BLOG_MAL_Session 9 – Into the North
WARNING: In this session, the heroes get involved with a cannibal cult, and one of them joins in…
After escaping from the Bayou, Bal, Bernard, Zai, Anna Mae and Providence made their way to Hollow Point Pumping Station to meet Victor Ramos, the man Zoraida told them would be able to fix Bal’s rifle. Ramos not only completed this repair but recruited the group into his underground revolutionary organization, the Arcanists, and assigned them the mission of traveling into the far north to meet with Rasputina, the Winter Witch, in an attempt to determine the meaning of recent events involving the Tyrant Plague.
After a day to recover from their travels, Ramos summons the group again. He presents them with a piece of pale hide with rusty-brown runes painted on it. “You’ll need this to identify yourself as my allies and get to Rasputina,” he explains. Providence grabs the hide and begins studying it, but cannot make any sense of the runes. “The Guild is on the lookout for all of you, so I’ve devised a plan to smuggle you out of Hollow Point. We’ll hide you in crates on a supply wagon train headed to the closest Soulstone mine to Rasputina. Once you get to the mine, you’ll have to strike out overland, but it will only be about 2 days’ travel. Do you have any questions about your mission before you depart?”
Providence asks, “Is there anything specific we should ask Rasputina about?”
“I suggest asking her if she or December has any knowledge of the Plague grimoire and the plague zombies that have been appearing with increasing frequency and bellicosity since you left the city. Also, many people in Malifaux City are starting to fall ill, which is concerning.”
“Under which circumstances should I punch Rasputina?” asks Bernard.
“I would not recommend punching the avatar of a Tyrant. However, if any of her people troubles you, use your judgement.”
Bernard shakes his head. “I’m skeptical of your logic.”
Anna Mae asks, “Is there any specific etiquette we should follow while we are there?”
Ramos looks a bit ill. “I wouldn’t recommend eating while you are there.”
“Because Rasputina often serves up previous guests.”
Bal steps forward. “I was wondering if you are interested in acquiring a Chesterfield 1879. We found a few back in New Hope.”
Ramos answers, “I am! I’ve always wondered if these are actually cursed, as the legend says. I’m definitely going to find out.”
Bal unslings the Chesterfield and hands it over. “I can part with it given the work you did on my girl.”
Zai also acquires some powerful gastrotoxin for her knives, and all of the group receive winter gear for the mountains. With that, the group departs for the wagon train.
The ruse is successful; the group makes it to the Soulstone mine without encountering Guild forces, and they set out for December’s Temple. About four hours into their march, Anna Mae and Bal notice a glint of metal in the trees before shots ring out. Two hidden pistoleros fire at Bernard, who is leading the group, and one fans the hammer of his pistol firing three shots at Bal, just behind Bernard. One of the shooters jams his pistol, but another grazes Bernard, startling him. Two shots ricochet near Bal and one hits him in the chest, but fortunately glances off one of the metal links of his brigandine coat. “Incomin’” yells Bal, hurling himself to the ground. Anna Mae freezes in panic as five spider-like constructs burst from cover to attack Bal and Bernard, but they do not manage to get through either hero’s guard. Another, much larger humanoid construct also emerges and swings a mining pick at Bernard, throwing him off balance.
Bal hops back to his feet and fires his Gremlin pistol at one of the spiders, knocking it back. Providence fires at one of the concealed gunmen and dives behind a rock for cover. Zai joins her behind the rock, attempting to cast spells from her new Arcanist-provided grimoire. Her attunement to the tome is less than perfect, and she fails to summon a gamin or to cast blind. Anna Mae jumps behind a tree and fires her shotgun at the constructs attacking Bal and Bernard, blowing the legs off of one of the spider constructs. Bernard punches another spider, but only manages to dent its armor.
The spider bots swarm at Bernard and Bal, biting with their mandibles but catching only cloth. The larger construct drills itself into place and then strikes Bernard with a pneumatic drill. Bernard barely manages to knock the drill to the side. The spiders take advantage of his distraction to strike, but Bernard nimbly jumps out of the way.
One of the gunslingers breaks cover and runs towards Providence and Zai, firing as he goes, and punching a hole through Providence’s hat. Another gunslinger ricochets a bullet off Providence and Zai’s rock, while the third hits Anna Mae in the leg, wounding her. Bal manages to knock over another of the spiders with his Gremlin pistol. The wounded Anna Mae makes a run for Providence, knowing that she’s the best healer in the group, just as the mining construct grazes Bernard’s head with the pneumatic drill.
