Having made their way from Malifaux City to the Bayou by way of Edge Point, Bernard, Zai (shapeshifted into the Gremlin Zernadine), Anna Mae, Bal, and Providence have just defeated an attack by giant mosquitos, or "skeeters" as the Bayou Gremlin Bernard calls them. While the attack was frightening, the heroes dispatched the creatures with relative ease, and, undeterred, they proceed on their route to the territory of the Jones clan of Gremlins.
A few wet and fetid miles past the skeeter attack, the group once again encounters a dense cloud of flies. They proceed carefully, worried that more skeeters might be using the cloud for cover. Nearby, Bernard spots a pair of corpses at the base of a tree. "Wonder if they have any loot?" he muses, moving in to inspect them.
"I don't feel good about this, boss, but I'm on the clock," Bal replies, following Bernard in.
To everyone's surprise, the tree sprouts a pair of enormous fanged pods and attacks the group. Bernard,now recognizing the tree as a snaptooth creeper, punches the trunk with all his might. The tree bites at Bal and Bernard with its Venus flytrap-like pods, missing Bal but hitting Bernard. Bernard slips out of the pod unhurt and yells "Weak!" Zernadine whips out a flask of brandy and prepares an impromptu Molotov cocktail.
Briefly flashing back to his wartime service, Bal yells "Bayonets, boys! The munitions are wet!" Providence attempts to blind the tree with ice magic, coating the trunk in a layer of rime. Bal swings his trusty rifle Tawny like a club, crushing one of the tree's fanged pods.
Anna Mae is astonished by the attack but immediately starts taking notes, also yelling, "Guys, we could just walk away from it, it's a tree!".
Providence answers, "But I have to study it!" and blasts it with her Derringer.The bullet strikes the coating of ice on the trunk, sending razor sharp shards of ice in all directions, carving the foliage to bits. The tree collapses, oozing sap. As it does, the group hears rustling and the sounds of grunting from ahead. Bernard, meanwhile, checks the corpses and, to his delight, finds a backpack full of Gremlin moonshine and a double-barreled shotgun, which Bal immediately claims.
Three Gremlins ride into the clearing on war pigs. Zernadine looks them over and says, "Howdy, boys!" They identify themselves as Benoits and ask what the others are doing there. Bernard says they are moonshine smugglers, and the Gremlins accept this, asking if they are buying or selling.
Bernard says they are buying. Bal is confused. "I thought we were sellin', boss."
Bernard replies "I need this for my rocket pack." The Gremlins are extremely impressed to meet an aspiring rocketeer. Bernard explains that a creepy old human told him to find the Swamp Witch. One of the Gremlins says he has a brother-in-law from the Tucker family who knows where to find her, and would take them there for the cost of two bottles of moonshine. Bernard agrees, and the pig riders lead them to the Benoit village. One talks to Bernard about the human world, and Bernard mentions there's a theater in Malifaux City that needs a Gremlin.
"What would I have to do?" asks the Gremlin. "Punch things?"
"You can find your own talent," suggests Bernard.
"I got a pretty good song and dance act," grins the Gremlin, unslinging a banjo. The aspiring singer proceeds to play the instrument, accompanied by hideous caterwauling. Zernadine sings along.
The village consists of a cluster of stilted houses and pen filled with enormous pigs. The Gremlin villagers are curious but basically friendly. One asks if any of the heroes "wrassle". "Aah, occasionally," answers Bernard.
"Oh, we got a good wrestler," says the friendly Gremlin, who has introduced himself as Jacques Benoit. "I mean, he no Mancha Roja, but he pretty good."
"I'd like to see him," says Bernard. Jacques escorts him to one of the huts, and the biggest Gremlin any of the heroes has ever seen emerges, wearing a blue luchador mask with gold lamé stars and a matching pair of shorts belted with a length of rope. The wrestler pounds on his chest and roars. "I smell a kindred spirit!" smiles Bernard.
Bal and Zernadine start collecting bets as the wrestlers enter the ring. They prove prescient, as Bernard flattens the wrestler with one punch. Bal wins 12 more bottles of moonshine and Zernadine wins a piglet, which she manages to befriend and names "Nectarine".Ever curious, Providence leaps into the ring and unmasks the Gremlin, who proves perfectly ordinary except for horrible teeth.
Jacques introduces the group to Wei-I Tucker, who will be their guide to the Swamp Hag's hut. Wei-I suggests they start off in the morning, and the group spends an uneventful night in the Benoit village. Tucker leads them safely for several hours through the swamp. As they proceed, however, they hear the sounds of someone approaching from behind. Tucker quickly flips up the reeds he wears around his belt and hat and crouches, appearing to be a tuft of swamp grass. Zernadine casts an illusion to do the same. Bal improvises a ghillie suit and hides, Anna Mae ducks behind Tucker, and Bernard and Providence hide in the foliage.
