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.
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!
At the Star Theatre, during Collette DuBois’s illusionist act, what appeared to be zombies broke into the theater and attacked the audience. Most of the shambling creatures chased the escaping audience out the theater’s back doors, but a few zombies stopped short to fight our heroes: Anna Mae, the intrepid anthropologist; Balthazar, the shell-shocked war veteran; “One Glove” Bernard, the Gremlin pugilist; Providence, the Australian mystic; and Zai, the mysterious stage illusionist. After the heroes mop up the zombies (much to Anna Mae’s grief over the loss of life), a Guild Death Marshall arrives and determines that the “zombies” are not, in fact, undead at all. What’s going on here?
Act 1: The Chase
Turning to Lucius Mattheson, the Death Marshall says that he wants to investigate the zombies and needs backup. Lucius gestures at the assembled heroes, who are standing by covered in blood and gore, some of it their own, and when the Marshall looks dubious, Lucius launches into a sales pitch. “Balthazar here is responsible for the admirably accurate headshots you see before you. And Bernard, this Gremlin right here, is a master of the art of pugilism; he knocked that creature’s head clean off its shoulders! The lovely and talented Zai is a skilled knife fighter and acrobat – See that zombie with the knife sticking out of its head? See that chandelier? Best chandelier attack I’ve ever seen, bar none. Providence, here, well, let me tell you, sir; she’s a surgeon with that shotgun.” With a smile, Lucius gives the shy anthropologist a little push into the spotlight. “And this is Anna Mae, a brilliant scholar. She can help figure out what these creatures are. You’d better hurry up, though. The zombies are getting away.”
Convinced, the Death Marshall nods, Let’s go then. But Bernard and Balthazar immediately ask what’s in it for them. Lucius offers them additional scrip and the chase is (finally!) on. The heroes stream out the rear door into a dark alley behind the theater. Rushing into the main street, Providence nearly collides with an ox-sized, techno-magical construct jerkily pulling a wagon of bundled goods. Not to be deterred, Providence swings up into the wagon, joined by Anna Mae and Balthazar. “Hey, no fair!” yells Bernard, pelting along behind as fast as his short, Gremlin legs can carry him. Zai, following her comrades into the alley, avoids slipping on some rubbish, but Wade Norris, the Death Marshall, back in impressive flaming skull disguise, hits the same slimy patch and crashes to the ground, the coffin chained oddly to his back bashing him unimpressively in the head. As Zai runs down the street after the wagon, she encounters a crowd of drunken miners spilling out of a pub, which she dodges with flair.
Perched in the jouncing wagon, as insatiably curious as ever, Providence opens a bundle of goods to find a neatly folded package of miner’s denim coveralls. Both she and Anna Mae snatch and stow a pair for later, Just in case, while Balthazar looks on, nonplussed; Really, that’s what we’re doing right now? As the wagon turns a corner, all three heroes recover focus, and jump down to continue the zombie chase on foot. Around the next corner, they see a trio of zombies that have fallen short of the main pack.
Anna Mae jerks to a straight-backed halt in the middle of the street. Wait, what?
Bal darts back behind the corner, yelling, “Take cover, boys, they’re unlimbering the cannon!” Bal’s odd interjection, no doubt a product of post-traumatic stress from the Black Powder Wars, heralds an actual ball of flame. Completely unsurprised, Bal watches as the fireball (and its strange ZORCH sound) is followed by a roiling plume of smoke that blows up and over the roof of the building ahead.
Providence steps around the frozen Anna Mae, draws her shotgun, and blasts one of the shuffling zombies in the back before taking cover beside Bal. Bernard, pumping his little green arms, catches up and runs right past his comrades to charge at one of the zombies. Yelling Punchinello’s signature line at the top of his lungs, “THAT’S THE WAY TO DO IT!” Bernard winds up and punches the closest zombie’s head clean off. WHAM!
Zai and Norris arrive on scene as the sound of battle arises behind the building just ahead. Zai leaps onto the nearby roof of a taller building to get a better look. Beyond, she sees that the main body of zombies is attacking a woman, who stands in a doorway in a defensive crouch against the zombie horde. Hoping to confuse the zombies, Zai casts an illusionary smoke cloud over the melee. Bal climbs onto an adjacent rooftop, taking up a sniper’s position. Still jogging after the trailing zombies, Bernard dispatches number two with another thunderous punch, and Anna Mae sorrowfully blows away the third (Anna Mae talks softly, but she carries a big triple-barreled shotgun). As Bernard and Anna Mae stride toward the melee, Providence circles around in the other direction, hoping to flank the zombies in a pincer move.
