Mah and the rest of the Tucket clan, along with MacTavish, are hunting Wild Boar. But in Malifaux, the pigs hunt back...
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.
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!
Having made it to Malifaux at last, Anna Mae, Bal, Bernard, Providence, Zai, and the escaped convict Cesar (who is posing as the dead puppeteer, Vito Sessa) have been detained by the Guild for questioning about what happened to the other passengers on their train from Earth. As they wait, hot and irritated, Malifaux City shimmers like a mirage to the south, and a northbound train belches to a halt at their feet. Out pops another group of Guild guards and a corpulent man in a uniform that stinks of stew and beer. “I’m Captain Dashel,” he says, punctuating his self-introduction with a burp. “You’re coming with me to the Guild Enclave.” Dashel leers at Zai, up and down, and smirks. “The boss is going to love you.” Though she is masked, and therefore expressionless, Zai lifts her chin and turns, a phantom ignoring a turd.
The train bound for Malifaux City passes through the fortified city center on its way to Industry Station on the other side. The Governor-General’s palace is the tallest building in the Guild Enclave, and directly across from its spiked gates, a hanged man dangles from a twisted black tree. Out the other side of the fortified city center, Industry Station squats among warehouses and factories, but a small, elegant café, Le Chat Blanc, sits just across the street. Bernard lurches toward the smell of coffee, a green, caffeine-wantin’ tornado. Between the thumping rifle butts of the Guild guards, and Dashel’s hasty promise of refreshments at the Governor’s palace, Bernard is reined in, but with much resentful muttering. Seated al fresco at Le Chat Blanc is a huge, broadly built blond man in clockwork armor, sipping at one of nine espresso cups arrayed before him as though drinking from a thimble. Propped by his leg is a backpack-mounted flamethrower. He watches the detainees with interest over the rim of the tiny cup.
Dashel leads the grumpy group back through the massive fortification of the Guild Enclave, into a well-heeled Downtown district, and finally into the Governor-General’s palace, where he places them in a gilt and velvet drawing room. Bernard has had enough of this boring, snackless existence and, exasperated, Dashel resorts to the lazy man’s solution to everything; a bribe. If Bernard calms down, Dashel will send in a coffee cart. Dashel is horrified when Bernard insists they spit-shake on the agreement. When coffee arrives, Bernard, Providence, Anna Mae, and Cesar help themselves. Zai, having arrayed herself on a silk divan, turns up her nose, while Bal watches the others for signs of poisoning before taking a cup.
Soon a tall, imposing man in a splendid red frock coat and an ornate gold mask enters the room. He gives the group the once-over, taking a particular interest in Zai, and pompously introduces himself as Lucius Mattheson, Viceroy to the Governor-General. According to Lucius, train disappearances are rare, but passengers have never vanished from a train before. Normally, persons of interest would be sent straight to the Soulstone mines in irons. However, says Lucius, if they all agree to a probationary period of employment in Malifaux City (under close Guild supervision), and keep their noses clean, they will be released to pursue their own agendas. Immediately, not having a nose himself, Bernard wants to know why these conditions include noses; always with the noses! When Lucius asks about their occupations, Bernard identifies himself as a showman. When she doesn’t speak, Lucius asks Zai if she is a performer as well, and Zai is insulted in two parts: (1) that he has not heard of her; and (2) that he has lumped her in with the Gremlin.
Cesar studies his fingernails. His Vito Sessa disguise will end the moment he picks up a puppet.
“Not one, but TWO performers,” Lucius says. “Excellent. Have you by chance heard of the Star Theatre?”
“Of course,” Zai snaps before anyone else can speak. “We’re not idiots.”
Lucius nods. “We will proceed there at once. The owner and I have an…understanding, and I believe I can convince her to employ your whole group for your probationary period.”
Bal, silent over his coffee until now, interjects, “We are NOT a group.” Bernard complains that the shows at the Star Theatre will probably be too boring for his act. Anna Mae protests: she’s here on a research grant, not to sell tickets to the circus. Providence insists that she’s also there on a research grant, but less convincingly, because she isn’t.
But, all in all, the choice between the Star Theatre and the Soulstone mines is not a hard one.
Unlike the smoky, foul-smelling Industrial Zone, Downtown is well-tended and clean. Zai lags behind for a moment to whisper at Lucius, but only Providence notices. The Star Theater is an imposing and elegant building, sitting atop a flight of marble steps in a splendid fantasy of stained glass, teardrop crystals, and Belle Epoch filigree. Standing in the opulent lobby as though at home, Lucius dispatches Dashel to find the owner, Colette DuBois. Bernard has gone suddenly rabid with hunger: someone, somewhere in the theater is barbecuing pork.
