After the zombie fight and their first successful performance at the Star Theatre, the heroes have settled into a period of relative routine; they prep in the morning, have a few hours of leisure in the afternoons, and work a performance shift in the evenings. However, on their afternoon explorations, they have each noticed that plainclothes (but still menacing) Guild officers follow them anywhere they go. If the heroes step foot into one of the streets marking the boundary of the Downtown district, a Guild regular is there to greet them with a murderous smile, or a finger drawn across a stubbled throat.
One morning, as the heroes are doing their jobs in the theater, while mentally wrestling with their probationary period (which has felt longer and longer with each passing day), the slovenly Captain Dashel appears in the lobby to summon them (all six of them) to the Governor-General’s palace, right now, thank you. Dashel’s dim expression dims even further, when the heroes tell him that puppeteer Vito Sessa (Cesar) disappeared right after Zai’s opening performance; only the five of them are available. Dashel is not pleased. “Mr. Mattheson will send the Witchhunter after Mr. Sessa. Ms. Sonnia Criid will find him, slit his throat, and string him up on the Warning Tree outside the palace gate as a warning. All kinds of bad people out in Malifaux.” He spits. “Terrorists. Arcanists. Same damn thing.”
Bernard suggests that if Vito Sessa ran into the Bayou, the swamp would take care of him. Zai mutters something about Gremlins under her breath. Bernard immediately retorts, “THAT’S RACIST.”
Dashel, seeming amused by the interplay, gestures for the grumpy heroes to fall in line, and leads them through the Downtown District to the Governor-General’s palace.
The heroes arrive to a much more genial welcome; a generous selection of drinks and snacks have been laid out on a gilded sideboard. Bernard and Providence dig into the snacks with great appetite; Anna Mae pours herself a drink; and Zai and Bal both take the opportunity to refill their hip flasks from the bottles of the good stuff lined up on a mirrored tray. Lucius, on arrival, pretends not to notice Zai and Bal’s appropriation of his finest spirits; instead, he offers the group effusive compliments.
“I have enjoyed your work at the theater. Wade Norris told me that your help was critical in resolving last week’s violent situation. The Chief Coroner, Dr. McMourning, is calling the creatures you helped destroy plague zombies.” Lucius shudders. “Our expects surmise that the so-called plague zombies were pursuing Hannah Lovelace because she carried a powerful and dangerous grimoire of mystical diseases. In the interest of public safety, you understand, this grimoire must be retrieved from the Freikorps and placed in the Guild’s vault, where such dangerous items are protected from misuse. However, an attack on the Freikorps library would unbalance important peace agreements between the Guild and Freikorps, agreements that keep the trains in Malifaux running on time.” Lucius flips out a handkerchief and blots a spot on his face under his mask. What he’s about the say seems delicate. “However; if your group would secretly acquire the grimoire on behalf of the Guild, as you’ve been doing so very well, your probation might be considered complete upon the grimoire’s safe return.”
Bal is, at first, enthusiastic about the offer. “I feel confident we can scope this place out and bring back,” he pauses, “… whatever will, er, satisfy you.” Thrilled, Lucius rolls a set of maps across a table, explaining the layout of the Freikorps headquarters and the underground chambers beneath it. On top, he adds a leather folio with a description and a sketch of the grimoire. Bal asks for additional information, any dirt that Lucius might have on the senior officers, and so forth. Breezing past the request for “dirt,” Lucius explains that there are 30-50 soldiers in the fort and Von Schill, the commander of the Freikorps, is usually in the Downtown District negotiating deals. However, Hannah, the Freikorps Librarian, is more often on site. Lucius acknowledges Bal’s familiarity with Hannah, and expresses regret that he does not have any information about Hannah that could be used as leverage.
Bernard asks what else is in it for them, and Lucius offers 50 scrip for each team member, plus one item (each) from his vault of special equipment. The group is starting to cotton on to the fact that Lucius has his fingers in many pies, that his reach is long, and deep, and above all, secret.
Nervous about compromising her professional relationship with either Hannah or Lucius, Anna Mae asks how the Freikorps and the Guild get along. Couldn’t the Guild just ask for the grimoire? Lucius explains Von Schill’s fraught history with the Guild. Once a fairly high-ranking member, he quit the Guild after a dispute with the Governor-General, and established his own group thereafter—the Freikorps; Von Schill is not openly hostile to the Guild, and the Guild sometimes hires out the Freikorps for special operations against the hostile Malifaux Natives, but the groups are not officially allied. Lucius says that it’s unlikely the Freikorps are awake that Lucius even knows about the grimoire. Asking the Freikorps directly for the artifact would compromise certain resources in the Freikorp that provide Lucius with intelligence.
