Three By Shadow

Act II: Culexus - Scene II

7106 S Harvard Ave, Chicago - East Coast Massive Headquarters


The elven rigger pilots Boxcar Rebellion carefully through the neighborhoods leading up to Harvard avenue, then pulls onto the sidewalk in a shadowy corner, away from streetlights and with a good view of the target building, half a block away.

The Johnson’s note was right—there are a handful of civilians out and about, even this late at night, and they are definitely not coming home from nice day jobs. Transients, invalids and addicts cluster underneath broken awnings and around trashcan fires. They are of every metarace, color and creed, and all of them look poor and miserable. The runners spy a few conspicuous-looking men, dwarves and humans, wearing black and yellow bandannas and dealing drugs under the streetlights. These individuals seem wary, but unarmed.

The building itself is incredibly run-down and dilapidated; lights flicker on and off in the second and third story windows, and shadows can be seen moving around inside. What used to be happy, bright teal paint on the outer faces has been chipped and neglected, and iron bars cover the windows on the ground floor. The vagrants seem to avoid this house; nobody sleeps in its doorways or huddles in its shadow.

The front entrances appear to be either totally blockaded or else so run-down for lack of use that they are impassable. Observing for a few minutes shows some people entering through a side door on the right-hand side of the building. All the windows on the ground floor are boarded up on the inside, so those coming and going are hidden. The back of the building and the greater portion of the left side are not visible from Boxcar’s current position. There do not appear to be ladders, fire escapes or other means of scaling the walls or accessing the roof.

On the plus side, most of the drugged-out men and homeless people seem not to care that the runners are there, and leave them alone. They have learned that fooling with the armed or wealthy rarely leads to good things.


Moonclaw stoops between Ling Fei and Crusher, half-straddling the center console. Ling Fei sits slumped, her eyes half closed, as she sifts through the data coming in from Boxcar’s sensors. Crusher’s alphaware cybereyes scan the scene, overlaying thermographic and low-light imaging as he zooms and pans over the building and the men outside.

Moonclaw has changed into her espionage suit, a blue-grey urban camo patten armored jumpsuit with various gear secured to it: her grapple gun and SMG are strapped to her lower back, while her bow and a quiver of arrows is slung over her right shoulder. She produces a pair of binoculars from a pouch, a black rubberized model which is anachronistically optical, not digital—a mark of an Awakened’s kit. She raises them to her eyes and toggles the thermographic mode on and off, then closes her eyes for a moment, and re-opens them to look through the binoculars onto the astral plane, checking the building for astral barriers and the tell-tale background count of magical activity.

The trio peer forth from the van for a moment longer through their various modes; Crusher is the first to break the silence. “Nothing looks to out of the ordinary to me. Soldiers pushing weight on the street, hussle and bussle in the HQ. The place is probably pretty fortified from the inside, and there’s a good chance the package is in there somewhere.”

Ling Fei raises an uncoordinated hand and slips the datajack from behind her pointed ear before speaking, looking out onto the night scene with her meat eyes, which pick out the details in the shadows thanks to her elven blood. “I dunno. . . I’ve got a bad feeling about this.”

Crusher nods slowly. “Yea, the place is just a little too barred up to be an easy bust-in. I’m going to give our free escort service a call while Moonclaw does the initial break and enter.” Crusher dials the number on the van’s central console while Moonclaw continues to peer through her binoculars.

[Moonclaw is making an astral perception check on the building for barriers and awakened activity through her binoculars.]


The central console rings twice before the call is picked up and instantly closed on the other end. The team presumes the use of some GPS service or else geohacking on the part of Mr. Johnson, because further calls to the number are dead, a dial tone and nothing more. They assume their ‘free escort service’ is on his way, and relax, melding back into the mindset of the stakeout.

Moonclaw’s reconnaissance is hardly fruitful. The dim glow of the Astral realm only tells her that this is a sad, lonely place, not much used to human inhabitants, much less active paranormal activity. There is, in fact, not a single Awakened person in sight; all the homeless around them are Sleepers, not yet exposed to the truth of Magic. She considers this strange; most large groups of people in the modern world have at least one Awakened among them, even if they themselves do not know that they are Awake. The building in particular has no signs of magical activity, not even the indication or feeling that there had ever been magical barriers or paranimals in the vicinity.

