Project Aphelion Solo Play #026: Blood, Sweat, and Tears

Welcome to the new episode! This time: mass murder, grand larceny, and arson. And a fair warning about lots of blood, death, and mental and physical trauma. Mentions of self-harm, suicide, and several other nasty things. This is not a story for everybody, and our protagonist is, honestly, a rather messed-up person, if you haven’t yet noticed.


Disclaimer

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March 10th, 2056

‘Please don’t hold it against me, but are you insane? Tell me you’re not going with this ridiculous plan of his.’

‘Of course I’m not,’ scoffs Sarah. ‘No way I’m gonna go shoot up any ghouls. I’m a scientist, not a fucking thrill ganger.’

Adam sighs with relief. ‘I was worried there for a while. Sorry. I should have trusted you know better than that.’

‘All good, babe.’ Sarah waves away any apologies. ‘Fair assumption to make. I walked into at least four other places like that in the Warrens. The ones that didn’t have ghouls, had blood mages, toxic mages, and hostile policlubs. Breaking into deathtraps was kinda my thing, wasn’t it?’ 

Adam pushes the hair away from her face in a surprisingly delicate gesture. ‘Do you want to tell me it isn’t anymore? What changed?’ 

She ponders the question for a while, but the answer she finds is rather simple: ‘My life got some kind of value lately. You’re in it. My sister’s not dead. Makes me think I don’t want to lose it.’

‘Oh, you.’ He hugs her and gently taps the top of her head as if she were a child. ‘Finally realizing you matter, not just energy?’

Sarah chuckles, easing into his embrace. ‘Nothing I do has any meaning if I’m dead, you know? Aaaaanyway,’ she quickly changes the subject, extracting herself from his arms. ‘I gotta find a better solution. I have to help Caw-Caw, but there’s no way I’m gonna go into a ghoul lair. One fucking scratch and it’s all over. I’d off myself if I got infected. Why would anybody ever willingly walk into there? Casualties would be terrible, even if we won. And ghouls are dual-natured, so not even magic would help hiding from them. And honestly…’ Sarah winces, listening to her own rambling. ‘If I were into HMHVV, I’d go for strain one. Banshees look cuter than ghouls.’

Adam’s dead stare tells her to drop the morbid topic. She suddenly realizes that he must be more worried than she expected.

‘As I said, I’m not doing it,’ she repeats after a while, taking his hand. ‘Salazar has this all backwards. He thinks that by attacking them, he can get his gear and supplies, destroy his enemies, and then start recruiting properly. But that’s silly. What he should do is split his problem three ways and not risk any lives of his already weak gang. Like seriously – he’s got four Awakened in his gang, eight mundanes, plus a bunch of fire-breathing hyenas, and he plans to physically storm a fortified, guarded building with at least twenty ghouls? That’s irresponsible, even for him.’

‘So what is your plan?’

‘I don’t know yet, not exactly,’ she admits. ‘But he has three problems: money, people, enemies. I’d say… Earn, negotiate, nuke with ritual magic.’

Adam nods. ‘Makes sense. There’s a lot of smaller gangs in the area and the unrest is palpable. If he can start with a show of force, others would flock to him. Blasting a whole gang off the map would definitely be a statement that would keep other pretenders at bay.’

‘Just gotta come up with that ritual.’ She smiles lightly. ‘I’m not that experienced with ritual magic, but Sal and I have a way of coming up with new stuff. And maybe Friese or Crowley would lend a hand. If we pull it off, we can re-establish Hellhounds in the position we need them – as powerful, useful allies to the both of us.’ She steals a quick kiss, then lets Adam slowly take it back. ‘Mhm… That could work. I’m not that good at negotiations, but I’ve got Tonight. And as far as gear or money goes…’ She shrugs. ‘I have literally zero idea how gangs are funded.’

‘Crime.’ There’s not even a shred of humor in his deadpan delivery, which makes Sarah giggle.

‘Well, duh. How do Hellhounds make their money, I mean?’

‘They don’t. They’re a thrill gang. They raid and plunder, scavenge and barter. Mostly in the Warrens, but sometimes outside as well. Why do you think we’re selling things to them, but we’re dealing with BBs?’ 

‘Huh.’ Sarah turns on the coffee machine with a spell and sits on the couch, grabbing a notebook. A moment later she raises her head and notices that Adam is looking at her with an amused smile. ‘What?’

‘Are you now working on a business plan for a bunch of thrill gangers?’

‘I might be,’ she offers cautiously. ‘I doubt they’ll take me up on that but I’d rather do this than storm a ghoul lair. If they’re not into it, well, Raven knows I’ve tried my best. He doesn’t want me dead either. I hope.’


Scenario 014: Blood, Sweat, and Tears

The point is, I do not want to raid a ghoul lair. Technically, unlike in Shadowrun, I wouldn’t risk a random scratch and infection with Human Meta-Human Vampiric Virus, but I feel like I’d have to add it as a condition in the Scenario, and the sheer possibility of becoming a ghoul and having my campaign cut short though a stupid dice roll makes me not want to play the Scenario. I am generally risk-averse when the full risk comes from a random chance and not my poor choices.

Instead, we’ll be helping Hellhounds our way. And we’re a scientific/social/technical faction – by which I mean: we have one gun to share between three people, and even that’s just a taser. If we can make this work by… remote violence and intelligently applied skills, we’ll do it. The plan, in short, is to do what Salazar wants, only without putting ourselves in danger.

First, we need to convince Salazar and Caw-Caw that we have a better idea than their plan. Second, we need to devise a magic ritual that will allow us to nuke the Dead Eyes’ place without the need to go there; we won’t burn the place down yet, but we will try to target everything that’s alive in there. (What if they have some captives in there? Oopsie-daisy, collateral.) Third, we will perform the ritual, hoping that the powerful magic we need to wield won’t kill us. Fourth, we’ll raid the place and collect everything that’s not bolted to the floor. Fifth, we’ll prepare and sixth, execute the burn-it-all ritual to purge the lair and send the message to any potential enemies and allies of Hellhounds.

That’s the general plan. Depending on the rolls, maybe I’ll collate some options and try to squeeze in some social scenes, like setting up a proper revenue stream for the Hellhounds; they can raid and pillage how much they want, but if they have a side income, they won’t ever again be in the same predicament as at the moment.