Zai, appearing to listen only casually, asks if the group should take any special precautions when handling the grimoire. Lucius strongly urges them not to even open the book, much less investigate its contents. He fears that even reading the content might trigger a deadly plague that would decimate the city, maybe even all of Malifaux. With concern in his voice, Lucius says that the Guild wants to remove the grimoire to a safe place before the Freikorps causes a catastrophe—whether intentionally or not.
Although their commitment to the job seems less than definite, the group agrees to obtain the grimoire in exchange for immediate completion of their probationary period. When they leave, Anna Mae hangs back for a private conversation with Lucius.
Bal meets up with his former comrade, Arik, who currently works as a recruiter for the Freikorps. Speaking obliquely, Bal suggests he’s been offered him a job that will hurt the Freikorps in some way, and he’s looking for a counter-offer from Arik. Arik, no fool, wants to know what needs doing, exactly, and who’s asking Bal to do it. Verbally ducking and weaving like a champion boxer, Bal implies if Arik doesn’t help Bal (and his friends) get out of Malifaux City, they’re going to sort of, kind of, maybe steal something from the Freikorps. Arik thinks on that for a while and asks Bal some follow-up questions that Bal answers with a nod and wink about having handily survived that weird event, where all the people vanished from the train to Malifaux. His friends survived it too, so they have…skills. Arik finally figures out what Bal’s asking for and says he’ll make arrangements to set them up as Freikorps recruits and get them out of Malifaux City in a few days’ time. Bal and his friends can meet Arik where the Downtown District meets the Quarantine Zone, and Arik will escort them to the Freikorps HQ.
After thinking their options over, Bal and Providence return to the Governor-General’s palace to take up Lucius’s offer of special equipment. Although allowed only one item each, Bal takes a grappling hook gun and distracts the guard with rambling conversation while Providence stashes away two small mechanical spiders and three explosive charges. In turn, Providence pelts the guard with a breathless series of long questions, allowing Bal to covertly snag a fourth explosive charge, while overtly selecting an intriguing set of clockwork wings. Later, in the alley behind the Star Theatre, Providence and Bal spend some time figuring out how the clockwork wings work. Although Bal isn’t a pilot, his knowledge of engineering gives him a basic understanding of how to wear and drive the wings.
Bernard, meanwhile, is already spending his scrip. Distracted from the plot tosteal the grimoire, he spends a couple of hours researching metalworks in Malifaux City that can produce alloys capable of withstanding the temperature of burning Gremlin rocket fuel (moonshine). He has his own agenda and no matter what’s going on with the others, he’s locked into following it as soon as he can.
When the heroes reassemble that evening, Anna Mae, Bal, Bernard, and Providence finds themselves in the unexpected company of a strange woman who claim that she will be going on this mission on behalf of Zai. When the group stares at her, trying to get what she’s saying, she impatiently indicates her plain clothing, her dusky but unremarkable prettiness. Frustrated, she points to the bar, where Zai, costumed in her customary extravagant glory, silently holds her head as though in pain, taking what appears to be a medicinal bottle of whiskey back to her room. Bal puts it all together—the relatively plain, unmasked person standing before them is Zai, willing to retrieve the grimoire, but not willing to ruin her reputation over the job. Whoever or whatever just staggered away with the bottle is a reputation-saving illusion.
Bal tells the group that he has independently arranged their transport to the Freikorps headquarters, two days from now. Bernard and Zai get on board immediately, but Providence has a million questions. Although Bal manages to put Providence off for the time being, Anna Mae refuses to cooperate, as she is determined to operative honestly, while somehow maintaining her important professional relations with both Lucius and Hannah. While Bal and Anna Mae argue about who’s going to the Freikorps fort, when they’re leaving, and how they’re traveling, Bernard walks over to the bar and pilfers a lit cigarette from an ashtray. Zai steals up behind him, spirits it away from him, takes a puff on the cigarette herself, and then puts it back in his hand. Bernard says, “You owe me a snack for that. You owe me a finger.”
Zai replies, “Fine. So long as it’s not one of my fingers.”