A soft knock on the outside of the van’s right-hand door jolts them all out of their wakeful readiness. Crusher cautiously slides open the door, and greets the black glasses of the Johnson’s proxy, dressed in exactly the same way as they are accustomed to seeing him. His plated armor jacket thunks softly on the interior equipment as he lets himself inside past Crusher, sliding the door closed. He sits down on the bench seat in the rear of the cab. The dark red patterns on his shirt are still swimming in front of their eyes, and he reaches up to remove his circular black sunglasses, pocketing them and revealing black, still eyes. Buckles gleam at his waist and on his feet. He looks at the runners expectantly, obviously waiting for an order or a command, or an introduction, to be given. He does not even offer his name.


Crusher regards the man for a moment, his head leaning awkwardly below the roof of the van. “Name’s Crusher—I’m the gun. This is Ling Fei, our rigger, and Moonclaw, cat shaman.” The ork squeezes back into the passenger seat and queries the shaman. “How’s it look in on the ghost plane, Cat?”

Moonclaw brings the binoculars down, a sour look on her face. “It looks. . . clean. It’s strange, there isn’t anything happening in the astral plane on the whole block. Too clean.” She slips the binoculars back into their stomach pocket and turns to stand in the center of the van. “Anyway, I’m going to go in. And don’t fucking call me Cat.”

Crusher cringes awkwardly as Ling Fei turns quickly in her chair. “Wait, Moonclaw. take my mini-crawler. Never know when he could come in handy, and that way we can keep an eye on you while you’re inside.” She pulls a silvery, glasses case-sized container from her jacket pocket and snaps it open, revealing a miniscule robot spider drone sitting in the palm of her hand, it’s carapace a matte black. Her face goes slack for a moment, and the small creature whirs to life and scrambles onto the shaman’s back.

Moonclaw exudes an aura of extreme skepticism for a moment, and then turns to concentrate on her task. She raises her right hand in front of her and crouches low, her pointer and index finger directed toward the heavens in ritual concentration. She focuses her mind and opens the gate between the astral and physical realms in the center of her mind, cloaking her body.

[Mooclaw casts improved invisibility on herself at force 4: 5 sorcery dice to cast against target number 4; 2 totem die, 1 sorcery die and 6 willpower dice to resist 5M stun.]


The man in the black coat watches as Moonclaw performs her rituals, the magical task executed flawlessly, with elegance. He scoffs internally; nowhere in his own hermetic training had his tutors ever exhibited such theatrics. Magic is a science, with rules and limitations, and the shamanic tradition, he feels, complicates that overmuch. Sighing, he watches the cat shaman leave the van by the door he came in.


Moonclaw slinks towards the building, sticking to the shadows and attempting to position herself across the street from the gang headquarters with a view to its backside.

Back in the van, Ling Fei takes a moment to glance back from the console displaying the feed from the mini-drone to address the man in black. “So, Mister, what’s your trade?”

[moonclaw makes a stealth (sneaking) 3(5) test to remain unheard.]


It is a simple matter for the cat shaman to sneak past the ECM pushers and approach the building. A strange feeling ebbs and tugs in her mind as she approaches the complex, like she is wading against the current of an invisible tide. She dismisses the feeling as apprehension, and focuses on her task. Her cloak of invisibility never wavers, and she reaches the building in only a matter of minutes, crouching down in the darkness filling the recessed doorways in the front of the building. From her vantage point, she can see down the street to the left of her team’s position, a view which is obstructed from them by the building on the opposite corner of the ECM hideout. This street has a brown, covered steel walkway over it, adorned with an old metal sign which says ‘Metra’; this walkway exits onto the top of a raised cement support which slopes downward on the opposite side of the building, opening onto the adjacent neighborhoods. This cement support is level with the second story of the building, but a short gap separates it from the walls and windows of the second floor. Moonclaw can see an opening on the ground floor close to her; she moves to investigate.

The Sioux special operative-trained shaman adjusts her totemic mask and slinks down the sidewalk towards this opening, passing a white window with a red cross painted on the glass. She reaches the threshold of the opening and peers around the corner. This entrance is actually the street-side end of a tunnel which runs under the entire structure, leading to an open space in the back of the building. She can see the flickering orange light of a fire playing on the ground and homes in the distance, and can hear rowdy voices emanating from the back of the building. This must be a communal meeting space for the gang, she reasons, and suspects it will be heavily populated and fortified. The tunnel has no doors, windows, or other means of accessing the building.

Back in the van, the man regards the elven rigger with his dark eyes, and says, “I am a hermetic mage by trade. Mr. Johnson employed me after I had proven myself for a number of years in service to a private mercenary organization. While I lend my hand most frequently in combat situations, I find I am often called upon to extract information. In that end, I have trained extensively in the fine art of torture and interrogation.” His speech is short and clipped; it figures that Mr. Johnson would find company like this to keep.