From the woods appear a pair of humans armed with crossbows and eight strange creatures. Providence recognizes them from Malifaux City – witchling stalkers, and a pair of witchling handlers from the Witch Hunter unit of the Guild. The witch hunters stop a bit short of the heroes, and one of the handlers speaks. "I assume that some of you are the Gremlin Bernard, the women Anna Mae Hawkins, Providence McCoy and Zai, and the man known as Balthazar?"
Bal responds by blasting her with his shotgun, then emptying the other barrel at the other handler. The handlers dive out of the way, taking only grazing hits. The stalkers turn and unleash blasts of fire at the group, injuring everyone but Bernard, who flattens himself under the blasts. He leaps up and yells, "The hell do you want?"
"You're under arrest."
"Like hell! I don't follow human law!" Bernard runs up and punches one of the handlers so hard that her neck snaps audibly and she falls dead. The witchling stalkers move in and attack in return, smashing Bernard to the ground with their swords. Anna Mae pops up and demands a warrant. Zai throws a knife at the remaining handler, injuring her. Providence casts a blinding spell on the witch hunters, covering their eyes with frost. Suddenly, all the witch hunters turn on each other, slashing with their blades and slaughtering each other, then exploding in balls of flame. In moments, only one witchling remains standing. Unfortunately, the explosions set Zernadine and Providence on fire. Zernadine tackles the witchling, attempting to set it on fire as well. Bal scoops up some swamp water and puts Providence out. Providence runs over and casts a healing spell on Bernard, who struggles to his feet; she then runs over and shoots the witchling at point-blank range.
A crowd of oddly-dressed Gremlins emerges from the brush. They wear loincloths, beads, and various fetishes, and call out to the group, "You fight dem witch huntas." The leader turns to Bernard. "You da one dey call One-Glove, no?"
"Yeah, that's me," answers Bernard.
"Somebody wanna talk to you."
"That's what I figured!" Bernard looks at the dead Tucker guide. "So he got us here after all!" The heroes proceed to scrounge guns from the witchlings and the Tucker, but leave the easily-identifiable runeswords and bayonet-crossbows behind.
The strange Gremlins, who identify themselves as Gautreaux, lead the heroes a few miles further into the swamp. There they find a hut sitting alone on a patch of dry ground. From outside the shack, one can see the warm glow of a fire, which shines out through the windows andthe doorway like a safe haven amidst a foreboding boggy murk... or a carnivorous plant using a sweet scent to draw insects to their doom. The Gautreuax gesture for the heroes to enter, and they proceed through the single door.
The hut's interior is festooned with uneven shelves holding all manner of scrolls, books, bones, jars, and crudely stuffed puppets. The puppets seem to follow the heroes with their eyes, and Providence notices that one looks exactly like Lucius and another like Collette. Providence approaches the Lucius puppet. "Hi, little puppets. I need you to tell me all your secrets. First, I must know why you look like Lucius."
"But I am Lucius," the puppet replies in a piping, reedy voice.
"As soon as I meet the owner of this hut, I'm going to come back and have a nice little talk with you."
"Oh, she's going to like you," the puppet croons.
An ancient crone totters out from one of the back rooms of the hut, hobbling on a cane. "I have business with you, One-Glove," she croaks.
"Yeah, some weird old lady told me that. I'm kind of apprehensive about it, but figured I'd come here anyway."
"But, before we take that up, those who come here usually seek to have a wish granted. I can grant such wishes… but there is a price. You must defeat me… at POKER. If you play, we will each write down a prize. If you succeed, I will grant you your prize if it is in my power. If you fail… you will grant me what I wish. And you will not enjoy that. But since you came here with One-Glove, I will not compel you to play."
Providence looks nervous. "Maybe I could come back another time."
The hag laughs. "The hut is always here, except when it is elsewhere."
Zernadine shapeshifts back into Zai. "I will play." Zoraida and Zai sit at a table, write down their wishes, and play. Zoraida wins easily, and tells Zai that Lilith will be informed of her location.
Providence asks the hag, "Do you have any grimoires?"
"That is a request. Will you play for it?"
Providence shakes her head slowly and backs away.
Bal steps up. "Deal me in," he says, taking a seat.
Zoraida looks over at Bernard. "Is this human useful?"
Bernard says, "I guess so."
"Very well," smiles Zoraida, writing down her first wish. She deals the cards. Zoraida lays down two pair, and Bal is left with only a King high. "For that loss, I will have two fingers from your left hand," she says, and one of the Gautreaux Gremlins steps in and cuts them off. Bal stifles a scream, and Providence steps up to use her healing powers to close the wound.
"I'll play again," grunts Bal. Zoraida deals again. Bal triumphantly lays down a king-high full house, but Zoraida counters with four aces. Zoraida demands Bal's rifle, and he very reluctantly hands it over.
"Would you care to play again?" she asks.