Scenario Generation

Payout: 7 (3 to get Salazar as a R2 contact, 3 to get Caw-Caw as a R2 contact, 1 point of magical research intel). Additionally, if the Scenario is won, Raven will be upgraded to a R2 contact.
Legwork: We’re taking the whole party there, so: Tomorrow, Sorcery, 5v4=4. Chloe, Hacking, 6v4=4. Tonight, Diplomacy, 5v6=3. Total marks = 12; 5 net. Done in one day, on March 11th.
Threat Rating: R2 Hellhounds Crew = 2. Scenario rolls 7v3=4. TR = 2 + 2 – 3 = 1
Scenario Rating: 7 + 1 = 8. Default Actors R3

Free Modules: 7 + 7 passages
Free Scenes: 7
Build Points: 8

Module 1/7: Gateway. Time to start the Scenario. As Salazar has mentioned, his options are: attack first or wait until he gets attacked. Let me place a free Delayed Reinforcement Scene (1/7) here, with standard delay timer of 10+Payout intervals. Unless the ‘message’ of completely destroying the opposition is sent within this time, another gang will raid the weakened Hellhounds: their forces are a free R3 Actor (Warfare/Social) + 2 more R3 Actors for Build Points (2/8 BP).

Module 2/7: Hardpoint. We need to convince Salazar (free R3 Scientific/Warfare Actor) and a paid-for R3 Scientific/Social Caw-Caw (3/8 BP) in a Checkpoint Scene (2/7) that we have a plan and it’s worth listening to. It shouldn’t be too complicated, because Salazar’s plan stinks. Passages connect it to Module 3 and 5 (2/7).

Module 3/7: Social Module. Here, in an Offense Scene (3/7), Tomorrow and Sal (I’ll buy him for my side by netting the Scenario 1 BP, 3/9 BP) need to figure out the necessary ritual. Sal operates mostly in brute force and Tomorrow in subterfuge, and together they need to make a spell of mass murder. A hermetic mage and a chaos mage are always fun when they’re trying to get the spellcasting right. A free Actor of R3 (Scientific/Warfare) is going to oppose them as magic generally doesn’t want to be handled this way between magical traditions. I’ll toss an additional point of Resistance into it (4/9 BP). A passage connect this to Module 4 (3/7).

Module 4/7: Operation Module. This is going to be somewhat of a mini Finale. Tomorrow and Sal (again bought as support;  4/10 BP) will try to cast this spell and commit mass murder. (Yes, ghouls are definitely sentient – and while they are dangerous cannibals, this isn’t much different than killing any other gang in the Warrens. However, Tomorrow’s moral objections don’t cover flesh-eating monsters that can turn you into one of them with a single scratch.) This is going to be some powerful magic and it cannot be easy: while it is just an Offense Scene (4/7) with a free R3 Scientific/Warfare Actor, I will raise this to R5 (6/10 BP) and give the Scene itself an extra point of Resistance (7/10 BP). Passages connects this to Module 6 (4/7) and Module 7 (5/7).

Module 5/7: Social Module. While Tomorrow and Sal are busy, Tonight and Chloe have a task of their own: they need to convince Caw-Caw that there is a better way for the Hellhounds – one that allows them to raid and pillage without starving when the times go tough. Between commerce, tactics, and diplomacy, they need to win the Offense Scene (5/7) against a free R3 Scientific/Social Actor with extra 2 points of Resistance (8/10 BP) that it’s better to diversify and bake sustainability into the whole business. She is more likely to listen than Salazar, but she knows nothing about the business side of crime, so this won’t be that easy – especially once we bump her to R4 (9/10 BP). A passage connects this to Module 6 (6/7).

Module 6/7: Treasury. Let’s loot everything there is to loot without getting infected or harassed by quickly arriving scavengers. Essentially, this is a Treasury Scene (6/7) with Payout 4 worth of gear – but this is not our Payout and not our gear, so we’re only taking the rules and not the rewards from here. A free R3 Actor gets demoted to R2 Warfare/Investigative (9/11 BP), because I want more points for the Finale, and this is basically just a scavenge run. A passage connects it to Module 7 (6/7).

Module 7/7: Finale. With a whooping 7 points of Resistance, we’re burning the place to the ground. With magic, because nobody has the money, skill, or patience for explosives. The default R3 Scientific/Warfare Actor – ie. powerful magic that threatens to rip apart our minds – will try to rip apart our minds, upgraded to R4 (10/11 BP). Feels like a good place to throw in a bunch of Extras for the ‘sending the message’ purposes (11/11 BP). Each mark scored against Extras will mean 1 ganger that will be sufficiently impressed to join Hellhounds. They’ll need to be not killed by the magic, I suppose.


Preparations

That wasn’t so bad. Sure, the 7 points of Resistance in the Finale, mounted on top of the 2 points of Driven and 1 point of attempting the Finale, bring the basic difficulty to 16 – but we’ll just need to make it work. And Chloe gets to move around a bit. For the purposes of Social Scenes, Sal and Caw-Caw are treated as Familiarity 7, because that’s where we’re at with the Hellhounds.


Playthrough

This is going to be fun. As always, the mechanics are in italics, the narrative is not. Let’s do it!


T1:Module 1: Gateway. Interact. Trigger Delayed Reinforcement Scene, at the timer of 17.
Scenario complications: 7v6=5.


T2: Module 2: Hardpoint. MT 3+1 per additional Defense Actor. Extra Resistance 1.
Scenario complications: 7v6= 2 + 5 = 7/7, 0 net. Median roll = 7, no complications.
Reinforcements: 1/17

Offense:
Tomorrow: MA Sorcery+1, 5v4=4 towards MT. MA Diplomacy+1, 4v5=3 towards MT. PA TaB. Street Bling +2 automarks. MT 9/4. MP 7/8
Tonight: MA (2 comb.) Stalling Tactics (Con+1), 5v3=4 vs Salazar. MA Stalling Tactics, 5v4=5 vs Caw-Caw. PA TaB. MP 6/7
Chloe: MA Negotiation+1, 6v6=4 MP dmg to Caw-Caw, 2 soaked. PA TaB. MP 8/8

Defense: Let’s see in what mood they are today! Salazar: Aggressive Control (shoe fits). Caw-Caw: also Aggressive Control. Whelp. It would matter if we didn’t go with Aggressive Control ourselves.
Salazar: mental actions taken away as he’s being stalled by Tonight.
Caw-Caw: 1 MA wasted by Tonight. MA Diplomacy 2v1=2 against MT, reducing it to 7/4.

