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Thursday, 3 May 2018

Halcyon City

Halcyon City is on the shore of the great Mojave Lake along the Colorado River. The city became a centre of gravity for Supers during the Corazón War, way back when the small town was at the frontline in the struggle against the Red Queen and her minions.


Laws elsewhere have kept Supers largely confined to a few Haven Cities and during the second Pence presidency the surveillance and controls Supers face in the country has only ratcheted up.

The Silver Age Supers have enough power and influence to remain pillars of society and authority to withstand this relentless assault on their rights, and have formed AEGIS (the governmental agency that controls and oversees Supers). AEGIS uses co-option and propaganda at first, then an IRS approach (backed by Excelsior) before resorting to the big-guns; paired teams of an Agent and a Super.


Tag, the Innocent 
Gus / Tag
Gus Gaynor is a scrawny kid from the 1940s. He grew up in an age before Supers, and AEGIS files classify him as one of the first. His super-speed ability showed itself when he raced to save his younger brother from a collapsing building. He failed when he was pushed into the future by the Super-Villain Catcher (his future self). He phased onto Lake Mojave to join the others in a face-off against Catcher.

He loves the food in this new future (a far cry from the dull food and rationing of the 1940s). He's really not so keen on the fixation with celebrity and new media. He loves hanging out with his hero friends and finding out about all the heroes who've been active in the city in the last 80 years. He hates his future self, Catcher, cause he blames him for the death of his brother.

Catcher has a cyber right-arm which has a lot of imbued power, but his super-speed is even more powerful than Tag's.
Tag's costume is a plain off-white running outfit, but when he speeds up, it shifts into Blue-Red.

Lucia / Bruja helps him to understand this weirdo future and he follows her lead.


El Serpiente, the Nova
Javi / El Serpiente
Javi ran away from home after his powers manifested. A bully was tormenting him and he lashed out with his biokenesis. His hands extended into snakes to almost kill the bully, and when he returned home he lost his temper and hurt his family as well.

He's settled in a (very) small apartment over a green grocers shop where he also works for Ignacio. His new girlfriend, Anita helps him deal with it and talks through his issues. Because of this he's inspired to try to use his powers responsibly and for good. He cares about the team because they have a similar outlook.

He usually wears dark clothes or long sleeves to try to hide the faint scale pattern on his skin.

He hangs out all the time with Lucia / Bruja to blow off steam.
He once hurt Simon / Shadow when he lost control of his powers.


Bruja, the Doomed
Lucia / Bruja
Lucia Delgado moved to Halcyon City from her hometown in Oklahoma. She was out in the barn with a few of her school friends smoking something fairly innocuous when they all lost consciousness. Three of them died and her best friend Julie Perkins was the only other one to life, although she had no memory of what actually happened.
They moved around a lot in between and she's estranged from her family now, working in the ticket booth at the bus station.
Her powers manifest as telekinesis, psychic constructs and vitality absorption, and she can bring her doom ever closer by accessing a portal which is linked to her sanctuary.

Her sanctuary is a black/off-site owned by Halcyon Analytica. That corporation, specialising in VR, is owned by Brad Armstrong, a silver-age Super who she knows will bring about the end of the world; even though no one else believes her visions.

Anita, Javi's girlfriend, can help - she's her friend as well and works at Halcyon Analytica as a technician.

She told Javi / El Serpiente all about her doom and the danger she's in.
She'd love to kiss Gus / Tag before her doom comes.


Shadow, the Beacon
Simon / Shadow
Simon Simolea broke into an abandoned mansion to escape some bullies (the cool kids). There he discovered the lair of a Golden-Age hero where Simon's self-induced psychosis created his alter-ego of Shadow.

The Golden-Age gizmos allow him perfect camouflage and stealth, along with awesome phasing.

His sister, the earnest, beautiful and successful Sidney doesn't think he should be a Super but he loves it because it's the opposite of being Simon. He cares about the team because they don't know or care who Simon is.  He still lives at home with their parents.

Javi / El Serpiente is awesome, and he takes every chance he gets to hang out with him.
He's got to prove himself to Gus / Tag before he feels like a real hero.