The thick cloud of illusory smoke, a good idea in concept, only thwarts the aim of those firing into the melee; Providence (on the ground) and Bal (above) both shoot without hitting a target. From her perch, Zai hurls a knife into the melee, managing to graze one of the zombies. Bernard charges directly into the cloud, punching left, right, and center. Seeing the tactical problems Zai’s smoke is causing, Anna Mae rushes in to fan it away with a notebook, but being illusory, the cloud only swirls stubbornly in place. With a ZORCH, a zombie flies out of Zai’s obscuring cloud and collapses into the street, part of its head missing. Someone inside the cloud is handily ZORCHING zombies.
Stopping short of Zai’s cloud, the Death Marshall slings his coffin from his back and, with a bullwhip gesture, hurls it into the zombie melee. The coffin flies through the air, the lid creaks open, and the coffin snaps shut around a zombie. With a practiced jerk, the Marshall hauls on the coffin chain, bringing the fabulous monster-trap slamming back in place across his back. “Gotcha.”
Providence steps into the street, dumbfounded. “THAT’S AMAZING! SHOW ME HOW THAT WORKS!”
Standing inside the swirling cloud, Bernard punches another zombie into the ground. With a ZORCH, the last of the zombies flies past him through the smoke, a hole blasted clear through its chest. As the cloud finally dissipates, a tall, lovely blonde woman straightens from her defensive stance. Ragged tears in her street clothes reveal well-tended clockwork armor beneath. It’s Collette’s volunteer from the audience back at the Star Theatre; the bag Collette had borrowed for her first trick is strapped across the blonde woman’s back.
The Death Marshall steps up. “Ms. Hannah Lovelace of the Freikorps, I believe?”
Hannah nods, her searching gaze landing on Anna Mae. Her expression changes from defensiveness to excitement tinged with awe. “Are … are you Anna Mae Hawkins? The Anna Mae Hawkins?”
Unsettled, unused to any kind of attention or recognition, Anna Mae says, “Um. Yeeeess….?”
Hannah gestures excitedly with her hands and starts to gush. “Oh, oh! I read your monograph on the relationship between Bayou Pigs and Gremlins. Brilliant work.” Hannah immediately engages Anna Mae in a dense academic discussion that excludes the rest of those assembled.
The Death Marshall takes this opportunity to introduce himself to the others as Wade Norris. Providence invades his space and immediately tries to open the coffin chained to his back, but the Death Marshall shoves her away without malice. Inside the coffin, he says, is an interdimensional portal that will swallow them all, so better not to touch. Intensely interested, Providence mutters a vow; she will satisfy her curiosity about the device at some future time.
After finishing her conversation with Anna Mae, Hannah takes Bal briefly aside to hiss something in his ear, then turns her attention to the Death Marshall and the zombies. Although they all take a gander at the zombie-like, but not undead, bodies, it’s Providence who ultimately determines that the creatures are human beings suffering an unknown disease.
When the heroes return to the Star Theatre, Lucius greets them, thanks them, and flips each of the heroes a silver half-scrip-piece before leaving with Norris.
Act 2: The Performance
Before the heroes have really regained their bearings, a stern-faced majordomo ushers them to their lodgings – a six-person bunkroom. Zai is appalled by the quarters and immediately demands an upgrade. The majordomo, a stout, no-nonsense woman with a puckered face, says that all newcomers start at this basic level of room and board, and must earn better lodgings over time. “You should thank your patron, Lucius Mattheson,” she says, her voice strict (and bored). “You could be starting your brilliant careers in the basement, with the rat-catchers, the vomit-swabbers, and the cooks.” The majordomo’s grim smile implies (at least jokingly) that these jobs may all be part of the same gastronomic system.
Providence gulps. “The theater has rats?”
The majordomo offers a thin smile. “Why else would we need rat-catchers?”
The heroes disperse, each in their own way trying to understand the room and board situation, as the cast and crew bustle around the theatre preparing for the evening show. An hour before curtain, the owner of the theater, Collette, gives an inspiring speech about the singular Star Theatre, how the cast and crew are collectively responsible for her fame and success, her reputation, her future. While some of the heroes (Zai, for instance) recognize that Collette is cribbing from the St. Crispin’s Day monologue from Shakespeare’s Henry V, Bal and Anna Mae are nonetheless extremely affected. (All of the heroes know they must perform well this evening, or they’ll be bunking on top of one another, possibly also sharing space with an unknown population of bed bugs – so, the stakes are pretty high.)