Offense wins with 3 net marks. (We’ve tweaked the rules a bit and the net marks of each task now matter – I can use them as automarks in the next task.)


March 12th, 2056

Last time they flew over the Warrens, Chloe was too tired, too relieved, and too happy about her leaving Hawai’i to pay a lot of attention to her surroundings. Over the last month, she barely left her sister’s flat, and didn’t put a foot outside Best Western Hotel, where she was supposed to be safe from magical spying under the masking spells of the free spirit inhabiting the penthouse. This is probably why she never considered the situation in the urban blight of Aurora Warrens. She knew of them, of course – even if her life in Denver was previously contained to the Aztlan Sector, she has heard about the calamity of Aurora, ravaged by gangs and monsters – worse than Seattle Barrens, if the news were to be believed. Worse than the slums of Dallas-Fort Worth, and that’s saying a lot.

She doesn’t particularly like flying. The bird form feels weird – simultaneously more and less awkward than Chloe’s natural, not particularly graceful body. But what she does like, is the feeling of wind under her strong wings and the air swirling around her head. She laughs, seeing her sister dive playfully in front of her, and the coarse cawing sound makes her laugh even more. It’s so good to be out, even if she’s a raven surrounded by two elementals, if she’s completely out of her depth, in the middle of the urban blight. Suddenly, she realizes why Sarah has chosen a life in the midst of this chaos.

The freedom is incomparable with the corporate life.

It’s a short flight – less than ten minutes, including the first, careful stretching of wings and figuring out the take-offs and landings. The former school at which they arrive is surrounded with a mix of broken concrete and trampled, burned out lawn. The broken windows are mostly covered with planks, entrances locked up and barred… Spray-painted red skulls all around make this place look even more dilapidated and grimy. Wild. Dangerous. Chloe shudders.

‘You okay?’ Sarah is right there by her side in a second. ‘It’s rather chilly out here, isn’t it? It’s not that much better inside. I’ve helped Sal layer some warming charms over the wards, but the central heating is obviously not working this deep within the Warrens. I really don’t know how people are surviving here without the magic.’

‘Force of will and lack of other options but to die,’ replies Chloe with a shrug. She’s not cold and Sarah knows this, but she’s grateful for the distraction. Pointing at the one entrance that seems least barricaded, she asks: ‘Shall we?’

Sarah sighs. ‘Yeah. Let’s hope we can convince them we got a better plan. I ain’t gonna risk our lives on some ghoul bullshit.’ Without hesitation, she walks towards the door. Her coat is open, her hands empty, and the lack of any weapons or armor so painfully obvious, Chloe grows uneasy. Over the last two years of kidnappings, hideouts, and getting moved around by mercenaries and shadowrunners, she got used to seeing weapons all around her. Sarah’s disregard of physical risks feels like a serious flaw. A bullet will always be faster than a spell. Even if they’re both protected by Jade, it’s still not safe.

And yet, against all her fears, the doors just open and a tall ork woman, maybe twenty years old, sporting a red-dyed buzzcut, greets Sarah with a wide smile and a mock salute. ‘Heard ya joining us today! Good, couldda use more firepower. That your sister? Damn, you two look like twins.’

‘Hey, Tina. Yeah, that’s my tiny baby sister, all grown up.’ Sarah pointedly looks at Chloe until she stops dragging her feet and joins them at the door. ‘Say hi, Chloe.’

Chloe chuckles and does as she’s told, and they get inside. If not for the sudden change in the temperature, she wouldn’t even notice the magical protections of the place – but this is enough to remind her about everything. About the blood mage she’s just about to meet. Obviously, it’s not d’Venescu, and not all blood mages know one another. She knows that. And yet, she also knows enough about the topic to feel uneasy. She walks with her sister down the empty corridors, through a ransacked school library smelling of mildew and cigarette smoke, trying to find enough resolve within herself to keep her head high. She’s not in any danger. It’s in the past. She doesn’t even notice that her fists are clenched tight – not until she feels Sarah’s fingers touching hers. They hold hands for a moment without a word, slowing down until Chloe relaxes.

Finally, Sarah stops by one of the completely unmarked doors and raises her hand to knock. She casts a questioning glance at Chloe who just nods.

‘Yo, buttfaces!’ Sarah announces them as soon as they’re though the door. ‘Look and weep – there’s more of me now.’

Three pairs of eyes look at them, each with a different mix of amusement and annoyance. Chloe knows enough about the Hellhounds’ leaders to pin the names to the faces. The bald elf with wide stripes of black tattoos running from his eyes to the back of his head, already calling her sister a two-faced bitch – that must be Salazar. The dark-haired human woman – an Aztlaner, probably? – all dressed in black save for the fire-red combat boots is of course the Raven shaman, Caw-Caw. And the troll looking at Chloe with a curious but friendly expression is Gargoyle, Salazar’s boyfriend.

‘Two-faced?’ laughs Sarah, dropping on the couch and making herself comfortable. ‘You wouldn’t call me that if you knew about Tonight.’

Chloe joins her and barely stops herself from rolling her eyes. Her sister’s love of theatrics is sometimes ridiculous – but then, it does take away the awkwardness of the first meeting.

Salazar narrows his eyes suspiciously. ‘What about tonight?’

‘What about me?’ Tonight materializes in the middle of the room – a perfect copy of Sarah, minus the winter coat. She tosses back her long blue hair and smiles brightly at the three gangers staring at her in surprise. ‘Oh, hello there. Thank you for the invitation.’

‘You three-faced bitch,’ corrects himself Salazar, but his voice has lost some of the angry edge. He turns his head to the side and stares at Tonight with a calculating, appraising expression. ‘Of course your ally spirit is just a buck-naked you. A night-time version, I assume. You got no shame.’

‘Please.’ Sarah laughs. ‘As if you cared. If my boobs offend you, stop staring at them, you creep. We got business to discuss. Because your plan is shit and I got a much better one for y’all.’

She launches a long explanation of the magic ritual she has devised that would replace the need to attack the ghoul lair and risk their lives unnecessarily. The explanation quickly devolves into an argument, sweeping Tonight and Caw-Caw right into it, and Chloe suddenly finds herself on the sidelines – as usual. Then she realizes she’s not alone there.

‘They’ll be at it for a while,’ says Gargoyle. ‘Would you like some tea or a beer?’

