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!”