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Romain Pelisse
Tuesday 9th March 2077, Köln on the Rhine river...

After a few days in an improvised safe house, nearby the SOX, Rex and Waywalker found their way back to RRMP and opted to bunk together on the decker's own safe house, a large barge, parked in Köln, that he somehow secured in a recent run. Fortunately for both, few people in the shadows are aware of Waywalker's new digs, which turns out to be a relief as the heat from their runs, took weeks to die off. During the few days back in the megaplex, both Rex and his partner heard by their trusted contacts, that several runners team were actively looking for them. To this day, almost a month after the event, it seems different factions in S-K are still very intent on getting a hold on the both of them...

However, as Waywalker starts his day, by jumping into the matrix, he almost immediately run into the persona of one of his agent, that he tasked to a simple, but important daily check. Indeed, a few weeks back, when Waywalker partner with a french decker ghoul named Frank, two hackers did not parted ways without means to communicate, discreetly. The ghoul indeed gave him permanent MARKs on a half forgotten host, deep into the matrix. Indeed, Frank uses this as a dead drop, to leave message without establishing communication through the matrix, which can sometime be easily snoop on. So since Rex and Waywalker have been hiding in their safe house, waiting for the heat about their recent S-K run to dial down, Waywalker have also tasked its agent to check out the dead drop on a regular basis.

And today, the agent came back with indeed a message from the ghoul:

>>> Waywalker, last time we spoke, a few weeks ago, you mentioned partnering up with a mage, right? The guy who has sort of a fetish for dogs or something. Anyhow, I may have something for you and your partner, then. It's... unconventional, as a run, but you guys seems to have the perfect skill for it. I can't really dwell much on it. It's a bit "hush, hush". Anyway, the meet with the,err, Johnson will be in Paris.

>>> I guess you'll need a few days to get there, but that is no issue. As any job, it's time sensitive, but it can wait for a few days. The Johnson is hiring you daily rate - yes, he expects this to last for a while, but, on the bright side, he already double what you generally charge, so I don't see any reason for you to not, at least, agree to the meet.

>>> Drop me a message here when you got my message, and an other one when you will have reach Paris. Oh,btw, you really need your partner - this run has some serious magical mojo stuff to it apparently... Well, let me know...

Outside the barge, the day is slowly ending, and, through a red mist, the sun light is slowly decaying to leave place a chilly night..

[ Spoiler ]
Jack_Spade
Rex had used the time to patch the holes in his repertoire - the last run had showed him painfully where his own limits were.
One of the nicer Kami had helped him to find and learn the formula he needed and also accompanied him to find and buy the necessary foci.

He had just managed to reliably levitate himself under the ceiling when he received the forwarded mail from Waywalker. Immediately he was fully focused on the details:
<<Hey Waywalker, that sounds really interesting. I've never been to Paris before - at least not that I can remember.
Do you trust that guy? In any case I like the idea of leaving the Plex for a few days.>>
Haywire
Waywalker spent the time waiting for the heat between the recovery for the surgery needed for his new augmentation and the calls and favors needed to acquire them.
One night the agent he sent monitoring the dead drop host he and Franck decided to set up for communications returned with news: a meeting for a job in Paris.

"Yeah, leaving the Plex seems a rather good idea right now. Let me check a few maps - I've never been to Paris before."

[ Spoiler ]


#1
Jack_Spade
Rex had taken the form of a chimpanzee to be better able to handle his new focus - a rather large tooth of some predator - while he examined it with his magical senses. It wasn't the most powerful of power foci - actually it was close to the bottom - but his new spell had given him already many insights into the use of mundane objects he never before even considered to understand.
<<Good idea - maybe we can throw in some sight seeing while we are there.>> he replied distractedly.

Well, it certainly was worth a try and the focus would likely have only a relatively weak resistance against the detection magic.

[ Spoiler ]

Sustaining the spell, Rex became aware of a multitude of things surrounding the focus - for example there was a small flaw in one of the desiccated root canals that hampered the mana flow somewhat. Drawing power around the flaw increased the efficiency. Emboldened by that test, Rex dropped the spell and concentrated again, for he was sure there was even more to know about his new instrument

[ Spoiler ]


He could see it now - a half dozen or so other flaws, stopping the flow of mana, each one influencing the others channels and creating turbulence within the small object. Rex also became aware how to avoid the whole cascade - by drawing power in a specific way the throughput increased fourfold.
Still, the focus was small and of low force. Any major astral turbulence like in the SOX would shut down the whole focus instantly. Still, for work in his shrine it was an amazing tool.

Just to see if he could, he looked outside the barge to the parked van. He estimated it to weigh around 1.2 tons. Using his new found power he gave it a serious mental push.
[ Spoiler ]

The car rose half a meter into the air before he decided to carefully drop it again. Rex had to suppress the urge to jump up and down and climb along the ceiling that his current form urged him to.

<<Hey Waywalker, guess who just hacked his power focus for extra juice. If you want I can try to give you later a deeper understanding for your gear too. There is a lot of potential there.>>
Haywire
Waywalker switched from VR to AR for a brief moment, letting his Agents take care of the search for a while.
"Wow, this spell could save our life next time we're on the run! Just for my information, Rex, do you speak French? I don't, and now regret that I didn't take the offer for a discounted skilljack... I hope my English or German are good enough."
Jack_Spade
Rex laughed: <<I'm lucky that I even remember how to speak English. We'll have to rely on translator soft to get by. The only other option is that I learn to use telepathy in a hurry.>>
Haywire
"Don't waste your magical power on something we maybe do not need... we'll find a way, translator soft or not.
By the way, do you have preference on the vehicle we use to go to Paris? I'd take my van and you know my drive, but we could arrange a flight if you think we'll be more discreet."
Jack_Spade
<<I'd rather not have a security mage take a closer look at me. Also, I love roadtrips - as long as they don't take us through the SOX. Also how would you get all your toys over there otherwise?>>
Rex replied
Romain Pelisse
While chatting with the now monkey-shaped mage, Waywalker manipulates several AROs to sum up his finding regarding a way to smuggle the two runners into France. At the end, it basically boiled down to more/less three options - well, only three options if on excludes going through the SOX, but somehow Waywalker felt there was indeed no way the mage will agree to do that again.

