Savage Malifaux Session 7: The Swamp Hag

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

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