Project Aphelion Solo Play #015: Blood for the Bloodhound

Hi there! Happy Yule! I have a bunch of not-at-all-holiday-connected things in this episode. You get a good look at the idea of balancing and quid-pro-quo in Project Aphelion rules, there’s blood spilled, and important things happening in the background. An obligatory content warning about that blood, though. Nothing terribly graphic, but if it’s your thing, you may want to skip the Scenario narrative.


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January 19th, 2056

There’s no point getting upset, said Wheeler, only getting even. No point throwing the stolen blueprints at them in a bout of temper and giving them for free what they should pay for dearly. No point in raising suspicion if she can instead spy on those who spy on her, and track where the exchange of data takes place – and figure out the insect spirit part of the equation. 

And as much as she wants to rage and throw tantrums for the way she is being treated, he is right. She hates it, but that doesn’t make his assessment any less correct. It really is convenient that it’s the Cutters who sold her out, and without putting much effort into it. She knows them, all thirty two people and the dog. Their only magical resource in the area is Friese, and she’s not on the deal. Their highest ranking officer is Wheeler, and he’s also not on the deal – to his dismay, if she read the situation correctly. 

But that all means that whichever grunts are doing the dirty work, are doing just that – keeping tabs on her and probably meeting with their bug spirit contact occasionally. And that can be very well tracked, exploited, and turned to her advantage. She has already made her body double and as her spies have no access to magic – and don’t know her as well as Wheeler does – pulling a switcheroo is as easy as breathing. All she needs to do is be herself – well, herself two weeks ago, before she has learnt all of that. And if she can’t lie to a bunch of lowlife criminals, what’s even the point? 

The situation is, honestly, not that bad – and much better than the worst possible scenario. Yes, it’s still possible that the Cutters were infiltrated by bug spirits – weaponry deal aside – but then, she might be able to sniff them out. All she needs to do is take some time to watch the watchers.

And find a way to track down Chloe, before Aztechnology does the same.

And possibly get in touch with Zacualtipan and check what the dragon has in mind for messing with Aztech’s search for Chloe.

And figure out what the insect spirits want from her and her sister – if she still has a sister, that is.

And she’s falling behind on her research that was supposed to get done by now. And on her studies. When she signed up for uni, she did not expect herself to spend all her time doing this random bullshit, down to gang politics. Good thing she has Tonight, she can at least delegate some of it…

She sighs and considers her priorities, quickly realizing she has exactly zero time to track the Cutters, and Tonight’s social aptitude is much more suited for the task anyway. Tomorrow should instead focus on what she’s actually good at – the things only she can do.

Ever since she learned about Aztech’s plan to use Chloe to track down Fayette, she’s been pondering the question: what if she used herself to find her sister? She has already tried all standard kinds of divination and either because of the distance or mana barriers, came up emptyhanded. But their emotional bond, their shared genetics, their blood… With Sal’s help, under Raven’s guidance… It could give her the edge she needs, an untraceable astral thread to follow. It is the one resource Aztech doesn’t have – at least until they decide to kidnap her parents or something.

She should probably hurry the hell up.


Faction Layer: January 19th, 2056

The mysteries at least partially solved, it’s high time to get on with the backlog of things to do for the protagonist (and her clone). Tomorrow’s right, of course: she is falling behind on things she wanted to do – that’s just life. But let me organize it a bit for her.

Skill learning – I’ll set it up to the end of month/end of skills to raise. If Tonight picks up any later, I’ll run the projects for her, but Tomorrow has built a hefty backlog of skills to incorporate into her repertoire. Not everything is magic-related, even!
Tonight: (Teaching+1 3v5=0) Con 3, 5v9=0, no progress made (by Jan 19th)
Tomorrow: Melee 1, 3v6=1, skill raised to 1 (by Jan 17th)
(Teaching+1 3v5=2) Teaching 2, 3v5=3, skill raised to 2 (by Jan 19th)
(Teaching+1 3v4=1) Sorcery 5, 5v9=2/5 (by Jan 24th)
Marksmanship 1, 4v6=3, skill raised (by Jan 25th)
Dodge 1, 5v6=1, skill raised (by Jan 26th)
(Teaching+1 3v4=2) Conjuring 4, 5v7=2/4 (by Jan 30th)
Tactics 1, 4v6=0, no progress (by Jan 31st)


Current projects:

  1. figuring out who exactly is spying on Tomorrow, following the lead to the bug spirit contact
  2. learn the new spell/Advanced Action Card
  3. find a way to track down Chloe through blood magic
  4. contact Zacualtipan and discuss whatever she has in mind

So many projects, so little hours in the day. Let’s organize this a bit.