First option was mostly off road : going through the Vosges forest, from Karlsruhe. Since the Awakenings, the forest, like many others, have taken a life of its own, and, on top of unexpected growth, has also filled itself with para critters and other danger, that have led the border control to stop actively patrolling inside it. Some drones are flying on top of it, scanning for incoming vehicle, but a decent signature masking coupled with the foliage certainly staying, well under the radar. Obviously, some smugglers reports "wilderness nastiness" - but most critter stays away from a large vehicle going through the trees...

Second option is actually the most obvious - just cross the border at a checkpoint and hope your Fake SIN will not trigger any wanted attention. At first it may seem like a gamble, but with the NEEC regulations and the general "laissez faire" of the french Police, only one SIN over ten is carefully checked, and even if the cops do stop you, there is often the option to bribe them to ignore you. Not all are corruptible, but enough are to make this route a sound options.

The last option consist more/less and tossing nuyens at the problem. Indeed, in his research Waywalker came across the name of several smuggler - or rather "coyote" in this case, who specialized in helping people cross the border in one direction or the other...
Jack_Spade
Presented with those options, Rex scratched his head:
<<Wilderness sounds lovely - but I'm also open to just try our luck at the border. I'll leave the decision to you.>>

#5
Haywire
Waywalker replied to Rex:
"The second last thing I want is a trip to the SOX, the first being a bullet in the head. I'm sure you're on the same page."
Waywalker closed a few pages in AR to focus on the meatworld:
"I'm open to either solution, but I think that we should try our luck in the border, between my deck and your mojo should be a breeze. Do you have a SIN Aand a license for your magical stuff? I do not want to present you as my pet and get my ass busted by a security mage..."

#4
Jack_Spade
Rex winced in his ape form:
<<I do have an ID, but its rather rudimentary and only for necessary shopping. I still am on the run from whoever abducted me and inflicted... this on me. Posing as a pet is somewhat necessary, although I can take a smaller form like a snake or a cat. I am sufficiently hidden on the astral - especially if I hide in a compartment where my aura won't be seen from outside. If necessary I can have a Kami inside me influencing the border guard.>>
Haywire
#5

"I see your point. My van has all the compartments you'd like to use, and if you friends from the astral can help us, all the better. A wilderness trip is something I'd avoid as my first choice. We were lucky in the SOX, I don't think we should stretch that luck too thin."
Romain Pelisse
Agreeing to take their chance at crossing the border, the two shadowrunners pack their stuff in Waywalker's vehicle, after digging up a sort of box for the mage animal form. After locking the safehouse, they start driving toward the French border. Köln is not far away, and thus the van arrives quickly to the border.

If Shadowrunning brings it lot of surprise, action and twist, Rex and Waywalker were certainly not expecting this one : traffic jam. As soon as they arrive a few kilometer from the border crossing, the runners vehicle suddenly gets swamped by other hauler, van and a large assortments of cars. Apparently, going to France for holidays or whatever reason is - even in 2076, still a thing... Shadowrunner are generally good at many thing, but standing idle, in a queue of cars, not acting suspicious, is not their most common traits.

A few car ahead from the duo, a couple of large, bulky drone are hovering over the long queue of cars, scanning, for several minutes, each vehicle, before passing to the next one. The runners can see that the drones are the ones doing a first "triage", selecting which vehicle, and their passengers, will be elected for a more "deeper" examination by the border control. As the drone gets closer, Rex and Waywalker hope that the rigger Fake SIN will not trigger any unwanted attention, neither will the content of their vehicle and that nobody will notice the strangely awakened "thing" in the box.

Slowly, the drone hoover in the direction of their vehicle. Waywalker tries to acts as natural as he can, while the drone is scanning its Fake SIN and the content of the vehicle - which lead the rigger to suddenly make a mental list of how much illegal material is in it.

[ Spoiler ]
Jack_Spade
[ Spoiler ]


Rex had decided to take the form of a cat. A snake might have provided less heat signature, but was more exotic and therefore likelier to draw scrutiny.
Now he lay curled up into a small ball of fur inside a cardboard box. Since he couldn't wear his trodes in this form he also couldn't communicate except by manifesting - which he had done two times already during the trip. Now, to avoid attention from patrolling spirits, he had returned to his body and relied on the false image that his manascape spell provided, should a watcher happen to pass through their car and by chance through his box on the astral.
Haywire
#6

Waywalker was on the verge of sleep, if the AR feedbacks did not keep him awake.
"I'm used to drive like the Devil himself is on my heels, and now I'm stuck here... I wonder if Hell looks like this."
He wasn't sure Rex could hear his words from the smuggling compartment.
In the while, the big and bulky drones were scanning vehicles ahead of them.
"Let's hope we fall through the cracks of the system..."

[ Spoiler ]
Jack_Spade
Rex heard only muffled sounds from Waywalker - which probably meant he wasn't explicitly talking to him. It was warm inside the compartment and he really wished the border guards would get a move on...
Romain Pelisse
The large drone hoovers for an instant over the Waywalker's van. The decker can see his fake SIN being accessed remotely and thoroughly check...

[ Spoiler ]

... but after few instant, the drone suddenly leaves and goes to the next vehicle. A few seconds later, several AROs pops up in Waywalker and a virtual, goofy looking policeman (or rather a "gendarme") directs his van to the fast lane out of border control. Still, it takes fifteen, stressful minutes for the vehicle to clear the border control, and finally get to the freeway leading to Paris.

