In the old University cloisters, a maze of tunnels, forgotten rooms and sewer entrances, four people search the darkness:
- Ned Chan wakes in a pool of ectoplasm, finds a bullet-broken human skull near a wall of shadow, and makes a break for freedom as the swarm of ghosts bubbles to life and chases him.
- Charlotte Shadow makes her way down, looking for Ned, but instead finds a broken skeleton in an abandoned hallway – a skeleton that animates and calls her name
- Thomas Shadow continues his search for goblin sweat for a Market customer, and follows traces of fey activity into the cloisters
- And Eamon Burnbridge follows Thomas at a distance, determined to kill the old man as vengeance against the Shadow family.
Charlotte realises the skeleton is Dead Ringer; she helps him up, and he tells her that he was ambushed by Herne the Hunter and his goblin minions, who want the Book of Dead Names, while trying to make his way back to his gateway to the Underworld. Ned, in turn, runs into those goblins after finally escaping the ghost swarm; he tries to sneak past him, but they catch and attack him just as Charlotte and Dead Ringer find him!
As the tunnels become darker and closer, Thomas decides to head back to the surface. Burnbridge ambushes him from hiding, but his high-tech modern gun fails to fire in Thomas’ presence. The two old men grapple for a while, but Thomas blinks away using magic, making his escape – only to hear his niece shout from down below. Cursing, he goes back down to help his family – and Burnbridge follows after. Thomas doesn’t find Charlotte, though – instead he stumbles across the gutshot Herne, lying in a pool of green blood.
Charlotte blows the goblins into trash with witchcraft and rescues Ned, who processes the presence of a talking skeleton relatively calmly. They prop up Dead Ringer between them and they make their way towards the portal – the place where Ned woke up and found the skull. Dead Ringer’s skull, in fact – the portal is the place where he was murdered, decades and decades ago. He explains a little of how the undead are born from mortal deaths, and that their numbers are dwindling; fewer and fewer mortals hold on to existence after death, instead passing to whatever lies beyond. That’s why the Book of Dead Names is important to him and his allies (‘The Lodge’) – if a mortal’s name is written in it, and they die within 24 hours, they are fated to become undead, bound to the Book. Charlotte is very disturbed by this, and the potential it might have to be abused – but still, they continue downwards.
Herne knows of Thomas, the mortal who escaped the grip of both Arcadia and Hell, and asks for his help in retrieving the Book of Dead Names. Arcadia has owed a debt to Hell for time immemorial, and the strength of the fey ebbs as the debt grows larger; soon Arcadia will fall to the expansionist schemes of the Butcher Bishop of the Church Infernal. The Book is a powerful knot of fate magic, created for reasons unknown; if claimed by the fae, that magic could help hold off Hell. Thomas agrees to help the Hunter, for the moment, and supports him as they search the tunnels.
Both parties come together in the lower levels of the cloisters, at a nexus of catwalks where deeps waters rush by below – and where Burnbridge already lies in wait. Dead Ringer and Herne spot each other, but before they can act, Burnbridge shoots Thomas in the leg – and the ghost swarm bursts from the water in a storm of screaming ectoplasm!
Trying to save her uncle, Charlotte pleads with the ghost to stop Burnbridge, and they swarm over the enforcer. Herne rushes at Dead Ringer, who pulls an ancient pistol from his empty chest cavity, revealing the Book hidden there as well, and Ned is caught in their chaotic melee. Burnbridge fires wildly as Thomas blinks across to tackle him, and the ghosts pull away to mob Charlotte instead, screaming and crying at her in anger and loss. Ned grabs the Book from Dead Ringer’s chest, and Charlotte does something desperate – she releases her spirit from her body and astrally projects into the Book, the ghosts following after!
Ned runs into off with the Book, and Dead Ringer tries to shoot him – but Herne grabs him and they both fall into the churning waters below. Burnbridge overpowers the wounded Thomas, readies a knife to stab him – and instead leaves him alive, as a message for Gwen that she’s next. He vanishes into the darkness as Thomas crawls over to his niece’s lifeless body and tries CPR.
Charlotte’s spirit flies through a tunnel of swirling grey light, the ghosts swarming after, to find the knot of magic at the heart of the Book – a vast seven-pointed star of energy, on which ghosts hang limp and wretched on hooks. As the star’s spiritual gravity drags her down, Charlotte pours out all her magical power and soul in an attempt to destroy it, but it’s not enough. In desperation, she draws on her link to another artifact of fate, the Scroll of Future Places, and exchanges the fate she glimpsed there for the one at the core of the Book. Incompatible fates tear each other apart, and the vast star explodes, releasing both the ghosts bound to the Book and those following her. The Book tears itself apart in Ned’s hands in a shower of paper and ectoplasm, and Charlotte jolts back to life!
Wounded and weary, the Shadows and Ned slowly make their way back to the surface to find warmth and medical attention – and to wonder what Gwen and Arthur were doing all this time…