*****

The first time they all worked together was against Catcher, the Super-Villain who pushed Tag into the future.

Catcher
Tag appeared on the surface of the lake, losing speed and being attacked by his future self. He was hopelessly outmatched and was helped by the others. El Serpiente forced them apart with Shadow jamming Catcher's cyberarm. Bruja summoned a horde of shambling horrors directly into Catcher's mind and he fled.

El Serpiente laid waste to Halcyon Port during the fight, grabbing onto Catcher and flinging him directly into a giant cargo ship (operated by a subsidiary of Halcyon Analytica).

Innocent bystanders were killed during the carnage; both aboard the ship and on the portside. Including the young Super called PestilenZ (the next generation of a Legacy) who Bruja was having lunch with at the time. PestilenZ was killed when he boarded the ship to find out the true nature of the device Catcher was trying to access.

Tag was the price of Catcher's deal with the devil - he was meant to be encased in the super secret and elaborate Containment Facility aboard the ship. But Shadow's phasing ability knocked Catcher's cyberarm out of action and thus he was unable to contain his younger self.

Thursday, 22 March 2018

Cat and Mouse

Previous Session: Storms and Ill Winds

With a long family tradition of treachery, Stavros reveals himself slowly as Devon and Rowan approach the central command tent, escorted by a squad of Myrmidons (the giant armoured ants that comprise most of the assembled army).

Corwin is within, and greets them cautiously. He knows who they are, and that they fought on Random's side in the recent war against Finndo. But that doesn't do much for them with him, he wants to know what they can do for him now.

If they think they can expect anything from him for free, they can forget it. His policy when it comes to the enemies of his enemy? Take a number and get in line!

Stavros suggests that they could help get him and the army closer to Amber without drawing the attention of Osric and Finndo by bringing it through his own personal shadow - however the logistics of moving a quarter of a million beasts across an island chain are beyond Corwin at such short notice. They're only 17 steps away from Amber itself, so they'll have to do it the old-fashioned way.

They discuss it amongst themselves, they lost the opportunity to return to King Finndo's good graces when they left Dara leave, but they want to make a difference in this. They can surely thwart their original mission, which was to scout out the advancing army 'of Chaos' which Osric will be leading now that they've defected.

They compare notes on the routes Corwin is planning in order to come up with their best chance of clearing the route, but the mathematical possibilities of the number of shadows to cover to intercept Osric are dizzying.

Corwin, arrogant and relentless.
Lost a previous succession war against
his brother Eric. 
Rowan and Devon consider alternate ideas; they could act as bait, or send a signal back to Amber to say that they've captured Dara and are returning with her. Perhaps by calling Gerard, who might not consider that it's only a ploy. After all, if Dara's escape was in order to meet up with the Chaos army and they used her to find the location of it, that would be in keeping with their mission...

They move a few shadows over, and Stavros calls Gerard. He's annoyed and feeling betrayed. He views Dara as a threat to Amber, and suggests that they cut her head off. Wondering if that's an order from Finndo, he denied it - Finndo wants her back alive, but killing her would be for the good of Amber.

His sense betrayal turns to anger - how could he side with an agent of Chaos against his family!

Devon senses something in the brush, and motions to Stavros, who shuts down the Trump contact.

Two hunters are approaching them and they hunker down, Devon pulls off to one side to get an angle on one of them, it's the man he killed back in Amber (twice now!) and his arrow flies true and into the hunter's knee, pinning him to the ground. Devon will take his time on this one.

Rowan goes after the other hunter and smashes into him in a fierce, but short, fight.

Stavros feels a knife against his throat, and a third (previously unseen) man is behind him. There's an intake of breath, but before the offer (or maybe quip) can be made, Stavros called on his defensive luck and lashes backwards and out of the stronger man's grip. The other flees, and Stavros gives chase.

He keeps up with the figure, but is constantly just out of the range of any attack. Eventually he catches up, but only when he's in the middle of an encamped army. A dozen angry red pandas slowly look up for the fires and charge him!

Mynah, Rowan's companion bird, has been tracking the pair, and settles on a tree to keep watch on the army, trusting that Stavros can escape by himself.