"I'm in," says Bal. Bal plays two more hands and loses his right ear and his soul. Zoraida gives him a pendant to wear representing this debt. "One more game," says Bal. "Dice, this time."
Zoraida gives him a knowing look. "Very well."
Bal takes out his loaded dice and rolls, beating Zoraida's dice. "I'll be having my rifle back," he says.
Zoraida smiles. "Here you are. And now, Bernard. I was here when the last Breach was closed. Lilith was the one to close it, in the course of defeating the Tyrant December. I remained, the last human in Malifaux. Lilith and I have… an understanding. We have similar goals for Malifaux, although she is not as fond of your noseless friends as I am. As for you, Bernard…" She gestures and one of the Gautreaux Gremlins brings forward a rocket pack, handing it to Bernard.
"I wanted to build my own!" protests Bernard.
"Are you refusing it?" says Zoraida, looking fixedly at Bernard.
"No, no, I'll take it. So you want me to use this to fight the humans off."
"Did I say I wanted you to fight humans? The humans are not the true enemy. The true enemy are those that were bound. Those creatures who have lurked in the crevices of Malifaux, in the space between worlds, even on your Earth," she gestures at Bal, Providence, and Anna Mae, pointedly excluding Zai. "The true enemies of all our peoples are the Tyrants. It is the Tyrants who nearly destroyed Malifaux once, and it is the Tyrants who can destroy it, and Earth, again, if they are allowed. And it is the purpose of all those who wish Malifaux well to ensure that these beings are unable to escape their confinement. Or are bound again, if they do."
"Wait, what Tyrants?" asks Providence, confused.
"If you wish to know more," answers Zoraida, gesturing at the card table, "then you'll have to play." She looks at Bal. "Your rifle does not work. There is a man, Victor Ramos, who can help you with that. He dwells in the north. That is where you," she looks back at Providence, "will find your destiny."
With that, the heroes, escorted by the Gautreaux Gremlins, begin their journey out of the Bayou towards the Soulstone mines in the north
With our Kickstarter complete, the Happy Monster team took a day off to teach some of our local gamers how to play Malifaux (third edition, to be precise, using the Open Beta rules). Ophelia LaCroix's Kin delivered a narrow victory over Lady Justice's Marshalls despite losing Ophelia herself in round 2.
The heroes, Anna Mae, Balthazar, Bernard, Providence, and Zai, have spectacularly failed in their mission to retrieve the dangerous Plague grimoire from the Freikorps. Arriving at the fortress in the midst of an attack by giant rats, they slipped down into the basement to steal the grimoire. Bal located the book, but the rats made it clear they would kill every last one of them to get it from him, so Bal tied a stick of dynamite to his satchel, lit the fuse, and let the rats carry the satchel off into an explosive end somewhere under the fortress. When the rocks stopped shaking and the dust cleared, the heroes found themselves interrogated, stripped of their weapons, and turned out into the Quarantine Zone to fend for themselves. Having burned their bridges rather thoroughly, they aren’t sure what to do.
The Gremlin, Bernard, invites the heroes to join him on a journey to the Bayou, where he hopes to reconnect with his family. As they argue over their options, the abandoned buildings of the Quarantine Zone loom oppressively. It’s not a nice neighborhood. The Guild uses the area to contain tuberculosis outbreaks, and it’s said the area is infested by Resurrectionist necromancers and Neverborn. At the sound of bats flying overhead, Bernard cautions the group to keep their heads (and hands) down.
“Or what?” asks Providence.
“Or you’ll get eaten,” says Bernard. “The things that live here will either kill you or make every moment feel like a nightmare. I say we should head to the Bayou.”
The heroes decide to travel down the Fortune River to the small town of Edge Point and strike out to the Bayou from there. Bal and Bernard build a flatboat from items scrounged from surroundings—doors, lengths of tapestry, etc. Providence says, “Our little raft is adorable, but the Freikorps took our weapons away. What are we gonna do?” While Providence complains, Not-Zai searches the buildings and comes up with a few kitchen knives.
“You still got mitts, you still got weapons,” answers Bernard.
“Little trick from the Black Powder Wars,” says Bal. He scoops up a handful of dusty earth, puts it in his pocket. There is a long pause as everyone looks dubiously at Bal. Grinning like a madman, Bal flings a handful of his improvised weapon at their faces. “Pocket sand!”
Grumpy and tired, the heroes ride their raft down river, keeping pace with a train headed out of Malifaux City toward Edge Point. The town of Edge Point, Bernard explains, is part supply depot, part tourist attraction, where visitors from Earth can gawk at genuine Gremlins, drink genuine Gremlin moonshine, and so forth. The ride is long. Only Bal had the foresight to pack rations before arriving in Malifaux City, so, while he chews away at dried meat and even dryer bread, the others try their hand at catching fish, with varying degrees of success. Providence, approaching the task with enthusiasm, falls overboard. She is still a bit damp around the edges when they arrive in Edge Point.
