Takakata, Go’roth, Smith, and Colfax climb into Johnny K’s spacious all terrain transport on the outskirts of Cavedog, squeezing together and looking on at the stoic leader of the Pham. They cruised hastily into the downtown area to go “for a little ride” as Johnny put it, extending his hand to meet Jack in the middle of the vehicle for an introduction. JK eyed the team with some anxiety and began to explain his predicament, a childhood friend lost to the world of the PANvirus was reportedly spotted on his way through Boulder. Johnny was explaining the importance of this situation when two beastly trucks roared onto the road behind them, a sound lost upon no person in the car.
The troll squeezed in between Dustin and Jack looked as alarmed as he could with his head tilted to even fit in the vehicle. Suddenly aware that the trucks behind them were not built to be someone’s daily driver, Jack said in the most friendly way possible, “I hope those goons are from your clan.” Johnny K only looked surprised, and a bit weary. Some shouting in Vietnamese came from the driver’s seat as the car took sharp turns back toward Cavedog, when the car was struck with a heavy duty IED that sent it whirling over onto its back. As the four runners gathered their senses, the door was ripped off and an arm with extraordinarily dark skin reached into the vehicle to grab JK by the arm and pull him into the street. Gunfire rattles around the overturned vehicle, the runners hear a cloud of footsteps and then the revving of engines down the street. Not a moment later Takakata and Jack watched through the new gap in the vehicle as the huge figure that wrest JK from his seat sprayed a well known set of brains into the Downtown streets of Boulder.
Our runners gather themselves quickly and Jack Smith climbs out of the hole left by Johnny’s assassin and peers down the street at the trucks now spinning around in retreat. Jack’s first sight is the Pham car that was behind them lying in ruin at the hands of a small packing truck, and his second glimpse is to the man that must have been Johnny’s killer. He climbs up into the bed of a truck, looking back down the street only once to reveal the darkened face of an ork, a pile of dreads hanging down his back. As his heavy suit of armor slams into the bed of an oversized jalopy, the two trucks spin their tires and gun it northbound through Downtown.
The whole group makes its way from the vehicle in confusion, finally making introductions that were so quickly interrupted by men with a purpose. Deijin wastes no time putting in his two cents, the Pham just dropped the ball for security with their most important man. Jack looks up at the troll, feeling the same concern as the rest of the group. How could this have gone so wrong? Smith loots the body of JK to find his personal communicator and a billfold of mostly blank plastic cards, while the rest of the group looks up the street toward the other car they noticed in the convoy: the vehicle spun sideways to avoid an accident and all four Pham members riddled with bullet holes. None of them even wore a strip of body armor.
Takakata explains that he knows the way back, they didn’t make it too far into the Downtown neighborhood. He leads the way down a major road as the four runners begin their first expedition together: getting the hell out of dodge. The buildings of Denver’s urban sprawl look down upon them, built for the upper middle class to continue the cycle of dwelling and commuting to their lives in the big city. Boulder was undergoing urban renewal when the PANvirus swept America, and now these buildings stand as the half constructed and utterly looted monument to the day time stopped in the Fifth World.
As the runners walk through this maze of cement and steel carbides, Takakata plugs into his flight drone and flicks the camera view to infrared – just in time to see two bodies moving along the rooftops one street over. Being watched from the shadows, the runners tighten their grip on weapons and scan the deserted vehicles far up the street. Being watched, and only a mile away from the clubs in Cavedog.
Takakata made his announcement and their watchers made their move. A group of eight to ten people that look straight off the Ring reveal themselves from behind cars and cement barriers. They carry improvised weapons and shoddy firearms, and some, we can assume, are good people.
Jack Smith wastes no time stepping forward to greet these clearly mad and desperate fools, asking whether they are looking for trouble – and whether they would really like to get into it. Although clearly frightened, one man steps from the group to say their people will come en mass to put an end to the group if necessary. Deijin cackles behind Jack, a roaring laughter that shakes the bones of the refugees standing across from them. Suddenly, bullets begin flying from far across the street to the east. Deijin stands tall and happily accepts one that crumples against his troll skin, his easy shaking off this tickle on his arm only further shattering the confidence of the refugees and their backup shooter now identified as one of the rooftop stalkers.
Jack tosses a flashbang into the air and gives warning to the team, who tactfully duck behind cars and building entrances for a moment. The bright light consumes the city street, gathering the attention of folks down the street in Cavedog. Another scrap between the refus and outsiders, someone is in a world of trouble. The next few moments decidedly determined the party in an actual world of trouble: Takakata lifted his rifle and fired a shot that clipped one of the refugees in the knee and knocked him down, Deijin happily added to the damage, clipping the poor mugger in the jaw with a swing of his hammer and sending him to the ground. The rest of the group turned tail as fast as their comrade had fallen and Dustin took the time to blast one in the neck to make sure they got the message.