Ignoring the wounded Anna Mae, Providence fires at the gunman who shot her had, injuring his arm. Zai succeeds in her spellcasting and summons a fire gamin right behind the mining construct. The gamin claws at the construct but its metal hide repels the attack. Even as the gamin appears, Zai pivots and throws a knife at the nearest gunman, but it sticks, quivering, in the tree he’s using for cover. Bernard reaches down and punches the spider that Bal knocked over, shattering it. Anna Mae ducks out from cover and fires at the constructs again, but misses.
Bal fires at another spider and kills it, then dives for cover behind a tree. The gamin blasts the large construct with fire, distracting it momentarily, but the construct pivots and strikes back with its drill, just missing the gamin. Providence shoots again but just knocks a branch off the tree. Bernard punches another spider, which skitters out of the way and then bites him.
Providence checks her aim and fires at the wounded gunslinger, hitting him in the shoulder. Bernard punches the large construct, but his powerful fist bounces right off its armor. The gamin blasts the construct again to no effect. Zai throws another knife and hits the wounded gunslinger in the throat, killing him. She moves over to collect her knives and one of the remaining gunslingers shoots her, hitting her arm. Zai drops prone behind the tree.
Bal rolls out of cover and blasts one of the gunslingers with his new underbarrel shotgun. The gunslinger flies backwards into a tree and slumps down, dead. Anna Mae starts yelling at the surviving gunslinger about the principles of civilized warfare, thoroughly confusing him. The spiders continue their assault on Bernard but fail to do any damage. The mining construct, however, annihilates the fire gamin with its pneumatic drill.
Anna Mae pops out from cover and blasts the mining construct with her shotgun. She hits it in the neck joint and it collapses into pieces. The last spider and remaining gunslinger retreat, but Bal manages to shoot the gunslinger with Tawny, dropping him. The heroes salvage weapons, ammunition, and a small Soulstone from the bodies and continue their journey.
As they approach the temple, the heroes are ambushed by a large group of what they assume are December Cultists. The Cultists emerge from behind cover and train harpoon guns on the heroes, but before they fire, one notices the hide in Providence’s hands and approaches her.
“How may I help you?” asks Providence.
“The skin… hold up the skin!” hisses Anna Mae.
Providence does so, and the cultist approaches her and examines the skin closely. “Hey, not too close, buddy,” growls Bernard.
“Here, look at the other side,” says Providence, reversing the hide to the blank side. The cultist gives Providence an incredulous look, and then gestures for the group to follow. The cultist leads the way through winding mountain paths until he reaches a larger path marked out with 25 foot pillars of ice. The path leads to a frozen stone temple with many more cultists, including some who appear to be higher ranked.
“How did you make those ice stairs?” asks Providence in a loud voice.
“Let it go,” mutters Anna Mae.
The cultist who led the group to the temple gestures to another cultist wearing a barred mask over her lower face. She approaches and examines the hide again; Providence once again helpfully turns the hide over to the blank side. Both cultists shake their heads in disbelief. The cultist holds up a finger and then enters the temple. The remaining cultists stand around the heroes in silence, still with their harpoon guns casually trained on the group.
“No, seriously, how did you make those ice stairs?” asks Providence. The cultists are utterly silent.
“So, uuuhh, anybody gonna say anything? You?” drawls Bal.
A cold voice rings out from the temple. “They do not speak. I prefer it that way.” An attractive woman in winter gear with glowing ice-blue eyes emerges from the temple.
“They must really like you, because my family would never not speak,” puts in Bernard.
“Is that where you get it from?” asks Providence.
“Welcome, child of Fortune,” says the woman to Bernard.
“I mean, it also took a lot of hard work, let’s not downplay that part of the scenario here.
“What an interesting group. A child of Fortune, two Earthborn, one touched by Nytemare and a minion of the Grave spirit. I am Rasputina”
“What’s Nytemare?” asks Bal, unnerved that she seemed to be referring to him.
“The Tyrant of Dreams. Clearly, you have much to learn.”
“So, who’s going to teach me?” asks Providence with utter sincerity.
“Ramos sent you, why?”
Providence answers. “Well, a few reasons. He wants to see if you will join his fight against the Guild – he wants to be friends.”
“That’s a human word I learned recently,” adds Bernard.
“But he also wants to find out what you know about the Plague Grimoire that recently turned up and hopefully was destroyed in Malifaux City.” Providence and the other heroes relate their adventures with the grimoire, with Bernard filling in any omissions (intended or otherwise). Providence continues talking long after the others in increasingly complex detail, ending with “Our plan with the stick of dynamite didn’t go quite so well for us.”
“We made two un-friends that day!” says Bernard.
“Yeah, and I had a bunch of grimoires and they took them from me, and Ramos wouldn’t give me any new ones,” complains Providence.