Edge Point is even smaller than Bernard made it sound. Behind the brightly painted storefronts of its single main street stands a few modest houses and a sprawl of ramshackle huts. Mosquito netting hangs everywhere in sheets, protecting doorways and windows and shrouding the covered walkways between buildings. The shop owners burn incense and aromatic wood in braziers all up and down the avenue, but their efforts prove largely useless against the suffocating stench of the Bayou. Wealthy-looking visitors from Malifaux City walk up and down the boardwalks, uselessly fanning the stink away as they gape at caged Gremlins stationed outside the largest of the shopfronts. Inside the cages, Gremlins lounge with their feet up on the bars, grinning, or waving, or sticking their tongues out at the passers-by.
Bernard is outraged. “Hey, what’s going on here? What separates me from them?!?”
Trying not to breathe through their noses, the heroes shrug at Bernard. Bars?
None of this seems terribly promising.
The travelers break up to pursue their own interests. Providence goes from store to store hoping to find grimoires, but without success; she mutters to herself about the Freikorps unfairly confiscating the grimoires that she stole from their library. How the logic works in her brain is anybody’s guess. Bernard finds a bar that serves Gremlin moonshine and starts buying drinks for the human patrons, showing off his newfound wealth. Not-Zai stops at the train station to write a letter to the Star Theatre explaining that she has gone on the road to hone her act, but that Colette (the owner of the theatre) should expect Zai’s triumphant return at some future date.
Anna Mae is horrified at the sight of the caged Gremlins. With diffidence, she approaches one of the cages to address its occupant. “Why are you in a cage? Do you need help?”
“Are you kidding?” answers the Gremlin with a toothy grin. “This is an awesome job! All the ribs I can eat, and all I have to do is make nice with tourists like you.”
Anna Mae adds the data point to her understanding of Malifaux culture but isn’t quite sure she really understands the situation. “So you don’t feel … disrespected at all?”
“I feel VERY respected. That’s why I’m in this cage, because they respect that I am VERY DANGEROUS!” The Gremlin poses proudly, then sits back down in a comfortable reclining position. “It’s more dangerous for you out there. In here, I’m protected from razor-spine rattlers, giant trees that eat you, giant skeeters.” The Gremlin sighs. “Though I miss eating skeeter eggs. Them are tasty.”
Anna Mae is surprised, to say the least, but she’s the last person in the world who would judge anyone for their life choices. “Well, I’m glad you’re happy. Thank you for speaking to me.”
Meanwhile Bal has found a gun shop. Trying to ignore Providence, who has followed him in, Bal asks the proprietor if he carries a Smitty revolver, since he lost his up in the city. The owner places a Smitty on the counter, saying he’ll let Bal have it for a mere 18 scrip. Bal, of course, is short, and his face seems to reveal that, because the owner says, “If you’re in the market for more economical protection, I’ve got this gun here.” He hands Bal a weird looking, much abused five-barreled pistol. “Got this off a Gremlin; I can let you have it for three scrip.” Bal reluctantly agrees to test fire it behind the shop. The gun is slightly bent, but Bal believes he can compensate.
Providence, taking advantage of the distraction provided by Bal’s test fire out back, opens a different case and pilfer a Derringer-sized revolver. But Providence’s belief in her own skills collides with reality, and when she goes to tuck the revolver into her skirt, it drops directly past the waistband onto the floor. The shop boy yells, “Hey, you, THIEF!” and the shop owner runs back into the store, followed by Bal.
Jabbering, Providence plays stupid. For a reason she hasn’t worked out yet, men always seem willing to believe in a woman’s stupidity. “You really need to fix that case. It’s broken. Gun dropped right out of there.” The owner squints at her, weighing a sale against calling the authorities (such as they are in Edge Town), then sells Providence the revolver and ammunition for four scrip.
Bal pays extra to use the shop tools to repair the Gremlin revolver, but only jams two of the barrels. Now it’s a three-barreled pistol, and still crooked. He and the shop owner have words, and Bal stalks out with his terrible new pistol, at least marginally more prepared for battle.
Not-Zai, having sent her letter, ducks into an alley and shape-shifts into a large female Gremlin. She heads for the general store, asks for Gremlin rations, and ends up with two weeks’ worth of salt pork. Anna Mae enters the store as well, having decided to purchase a steak for the Gremlin in the cage as a thank you. She is startled to see a female Gremlin in the mercantile, knowing that the male:female ratio among Gremlins is roughly nine to one. Females are very rare. Anna Mae starts excitedly and awkwardly hovering near the shapeshifted Zai, who responds by throwing her arm around Anna Mae’s shoulders and greeting her as an old friend. “Let’s go outside, Old Friend!”