With Collette’s rousing speech still ringing in her ears, Anna Mae has an attack of stage nerves. Most of the time, stage fright leaves a person hampered in their performance, but Anna Mae’s nerves turn her into Super-Duper Usher Extraordinaire! When the lobby doors open, Anna Mae kindly and efficiently helps an elderly couple to their seats, afterward making especially friendly and engaging conversation with Lucius as she escorts him to the Governor-General’s box. He’s so impressed that he gives Anna Mae a standing invitation to join him at the palace for tea.
Meanwhile, the other heroes have their own tasks to perform. Bal deals with a drunken citizen who insists he’s been invited to sit with Lucius in the Governor-General’s box (hint: he hasn’t). Providence, in her turn, quickly masters the complex ropes and pulleys of the backstage apparatus and performs her tasks with accuracy and vigor. And, finally, Zai, having tried (and failed) to coax the chief Artist Mage at the Star Theatre into magicking up a custom backdrop, selects a prefabricated (but still nice) galaxy backdrop for her illusionist act.
As the evening’s show begins, the ballerinas from the previous night’s show take the stage, pirouetting on their strange (in some cases deadly) toe-shoes. One of the ballerinas turns an ankle, and Providence bandages it, subtly using her healing powers to repair the injured joint. Meanwhile, Anna Mae sneaks a tardy audience member to his seat mid-performance against the house’s strict seating rules, and Bal forcibly evicts a heckler with the butt of his trusty rifle.
After the ballerinas, the musicians, and the comedians have performed, Bernard stands in front of the stage curtain and asks for a volunteer to fight him. “Toughest opponent I ever had was a Bayou Pig. Any pigs out there?” A huge, bald mountain of a man climbs onto the stage, half drunk, but with mean eyes; Bernard says, “You’re no pig, but I guess you’ll do,” and lays the bald mountain flat on the stage with a single, gleeful punch. As stage hands carry the unconscious man away, the maroon velvet curtain rises, revealing a series of obstacles for Bernard to punch through: a plaster wall, a wooden wall, and a brick wall. Bernard effortlessly slams his rope-wrapped fist through all three walls. To his delight, behind the brick wall stands a raging, snorting, stinking Bayou Pig (which Providence, earlier in the show, wrestled into place as part of her job). Bernard yelps with glee, EXCELLENT, and attacks the pig in a whirlwind of punches. With a 1-2-3 flurry, Bernard wallops the pig to its porky knees, and, to thunderous applause, knocks the pig out cold.
The stage is cleared, and an expectant hush drops over the audience. Zai steps on stage, acknowledges the audience with an enigmatic bow, and starts juggling knives. To prove that her knives are real, with a coquettish tilt of her masked face, she flips a knife into the audience and skewers a man’s shirt sleeve to the armrest of his chair. As the audience gasps, Zai manifests more and more knives, some real, some illusory, and on one dancing, showy tumble through a flaming hoop of knives, the galaxy backdrop she so carefully chose before the show collapses, revealing another: a magnificent golden sunset. Artfully, Zai dodges the falling galaxy backdrop, only to feel her foot slip on a slick floorboard. An accident? Or is it sabotage? She incorporates the slip into her dance, sending her flaming, singing knives into rotating sheets of glistening, deadly rain. Mid-backflip, Zai senses unfamiliar motion and instinctively catches a rogue dagger between her palms—not one of her own, but a sharp steel projectile thrown at her face from stage right. Zai successfully flips the enemy knife into her act, but it’s clear to her that the dagger was meant to kill her. In the wings, a shadow flits and flies away. At the end of her act, as is her way, Zai moves her mask aside, briefly revealing her face to the audience.
The audience leaps to its feet in an ovation. As the shouting, awed crowd disperses, they argue amongst themselves. Zai was a blonde, a brunette, blue hair, pink hair, tattooed, dragon-faced, face of an angel—they can only agree that they’ve never seen a face like hers before. It was magical, breathtaking.
When the audience is gone, and the house lights come up, Collette rewards each of the tired heroes with an advance note of scrip and graciously upgrades their room and board. Small, but private rooms and a seat at the regular mess hall table (no rat stew, after all, for our heroes).
By dinnertime, Anna Mae, Bal, Bernard, Providence, and Zai are officially cast and crew of the Star Theatre, the greatest show in all Malifaux!
Last night was the final session of the Roll20 ETU campaign we've been running since October 2017 (final blog post coming soon!). What's next for the Roll20 Gang? Here's a clue:
That's right, not content with exploring portals to alternate dimensions in ETU, the Roll20 Gang is headed for RIFTS Earth! But wait, there's more... starting with character creation, the gang and Happy Monster will be podcasting the actual plays of RIFTS for your audio enjoyment! Look for the first podcast sometime after our upcoming Kickstarter campaign for Legion of Liberty: Superheroes of 1776.