The ground attack team consisting of Firestone and his Team Badass, Navarre, and Sunny waited on the rickety Aurora bridge to coordinate the attack with the amphibious assault of Monk and his people. They watched from the bridge and Monk’s boats entered Lake Union from the Gasworks, Monk’s boat pulling ahead. They then witnessed, from afar, Monk slit the throat of a man and toss him overboard. The water churned and frothed, then went smooth… and Monk and his boats crossed the lake with no trouble.
The ground assault team had some trouble with the bridge, and in crossing safely, were a bit delayed. They arrived at the Needle to find Monk’s people already engaged with the tatterdemalion cult that lived in the sprawling camp between the legs of the Needle. Despite the cult having no appreciable weapons or armor, they fought as creatures savagely possessed. Some of the more… sensitive among the ground team saw a faint fog clinging to the ground, seeming to descend in an almost invisible curtain from the Needle above, that appeared to have a malign purpose, those fighting in the fog found their wills subverted, and many of Monk’s people fell to their own.
The ground assault crew attacked. Navarre’s opening grenade did significant damage to the cult although Sunny and Firestone had more difficulty finding success. Firestone’s tank got so shot up it ended up crashing uselessly into one of the Needle’s legs. Team Badass finally charged into the fray, no longer held in check by their boss, and fell prey to the fog.
Eventually, however, numbers told, and the cult was killed or scattered as…
Meanwhile, in Mount Safeco, the team gathered to invade the heart of the Needle through barely understood sorcery gathered in the subterranean Hoard, the Sorceress carefully preparing the ritual with Rhyme’s blood. As she began, however, Rhyme saw a door opening at the apex of the hoard and, reflexively, walked through it before the Sorceress had completed her rite. The others with Rhyme, being Silver, Beckett, Cass, and Hurrican rapidly followed Rhyme although the band of Have Rats led by Fleece were too slow.
Rhyme and the rest (but strangely without Hurricane) found themselves suddenly in a strange world… a clean hospital room, working TV, outside the window were cars, and gleaming buildings, and sunlight… a vision of the world before the Madness. In the hospital bed was… none other than Rhyme, or at least a girl who looked exactly like her. The girl seemed to recognize Rhyme, as well as Cass, and asked “Dr. Cassandra” to please stop giving her the medicine.
Soon, however, things got confusing, as “Dr. Cassandra” entered the room, complete with clean lab coat. The Dr. looked at Cass oddly, but did not seem to recognize that they were twins. She registered an objection to scruffy visitors disturbing her patient.
At that point, an older man entered the room who looked remarkably like a male version of Silver. He identified himself as the father of the girl in the bed. And shortly after that, a young man identical to Firestone but with a mullet entered. The whole hospital scene was reminiscent of the vision Rhyme had when trapped by the Eye.
As tensions mounted in the room, Rhyme sought a way out and realized that her hospitalized alter-ego was the key, the focus of this whole strange reality. Rhyme grabbed her doppelganger and concentrated, and a strange portal opened. The portal led to a dark room, a table, a bowl of blood, and cloaked men and women chanting. Rhyme dashed through, recognizing the Refined, and preparing for battle. Silver grabbed the hospitalized girl, who was terrified of Dr. Cassandra and didn’t want to be left behind. Beckett followed Rhyme, while Cass played rearguard, trying to keep her own doppelganger, and the strange male Silver and mulleted Firestone from following.
Cass was not particularly effective at this. The strange people forced their way past Cass as Rhyme, a flurry of thrown blades, entered the dark, shrouded room. Beckett fired, keeping the cultists scattered while Silver, tossing aside the girl, drew her large scissors, and waded into the melee.
While Cass ran interference on the strange people from the hospital, the Refined cultists, who stood about a ritual table incanting over a bowl of blood, sprang into action. One of them drove her hand into the bowl of blood and Rhyme suddenly felt cold fingers wrap around her heart. Silver, though, flipped the table, breaking that bond, while Rhyme kicked the table, knocking the cultist (who was probably Visage) out cold. The rest of the cultists drew guns, except for one who drew what looked like (believe it or not) a wand of some sort. The fight was on.
In the chaos, it became clear that the cultists were benefiting from some sort of miasma or perceptual confusion. Attacks would go wide, attempts to hit a cultist would find that cultist inexplicably eight inches to the right. In all the confusion, one cultist managed to get behind Beckett and drove a ritual knife up under her armor, dropping her to the ground. She fell and looked up at him, desperately trying to bring her rifle around, only to find his knife driven into her.
