Denver 2055: Fragging Spelunking

Nothing spells ‘professional shadowrunner’ like going for completely unrelated side quests just for the sake of hiking. And for money, obviously.

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After our last ‘run’ (we’re not really shadowrunners if you remember), we had a moment to breathe and take care of our personal stuff. Not much, mind it – the aftermath and fallout of session 001 is still ongoing and I’ll get into details after session 002 this Saturday.

Meanwhile, there were some job postings on Denver BBS, including an interesting snippet from Momma Calderwood, local talislegger and talismonger:

> Looking for a skilled “procurer” of reagents. Pay’s decent, location will be revealed if you agree to help, hazard bonus involved if things go sideways.

– Arlene Calderwood (05.19.2055))

Arlene “Momma” Calderwood and Faust Momma runs the Market’s only Talismonger shop. She sells various Hermetic and Shamanic goods, as well as mundane trinkets for superstitious squatters. Her contraception and inoculation potions and charms might not be as effective as Wizard’s, but she’s somewhat more trustworthy in the eyes of the locals. Despite not being Awakened herself, she’s usually accompanied by a small, vaguely humanoid spirit covered in thick fur, called Faust. The spirit doesn’t seem to be interested in her trade, or even sentient, but Arlene treats it like a son – people say she’s one crazy cat lady that has an even crazier cat.

As it happens, Momma Calderwood is one of Tomorrow’s contacts as Tomorrow literally pays her rent by gathering reagents and telesma for Momma. So, faced with an opportunity to make it a thing in-game, I jumped at the opportunity. In a quick chat with Momma, Tomorrow learnt that Momma has been reading up on local history and found maps of the old abandoned coal mines in Boulder and Weld Counties – true, most of them under Ute Sector, but where’s the fun in the trip if what you’re doing isn’t hella illegal?

Momma was convinced that the old mines will have a huge amount of magically active crystals – enough to make it worth a couple days of a trip with extra security. Tomorrow, always happy to go hiking and break into places, agreed immediately, negotiated the payment to be more of ‘percentage’ than ‘set payment’, and set out to find extra hands and guns for the hike.

@Best Western LTG
Howdy y’all! I’m thinking about going for a small, international hike – a couple of days of fun and giggles, possibly some digging and treasure hunting. And while the real treasure will be the friendship we make along the way, there’s also money to be made, mostly for existing, carrying stuff, and shooting things up if necessary. Hit me up for details if you have some time to spare and don’t freak out at the thought of spelunking.

– Tomorrow

Soon, we got a party made of Chuy and Mack (two of our standard players) and a new addition: Allen Cech, one of our ‘viewer NPCs’. We discussed the details, did some research into geology, potential dangers and local fauna, and then started the trip into Louisville mines.

Allen Cech
A middle-age human standing at below average height, he was once a man know for his fighting capabilities, though he was never a good shot. However, after a sporadic gunfight that resulted in the death of his best friend, he fled in hopes that whoever orchestrated it would not follow. He is prone to anxiety and tends to be mildly distrustful. For some odd reason his sense of time seems out of wack, and this greatly effects when he sleeps. At the best of times he can be rather helpful, but at the worst… Well let’s say he still packs a mean hook. He now works odd jobs for things that his limited skillset allows, which is admittedly not a whole lot.

We made quite a big team:

  • Momma and her spirit Faust,
  • Greg and Tanya, kinda friendly couple of a bodyguard and a reagent gatherer,
  • Mack
  • Chuy
  • Allen
  • Tomorrow

We jumped into the sewers, thanking ourselves for the idea of buying gas masks and spent several hours travelling towards a place where the sewer tunnel was cracked and leading into a natural ravine. We didn’t have much trouble but we could feel being observed as we wandered through thick mist and fumes of a sewer. At one intersection, Chuy noticed some movement and after a quick search him and Allen found a dead, mutilated devil rat, clutching in its paws… something. In the words of the GM:

You have some difficulty getting the object, all slippery from blood and sewer mud, but eventually make it. It’s large, long as your forearm, black and chitinous, with some weird spikes growing from it, almost like really thick hair.

After a cursory glance, we realized none of us knows what it is and what to do with it. In the end, Greg took it as he said it’s gonna look cool on his bike. We didn’t argue – it is going to look cool on the bike.

Six hours of walking through the sewer was exhausting – for everybody but Tomorrow who brilliantly suggested that they totally need another type of vision, so she Shapechanged herself into a coral snake (with thermographic vision) and then allowed herself to be carried by Allen for the next five hours, lazily looking around. Allen didn’t mind: apparently, he likes small scaly animals. After that trek, we finally arrived at the place where the crack in the sewer wall led deep into the natural rock, then found a safe place and decided to rest.