  1. Bug spirit investigation 2: Electrocuted Bug-Aloo.

I can solve this in a couple of ways, depending on what I feel like:

  • A general investigation project, just like the previous one, giving me a proper answer to the main question and requiring marks equal to the Campaign Rating (so taking at least 9 days)
  • A specialized investigation project aimed at that R2 investigation crew of the bug spirit faction – tracking them and taking them down. This requires me to calculate the Payout: definitely 2 + 1 to remove the R2 crew from the game + possibly a couple extra points to simulate some kind of intel collected during the investigation. It won’t bring all the answers, but it will remove the last asset of the Bug Spirits Faction, forcing them to focus their attention on replenishing their forces instead of running projects against Tomorrow (or anybody else). This will take a number of days at least equal to the Payout, so 3+.
  • Run an active Scenario with the same Payout and effect as above, which would in-game take probably only 2 days: one for legwork, one for the Scenario. Unlike the above options, it also allows the characters to learn skills and collect career deeds etc. – and unlike the above options, incurs the Deployment Costs.

All three options are viable in Project Aphelion as they give you a choice of how hands-on you want to be in the game, letting you focus on things that matter to you and delegate the rest. I think in this case, I’ll go with option two: Tonight is perfectly capable of running a social investigation to track down a couple of people (being a spirit, a body double, and a bloody good liar) and I don’t really feel like running a Scenario in which I spy on some gangers to spy on some bug spirits. I’ll sort this out on the Faction Layer, roll for consequences and write the narrative to fit logically.


  1. Learning new spells

Delegating the above to Tonight will maybe let Tomorrow get back to her studies a tiny bit – as you may or may not remember, she needs 10 marks on her project to learn a new Advanced Action Card, and has 0 so far, rolling 1v7.


  1. Tracking down Chloe like a bloodhound

Sounds good, doesn’t know how and if it works. Tomorrow doesn’t know blood magic, but she does know a blood mage. First, she’d need to convince Salazar of Bloodhouds to help (the gang is at Fam 7, so about 3 days (10-7=3 marks) of a project to exchange favors and convince them to lend a hand) – then run the legwork and the scenario for some kind of astral quest/ritual tracking, with the Payout of some Chloe-related intel and progress in the main Campaign objective, then rolling consequences – and those might be narratively delightful after messing with blood magic.


  1. Contacting Zacualtipan and figuring out the next step

Tomorrow would generally like to avoid getting mixed up with the dragons, even though she’s at surprisingly good terms with this one. However, whatever Zac would have planned, would be a direct attack against her brother and Aztechnology, and Tomorrow doesn’t really feel up for that yet. She might, after the blood tracking project is finished and she hopefully has some real information about her sister’s whereabouts.


Let’s Synchronize the Commlinks

I’m going to split Tonight and Tomorrow – the first will run her investigation and take down insect spirits’ investigative crew, the second will take care of Bloodhounds and her tracking rituals – they should emerge from both quests on more or less the same day. After the Assets get assigned to projects, they can technically stop them and be reassigned elsewhere, but I’ll just keep it simple and give both PCs some time apart. They could probably use it after being cooped up together on the bug spirit quest.


Electrocuted Bug-Aloo

Tonight, in her R1 glory of an Agent, runs her investigation as a Payout 5 social project – 3 points to reduce R2 Crew to zero and 2 points to get some intel on bug-spirit plot. As this is somewhat connected to the main quest, those 2 points of Payout will count towards the main objective. Removing a Faction Asset is more of a stalling tactic, so I’ll keep it separate.

She gets to roll her 1 dice (Faction Rating) vs difficulty of 5 (base – her focus) until she scores 5 marks. It did take her 7 days, so her project will be completed on Jan 26th. As Tomorrow’s project will probably finish before that, I’ll leave the resolution for later.


Blood for the Bloodhound

Tomorrow first needs to convince her friendly neighborhood blood mage to help her out. Salazar generally doesn’t mind sharing his gift and knowledge with others – but not for free. Hence, Tomorrow is going to spend a couple of days helping him train his small gang of magicians – she did that before, and she probably will keep doing it.

To gather enough favor with Salazar, she could also spend influence, but she’ll do the time instead – mostly, because she likes the Bloodhounds and they keep learning from each other. She needs to collect 3 marks, rolling 1v2, and finishes the task in 3 days, on Jan 22nd. This means on 23rd she can start doing the legwork and generating the Scenario, as she has already secured Salazar’s help for it.