In AR, the freeway is almost strangled by a large amount of AROs, all advertising either sites or local food to try by stopping to the next exit. Between pictures or video of Roman churches, cloister and some flying cheese or "paté", it is almost like an sensory overload. Waywalker would love to both filter those and control his vehicle, but the French government does not allow access to the freeway without autogrid. For a country pretending to be the birth place of freedom and democracy, it does not seems to be keen on letting its people roam free...

The trip to Paris is rather quick, only a couple of hours after crossing the border, the large urban sprawl appears on the horizon. Topped by a large amount of reddish to purple clouds. As official AROs are pointing out, it is highly recommended to use a gas mask today, as the pollution level in the capital city is quite high today. The city being downhill, the two runners have an impressive view over the "city of light".

In the middle, barely visible and surrounded by rainy cloud, stands the infamous Effeil Tower. Still the highest building in the city, out of respect more than anything else, the tower firm grip over Paris skyline is only challenges by the nearby Renraku Pyramid, which sadly too often remind to people the fall of its larger sister building in Seattle. Except for a few building like the pyramid, Most of the center of the city, with its famous 20 districts, has been preserved as much as possible, giving it now an odd look, a rather weird mix of a previous centuries, blended with outrageous feature of modern sprawl -like the three huge tubes running over the city and providing high speed common transportation to its citizen.

Before reaching the urban sprawl, Waywalker notified Frank of their approach. As the runners van arrives in the suburb of Paris, the ghoul replies just by sending a location inside the fourteen district - south of Paris, a few kilometers away from the famous Tower of Montparnasse - which now looks as old as the Eiffel tower. The location matches on the map, a rather seedy looking hotel, nearby the place of Denfert Rochereau, known for the large statue of the Lion, a few steps away from one of the few (official) access point to the Catacombs.

As the Waywalker's van leaves the freeway, it starts raining, and only a few seconds later, all the streets of Paris, battered by the cold drops, are filled up with several centimeters of water, and again, Paris AutoGrid forces his van to slow down, without even bothering asking the rigger for its approval. Fortunately, the van is already on the Avenue Général Leclerc, around Alésia, so only a few hundreds meters from their target. Frustrated and tired, the runners are eager to arrive, as the light dims, and darkness slowly takes over the "city of lights".

It is almost 22:00 when the van stops in front of an ancient building, typical of the Haussman's renovation era, but quite used. The walls are not covered with graffiti, but they are littered with spams AROs in AR. The building is slowly being eaten away by the frequent acid rains, and even if the owners appears to be putting some money into it on a regular basis, it does look like a losing battle. The Hotel doubles into a café - which would look pretty much like a cliché picture of a "parisian café, where all the attendees are on the (covered) terrace, drinking coffee, smoking and talking loudly, if it were not for the "diversity" of the crowds.

Indeed, if France is not the worst country to be a metahuman, it is not by any standard a place free of racism, so seeing two trolls, a bunch of orks, and even a dwarf - all packed into a small place, all trying to be as close as humanly possible to the heating unit, is a surprising site. Waywalker and Rex almost immediately knows this hotel and its café must have a feet, if not an all leg, into the Shadows...

[ Spoiler ]

Jack_Spade
Rex resumed his favored dog form - or rather wolf form - not least because it allowed him to wear the custom respirator and chemical protection armor which currently displayed "Service Dog - Chien Utilisé". Filtered, the smell of Paris became almost bearable. A quick scan of the astral showed a lot of emotional history of this old city - and of its denizens.

[ Spoiler ]

Very carefully, he looked around...

#9
Romain Pelisse
Shaped into a wolf, and geared up with his mask, Rex keeps focusing on his acute, and now enhanced, senses. Smells, like vision, is obviously hindered by the respirator, but still plenty of information to get out of those. First and foremost, Paris might be still lovely to look at, but it definitely stinks nowadays. If most of the city is now a walking only zone - Waywalker had to park a couple of blocks away because of that, there is still enough bus and taxi to poison whatever is left of the air and makes the stench of gasoline omnipresent.

On top of this rather potent smell, smokes, sweat and of course (bad) fast foods also dominate the scene. Guiding his nose in the direction of the hotel, Rex tries to pick up on what is happening there. Reading the body language of the crowd at the café, Rex first impression is confirmed: those people are not acting shady per say, but they are definitely keep an eye for "the man". And are certainly right to do so, as some have spot, just like Rex, that some security drones - with "Police" written on it, are driving by, less casually.

Switching to the astral, Rex is quickly submerges by a wide range of emotion. Gosh, Paris is an old city - and emotional scars, dating back to the first, and infamous, French Revolution, can be felt in the astral. Try to focus on the here and now, Rex zooms in on the café and its immediate surrounding. He is glad to see that there appears to have nothing lurking from the astral - no spirit, nor astral form. Taking a quick reading at the people at the terrace, he also quickly confirms that none are awakenings, or at least not significantly enough. Some have clearly endure essence loss, whether by augmentation or other means. Nobody that can be seen appears to have suspicious emotion - whether it would be fear, aggression or duplicity.
Jack_Spade
Rex sent a message to Waywalker: <<No threats on the astral side as far as I can see. Let's go inside before anyone starts to wonder what we are doing here.>>

Keeping pace with the Rigger, Rex entered the building.
Haywire
#7

Waywalker sighed in relief when the drones overlooked his van. "That was close... let's thank Lady Luck for this one."
The trip to Paris was a pain in the rear. Autogrid was required and the rigger wanted to draw as little attention as possible.
The city itself was like a puzzle of times, from the medieval churches to the Renraku pyramid.
The place of the meet seemed a shady bar, almost a clichč. Waywalker put his gas mask on before letting one of the Fly-Spy fly to the hotel
"I'm sending a drone to check the surroundings. Never trust a clichč. For that matter, never trust anyone."