‘Oh, yeah. Tea would be great, actually.’ She smiles at the large man, easily quadruple her size – and pure muscle, visible on his chest and arms covered in nothing but scars. ‘Thank you. I’m Chloe. My sister is rather hopeless at introductions.’

‘We know. And nobody here cares about such things.’ Gargoyle gets off the worn out armchair and moves to the small kitchenette, preparing two cups of tea. Chloe follows him, happy to move away from the argument. ‘I’m Gargoyle. Tomorrow told us so much about you, it’s nice to finally meet you in person. How do you like the Warrens?’

Something in the troll’s friendly voice pushes her to honesty. ‘It’s a hellhole. But the company’s better than it was elsewhere.’

Gargoyle smiles and pours the hot water over the teabags, then picks up a mug, tiny in his massive hands. ‘Hah, isn’t that the truth. So, that plan of your sister’s – what’s the bottom line? Without all that noise.’ He looks pointedly at the three magicians and a spirit clearly enjoying themselves in a heated debate.

‘Well, from what I understand, it boils down to taking out the ghouls from afar through ritual magic, then looting the place once they’re dead, and then setting it on fire. With a side dish of making sure you have some cashflow outside of… uh…’

‘Raiding and scavenging?’ The toothy, tusky grin dispels Chloe’s nervousness completely. ‘It’s long overdue. The Warrens cover a lot of ground but there’s not that many things worth taking in them. It’s unsustainable on many levels. We either upgrade and run this place or we join the bottom-dwellers and starve. I prefer the one with access to food and books.’

Chloe sips the hot tea; cheap, plain stuff, but she’s thankful for it nevertheless. ‘Definitely a better one. Do you think the rest can be convinced, too?’

The man shrugs. ‘When was the last time Tomorrow didn’t get what she wanted?’

Ten minutes later, when her sister triumphantly punches the air and drags Salazar away to the library to work out the details of the magic ritual they want to perform, Chloe finds herself asking the same question.


T3: Passage. Tomorrow and Sal go to Module 3, Chloe, Tonight, and Caw-Caw go to Module 5.
Reinforcements: 2/17


T4: Module 3. Tomorrow and Salazar vs a R3 (Scientific/Warfare) Actor with Balanced Offense behavior.
Reinforcements: 3/17

Offense:
Tomorrow: MA Sorcery+1, 5v3=5+3 automarks towards MT. MA Conjuring+1, 5v4=4 actions for the Summon. PA TaB. MP 6/8
Steven: MA Accident vs Defense, 3v6=2, soaked. MA Accident vs Defense, 3v6=3, 2 soaked, 1 action lost. TaB. MP 5/6
Summon: MA Accident vs Defense, 3v6=1, soaked. MA Accident vs Defense, 3v6=1, soaked. 2 actions left on Summon.
Salazar: MA Sorcery, 3v3=2 towards MT. MA Sorcery, 3v3=2 towards MT. TaB. MP 5/6MT 12/7

Defense: 1 Action lost due to Accident. 1 MA 3v3=3 against MT.

MT reduced to 9/7. Offense won, with 2 net marks.


‘So basically, what I’m after is a modified large-area mana ball. Enough to cover their whole HQ. It’s the middle of the day, so most of them should be inside anyway, and we can pick off the single stragglers afterwards.’

‘You just want to soak the area in necrotic energy. Killing literally everything that can be killed in there.’ Salazar rubs his tattooed temple and kicks away the stack of old books to clear some space on the dusty library floor. ‘I’m on board with the slaughter, but this will require a shitload of mana. And people’s heads happen to blow up above certain levels.’

‘I know,’ agrees Tomorrow, sitting on nearby desk. ‘But this is why I need you and why you need me to pull it off. You know how to sling this amount of mojo, and I already figured out where to find it. Look.’ She pulls out a commlink and displays the local geological map. The blue three-dimensional model of the Warrens is pockmarked with magenta. Tomorrow points out several places and traces the lines between them. ‘This is you, this is Dead Eyes’ HQ, this is Best Western – the mana spike is the metaplanar rift, of course. See how the mana field is stretching around the building? It reaches about twenty, thirty meters, depending on the day. But underground-‘ She turns the model around. ‘It seeps into the silt. I thought it’s a run-off. But no, shit just wants to connect with this.’

‘A fucking leyline,’ says Salazar when Tomorrow draws another magenta line, running from Best Western to the south and east, into the Warrens. ‘Where does it lead?’

‘No idea. I don’t like flying too deep into the Warrens, ravens are too good of a snack for what’s living there. The leyline is small, but it runs not far from here, through your turf anyway. We could use the rift’s energy, but then you’d have to negotiate access with the Cutters and with Crowley separately, so I figured you don’t wanna do that.’

‘I don’t. It’s bad enough I need you.’

‘I’m your friend, dipshit. We’re past keeping books. And you’ll be the one doing the heavy lifting, anyway. I got skills and lore, so I can draft the ritual and do the calculations, but you know damn well I’d kill myself if I tried to handle that much raw mana. You’re twice the mage I am.’

‘At least,’ he scoffs. ‘You’re just an adept with some tricks.’

‘And yet, I have a prosperous arcane research business, grants from Mitsuhama, and a fucking fully-equipped lab. You got a dirty school library and a food shortage.’

‘Not for long, I don’t,’ he answers with a sly, dangerous grin. ‘Because we’re just about to commit mass murder, grand larceny, and arson. Make sure your corporate overlords don’t learn about it. Because mine – oh, wait. I’m nobody’s bitch.’

‘Wow, very free. Much independent. Chains so nonexistent,’ laughs Tomorrow. ‘You know the spell we need?’

Salazar shrugs. ‘Ish. I’ll figure it out on the way. It’s basically a matter of taking a big enough chunk of mana and channeling it to a place within the ritual spotter’s view. They’re going to feel the build up, so we need to do it quickly, but as far as the casting goes – yeah, I’ll just wing it. Killing people isn’t that hard. It’s when you want them alive, you need to be careful.’

‘As long as we’re alive on the other side of this, I’m good.’ Tomorrow jumps off the desk and tosses her commlink into a pocket. ‘Come on, fancy pants. We need to set up the circle and all. Take your boyfriend. Somebody’s gotta bleed and it sure as hell won’t be me.’