Payout: 5 points of Chloe-related intel (basically just a matter of progressing the main plot and getting whatever information would fit a blood-magic-powered divination spell)
Legwork: Sorcery (duh), 5v3=4, 5v3=4, 8 marks in 2 days, 3 net
Threat Rating: 5v5=2, 5v5=4, 6 marks. Threat Rating: 3-2 = 1
Scenario Rating: 6, default Actor R3

Build Points: 6
Free Modules: 5 + 5 Passages
Free Scenes: 5

Module 1: Gateway. A free Delayed Scene here, because why wouldn’t we put extra stakes just to make the thing more interesting? Losing a Scenario has its drawbacks, of course, but what if this Scenario has even more at stake? Let’s say that the whole Scenario has to be finished in the standard delay time (10+Scenario Rating = 16 intervals) or Tomorrow gets [Payout] of Injuries as she bleeds out during the ritual? 5 Injuries would not only knock her unconscious, it would put her out of commission for weeks as she would require serious medical attention afterwards (her Stamina Pool is 8, so she’d die after getting 9+ Injuries, but her Toughness is 3, so everything above that makes her unconscious).
Gateway directly connected to Module 2.

Module 2: Operation Module. A free Search Scene here, in which Tomorrow needs to find the one connection thread she needs to follow – she has other living relatives, and she needs to find the one that’s her sister. The free R3 Actor (link to her sister) is going to hide, collecting marks towards the Scenario Rating. Tomorrow needs to find it, ie. gather marks equal to that Actor’s Rating, while other two R3 Actors (links to her mother and father, perhaps?) will try to split her attention and distract her from the goal. (2/6 BP spent)
Passages connect it to Modules 3 and 4.

Now, Tomorrow has a choice: she can either spend extra time and hone her aim, removing extra Resistance from the Finale in Module 3 or she can go through Module 4 and remove the global modifier.

Module 3: Support Module with a free Offense Scene. This Module provides the Finale with extra Resistance equal to Threat Rating (if you think 1 is not that much, remember it adds up quickly). The free R3 Actor and the paid-for R3 Actor are in here to simulate Tomorrow’s conflicting interests and distractions, keeping her from from the goal. She can either get rid of them, sneak past them (repressing always works great), or just ignore them and plow through, even as they try to slow her down. (3/6 BP spent)
Passages connect it to Modules 4 and 5.

Module 4: Modifier Module with a free Offense Scene. This Module raises the base difficulty for all mental actions in the whole Scenario by 1, introducing a global Stress Modifier (4/6 BP spent). A free R3 Actor is just here to simulate Tomorrow’s fear that she might just learn that her sister – even if still alive – is no longer herself, instead being just an insect spirit in disguise.
Passages connect it to Module 3 and 5 (out of free passages).

Module 5: Control Module with the Finale. As always, the Finale gets extra Resistance equal to Payout (5). As Tomorrow needs to gather marks towards the Main Task, she needs to counteract the free R3 Actor… And why don’t I make sure she’s absolutely miserable doing it, introducing an Environmental Hazard R2 – some magic overload, dealing 2 points of Stamina Damage every interval she’s in that Module (6/6 BP spent)? After all, she’s messing with magic that she doesn’t understand, something that is obviously dangerous, and that is inherently connected to people bleeding out on altars.

That… will be fun.


Preparations!

Not that much, to be honest. She can’t really take a lot with her into something that is basically a ‘sending’ – a long-range divination spell. No gear, no bots, no spirits – just her wits, her Wits’ End, her skills, and her mentor spirit (he lives rent-free in her head but needs to be paid 100c for it anyway). This also means no protection, almost no extra Actors to help her out, and a time pressure to boot.

However, she will be using her main attribute and skill through the most of it, Driven trait works for her advantage now (not that I ever remember about it! I always remember when it’s working against her, but barely ever when it’s beneficial), so does the Career trait (free Clout for primary skills). She doesn’t have the time to prepare any other mental defenses (remember that she wanted to? Yeah, didn’t have the time to do that, and now she’s paying for it. Linear progression of time is a bitch.


Scenario 007: Blood for the Bloodhound

January 25th, 2056

‘What do I care? It’s your funeral.’

Ah, Salazar, thinks Tomorrow. Best friend ever.

Convincing him to cut her open on the altar and send her consciousness into the astral is, as always with Salazar, just a matter of price. He does squeeze as much as he can from her. You won’t need that research if you’re dead anyway, he says when she lets him copy her notes. And while he does state that what she wants to do is absolutely bonkers and has her sign a waver to keep him safe from Wheeler’s retribution (not that it would do him much good, as they both know), he also does agree that it has a chance to work. Theoretically.

She will be on the clock the whole time – her life essence seeping out from the wounds together with her blood. Sal says he’ll try to keep her steady and will break the ritual if it looks like she can’t make it in time – but he advises her to hurry. A lot.

Tomorrow has no doubt she’ll succeed. Well, she has plenty of doubts, but not when it comes to the ritual. She ran the equations, she did the research, she has Dzitbalchen’s notes on the ritual they wanted to perform on Chloe… Theoretically, it should all work. It will work. Magic is just science, and sometimes, you just need to trust the math. Sometimes, you just need to forget that you’re scared and do the damn thing.

