Lucius Matheson has offered the heroes a deal. If Anna Mae, Bal, Bernard, Providence, and Zai steal the plague grimoire from Hannah Lovelace of the Freikorps, Lucius will consider their probationary period complete upon delivery of the acquired grimoire. Lucius also provided maps showing the approximate location of the grimoire (in the Freikorps fortress library). Bal has convinced everybody to wait a couple of days, as his old friend, Arik Schottmer (also of the Freikorps), has offered to escort them to the fort. Anna Mae, worried about maintaining professional relationships with both Lucius and Hannah, refused, instead choosing to travel separately to the Freikorps fortress with a compliment of Guild Guard, which is her usual way of visiting the library as an official guest, invited by Hannah. When Anna Mae arrived at the fort, she asked Hannah to have dinner with her in the mess hall. Anna Mae is sitting with Hannah in the mess, eating terrible food and having awkward conversation, worried about being dragged into a crisis that will destroy her professional opportunities, when the other heroes enter the courtyard.
Arik Schottmer, Bal, Zai (in disguise), Providence, and Bernard have just entered the courtyard when rats of unusual size (yes, Westley, apparently, they DO exist) start pouring over the stone walls. An avalanche of 50-pound rats crashes over the wall, creating an undulating, squeaking ramp into the courtyard, down which an army of their brethren lumber like wet, angry bears. A Freikorps soldier falls screaming from a guard tower, a rat fastened to his bloody neck, and the heroes grab their weapons. Cursing, their escort, Arik, unlimbers his flamethrower and unleashes a stream of fire at the invading rodents.
Providence yells, “Oh my God, those are gigantic effing rats!” Our heroes exchange a glace, and, as one, abandon Arik. Instead of helping fight the rats, they make a break for the gatehouse and the stairs to the underground complex, where they’ve been told the grimoire waits.
Meanwhile, back at the mess hall, the sound of battle brings Hannah Lovelace to her feet. With a shout, she commands the dining soldiers to abandon their meals and form an attack line, then leads them out of the mess hall, toward the courtyard. Anna Mae sits alone in the mess hall, contemplating her cooling plate of greasy chili. Although she hears the familiar ZORCH sound of Hannah’s now-familiar arcane fire, Anna Mae isn’t sure what to do. All of her choices seem bad.
When the other heroes open the gatehouse door, they are shouldered aside by two Freikorps officers; in their zeal to join their comrades in the rat melee, they ignore the heroes entirely. Zai (in disguise, but no other name given, so we’ll call her Not-Zai) steps into the gatehouse and, seeing a desk covered messily with papers, begins to rifle through them, reading reports under the candle light about the construction of the fortifications. She’s looking for traps, secret doors, and alternate entrances and exits. Providence enters the gatehouse and asks Not-Zai what she’s doing. Not-Zai replies, dismissively, “I’m not Zai.”
With a shrug, Providence pelts full-tilt down the stairs toward the underground library. With a bit more reserve, Bal follows. Pumping his short legs, Bernard brings up the rear, shouting, “You can’t start the looting without me!”
Anna Mae finally pulls herself together and runs into the courtyard straight into a hellish battlescape. Hannah is ZORCHing rats with magic, Arik is roasting them with his enormous flamethrower, and other Freikorps troops are firing clockwork pistols or slashing about with their swords (brakh’blades). Fearing what her comrades might be up to, Anna Mae runs for the gatehouse, but her passage does not go un-noticed. Hannah ZORCHes several rats out of her way and follows.
Providence comes to a screeching halt at the bottom of the stair to admire a pair of ancient stone urns. Bal shoves past her and makes a beeline for the library. Leaping from the stairs, Bernard heads off in a completely different direction. Screw the stupid book; he’s looking for treasure! Soon, the halls are full of the Gremlin’s moans of frustration, as all he finds is one ruined, empty room after another. “Dammit! These people are poor!” Upstairs, Not-Zai, sensing malevolence both from the attacking rat swarm and from somewhere below, finally heads down the stairs after her comrades (“comrade” merely a word of convenience, as Not-Zai appears to feel no particular attachment to the others).
Just as Not-Zai vanishes down the stairs, Anna Mae bursts into the gatehouse, followed in short order by Hannah. Suspicious, Hannah shouts, “Anna Mae! What are you doing here?”
Taken aback, reluctant to lie, Anna Mae replies, “I thought I should get inside? Because of the rats? But I also think I thought I saw something in here?”