The Gremlin introduces herself as “Zernadine” and with the constant snappy patter of a practiced huckster starts up a game of Find the Lady on a nearby barrel. Her patter attracts a crowd, and several people join the game, betting one scrip each that they can guess the right card. Zernadine arranges the game such that Anna Mae wins 10 scrip. Anna Mae is still trying to work out the implications of finding such an interesting Gremlin to study, but does realize that Zernadine is unusually cunning for a Gremlin.
Meanwhile, back at the bar, where Bernard sits drinking, a Gremlin sidles up. The strange Gremlin sticks his tongue out to taste the air. Bernard spreads his arms with a toothy grin, revealing his armpits. “Take it in, friend, I’ve been in the human world.”
“You smell like a Bernard,” answers the Gremlin, taking a seat.
“I am a Bernard. Who are you and what do you want?”
“I’m Hawley Jones. I ain’t looking for nothing except some of that moonshine.”
Bernard beckons to the barkeep and procures a glass of moonshine for his new friend. From the Jones clan. How about that. “They treated me like a king in the human world, but never had anything worth drinking.”
“Ah, humans.” Hawley Jones sighs. “Say, how do you feel about the Benoits?”
“Don’t know that I feel much of anything about the Benoits.”
“Joneses are going to throw down with the Benoits soon.”
“Huh.” Bernard thinks a moment. He’s not terribly clever, but even he can tell this is a situation for some kind of trade. He tests the water. “You heard of that swamp witch?”
The green skin on Hawley’s face goes a shade lighter. “Don’t say her name!”
“Not saying her name!” Bernard waits for a beat. “Know where she hangs out?”
Hawley looks around, nervously. He really, really wants Bernard to weigh in Jones in the case of Jones versus Benoit, so he squirms with anguish. “I heard SHE’s got a hut in Gautreaux territory, out past Jones territory. My cousin Jedediah knows more. If you bring Jedediah some moonshine, reckon he might help you. And if you feed a few dirty stinking Benoits to the pigs along the way, that wouldn’t hurt your case none neither.” A few drops of sweat plink into Hawley’s shot glass. He has no idea where the Bernards stand on the subject of the Benoit clan, but he relaxes when Bernard claps him on back and orders him another drink.
Anna Mae presents a nice steak to the Gremlin in the cage, who appreciates it enormously, then goes to meet the rest of her original group, which is standing in the street with Zernadine hovering nearby in a weird state of eavesdropping while keeping up her huckster act. Bernard, addressing Bal, says, “I got us a job. Here’s a couple scrip, plus some insider knowledge – Gremlins don’t know the value of scrip.” He hefts a bottle of moonshine and cackles with laughter.
“What kind of job?” asks Bal.
“We’re gonna deliver this here moonshine to somebody called Jedediah Jones, and maybe knock off a few Benoits along the way.” Bernard looks around at everybody else, gauging their reactions. No one remarks that Not-Zai is not among them. The group is clearly still together on an as-needed basis, and nobody knows what Not-Zai actually needs, and everybody is free to go at any time, so, shrug?
Although steadfastly against killing sentient beings, Gremlins included, Anna Mae is briefly torn. It’s definitely part of Gremlin to culture to war amongst themselves; there’s nothing she can do about that. Reluctantly, she nods at Bernard. She’s in.
Providence says, “The only reason I’m here is because … you’re called Gremlins, not Goblins.” Nobody understands what this means. Bernard is 99% sure he’s a Gremlin, not a Goblin (whatever that is). Providence then says she intends to make sure Bernard’s 100% Gremlin. When she realizes everyone is staring at her in utter incomprehension, she stabs in another direction. “Why are you Goblins always killing each other all the time anyway?”
AHAH! Bernard knows the response to this, at least. “ARE YOU JUDGING ME?”
Zernadine wraps up her scam and sidles up. “Heeeey. I hear you have some plans?”
Bernard, suddenly befuddled by the presence of a Gremlin woman, AND WHAT A WOMAN, drops his jaw. “What’s a place like you doing in a girl like this?”
Zernadine smiles. “Oh, you sweet talker.” She pulls a knife and juggles it for a minute until everyone recognizes the knife as belonging to Zai. Or Not-Zai. This is all very confusing. Anna Mae, realizing it was Zai (Not-Zai?) all along, and not a valuable subject for cultural study, glares daggers at Zernadine.
Zernadine just grins. “Hey, I got you a bunch of scrip. What are you so grumpy about?”
Anna Mae’s reply is chilly. “I was hoping this trip was going to be more educational.”
Nothing has prepared the heroes for the experience of walking through the Bayou. Dry ground is rare, and they stomp one sucking footstep at a time through stinky mud, under constant threat of losing a boot. The surrounding waters are often disturbed from below (fish, they hope) and from above (birds and bugs). A constant low thrum of life surrounds them, punctuated by the occasional cry of a bird or animal. Dense green moss hangs from the trees, making it nearly impossible to see any distance, even if they could see through the clouds of tiny insects feasting on their sweat and tears. Even the sun seems dimmer and shadowed by the fetid air.