We spent the night in a cave Tomorrow cut in the side of the rocky tunnel with a Shape Earth spell, made doubly secure with a magical ward to stop an eventual ambush by whatever was giving us the weird vibe all the time in the sewers.

The “night”, or should we say, four hours of rest goes on undisturbed, though you still feel eerie presence. Occasional skittering or shuffling of… something just out of sight disturbs you every now and again – you are definitely not alone in the caves.

After a couple hours of rest, we continued through the tunnel, following Momma’s compass and maps, and going straight north-west. According to Momma, we spent the night under Downtown, which meant we’ve already slipped at least two borders. Tomorrow got interested whether there are any tunnels like that leading into Aztlan Sector, but no maps of the territory exist, so best Momma could do was ‘probably’.

The next couple of hours were full of slow and difficult trudging through the narrow walkways and crevices full of slippery fungi, sharp rock outcroppings and weird formations. Some tunnels were flooded, but nothing so serious as to stop you from crossing. The party had to occasionally fend off a devil rat, or some other creature – after the first time when Greg fired his AK97 in a corridor you learned never to do that again – once you regained your hearing. The road is long and arduous and you make a full six hours of walk, before reaching a large cave, dark moist. The rocks on the bottom are full of white substance, both fresh and old.You hear screeching noise from above your heads, just as you enter. Apparently your steps and conversation riled something up. You hear flapping of leathery wings above your heads.

So that happened. Hundreds of birdmen, Awakened bats, stood on the way between us and money. And there were nine of us. If it came to a fight, we’d be toast. Or rather, jam – smeared all over the floor with birdmen’s powerful sonic attacks. The combat was not an option. There were others, though:

  • Sneaking past them under spirit-induced concealment – risky and possibly leading to us dead;
  • Looking for other ways – there might have been other tunnels leading in the similar direction;
  • Saying ‘frag it’ and making our own tunnel, with blackjack and hookers.

After a short discussion we ended with the last one (mostly because Tomorrow wanted it and went, and did it; she’s not really the type to stay and listen to people for long when she’s sure her ideas are better). She’s not as sneaky as she could be, so the birdmen *took notice* of what’s happening as soon as she started casting the spell but Tomorrow is nothing if not prepared…

Tomorrow opens the tunnel in the rock with her magic, her hands glowing slightly. A slab of rock closes the tunnel leading to the cave. You can hear hundreds of flapping wings on the other side, and deafening loud screeches. Luckily for you, the rock around here is mostly basalt, but you can feel the ground tremble from the sonic booms in an enclosed space. Tomorrow stretches her hands and forms a bubble of air in the cave, like a blue-haired, pointy-eared Moses on LSD.

Did I ever tell you I love our GM’s descriptions?

As we already made the tunnel and sustaining a spell is not really an effort, we just cut straight through the ground for the next couple of hours. The air grew thin in the bubble quite soon but an air elemental’s guard power kept us safe from suffocation. It wasn’t nice but it was quick and efficient.

Eventually, you emerge in a long, vaguely square shaped drift, supported by ancient wooden beams. The shafts and corridors are well over a kilometer long, altogether. The ground is covered with rubble, but have been level at some point. You can even see brown trails on the rock where the railroad used to be laid for mine carts. Stalactites grow from the ceiling between the beams, and you can see crystalline formations protruding from the rock and ground. The tunnel is collapsed on both ends, and only one crack leads away from it – you probably would have came from there if not for Tomorrow’s magic. On the opposite of the crack, a narrow pathway leads down to an oddly regular round niche, where something lies on the bottom. Glowing fungi and moss grow on the walls of the old mine drift.

Well, children, looks like we found our bonanza. I haven’t a clue about that particular shaft, it’s not on me maps, I think. We’ll take what we can, anyway, says Momma. How about me and the mundanes here set up camp, while the magically inclined look around for things, eh? I only need Greg and Tanya to help me, the rest of you can look around, see maybe you find something worth a penny or two too!

Reagent gathering, rules as written, is a long and boring thing – an Extended Survival + Intuition (8, 1 hour) test to locate a single reagent. So, as we already were in a reagent-rich environment, we hand-waved the rule and ran with coolness and logic. Tomorrow, Tanya and Mack searched for reagents, finding a handful after several hours, while Allen went to check the mine itself.

He found beans. In fact, he found a decades-old campsite, a sleeping bag, a couple self-heating cans of beans produced in 2009 (!) by Oro corporation, and a stone cone with a most interesting relief.

Out of character, my brain went: Weeeeeeeeeeee! O frag, but I’m not here to spoil other players’ fun, so.

Tomorrow, who got called over from her patch of glowing fungi, noticed a faint magical aura on the cone, and the fact that it’s fairly new – the clay relief wouldn’t last longer than a couple of decades in the mine’s climate.