I need you, she calls to Raven. Be with me. A quiet, calming presence at the back of her mind is all that she gets this time – but it’s good enough. Raven’s always there for her. Which is exactly what keeps her moving when she sees the altar (well, a table covered in a piece of white fabric) in the middle of a ritual circle they were putting together for the last two days. When she sees Salazar pulling out his obsidian athame, when she lies down on the altar, when Salazar cuts her wrists and she sees the blood sprout out and coalesce in front of her like a glowing, crimson crystal needle. She focuses her attention on the crystal and lets herself be pulled into it.

And then she’s no longer scared. She’s just slowly dying.


T1/16
Module 1: Gateway.
Tomorrow: PA: Interact. PA: Stealth+1, 5v3=3 points of Concealment. SP 6/8 MP 8/8
Raven: MA, 1v6=0, no extra concealment for Tomorrow, PA TaB. SP 2/2 MP 2/2

T2/16
Module 2: Operation Module – Search Scene. Tomorrow has higher initiative than R3 Actors and she could theoretically spot the right link straight away, before it manages to hide – however, by doing so, she’d forfeit her concealment and leave herself open for the interference of  the other two Defense Actors, possibly stripping her marks away and forcing her to spend at least one more interval in here – and the clock’s ticking! So, instead, Tomorrow will exchange 3 points of her initiative (reducing hers to 1) for an extra action and go last in this interval, hopefully achieving her goal.
Chloe Link tries to hide. 2 MA (comb) 3v3=3, MT 3/6
Mom Link looks for intruders. 2 PA (comb) 3v2=3, Tomorrow’s Concealment gone
Dad Link tries to drag her away. 2 PA (comb) 3v2=3 Morale dmg for Tomorrow
Tomorrow: MA (comb) Sorcery+1, 5v4=4, PA Perception+1, 4v6=2, PA TaB. SP 6/8 MP 5/8. MT 6/3 -> end of interval, scene won
Raven: emotional support, MA 1v6=0, no Morale Points for Tomorrow. PA TaB. SP 2/2  MP 2/2

T3/16
A passage to Module 4.
Tomorrow: 2 PA (comb) TaB, 3v5=1. SP 7/8 MP 6/8.
Raven: emotional support, MA 1v6=0, no Morale Points for Tomorrow. PA TaB. SP 2/2  MP 2/2

T4/16
Module 4: Modifier Module. One R3 Actor is here to oppose Tomorrow as she battles her fear and anticipation of a tragedy in this simple Offense scene.
Tomorrow: MA Conditioning+1, 3v8=1 for the Main Task, MA Sorcery+1, 5v3=3 MP against the R3 Actor, PA Enforcing+1, 3v6=3 MP against the R3 Actor. PA TaB. SP 7/8 MP 5/8. MT 1/6
R3 Actor: Forced to Take a Breath. 3v6=0. Actions spent, Actor still incapacitated. SP 6/6 MP 0/6
Raven: emotional support, MA 1v6=1, 1 Morale Points for Tomorrow. PA TaB. SP 2/2  MP 2/2

T5/16, same Scene.
Tomorrow: MA Sorcery, 5v4=4 towards MT. MA Conditioning, 3v8=0 towards MT. PA Perception+1, 4v6=2 towards MT, PA TaB. SP 7/8 MP 5/8. MT 7/6.
R3 Actor: Forced to Take a Breath. 3v6=1. Actions spent, back to 1 MP, but can’t do anything else.
Raven: emotional support, MA 1v6=1, 1 Morale Points for Tomorrow. PA TaB. SP 2/2  MP 2/2 -> end of interval, scene won, global stress modifier removed.

Now, Tomorrow can either go and try to shave off a point of Resistance from the Finale by spending 1 interval on a Passage + 1-2 in Module 3 + 1 interval in a Passage to the Finale  – or she can go straight to the Finale and face 7 points of Resistance there, while taking Stamina damage each interval. We’re making good time and we want the Finale to be as short as possible because of the Environmental Hazard – so a detour isn’t a bad idea, even if it depletes the pools a bit. However, it houses 2 Actors and the dice pools are strongly against Tomorrow in this case: she has a lot of distractions in her life.

T6/16
A passage to Module 5.
Tomorrow: MA: Activating Wits’ End, 5v7=0, no free actions or boosts to Wit. SHIT. 2 PA (comb) TaB, 3v5=3. SP 8/8 MP 8/8.
Raven: quality advice and helpful thoughts, providing her with Clout for next Task, 1v5=1. SP 2/2 MP 2/2