Ling Fei nods slowly, taking in the words of the man in black. “Well, you’re part of this operation too—do you have any suggestions for our us?”

Crusher nudges her urgently with his elbow as she finishes her sentence, calling her attention to the display. “Shh, I think Moonclaw is saying something. How do you turn the volume up on this thing?” Ling Fei taps a button on the console several times and the audio pickup from the drone fills the vehicle, although the drone’s visual feed makes it seem as if it is floating in mid-air, its tiny legs clutching onto a shape they cannot see.

The shaman speaks: “It looks like most of their people are behind the building through this tunnel. I’m going to try to gain access to the building through the upper level windows, but first I’m going to recce their gathering to see how many men they’ve got.” Her transmission over, Moonclaw begins to edge down the hallway in the toe-heel manner of her people, hoping to get a look at what’s happening at the end of the tunnel.


The cloaked man says airily, “Forgive me, please, but I forget myself. Mr. Johnson has told me your names, but I have not told you mine: I am called Aleister Crowley, of the O.T.O. As for this operation, I don’t know whether your operative on the inside has mentioned anything, but there is something astrally suspicious about that building. There are also no astral signatures of any kind in the vicinity. Given the nature of the stolen tech involved, I would strongly urge her to exercise caution.”

“That being said, if not for Mr. Johnson’s instructions to the contrary, it is entirely possible that a direct confrontation of the gang is unnecessary. If we could destroy the top-tier leaders, those lower down the ladder may abandon their cause. Then again,” he adds with a grin, “they may not.”

Ling Fei creeps down the hallway, reaching the end and surveying her surroundings. What she sees is troublesome: to her right is a sandlot in which some tough-looking men—a mixture of orks, humans, and dwarves—lounge around a trashcan fire, brandishing gang colors on their clothes and automatic weapons in their hands. There are seven of them total, positioned about 20 meters away. Though their gear is anything but uniform, she can see a mixture of assault rifles, submachine guns, and shotguns in the hands of the gangers; some also wear armored clothing, and others have obvious cyberwear limbs exposed. Though she glimpses them only briefly, she can tell from the strained expressions on their faces and the tense tone of their conversation that they are alert and watchful, positioned here with a purpose, not just shooting the breeze on a cold February night.

A group of three stands around the fire with their backs to her, while the rest sit on or near a set of concrete steps. The steps lead up to a set of heavy, red wooden doors built into the back of the building; strangely, a thick iron rebar is set across the outside of this door, counter-intuitively set up in such a manner which prevents those inside from coming out. The braces on the crossbar look ramshackle and improvised, as though they were recently installed.

On her left is the graded slope of the concrete barrier which leads up to the ‘Metra’ steel walkway. It meets the ground about 10 meters away from her current position, but there is no cover between it and her. The intervening ground is loose, dusty sand. Flickering shadows from the trash-fire play up and down this gray angle, and the darkness beyond winks at her, suggesting other nocturnal activities are afoot.


Ling Fei smiles politely. “It’s nice to meet you, Mr. Crowley. I don’t know much about gangs but your suggestion seems to make sense—if only we could find their leaders, or the stolen goods. Moonclaw did mention that something was funny about the astral plane, but it didn’t seem to phase her too much, although I’m not sure what to make of it. I’m afraid I don’t know much about astral space either. What do you think, Crusher?”

Crusher looks up for moment from the glow of the display. “Dunno, seems like a bit more than coincidence that these guys stole magical drek and now both our magicians are spooked. If these guys are anything like the gangs back in the Barrens, they’ll lose interest in getting shot at real quick if there’s no kingpin to reward them when it’s over, but you can never be too sure; these chummers are thugs, not soldiers—who knows what they’ll do in the heat of combat. But at the moment there’s not much we can do ‘cept wait for the right time to act, and hope that Moonclaw doesn’t get too reckless in there. Anyway, look at these guys,” he grunts, indicating the men loitering in front of the barred door with a chrome finger. “Looks like they’re posted up to guard this place, but it’s closed up from the outside. Add that to the way the entire first floor is boarded up—it’s like they’re trying to keep something in, rather than keep intruders out.”