Stavros ends up in a dry river bed, and hell-rides from there, careening down the steep banks and ends up in a densely overgrown ravine in a rain forest that leads back to a tropical beach. Here at least he's safe...

Friday, 9 March 2018

Her Glory Incarnate!

Previous Session: The Jaws of a Trap

The Orphans are nervous - these are bigger stakes than they've ever had on the table before. The very fate of their Wicked Mother is in the balance!

They're not entirely sure that they can trust Setarra in this, but they will sneak aboard the Hotspur (again) and capture Captain Dunvil while he is doing his paperwork; suborn the Demon at the heart of the ship and enact an occult ritual to discern any trap that might be waiting for the Wicked Mother when she manifests in Duskwall.

Then they will thwart the ambush She Who Slays in Darkness have arranged with the Guardian of the Gates, and kill them all in an all-out assault. Two worlds will collide tonight, and only one will see the dawn.


Boarding the Hotspur is much easier this time; after all there was nothing so foolishly reckless as boarding a Leviathan Hunter on the high seas. The ship is not even at anchor in the harbour, it's tied up at the wharf, it's taking on supplies after having piped ashore the Leviathan blood to a refinery.

They take their boat across the channel and tie up on the stern - much less prone to discovery that just boarding from the shore. They've been given the ship's schedule by Quess the Spider's friend Avon, who is the Bosun's Mate, and they climb up onto the deck out of sight of the lone sentry. Since this is a stealth mission, Monger the Cutter is staying behind to take care of the boat and act as a tactical reserve (he's the cavalry).

They make their way below, down the main hatch which will lead to the captain's cabin...

As soon as they are on the lower deck, lanterns are opened all around them and a dozen armed sailors (not just sailors, leviathan hunters) are revealed with Captain Dunvil commanding them.
-Think you can singe my beard twice!
Avon stands amongst them, either he's playing along or he's betrayed Quess and the Orphans.

Gap the Lurk pulls out a bomb that Strangford prepared, one with a charge of Standstill poison in it, and declares that they'll be in serious trouble if they don't stand down; a fire aboard a ship is a terrible thing.

Dunvil steps forward, pointing the pistol at Gap's face and pulls the trigger! Gap dodges to one side, taking the round in his shoulder. He runs directly at the captain and kicks him in the chest, vaulting up to the roof beams and then chucking the bomb up to airburst in the middle of the assembled sailors.

The others go for cover, a barrel or mealie bag will protect them a little from the blast - however the bomb just lands heavily on the table and bounces with a clang into a bowl of stew. Did Gap arm it properly?


Fancy Frank the Hound kicks into action, running a guy through with his sword. GhostBlade the Whisper smashes another across the face with her lantern. Fancy Frank is on the back foot, as two more confront him with long knives and pistols and he is sure this isn't the job he signed up to as a tracker and sniper!

GhostBlade yells to Monger through the Darkness that Binds them to get in here, his assistance is required! Monger clambers up from the boat, busting through the gunwale in his heavy gear. Running down the main hatch he sees carnage in front of him.

Gap has thoroughly confused the captain now, spinning around him and the two sailors nearby while using his cloak to great effect - the two sailors shoot each other in the dizzying display and Gap wraps up the captain in his cloak, punching him in the kidney to subdue him. Dunvil hasn't given up the fight though, he stabs back with his reversed sabre and the blade punches through Gap's ribs. Gap struggles through it and koshes Dunvil into submission.

Fancy Frank is now beset by two and even his twin pistols only buy him some addition time. They literally have him over a barrel when GhostBlade slams into the back of one of them. Fancy Frank uses the distraction to kick one away and stab him in the throat, although he does take a knife to the knee and he'll be hobbling for weeks (he'd not be walking again at all except for his fancy knee-high cavalry boots!).

With their captain captured and most of the mates killed, the other half dozen charge for the stairs up to the main deck. Whether or not they saw Monger coming down is in doubt, but they have a fight on their hands - Monger is almost overwhelmed in the rush but decapitates one with his cleaver before being pushes back to the steps; he stabs and elbows and bites his way back to his feet and only two survive - they're later spotted swimming the channel to the safety of the far shore.