T7/16
Module 5: Control Module. One R3 Actor opposing Tomorrow as the Defense. 7 points of Resistance for the Main Task requiring 6 marks (5 from Payout, 1 from Support Module, 1 from one Actor attempting it). Environmental Hazard of 2 SP per interval, at the end of the interval. Just so I don’t forget (again, like earlier in this Scenario), Tomorrow has 2 points of Clout from Driven and 1 more for Sorcery/Conjuring/Sciences/Investigation from Career. The global stress modifier is no more, the basic difficulty is 6 + 7 points of Resistance = 13, reduced by skills and Clout. Other Actions in the Finale have 1 point of Resistance from the Support module. The Environmental Danger (ED) can be overcome in a separate MT, also with Resistance of 1.
Tomorrow: MA Sorcery+1, 5v5=1 towards MT. MA Sorcery, 5v2=4 Morale dmg for Defense. PA Enforcing+1, 3v6=2 Morale dmg for Defense. PA TaB. SP 8/8 MP 7/8. MT 1/6.
Defense: 0 Morale, forced to TaB. 3v6=1. SP 6/6 MP 1/6.
Raven: MA 1v6=1 Morale dmg for Defense, incapacitated. PA TaB. SP 2/2 MP 2/2
End of interval, everybody gets 2 points of Stamina dmg. Raven gets incapacitated, the rest goes on.

T8/16
Tomorrow: MA Sorcery, 5v6=2 towards MT. MA Sorcery, 5v2=3 towards removing the ED. 2 PA (comb) TaB 3v6=2. SP 8/8 MP 7/8. MT 3/6. ED 3/6.
Defense: 0 Morale, forced to TaB. 3v6=1. SP 5/6 MP 1/6.
Raven: Incapacitated, basically out of the equation and the Scenario.
End of interval, 2 points of Stamina dmg for everybody.

T9/16
Tomorrow: MA Sorcery, 5v6=1 towards MT. (I am rolling like SHIT today.) MA Investigation+1, 4v4=3 towards removing the ED. PA Enforcing, 3v6=1 Morale dmg for Defense. PA TaB. SP 6/8 MP 6/8. MT 4/6. ED 6/6 -> ED removed.
Defense: 0 Morale, forced to TaB. 3v6=2. SP 6/6 MP 2/6.

T10/16
Tomorrow: MA Sorcery, 5v6=4 towards MT (FINALLY!). MA Sciences+1, 5v8=2 towards MT. PA Enforcing, 3v6=2 Morale dmg for Defense. PA TaB. SP 6/8 MP 5/8. MT 10/6.
Defense: 0 Morale, forced to TaB.
End of interval, MT completed with 4 net hits. The Scenario has been won!


At first, there’s nothing but the freezing cold. Tomorrow feels her warmth leaving her as her consciousness is torn out from her body, clutching the crystal needle like it’s the only thing that matters. And in this moment, it is. There’s nothing but her, the crystal, and the dense crimson mist around them. Then she notices the shadows in the mist. She knows she needs to hurry but rushing in was never a good idea in her life. She focuses and aligns her energy to the crystal’s, blending, masking, hiding herself. She can’t have anybody tracking her in there. It should not be possible – but she’s been doing many things that should not be possible. She can feel the wind on her non-existent body and she knows it will be alright. She just needs to hurry.

She opens her palm and drags it across the needle, drawing blood. The liquid hangs in the wind for a second, then erupts in an explosion of threads, each stretching far into the mist. Some of them are barely like a hairline, other much thicker, stronger, glowing against the crimson. You can’t see me, she tells the shadows. I belong here. I’m of this blood and you don’t need to pay attention to me.

They do pay attention to her. She can see the shadows shifting, searching. And they find her easily enough. A shadowy hand extends from the mist and grabs her, translucent fingers wrapping around her slit wrist, pulling.

Come home, the shadows say in a voice of her father. Please, Sarah. Just come home. We only just got you back – we can’t lose you as well. She can feel her resolve falter at the pleading and with all her might she pushes against it. It’s just a spell, she tells herself. I won’t be fooled by my own damn spell. Now, where the hell is it…

She finds the glowing strand, strongest and thickest from them all. Her fingers tense around the silky thread and she can feel copper in her mouth. She swallows.

I just hope it’s still her on the other side. Because if not… I honestly don’t know how to live.

She follows the thread for what feels like a lifetime. The mists roll around her, still full of shadows, still watching. She listens to the slow thud in the background and knows it’s her heart. Is it beating slower than it did a moment ago? Is it faster as the fear of the resolution mounts? Is the Raven still even there? She pleads for a sign but there’s no answer, just this endless thread glowing in her fingers, turning them red as well.

No, she will not let herself fail. The spell is flawless, it will lead her to Chloe, their blood providing a link strong enough. Even if something took over her mind and body, the link is still there, and that means she’s not dead. She’s alive. And if it’s not her anymore, Tomorrow will burn the world. But she cannot live even a second longer without knowing.

She pushes her fears, down, down, down. No time for that now. Hurry.

Good, she hears in her mind and the scent of blood disappears for a second, replaced with wind, ozone, and wet feathers.

You’re here.