Cass was having troubles of her own. The strange hospital people kept trying to recover the girl they claimed as “their” daughter/sister/patient while the girl trembled and refused to go back. Cass found herself trampled and beaten until Rhyme put a shot through the fake-Firestone’s head. This seemed to sufficiently horrify them all. The portal to the hospital, however, at this point, faded, trapped everyone in the Needle as the last Cultists died.
Cass, badly wounded, nevertheless rushed to revive Beckett who was near death. As the blood of the cultist’s soaked into the plush rugs, however, a voice boomed through the Needle and they found themselves…
Elsewhere. They sat around a banquet table floating in a void. The table was heaped high with roast human, specifically the dead cultists, roasted and prepared and smelling marvellous. It was the team from Mount Safeco, along with the false-Rhyme and at the head of the table sat a monstrosity, a twisted, blasphemous being who looked like an immense tongue with angled, clawed limbs and a ravenous mouth. It thanked them for preparing such a delightful feast for it as it messily gobbled up the corpse of Visage. So mind-shattering was the creature that some of them found themselves momentarily overcome. Worst was Silver, who began to reflexively eat the feat before her until she was stopped by Rhyme. The awful Tongue invited them to partake, but Rhyme, recognizing that her alter-ego, created in the hospital reality from her own blood and the immense psychic antenna that was the Needle, was the key out of there. Rhyme locked eyes with her alter ego and began to sing.
A door opened up to Hurricane. He had apparently ended up in another room of the Needle and was polishing off some cultists of his own. He saw Rhyme singing and plugged in his amp and guitar. Power chords filled the space between worlds as Rhyme and Hurricane performed an act of music, of mathematical proficiency, of ordered chord progressions in the presence of being that was the embodiment of crawling chaos. It pained the tongue creature and, exasperated, it banished them from his table.
They found themselves back in the Needle. The false-Silver and false-Cass stood terrified by one wall while Cass comforted false-Rhyme, whose hospital gown had fallen open. Everyone noticed, then, that false-Rhyme had strange extrusions coming out of her vertebrae, leech-like protrusions that seemed to flex and move on their own. Cass touched one and suddenly they erupted from the girl, wrapping Cass in strong, slimy, ropy strands until Silver, acting quickly, cut them away, whereupon they splattered in liquid over Silver, Cass, and Rhyme. They saw the droplets of liquid trying to invade their orifices, and they struggled to take their clothes off to burn them, and scrub away the strange black oil substance.
Throughout this, false-rhyme was crying, beseeching, a lost girl, not understanding who, what, or why she existed or what was happening. Rhyme tried to comfort her as she drew an Elder Sign on the girl’s forehead… she got it a bit wrong, but with Hurricane’s help, she corrected it and the girl began shrieking. Her flesh boiled off her bones, and she deliquesced in agony… a lost girl who never understood her fate.
the others from the hospital realm vanished suddenly.
Rhyme found the blood no longer quite washed off her hands as easily as it used to.
They looted the Needle as best they could while Hurricane scribed elder signs on everything. They doused the place in kerosene and lit it.
They descended from the burning needle and met the tattered ground crew. Rhyme and Hurricane saw to the many dead on all sides while Firestone and Team Badass repaired the tank as best they could.
Monk and his people returned to their boats. The ground crew began limping back toward Mount Safeco only to be met halfway by Fleece and a gang of Have Rats who had been unable to follow Rhyme and company through the portal.
Meanwhile, back at Mount Safeco, Mizz Stockton saw the flames engulf the Needle, and suddenly she was not alone. She turned and saw Visage standing there, her eyes coal-black orbs. Visage thanked Mizz Stockton for providing the opportunity to complete her preparations to truly become a “bride of the black pharaoh” … an act that apparently involved placating multiple faces of the Crawling Chaos, and paid for by the blood of the Academics as well as the Refined. Her thanks seemed genuine, if a bit nefarious. She promised Mizz Stockton that in payment for all the help the denizens of Mount Safeco had provided, they would never see Visage again.
Rhyme returned to the holding having sent an innocent girl from another realm to oblivion.
Silver returned to the holding, damaged and bleeding, seeking out Mizz Stockton for quiet comfort.
Firestone returned to the holding, minus some more of his dwindling biker gang.
Beckett returned to the holding more wounded than she could ever remember being.
Navarre returned to the holding having seen yet another cult fall, and nursing his own wounds, taking comfort in Sunny’s company, as always.
Sunny returned to the holding to her by-now familiar refrain of “what the fuck was all that?”
Cass returned to the holding to limp into her own infirmary for some much needed medical aid.
Arguably the greatest threat to Seattle had been dealt with, and the Door that was the Needle was closed.