Bal cries out from the front of the group and ducks into the swamp, as a mosquito the size of a small pony swoops at his head. “What in tarnation?!” Bal draws his new Gremlin gun, aims sort of to the side, and somehow shoots his attacker dead.
Bernard punches a nearby skeeter in the proboscis. “Noses!” he crows. “Such an easy target!” When a second one attacks, he punches it too. Bernard hoots as he fights, completely in his element.
Providence draws her derringer and easily shoots one skeeter out of the sky. In a smooth second shot, she takes out the skeeter menacing Bernard. Not much of a thief, but a GREAT shot, is Providence.
Zernadine whips out her hip flask and lighter. With a click and a whoosh, she breathes fire on one of the airborne skeeters, crisping its wings and sending it spiraling into a tree. With flair, Zernadine leaps into the tree to finish off the giant flaming insect.
Anna Mae, way in the back, yells, “What? Giant mosquitos? Skeeters? What’s even HAPPENING?” A skeeter swoops in to attack her but Anna Mae dodges behind a tree. When it lands on the tree to strike her, Anna Mae bashes it with her shotgun. When she realizes she accidentally killed it, Anna Mae is sad.
The heroes, spattered with mud and bug bits, stand panting amongst the skeeter corpses.
Irrepressible, Bernard chirps. “Welcome to the Bayou, baby!”
Lucius Matheson has offered the heroes a deal. If Anna Mae, Bal, Bernard, Providence, and Zai steal the plague grimoire from Hannah Lovelace of the Freikorps, Lucius will consider their probationary period complete upon delivery of the acquired grimoire. Lucius also provided maps showing the approximate location of the grimoire (in the Freikorps fortress library). Bal has convinced everybody to wait a couple of days, as his old friend, Arik Schottmer (also of the Freikorps), has offered to escort them to the fort. Anna Mae, worried about maintaining professional relationships with both Lucius and Hannah, refused, instead choosing to travel separately to the Freikorps fortress with a compliment of Guild Guard, which is her usual way of visiting the library as an official guest, invited by Hannah. When Anna Mae arrived at the fort, she asked Hannah to have dinner with her in the mess hall. Anna Mae is sitting with Hannah in the mess, eating terrible food and having awkward conversation, worried about being dragged into a crisis that will destroy her professional opportunities, when the other heroes enter the courtyard.
Arik Schottmer, Bal, Zai (in disguise), Providence, and Bernard have just entered the courtyard when rats of unusual size (yes, Westley, apparently, they DO exist) start pouring over the stone walls. An avalanche of 50-pound rats crashes over the wall, creating an undulating, squeaking ramp into the courtyard, down which an army of their brethren lumber like wet, angry bears. A Freikorps soldier falls screaming from a guard tower, a rat fastened to his bloody neck, and the heroes grab their weapons. Cursing, their escort, Arik, unlimbers his flamethrower and unleashes a stream of fire at the invading rodents.
Providence yells, “Oh my God, those are gigantic effing rats!” Our heroes exchange a glace, and, as one, abandon Arik. Instead of helping fight the rats, they make a break for the gatehouse and the stairs to the underground complex, where they’ve been told the grimoire waits.
Meanwhile, back at the mess hall, the sound of battle brings Hannah Lovelace to her feet. With a shout, she commands the dining soldiers to abandon their meals and form an attack line, then leads them out of the mess hall, toward the courtyard. Anna Mae sits alone in the mess hall, contemplating her cooling plate of greasy chili. Although she hears the familiar ZORCH sound of Hannah’s now-familiar arcane fire, Anna Mae isn’t sure what to do. All of her choices seem bad.
When the other heroes open the gatehouse door, they are shouldered aside by two Freikorps officers; in their zeal to join their comrades in the rat melee, they ignore the heroes entirely. Zai (in disguise, but no other name given, so we’ll call her Not-Zai) steps into the gatehouse and, seeing a desk covered messily with papers, begins to rifle through them, reading reports under the candle light about the construction of the fortifications. She’s looking for traps, secret doors, and alternate entrances and exits. Providence enters the gatehouse and asks Not-Zai what she’s doing. Not-Zai replies, dismissively, “I’m not Zai.”
With a shrug, Providence pelts full-tilt down the stairs toward the underground library. With a bit more reserve, Bal follows. Pumping his short legs, Bernard brings up the rear, shouting, “You can’t start the looting without me!”
Anna Mae finally pulls herself together and runs into the courtyard straight into a hellish battlescape. Hannah is ZORCHing rats with magic, Arik is roasting them with his enormous flamethrower, and other Freikorps troops are firing clockwork pistols or slashing about with their swords (brakh’blades). Fearing what her comrades might be up to, Anna Mae runs for the gatehouse, but her passage does not go un-noticed. Hannah ZORCHes several rats out of her way and follows.
