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!?”
In the last session, the heroes confronted Helen Lane, the leader of the Sweet Heart Foundation, and persuaded her not to kill everyone in the Raven’s Nest, but instead find a non-mass-murderous way to stop the Convergence. Helen admitted that there was at least a small chance the seniors could stop the Convergence by travelling to a demon dimension and finding/destroying its source, and to help them do so, she gave them arms and armor and created an interdimensional portal.
The heroes pass through the portal into the so-called demon dimension. The immediate environment (the supercollider tunnel) remain apparently unchanged, but Helen and her staff are merely flickering ghostly forms, and Ryo’s spirit wolf Keeba is a solid, glowing presence. While Troy, Matt, Ryo, and Marco take stock of the situation, CP checks out the position of the ley lines, which are actively bending toward conjunction overhead, and Mariana notices that the team’s artifacts, like the Zippo Lighters from Hell, are noticeably radiant. Even brighter light beckons from the depths of the superconductor tunnel, and they collect themselves and head down the tunnel, toward what they hope is the source of the Convergence.
The source of the glow is a pair of artifacts on matching pedestals; a long spear with a golden head etched with Meso-American symbols and a blue eyeball encased in a glass sphere the size of a baseball. Tapping into their Ritualist knowledge, CP and Matt determine that these artifacts parallel two artifacts from their world—De La Garza’s Cross and the Lantern of the Deep. Worried that Helen is lying to them, that she is actually furthering the Convergence instead of stopping it, CP recommends removing the artifacts from the pedestals, but doing so has no apparent effect.
The group heads back up the tunnel to the elevator, still looking for the source of the Convergence. As they pass through the control room, where the ghostly forms of Helen and her staff continue to flicker, Ryo touches a chair and notices that his fingers drift slightly into its surface. Startled, he tells the others. At the elevator, the seniors try to press the call button, but are unable to get the button to light up. CP tries prodding the call button with the spear, but without success. Mariana, impatient to get this mission over with, simply walks through the door, into the elevator shaft (good thing this is the bottom floor, or Marianna might have had a nasty fall). When Troy tries to follow her, he hits his head on the doors in his first attempt, but phases through the doors on his second attempt. The rest of the group phases through the doors into the elevator shaft without incident.
After a long climb up the elevator shaft via the service ladder, the heroes exit the shaft to the stadium concourse, which is eerily silent. CP again checks the bending ley lines, which are still actively moving into conjunction on the center of the field. With that, the seniors walk through one of the tunnels onto the sidelines and huddle to a horrified halt. In the center of the field, a four-armed demon the size of the Stature of Liberty looms high over the stadium, holding up an obsidian obelisk. Arcing blasts of energy from the tip of the obelisk seem to be bending the ley lines into a bright blue, star-shaped density over the stadium. A haze has formed around the demon, and through the haze, the heroes can see panicked crowds from their world fleeing the stadium; the parallel worlds are converging.
The sky over the titan’s head is thick with monstrous, bat-winged demons, some clutching ghostly bodies in their talons, which they deliver (with much flapping and roaring) to a black-scaled, lizard-like being that stands at the feet of the titan. As the heroes watch, horrified, the black-scaled figure clutches and releases the writhing ghosts, much like a priest welcomes sinners to his congregation. Upon release, the ghosts shamble into the roaming bands of imps and minor demons, who, when not snapping at each other, prod impatiently at the haze of overlapping realities, looking for access to the shadowy humans panicking on the other side.
Troy and Matt notice that the titan appears to be weakening with each blast from the obelisk, and Matt speculates that the titan is the obelisk’s power source. Kill the demon, stop the Convergence.
Steeling themselves, the team heads onto the field, drawing the attention of three ghostly figures. The seniors hesitate, unsure, but Mariana charges, firing her Glock. Not sure it’ll work, Ryo stabs one of the ghosts with his cold-iron dagger, and to his surprise, the ghost falls back, wounded. Troy takes another ghost down with his shotgun, and Marco joins the melee with his bat, swinging left, right, and center. The heroes clear a path to the titan but find themselves face-to-face with the black scaled lizard demon. Slashing with his katana, Ryo carves a line into the demon’s scaly flesh, and dodges a surprise blow from the creature’s weapon—a flaming morning star. Matt, Troy, and Mariana shoot at the demon, but things are getting crazy, and they all miss. Marco winds up and whacks the demon with his bat, but the thing’s hard, black scales repel his blow. As it turns to snarl at Marco, CP approaches from behind and cracks it hard in the back of the skull with his extendable baton. Staggering, the priest-demon waves a beckoning gesture at its minions, drawing six earthbound ghosts and six bat-winged demons. Mariana, CP, Troy and Ryo are horrified to see that one of the ghosts is their old friend Casey from freshman year.