The stunning woman who greets them is tall and slender, wearing an elaborate Marie Antoinette-style wig with an inset birdcage. From its perch in the cage, a crow squawks a barker’s patter: Step Right Up! Don’t Be Shy! Come See the Most Beautiful, Magical, and FLEX-ible Women in Malifaux! Colette’s knee-length frock is a maroon satin that shimmers above petticoats, back-lined stockings, and crimson boots. Gesturing at Zai and Bernard, she says “Captain Dashel tells me you’re performers. It’s too late to add you to tonight’s show, but you can audition tomorrow.” She assigns Providence and Cesar to the stage crew, Anna Mae to the ticket booth, and Bal to security, suggesting they might switch jobs later, if they end up permanently employed. Released at last, Bernard charges the concession stand to gobble BBQ ribs, chasing bites with shots of whiskey. Providence peppers Bernard with questions about Gremlins. Providence can ask questions nonstop, seemingly without breaking for air; it’s pretty impressive.
Insulted, Zai goes head to head with Colette and insists on auditioning immediately. Counter-insisting that tonight’s show is special and can’t be altered, Colette allows Zai to audition on the spot, hoping to appease her. Taking the stage with a mixture of ownership and reverence, Zai launches into her routine. She juggles real knives, adding illusory knives as her act progresses. Making every move seem effortless, Zai leaps through rings of flaming knives, and sends her flute-voiced blades into impressive formations that she dodges with a graceful yet athletic series of contortions. When she takes her bows, she pauses at the end to lift her mask and reveal her face. Only Anna Mae notices that Zai’s ethereally beautiful face looks slightly different than it did on the train. Colette, clapping politely, suggests that she and Zai may have some things in common, after all, they are both illusionists. But Zai slips her mask back into place and turns away, dismissing the praise as beneath her.
The crow in Colette’s wig shouts, “COME SEE OUR MIRACLES AND WONDERS!”
While the Star Theatre prepares itself for the evening show, Anna Mae searches for someone interesting to talk to, settling on the head usher. In vain, she tries to diplomatically ask if any Neverborn or Gremlin people come to see the show. The head usher burbles cluelessly on about the famous various people of Malifaux who attend. When Anna Mae finally makes it clear what she’s asking, the usher casts a grim eye at the small green omnivore devouring BBQ at the concession stand and spews a bunch of ugliness about the Bayou People, how crude, stupid, and inferior they are, and how they rarely come to Malifaux City. On the subject of Neverborn, the usher just shrugs, bored, and bustles away. Anna Mae is left with her mouth open, which she clamps shut into a tight line. This is nothing more than she expected, but it’s still disappointing.
Dragging along his faithful old rifle, Bal cases the area for good vantage points and power positions. The theater has three types of viewing areas; the open floor area for standing-room audiences, two galleries of bench seats flanking, and the mezzanines and balconies above, the prime box seats reserved for the Governor-General and his guests, where Lucius now sits talking quietly with Colette. Having made note of the exits, Bal settles in by the main entrance to the lobby, seeming to nap, but watching everything.
It takes a while to fill the seats, but soon the house is buzzing with guests. The lights dim, the noise settles, and then the show begins. The first act is a dark and strange ballet, where a dozen ballerinas float on novel toe shoes: some on wrought iron fence spikes, others on chrome six-shooters, golf clubs, marlin spikes, and even a set of old-fashioned clothing irons. In the finale, a ballerina with knives on her feet carves a crackling roast into slices that she flings via pirouette into the audience. Bernard, standing in the “splash zone”, leaps into the air, catching and gobbling as many slices as he can.
Next, a series of musicians play unrecognizable instruments made of bone, brass, skin, animal hair, and other strange materials. A harpsichordist plucks at mother of pearl keys, each of which is attached by a thread to the leg of a bird; when signaled, each bird chirps its note in a twittering Chopin impromptu. With a saucy grin at the audience, the harpsichordist occasionally punctuates the piece with a magpie, which jolts upright and screams, “THAT’S WHAT SHE SAID!” After the musicians, a purple creature (more likely a human in costume) tells jokes that sends the audience slapping their knees and howling, but the heroes sit confused; every punchline is a Malifaux City in-joke--AM I RIGHT? AM I RIGHT? During this act, Anna Mae takes copious notes, intending to understand every single pop culture reference.