**

Confronting the beating demon heart in the bowels of the Hotspur is a little too much for most of the Orphans. They arrive at a metal box on the deck, it's inscribed with runes, sigils and every imaginable piece of Whisper-loved warding inside and out. Inside some of those sigils are throwing light onto a large tripod (like one typically used by augurs). In the bowl is a beating heart, the size of a person's head, purple with sickly yellow lines.

Stepping across the threshold GhostBlade feels the pressure, like she just dived into a stormy sea. Tyraxis' attention whips over to her, but she wades through it like it's nothing.

Monger was going to drag Captain Dunvil inside, but his stoic visage cracks a little and he stays outside. Fancy Frank goes up on deck to act as sentry, glad of the open skies. Gap was never going to go inside that thing.

GhostBlade's ritual is based on an attunement she received from Setarra (while they didn't want to invite her to this, they are relying on her knowledge and skills). It will identify and diffuse the danger which the larger summoning/gate-opening ritual will lay upon the Wicked Mother.

Tendrils from GhostBlade's soul, black-tinged red, erupt from her soul and clasp onto the beating demon heart. Monger throws in one of the surviving sailors and she kills him, slowly and painfully over almost an hour - every ounce of anguish the poor sailor feels feeds the connection, and on the point where his death is imminent, she cuts out and eats his heart.

She knows that from now to eternity, she will not be able to sit comfortably in the presence of a demon; she can already feel her skin itch in its presence. And then she feels another presence touch the skin of the Hotspur...

Fancy Frank sees the impossibly sleek shark demon climb aboard. Its inhuman eyes regard him as he fails to track the intrusion with his rifle. It brushes past him with its gash of a smile and he shudders as the cold goes through to his bones.


Below, Setarra points out to GhostBlade that her ritual is not as successful as she hoped - it won't allow her to change the point the Wicked Mother will appear; and that will allow their enemies to keep their significant advantage.

Setarra makes an offer to GhostBlade
-Serve me, and I will intervene to change the Wicked Mother's path into the city
That's unacceptable to GhostBlade, and as she shakes her head, Monger loosens his shoulders, readying for a confrontation. Setarra doesn't even change stance, but they're sure she notices.
-Or maybe, allow me to remain here and I will guard the captain and Tyraxis from any outside interference before your plan goes ahead. Then I will have what remains on the ship.
GhostBlade doesn't like that either, and her counter-offer of a year and a day of service after they're finished with the summoning meets with instant rejection from Setarra.

She loses patience, and moves to leave with an aggressive snarl. Fancy Frank has been wondering what's going on and is making his way down to them. He's at the top of the stairs when she's climbing up and he reacts badly to her demeanour.
He draws a pistol and aims at her, but her arm snakes out to grab at his foot and use him as a club to beat back Monger (who's lifted his cleaver). But Fancy Frank leaps back, and crawls back into the depths of the store room.

Setarra faces off Monger, who's ready to go to war, but trying to convince her it's not necessary (and that Fancy Frank's behaviour just confirms that he's an asshole). She walks away, but stops by at the corner where Fancy Frank is hiding and palms away his pistol. She leans in close to his face and whispers
-Kristov, I'll be visiting you in your dreams

*

The Orphans have left behind half of their Thugs and Adepts behind to guard the Hotspur and its contents while the rest of events play out - they can't leave their opponents realise that they've stolen a march on them.

The location that the Guardian of the Gates has chose for the Wicked Mother to appear is the Ankhayat Park near the Silkshore - actually their Sanctuary is just across the canal from it. Waiting for the jaws of the trap to close around the Wicked Mother is a large party - they've organised for the various community leaders of Charhollow to be there for a celebration in the park - it's the Feast of St. Natira. Posters and (limited) free food and drink have guaranteed that about a hundred people have attended.

In the centre of the park is a large gazebo, it is there where she will be summoned.

Across the city, near the Strangford Estate, the cult of She Who Slays in Darkness has a large tower block, at least half of which is given over to their activities. That morning, Fancy Frank and Gap snuck in to plant a large firebomb. It's set to go off at any moment now, and hopefully it'll forestall any reinforcements and prove a significant distraction.