Strolling down into Jack’s favorite dive called the Tranquil Ape, the runners look around at the red tinted light of the place with some amusement. Tables are strewn about a disused dance floor that sits below the long bar to the right side of the room, a host of gangers and travelers populating the corners of the room and the mass of tables that reaches far into the back left corner of the place. They take the last few steps down into the basement hangout and Jack heads straight for the bartender in search of a beverage. He orders the largest grog they have for Deijin and another mug for himself, prying at the snyde looking elf for information, “Hey so, anything going down in the city tonight?” The bartender stares at him but begins making the order of another customer in spite, Jack rolls his eyes and looks out over the crowd in the place. Most of them are seated around the mass of tables on the dance floor, forming cliques and groups around the territory it looks like they claimed at the start of a drinking session that began a week ago. Without any question in his mind Jack decides the best course of action is to announce to the room that the Pham’s shiny leader Johnny K is dead as dead can be, sending a slew of whispers through the room and earning him some truly dubious looks.
Dustin begins to mingle with these groups, looking for some kind of work to little avail. Takakata slips away with the short wave radio they found on Johnny K, with half a mind enough to inform the Pham clan that their effervescent leader has officially bit the dust. He turns the volume knob and clicks on the radio to hear a violent mass of people trying to get ahold of a deadman. After Ken says “shut up” in a few different languages they might understand, a cool voice comes over the radio and introduces itself as Yani, son of Johnny K. Takakata informs Yani of the night’s events and the voice on the other side falters only for a moment as JK’s son promises there will be vengeance and begins shouting the description of the assassin to people around him. A search party is ordered out to scrape Johnny K out of the street.
Colfax soon discovers there is little work available in a dive generally populated by miscreants and half-baked gangers, but he stumbles across a trio of traveling merchants that lack the protection to venture onto the Ring. They were headed north, having traveled from the Dallas Dropff, with the Mirage Trading Co. when the convoy left Boulder without them. They’ve spent the last few days blowing nguyen on grog and refu women looking for someone to protect their wares…only they haven’t got any wares. Dustin frowns at this realization, but the merchants are soon promising they can find work on the double if they have protection. Colfax tells them to keep him in mind and rejoins the party across the room.
Deijin has settled next to a verily intoxicated dwarf that accepted Jack’s offer to armwrestle their troll. Surprisingly, the dwarf become lucid for a brief moment and held his own against Deijin before his hand was nearly smashed through the table with Deijin’s broken patience. The two of them drank heavily and Jack turned toward the mass of tables to tell the story of their evening.
Jack is joined quickly by Ken as he exits the bathroom, and the two of them start approaching groups of street warriors and gang members to ask if they’ve heard any wild stories this eve. Of course its another day in Boulder, but the sight of a black key card from the billfold of Johnny K gets a rise out of one ganger, who promises the card is a specific way to enter the New Denver Metroplex below them. It could be valuable, but this man regards it with some curiosity asking “How did you come across such a nifty little card?”
Ken approaches a man he deems somewhat important to this establishment, one of two gang members sitting in the back that look to be watching over the action with a group of followers seated neatly around them. Later this man would introduce himself as Olof, the leader of a little band called the Viper’s Dead, a mere chapter of the more widely known organization called the Red Serpents. Although Olof has no interest in helping these outsiders in avenging Johnny K for his family, he takes great interest in the description of an armor clad ork with dark skin and dangling dreadlocks. Olof recounts the story of a man that just came off the Ring that has been assassinating small time gang leaders, but this would be his first hit on the Boulder Big Five. The man is a mercenary, a gun for hire that has been cleaning up the chaos in Boulder according to the will of someone with the resources to fund his expedition. The merc’s name is Skag.
Takakata wastes no time leaving the Tranquil Ape to send this information on to Yani, who starts giving orders immediately after receiving the news. The group has come out of the bar, following the drunken dwarf that is now claiming he met a guy named Skag only a day or two before. He begins walking toward Downtown, repeating in a jumble that he can take them straight to the guy. However, Takakata has found them safe passage to a hostel outside the city limits that is protected by the Pham. Not long after a Pham vehicle pulls up alongside the runners and they head off to look for a few hours of sleep.
A few hours of sleep would be all they manage, as the runners are hastily woken up by their driver that is shouting about the location of Johnny’s killer. Yani comes over the radio to announce they found the gang’s trucks parked outside of a hideout deep in Downtown, he asks if the runners are ready for war.
