Act One – Storm Chasers
With Marshall Rogers spending quality time with Katrina Babbidge, sorceress, and Rosa seeing her family on the reservation, Cleophee, Emily, and Jaidyn return to Mount Sterling for a rendezvous with McKinley Forrest and Cody. McKinley claims that the southernmost stela of the Eastern Land is ripe for removal – and their old friend Tal Tu has tracked a band of edeinos who might be able to help locate it. The Knights head out immediately, pausing only to rescue McKinley from some Delphi Council operatives who are rather annoyed at his unpatriotic YouTube activities. Despite the obvious mortal peril, McKinley doesn’t seem to be taking it very seriously, instead concentrating on filming the battle while narrating events to camera on his phone. Our heroes dutifully save him (again), leaving the Delphi goons and their Spartan guards dead, dying, or fleeing by helicopter, their black SUVs burning freely in the streets, and hightail it out of town.
Reunited with Tal Tu (and Oscar!), the Storm Knights learn that a restan is in the area – a band of edeinos planning on planting a fresh stela in Core Earth. If our heroes can capture the restan, they might be able to learn where other stelae are located with more precision. Tal Tu insists on getting slushies first, though. With this vital detour taken care of, the Knights locate the restan hiding in woodland near Richmond Road Quarry, and gently persuade them with missiles and grenades to reveal all they know. Which turns out to be nothing at all. The sole surviving member of the restan – now our heroes’ prisoner – explains that planting a stela kills those who plant it. So although the restan was carrying a stela to bury in Core Earth, they have no idea how to pinpoint stelae that are already in place. Baruk Kaah’s servants preserve their secrets with their lives.
Whether this is true or not, the Knights are at a dead end. Horrified at the blasphemy of his fellow edeinos, Tal Tu kills the prisoner and then weeps in sorrow at what his people have become. While the group is pondering how to proceed, a pair of sleek vans appears out of the darkness, disgorging a young woman in an expensive coat (and her bodyguards). Identifying herself as Jennifer Matsumoto, she says she brings an offer from the Epimetheus Foundation. Emily recalls the organisation as the same one that found a stela in a Siberian mine at the start of the war – and was instrumental in ripping it up and thwarting the Tharkoldu invasion of Russia. This fact is enough for our heroes to hear Jennifer’s offer.
Jennifer says that Epimetheus contacts in Japan have solid intelligence on an Eternity Shard with the power to locate stelae. Currently in the hands of the Yamaguchi-gumi yakuza crime family, it would be exactly what the Knights need in their battle against the High Lords. Convinced (for now) that the Epimetheus Foundation wants the same thing as they do – to oust Earth’s invaders – the Knights accept her offer. With Cody and McKinley spirited away to safety, Jaidyn, Cleophee, and Emily are driven to Coal Field Airport, where a very high-end jet waits for them on the runway. Next stop – Japan.
Act Two – The Enemy of My Enemy
Emily is abruptly stricken by a bout of explosive diarrhoea and remains in the USA, but Rosa and Rick rejoin the group for their journey to Japan. Aboard the Epimetheus jet, Jennifer briefs the Knights on the location of the Yamaguchi-gumi safehouse – a colonial-era mansion known as Berrick Hall, situated atop Yokohama’s bluff. Sensitive to the fact that guns and swords are highly illegal in Japan, our heroes come up with a far subtler plan to abduct a security guard and obtain his access papers, using them to infiltrate the yakuza’s secure basement situated beneath Berrick Hall. The plan goes off without a hitch. Apart from the zombies.
After identifying their hapless target via drone surveillance, the Knights abduct the poor fellow from the street near Berrick Hall. At the same time, however, protests are breaking out over an industrial spill by Toranaga Chemicals earlier that day that resulted in several casualties. Our heroes are caught in the furore as the protest gets completely out of hand and escalates into the firebombing of a Toranaga building nearby. The resulting explosions spread toxic fumes across the neighbourhood, and several protestors succumb, becoming filled with murderous rage. They fall on one another with mindless savagery. And worse, Rosa seems to be affected by the toxins as well, black tears seeping from her eyes.
Meanwhile, a Kanawa security patrol sweeps into the area and starts gunning down the protestors. Cleophee improvises a spell to clear the air of the toxic fumes, then disarms the patrol, but the Knights are soon attacked by several slavering protestors. Cleophee is injured before Rick carves the infected mob to pieces with his Godbeam, and she feels a strange dizziness sweep through her. Wasting no more time, the group slips over the rear wall of Berrick Hall and soon locates the secure basement housing the Yakuza stronghold. With the aid of their captive security guard, they’re granted access. Jaidyn also steals a helicopter, but we shall not dwell on that.
Once in the safehouse, our heroes are soon granted an audience with local Yakuza boss, Yageshita. In a tense discussion, he strips away the Knights’ subterfuge and reveals that he already knows a great deal about them. Cleophee’s condition worsens and she collapses, resuscitated through swift action by Rick. The unexpected appearance of Shunsuke – the former Kanawa technician liberated from the oil rig in Thailand – only makes matters worse. Shunsuke, who has taken sanctuary with the Yakuza to escape Kanawa vengeance, accuses the Knights of dishonesty and a propensity for needless violence, and urges Yageshita not to trust them. The group is nevertheless able to forge a deal with Yageshita, who accepts their assurances of good intentions and offers to sell them the Yamate Lacewing… for a quarter of a million dollars.