Eventually, Anna Mae agrees to consider acting as a distraction for Hannah, but first wants to speak with Lucius again, to see if she can convince him to deal more honestly with the Freikorps. Bal, Bernard, and Providence wander away, and Zai takes Anna Mae aside to ask why show’s not comfortable with Bal’s plan. Anna Mae explains that her research is very important to her, and that to do her work effectively, she must be on good terms with both Hannah and Lucius. If Anna Mae steals from Hannah, she’ll lose an ally, and access to the library. Zai says that the artifact is extremely dangerous and doesn’t want Hannah OR Lucius to have it. Both outcomes would be BAD.
“But isn’t the Guild going to lock the grimoire away safely?” asks Anna Mae, blinking.
“I doubt that power-hungry maniac would hesitate to use it to further his own agenda,” says Zai, referring to Lucius. She frowns. “How much do you know about the Natives of Malifaux?”
“As much as any Earthside human being could, I think? I’ve written several dissertations on the subject.”
Zai sniffs. “There’s a difference between studying something and living it.”
With her suspicions that Zai is a Neverborn shapeshifter confirmed, Anna Mae apologizes profusely for any cultural insensitivity she may have inadvertently displayed. In Anna’s Mae’s eyes, the Neverborn are just people, like all other people, deserving of compassion and respect. Never mind their bloody history.
Zai sniffs. “There were some very dangerous things happening in Malifaux a long time ago. I came back here thinking the coast was relatively clear, but the grimoire smells like those old bad things.”
As always, Anna Mae is straight-forward in her reply. “You’re talking about the Tyrants.”
Wincing, Zai looks around to see if anyone’s listening before she answers. “I think the grimoire would be safer with us than with the Guild or the Freikorps.”
Anna Mae thinks for a minute. “If it’s so dangerous, could it be…maybe…destroyed? I don’t want to put my research at risk, but the grimoire does sound extremely dangerous. Better to make sure no one can use it? Maybe?”
Zai smiles, all teeth. “If it just happened to be destroyed in an attempt to acquire it… well, that would be unfortunate.”
Anna Mae smiles tentatively back, but she senses that Zai isn’t really willing to destroy the grimoire. Nevertheless, Anna Mae agrees to make a Guild-sanctioned visit to Hannah, and perhaps distract her with a conversation over dinner while the rest of the heroes do what they have to do. Anna Mae isn’t sure there is any other (more noble) recourse, at this point.
Two days later, at sundown, Anna Mae arrives at the Freikorps fortress on an official visit, escorted by two Guild Guards assigned to her by Lucius. Responding to the smell of dinner wafting from the Mess Hall, Anna Mae asks Hannah if they might have a conversation over dinner about some texts she’d like to borrow. Hannah is surprised that anyone would want to eat in the Freikorps Mess Hall, but, still star-struck by Anna Mae’s academic achievements, willingly escorts her to the mess for dinner.
Meanwhile, Bal, Bernard, Providence, and Zai meet Arik and follow him into the Quarantine Zone. As they go along, Bal explains to the other heroes that the Freikorps and Guild don’t really get along, and no matter what they do that night, they’re going to get on the bad side of one or the other organization, so he thinks they should join the Freikorps, as the pay is a lot better, and Lucius’s plans for the heroes seem a mite more complicated (ok, shady). Bernard asks Arik if the Freikorps would stop him from going to the Bayou, because he needs to go there, and also if the Freikorps have good metalworks and forges and machine shops and such. Arik promises Bernard everything he asks for, and Bernard signs on with a shrug. Providence asks if she could have access to the Freikorps library of arcane knowledge; when Arik says it’s all hers, Providence signs on as well. Zai dials up the attractiveness of her arcane glamour, and bats her eyelashes at Arik, saying she just wants to be with whomever will keep her safe. Arik adjusts his large flamethrower backpack and assures her that she couldn’t be safer than with the Freikorps.
Thusly committed to several conflicting plans, our heroes proceed through the Quarantine Zone, bothered from time to time by an unpleasant rustling sound all around, but not bothered enough to stop what feels like a path out of Malifaux City, to freedom. They arrive at the Freikorps fortress about an hour after Anna Mae. As Bal, Bernard, Providence, Zai, and Arik step into the courtyard, they hear the disturbing sound again. Louder. In one collective gesture, they look up at the walls of the fortress to see a giant rat wriggling over the crenellation. Followed by another. And another. An avalanche of giant rats, easily 50 pounds each in size, boils over the wall, creating a wriggling, squeaking ramp into the courtyard which a veritable army of their brethren lumber like wet, angry bears.
As one, the heroes reach for their weapons.