The team spends some time tracking down Agent X, following hints to a local runner named Wandering Horse. Him and Jonny have a tense meeting, while OE notices in astral that WH is well-defended by air spirits in case anything goes awry. However, he seems happy to part with his info, once they prove they are “friends” of Maddox’s and not seeking Agent X to harm her. They get some ID info and background- she’s some kind of government hacker who’s gone rogue recently, Firewatch and others are looking for her and there is a bounty out.
Aylin also calls in to the Neon Ascension conspiracy podcast and crafts a subtle hint to try to get Agent X to a meeting, based on the personal info they discover. The shedim keep hassling Prot0 for more info, so he calls STV and asks them to negotiate on the team’s behalf, figuring they can make a better choice of what info to share (or not). Aylin goes solo to the meet, but has the team on standby nearby in case of emergency. Agent X sends a drone but agrees to cooperate, seemingly excited that the team is looking into some of the same things as her.
She warns of a congregation of powerful insect spirits in DC and some sort of unification of the different hives. She has ID’ed 2 prominent figures involved, the sleazy elf Stokes and someone else she merely calls “ARES man.” The team decides to track Stokes down by surveilling the shelter the two teens they killed were from, and also agree to keep an eye out for 2 more missing teens that Agent X/Camille Rivers seems attached to.
They scout the shelter a bit, but don’t see any signs, so they hack into an internal comms log and find records that some employees were concerned about a sleazy elf hanging around nearby and approaching kids as they leave. So the team follows some kids leaving on foot, and spots them entering a dilapidated building (& meeting Stokes?) a short distance away. Jonny tries to sneak around the side but gets spotted by Stokes, who invisibly KO’s him with manabolts, proving to be a reasonably powerful mage. Guy, hanging back, spots some FedPol detectives roll up to the school in an unmarked car, it seems the cops are on this too…
Ptor0 tracks the fleeing Stokes with his drone swarm whilehe & Aylin chase on foot, and OE keeps an eye in astral. Kinnie approaches Jonny to see what he can do and finds that Stokes trapped the body with Jonny’s own foam explosive. Him and Guy manage to verrrrry carefully shape concrete under Jonny while cutting him out of his clothes and lift him off the foam explosive without detonating it, and they bring the van around to where the others have caught up to Stokes. Aylin cuts off one of his legs with the monofil, but he shoots her with a sawed-off in response, so Prot0 KO’s him with Stick’n’Shock. Aylin quickly reads his mind and finds out what he’s been up to.
He was sent to DeeCee to lay some groundwork for a man named Otto Stevens, who is “Ares Man”. Stokes wants to become an insect shaman, and it seems Stevens has been leading him along with promises that he can make this happen (whether or not he actually can). Stokes has been kidnapping and recruiting from various at-risk communities around the sprawl to make friends of all the local insect hives, in preparation for what, he doesn’t know. The team, disgusted by this slimy elf, kills him and sells the remains to a ghoul-run meat shop in Potomac called “Special’s Meats” that they are referred to by STV.
Next, they rest and heal and then research Stevens, who also used to go by Hendricks, it seems. He seems to either be a double or triple agent, working with Ares against bugs, or with bugs against Ares from the inside. They set up a meet, and find that he has an impressive office with a commanding view of downtown. He and Jonny have an intense and somewhat intimidating convo where Stevens claims to be a deep cover Ares operative using his knowledge of and connection to bug hives to turn them against the Black Lodge and Shedim in DeeCee (as well as each other) before destroying them. He offers up his own explanations for the Ford’s Theater debacle, and hints that there is a powerful magical shadow war on the brink of kicking off in DC, so he encourages the team to tell their employers to dig further if they want to maintain the peace.
He gives them one name, a woman he says is responsible for the bad tip about the Ford’s Theater: Sahara Jones. The team prepares to report back to STV, get paid, and see if they want to hire them to keep digging.