When the Knights are escorted to the safe to retrieve it, however, matters grow even more complicated. They discover a Yakuza serving girl trying to crack the safe, who turns out to be an undercover Yokohama cop who has infiltrated the gang to learn its true allegiance. In the ensuing confrontation, one of Jaidyn’s stray bullets accidentally shatters a medical containment unit holding one of the victims of the chemical spill, releasing the mutated gangster within. Yageshita accuses the Knights of working for Kanawa, revealing that the Epimetheus Foundation is an arm of the shadowy megacorporation. Their cover blown, the Foundation sends a truckload of samurai gospog to attack the safehouse, and our heroes are soon fighting alongside the Yakuza and the undercover cop against these shared foes.
Through spells, grenades, and a slightly excessive drone-strike, the Storm Knights are victorious. Yageshita grants them the Yamate Lacewing, grants the undercover cop her freedom (for another quarter of a million), and promises the group that, as long as they fight the High Lords, they may call on the Yamaguchi-gumi for aid. Although Rick is slightly bemused by the shifting allegiances and shades of grey, the Knights know a victory when they see one, and begin their journey back to the USA, for their date with one of Baruk Kaah’s stelae…
Act Three – Calling the Thunder
After spending time with friends and loved ones (or just wantonly using Kane for personal gratification), the Storm Knights reconvene for their assault on the southernmost stela of the Eastern Land. Accepting an offer of help from the Delphi Council to stage a distraction in the Lexington area, the Knights use the Yamate Lacewing to zero in on the stela’s location in the hills surrounding King’s Creek, North Carolina. Tal Tu confirms Delphi reconnaissance data, stating that Baruk Kaah has moved a considerable force into the area to defend the stela, alerted to the Knights’ intentions by any number of avenues (though most likely some combination of treachery by the Epimetheus Foundation, and McKinley Forrest’s giant flappy mouth.) Leaving Kuranath close by, the group breach the reality storms on the border of the Living Land and make for the stela.
Adopting a stealthy approach, they proceed through flooded and storm-wracked terrain, drawing ever closer to their goal – until Emily stumbles across concealed edeinos sentries (quite literally). A frantic combat erupts as the Knights attempt to silence the edeinos before they can raise the alarm. They’re successful, but airborne stalenger scouts spot them and begin unleashing miracles on our heroes. Rosa is able to down one with an incredible shot and unexpected help comes from Kane, who has followed the group to lend aid against the Saar. The stalengers are slain, but now the edeinos know the Knights are coming. The Storm Knights abandon stealth and race for the stela.
From his perch atop a borr aka – one of the Living Land’s mightiest of beasts – the edeinos shaman Yessek Kaal summons magma from within the earth to cut the Knights off. Emily and Rosa manage to outrun the molten rock and are soon in close combat with edeinos warriors, while Rick deposits Cleophee and Jaidyn atop the hill containing the stela. As Cleophee unearths it with her stone tunnel spell, Jaidyn and Rick defend her from elite edeinos troops and a carnol. With a combination of swordplay and grenade work, Emily and Rosa carve a path through their foes to join the other Knights – just as even more aid arrives on the scene. Not to be left out of the most furious battle the group has seen so far, Picnic and a dozen Hells Angels come riding through the storm to lend their strength to our heroes. The battle is truly on.
Emily, Rosa, Kane, and Picnic and the Angels hurl themselves against further waves of edeinos troops and two more carnols. Jaidyn sends his drone to destroy the straps holding Yessek Kaal’s howdah in place atop the borr aka, toppling it into the jungle. And Cleophee scrambles up the borr aka’s neck, rips the benthe out of its ear, and proceeds to calm the beast before it can lumber up the hillside and squish everyone to a pulp. It is left to Marshall Rogers to deal with the stela. With another superhero landing, he drops from the sky and engages in a reality struggle with the artifact. His first attempt severs two of the stela’s three connections to its brethren, and his next severs the third. The stela’s link to Baruk Kaah’s Darkness Device dies, Living Land reality collapses, and Core Earth axioms sweep in, a monstrous reality storm following in their wake.
The edeinos and the carnols scatter, are disconnected, or killed outright by the storm. The lava flow subsides. The borr aka is felled, barely able to breathe in Core Earth reality. And our heroes have only moments to savour their victory before the Yamate Lacewing signals that another stela is within range. At first they think it’s a backup Living Land stela, but the Lacewing soon reveals that it’s actually a Pan-Pacifica stela in the process of being activated. Realising that Pan-Pacifica are planning their own invasion of the USA on the back of the Saar’s defeat, the Knights send Kuranath to slow them down and while they race to prevent the stela from coming online.
Jennifer Matsumoto and her team are waiting for them. Even as the Knights attack the Pan-Pacifica stela, Jennifer threatens to have snipers shoot their loved ones unless they back down. Rosa, however, calls her bluff, causing Jennifer to disconnect. It’s all the distraction the Storm Knights need. Rick blasts Jennifer, severing her communication with her snipers – and Jaidyn sacrifices himself by detonating his entire stash of C-4 explosive, destroying the stela completely. When the dust settles, the Knights have been victorious against two invading realms, but at a terrible cost. As refugees from the collapsed Living Land zone stumble back into Core Earth reality, and the Delphi Council clean-up begins, they can only look to the future. Jaidyn’s memory will stay with them – as will his legacy, in the form of his newly-Transcended daughter…