The party spends a few moments scavenging for clothing while Cole recovers then proceeds to the next level up to more laboratories. They begin to notice signs of a recent evacuation, likely starting when Emily’s bot unlocked all the doors.
While searching some administrative offices and storage areas, the party finds several things. Daphne finds a bottle of bourbon and a strange-looking dagger. Jamie and Emily actually find their clothes in a storage locker. Mike discovers an administrator’s office and finds paper files for most of the party. Over the course of the next several hours, everyone gets the opportunity to read their own and they find:
- Everyone in the party was subject to invasive medical examination during their time in a coma – though in no case except Cole’s was there anything notable discovered.
- Seamus’s file contains little more than a note from Jones stating that “this guy went up against a pair of Shadows and should be dead, for some reason he’s not. Bringing him in.”
- Mike’s file similarly contained little more than a note from Jones stating that “Pinkie smelled something so we went to take a look. Subject shows signs of telepathy and suggestion.”
- Hugo’s file had some background research from his life of piracy and notes about an investigation into how he knew about Cole’s transport. Jones’ note speaks of Hugo’s incredible speed in getting free of the boat and what appeared to be a “warping of everything” around him.
- Emma’s file was brief, mostly the report of how they suspect she “interacted” with the corpse of a dragon somehow and deserves further study.
- Margaret’s file had a little background, but contained mostly information about Ezra. She was brought in as “collateral damage to be used as a control subject”.
- Cole’s file had significantly more medical tests and a copy of his medical background. After the botched operation Jones’ note stated that “perhaps he’s a suitable replacement for Henry”.
- Emily’s file wasn’t about her as much as the daemon she unleashed into the cyberspace of Silicon Valley, a brief background, and a capture order for Jones.
- Jamie had been tracked and monitored for several months while he was publishing his hotel series of photographs. Finally ending with a note that “something spooked him, let’s go ahead and bring him in”. There’s a subsequent note about his “ability to teleport” warranting upgraded security measures.
- Daphne’s medical work-up was more than twice as extensive as Cole’s, nearly every experiment known to man and some that aren’t were conducted on her during her coma. Daphne had been monitored for over a year and most of her movements traced (they also documented the contact with Jamie). She’s often referred to as one of “them” in the paperwork.
The party moves on and discovers the scene of a battle outside a lab that looked more like a torture chamber than laboratory. A number of people in lab coats and nearly twenty soldiers had been cut down by a blade, and amongst the bodies lies a small man with nearly white skin and sharp, elven features (like the girl Seamus and Mike encountered outside the grocer). He’s barely alive, but gestures for Daphne to come closer and speaks in a broken Gaelic that Margaret has difficulty understanding. He notes that “the fools let you gather all three” and makes mention to a “warden, a voice, and a walker”. He then, in English, hisses “we will have it back…we will have it all back,” before expiring.
The party moves up another level and begins to get the hint of fresh, dry air moving through the halls. They come around a corner near the facility exit. Cutscene:
As you’ve climbed higher in the facility and gotten closer and closer to the exit, you’ve become increasingly anxious to be rid of this madhouse and barely noticed that you started edging towards the front of the party. When you come around this last corner, you barely have a moment to register the dozen men with machine guns before Hugo grabs you and tugs you back behind cover.
Then the hallway is filled with lead. It’s an utter kill-box, designed from the get-go to keep dangerous creatures like all your cell-mates here from getting loose into the world. Heavy, armored cover, overlapping fields of fire. You may as well go back to your cells.
And at the back…at the back of them all there’s a huge slab of meat. This guy is maybe seven feet tall, four hundred pounds, no neck, crammed into his SWAT gear like a wicked step-mother’s cankle in a glass slipper five sizes too small. He’s holding a sledgehammer that probably weighs more than you do, and he thinks this is the funniest thing he’s ever seen.
(For those of you who encountered Jones’ partner Pinky in your preludes, this is not Pinkie, but it could be his cousin.)
His presence seems to fill the other green-stripes with fear – Mike and Seamus and Jamie seem more terrified of him than the guys with guns – but you, you just feel revulsion. Abomination.
You feel something in you…snap.
You smell cinnamon. And loam. A forest. There’s the sound of cicadas. The wind through dry leaves, or perhaps through fields of golden grain.
