Our heroes and Nikolai make there way to a sewer entrance and enter the labyrinthine network of tunnels running under Chicago. They hope to find the technocrat that has been hounding Nikolai and rescue the rat – Keta – whom they have learned is in actuality a wererat. It takes some coaxing and some lucky guesses, but the gun that Kenny has befriended manages to continuously point them in the right direction to find the technocratic lair. Gia, however, notes with increasing worry that the swarms of rats inhabiting these lightless tunnels seem to be following them. It’s disconcerting enough that both Lily and Gia capture rats and reach into their minds to see if something is afoot.
Something is afoot…and it’s madness! A frantic, churning beat pulses through the minds of the rats, linking the entire swarm together. Lily and Gia are drawn in, unable to pull themselves away from the chaotic rhythm. And through this unnatural connection, Gia senses something else – something more clever and full of malice than these rats. And they’re getting closer.
Finally able to free her consciousness from the hive mind (mostly), Gia peers through stone barriers with her Ethergoggles and spots not fewer than seven powerfully built humans closing in on the group from all angles. Gia searches for an exit, but they’ve been cornered – too far from any manhole to reach the safety of the surface. As the assailants approach, they are preceded by music – a distinct chorus of baseball bats and tire irons clinking against walls and ceilings in unnerving harmony. Even as worried as they are, the group has the wherewithal to notice that the melody seems incomplete – missing beats from time to time. Perhaps Keta is the missing member?
But there’s no time to fully consider the situation. Hulking wererats round corners and the group has no escape. They’ve identified the weakest one, but even if they can force their way through, the other rats will be on them in seconds.
“Go,” says Nikolai, gravely. “They will not hurt me. Rescue Keta, put her somewhere safe, and then come find me. Go, now!”
With few other options presenting themselves, the group of mages turns on the smallest wererat – wearing a ragged tanktop and wielding an aluminum baseball bat threateningly. Silver – it occurs to Kenny – is supposed to be deadly to werewolves. Would the same be true of their rodent cousins? Kenny commands the bullets in his gun to become silver and then fires. Somewhat to her surprise, the wererat does indeed recoil violently. Beating a hasty retreat it shifts back into a rat and disappears among the thronging mass around their feet. They run – their escape following by a terrible roaring behind them.
Eventually they find their way to an old steel door and move through it. Flicking on the lights, they find a hallways that hasn’t been maintained in decades, but seems to have been used recently. Moving further in, the find a broken down security station with records tracking the coming and going of personnel and supplies. The last entry appears to have been from the 1940’s. They then move into a lobby with three doors leading to Storage, Operations, and Personnel. At the gun’s suggestion, Kenny calls out for Agent Mitchell. His call is answered by thudding footsteps approaching from Storage – footsteps accompanied by the unmistakable sounds of an automaton. The gun tells them not to worry – that’s just MurderBot, coming to make sure they aren’t deviant mages of some kind. Kenny thinks that’s fine. Gia points out that the group is in fact made up of deviant mages and so things will likely not be fine. To buy time, Kenny asks the hallway leading to Storage to please become sealed and it does so.
The group goes to Operations for answers. What they discover is that this abandoned installation used to be a supply station for a space station referred to as the Playpen, somewhere out beyond Neptune. Whether it still exists or not is unclear – once again records haven’t been logged in decades. Kenny awakens one of the computer terminals and the other two helpfully provide more power, for which the computer is extremely grateful. It informs them that the installation currently has two very defective and dangerous robots in it – referred to by station staff as MurderBot and LoveBot. LoveBot is psychotic – an unsympathetic killer. MurderBot on the other hand was put in storage when it failed to killed deviant mages – apparently taking pity when it learned that one of the mage’s had a small child.
The group returns to confront MurderBot – with Lily taking point and mustering as much teenage adorableness as possible. MurderBot lived up to his reputation, becoming immediately protective of her and the group. It let them pass, bringing its considerable armaments to bear on the entrance in case wererats came through. It also offered Lily a lolly pop that it produced from inside its cracked chassis.
The group then moved down to Storage – finding themselves on a catwalk overlooking a massive chamber with rows upon rows of shelves. Gia’s goggles were able to make out the faint readings of both Keta and Ruth – the Tradition gunslinger from the police station – but no sign of Agent Mitchell or LoveBot. The group moved into the chamber cautiously…