Providence comes to a screeching halt at the bottom of the stair to admire a pair of ancient stone urns. Bal shoves past her and makes a beeline for the library. Leaping from the stairs, Bernard heads off in a completely different direction. Screw the stupid book; he’s looking for treasure! Soon, the halls are full of the Gremlin’s moans of frustration, as all he finds is one ruined, empty room after another. “Dammit! These people are poor!” Upstairs, Not-Zai, sensing malevolence both from the attacking rat swarm and from somewhere below, finally heads down the stairs after her comrades (“comrade” merely a word of convenience, as Not-Zai appears to feel no particular attachment to the others).
Just as Not-Zai vanishes down the stairs, Anna Mae bursts into the gatehouse, followed in short order by Hannah. Suspicious, Hannah shouts, “Anna Mae! What are you doing here?”
Taken aback, reluctant to lie, Anna Mae replies, “I thought I should get inside? Because of the rats? But I also think I thought I saw something in here?”
Anna Mae’s circuitous answer-questions inflame Hannah’s suspicions. “If you’re wise, you’ll get under that bed and stay out of my way.” Hannah indicates one of the officer’s cots and runs down the stairs. Anna Mae slides over to the bed to avoid the stream of giant rats that come pouring into the gatehouse after Hannah. It’s really unclear what she should do. The options are getting worse and worse.
Bal reaches the library first and searches one wall of the first room for the grimoire – no luck. Joining him shortly, Providence begins her own search and finds books about natural history and the people and cultures of Malifaux. Poor Providence is suffering; first, she couldn’t get out her sketching tools and take notes on the urns, and now she must bypass SO MANY EXCELLENT BOOKS just to get one grimoire. A bit conflicted (VERY CONFLICTED), Providence starts packing her satchel with interesting books. Sure, she’ll keep looking for the grimoire, but she can also select books to “borrow.” She’s a smart woman. She can multi-task! Bal moves on to the next room and stops to examine the wall mural – a magnificent golden sunset. Is the mural a message? A clue? Bal climbs up the bookcases to examine the mural closely, but finds nothing of particular interest. It’s paint on stone. Nothing special. However, when he climbs back down the bookcase, he quickly locates the grimoire. It was in the bookshelf under the mural. The shelf he was just standing on. With a sigh, Bal secures the book in his satchel.
The heroes are scattered, and the scene is underground chaos. Bal has the grimoire. Providence is still searching for the grimoire, while stealing books. Not-Zai is sprinting for the library. Hannah is coming down the stairs followed by a squeaking river of giant rats, which she is ZORCHing as she goes. Bernard, standing in the sudden flood of rats, is inspired. The rats aren’t attacking; they’re just running down the hall toward the library. IT’S RODEO TIME. Bernard fights his way into the rat-stream, kicks his favorite in the head, and tries to climb aboard, but the giant rat bucks him off and continues on its way. Never one to surrender a bad idea, Bernard rolls to his feet, dusts off his doublet, and tries a different rat. Not-Zai steps into the library, as Providence jams one last book into her straining bag. Not-Zai opens her senses to locate the grimoire and detects it in the other room.
Hannah, still ZORCHing rats, spies Bernard, and shouts, “YOU!”
Bernard throws his arms open and yells, “ME!” The second rat, having rejected Bernard’s attempt to ride it, attacks him. Bernard punches the rat into stone floor, then complains to Hannah, as though they are both on the same looting mission. “You know there’s nothing worth stealing around here, right?”
Incredulous, Hannah only shakes her head and ZORCHes another rat.
Latching her straining bag, Providence asks Not-Zai if there are still rats upstairs. Not-Zai replies, “Upstairs? There are rats down HERE!” Providence, overwhelmed by the wealth of knowledge around her, paces back and forth between the two library rooms, muttering to herself. Seeing Bal in the second room, she asks him if he has located the grimoire. Bal denies it. Providence notices the shelf of grimoires under the sunset mural and starts dumping mundane books out of her bag to make room for grimoires. (See: “kid in a candy store,” times a thousand.)
What’s going on? More chaos! The rats are streaming into the library. They attack Not-Zai and Bernard, but both heroes successfully fight them off. Hannah steps into the library. Bal takes a back exit from the mural room and tries to find a different way back to the surface. Hannah watches the rats flow through the library into the back exit, as does Not-Zai, who makes contact with the grimoire’s energy and briefly collapses to her knees in pain and disgust. Anna Mae tip-toes down the stairs into the library corridor, pressing against the walls to stay out of the rat-stream.
As Bal runs out the back door, the rats finally catch up to him, biting him and tearing into his brigandine armor. One rat seizes his bag with the grimoire, but Bal manages to tear it free from the rat’s jaws, and jog through a maze of corridors back to the stairs. When she spots Bal, Anna Mae yells at Bal to drop the bag and run. Bal clutches the bag tighter. “No! It has my… effects!” He glares at her. She glares back. He knows she knows, and she knows he knows she knows. Stalemate.