Anna Mae’s circuitous answer-questions inflame Hannah’s suspicions. “If you’re wise, you’ll get under that bed and stay out of my way.” Hannah indicates one of the officer’s cots and runs down the stairs. Anna Mae slides over to the bed to avoid the stream of giant rats that come pouring into the gatehouse after Hannah. It’s really unclear what she should do. The options are getting worse and worse.
Bal reaches the library first and searches one wall of the first room for the grimoire – no luck. Joining him shortly, Providence begins her own search and finds books about natural history and the people and cultures of Malifaux. Poor Providence is suffering; first, she couldn’t get out her sketching tools and take notes on the urns, and now she must bypass SO MANY EXCELLENT BOOKS just to get one grimoire. A bit conflicted (VERY CONFLICTED), Providence starts packing her satchel with interesting books. Sure, she’ll keep looking for the grimoire, but she can also select books to “borrow.” She’s a smart woman. She can multi-task! Bal moves on to the next room and stops to examine the wall mural – a magnificent golden sunset. Is the mural a message? A clue? Bal climbs up the bookcases to examine the mural closely, but finds nothing of particular interest. It’s paint on stone. Nothing special. However, when he climbs back down the bookcase, he quickly locates the grimoire. It was in the bookshelf under the mural. The shelf he was just standing on. With a sigh, Bal secures the book in his satchel.
The heroes are scattered, and the scene is underground chaos. Bal has the grimoire. Providence is still searching for the grimoire, while stealing books. Not-Zai is sprinting for the library. Hannah is coming down the stairs followed by a squeaking river of giant rats, which she is ZORCHing as she goes. Bernard, standing in the sudden flood of rats, is inspired. The rats aren’t attacking; they’re just running down the hall toward the library. IT’S RODEO TIME. Bernard fights his way into the rat-stream, kicks his favorite in the head, and tries to climb aboard, but the giant rat bucks him off and continues on its way. Never one to surrender a bad idea, Bernard rolls to his feet, dusts off his doublet, and tries a different rat. Not-Zai steps into the library, as Providence jams one last book into her straining bag. Not-Zai opens her senses to locate the grimoire and detects it in the other room.
Hannah, still ZORCHing rats, spies Bernard, and shouts, “YOU!”
Bernard throws his arms open and yells, “ME!” The second rat, having rejected Bernard’s attempt to ride it, attacks him. Bernard punches the rat into stone floor, then complains to Hannah, as though they are both on the same looting mission. “You know there’s nothing worth stealing around here, right?”
Incredulous, Hannah only shakes her head and ZORCHes another rat.
Latching her straining bag, Providence asks Not-Zai if there are still rats upstairs. Not-Zai replies, “Upstairs? There are rats down HERE!” Providence, overwhelmed by the wealth of knowledge around her, paces back and forth between the two library rooms, muttering to herself. Seeing Bal in the second room, she asks him if he has located the grimoire. Bal denies it. Providence notices the shelf of grimoires under the sunset mural and starts dumping mundane books out of her bag to make room for grimoires. (See: “kid in a candy store,” times a thousand.)
What’s going on? More chaos! The rats are streaming into the library. They attack Not-Zai and Bernard, but both heroes successfully fight them off. Hannah steps into the library. Bal takes a back exit from the mural room and tries to find a different way back to the surface. Hannah watches the rats flow through the library into the back exit, as does Not-Zai, who makes contact with the grimoire’s energy and briefly collapses to her knees in pain and disgust. Anna Mae tip-toes down the stairs into the library corridor, pressing against the walls to stay out of the rat-stream.
As Bal runs out the back door, the rats finally catch up to him, biting him and tearing into his brigandine armor. One rat seizes his bag with the grimoire, but Bal manages to tear it free from the rat’s jaws, and jog through a maze of corridors back to the stairs. When she spots Bal, Anna Mae yells at Bal to drop the bag and run. Bal clutches the bag tighter. “No! It has my… effects!” He glares at her. She glares back. He knows she knows, and she knows he knows she knows. Stalemate.
Meanwhile, back in the chaos, Bernard finally manages to mount a rat. Like a knight on a horse, but more like a Gremlin steering a rat by its ears, Bernard wrestles the rat into battle and punches other rats left and right, narrating every blow. “Take that! And that! You want some too? BAM!”