T4: Module 5. Chloe and Tonight vs a R3 Scientific/Social Actor with Aggressive Control behavior. Extra 2 points of Resistance. MT 7.
Reinforcements: 3/17 (happening simultaneously with above)

Offense:
Chloe: MA Commerce+1, 5v9=3 towards MT. MA Teaching+1, 3v6=2 ticks in Commerce skill instead of 1. MA Negotiation+1, 6v9=2 towards MT. PA TaB. MP 6/8.
Tonight: MA Stalling Tactics (Con+1), 5v4=3, 1 soaked, 2 action wasted. MA Negotiation+1, 5v4=4 MP vs Caw-Caw, 2 soaked. MA Teaching+1, 4v7=1 tick in Nego. TaB. MP 6/7.

Defense: 2 MA wasted by Tonight. MP 4/6.

Offense MT 5/7

T5: Reinforcements: 4/17.

Offense: Chloe: MA Diplomacy+1, 6v9=1 towards MT. MA Investigation+1, 6v8=0 towards MT. MA IT+1, 5v5=5 towards MT. PA TaB. MP 4/8.
Tonight: MA Stalling Tactics (Con), 5v4=5, 1 soaked. TaB. MP 7/7

Defense: 2 MA wasted by Tonight.

Offense wins with MT 11/7, 4 net.

T6: Moving through passage to Module 6, ready to engage.
Reinforcements: 5/17.


As soon as Salazar and Tomorrow are out the door, Caw-Caw sighs and shakes her head. ‘Crazy, overpowered kids.’

‘They’ll be fine,’ assures her Tonight. ‘Whatever they come up with, it will be safer than attacking a ghoul lair. If not for those two, then for the rest of your people. Which I think is the point.’

‘There are many points. Not dying quickly is one of them. Not dying slowly is another.’

‘Now we’re talking.’ The spirit grins and takes Tomorrow’s vacant seat. ‘Yeah, we got some ideas for that too. They might not be what you’d normally be into, but it’s hard to do crime without any money.’

Chloe takes this as her cue. She finishes her tea and smiles at the two Hellhounds. ‘We realize that due to the… uh… specificity of the Warrens, many of the standard gang-funding options are not available to you. It’s hard to run a protection racket if nobody around you has anything to protect. But you have a unique and highly coveted resource, one that other gangs in the area are missing – magic. And magic, from what I’ve been told, solves more problems that it causes. From healing to magical drugs, to mana-based food, to selling magical services to other gangs, you have hundreds of options. They can cover your basic necessities, can forge alliances with other gangs, and once you look outside of Warrens, you can sell them for hard cash.’

Gargoyle chuckles, and Caw-Caw responds in his stead. ‘Yeah, you try to tell Salazar he should just get a job.’

‘Not a job,’ explains Tonight. ‘A business. Look, even if he lets other gangs pay him for installing magical protections around their headquarters, it causes you no problems – if anything, it gives you leverage. Others will pay you to have that leverage over them. In seconds, he can undo any wards he puts up – so you’re helping them protect themselves from everybody but you. And you make them know it. Tomorrow said she can teach you the spell she made for creating food and drinks. It keeps forever, requires nothing but mana, will sustain you indefinitely. Sell some if you want – we do. Brings good money. Just keep the supply limited or we’ll break the market. You get me?’

‘Running a business is not my strongest suit…’ starts Caw-Caw, but she’s interrupted by Gargoyle.

‘We get you,’ confirms the troll. ‘I assume you have access to an identity forger? We’ll need it to launder the income before we can reinvest. Real estate goes well in Sioux Sector these days.’

‘Finally, somebody speaking money.’ Tonight grins. ‘Yes, I can get the IDs arranged…’

The doors open and Salazar steps inside. He casts a rather disinterested look at his guests and focuses on Gargoyle. ‘Hey, man. We’re going to cast some spells and I need you. Grab a jacket, we’re going out?’

While there’s no question asked, the intonation makes it obvious it’s not an order. Gargoyle nods and puts down his unfinished tea. ‘Give me a minute.’

The blood mage smiles – not a grin, not a smirk, just a genuine, warm smile, to Chloe’s surprise – and disappears behind the door, paying no attention to anybody else in the room.

‘Looks like the plan holds water,’ states the troll, pulling out a shirt from the wardrobe in the corner and adding an overcoat. ‘Can you hash out the details with Caw-Caw? I think there’s some untapped potential in her herbal drugs. Those smokes are great. Would sell as medicinal, too.’ Barely waiting for an answer, he’s out the door too, leaving Chloe, Tonight, and Caw-Caw to finish up the negotiations.

The shaman sighs and pulls out a pack of cigarettes. ‘Fine. Hash out the details with me. Not that I know shit about it. Is there a chance you have this all written down and we can just chill until they are done with the magic?’

Chloe pulls out a commlink and gets ready to transfer the file. ‘I thought you’ll never ask.’


Meanwhile, Module 4. Tomorrow, her two spirits, and Salazar need to cast a ritual spell, with extra 1 point of Resistance. Against them, a R5 Scientific/Warfare Actor on Conservative Offense (whew! That could be much worse.) This behavior means we’ll survive:
“The Actor will prioritize their own safety and will only spend Actions on scoring marks against opponents if they have no other option or are compelled to do so directly by another Actor. Even then, they will only spend the minimum required of them. They will Take a Breath with all remaining Actions, a minimum of 1 each interval.”
This means that out tactic in here is not to attack the rampant magic and force it into submission – it is to gently and calmly work it until we reach the MT, not worrying too much about the fact that it will be scoring marks against our MT. Let’s just put all eggs in one basket and get this party started.
Four Actors working towards one MT raise the Resistance by 4, meaning the task has 5 Res for Salazar and the elementals, and 7 for Tomorrow.

T5: Reinforcements: 4/17 (happening simultaneously with above)

Offense:
Tomorrow: MA Artificial Intelligence (Sorcery+1), 5v1=5+2 automarks from previous Scene = 7 Clout while sustained. MA Sorcery, 5v5=5 towards MT. TaB. MP 5/8.
Steven: MA Sorcery, 3v8=0 towards MT. MA Sorcery, 3v8=1 towards MT. TaB. MP 4/6.
Summon: MA Sorcery, 3v8=2 towards MT. MA Sorcery, 3v8=0 towards MT. No actions left, disappears.
Salazar: MA Sorcery, 3v5=3 towards MT. MA Sorcery, 3v5=3 towards MT.  TaB. MP 5/6.
MT 14/7

Defense: Bare-minimum MA Sorcery, 5v1=5 against MT. TaB with the rest of the actions b/c Conservative.