“Ramos has his secrets. I must confer.” Rasputina sits down into the snow and turns her face upwards. A coating of frostrises from the ground, completely covering her up to the top of her head, her glowing eyes refracted through the ice. She goes completely still as all of the cultists kneel.
“Is that supposed to happen?” asks Bernard. Anna Mae kneels along with the cultists, but the other heroes remain standing. After a few minutes of nothing happening, Bernard pulls off his rocket pack and begins inspecting it to determine if the cold has had any negative effects.
After about 20 minutes, the ice around Rasputina shatters and she stands. “I am the Avatar of December, the Tyrant of Winter,” she begins. “We do not always see eye to eye.”
“Is that like a father of all nightmares kind of deal? ‘Cause that’s what it sounds like,” says Bernard.
“If you want the father of all nightmares, that would be the Tyrant Nytemare.”
“It seems that the Tyrant Plague has reemerged. This should probably not come as a surprise to you given your story.”
“I didn’t know there were so many Tyrants,” says Providence.
“Indeed, there are twelve names for thirteen Tyrants.”
“Why does the thirteenth not have a name?”
“Because Dragon is twain.”
“So, ah, what did your boss have to say?” asks Bernard.
“Plague is seeking the pieces to reconstruct a device, an energy amplifier, something he was attempting to create thousands of years ago. If he acquires what he needs to activate this device, he will be able to break free of his prison and ascend to godhood, as is the ambition of all of the Tyrants. It is not acceptable to December that another Tyrant should ascend to godhood before he does.”
“But after that, he doesn’t care?” asks Providence.
“After that, they will not have the opportunity.”
“Well, there’s something to be said for destroying all opposition.”
“Therefore, Plague must be stopped.”
“Sounds like a good chance for an alliance of convenience!” says Bernard.
“You know, if your boss wins I can always light a fire, but if everyone’s got plague… not the best time.”
“If my ‘boss’ wins, there will never be a fire again in the universe.”
“How are we going to make whiskey?”
“That does not concern me, child of Fortune. There is a woman… Kirai Ankoku. She is the key to whether Plague’s plan will succeed or fail.”
“So we should kill her,” suggests Providence.
“I do not know. It may be that she is the one who thwarts Plague. It may be that she is the one who will enable his victory. I only know that she is crucial.”
“So we should go find her and decide whether we should kill her or not.”
“I also know that the device is in the Necropolis under Malifaux City.”
“They don’t like us so much there,” mutters Bernard.
“If you are the ones chosen to fight this incursion of Plague, I believe you have the ability, but I must have a representative amongst you. This group has one of the minions of Fortune,” Rasputina gestures at Bernard.
“What does that mean?” asks Bernard.
“One of the minions of the Grave Spirit,” she gestures at Zai, who is clearly startled even through her mask, “two Earthborn and a touched of Nytemare.”
“Guess that’s me,” mutters Bal.
“I must have a representative as well.” She looks directly at Providence.
“If I’m going to do this willingly, does this mean I will have access to Ramos’s spells?” asks Providence.
“If you become one of the Children of December, you will gain power, and you will be immune to fear.”
“Thank you, that sounds like a good deal,” answers Providence.
Rasputina snaps her fingers at one of her minions in a puff of frost. “I believe we have someone appropriate for the ritual?”
“Could you, I don’t know, maybe describe the ritual I must undergo?”
“You must defeat and ritually consume one of our captives.”
“I’m sure they taste fine,” says Bernard.
“I think Bernard can handle the consuming part,” mutters Bal.
“Pick that one, he looks tasty!” yells Bernard, pointing at a cultist.
“Only the child to be may consume the victim once defeated honorably in combat,” says Rasputina with a chill in her tone. “Not all of him, just certain parts.”
“Probably the liver,” puts in Bal.
“And the brain,” adds Rasputina.
Anna Mae mutters to herself, “This is really testing my anthropological detachment.”
One of the cultists appears leading what appears to be a Union steamfitter. Rasputina looks him over, nods, and says, “Give him back his equipment. You will face him in the cave. Your companions may observe but if they interfere, you will all be destroyed. This will be a fair fight, as is required for initiation.”
“What can I use?” asks Providence.
“You may use whatever you brought with you, but your friends may not interfere – you must win using only your own ability.”
“I know a bit about magic, can I use that?”
“It will be used against you, so I would encourage you to use it yourself.”