The Wicked Mother appears in the centre of the gazebo, but it's obvious that she cannot pass the barrier. At that moment, a dark figure emerges from the shadows: She Who Slays in Darkness has come...


GhostBlade hurriedly enacts the ritual that she has prepared, knowing the nature of the trap they have the Wicked Mother helplessly caught in; but she needs help to do so quickly enough. Gap steps to the fore, already haunted by this upcoming Apocalypse, the Lurk stabs out his eye with his knife and grabs a smouldering coal from the grills to cauterize the wound. The effort proves to be just the agony and sacrifice the Whisper needs to fuel the ritual!

Elsewhere throughout the crowd a dozen of so acolytes of the rival cult unveil themselves and attack. Monger is waiting for them, with the remaining handful of their thugs and the fight is quick and brutal. Fancy Frank joins in, shooting as many as he can in the back before numbers start to tell. Their explosion across the city goes off, and gives them a chance to scramble into a defensive position.

However, She Who Slays in Darkness is now confronting the Wicked Mother. A flurry of slashes leaves their patron reeling, and then the coup de grace; a blade plunged into her heart - but as it goes through her heart, the blade melts! Gap has opened his soul to her, and she is feeding on his life-energy.

Monger leads the counter charge, scrambling to get through the crowd to protect the Wicked Mother; but there's no way he'll get there in time.

Fancy Frank draws a bead on She Who Slays in Darkness with his finest pistol, loaded with electroplasmic ammunition and focuses; and shoots. The round pierces the skull and the god falls to the ground. Purple energy floods from the wound, first evaporating like a mist, but then coalescing as the Wicked Mother descends upon her and consumes her rival.

FIN

Thursday, 8 March 2018

Storms and Ill Winds

Previous Session: A Den of Vipers

As the others emerge out of the dungeon with the bedraggled young woman, Devon gets a Trump contact. It's Llewella, who's worried about them - and wonders what the hell they've done. It appears that the guards have just gone into their lock-down positions throughout Castle Amber!

Thomas and Stavros run out the main exit doors as a diversion, while Devon, Rowan & Trixabelle go deeper into the unknown nooks and crannies of the north-west tower to escape. As they walk, Trixabelle transforms into a guard she has seen before. With the full uniform and unshaven lantern jaw, it's quite the transformation.

Slinking out a postern gate, they're challenged by a sentry, and Trixabelle schmoozes her way past them until a casual question from him gets everyone's back up. From behind Rowan cuts him down; the guard was good, he notices the movement at the last moment and tucked his head behind the blade of his halberd, but Rowan's attack was at an unusual angle which circumvented the defence. Blood splatters all over Trixabelle's tunic and she takes Devon's cloak to hide it.

They quickly go to her curio shop to catch their breath and plan. Rowan and Devon turn on their harried guest, demanding to know who the hell she is. She wonders if she might have some tea and change out of her rags first, but the glare she gets from Rowan ensures that she understands any dilly-dallying will end in her spilt blood.

Dara, grand-daughter of Benedict,
and a princess of the Courts of Chaos
She introduces herself as Dara, grand-daughter of Benedict, and a princess of the Courts of Chaos. She claims that Finndo grabbed her as a hostage when beginning his campaign against Random, but their attempts to dig deeper into the particulars of that story are interrupted...

The front door is smashed in with a single blow and they hear Gerard's bellow! They run out the back door and make for the alleyway. At the back gate though there are four liveried guards with halberds waiting for them (one of them looks familiar; like the guy Rowan just murdered a half-hour ago!)

They fight them, Rowan and Devon make short work of them, with Devon's darts being a deadly surprise. Trixabelle's backdoor, narrow as it is, only invite structural damage as Gerard charges through it and they flee, using darkness and shadow to escape at a key junction.

Trixabelle morphs into Gerard and they walk out the front gates, and around the city wall to the fleet at anchor. Blustering their way through the captain of the guard (on high alert for intruders) they take a yacht and sail for the horizon.

Under Rowan's command, with Dara below under Trixabelle's watchful gaze, they make best speed for the horizon. Once they're out of sight of any pursuit they can think about where to head.