Meanwhile, back in the chaos, Bernard finally manages to mount a rat. Like a knight on a horse, but more like a Gremlin steering a rat by its ears, Bernard wrestles the rat into battle and punches other rats left and right, narrating every blow. “Take that! And that! You want some too? BAM!”
Providence follows Bal (and the river of rats) out the back door. She draws her shotgun and blasts a pair of them away from the doors. Seeing Bernard ride his rat into the library, she says, “Keep that rat alive so I can dissect it.” Bernard says, “Can I eat it afterwards?” Providence thinks for a second. “Okay. Just save me a piece.” Providence is really dedicated to having every experience ever.
Cut off from the only exit and thinking quickly, deeply unhappy about the whole affair, Bal ties a stick of dynamite to his satchel, lights it, and tosses it to a rat. The river of rats freezes, then reverses course to a hole in the floor. Following the rat with the satchel, the whole river of rats funnels down this hole in an awful, stinking, squeaking drain-swirl. Hannah, having come to a screeching halt in the side corridor mid-shout (What’s the hell is going on…) smells the dynamite, quickly figures it out, and dives for cover, as do the heroes, Providence and Bernard with Hannah, and Bal with Anna Mae near the stairs.
All packed into the same sheltering doorway, Providence looks at Hannah. “What are you doing here?” Hannah says, “What do you mean what am I doing here? What are you doing here?” Bernard bitterly vents about losing his rat steed, but neither woman is listening to him. Providence is assaulting Hannah with questions. Hannah, shrinking into the stone, says, “Maybe we can talk after the explo-“
A massive detonation shakes the stones around them. Clouds of dust fly up, obscuring everyone’s vision, and the heroes are temporarily deafened. When the heroes shake off the effects of the explosion, the first thing they hear is the clacking of (a lot of) clockwork pistols cocking, and the first thing they see is a double line of muzzles, a dozen Freikorps, fore and aft. The heroes are surrounded.
Hannah gestures. “Bind this lot and bring them into the Wellhouse.”
As the heroes are perp-walked up the stairs, Arik says to Bal, “I really thought better of you.” Bal protests. “What do you mean? I just saved everybody!” Arik keeps his voice low. “What were you doing in the library, then?” Bal whispers back, “I believe that falls under the brief of my previous appointment. The one our agreement was meant to avoid.” Arik just grunts.
When Anna Mae protests – she arrived separately – she’s not involved with whatever these other people were doing, Hannah leaves off the shackles but commands Anna Mae to follow along to the Wellhouse.
After an hour’s uncomfortable, silent incarceration in the dimly lit Wellhouse, the heroes are brought to the courtyard and into the presence of a tough-looking older man with a frightening array of weapons bristling from his bloody and battle-scarred clockwork armor. With a growl, he says, “I’m Von Schill.” He looks the heroes over and says, “Perhaps you might explain what you’re doing in my fortress. I doubt it was to sign on.”
Bal answers, “Partly to sign on, and partly to walk away.” Both Hannah and Arik looks daggers at Bal. It seems Bal has burned both those bridges now.
Anna Mae pipes in, “Um, I just came for dinner.”
Von Schill’s gaze flickers to Hannah, who shrugs. He sighs. “You’ll need to do better than that.”
Bal caves, with a great gush of breath. “We were hired to acquire a dangerous item.”
Von Schill nods. “Hired by whom?”
Bernard interjects, “I don’t know these guys.”
Bal continues. “We were sent to acquire a grimoire. Quite a dangerous artifact, I hear. Conjures world-ending disease and plague.”
Von Schill thumbs one of several holstered pistols. “And who sent you to acquire this item?”
Bal stammers. “It’s a delicate matter, see, and I think only you should have that information.”
Von Schill sighs and drags Bal into the Wellhouse for a private conversation. It takes all of two minutes. When they emerge, Bal has been untied and Von Schill is carrying Bal’s beloved rife. Von Schill gestures to the other heroes. “Untie them and confiscate their weapons, then they can go.”
Choked up, Bal says, “Can I keep my rifle? I use her as a walking stick. You couldn’t kill a slug with her.”
Von Schill sees that the rifle is inoperable as a firearm and recognizes the pain in Bal’s eyes. Von Schill knows the ways of old warriors, and his tone gentles. “Wielding her with some creativity, you can still kill a man with her, son. But yes, fine. Here you go. Now on your way.”
Clutching his old rifle, Bal leads the way back out the fortress gates, which slam behind the heroes. Alone in the Quarantine Zone, having made enemies of the Guild and the Freikorps, Anna Mae, Bal, Bernard, Providence, and Not-Zai look at each other, wondering what to do. Anna Mae isn’t sure what just happened. Have her bridges been burned as well?
Bernard’s voice shatters the uncomfortable silence. “So! Who wants to meet my family!?”