[ Spoiler ]
Romain Pelisse
Deploying his drones in multiples direction, Waywalker starts observing the hotel perimeter. One of his drone flies almost vertically, in front of the building, but all windows of the rooms are either closed by light metallic shutter or have the drapes pulled - which is no surprise giving the clearly dubious nature of the location. An other one gets closer to the café terrace, and the little crowd of metahumans pile together nearby the two heating system.

One of them, a dwarf with a light, reddish beard, an used fedora and a drenched trench-coat is desperately trying to light up a cigarette. Apparently, he got caught by surprise by the rain, and his smoke end up taking water. Just behind him, a troll is standing, immobile, with a hazy stare toward the street. Waywalker wonders an instant if the large meta may have spot us or just noticed something, but he quickly realizes, the man is just day dreaming...

The other drones are deployed up and down the street, looking for potential people hidden, ready to jump them. After a few minutes of thorough inspection, Waywalker is happy to find none. There is an armoured vehicle, clearly belonging to the Police, with two Gendarmes, protected from the acid rain by their light armor, but they are clearly not paying attention to either them or the hotel. On the other side, packed under an awning, a small group of teenagers appears to be "up for no good". The band clearly shares some colors and look, hinting at a possible gang affiliation, but there again, they appear to not be either interesting or monitoring the hotel and its café.

In AR, it is a far more complex and longer job to sort out the huge amount of icons popping up on his deck. No surprise, like in any, large and modern sprawl, there is over dozen of hundreds of nearby device or any kind. Focusing on what matters - camera, weapons and powerful augmentation, Waywalker quickly confirms there is no apparent treats here. Most icons are simple commlink, he did not spot a lot of camera, and given the position of their icon, none are in the vicinity of the hotel.

Weapon and augmentation are also quite rare. There is some - mostly coming from the same direction as the gendarmes up the street - which is confirmed, by the very official "Police" label on the associated ARO. A couple of SMGs, along with low grade wired reflexes. The french Police is not the most lethal forces in the world, but they do not appears to be joking either.

Of course, Waywalker spots a few dozen of devices running silent. Not surprising, given the shady location. Taking an other look at the drone feeds, while pondering if you should try to know more about those running silent devices, the decker know sees that the drone is well positioned enough to give a look at the entrance of the hotel.

Clearly, the place has known better days, back in a distant past. Behind an used desk, that, like the rest of room, screamed for a renovation, is sitting a bored elf. The guy looks young, but one can never really tell with elf, and wears some kind of casual clothes. He stares at nothing in particular, but his links, lying in front of him on the desk, is clearly active - Waywalker is sure the guy is passing the time by watching some movies or other content in AR.

Waywalker is interrupted in his reckon by an incoming from Frank:

>>> Are you at the meet ? Your contact is arriving soon. He will have a little angel flying around in AR (or so I am told)
Haywire
#8

Waywalker forwarded Franck's message to Rex.
"It seems to be clear. I think we could enter and have a drink. I hope they serve a good pastis here..."
While walking toward the entrance he typed a message with his thoughts:
"To: Franck: We're arrived now and we are at the place of the meet. I'll wait a little before looking for our guy. "
Romain Pelisse
Franck almost immediately replies

>>> Cool, the guy should be there soon. Oh by the way, Waywalker, don't order beer, and for the menu stick to the "plat du jour". The rest is unfrozen soy shit. Especially the pasta...

Waywalker can but only smile reading the message. Despite being a ghoul, thus on a diet of raw, metahuman flesh, Frank was still french - and care about food, like no one would. It is probably the only time he got food selection advice for a meet in the Shadows.

On his side, Rex, thanks to his enhance skills, can quickly confirms, as the duo set on the terrace, the statement of Franck. The few people around having the "plat du jour", apparently a sort of home made "croque monsieur" were sitting in front of yummy, delicious smelling plates. The few other also smelled yummy, but Rex canine senses could smell the fake sauce, the soy along with a bunch of additive to make the all goo palatable...

The rigger and his "service dog" set a small table, and almost immediately, a young waitress bolt out of the kitchen to take their order. The young ork tries first to speak to him in fast, barely audible french, but almost immediately switched to English, when Waywalker fails to reply. She also glanced at the dog-like wolf sitting next to him - turns to her boss, shuffling around bottles behind the bar counter. As he fails to come out to catch her glare, she gives up and takes Waywalker order before bolting back to the kitchen. An embodiment of the art of French approach to waiting table - almost as rude as it is efficient.

Next to their table, the dwarf, bend under the heating lamp, finally managed to light up his soaked cigarette, and of course the smokes immediately goes to Waywalker face. The smoker noticed , and fake politely says:

"Désolé, mec..."

Still waiting for their order, including the drink, Waywalker notices somebody coming from Denfert Rochereau going up the street. At first, because of the rain, he mistook the guy for a strapping teenager, but soon realize, he is in fact a small ork. Quite short for his metatype, the guy face is buried beneath a red cap, probably to protect it from the rain. Sadly, the poor sod does not appears to have a respirator. But he does have a sort of little angle, flying on top of his head in AR - blissfully ignoring the rain.

The ork looks rather common, and no one would suspect him to be part of "the shadows". He sporting a working overall, on top of his red cap, giving him a "down to earth", trustworthy feel. Looking at other AROs and devices around the guy, Waywalker notes that the guy appears to have a decent commlink (not running silent), and the angel icon is in fact an agent running on the device. Apart for that, he does notice any other icon - no augmentation, no weapons. He also take the time to search for icon running silent in the ork vicinity without any success.