I’m always with you. Just do it.

Tomorrow focuses and pushes down all other distractions. The shadows don’t matter, insect spirits don’t matter, her parents don’t matter. Her life doesn’t either. She just needs to find her sister.

The thread grows thicker and brighter, and hotter. The light hurts her eyes. There’s nothing but searing pain in her hand and the low thud in her ears as she follows the link into the mist. She calls for the Raven but is met with silence and loss. The thudding speeds up to a crescendo, just as the burning causes her to cry out. She can hear it echoing all around her and is sure it’s not just her soul that’s in agony. Curious.

She looks at her palm, burned, barely holding on to the glowing thread – and lets it go. She breathes through the pain, as Raven has taught her.

Why is my damage always self-inflicted? she asks as she’s looking at the thread – still there, exactly as easy to follow as previously, just… Not hurting her anymore. She shakes her head and continues her walk undisturbed until she finds herself in front of a wall of mist. A single shadow stands in there, partially obscured, and the glowing, burning thread goes straight into its heart. A translucent hand extends towards her but there’s nothing but a gentle invitation in it.

Tomorrow grabs the hand and lets herself be pulled into the mist.

The room on the other side is small and cluttered. The red haze drowns everything in a shade, obstructing the field of vision, but the the person lying on the bed is crystal clear. Tomorrow looks at the well-known face, thin and pale, barely darker than the blonde hair covering the pillow. There are shadows underneath Chloe’s eyes and tension around her mouth. She looks like she’s sleeping, but the cables plugged into her skull stretch all the way towards the terminal on the floor, and Tomorrow knows it’s just an illusion of rest. The door to the room opens and another person walks in – an ork in an armored jacket, SMG on a sling thrown onto his back. He says something – the spell carries only the visuals – and Chloe opens her eyes, focusing on the man. She winces and unplugs the cables. They talk for a while, both clearly unhappy but not with one another. Finally, the ork shrugs and leaves. Chloe sits at the desk and rummages through the pile on it. Tomorrow can work out some pieces of electronics, soybar wrappers, and more explosives than she’d ever like to see anywhere near her sister.

She’s safe, decides Tomorrow and forces herself to move her perception away from Chloe, to figure out where she is, not just whether. The surroundings get hazier and hazier the further away from Chloe she looks, but it’s obvious that the place is just a temporary hideout, a basement of some run-down apartment building in an equally run-down area. But there’s only one thing Tomorrow needs…

And as she struggles against the haze, the address on the building gets more and more visible…

Then a strong pull drags her backwards and all she can do is scream.


‘Oh, would you shut up already!’

‘You’re so dead, Sal.’

Tomorrow feels hot fingers gripping her slit wrist, and she struggles to free her hand. The echo of a scream is still ringing in her ears, her mouth is full of blood, and her head is spinning. There’s a void where her heart should be and it sucks in everything, leaving her bare, panicked, and alone.

‘Just stay still for a second, you dumb bitch, I’m trying to heal you.’

She opens her eyes, blinking against the lights. Salazar looks like he regrets ever agreeing to any idea of hers. His clothes are covered in blood and he even has a smear on his forehead, mixed with sweat. His frightened expression is suddenly so damn funny…

Tomorrow laughs, chokes on the blood, and spits it out on the floor. Her stomach revolts but she manages to keep it in check, barely. With amused detachment, she looks at her hands, all bloodied, then laughs again and reaches towards her friend.

‘Well, what are you waiting for, you asshole?’ she teases him with a grin. ‘You want Wheeler to feed you your own balls? Gargoyle would be sad, and nobody wants that.’

Salazar’s boyfriend just nods in acknowledgement, not one for verbal fights. Salazar explains in detail just about how much of an idiot Tomorrow is, while guiding her blood back where it belongs and sealing the wounds with magic. Tomorrow mostly ignores him – he’s right. But she’s a very smart idiot and she cannot wait to take a shower. As soon as she stops shivering from blood loss, as soon as her head stops spinning, as soon as she feels she can take a step without falling. So, about tomorrow. Now, she only needs sleep.

‘Move your skinny butt, you slitch.’

Salazar of course doesn’t just let her rest and while the reasonable part of her brain suggests he’s right, the more primal one just wants to throw lightning at him until he shuts up. But no, she soon finds herself stuffed with sugary calories and put in the shower, staring at the bloody streaks going down her body. The coppery scent is still in her mouth, in her nose, in her hair, in her brain – where it will probably stay the longest.

But it doesn’t matter. It all doesn’t matter.

Chloe is alive. Chloe is not alone. Sure, she’s not really sunbathing in there, and everything points out to her working with ALOHA or some down-on-their-luck shadowrunners, but it beats being a part of a hive. It beats being an ant queen. It beats being dead.

Tomorrow grins and repeats the sweetest, most beautiful words, the ones for which she bled and almost died: 649 California Avenue.