Providence follows Bal (and the river of rats) out the back door. She draws her shotgun and blasts a pair of them away from the doors. Seeing Bernard ride his rat into the library, she says, “Keep that rat alive so I can dissect it.” Bernard says, “Can I eat it afterwards?” Providence thinks for a second. “Okay. Just save me a piece.” Providence is really dedicated to having every experience ever.
Cut off from the only exit and thinking quickly, deeply unhappy about the whole affair, Bal ties a stick of dynamite to his satchel, lights it, and tosses it to a rat. The river of rats freezes, then reverses course to a hole in the floor. Following the rat with the satchel, the whole river of rats funnels down this hole in an awful, stinking, squeaking drain-swirl. Hannah, having come to a screeching halt in the side corridor mid-shout (What’s the hell is going on…) smells the dynamite, quickly figures it out, and dives for cover, as do the heroes, Providence and Bernard with Hannah, and Bal with Anna Mae near the stairs.
All packed into the same sheltering doorway, Providence looks at Hannah. “What are you doing here?” Hannah says, “What do you mean what am I doing here? What are you doing here?” Bernard bitterly vents about losing his rat steed, but neither woman is listening to him. Providence is assaulting Hannah with questions. Hannah, shrinking into the stone, says, “Maybe we can talk after the explo-“
A massive detonation shakes the stones around them. Clouds of dust fly up, obscuring everyone’s vision, and the heroes are temporarily deafened. When the heroes shake off the effects of the explosion, the first thing they hear is the clacking of (a lot of) clockwork pistols cocking, and the first thing they see is a double line of muzzles, a dozen Freikorps, fore and aft. The heroes are surrounded.
Hannah gestures. “Bind this lot and bring them into the Wellhouse.”
As the heroes are perp-walked up the stairs, Arik says to Bal, “I really thought better of you.” Bal protests. “What do you mean? I just saved everybody!” Arik keeps his voice low. “What were you doing in the library, then?” Bal whispers back, “I believe that falls under the brief of my previous appointment. The one our agreement was meant to avoid.” Arik just grunts.
When Anna Mae protests – she arrived separately – she’s not involved with whatever these other people were doing, Hannah leaves off the shackles but commands Anna Mae to follow along to the Wellhouse.
After an hour’s uncomfortable, silent incarceration in the dimly lit Wellhouse, the heroes are brought to the courtyard and into the presence of a tough-looking older man with a frightening array of weapons bristling from his bloody and battle-scarred clockwork armor. With a growl, he says, “I’m Von Schill.” He looks the heroes over and says, “Perhaps you might explain what you’re doing in my fortress. I doubt it was to sign on.”
Bal answers, “Partly to sign on, and partly to walk away.” Both Hannah and Arik looks daggers at Bal. It seems Bal has burned both those bridges now.
Anna Mae pipes in, “Um, I just came for dinner.”
Von Schill’s gaze flickers to Hannah, who shrugs. He sighs. “You’ll need to do better than that.”
Bal caves, with a great gush of breath. “We were hired to acquire a dangerous item.”
Von Schill nods. “Hired by whom?”
Bernard interjects, “I don’t know these guys.”
Bal continues. “We were sent to acquire a grimoire. Quite a dangerous artifact, I hear. Conjures world-ending disease and plague.”
Von Schill thumbs one of several holstered pistols. “And who sent you to acquire this item?”
Bal stammers. “It’s a delicate matter, see, and I think only you should have that information.”
Von Schill sighs and drags Bal into the Wellhouse for a private conversation. It takes all of two minutes. When they emerge, Bal has been untied and Von Schill is carrying Bal’s beloved rife. Von Schill gestures to the other heroes. “Untie them and confiscate their weapons, then they can go.”
Choked up, Bal says, “Can I keep my rifle? I use her as a walking stick. You couldn’t kill a slug with her.”
Von Schill sees that the rifle is inoperable as a firearm and recognizes the pain in Bal’s eyes. Von Schill knows the ways of old warriors, and his tone gentles. “Wielding her with some creativity, you can still kill a man with her, son. But yes, fine. Here you go. Now on your way.”
Clutching his old rifle, Bal leads the way back out the fortress gates, which slam behind the heroes. Alone in the Quarantine Zone, having made enemies of the Guild and the Freikorps, Anna Mae, Bal, Bernard, Providence, and Not-Zai look at each other, wondering what to do. Anna Mae isn’t sure what just happened. Have her bridges been burned as well?
Bernard’s voice shatters the uncomfortable silence. “So! Who wants to meet my family!?”