When the ork arrives at the terrace he quickly identifies Waywalker as his contact - even without him waving at him or anything. Clearly the ork is local, and to him, Waywalker and his "dog" stands out like a sore spot...

"Hey man ! Nice ... dog ?" says the ork with a strong french accent and a puzzled faced looking at the dog. "So what brings you here, at the Lion de Belfort ?" he continues, casually.

He seats at an other table, but less than a meter way, and, clearly waiting for Waywalker to reply, pulls out a pack of smokes of his kind...
Jack_Spade
<<That's funny, why is he asking what we are doing here if we have been called in for a job. Be careful how you answer that.>>
Rex sniffed and took another look at the astral to see what the ork's aura looked like

[ Spoiler ]


Romain Pelisse
Reading the aura of the ork, answers Rex own question. The guy with the red cap is clearly suspecting that Waywalker is his meet, but the aura also show carefulness, doubt and a healthy stinge of paranoďa... Acting casual, but clearly being careful, he goes on:

"Oh, by the way, you can call me René. I'm a tour guide around here - so I tend to spot new faces. Let me know if you want me to give you a tour. Paris has centuries of fascinating stories to offer" - he adds, winking, before shimmering, surprised. The ork suddenly starts looking around him, clearly the boy felt the astral gazing of Rex, and is now trying, without any luck, to locate who or what could have do that to him.

Haywire
#9

Waywalker replied with a casual tone:
"I'm pleased to meet you, Renč, my name is Waywalker. I live in Germany and decided to take a trip to Paris, never been here before. I'm interested in a tour, what would you show me first?"
"To: Rex: from what I can see he's clean. Any information from your side?"

[ Spoiler ]
Jack_Spade
<<Seems to be unsure of who we are. Best mention Franck casually and see if that gets him to talk plainly. No threats insofar as I can see. But he seems to have noticed me astrally checking him out. So there is more to him than meets the eye.>>
Rex replied but kept stilll under the table.
Romain Pelisse
Discreetly smiling and winking to Waywalker, the ork, who clearly understood the subtle cues of the rigger inflections, replies to him

"Oh, well, that is perfect, Waywalker. I'll be happy to gives a quick tour of the city in this case. You know what, there is very nice AR map of the surrounding in the entrance hall of the hotel. Would you mind following me there, so that I can show my tour proposal ?"

To anyone watching the exchange from the outside, it would look like, indeed, very innocent that Waywalker and his service dog just followed the guide inside the hotel, but for everyone involved here, it was clear the meet has just happened. The body language relax immediately, at least toward the rigger and his improbable furry companion, but the guide focused his attentions to the surroundings beyond the group. Clearly, the ork is checking out that nobody is paying them to much attention and no security drone or other police system is around.

He quickly led to the duo to a hall, and waive his cap to the bored elf at the entrance, who do not even bother to waive back, or even stop starring at his ARO. Once in the hall, where there is indeed a rather nice 3d map of Paris, floating in AR in front of the lift. But, instead of looking at the map as he suggested earlier, the guide opens the door, next to the shaft, leading to the staircase, and silently waive Waywalker to get in. As he goes inside, the decker also notice that no camera appears to be running inside the hall.

Only remaining on their guard, the two runners follow their guide. While René, tries to be very discreet and silent, and lead them down the stairs, he does not appears to be paying attention to them - expect to check that they are indeed following him. The staircase led them quickly to a very modern, and charmless, basement, that the hotel mostly uses as a storage area. Without even an hesitation, René zigzag between the crates and led them to a hidden door, closed by a good old fashion keylock. Of which, René appears to have the key already ready at hand.

While Waywalker and Rex certainly finds this all business unorthodox to say the least, any attempt to discuss with René gets them shush immediate:

"Chut ! Please remains silent - nobody device can see us here, but we never who, or what could be listening..."

Once the door opens, it reveals a far more older access to the underground. Concrete walls are suddenly replaces by old stone, and the shape of the tunnels ahead is far more irregular. A nauseous, but fresh, winds rushes out at the door is open. René, smiling, awaits next to the door, inviting them to cross the threshold:

"After you sir! Your host awaits ahead !"

Looking at the open door, the runners could not help wandering - are they going to have a meet in the secret part of the infamous Catacombes of Paris ?
Haywire
#10

"These are the times I regret not having a gun on me...never know when you need one."
"To: Rex: I wonder if our Johnson is a ghoul or another Infected... Let's hope for the best and go to our meet."
Waywalker went in the eerily door, hoping to not wander in a trap.
Jack_Spade
<<Indeed. But don't worry. If need be, I'll call a Kami of the Heavenly Court to our aid. For now at least I do not sense any deception.>>
The masks filters now where definitely lifesaving. The air was full of spores, decomposing gasses, organic waste and other even less pleasant odors. Trotting behind Waywalker, Rex was ready to employ a mana barrier that would keep dual natured threads at bay for a few moments.

#13
Romain Pelisse
Following their guide, the two runners spends the next twenty minutes going deeper and deeper into the Catacombes. At first, they are going through a network of rather ancient, and interconnected, basement, but after that, the landscape changes to get a more graveyard feels. Pile of bones and skulls start to appears at each corner, and a network of corridors tying together rooms. Many of those corridors entrance have remnants of stone arch, with some almost erased writings on it. It's cool, it's damp, it's smelly and it's gloomy.

Finally, the duo reaches what appears to be their destination. Probably almost forty meters below the ground the level, the corridor they are in is ending into a large room, where ancient pillars appears to be holding the ceiling, despite their state. Neither Rex , nor Waywalker have any archaeological skills, but both do get the feeling the construction might be even more ancient than the previous one. It is very dark here, but a battery-powered lamp is hanging from an improvised hook, on one of the pillar. Waywalker quickly checks his cyberdeck for the fourth times since they got into the Catacombes - and yes, still no signal...