Moonclaw kneels in the vestibule, her back pressed against the wall, and leans around the corner to get a better look at the men and the back of the building . She pulls her smartgoggles up from in front of her eyes and leaves them resting on top of her totemic mask, then slowly produces her binoculars from a chest pocket and brings them into her field of vision. She allows her eyes to play over the physical world for a moment, inspecting the men and the door in the fickle light of the fire, then closes her eyes and opens them again onto the astral plane. The fire now just another gray element of the material world, Moonclaw relies on the luminous glow of the Earth Herself to carefully inspect the men and the door for magical content.


Moonclaw pans her eyes across the group in front of her. First, she methodically takes stock of their equipment: two assault rifles, one a FN-HAR with foregrip and an extended clip, the other a folding-stock model AK-98, in chrome. Three submachine guns, all UZI-III’s that look like they have seen extensive wear in active combat; one of them has a laser sight which it’s wielder flicks on and off idly. The remaining two East Coast Massive gangers carry shotguns slung low on shoulder straps studded with shells: she recognizes a Mossberg CMDT and an Enfield AS-7, both street-illegal models—the shoulder stocks and added underbarrel counterweights remind her that they are capable of burst fire. Each member carries a light or holdout pistol in plain sight or in a boot sheath. Obviously, she can’t tell whether any of the weapons bear smartlinks, although no external smartgoggles are visible on any of her adversaries. Armor, aside from the obvious cyberarms she recognized earlier, is limited to steeled jackets and trauma plates; nothing advanced. A few grenades hang loosely from clips on three of the members’ clothes, although she can’t tell what sort they are from this distance. She knows from experience that guerrilla urban combat usually is served best by HE defensive and concussive grenades, and flash-paks.

She makes mental notes of all this, then proceeds to survey the building more thoroughly. There are a series of small balconies running up the back of the building starting at the second floor. The banisters are wooden and decayed, and it looks like the glass doors opening onto most of them have been boarded up. She doubts very much whether they would be capable of supporting the weight of a loaded combatant for long. There is a small shed on the far side of the sandlot which juts out from the back of the building, forming a rough ‘L’ shape, with the sentry group of gangers positioned close to the interior right angle. The shed is wooden, but worn down and in disrepair. It would be easy to destroy.

Pausing to listen in to their hurried conversation, she realizes that they are talking about the very object that they were sent after, and they seem eager to get it out of their hands. The conversation is short, unfocused and rowdy, and it is hard to keep a focus on one voice over another:

“Did y—see the way his eyes were…”
”...fraggin’ thing wasn’t ever s’posed to come to us…”
“You hear that?”
“Yeah, shi- was totally fuckin’ weird, never seen – do that before…”
“How fast he went and then alluvasudden…”
”...just have to get it out of here, worry about - boss later. Fuck man, some of us got fam…”
“Naw, it weren’t nothin. Keep yer eyes open though…”
”—...ever would have thought he’d do that, it’s totally fucked…”
“Nothing’s worth crossin’ ‘im, but what do we tell those people in there man…”

She continues to listen intently, but none of them seems to finish their sentence before another cuts them off. It is hard to gather a coherent story from what they are talking about, although she is certain they are all talking about the same thing. The shaman opens her eyes onto the metaphysical, and is bathed in the soothing light of Mother Earth. Looking over the gang members, she cannot see a single Awakened member amongst them. There is no other sign of astral activity on or near the building. In the distance, she is able to see that the sandlot peters out into a grass field, populated by toxic scrub and a few dim, wilted trees. This field stretches out for about 90 meters, then is bisected by a dirt path running right to left, and a waist-high metal fence after that. Beyond is more neighborhoods and housing complexes. She is about to return to the realm of the mundane when an astral movement catches her peripheral vision. She refocuses on the group of glowing sentries, but sees that none have made a movement, metaphysical or otherwise, since she looked last. Staring, she waits for the motion to occur again.

There, she sees it. A faint, waving motion is happening near the seam between the two halves of the heavy red door. Looking closely, she catches her breath, and a shiver runs down her spine. In all of her years traversing the planes of the world, she hasn’t seen anything like this, ever, either mundane or astral. It looks almost like oily, black smoke, if smoke could float and waft underwater… it seeps out from between the doors, falling slowly toward the floor, reaching outwards malevolently before disappearing. She is certain she didn’t see this in meatspace, but cannot for the life of her think of what it may mean or where it may be coming from.


