The next phase of our team’s investigations led them to meet with members of the Astral Space Preservation Society (ASPS). Setting up a time to meet with Gabrielle Hecht, the lead shaman working with the University researchers, the team took the opportunity to ask her more about what could be causing the magical effect seen during the zombie attacks. While Gabrielle was very interested to hear about the awakened component in the cocaine and concerned with respect to the possibilities of blood magic, her expertise lay in other areas. She suggested the team speak with her colleague, Zhi Peng, a Wujen working with her and the ASPS researchers.
Zhi Peng invited the team to his residence in Naperville-Bolingbrooke (N-B). Upon hearing that they were headed there, Claudia and Douglas immediately announced their intention to remain behind. They parked the van in Westside and remained linked to the team’s comm system aided by the enhanced Matrix connectivity in N-B. Peng’s residence was spacious and warded, giving Foxface a moment of pause, but despite the astral security, Peng was welcoming and quite the conversationalist.
Peng’s exact experience with blood magic was never fully explored, but his insights indicated that the blood magic involved in disrupting the ritual may be the result of a blood spirit or, worse, a free blood spirit. He was not personally aware of any such spirit operating in Chicago, but on the other hand anything’s possible. He cautioned the team to be careful and offered his assistance should they need it.
Left with only a single remaining lead, the team turned to investigate the drug dealers who sold the cocaine to Ben Thompson, one of the unfortunate victims of the most recent zombie attack. They had the location of the drug dealer’s base of operations from the GPS system located in Thompson’s vehicle and, proceeding there, they found an alley way blocked off by felled street lamps. Claudia, unusually enthusiastic about purchasing drugs, and Paul approached the alley. Purchasing the cocaine was quite simple an a quick assensing later, proved it to be the zombie coke.
Paul quickly moved to question the dealers as to their source. And by “question” I mean shoot the crap out of them. Douglas deployed drones to assist and Dru moved to help as well. The dealer and his cronies were quickly dealt with and Paul turned to kick in the door of the building out of which the dealers had emerged. Breaking in, Paul caught a group of gang members descending a stair case and opened fire, pinning them down. A few returned fire, but Paul’s armor was able to handle the brunt of damage. Between he and Dru and the drones, they were able to handle the gang members and a gunpoint interrogation revealed that Smiling Jim was the person they wanted to talk to and he would be in the building a few down.
Cuffing the talkative gang member to a tree, the team moved to find Smiling Jim. Drones deployed into the alley behind the buildings revealed gang members exiting the building and leaving the scene of the gun fight, so the team entered the front of the building. They could hear gang members on the second floor and, with the aid of a flash bang, quickly dispatched them and took Smiling Jim, who appeared to be moving to escape with the rest of his gang, into custody.
Jim didn’t have much for the team to go on. He indicated that the drugs they were dealing were coming into town from the Koshari but that another gang member, Manuel Ramos, was the one who handled such things. Ramos had already escaped with others from the gang but Jim was … persuaded … to call him and set up a location to regroup at the remains of a local park. The team let Jim and the other gang member free and proceeded there.
Unbeknownst to them, Jim immediately called Ramos back warning him of the ambush.
The park had seen better days. The remains of a pond, now filled with garbage and at least one rotting hulk of a vehicle, as well as a broken-down building were the center piece of the area. Three hobos seemed to have been living in a lean-to but they had little to offer with respect to the situation. Dru and Claudia quickly noticed gang members approaching from the east and the team quickly took up defensive positions preparing to meet with Ramos. Unfortunately, it quickly became clear that Ramos was not among the approaching members. Drones dispatched by Douglas to get a closer look were unfortunately seen by the gang members who quickly drew weapons.
A bit of a standoff began until one of the hobos yelled out, “Look out behind you!” and additional gang members who had approached unseen from the west were revealed. One of them opened fire on the hobos and Foxface, who had taken cover with her rifle, returned that fire. Dru dispatched another with knives as the drones began to strafe the eastern group. Claudia hacked one of the members of that group and convinced him that surrender was the better part of valor, but unfortunately that individual could not convince the others of that fact.
Foxface killed all of those who arrived and opened fire on the hobos and moved to rejoin the rest of the team as they and the drones killed the remaining gang members other than the one who had surrendered. Or so they thought. As they approached the surrender monkey to question him about Ramos, a fireball launched from across the pond incinerated the gang member and wounded Claudia and Douglas’s drone. Dru and Foxface, undamaged by the blast, turned to find the mage. Foxface, identifying his location on the Astral plane, shifted to her natural form and charged across the park. Dru, using Foxface’s trajectory to guide her shots, fired in the general vicinity of where she thought the mage to be. A cry and a grunt indicated that she hit somebody and, moments later, Foxface leaped and attacked someone hidden in the brush.
Unfortunately, between the bullet wound and the magically enhanced attack of an enraged fox shifter, the mage–who turned out to be Ramos himself–was about to die. Douglas, who had dispatched his medical bots to investigate the hobos, retasked them to run across the field to assist Ramos but it was clear they wouldn’t make it in time. Claudia, though, did and was able to stabilize Ramos. They took him into custody and, after collecting the weaponry and bodies of those gang members fit to be sold to Mrs. Lovett in Northside and checking on the hobos (who were fine), the team left the area.
On the way to sell the bodies, Claudia began to investigate Ramos’s commlink. It was going well until she noticed another icon on the node with her which immediately attacked before she could prepare her defenses. Douglas turned over the van to Dru and moved to assist Claudia on the Matrix. Worse: a group of go-gangers pulled up behind the van and indicated that it should pull over.
In the physical world, Dru began to pull the van over as Foxface, pulling open the side door of the vehicle began to fire on the gangers, specifically a large ork who, while standing in the back seat with his upper body through a sun roof, had fired upon the van with an assault rifle of some sort. Dru fired and struck a gang member driving a motorcycle, who through a valiant effort, remained upright and in control of his vehicle. He, however, did decide to drive on and search for easier prey. The other motorcycle driver agreed. Unfortunately for the ork, though, was not so lucky. A few more shots from Foxface and he slumped over the roof of the car bleeding onto the windshield as the sedan sped off into the night. Even better: he left his weapon behind!
Meanwhile, on the Matrix, Douglas successfully struck the other icon with Black IC locking his connection on and keeping him in the node. Revealed as using the icon of an ancient Mesoamerican warrior and left with no option other than to kick Douglas off of the node to release the Black IC lock. While Douglas distracted the warrior, Claudia used her Paladin sprites to defend herself and, later, Douglas which she threaded up a Track program and began to search for the icon’s location eventually finding it in Gary, Indiana. Shortly after doing so, the attacker’s commlink was shut down, dumping him from the Matrix.