"Well, les amis - it's my cue ! I'm not sticking around for your meet, but I'll be back in one hour to pick you up and bring you back to the hotel."

And with those few words, René disappears into the corridor they just came out...

The young ork barely left the room - where silence is deafening, and only disturb by the sound of water drops, now and then - that a scratching noise comes from the darkest side of the room. Slowly, a limping figure gets closer to the duo. Rex's intuition was right, the runners are clearly meeting a ghoul, but darn, it has to be the most old, and ugly ghoul they ever see. Skin condition of those infected is terrible in the best of days, but this one makes the average ghoul looks pretty.

One of his eyelid has completely collapse, hiding the white globe beneath it, several chunks skins are missing, or decomposed, to the point that one wonders if it is not just bone being exposed, and his mouth is filled with fangs and teeth in total disarray. Despite this despicable appearance, the ghouls, wearing rags, still convey a certain aura of ... authority ? Maybe respect ? Or maybe the ghoul is just scary. Whatever it is, it does keep the two runners silence for a second.

Once in sight the ghoul, starts speaking, with a grave, deep ton:

"Waywalker, right ? And this dog would be Rex ? Let me thank you for agreeing to meet with me and joining me here. I do realize this are not the most comfortable of location to have a meet, but as you can see, my ability to visit discreetly the fancy café of Saint Germain has been thoroughly reduced by my condition. A shame really, I used to love sitting at the terrace of the Deux Magots with a good book. But I digress..."

The ghoul stops speaking, appearing to day dream for an instant, but also to let the runner reply...
Jack_Spade
Rex sat down on the ground, his snout between his paws. With an effort of will he left his body and manifested his astral form to the ghoul:
"Good evening. Maybe you could start from the beginning.
As you already know us, how about you tell us who you are and what you want from us that necessitates this underground meeting.
We are here on the behest of a trusted contact. Please conduct yourself in a fashion becoming the trust we extend to you."

Rex replied with the hollow voice of his manifested form.
Romain Pelisse
Leaving his daydream to focus again his attention to the runners, the ghoul stares blankly toward the dog shaped mage. While the infected is clearly using his astral sense, the ghoul is not trying to assense his aura.

"Hum. I was not aware I had failed to display the proper etiquette for this meeting. You'll have to bare with him, I'm far from being used to this sort of ... arrangement. This was in fact set up by acquaintance, well, trusted acquaintance, who told me that all this cloak and dagger was necessary. Or at least, highly recommended. I saw I had made clear why we need to meet here, rather than on the surface : despite some progress in the recent years, my kind is not really welcome on the surface. Also, I can ensure both our safety and privacy here, I can't achieve that, at least do this extend. But rest assure I am already very grateful for you to come and accommodate me."

It is only now that both Waywalker and Rex realize that the man has been speaking a flawless English. His accent even sounds more British than anything else. If this ghoul has ever been a native french speaker, there is no more single traces of it when he speaks.


"Yes, I know already a bit about each of you. Not that I need to spy on you, or anything of the kind, but as you will understand soon, the job requires a certain set of skills, and I needed to check you had both. Frank, who declined the job, already convinced me that Waywalker was a perfect fit. I just had to do a little bit of digging to learn about your ... special skill set Rex. And I'm very pleased with what I've heard."


For an instant, the ghoul's mind appears to be about to be wandering again, but he collects himself quickly, and goes on:

"You are right, I'm being rude, I've still failed to introduce myself. People told me I should present myself as "M.Johnson", or "Schmidt" as you call them on your side of the Rhine, but I find the practise unwarranted. My name is Corbitt. Julius Corbitt. And I want to hire to help me locate a rare, and precious, book."

The (very) wrinkled ghoul pauses for an instant to clear his throat, which quickly turn into a nasty coughing that last for a few minutes. Once passed, the old man finally start explaining to the runner their job. Again, even it is a bit muffled by the distorted mouth of the creature, it quite something to hear it deliver a speech in perfect English, with a strong, but clear, British accent.

"It's not a simple affair. I need good people, with skills - good skills and skills I don't have. I need brain. People - or more exactly "runners" are you are called, that can, and will, understand my goal and what is at stake. I need people who can understand and improvise. I don't need ganger with a fancy guns. I know you are not the later, but I want you to understand that I have.... High expectations. Frank vouched for you - well, at least Waywalker, which is already something, but I also looked into your reputation, and was... let's say, pleasantly surprised."

The ghoul is suddenly interrupted by an other violent series of coughing, however he quickly resume:

"OK, now, to the business at end. Your mission is to help me retrieved an ancient text. It is unclear in which forms you will find it - if you do, but the first step would to get your hands on a first print of a magical treaty of the ninth century. Yes, two century ago. Don't be so puzzled, it's not because mana was extremely low during the fifth world, that no one could do magic. It was just... harder. And less potent. In any case, the book is a rather famous one from a french clergyman named Eliphas Levy[1]. The book itself is called the "Dogme et Rituel de la Haute Magie"[2], and was released in 1861, while he started working on it in 1854."

The ghoul pauses - probably to let his throat rest, and prevent an other series of coughing. The runners also note that his french also appears to be quite excellent, but he is certainly not a native speaker.

"Despite two matrix crashes, most of the text of this book has survived, and can be found - or more exactly scrapped together, if one have the time to roam all over the matrix. I've managed to gather enough of such compilations to know that... something is missing. And was missing from most of the printed books from the era. I've came to the conclusion that the very first print of the treaty was... more complete. Based on my research, I very strongly suspects that the original text was, indeed, very different from what we have nowadays, but may also have survived, in more pure forms, within the archives of the Archives National de France."