Takakata and Jack exchange uncertain looks, this isn’t really their war to fight and Deijin won’t swing his hammer around for the Pham unless there’s money on the other side. Yani assures them there is, but the runners decide it would be best to plan their attack carefully and head out in Ken’s Ford Americar and the Pham SUV that gave them a ride to the hostel. The ride is silent, the Vietnamese driver and his guard occasionally arguing over which turn to take in the Downtown area. Ken’s car follows the SUV with Colfax riding shotgun.
As suddenly as earlier that night, a truck roars onto the street behind the two vehicles and keeps a close tail on them. There is no other traffic here, no reason for this truck to follow so closely except to chase the outsiders straight back to Cavedog. The runners have other ideas, radioing to one another to pull off the road and wait for a reaction. The truck stops dead in the road, its massive headlights beaming down upon them. Jack Smith walks into the road as the door of the truck opens and a head appears next to the lights sitting on top of the cab. The rest of the runners get out of the vehicles, followed by their Pham guides, and take some cover where it is possible. The head shouts, “Who the hell is stumbling around Downtown this late at night?” Jack shouts unconvincingly, “We got lost on our way through.” The head regards this comment with some patience, asking where they could have been going to end up here. Jack replies with ease that they were headed for the University, and though the head accepts this answer with only a slight about their lot being a poisoned bunch, Dustin begins rapping the truck with bullets from his kalashnikov. Dustin misses the head entirely, but the point has been made. Six men empty from the back of the truck and the driver sits back down to rev the engine threateningly.
These men are a far cry from the scrubs they kicked in the street earlier that night, these men are gangers with a purpose. They begin to charge the team, as firearms begin their orchestral popping off the walls of buildings in the vacant streets of Downtown. Deijin makes the first strike, slinging a spear through the air and tactfully tagging a gunman in the shoulder. Jack leans out from cover and tosses a grenade under the truck as it lets off the emergency brake, popping the front end of the car just in time to stop it moving. Shrapnel flies out into the ankles of three gunmen, knocking the one with a spear in his shoulder to the ground. Rifles fire behind the group of runners, the Pham guides are doing their best to lay down the law but their bullets scatter around the truck now badly dented in the front. Colfax rips another burst of bullets at the truck, once again missing his targets in the dark. Deijin is suddenly surrounded on three sides by gangers: a knife wielding elf, a tall ork with a sledgehammer, and a fiery eyed human with a longsword. He takes a small hit and dodges another, before bringing his hammer across the chest of the ork and tearing open his armor. Bullets fly and Jack watches the head of their Pham driver snap back and fall behind the front of the SUV, the other Vietnamese man riddling the truck window with bullets from his rifle.
The heat of battle kicks up as Colfax starts landing hard punches on the sword-wielder that knock him back. Still, the sword connects briefly with Dustin’s shoulder and knocks the wind out of him for a lasting moment before the human is executed by the AK on Dustin’s back. Deijin takes the brunt of damage from bullets raining on him from ahead, his armor taking the bullets and his body absorbing the bruises left behind by their firearms. Jack fires off a few shots meant to intimidate and pulls the pin on a smoke grenade, holding it high above his head. The shooters on either side of the enemy truck plug bullets into the resulting fog, but Jack has successfully slipped up the street. Although one gunman notices him sneaking off, he is immediately distracted by the gall of Dustin Colfax, who walks into the street holding his kalashnikov at the hip and begins tattering the side of the truck with bullets once again. Deijin’s hammer breaks the ork’s neck with ease after two more hard swings, and he turns his attention to dropping the poor knife wielder that is left behind. With a few powerful blows the elf is knocked unconscious, and Deijin finishes the poor sap with a horn to the skull. As the gunman to the left of the truck ahead leans forward to put a bullet in the troll, Jack grabs him around the neck and puts a gun to his head.
The last gunman watches the horror of his comrades’ death and capture, looks into the truck to see his driver’s face a wreck of low quality and high caliber ammunition, and turns tail to run. He doesn’t make it a block up the street before another one of Deijin’s spears connects with the back of his neck.
Deijin yells, “Where is the goddamned RIGGER!?” and Dustin walks over to the driver’s side of Ken’s Americar. There in the driver’s seat, still plugged into his drone control setup, is the peaceful face of Ken Takakata, looking completely unaware of the madness descending around him. The runners look at each other and decide its time to head back to the Pham hideout and formulate a plan, these gangers were not prepared for them at all and it would be foolish to make the same mistake.