Moonclaw brings her vision back to the realm of the mundane and creeps a few paces down the tunnel to bring her out of earshot of the men out back. She is squatting, raised up on her toes with her weight against the wall of the corridor; she lets out a long, quiet sigh as she sorts through the circumstances of the situation at hand. After a moment of contemplation, she pockets the binoculars, slides the smartgoggles back over her eyes, and plucks the small drone from her back to hold it inches from her mouth, whispering almost noiselessly. “I’m coming back—see what’s on the other side of that red door.” She places the miniscule robot on the floor of the tunnel and moves to sneak back to the van unnoticed.

Ling Fei grins and rubs her hands together excitedly. “Finally, a chance to do some real work.” She turns to her ork companion. “Okay, I’m going to rig my drone directly and see what I can dig up. If you need me, you’ll have to poke me pretty hard to get me to feel anything. Here I go!” she cries, and her body goes slack in the driver’s seat. She feels the familiar shudder as her bodily senses are replaced with the ASIST sensations of the tiny arachnoid mini-drone—she feels the grit of the dirt beneath eight adhesive limbs, the frigid night air on the tiny alloy carapace. She waves a tiny forearm in the direction she imagines the shaman to be, then climbs up the side of the tunnel and out onto the side of the house, sticking to shadows and recesses as she makes horiziontally along the exterior of the building, towards a position above the red double door, pricking her audio pickups to continue listening to conversations of the men loitering around the fire.

[Ling Fei has jumped into the Renraku Arachnoid mini-drone—Boxcar has been ordered to stay on active sensor alert. All 4 of the main combat drones have also been placed on her subscriber list.]


{From the Matrix infonet and data warehouse, ‘Devinci’ (address space 3ffe:1900:4545:3:200:f8ff:fe21:67cf)}

The construction of modern drones can vary greatly from model to model, and early prototypes were plagued with control issues and buggy ASIST interfaces. ASIST (Artifical Sensory Induction System Technology) was first invented back in 2018 by Hosato Hikita, in Chicago. At the time, control was enabled by giving the brain a direct motor interface with the limbs of a remote shell. Due to the exhaustive body of research on the ‘hard-coded’ tactile and sensory features of the human brain, it was decided that the best method of establishing a brain-machine interface (BMI) would involve direct neural mappings to the motor areas of the parietal lobe. This method was clumsy, but successful; it required the operator to perform a mental “leap-frog” to the external limb, by envisioning it as an extension of his own body (or, more preferably, in place of an existing limb). The invention of non-humanoid cyberbodies in 2032 necessitated a change, as operators were no longer able to fit inputs for complex designs, like a spider’s eight legs, into their body’s conceptual schema (mental feats such as controlling multiple legs by tying them to the fingers of both hands were dismissed as too difficult for public use).

This gave rise to ASISTv2, what is now known as modern ASIST. This new technology interprets the will of the body to move, by analyzing neural activity throughout the thalamic systems which lie between the spine and cerebral cortex. These thalamic systems act as an all-purpose encoding relay for the body, being directly subordinate to the sections of the parietal lobe which control movement. Now, instead of focusing on moving each one of the eight legs of an arachnoid drone, an operator merely has to will himself forward, and the machine will calculate the best mechanical movements to fit the envisioned route.

Since then, advances in this interface have allowed for multiple interpretations of will on the part of the controller. This lets an operator perform the mental tasks in the manner that is easiest for him or her: an athlete may mentally flex his legs to rev a car engine, while a scientist may be more comfortable simply concentrating on the spinning of the wheels to achieve the same effect. This has brought ASIST into widespread, public use.

The tiny spider drone clambers along the rough brick face of the wall, grasping the crumbling mortar and chipped brick with tiny appendages. Ling-Fei’s mind peers out through a myriad of sensors, willing the drone forward while listening in to the conversations below. One piece of relevant information floats through:

“Yea, boss-man is upstairs, in his room on the third floor. After he slotted the thing and killed her, he kicked everyone else out and nobody’s seen him since.”

The drone trundles along, reaching the top of the red door without arousing suspicion. Looking around, Ling-Fei can see a hole in the wall, at the joining of the wall and the door frame where some mortar has crumbled away. Light is coming from it, and it looks just large enough for her drone to sneak inside.


Crusher idly rubs an enlarged canine, his mind lost in thought. “You hear that, Mr. Crowley? Sounds like their leader is on the third floor—I’m guessing he used the tech and then went a little bonkers.” Just then, the side door of the van slides open, then closes a moment later. A loud, cleansing sigh emanates from the middle of the van, and a moment later Moonclaw’s image swims into view. “Whoa,” Crusher exclaims, “You’re back.” The shaman turns to look at him, and as he looks at her eyes through the goggles on her face he could swear her pupils were stretched, elongated like diamonds, her iris a bright green; he blinks once in puzzlement but the illusion has passed.