At this point, using his commlink, the ghoul shares with the runners a set of files on the "Dogme et Rituel de la Haute Magie". There is several reconstruction of the (very) esoteric text, but also, a lot of images of the numerous print of the book. Plus all the necessary library references and annotations, to be able to assert if whatever the runner finds is indeed a different print from what the old man seems to have managed to gather.

"So, your very first task would be to verify my hypothesis and checks, by any means necessary, that there is indeed, an original, hidden in the archives. Don't expect this information to be public domain, or easy to access. Like any governmental agency of this proportion, they have their own secrets, that they will protect as strongly as a corporation would. If you do confirm that the print exist indeed, the next step will be to secure it. However, the end goal is not the book itself. Indeed, I hope for the first print to put us on the trail of even more important text, an original version of a forgotten text, that may still possess clues or tips leading to some high magical prowess from the fourth world. But enough for now, we'll discuss that when the time come..."

The blind eyes of the ghoul had moved away from the runners, as his speech somehow took control of his entire body, but now that he was done, the ghoul manages to regain some focus on the runner, and turn his face toward them, before uttering the most simple, and yet crucial, of question:

"Do you have any questions ?"

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eliphas_Levi
[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dogme_et_Ritu..._la_Haute_Magie
Jack_Spade
"Interesting. I'm not a great scholar myself, but I certainly can appreciate old texts. Assuming we can locate a first print copy - would you be content with us taking images of all pages? That is certainly easier to do than stealing an old book from a secure facility.

But there is one more question: What do you expect to find inside? I certainly don't want to unearth a book that allows Horrors, Shadow Spirits, Insect Spirits, Blood Spirits, or any of the other myriad other hostile and alien entities more easy access into this world. Should I in fact notice any such or worse content I won't hesitate to purge the copy.

As for payment, Frank will have informed you about our rates. Those are final and independent of our success.

Finally, do you have any information about the exact location beyond "inside the French National Archives" or at least of someone who could have that information? The more you tell us now the faster we can retrieve the book."

Rex replied.
Haywire
#11

Waywalker kept walking behind the young ork, Renč, feeling a bit uneasy. He read some stories on the Catacombs of Paris, and not one of them ended well for the person who went down there.
At the end of their trip, the ork left them. Waywalker controlled the signal and it was the same as last time - zero, nada, nix, nothing. He hoped for the best as their guide faded away in the darkness.
After a fair time of shivering their contact arrived. "He's a ghoul, I was right..."
"I agree with Rex, the more information we have the faster you'll have the book. A side question: how will we contact you? I mean, I appreciate the pryvacy but coming down here every time might be a little impratical..."
Romain Pelisse
The ghoul has a satisfied grin as he start replied as the numerous question of his newly hired runners.

"First of all, let me say that the matter of the payment is settled. I'm aware - and have already agreed, to your fees. Now, on with the interesting questions."

As his answer appears to be a lengthy one, Corbitt decides to make a pause and sits on one of the nearby large rock that litter the floor.

"Yes, Rex, you are no scholar but I think you mastery of the magical art will be key to the success of the mission. Obviously, no, pictures of the book will make absolutely no sense nor would help me. I'm pretty sure any digital rendering of the pages would be rendered useless in the process. I do expect for sure the book to be hidden in some high level corporate security facility. I rather expect it to be... misplaced and forgotten."

The ghoul stops right in time to prevent an other series of bad coughing, before going on:

"As for the content of the Nycthemeron, I do expect to find clues to ancient, forgotten and maybe powerful magic, but I don't expect the knowledge in it to be as ... evil as you are implying. But let's see for the matter at end, the book would indeed shed some light to advance the plan of such threats to our material plane, I would not certainly not used for this purpose. And I'm certainly able to offer a better protection of the knowledge it contains than wherever the book is currently is provided."

"Now, about the job itself. No, I have no more information about that than I have provided you. I found a very ancient - by ancient I mean 5th world, reference hinting at the possibility that the first book, the one from Eliphas Levy, might be in some forgotten index at French National Archives. I now need "deniable assets" as you " - he grins at the notion " to go on the ground and find a way to corroborate this assertion. And if possible retrieve the first print."

The old ghoul stops again to catch his breath.

"Waywalker you are making a valid point. As previously mentioned, this all cloak and dagger charade you have been through have been recommend to me by person far more used to what you call the "shadow" as I am. Also they pointed out to me that ensure the privacy of electronic communication is no simple task, and that a physical meet, where one can speak freely, would be far more suited to this endeavour. Nevertheless, I agree with you, we need a way to communicate more... practically. Give me a commlink number I can join you on, and I'll contact soon with a commlink you will be able to use to reach me."

"However, we do need to keep our exchange rare, and as cryptic as possible. Do not name the books over the exchange for instance. I'm pretty sure I am not the only one out there investigating such topic, so more chatter there is going to be about your investigation, the more chance some other interested parties might join the hunt..."
Jack_Spade
"Good enough for me. Physical copy it is then.

You seem to be worried about other players looking for that prize. Do you know of a concrete threat? It might be beneficial for us to keep an eye on them - just in case they work faster than us and we have to steal it from them.
Also, is there a reason this book searched for right now? Hiring us speaks of a certain urgency, so I assume something changed recently. Have you by any chance shared that information you found - voluntarily or involuntarily?

As I see it, our first step has to be to find an expert that knows his way around the indices of the archives.
We'll have to case out the archives themselves and see what magical and mundane security they have.
If I am close enough I can have a Kami search for the book itself - for that I'll have to familiarize myself with it as best as possible. So I'll have to take a look at those fragments too.

Oh, by the way: Can you recommend a place where we can stay for a few days without having to worry about getting robbed, poisoned or harassed by the police?"