Enraged at the abuse of his dead friend, Casey, Ryo neatly decapitates the black-scaled demon with a slash of his blade. Three ghosts reach toward Troy with grasping hands but are unable to gain purchase. Two of the ghosts grab Matt by the arms, and Matt suddenly feels his strength draining away. Marco runs to Matt’s rescue, but his trusty bat does little damage to Matt’s ghostly attackers. Swaying in the grasps of the ghosts, Matt fires his M16 upward at the titan, grimly satisfied to see a few bullets hit the target even though the titan only seems modestly effected. Any success is good at this point.
Mariana, Ryo, and CP are each attacked by a pair of demons. Ryo open the chest of one demon with his katana; CP and Mariana, however, dodge the demons, firing their Zippo Lighters from Hell at the titan through their scrabbling claws. CP scorches the titan, but Mariana blasts the gigantic demon squarely in the face, sending it into thrashing howls of agony.
Still pinned bodily by the ghosts, but free enough to maneuver the M16, Matt shoots again, and, with a deadly accurate three-round burst, brings the titan and the obelisk crashing to the ground. The obelisk hits the goalpost on the away side and explodes into shards. Above, the ley lines reverse course with a snap, bending back to their natural positions. Noticing the de-convergence, CP yells, “Run for it!” and the group makes a beeline for the elevator shaft, with a swirling flight of bat-winged demons in pursuit.
All Hell has literally broken loose, and Matt and Mariana both trip over a sideline bench. Winded from the ghost attack, Matt has a hard time keeping up, taking several clawing blows from the pursuing bat-winged demons, but his body armor deflects most of the force. CP, Troy, Mariana, and Marco all make it down the elevator shaft, back into the command center, and through Helen Lane’s portal, leaving Ryo as rearguard for Matt. Desperately fleeing the flying demons, Matt dives for the portal, but it momentarily flickers out of existence and he crashes to the floor. Ryo holds the flying demons off while Matt makes a second attempt to cross. As Matt makes attempt number three, CP reaches through the portal and hauls Matt through. Ryo dives after him, and the portal snaps shut.
Safely back at the Sweet Heart command center in their home world, the seniors find Helen Lane muttering to herself in a corner. Her hair has turned completely white and her eyes are glassy. From her scattered, self-addressed monologue, Helen seems to be reliving her college student days. The heroes head to the surface and into the stadium concourse, where they find university staffers ushering families and students back into the stadium to continue graduation, with toothy, nervous reassurances that the bizarre light show and invasion of demons has all been just an especially well-executed fraternity prank. Aren't they great! Young people these days. What'll they think of next.
Graduation proceeds without the heroes; sadly, some of them are injured and they don't have time to exchange battle gear for cap and gown. After the ceremony, however, university President Nelson tracks them down to express his gratitude. “Well done, all of you. You’ve rendered extraordinary service to the University.” With a knowing wink, Nelson hands each senior a leather diploma folder.
The heroes have earned their bachelor's degrees from East Texas University!
Marco Martinez went on to enjoy a successful career as a shortstop for the Houston Astros.
Matt Damiano pursued graduate studies at ETU and replaced GlenMac on the faculty as a Professor of Folklore.
Mariana Beck secured a lucrative position with the Sweet Heart Foundation as a "troubleshooter". She doesn't talk about her work much.
Ryo Akiyama returned to Japan and became a police detective on the Tokyo Metropolitan police force. For two years running, he has taken third place in the All-Japan kendo competition.
Troy Bergsma landed a job at Google as an information security engineer, hoping that their former slogan "Don't Be Evil" still held true. (He was VERY happy to get out of Texas.)
CP West wrote a novel about his college experiences. On book tours, when asked where he got his ideas, CP tells everyone that books are all autobiographical. No one believes him.
Legion of Liberty: Superheroes of 1776 is now 96% funded, and Manuel Sambs of Veiled Fury Entertainment was kind enough to interview Scott about the project. Check out the interview video!
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.
Legion of Liberty: Superheroes of 1776 launched today on Kickstarter! In celebration, here is a list of links (in sequence) for the play-test campaign's actual-play blog posts. Read about Jacoby Barnes, the Boston Lobster Man; Suzanna, the shapeshifter; Godot, the mysterious psychic; and Francis Parry, the fire-axe-wielding speedster, as they fight their way through the American Revolution!