Looking for other clues that could explain the weird findings, Allen and Tomorrow split. Allen ended up caught in an elaborate prank set up earlier by Tomorrow (including giant stone faces, googly eyes, cans of beans, ‘Night in the Museum’ references, and data chips), and Tomorrow found an old ritual circle, with lines covered in moss. After couple hours of cleaning, Allen and her managed to uncover the whole circle.

All the magic theory datasofts of Tomorrow came in handy – she managed to identify the symbol as an Ute Circle of Life, more pseudo-magic than real magic. Each colour and direction were supposed to represent different facets of life but as Tomorrow never was into Native American symbolism, she didn’t know enough to understand it fully. They tried to place both the beans and the stone cone on the ritual circle but there were no magical fireworks of a riddle being solved.

Mack, in his shamanic wisdom, knew no more about the Ute symbol, but he brought something unique to the table: spirits of earth. He decided to commune with one and ask about what happened there a few decades ago. What he learned, was this:

This circle was made by an Ute shaman, calling for ages long past, calling of need and sorrow. And he who brings joy and hope, he who is light made of despair listened, listened and danced. And the Ute man danced with him.

Meanwhile, Allen, shapechanged into a bat, flew around the cave, discovering a shaft leading upwards, and a partially rock-filled passage at the far end of the cave, with some echoing voices behind the rubble. He came back to report, and then went with Tomorrow to check it out. What they’ve found, hidden under magical concealment, was a group of reagent gatherers under command of a high-powered shaman, accompanied by an even more powerful earth spirit. They used spirit’s power to bring the magically active reagents out from the depth of earth, making their task about as complicated as cherry-picking. Thankfully, as the group was about half an hour away, they didn’t notice two bats and a small elemental checking them out. Tomorrow and Allen decided to beat it – Allen went straight to Momma to tell her about the second group, and Tomorrow stayed behind, as she couldn’t just let all those reagents be taken by somebody else (and she gathered 230 of them in about half an hour, not even knowing how close she got to being detected.)

Mack asked his earth spirit to do the same trick as the one in the corridor, and we spent the rest of the day picking more reagents without much trouble. Then, we went home, tunneling through the ground without much care or worry.

Back at Best Western, Tomorrow weaseled the stone cone (and a can of beans) from Allen, quoting the need for more research. There actually been some: Quarrel, a slightly paranoid dwarf living in the Best Western’s basement, got very interested in the stone cone, and volunteered to talk to one of his friends, an Aztlan mage. According to his contact, the person depicted on the cone is Coyolxauhqui (“golden bells”) – a moon goddess. She was a daughter of Coatlicue and the ruler of the Centzon Huitznahuas, the star gods. She was a powerful magician and led her siblings in an attack on their mother, Coatlicue, because she became pregnant in a shameful way (by a ball of feathers). Coatlicue’s fetus, Huitzilopochtli, sprang from her womb in full war armour and killed Coyolxauhqui, along with many of the brothers and sisters. He cut off her limbs, then tossed her head into the sky where it became the moon, so that his mother would be comforted in seeing her daughter in the sky every night. A shield-shaped stone frieze reflecting this story was found at the base of the stairs on the Templo Mayor. In this frieze, Coyolxauhqui is shown spread out on her side, with her head, arms and legs chopped away from her body. She is distinguished by balls of eagle down in her hair, a bell symbol on her cheek, and an ear tab showing the Mexica year sign. As with images of her mother, she is shown with a skull tied to her belt. Scholars also believe that the decapitation and destruction of Coyolxauhqui is reflected in the pattern of warrior ritual sacrifice. First, captive’s hearts were cut out, then they were decapitated, their limbs chopped off, and finally their bodies were cast from the temple, to lie, perhaps, on the great Coyolxauhqui stone. Coyolxauhqui’s celestial associations are not limited to the moon. Other scholars feel she should be understood as the Goddess of the Milky Way, or be associated with patterns of stars associated with Huitzilopochtli.

Chuy suggested that in Texas, where he’s from, Coyolxauhqui is often connected to Virgin Mary, based on the field of stars. He also mentioned a sect of Azzie mages, dealing in blood magic and killing his brother in a blood ritual.

Quarrel, being magically active himself, popped in to assense the stone cone. He said that this cone was used in a powerful magical ritual – but many decades ago. To have any magic still holding onto it, this ritual must have been incredibly powerful. Either that, or it was in the presence of very powerful magic for a long time. It was a shamanic ritual, some sort of Calling, but not a summoning of a spirit. He couldn’t really determine more, the object itself is mundane, just a symbol made of clay stuck on a stone cone. Quarrel suggested, that looking at time scales, the ritual might have had something to do with the Spirit of Denver. Apparently, years ago two magicians (a mage and a shaman) learned the true name of the spirit and summoned it in the exact same moment, ripping the spirit in half. What was left, was best left alone.

The findings from the mine are definitely worth following on, when the time allows.

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