You look up. Those closest to you are looking at you curiously, especially at your eyes. The world looks different. It looks…more. You see the flows of energy trace through the room like multicolored streamers. Seamus and Mike and Jamie glow with the same green energy that is streaming from your skin like a river. You see John and Margaret, dead things, animated by a candle. Cole, such an integral part of the Land he could be a tree, or a stone, or, perhaps, a tornado. Hugo shifts uncomfortably next to you and you see him shift not only in space but in time. Emily sits in the center of a dizzying web of numbers and symbols. And Emma…Emma glows gold with the blood of the Old Fathers.
At the end of the hall in the thug’s place lurks a massive troll holding a spiked club with a wicked grin full of foul and broken teeth.
You look down to find yourself armored in shimmering green scale, an ornate shield on your left arm and a wicked, curved sword in your right hand. Your skin seems paler than it did, and as smooth as porcelain. At your side, a small goblin crouches. He has a curved dagger at his belt, and his smile is wry, and warm and knowing.
“Eyes open, soldier,” he drawls.
Your friends, if you can call them that, are staring at you. This is just another incomprehensible shock added to the list for them. All but John. John is looking at you like he suddenly realized he was crouching next to a hungry panther. His cool suave demeanor completely gone and replaced by caution and not a small amount of fear.
“Well,” he says, nearly stuttering,”this is unexpected…”. He stands up straight and bows. Not a smart-ass ironic twentieth-century bow, but a medieval courtly in-the-presence-of-royalty bow. “Daughter of Autumn,” he intones, before rising.
And suddenly, you know what to do.
You reach out and touch Mike’s shoulder, and he opens his mouth and speaks The Word and a thousand voices bellow as if to rend the world. You look to Seamus and he charges around the corner toward the stunned soldiers. You turn and grab Jamie by the shoulders and he nods knowingly and with a shove sends you skipping through the dark places between life and death.
You emerge a split second later next to the Troll, and take its right hand off at the wrist with your sword before it realizes that you’re there. It bellows and brings its huge fist down on your shield, but you’re in The Dance now and barely notice. You take a swipe at the Troll’s knee and dance away, sparing a look to the hall behind you.
Seamus has gotten hold of a broken broomstick from somewhere, and with your other sight you see the Warden of the Wood wielding a flint-tipped spear, and he is spinning through the ranks of soldiers, flushing them from cover to be gunned down by Hugo and Cole. He’s been shot a dozen times, and blood is streaming from him in rivulets – then one of the soldiers screams and you see the man’s very life-force ripped free and flow into Seamus, closing his wounds.
You turn back to the Troll and drive your sword up through its chin and hold it there while the brute sputters and dies, along with the last of the gunfire.
And then there’s a moment of stillness. The scent of cordite and blood and death fills your senses, and you feel the rush of The Word and The Dance flooding through you. Then, from the heavy door at the end of the hallway, Emily-bot’s cheery voice pierces your reverie.
“Okay then!” And the heavy door unlocks and opens.
With a pop, your sword and armor evaporate into a cloud of mist and chirping cicadas. Your memories of primordial woods and ancient empires of jade and Words that open Ways slip from your mind like a dream.
There’s a few moments of shock, but the party tries to keep moving, as John is repeatedly stressing that these people will not be willing to lose control of the facility.
Outside, they find themselves in a small motor pool carved from a stone outcrop quite literally in the middle of a desert. The vehicles, several keeps and one personnel van, all have Dubai, UAE plates. The party rapidly scavenges several gear bags from the jeeps and pile into the van and drive off down a trail. About ten minutes later, there’s a massive explosion behind them, as the facility is destroyed, likely by a cruise missile.
John is extremely drained and exhausted, and, informs the party that while Dubai isn’t as bad as a secret prison, it’s not much netter for people of their ilk, as it is run by a group referred to as the “technocracy”, who are very likely behind the kidnappings to begin with. He believes the facility was operated by a group called the Division, who were likely once a legitimate branch of the US Department of Defense but has long since grown an identity of its own. He also provides the party with a number to call with a code once they get their hands on a phone.
The party finds an extended-stay motel for expat workers in the massive track housing construction to the south of the city and uses what few UAE dirhams they scrounged from the lockers and bags to rent a room. They then leave the van parked a mile or two away. Margaret and Mike go to find a convenience store to pick up a phone card or a pre-paid phone while the rest of the party cleans up.