When Colette takes the stage, the crowd, already jubilant and noisy, loses their collective mind. Colette accepts their fealty with regal nods and calls a stunningly beautiful blonde to the stage as a volunteer. Yanking a leather case from the blonde woman’s reluctant grasp, Colette demonstrates to the audience that the case is empty. The blonde woman turns a pasty, shocked white. Colette closes the case, sets it on the stage, and bends coquettishly over to open it, turning her rear end on the audience and showing them her frilly culottes and petticoats. When she crouches and opens the case, Colette herself showily climbs up out of it as though ascending stairs. The original crouching figure stands and turns around; the figure is now Colette’s mannikin, obviously a construct. The replacement between the real Colette and the mannikin Colette, executed right before the eager eyes of the audience, was flawless and the house erupts with applause. With a radiant smile, Colette hands the leather case back to the blonde woman, who looks inside, goes crimson in the cheeks, and rushes the case offstage.
The moment Bal laid eyes on the blonde woman, he left the lobby and stood outside the front exit, looking for trouble. Though he felt prepared for anything, he’s shocked enough to merely step aside when a wave of pale and greenish people shamble past him into the theater lobby; however, Bal doesn’t get off that easily. Two of the lurching zombies divert from the main mass to attack Bal with sharp claws, one scoring slashes across the veteran’s sturdy leather brigandine. Bal draws his revolver and dispatches both zombies, each with a quick shot to the skull.
The Malifaux crowd, clearly accustomed to strange happenings and dangerous events, slips out the Star Theatre through side and backstage exits like the ebbing tide. Most of the zombies storm out the rear exits after them, but a few are distracted by Anna Mae, Zai, and Bernard. Zai casts a cloud of smoke, flips into the balcony, and then leaps up into one of the Star’s many crystal chandeliers. Three zombies approach Bernard in the splash zone. Delighted, Bernard yells, “Time for the show!” Drawing back his mighty, rope-wrapped punching hand, Bernard punches a zombie in the head, knocking the skull clean off. Another zombie gets past Bernard’s defenses to claw through his lopsided but precious, Gremlin-modified doublet. Now entirely, verdantly enraged, Bernard wails, “My fancy outfit!”
Anna Mae stands by the usher’s station looking confused, wondering if this is all part of the show. When a zombie shambles up and claws at her, Anna Mae stutters, “C-can I help you?” Snarling, the creature rakes Anna Mae’s body, leaving long, bloody stripes in her blouse and the flesh beneath. Bernard yells, spontaneously adopting Anna Mae into his entourage (and under his protection): “And now I shall save my human assistant!” Bernard leaps to the usher’s station, confronts the zombie menacing Anna Mae, and punches the creature right through the chest, his rope-wrapped fist dripping gore down the back of the zombie’s legs. With the flourish of a true showman, Bernard yanks his fist out of the zombie’s torso, and shouts, “And thus, my human assistant is saved!”
Meanwhile, in the wings, Providence has taken up her shotgun and blasted two zombies into red and green mist. Sensing she’s urgently needed, Providence rushes over to Anna Mae and lays healing hands on her wounds, which immediately close up without a scar.
Having precisely planned a dramatic move, Zai drops from the chandelier onto the two remaining zombies, impaling one with a blade through the top of the skull, but only grazing the second. Drawn by the gunfire, Bal enters the theater, raises his pistol, and shoots the last zombie clean through the chest.
Zai glares at Bal. “You should at least have waited for me to get out of the way.”
Bal just gives her a look: Didn’t hitcha, did I, so quitcher bitchin.
The zombies vanquished, the sound of a slow clap echoes through the theater as Lucius descends from the Governor-General’s box. “Well done,” he drawls. “Best show I’ve seen in months!”
Colette emerges, unscathed, from the wings, and congratulates the crew, generously acknowledging that they might be more useful than initially anticipated. Cesar emerges from a hiding place under the stage, trying to look casual.
With the sound of bootheels clicking on the wooden floor, a figure strides into the orchestra section. His flowing leather greatcoat and broad-brimmed hat mark him as a Guild Marshall, but his face and hands, both of skeletal appearance, glow with blue-green flame. Chained to his back, the Marshall hauls a coffin wherever he goes, presenting an altogether alarming sight. Ignoring the gaping crowd, he kneels by the corpses, then relaxes, shedding the skeletal glamor to reveal a normal, wind-scorched, face. Appealing to Lucius, to the only authority figure in the room, he says, “Why, these creatures aren’t undead!”