“Yes. . . I’m back.” The shaman sinks wearily into one of the folding seats facing the rear and addresses the suit, pulling her smartgoggles up as she speaks. “Listen, when I was out there I saw something—something I’ve never seen before. It was an astral presence, it looked like a black mist, but it was thick, viscous. I’m almost certain it was unnatural, not something the Earth Mother could produce, even in its most polluted form. I want to project and assense it closer, but I’m afraid whatever is producing it could be more powerful than what I could handle. Will you join me?”

Crusher’s face contorts in confusion. He mutters to himself, “wait a minute. . . how’d she know he does magic too?”

Her consciousness on the other side of the block, Ling Fei directs her metallic vessel through the tiny opening, her mind translating the action as uncomfortably squeezing through a small space, her arms pressed to her side as she squirms back and forth with her shoulders and hips.


The hermetic magician nods to Moonclaw, and sits back silently in his seat, closing his eyes. He projects his astral essence into the interior of the van, and waits for the shaman to do the same, ready to follow her astrally into the building.

Ling Fei’s spider drone emerges from the crack in the wall and looks out onto the first-floor hallway. The red door is in the middle of this hallway, and the drone’s tiny eyes can see the side door exit on the left-most end, and a set of stairs leading up on the right-most end. There are doors opening onto rooms on the side of the hall opposite the red door; some of these are open, but most are closed. There are a few people standing around the hallway, orks and a human, and scared-looking children sometimes dart quickly from one room into the next. It seems that this building has many different families living inside it; the one thing that they do have in common is that they all look very poor.

None of the people here seem to be wearing the colors of ECM, save two: a lone troll standing just inside the doorway of the outside exit to the right, and a burly human sitting on a chair at the foot of the stairs to the left. Neither is not visibly armed.


Moonclaw leans back in her seat as well and feels the weightless release of the astral realm as she lets slip the bonds between her essence and her mortal coil. Drifting in the monotone gray interior of the vehicle, she turns her attention inwards, letting Gaia’s mana flow through her; she breathes in and forms the energy into a sphere, shaping and hardening it, then lets her outbreath carry the protective ward into space, blanketing the shaman and her compatriot. Her preparations complete, she emotes affirmatively to Crowley’s own astral form, then lets her mind carry her out of the van, down the street, and finally attempts to pass through the first floor wall of the building.

Still within Boxcar, Ling Fei’s voice crackles over the speakers, a strange tinny fabrication generated without physical vocal cords. “Crusher, if you’re watching, this first level looks pretty clear, just a bunch of civvies and kids—I’m heading upstairs to see if I can find where Captain Ganger has locked himself up.” She wheels the drone to the right and begins scuttling deliberately across the ceiling towards the staircase, doing her best to stay undetected in the relative shadow where wall meets ceiling.

Crusher perches in the passenger seat of Boxcar and plants his elbow on the armrest, his chin in his palm. He glances dejectedly across the interior of the vehicle, all three of the other occupants slumped in various positions, their consciouses busy within the building. “Yea, drek me, guess me and my brain ‘ll stay here and guard the fuckin’ car.”

[Moonclaw allocates 4 of her spell pool dice to spell defense on her and Crowley.]


Aleister Crowley acknowledges the wisdom behind these protective wards, and assigns his own protective barrier by inscribing a red circle of power into the astral space around them. The circle expands into a sphere which glows bright crimson, then snaps out of view.

The pair of astral forms drifts through the walls of the van and out across the street, gliding smoothly over the heads of the pushers, homeless and desitute. Aleister’s astral form takes the shape of a tall human form obscured by an enlarged overcoat, which swirls around his ankles, disobeying gravity as it drifts in the eddies of the Warp. It never seems to open wide enough to glimpse the body underneath, merely hinting at its shape. Tall lapels obscure his face, almost meeting the brim of a wide, black hat; twin points of light stare out from the shadowed face beneath.

The pair reaches the outer wall of the first floor of the building, and passes through it. Immediately upon penetrating the threshold, entering into a family’s small two-room apartment, they are enveloped in a choking, black mist. Alarmed, both turn to bolt, but realize that the spell defense that they maintain is keeping it at bay. The mist rolls heavily on the floor, thick and oily and dark, reaching up at them with malicious intent. It tries to cross their barrier wards, but is repulsed, only to strike back with renewed vigor. The two magicians look at each other, concerned lest their defenses give way and surrender them to this mysterious evil. For now, however, it appears that they are safe, but the constant presence of the mist reduces the strength of their barricades. [The mist reduces your available spell defense by 1.]