Rex replied

#16
Haywire
#12

"Yes, some information on who or what will be after us would be very useful. May I suggest to agree now on some codewords, so if our chatter is spied upon, it will be useless? However, I really do hope that the national archives have some form of digital index, but I'm not holding my breath on this."
Romain Pelisse
Corbitt take a minute to gather his thoughts to reply to Waywalker and Rex last question:

"Well, I have no concrete name to give you. I would except any of the usual suspects - Atlantean Foundation, DMIR, Draco Foundation and other institution to have interest in the books, any of them. On top of them, many magical order, secret or not, like the Ordo Maximus, might also be interested. Of course, there is some independent player that, some freelancer if you will, that might also jump into the chase if the books were to reappears. Our best weapon here is to be as discreet as possible, and ensures, that nobody realizes what we are doing before we get to the prize."

The ghoul then carries on:

"Yes, the archive will obliviously have large index of books, but bear in mind two things, Waywalker. First, the book won't be simply indexed under its name - otherwise any other previously mentioned factions would already have put their hands on the book. I suspect that the original print ended up in the national archive when a private collections was donated, at the death of a discreet collector in 1953. The donation has been registered under the 'Conros Estate'. You won't find a direct reference to the book, but you may want to start your investigations there."

"However, be aware that all the data regarding this donation might be lost or corrupted, as it may have not survived the two crashes. But more crucially for you, there is a good chance for the file to be archived, which I understand may be a problem..."
Jack_Spade
"Hm, that sounds like we have to do some social engineering. We find out about this Conros Estate and pose as university scholars interested in its collection. The national archives should be accessible for scientific research after all. Once we get access to the index we can plan a discreet break in.
For that to work we could find a real student or professor that has a reason to ask for the file. Waywalker does his matrix magic on the guy's or gal's link and we should receive it just fine."


Rex replied with new found enthusiasm.
Romain Pelisse
Hearing the runners discuss their plans and options brings a smile to the old ghoul face:

"I am pretty happy to see that my condifence in you two was not misplaced. You are clearly displaying the kind of intelligence this operation requires... That being said, it is time for me to leave, and more importantly, let you go back to the surface where you can start working... Oh last item, though, you may want to find some safehouse as you endeavour - especially if it includes, hum, how did you put it ? - some "social engineering", may last for a little while... If you need help for that, I can vouch for René, he ought to be able to help you with that matter."

Letting the runners a few more minutes to ask last question, the ghoul slowly start receding into the darkness behind him...
Jack_Spade
After the dismissal, Rex returned to his body and got back up. <<Our Johnson is right, we should get settled in before we do anything. Hopefully Rene didn't get lost on the way to pick us up again. I have severe doubts about our ability to find the way back up on our own.
Please ask Rene for a place a bit outside the smog.>>
Haywire
Waywalker was satisfied with the meet.
"He might be a ghoul but he knows what he's doing...or at least I hope so."
While waiting for Renč to pick them up, his thoughts formed a message: "Yeah, get settled is the first step. I need some comfortable place to crash for my dive in the Matrix."

#13
Romain Pelisse
René comes back to pick up the runners only a few instant after the ghoul left. Smiling, but also sweating a bit, the ork look at Waywalker (and his dog) and says:

"So all good ? Ready to go ? Oh, you want a place to crash ? I can find you that.... Outside of the smog ? That's a bit more difficult, but no worries, I got you l'ami !"

As the group start his ascension back to the ground level, René pulls out his commlink and display a map of Paris and its surrounding in AR:

"OK, so if you want to crash inside the city, I know a squat nearby the hotel. It's far from charming however, it used to be a chapter of Fraternité Universelle... How did you call'em in English ? Oh right, Universal Brotherhood. The place is abandoned since the late 50's, and even the Police stirs away from it. It's gloomy, but it is pretty central and hidden in plain sight."

[ Spoiler ]


"If you are more of the nature type, or just want the dog to be able to poop easily, I know some people, I can ask around and probably get a place to crash in either the Bois de Boulogne or the Bois de Vincennes. This will be a bit more outside Paris however, so don't expect the best matrix link..."

[ Spoiler ]


"Let me know if any of those options fits you. If not, I have other options in my bag" - he adds, with a wink.
Jack_Spade
<<Obviously I'd prefer a more natural place compared to a place where insect spirits subjugated and consumed the souls of their still alive victims. But if you need a safe place for your matrix activity I'll just have to make do and try to build a secure lodge to shield us from the bad Feng Shui the place likely still has.>>
Trotting upwards again, Rex only listened with half an ear to Rene
Haywire
"I'd prefer the central squat, but I can manage to surf the Matrix at the park."
"I'll take the place at the park. By the way, Renč, do you happen to know where to find a good satellite link?"
Jack_Spade
<<Great. If necessary we can just park somewhere close to a good connection. Probably a good idea anyway not to do our research where we intend to sleep - who knows who will try to track us back. As soon as we are at the safe place I'll build up my lodge so we can get some additional protection during our resting times against magical detection.>>

When they got close to the surface again, Rex steps got faster again and showed greater enthusiasm again. He really wanted to get out from this oppressive place as soon as possible.
Romain Pelisse
"A good sat link ? Yeah, that might help with the noise due to lack of other devices, but it won't do anything against foilage. For what I've gathered, those woods got more thicker and dense, when the Awakenings came back. Most people hiding there, go there FOR the lack of matrix link... But, no problemo for a sat link, I know a guy - who know a guy..." - René concludes with a wink.

After a strenuous ascension, the groups finally arrives again at the hotel basement, and sneak into the building's hallway, still under the careless scrutiny of the elf desk manager.

"OK, I'll have to give a couple of calls to get you what you want. Here is my commlink number, by the way. Call me in one hour, I should have everything set by then..."

The guide stands, for one more minute, in front of the two runners, in case they have anymore question...

[ Spoiler ]
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