Bernard, still hungry (always hungry), contemplates the newly established gastronomic value of the corpses. “Not undead? Hm. Might be good eatin’ after all.”
(Image property of Wyrd Games)
Roasting in the noonday sun, passengers gather at the train station in the fortified Guild outpost of Breachtown. First, they had to finagle permission to board the Iron Ram, the locomotive that carries people and supplies through the Breach from Earth to Malifaux; now, they shuffle slowly through the security line. When the red-and-grey-clad Guild Guards arrest a guy caught hanging posters (Join the Miners and Steamfitters Union!), they shrink into attitudes of just-minding-my-own-business. Among those shuffling along are four passengers with a destiny they don’t know about yet: Zai, Anna Mae Hawkins, Providence McCoy, and Ole Man Balthazar. Unknown to these four, the fifth of their number, One Glove Bernard, boards the train as cargo.
Zai boards the Iron Ram first, taking one side of a booth-like arrangement near the middle of the third car. Drawn by an unknown force, Anna Mae, Providence, and Bal join her in the booth, Bal having to ask Zai to move her feet, which she does, reluctantly. Providence, ever the chatterbox, immediately regales the others about growing up in Australia, where she once encountered an Aborigine shaman conducting a magic ritual. Providence wanted to learn the ritual, but the shaman told her that the secret magics of his people were not for her; she must forge her own path. To the relief of her seatmates, Providence’s attention is drawn to an old man struggling to load a large case into the luggage rack. Usually the first to offer aid to the needy, Providence leaps to his assistance. Of small stature, but strong, she lifts the case into the rack with ease, noticing its brass nameplate: Sessa the Amazing. Providence switches seats and pesters Sessa the Amazing until he admits he’s a puppeteer hoping to find work in Malifaux City.
The train car is as hot as a sauna, and when the passengers try to open windows, they find them bolted shut. With the passenger cars now full to bursting, the Iron Ram is now boarding the unfortunate souls who have been sentenced to labor in the Soulstone mines. Once the convicts are loaded, the Iron Ram lurches into labored motion, and, having bided his time impatiently in the cargo compartment, Bernard picks the lock on his cage, slips outs, and jogs over the roof of the convict car as the train chugs into the Breach. Sweating, Zai, Bal, Anna Mae, and Providence look out the window at the shimmering blue-white portal of the Breach. Flanking the Breach are smoke-belching steamworks and multidirectional entrenchments; the Guild clearly fears attack as much from Earthside as from the Breachside. As the train proceeds into the transdimensional portal, a curtain of light passes the length of the passenger car. Everyone aboard feels a momentary blinding headache and most close their eyes against the light.
His small green head aching, Bernard stumbles out of the convict car and regards the strange outside space with puzzlement, seeing only weird shapes moving in the distance through the blue-white light. “I could get used to this,” he says. Unimpressed, he climbs back into the train and heads to the passenger car to see if his manager, Walt Mannic, can get him a snack. But all the cars are empty, except one, the car with Zai, Bal, Anna Mae, and Providence. All that’s left of the other passengers is the luggage packed into overhead racks. The blue-white light of the Breach pours in through the train’s locked windows, and the sound of the train wheels clacking, and the engine rumbling, have faded into a muffled silence. The case above Providence’s head starts to rattle and bang as though something inside is clawing to get out.
Frightfully curious, Providence hauls Sessa’s case from the luggage rack and pops it open to see what’s going on. Four sizeable marionettes–Punch, Judy, a Constable, and a Judge–pop out of the case, Punch with a shout, “That’s the way to do it!” As the marionettes spring at them, Zai leaps into the opposing luggage rack, out of reach. The judge swings at Providence, who draws a pistol and blows his head clean off in one shot. The Judy marionette attacks Bal, the old veteran, who asks, “What manner of spectre are you?” Not receiving an answer, Bal swings his trusty rifle and casually clubs Judy to the floor. Anna Mae, confused and reluctant to molest what seems a novel type of creature just following its nature, uses her massive three-barreled shotgun to nudge Punch away from her, saying, “Can’t we just have a conversation?” From her perch in the luggage rack, Zai casts an illusion, creating a ring of fire around Punch, suggesting the party spare at least one marionette for questioning. One Glove Bernard enters from the back of the car and without a single moment of hesitation, charges the Constable, crushing the marionette into splinters with a savage blow from his mighty, rope-wrapped punching hand. “I fought the law and I won,” Bernard crows, spinning to confront Punch.