The spider drone navigates across the open ceiling, pausing just above the seated guard’s head as it negotiates an uneven spot in the molding fiberboard. The stairwell itself is dark, as the only light over the landing has burned out, and the drone makes it safely up a vertical wall, following the staircase as it takes two turns and opens out onto the second floor. Identical to the first floor, this hallway has a seated guard at the far end, blocking another staircase up; this guard has a shotgun in his hands. Lights in the ceiling flicker on and off; no children play here, and the sound of voices from behind closed doors is hurried, muffled.


Ling Fei pauses for a moment, her brain aching slightly from processing the world upside down for so long. Finding nothing unusual, she pilots the drone along the upper corner of the hallway and continues on to the third floor.

One floor and another plane away, Moonclaw is strangely transfixed by the unnatural pall. Although controlled fear is the primary emotion emanating from her astral form, Crowley notices that it is also tinged with curiosity and even excitement. She recklessly lowers the ward on her left hand and reaches into its murky depths, eager to better comprehend its nature.

[Moonclaw is making an assensing test on the phenomena with intelligence 5.]


The mist coils and wraps around Moonclaw’s hand, clinging to it in sheets, like cloth, before falling away and rising again. The young shaman stretches out through her hand’s aura, relaxing her mind, clearing it of all thoughts, becoming empty and assuming the meditative trance required of shamanic assensing. This trance state is like an empty vessel, into which one allows the essence of another to fill and take shape, and, by this symbiosis, to learn of that essence.

However, the aura of this mist has no shape or form. It stretches into the cavity of her mind like a chilling wind, leaving only a frigid, ungraspable emptiness in its wake. She shudders, experiencing vivid nightmares: being frozen in place, unable to run from an enemy; failing to hold a loved one back from certain doom; feelings of drowning above water; gasping, breathless, in space. The darkness ebbs and recedes like a tide in her mind, always just out of reach, inaccessible, cold, and menacing. It grows larger and more consuming with each moment.

She pulls her hand back sharply into the protection of her ward, unable to bear it any longer. Aleister looks at her long, remaining quiet; it is hard to tell what he is thinking, his face masked as it is. He jerks his head upwards, motioning that they should continue on.

Ling Fei’s Spider drone makes its way carefully across the ceiling of the abandoned second floor hallway. The guard never looks up, and it continues on into the darkness of the stairwell connecting the second and third stories. Ling Fei watches through the multiple camera-eyes of the machine as she reaches the third floor. From her vantage point on the interior wall of the staircase, she can see that this floor is much the same as the first two, only the side rooms have been boarded up, and the end of the hallway is dominated by a single, pitted metal door. It looks like the architecture has been retrofitted to accommodate this extra-large room, as the hall space leading to this door is shorter than the other two floors; the gangers must have knocked down the walls dividing some of the rooms here to make a special meeting hall or larger living space for their leader.

The drone scuttles forward, and Ling-Fei’s eyes scan the interior of the hallway. She can see no obvious signs of wear or other holes or passageways through which her drone might fit. Even the improvised frame of the door has been constructed with enough care to ensure that no prying eyes could find a peephole into the interior room. On the positive side, there are no guards on this floor, and the boarded up rooms seem silent.


Ling Fei positions the drone in a dark corner of the hallway, facing the metal doorway. She takes a closer look at the interior of the corridor with the drone, checking to see if there are or were any windows. Her reconnaissance complete, she leaves the drone on active sensor watch and jumps into Boxcar Rebellion, sweeping the top floor of the hideout with the vehicle’s optical sensors for windows or soft spots.

Moonclaw’s initial curiosity has turned to stark dread, a tugging in the back of her mind, whispering voices emploring her to get as far away from the origin of the anomaly as possible. she steels herself, and sends her form upwards, through the ceiling.


The drone in the hallway cannot find any evidence of interior windows, but Boxcar Rebellion’s sensor sweep does find that the exterior of the third floor is constructed much like the first two; brick and mortar. There are windows visible from the outside, but whether they open onto anything is unknown.

The pair of astral forms glides silently up a floor, spell defense still active. The mist clings to their legs but is repulsed.

Immediately upon entering the second story room above them—another family room, this time unoccupied—they are engulfed in a deeper, choking black mist. This mist piles up on the floor to about waist height, and is even more stifling and active in its attempts to consume them. Their shields are now fully active, glowing brightly in the astral plane, just barely holding back the otherworldly onslaught. [Deeper mist reduces your available spell defense by 3.]