Wrapping Up

Did I just drop a pin in a random place around Honolulu, landed in Wahiawa, then picked an address that sounds like it would be anywhere in America? Yes. Did I laugh half to death when that address happened to be right next to Aloha Scuba Diving Company LLC. and Wheeler Army Air Field? You know it. Gotta love the absolute random synchronicity of life.

Anyway: that was 5 intel points of Payout right there, wasn’t it? Something that clearly pushes the story forward, a breakthrough even. And we’re not even done, because I still have 4 net marks on the Finale and Scenario consequences to work out. And then the Bug-Aloo.

However, to my disappointment, the consequences roll ended on a 3, and with 4 net marks I can bring it up only to neutral results… Or, you know, take that 3 and run with it. There’s just something about messing with blood magic that wants me to have negative consequences of bloody-irresponsible ideas. Because you know… It should have negative consequences. Hence, I’m embracing my 3 (a negative consequence of magnitude equal to Payout), rolling 3d10 and picking mid again…

8: A person from a character backstory is in danger. Launch a Project with Payout equal to magnitude to save them, pushing that character’s background plot forward. Pick which player it entails.

Well, no shit.

I guess Aztechnology is well aware they can track down Chloe the same way Tomorrow just did. Just need to kidnap her parents or something.

I’m a godsdamn prophet, ain’t I? The one that takes what’s happening and make it fit what she already predicted, but still. I brought this upon myself, quite literally.

Tomorrow, after learning that Aztechnology wants to use Chloe to find Fayette: What I great idea, I can use it to find Chloe myself!
Tomorrow, five seconds later: Oh, they can find Chloe that way too, they just need to capture some of her relatives.
Tomorrow, after realizing this is actually a viable and working-as-advertised option: Fuck. *calls Dad*


The Electrocuted Bug-Aloo Wrap Up!

A day after Tomorrow finishes her astral quest and is more or less in a shape to do anything else, Tonight finishes her Bug Spirit investigation, reducing bugs crew to nothing and bringing up 2 points of Intel towards the main plot. Let’s roll for consequences – no net marks, so just need to take what’s given. And what’s given is a 6, so no further consequences from that angle. The What-For table also ended up on a 6 – Favors, which means that the insect spirits are actually gathering all that intel not for themselves – just doing somebody else a favor. Whom? Whodunnit, you ask?

5: The responsible party is the one who has the most to gain from it. You’ve found yourself in the middle of the tangled web of deals and relationships, and targeting you was in somebody’s best interest.

Let me think… With whom the bug spirit Faction is even connected at this point? Who has an interest in Chloe and Tomorrow? Who was not that long ago talking about mutual friends?

Well, would you look at the time.

It’s the time to take the separated threads and braid them together. Oh, I love it. Tomorrow’s going to be absolutely miserable.

(But before we do, let me do the technical stuff of adding 7 points of Chloe-connected intel to the pile, adding 7 to the Campaign goal tracker (now at 34 – 1/3 there!), adding 5 Rep for the Scenario for Tomorrow, putting the learning ticks where they belong, lowering the Familiarity with Bug Spirits by 1, and removing their Crew).


January 26th, 2056

‘You look like shit.’

‘Nice to see you too, Tonight.’

‘I’m just telling you the hard truth nobody else here will.’ The spirit shrugs. ‘That’s what sisters are for.’

Tomorrow crashes on Wheeler’s couch, too tired to argue. He gives her a worried look, not the first one. He was just talking over the details of the investigation with Tonight – a surprisingly good conversation partner; but then, the spirit was molded after his girlfriend, and her rather liked that one – when his window opened and a tired little raven flew inside, sat down and changed into Tomorrow. No somersaults, no dropping the form mid-air and three-point superhero landings – just a subdued, controlled plop.

And she really does look tired and pale.

He leaves them to their one-sided bickering, gets his girlfriend a blanket and a cup of coffee, then sits down and hugs her as she curls into a ball, with her head on his knees. So tired, so delicate, so vulnerable. Then he notices the freshly healed scars on her wrists and realizes that the ritual she was performing was probably not exactly what she has led him to believe.

Salazar will be lucky if he survives until dawn.

‘Was it worth it?’ he asks quietly.

‘Totally. Worked out perfectly, just like a normal clairvoyance spell, just long-distance and on a link,’ she mutters with her eyes closed. ‘Chloe’s fine. Working with ALOHA, I think. Rather crappy environment, but no antennae or cocoons in sight. I even got an address in Wahiawa, north of Honolulu.’

Wheeler nods, then lets his hand cover hers. She winces when his fingers trace the scar, bringing attention to what she’d rather forget.

‘I’m fine,’ she says and pulls the sleeve over the healed cut. ‘It’s nothing. Already healed. Irrelevant. Focus, please.’