The heroes proceed into the temple with the exception of Anna Mae, who stays outside, taking notes on the cultists. They enter a large cave with tiers of seats above a pit. Rasputina gestures the other heroes into the seats as Providence is lowered into the pit at one end. At the other end, the steamfitter is pushed through a barred door, a large steam arachnid at his side. “It’s fine,” says Bernard. “We’ve seen those fighters before, they’re meat.” Zai produces a flask of wine and begins sipping it casually through her mask.
The steamfitter moves first, pulling out a sort of lightning wand and blasting at Providence, then diving for cover. Providence sidesteps the blast as the spider skitters towards her. Providence yells, “If you’re such a cowards that your spider is doing your fighting for you, I’m just going to rip your face off and feast on your tasty, tasty brains!” She runs towards the terrified steamfitter and casts a blinding spell. The steamfitter’s eyes glaze over with ice and Rasputina nods approvingly from the seats.
Bernard asks, “Hey, creepy lady, if your guy wins, does he eat the brains?”
“No,” answers Rasputina, “I’ve told him if he survives he will go free.”
The steam spider clatters up to Providence and attacks, but merely clips a bit of her skirt. The blinded steamfitter lashes out with his lightning wand but, unable to see Providence, misses her completely. Providence shoots the spider at point blank range with her pistol and then dives out of the way as it explodes, sending shrapnel flying around the arena. “I got your spider,” yells Providence. “You can come out and face me yourself, coward!” She runs to clear a lane of fire and shoots at the steamfitter, but misses.
The steamfitter shakes off the blindness and fires a bolt of ice at Providence; it glances off her pistol, slowing her a bit but doing no real damage. “I wonder what it’s like to leave your boring mining family behind, get caught up in all this, and then have your brains eaten when you’re trying to get back home,” muses Bernard. The steamfitter shoots again, knocking Providence back, and ducks for cover. Providence follows, firing her pistol, and hits the steamfitter in the leg.
“Please, spare me, I have a family,” begs the steamfitter. Providence shoots him again in the body as he runs, then finishes him off with another shot to the back. Rasputina pulls a stone knife and a stone axe from under her seat and tosses them to Providence.
“Does it matter which I eat first?” asks Providence.
“It does not,” answers Rasputina.
As Providence begins her grim feast, swirls of dark and ice-blue energy rise from the floor of the cavern. She feels a prick of ice in her chest, and then more and more cold as her heart freezes from within, dulling her emotions. “Welcome, my new Child of December”, says Rasputina, and suddenly the mute cultists are roaring their approval.
Outside, one of the other cultists hears the roaring and says, “It is done. She is one of us now.”
Rasputina ushers Providence into a side chamber of the temple. “Do you choose wisdom, vision, power, or destruction?”
“What do I gain if I choose power?”
“You will gain the ability to influence others.”
“And if I choose wisdom?”
“You will gain the ability to acquire knowledge.”
“Well, I want them all, but wisdom sounds the most interesting.”
Rasputina reaches into a hidden crevice in the rock wall and draws forth a grimoire. “Use your wisdom wisely to defeat Plague and promote the rise of December.” She leads Providence out of the temple to meet the others.
Bernard says, “So that was the deal, right? We’re temporary friends now because you have your guy in the in crowd.”
“Indeed, child of Fortune.”
“We’re permanent friends,” puts in Providence.
“I don’t think she thinks I’m a permanent friend,” says Bernard.
“You are friends for as long as it takes to eliminate the threat of Plague,” answers Rasputina. “After that, we shall see, but Providence is bound to us now.”
Bernard turns to Anna Mae. “You missed some of the most anthropological stuff I’ve ever seen before.”
Anna Mae sighs in quiet resignation, “I’m quite sure you will fill me in.”
Rasputina gestures to the group. “You will have to find your own way to the City. Perhaps Ramos can assist you, but I warn you not to trust him; he is a devious man.”
“He set me up with this spider,” says Providence, pulling it from her pouch, “because he wouldn’t tell me how it works.”
“He is quite protective of his creations. A little too protective.”
The heroes decide to return to the nearby Soulstone mine and see if they can sneak back in to Hollow Point to get help from Ramos. Their trek is uneventful until they approach the outskirts of the town and see Sonia Criid, head of the Witch Hunters, and an array of Witchling Stalkers and Handlers spread out before them. “You will halt and be judged,” says Sonia flatly.
“The only one that judges me is my mom,” answers Bernard. “And I’m not even sure she’s still alive.”
“Silence, vermin,” says Sonia. “You are not in the Bayou now.” The Witchlings fan out around the heroes. Suddenly, one of the Witchlings turns and gestures furiously back towards the mine. From the sky and the ground appear creatures that look like demons to the eyes of the humans.
“Nephilim!” says Bernard.
Zai, for the first time in the group’s experience, looks truly afraid.