Offense wins, MT 9/7, with 2 net marks.

T6: Moving through passage to Module 6, ready to engage.
Reinforcements: 5/17.


‘Can you stop smearing my goddamn lines? This is precise work, you know.’ Tomorrow turns into a bird and flies up to measure the angles of the ritual seal she has drawn on the floor. The abandoned house has been ransacked a long time ago and the wood flooring burned as fuel in some campsite, but they managed to find a big enough stretch of unbroken concrete above the leyline to set up the ritual circle. Well, she did. Salazar spent the time being either a nuisance or a pain in the ass. Gargoyle, as always, withstood everything with patience and stoicism befitting old philosophers.

Something about the ritual still isn’t sitting with her well. The symbols are in the correct places and the linework of the seal perfectly even, but it is still off. She is sure it’s somehow Salazar’s fault. 

The blood mage looks ridiculous in his ritual robes – well, he would look ridiculous if she didn’t have a memory of him wearing the same robes when raising his athame over her body on the altar.

Not an enemy she would want. Good thing that Best Western is protected by Friese’s and Crowley’s magic. Showing Salazar how he can tap into the leyline and wipe out a whole gang with a single spell sets up a dangerous precedent. He can’t pull it off without her – not yet, at least. But he’s a damn fast learner.

‘Your lines are boring,’ he responds with a shrug. ‘Seriously, Tomorrow, it’s magic, not rocket science. You make it drier than a vampire vagina. Chill. Light some candles, spill the blood, Mercury’s in retrograde, we got this.’

‘You’re in retrograde,’ she retorts, returning to her natural form. ‘Just stand still while I fix the mess you’ve made.’ She wipes off and redraws several lines and symbols of the angelic script until she’s finally satisfied. With a snap of her fingers, she summons Steven from his metaplane, then focuses on creating the second elemental. They’ll need all the power they can get here. ‘Okay, I’m done. Your turn.’

With a suddenly serious expression, Salazar turns back to Gargoyle and says something quietly – too quietly for Tomorrow to hear. Not that she’s trying. Gargoyle nods and doesn’t even blink when the obsidian blade cuts deeply into his chest. The blood spills over his abdomen, then rushes into the air like a wave, coalescing between the blood mage and the sacrifice. The red liquid solidifies for a second into a humanoid silhouette, then bursts into a bloody mist, splattering over the two men, over the seal on the floor, over Tomorrow and her elementals. She forces herself to stay still, feeling the power of the leyline surge upwards, fueling the circle. The symbols she has drawn light up one by one as the purple-red energy shoots through the concrete floor, flooding the room in unearthly glow.

There’s no turning back now. All Tomorrow can do is make sure they don’t fuck it up. She starts the chant, her voice weak and hollow against this display of power. But then her elementals join, the arcane symbols from which she wove them respond to her call, swirling and pulsating in the rhythm of the chant, lending her the power. She keeps her breath and her voice steady, then sends a watcher to the Dead Eyes’ hideout. The link between the tiny spirit and the ritual circle glows with the same purple-red energy, and she hopes nobody will have the time to investigate it.

She wishes she could see Salazar’s face to confirm everything is alright, but his back is turned. Gargoyle looks pale in the light, and she hopes it’s not a bad sign, just a side effect of the blood loss. The pressure on her temples grows, already giving her a headache. She can feel the magic all around her – powerful, raw, dangerous, threatening to rip them all apart. She really hopes she didn’t overestimate Sal’s talent.

And suddenly, just like that, it is over. The energy surges upward, throwing Tomorrow to the ground. She can feel the blood at the back of her throat, and something warm is dripping down her nose. She wipes it off with annoyance, then realizes she has just smeared the blood all over herself. Carefully, she gets up, just in time to see Salazar put his hand on Gargoyle’s bare chest and heal the wound with an unnervingly gentle, intimate gesture. The fresh pink scar joins the wide collection of older ones.

Tomorrow realizes she should probably check if she isn’t in another room.

The ritual is over. She thinks they were successful. That’s good enough for now.


T7: Module 6. This is basically a Warfare Scene, where we raid the Dead Eyes’ building and collect the loot. Not much to do on the mechanics side. This is a Treasury scene, so it comes with Resistance 4 + 2 people attempting it, but we got 4 automarks and Tomorrow has a 7 Clout spell going on. The single R2 Defense Actor is negligible, but the number of MT net marks matters – and the narration matters, so let’s get this over with.
Reinforcements: 6/17 -> I don’t think they’ll be arriving anytime soon.

Offense:
Tonight: MA Command+1, 4v7=4 Clout for Chloe. MA Stalling Tactics (Con+1), 5v3=4 vs Defense, MA wasted. TaB. MP  7/7
Chloe: MA Electronic Warfare+1, 5v5=5 + 2 automarks towards MT. TaB. MP 4/8
Tomorrow: MA sust AI spell. MA Sorcery+1, 5v1=5 + 2 automarks towards MT. TaB. MP 5/8.

Defense: MA wasted; PA Stealth, 1v5=1 against MT

Offense wins, MT 13/7; 6 net.

T8: Moving through the passage to the Finale.
Reinforcements: 7/17


Chloe doesn’t really know what she has expected. Definitely not her sister getting back from her ritual circle covered in blood and waving away any questions. Not that Chloe needs them answered – she knows enough about blood magic to connect the dots. Sarah looks pale and drained, so do Salazar and Gargoyle. She’s smiling and joking as usual, exchanging jabs with the blood mage, which seems to be her favorite past-time, but they both lack the energy and will behind it. Chloe cannot help but wonder what exactly has happened – and whether she really wants to know.

‘Move your asses,’ commands Tonight after a careful look over the three blood-covered people. ‘You’ve either succeeded, which means the scavengers will be there soon – or you’ve failed, in which case retribution is coming. In both cases, we need to go. Chloe?’

‘That’s me,’ she reacts automatically, then blushes. ‘Yeah, I got the scanner ready. It should pick up the signals of anybody alive there. Ready when you are.’

‘Perfect, babe.’ Tonight sends her a reassuring smile. ‘You’re with me and Jade. Tomorrow, wash your… Ah, never mind. We’re going with a bloody vengeance aesthetic anyway.’