Other than the darker mists, which makes astral forms hard to make out, this floor seems to be exactly the same on the astral plane as the first.

Back in Boxcar Rebellion, Crusher’s mind drifts. His sharp military intellect plans inroutes and escapes, taking the layout of the building and the available intel into account as much as possible.

He is broken of his reverie by a short warning klaxon, accompanied by a brief red light on the vehicle’s HUD. Boxcar’s sensors have picked up a proximity warning; a quick glance in the sideview mirror reveals that one of the pushers outside is making his way up to the right side of the car, peering into the windows, trying to see what this heavily armored vehicle is doing loitering here. He approaches from the rear of the vehicle, about ten meters out and closing. He hasn’t drawn any visible weapons, but his right hand idles dangerously close to the back of his beltline, shoulders dropped and tensed, as if preparing for sudden movement.


Crusher thuds his fist down on the dash impatiently, nudging the rigger with his opposite elbow. “Ling Fei, pull the van into that clearing,” he indicates the open lot between two houses on S. Harvard ave, “get the van out of LOS from the building and then deploy some drones—We’re done tiptoeing around this drekhole.”

Ling Fei casually drives over the curb and into the dirt lot, putting the long brick building on the corner between the car and the gang’s hideout, then orders one Ares Guardian and one GM-Nissan Doberman to deploy themselves.

Inside the building, Moonclaw again gathers up her feelings of fear and trepidation within her, doing her best to purge and control them with a cleansing breath. She takes another deep inbreath and devotes the last of her energy reserves to the pair’s protective ward before continuing upwards to the final floor of the building.

[Moonclaw devotes her two remaining spell pool die to spell defense.]


As Boxcar Rebellion’s engine revs, the ganger pauses, visibly alarmed. He draws a light pistol—the exact model is impossible to tell in the darkness—and signals to one of his friends, another pusher waiting around on the opposite street corner. This man hurries forward, and they both hustle into the dirt lot, keeping their distance from the van. They get to the edge of the clearing, near a hedgerow at the base of a white house, and crouch down, trying not to be seen. Their thermal signatures display their location prominently, but they remain motionless for the time being, waiting to see what the van will do.

Boxcar Rebellion mounts the curb and creeps into the space between the two brick buildings. As it comes to a halt, the rail system mounted on the ceiling whirs to life, and panels on the roof and rear of the vehicle slide open with hydraulic slickness. The whir of the VTOL drone’s engines grows to a dull roar as it lifts off, breaking the silence of the night as it frees the confines of it’s rack, testing the night air with twin turbines and performing initial active and passive sensor sweeps. The larger Doberman rolls off the back ramp and onto the dirt of the lot, and performs its own boot process and initial scans.

Seeing this deployment of force, the two gangers immediately stand and start running for the headquarters building, giving the drones a wide berth; by the time the drones are completely deployed and initialized, the pair are running down the street, about at the halfway mark of the dirt lot.

Moonclaw reaches the third floor slightly before Aleister drifts up, behind her. He has not reinforced his magical barriers and, as he reaches this new level, Moonclaw’s preparations prove prudent, but not enough to completely stifle the effects of the darkness. As she expected, the air on this level is almost completely blacked out on the astral plane by the thick, black fog, which fills the rooms up to neck level. She wonders briefly why an astral phenomena would be obeying laws of restriction in the physical realm; if this were true magic, the fog should be cascading down directly from its source, only being impeded by organics, or magical barriers. She is pulled from her train of thought by a burning sensation in her nostrils, which is unusual, since mundane stimuli normally have no place in the astral plane. She looks around, and notices that a small amount of the fog is seeping through her spell barriers. It is an infinitesimal breach, only a tendril here and there licking her astral form, but try as she might, she cannot ward it off completely. The presence of the mist makes her feel weak. [Thick mist reduces available spell pool by 5. Sustained contact with the mist inflicts 1 box of Stun damage.]

She is distracted from her efforts by Aleister’s sudden gasp, as he rises through the floor; the fog overwhelms his barriers and descends on him, filling his black shape, concealing him completely. His astral form grows dim for a second, and then grows brighter, as he assigns the last of his magical power to warding off the evil mist. It seems that he is able to completely block it out, but it takes all his efforts. Looking at her, he says, “We should not stay here long. Let us find and discern the origin of this… abomination… and then get the hell out of here, let the mundanes do their job.”



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