A tall mast appears behind them, it looks like a serious warship, maybe even Gerard's flagship. Trixabelle shifts them through Shadows, plowing through a purple squall to find green seas and iridescent yellow seaweed. They must find this Chaos army and turn over Dara to their protection. They lose their pursuers and Trixabelle must rest - the shapeshifting and the hell-riding have taken it out of her.

Down-below, the two have a brandy-fuelled discussion about her family, status and the real reason she was taken by Finndo as a hostage. A little more information is forthcoming - really Dara thinks that she counts as a double-hostage, both against Amber (particularly Benedict) and against Chaos.

Fiona, sorceress of the family
Up on deck, Devon gets a Trump contact; expecting Llewella again, however it's actually from Fiona and she assault his mind immediately with a compelling argument in favour of his turning the boat around. He can expect mercy in return for his cooperation in returning the prisoner to King Finndo's prison.

Devon eyes up fighting Rowan, but considers himself outmatches and aims for subtlety instead. He waits at the head for Dara's bladder to fill and when she approaches he intends to push her off. However at the vital moment, he struggles against Fiona so that he mis-times his attack and instead of pushing her off, is pushed himself into the Ocean.

Rowan saves him with lifebuoy and Devon vouches for Dara when he ends up on deck and before Rowan can cut her in two. (Tacitly, as proof of good faith) She takes over moving through shadows.

At a headland overlooking a huge river estuary is an arrayed army. Black and silver banners flutter over the host, of armoured Myrmidons (actual ant-creatures) and red grizzly bears

Dara curses. She must leave them, as this is no army of Chaos but commanded by Corwin, Prince of Amber. Their relationship is...complicated.

She steps away, disappearing into the depths with Logrus and they make landfall.

Next Session: Cat and Mouse

Saturday, 2 December 2017

The Last Fare

Previous Session: Keep your Friends Close

The Noose are joined by an ally of theirs from the war.

Sethla "Stone" Dalmore (a Hound) is a mercenary from the Dagger Isles who fought on the Skovlan side during the Unity War. She's an experience Deathlands Scavenger, where her experience from the Dagger Isles - lands where there are no lightning barriers, was of great use. On her throat is a tattoo from her rite-of-passage there - it is imbued with power and acts as a spiritbane charm.
Her trained hunting pet is "Ghost", a grey fox - it's from the Deathlands, and its colour is a washed-out grey, like a negative.
The woman has a pale, freckled face., with dark, empty eyes and tied-back, dark hair.
Her vice is hard drinking (usually topped up from a hip flask she keeps with her) with a side of whatever other pleasure is going at the establishment she finds.
She is a Survivor, from hard won experience she is immune to the poisonous miasma of the deathlands and is able to subsist on the strange flora and fauna there.

Near the end of the war, Veleris, who fought on their side revealed himself as a spy for the Empire. She was betrayed and almost died. The thirst for vengeance is what brough her to Duskwall, when she heard that Veleris had resurfaced as part of the Wraiths.

Melvir (a physicker) rescued Stone's body from her grave and helped her recover. It's really a miracle that she's still alive today. It's likely that Veleris thinks she's dead...


They bring Mags back to the Skovlan neighbourhood where Shiv lives in Charhollow. They meet her at the door into the mean and overcrowded tenement building, and her tired face lights up with relief and joy. She calls out for a friend who's a doctor and Mags is brought into a room to have her wound tended to.

Shiv brings them upstairs to her room and puts the kettle on for a cup of tea. Wicker the Whisper carefully examines the room for signs of how attached Shiv is to their shared Skovlan culture. There are no signs of wealth here, everything indicates that life in these tenements continues at subsistence level.
The kettle is of Skovlan design, but obviously has been made locally (whether by an Akorosi crafter who knew the design, or dictated to by someone familiar),  there's some unfinished knitting in a chair by the window (local wool, but Skovlan patterns) which will be handy for keeping out the cold and damp of the Duskwall nights. The handles on the sideboard don't match the actual furniture; it's an cheap knock-off of an Iruvian design, but the brass handles are all from a set with traditional Lockport interlacing.

Stone notices a shotgun in the corner by the fireplace - it's a well-used and maintained piece, probably something that was used in anger during the Unity War.