Sarah laughs dryly, then drags her fingers through her blood-splattered blue hair, changing them into a wave of shiny, inky blackness. With another spell, she replaces her golden eyeshadow with full goth makeup, with black tears of mascara dripping down her face. ‘Ready when you are.’

‘Shit, now you almost look like you belong here,’ laughs Salazar. ‘Let’s go. We got the harvest to oversee.’

It doesn’t take them long to see the first effects of the harvest.

The man’s blackened, twisted body lies slumped against the wall, his weapon at the side. His mouth is agape, showing sharp, yellowish teeth. Necrotic tissue covers most of his face, putrid and dead. Chloe reaches to cover her mouth, only then reminded about the gas mask she’s wearing. She takes it off quickly, then empties her stomach onto the sidewalk. The stench of the place makes her regret removing the mask in an instant, sending another wave of revulsion through her body. God, she said there were over twenty of them here…

She knows they were ghouls. All of them, most certainly – it was impossible to avoid infection in those circumstances. She knows that if they were alive… She understands…

She thought there’s nothing left in her stomach, but she was wrong.

‘Here.’ Tonight hands her a tissue. ‘You don’t have to go into there, you know.’

The building of the old recreation center is dark and empty. It stinks of rot and decay, and Chloe doesn’t know whether it’s because of the ghouls or their demise. Sarah is right there, in her black clothes and with black hair she perfectly blends in between Hellhounds. Which, Chloe supposes, is the point – it’s a publicity stunt, a show of the gang’s power; it wouldn’t do if they had a Cutter-connected magician at the helm during that. Chloe understands it all.

She suddenly wishes her sister didn’t always get what she wanted.

‘I’m not going into there,’ she says finally. ‘Sarah has the scanner data on her commlink. They can deal with it themselves. Do we have to stay here?’

‘Not for long,’ comforts her the spirit, now looking more like Sarah than that bloodied personification of vengeance and death. ‘We’ve got company.’

With a corner of her eye, Chloe sees the dark silhouettes between the surrounding buildings. Most of them armored, all of them armed. Clubs, knives, a couple of guns… But no Dead Eyes’ insignia.

Scavengers. Gangers. Scum of the earth. Exactly the crowd they planned to impress.

Next time Sarah wants her to stretch her legs, they’re just going shopping.


T9: Module 7. The Finale! We come preloaded with 6 automarks, lol. The Finale comes with 7 points of Resistance +1 for one attempting Actor (others have no chance succeeding here) +2 for Tomorrow’s Driven quality – which we reduce by 7 Clout +1 from Career +1 from Sorcery toolkit. We also have a R4 Scientific/Warfare Actor here, on Balanced Defense, and 10 Extras.

Offense:
Chloe: MA Diplomacy+1, 6v6=4 against Extras (convinced about Hellhounds’ superiority). MA Command+1, 3v6=0 Clout for Tonight. MA Con+1, 6v6=5 against Extras (9/10). TaB. MP 2/8.
Tonight: MA Negotiation+1, 5v3=2 against Extras (11/10). MA Command+1, 4v7=3 points of Clout for Tomorrow’s Spellcasting. TaB. MP 6/7
Tomorrow: MA sust AI spell. MA Sorcery+1, 5v1=5 + 6 automarks.
Steven: MA Accident, 3v7=1, soaked. MA Accident, 3v7=1, soaked.

Defense: Behavior dictates that the magic just wants to protect its own MT instead of scoring against the opposition, but I can’t have it not doing anything, because it wouldn’t be fair.
MA 4v2=3 against MT.

Offense wins, MT 8/7, 1 net mark. All Extras collected.


It’s easy. It’s exhilarating. Fire is just the aftertaste of lightning.

Tomorrow laughs, elated. It’s over. They are dead, she is alive. The natural order of things.

A burst of flame in front of her makes her take notice of Salazar. The blood mage’s face is wild, his eyes are glistening with power as he razes the building. Smeared, dried up blood on his cheek looks like warpaint – she supposes it is exactly that. With malicious glee, the mage looks at the fires swallowing the place, room by room.

‘Welcome to the family, bitch,’ he shouts. ‘If you ever feel like joining, we got a top spot for you.’

‘Over my dead body, asshat. I ain’t joining no gang.’ She grins at him and throws another ball of flame at the trash in the corner. ‘But I appreciate the offer. I always wanted an utter jerk for a brother.’

‘The only type you deserve. You’re an awful sister anyway.’

And just like that, it really is over; the euphoria rushes out of her body together with no longer needed adrenaline. ‘Yeah, I know,’ she admits, struggling to make it sound like she doesn’t care.

The fires are raging around them, the stench of death, decay, and burning flesh permeates the air like toxic fumes. She tries to not look at the dead bodies… Then forces herself to look, imprinting into her brain the view of the blackened corpses twisted in agony. She needs to remember. She needs to pay the price for her choices. Others did.

‘Next time I’m taking her shopping.’


Wrapping up!

Well, that was fun. Honest talk: If I didn’t spend the last month trying to make this Clout spell, I would have a massive issue trying to complete this Scenario – the Finale would bite my butt. However, this is a strategy game at its core, and I’ve strategized my way out of it. Some luck on the defense approaches too. That’s the game – sometimes it screws you over, sometimes it does not.

Payout: 7. 1 point of magic research intel. Salazar and Caw-Caw are now both R2 contacts, and so is Raven, upgraded as a special reward for the Scenario. This means Tomorrow is getting +5 ranks of contacts connected to her Career, skyrocketing the number from 6 to 11 and breaking the ceiling of R2 Career! I’ll get back to this.

Rep: +7 for each character. In each case, this created a jump over a ten, which netted us 3 points of Faction Influence. Soon, we’ll be upgrading to R2, I hope!

Familiarity: with Hellhounds, up to 8. I suppose that means Salazar and Caw-Caw join as contacts on Fam 8 as well. It’s official: we’re friends with Salazar, whether he wants that or not.

Faction Effects: Basically, we’ve finished Hellhounds’ project for them, netting them 10 Extras, which is worth a R1 Asset, so we’ll upgrade their R1 biking Fleet to R2.