She doesn’t add: on anything else, but he hears it anyway – and decides to ignore it.

‘You could have told me what you’re about to do.’

‘You could neither help nor talk me out of it. It needed to be done, I had all calculations checked multiple times, a medic at hand, and everything under control.’ She sounds so tired he really doesn’t want to argue with her. ‘And leave Sal be. I couldn’t have done it without him.’

‘I know.’ This sounds more like a threat than he planned – but less than he really wants.

Tomorrow rolls her eyes, even though she can’t be bothered to open them. ‘I’m fine. It’s done. It’s a win. Leave it, please.’

He looks at Tonight with a questioning look and the spirit shrugs.

‘She’s generally right. I can’t see any long-term issues, she just needs to rest and replenish the lost blood.’

‘I need to go to Dallas.’ Tomorrow opens her eyes and tries to get up, but Wheeler’s arm keeps her down. ‘No, seriously. I think Aztech might target mom and dad to do with them what I just did to myself -‘ she realizes her mistake and covers it quickly: ‘With much less care for their wellbeing. I mean, if their plan to find Fayette is to bleed out Chloe on an altar…’ She casts a glance at Adam and sighs. ‘Fuck, I’m tired. Can’t keep a story straight. I know I should have told you. I’m sorry, love. What I did was dangerous but controlled. But if Aztech decides to use my parents to find Chloe, they won’t care about survival. I need to make sure they are safe.’

‘We’ll arrange something.’ There’s more that he wants to say but this is what she needs to hear now. Other things… Can wait.

‘Thank you. Tonight, can you get to Dallas and let them know? Preferably dad, mom would flip. They should be safe between the Rangers until I figure out something better. The whole Texan military is so used to fighting Aztlan, they won’t even bat an eyelid.’

‘Will do, twin. Want to know what happened with those bug spirits?’ Tonight sounds completely innocent, which – as Wheeler knows well – does not fit the situation at all.

‘Oh, right. Tell… Can you remove your arm, please?’ Tomorrow grabs her coffee and tries to put herself in order. ‘What’s up with that noise?’

‘You’ll laugh.’

‘I probably won’t.’

‘They don’t give a shit about you. Or Chloe.’

Tomorrow sips coffee, considering. ‘Just business, eh? Whose?’

‘Do you want me to spoil the surprise?’ Her spirit twin grins. ‘Skip the story, give the raw, juicy data?’

‘Yeah, actually.’

‘You’re no fun, half-blood. Fine. I tracked down the three dudes that were keeping tabs on you. I’ve tracked down their contact. And its contact. And its employer. Destroyed two insect spirits – Steven came in handy, thanks for the lease. Asked kind Wheeler here to dispose of the three gangers, he shipped them off to Seattle for espionage or something.’ Wheeler shrugs under Tomorrow’s gaze. ‘I did not harm the employer as I figured my life has been yet too short for it to end. Also, you kinda wanted a meeting with them anyway.’

‘I did?’

‘I’ve heard about your heroic quest from our mutual friends,’ quotes Tonight, and Tomorrow looks like she got punched in the stomach. ‘Guess she did not mean Henequen.’

‘Fucking. Dragons.’ There’s a growl in Tomorrow’s voice that Wheeler hasn’t heard before and he finds it suddenly quite… appealing. ‘She’s been at it for years? She knew about Aztech’s plans for Chloe all along, had her followed, then had me followed? Keeping tabs on her little pawns, making sure she can use them later to mess up with her fucking brother’s plans…? I am going to…’ She suddenly grips her cup of coffee and deflates. ‘I am going to call her and politely ask for a meeting, then follow her plan to piss off her brother, aren’t I? Make myself even more of a target, this time an open one, probably going to Hawai’i, finding Chloe, and then scrambling to keep us alive while we’re just pawns in Zacualtipan’s plans. Because she doesn’t give a shit about us either, she just wants her brother to not have his fun. I’m gonna get myself hired to find fucking Fayette Vann, aren’t I?’

‘Will it help you if I say it’s probably what Chloe would want anyway? Them being friends and all?’

‘No, Tonight. It doesn’t help at all.’

‘Then I guess you’ll shit out of luck, as usual. Anyway, you two need cuddle time, so I’m gonna go give our old folks a proper scare.’ Tonight gives them one last look, winks at Wheeler, and disappears. He assumes she’s gone, not that he can really tell – but in the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t really matter.

He pulls Tomorrow closer and as she rests with her head on his shoulder, she finally tells him what exactly has happened doing that ritual and why Salazar deserves to live. For now.


Coming Up!

That was a lot! Apologies for all the blood – this story really isn’t all that pleasant. Next time, we’ll cover the rest of the month, solving the Scenario consequences, and sorting out all other things that need to be sorted by the end of the month. Hope you enjoyed the story – and see you again soon!

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