Crow the Slide has a bag of bread that he got from the bakery before coming over, and they share it with their tea. Stone adds in a drop of whiskey.
-Your name carries a lot of weight in the community; how do you intend to use it?
Her gaze narrows; she understands the subtext of the question
-Our people here would be starving and freezing to death if we didn't work to make their lives better.
Crow's fanaticism comes through a little
-Surviving isn't enough, we need our pride
-Pride is no use when you've no wood in the stove.

They ask her what she thinks of the Consulate's role in her work, and she admits that she had thought that they were helping, by arranging work details and visas for refugees to come across the river into the city proper. But now, after what Lomond did to Mags she isn't so sure.
Lomond came and took Mags last night, with armed warriors who brooked no resistance. She tells them that her  brother died in prison under his command.
Crow wonders what she intends to do about it, and she leans forward, reaching under the table to tap what must be a long knife strapped there - the distinctive metal sound is so familiar to them all - that's one Skovlan tradition which dies hard.
-I'm going to find that little weasel Lomond and gut him
Crows counsels her against such a rash course of action, and assured her that they'll take care of him and give her a front row seat when justice is served.

Shiv, a leader of the Skovlan Refugees
Wicker wonders what she did back in the old country and if Crow's question was subtle about what her credentials are, this is anything but. She grins as if she knows that her answer will surprise them.
-I bought and sold goats. I was the best goddamned auctioneer in the Blackvale.
Wicker is taken aback, and asks what the most unusual or famous thing she auctioned off was?
She turns to look out the window, and proffers her cup to Stone to give her a wee dram of the good stuff. Stone fills her up, and she takes a long sip.
She tells of a night when a small company of Skannon's army arrived at her sheds. They had a captured Imperial officer with them, and after they had gotten all of the intelligence out of him, there was a disagreement over what to do with him.
She auctioned off the rights to him, mostly to cut his bollocks off right there on the table he was lying on. She got the price up to 3 shillings and 2 pence. Impressive total really, but suppose soldiers don't usually have much to spend their coin on.

In the midst of the story, Crow takes out a fine bottle of whiskey he's been saving for a special occasion - guess they're in for a long night of it. It comes out naturally, but they realise that she's Ulf Ironborn's sister - they're not sure if that's trouble or opportunity, as the up and coming violent criminal is definitely wreaking some havoc in Coalridge.

They go back to the original topic, and ask why Lomond thought she knew where Skannon is? She downs the rest of her drink and replies, calm as you like
-Cause I know.
Crow pushes to find out where he is, but she scowls and asks them why she should trust them with that information. They're a little insulted - didn't they just establish good credentials by saving Mags? But she's keeping her hand close to her chest and Crow just asks her to pass along a message from him since he worked with Skannon before.

In the morning, Mags is up and around again, and Wicker tries to gain some insight into their relationship by asking Shiv how they met. Shiv and Mags engage in a bit of good-natured (and obviously well-worn banter) where Shiv insists that Mags is the romantic and should tell the story (because Shiv always gets it wrong!).
Well, in comes this goat-herd with the mangiest buck she ever laid eyes on. Asking a ridiculous price; not fit for stew, a rough blanket, or even making glue out of his hooves. The only thing worth a damn was the fine set of horns (funny you should mention that!) - but she says that he'll sire the finest herd of goats anyone on the whole island has ever seen.
So, what the hell, she was cute (damn right!) so she paid half a crown for him; and that was that.

***

Stone the Hound is keen to target the Wraiths, but despite her desire to keep away from a Spirit Well she accepts a quid pro quo from the Noose - they'll help her fulfil her path to vengeance once they've prevented the Gondoliers from closing the Spirit Well on behalf of the Reconciler.

The Spirit Well is located in an underground canal near the Strangford estate in Charhollow. They have the maps and keys to get to it without attracting any attention, and Wicker the Whisper heads down there to attune to the ghost field and find out what kind of activity is going on there that might have attracted the attention of the Gondoliers.

He spreads out his lightning hook, stretching out the wire so that it forms a tripwire around the Spirit Well, and dons his spirit mask - it's made of leather and wood, in a flexible fashion with two sides - the outside is used when looking into the living world, the inside is meant for just the spirit world. It's a weird design by Akorosi standards, but all Skovlanders would recognise it instantly.

