they can get to Topside and pay a small fee. They agree.
Arriving at the smuggler’s bar, they find a small drone waiting for them, and a heavily modified voice (using a speaker on the drone) introduces itself as Sem-par- the drone is broadcasting the winking face emoticon in an ARO like so ;), so the team takes his name to be short for semi-colon / parenthesis. He gets their ‘ware up and running and covers their digital tracks. They contact Ehran, who tells them to get settled and get their gear before meeting up. They find a secure hotel, heal up a bit, and rendevouz with Sem-par IRL- they are a sneaky mage/hacker of indeterminate age, race, metatype, and gender decked out in full ruthenium polymer gear and a holohood expressing emoticons. SP seems eager to latch onto some recognizable ’runners, which TY sees as a good opportunity to get some local help, but LS is initially suspicious. They tell SP they will call when they’re needed again, and they leave. LS gets a strange message in a cipher, which TY eventually id’s and decrypts- it says “I have your family.”
LS panics a bit, and shortly after deciphering it receives a 2nd coded message, telling him to go to a nearby intersection and look north. He does, along with TY and SP doing some drone scouting. LS sees a nearby store ARO switch to a feed of his family sitting in a room at a table, and then receives another message, telling him he has 10 minutes to get to a distant address. He races there with SP on SP’s motorcycle while TY follows in a cab. They enter the building, and find Rooster’s surprise party for LS, and his family safe and sound- good prank, all in all! They party, and TY arrives to join in. LS tells Rooster to get SP out of there, as he doesn’t want someone he doesn’t know meeting his family, so Rooster and SP go out drinking. They seem like the perfect pair- Rooster loves telling tales, and SP loves hearing them.
The next day, they get their gear from Barone after paying some bribe money, but hear that they are wanted for questioning. They decide to contact the joygirl they heard about who might know someone who knows about Jane’s past before doing Ehran’s next job, as they are both feeling especially paranoid. They meet with SEATac Sweetie, and save her from some ganger assassins, TY soaking a bunch of gunfire as he shields her bodily, and Rooster literally disarming one of the gangers with his sword. They flee, with SS, though Rooster stays behind (after altering his looks) to distract pursuers. They scan the mind of the one ganger they ko’d and grabbed, and find that they were hired from the Redmond Barrens, given their guns and vehicles, and a picture of the target, but knew nothing else. They ditch him in an alley, alive, feeling generous.
SS tells them her name is Violet, and thanks them. She tells them she will take them to see the man they seek. They go out to his private island, which is patrolled by a bunch of home-made scrap drones and some various paranormal critters. They reach the house, and after an introduction, TY and LS sit down to dinner with an old decker named Kelvin. He tells them about Jane’s past: her origins as a go-ganger in Missouri, her encounters with Dragons and powerful elves, and her time on his team. She became their leader, but bailed on the team during an ambush, in order to get back a ring that she always wore, which their adversaries had stolen. Half the team died, and she bailed out of Seattle- he hasn’t seen her since. He retired on his earnings, and now rarely sees anyone: he just tinkers with his drones and animals, and posts on old decker boards occasionally. Kelvin resents her, to some extent, for choosing an item over the team, and warns the runners that her top priority isn’t necessarily their survival. He seems mostly just old and a bit out-of-date: his once hot tech is a decade behind, and years in the shadows took their toll. The team perhaps contemplates their futures a bit.
Heading back to the mainland, happy to know a bit more about Jane but not overly stressed about her past, they contact Ehran and tell him they are ready to meet.