Skill Learning: Lots. Stretching the legs and taking the opportunity to learn new stuff! Through a fair amount of trauma!
Tomorrow: Sorcery +5, Diplomacy +1, Conjuring +1
Chloe: Negotiation +2, Commerce +2, Teaching +1, IT +1, Diplomacy +2, Investigation +1, Electronic Warfare +1, Command +1, Con +1
Tonight: Con +3, Negotiation +2, Teaching +1, Command +2

Career Progress:
Tonight conned both Salazar and Caw-Caw, adding +2 to her conned-people tracker. It is also another Scenario that she has completed with nothing by social skills.
Chloe was a hacker out of the Matrix, so she didn’t get any better at hacking. But she got out from the flat!
Tomorrow now has enough magic friends to become a R2 Magician! With this, her Clout on Sorcery, Conjuring, Sciences, and Investigation raises to 2! So does her Clout in social scenes, where somebody cares that she’s a magician. Also, our reward is a Free Advanced Action Card. I don’t what to pick for that yet, but I’ll figure it out. Maybe not a spell at all? Maybe something using Sciences instead? Maybe something from Investigation? So many choices. Or maybe…

Animate (M, S, Logic, Sorcery, Object Rating). Target Device/Gear becomes a magically animated Actor of Rating = marks. It is under caster’s control, but it acts on its own initiative and may perform physical actions befitting its form.

What? Mass Animate was one of Tomorrow’s basic spells in Shadowrun and I am so missing it here. It’s all about control, and magical friends, y’all.

Scenario Consequences: A median roll, +1 = 3+1 = 4, no consequences. And if not for that 1 net mark, we’d end up with some negative stuff. So, good for us!


Nobody is in a chatting mood when they get back to the flat in Best Western. Chloe’s stomach still revolts at the memory of Dead Eyes’ headquarters. Sarah is pale, covered in blood, soot, and sweat. Tonight keeps looking between the two, but whatever the spirit is thinking, she’s keeping to herself.

Without a word, Sarah heads straight to the bathroom, shutting the door behind her. Chloe sits down on the beanbag, her arms wrapped protectively around her abdomen. That was intense, she admits, and she has barely seen any of what has happened. Not much more than the aftermath. She met some people, drank tea, ran a scanner in the area, helped Tonight spread news about the whole ordeal. All she saw was a single dead body and the flames. Nothing more. The rest is just in her head. But the rest still did happen, didn’t it?

A cup of hot liquid appears in her view. She collects it from Tonight and breathes in the strong, minty scent, clearing out some of the awful stench that feels burned into her sinuses. She exhales with a sigh and smiles at the spirit with gratitude. When the sound of the running water in the shower breaks the silence in the flat, Chloe asks quietly: ‘How does she do it?’

Tonight looks at the doors leading to the bathroom; the rock band posters do their best to cover the peeling vanilla-colored paint with their aggressive colors and loud typography. ‘Well…’ the spirit starts.

A quiet, muffled sob can still be heard through the hum of the shower. Tonight looks back at Chloe and shrugs, but her eyes are full of empathy. ‘I’ll deal with this if you don’t want to,’ she offers, but Chloe just shakes her head and gets up.

She knocks on the door to the bathroom, aware of the spirit’s eyes tracking her every move. ‘Are you alright?’

For a couple of seconds, all she can hear is the steady rush of the running water. Finally, her sister answers: ‘No.’

Considering this an invitation enough, Chloe pushes the doors open. Sarah’s clothes lie strewn on the cold floor tiles like a blackened, twisted body. Their owner sits curled up in the shower, arms wrapped around her knees, water pouring on her head and dripping down the drain in dirty red streaks. The long black hair is plastered to her face and the heavy black makeup is running down her blood-splattered cheeks.

‘Damn, you’re a mess.’ Chloe sits down at the floor and sips her peppermint tea. ‘Might be the biggest yet, and I’ve known you for years.’

Sarah raises her head and looks at her sister with red-rimmed eyes. ‘Thanks. Always trying to beat my personal best, you know? That’s how you make progress in life.’

‘It’s killing you. You’re not a cold-blooded murderer,’ Chloe states plainly, without accusation, only to see Sarah shake her head.

‘It’s not that.’ She rubs her face, then stares at the black smears on her palm. The dirty water flows down her hand, over the healed-up scar on her wrist. With a heavy sigh, Sarah continues: ‘I mean, yes, it fucking sucks, and I wouldn’t do it if they weren’t ghouls. But they’re monsters and they’re a threat to us all. I just wish… That people I care about weren’t in constant danger. It’s exhausting. One day, I’ll befriend accountants and social media managers and only deal with their normal-people drama.’

‘You’d be dead bored in a week.’

‘I would. But I also wouldn’t have to kill anybody that week.’

‘Huh,’ says Chloe, more to her teacup than to her sister. ‘So it is about that, you liar.’

Sarah chuckles without humor. ‘Duh. If Salazar wasn’t dead-set on completely wiping out Dead Eyes, I’d try to find a better solution. But he was right – I wouldn’t want them as neighbors either. So I’ve found a way of removing the threat without risking more lives, at the cost of some blood and a migraine. Did you think I enjoy this carnage?’

‘You sure looked like it.’ There’s more that Chloe would like to say, but she knows it’s really not the time or place for the judgement. It wouldn’t do them any good, it would only drive a wedge into this small, easily fixable crack. And after everything that has happened, she won’t be the person to break what they’ve so carefully put together.

‘Good.’ There’s no hesitation in Sarah’s voice, just a steady, grim resolve. ‘Salazar needs to know he should not mess with me either. That there would be hell to pay if he ever tried to move against us.’

‘You said you were friends.’

‘Oh, we are.’ Sarah shrugs and removes the smeared makeup and blood with a tired gesture and a spell. Her hair lightens to the usual blue as well. ‘Do I trust him to be my friend for as long as it benefits him? Sure! Do I take care to add mutually assured destruction to the deal for when he decides that friendship is no longer in his interest? You betcha. It’s going well so far. He offered me a place in his gang today, which means he also prefers to be on my good side.’

‘Are you going to take him up on that?’ Chloe looks at her sister curiously, considering the obvious significance of her signature look.

‘God, no. I got better things to do than rot in the Warrens.’ Sarah grins as if she wasn’t crying in the shower just a couple minutes ago. ‘We got a blood mage to take down and a pretty girl to rescue.’

‘Well, good. Because I talked to Raul, and he had an idea…’


In the Next Episode

Back to dismantling d’Venescu and retrieving Fayette! We still have a lot of work ahead of us, and we really need to make it before our enemy notices that something is amiss! Careful planning necessary, I tell you.

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