Meanwhile, Anna Mae asks Punch who he is, trying, as usual, to defuse the situation with a calm and mutually respectful dialogue. The marionette cackles at her, “I am Punchinello, master of riot and ruin!” and attempts (and fails) to leap over the circle of flames. When Anna Mae asks him, her temperate voice raised over the ruckus, what the marionettes want, Punch replies “I want to beat you to death, mwa ha ha ha!” Still on her perch above the battle, Zai draws Punch’s attention and deliberately draws a sip of brandy into her mouth, making a menacing gesture as though to blow the brandy into the (illusory) fire and thus immolate Punch, but Providence walks directly through the phantom flames to inspect Punch. Bernard, who had steeled himself to leap (spectacularly) into the ring of fire, complains to Providence, “Hey, you’re ruining the show for the audience!” but quickly steps up to Punch and wallops him clear out of the ring of fire. Stalwart, Bal undramatically finishes the job with the butt of his trusty rifle.
Distraught at the sight of the dead marionettes, Anna Mae laments the lost opportunity. Gathering her resolve, she introduces herself, and asks everyone else to reciprocate. Zai says, “If you don’t already know who I am, I won’t bother to introduce myself.” Providence, as it happens, has seen both Zai and One Glove Bernard perform, and so she introduces herself, then Bernard, then Zai, in a breathless rush. Providence has also heard rumors of some trains disappearing when crossing the Breach, and without missing a beat, switches to asking Bernard if he’ll tell her everything about Gremlins. Providence also wants to learn magic from Zai, but as with most overtures made to her, Zai greets this one with disdain. Bernard makes it clear that he’ll tell Providence anything she wants to know, in exchange for moonshine and snacks. Many snacks. Meat would be good, any kind, really. Are there snacks here now? Anyone?
A shout from the back of the train interrupts Bernard’s panhandling. With a bored sigh, Bal puts his feet up and pulls his hat over his face, but Providence, Bernard, Anna Mae, and (reluctantly) Zai investigate. In the convict car, they find the smoldering body of a Guild Guard and a single convict, still in shackles, with blue-white energy pouring from his eyes. The convict identifies himself as Cesar and asks for help, suggesting that if freed he can help get the train restarted. Zai finagles a key from the guard and unlocks Cesar’s shackles. Bernard, true to his Gremlin nature, tears off a chunk of BBQ Guild Guard, prompting Anna Mae to say, “Part of me wants to stop him, but another part of me doesn’t want to interfere with his culture.” This earns Anna Mae silent stares from her new colleagues.
As the group passes back through the passenger car, where Balthazar is now snoring, Bernard chomps on his BBQ and Cesar snags a change of clothes from Sessa the Amazing’s leather suitcase. Once in the engine compartment, Bernard starts punching buttons and yanking levers, commanding the others to help stoke the steam furnace with coal. Out the large front windows, the heroes see tentacled shapes approaching from the blue-white light, and they set to shoveling coal with a will. As the engine sputters to life, Bal leans into the engine room to lend his expertise.
“Faster!” yells Bernard, dancing an impatient Gremlin two-step. “Let’s get this thing going faster!”
As the Iron Ram lurches back into motion, continuing on through the curtain of light, Cesar nervously and aggressively asks if any of the others will identify him as a convict. He says, “Somethin’ happened to me in the Breach that activated some kind of magic in me, and, knowing what the Guild does to mages that don’t toe their line, well, if you tell them anything about me, my death will be on your heads.” Anna Mae, Providence, Bal, and Zai agree not to rat Cesar out. One Glove Bernard, his manager Walt Mannic now disappeared with the other passengers, aggressively tries to make Cesar his new manager.
At Breachside Station, catching sight of a Gremlin and a bunch of passengers in the engine room, a Guild engineer hops on board, shoves them aside, and brings the train to a halt. Guild Guards storm on board and everyone’s papers, and when Cesar identifies himself as Vito Sessa, nobody says a word otherwise. The Guards march the six survivors into a holding area for further interrogation.
Our five heroes—with one extra along for the ride (for now)—have successfully crossed into another world: Malifaux. They’ve had to jump through a lot of hoops to get here, but, as they say, our heroes ain’t seen nothing yet.