It's obviously not a very busy conduit into the spirit world outside the lightning barriers, but after a couple of hours something starts to come through. Wicker is aware of it before it comes through and rather than entrap it, he allows it to clamber unsteadily through the well before he makes his presence known. That process is like a birthing - the viscous spirit stuff sloughs off the body in an odd fashion. It looks human, but with a suit and mask which obscures its features. Perhaps recognising that Wicker is not posing an immediate threat, it raises the mask to the top of her head. It's a Akorosi woman, and when they introduce themselves, she gives her name as Moriya. (Flint can vouch for her, they're known to each other, at least due to professional courtesy).

First off, Wicker wonders what she was doing out there. She gestures to the heavy bandoleer across her body. She explains that she has brought back the ghosts of some lost sailors, along with a slew of demon eggs. She knows the family of one of the sailors and is sure that they'll put her in contact with the others if they came from the same ship. There are always buyers for demon spawn, usually to power rituals or potions.

He presses her on what kind of unusual activity she's seen her lately, and she's nervous, as if she fears that someone might target her because of what she could say. She describes how the Circle of Flame brings targets of their extortion here and pushes them into the Spirit Well; unprepared and untrained as they must be, when they are brought back they are prepared to do anything for the Circle to ensure that they are never exposed in that way again. She's see a household servant and a Bluecoat getting that treatment, but isn't sure of any other details.

The Noose aren't quite sure what they think of this - as horrible as it sounds, harm coming to noble houses or other aspects of the Imperial fist doesn't bother them too much.

Stone relates to Wicker how they close Spirit Wells in the Dagger Isles, though she can barely remember all the details from her childhood. It takes a major ritual effort from multiple whispers over a short period of time (no more than a couple of hours) - so that will surely make it easier for them to hamper the Gondoliers' effort to close it.

Crow the Slide takes out their gondola to gather intelligence on their target organisation. He rows up to a kiosk in Silkshore and saunters inside to grab a cup of coffee and a biscuit. He brought Nyryx with him (she's a friend and a frequent customer of the gondoliers here so she helps establish his cover).

Over a lunch break, he discovers that Griggs is the name of the Gondoliers' chief whisper, and he has three assistants. He was last seen at the kiosk in between Charterhall and Crow's Foot, but in any case he'll be at the weekly meeting tomorrow night. (The Noose didn't even know the Gondoliers had a regular meeting!)

**

After the Gondoliers meeting, Crow rows his gondola up to the hall where most of them have already departed. At this stage, it's mostly the senior gondoliers who still remain behind. They're going to fool Griggs into getting aboard their gondola instead of his usual ride (Goldie, who's currently busy with Nyryx).

Griggs is standing at the back door speaking to a few people, and Crow has mistimed his approach - two other gondoliers who he doesn't recognise jump into his boat. He protests that he's waiting for Griggs, but they point back at him and say that he can get the next boat
-you know the rank rules, first customer, first boat
But the Slide sticks to his guns and tells them it's a prearranged fare with Griggs.
They jump back out, cursing him light-heartedly and wait for the next gondola to pull up. But as they sit into their gondola Crow hears them wonder if the boat is Ball's - the one that went missing a while back...

Griggs, chief whisper of the Gondoliers
Griggs gets in, and he's much younger than expected. After Crow pushes off, the gondolier notices that it's not Goldie and wonders why. Crow tells him that Goldie was delayed and will be waiting for them, but he's not so adept a gondolier as to keep a complicated conversation going whilst rowing through the canals, and this raises Griggs' suspicions. Asked why he doesn't recognise Crow, the Slide tells him that he only joined a couple of weeks ago, and has been learning the ropes with Goldie.


Wicker the Whisper notices that Crow's under pressure and if his cover is blown now, the whole operation will fall apart. Wicker compels a ghost to rise out of the canal in an attempt to distract Griggs (or better yet, to consume him right there and then!)
A long-dead and troublesome ghost 'Vond' rises up out of the waters - it's unusual that a ghost would be active on canals this well-travelled by the Gondoliers, but Vond was a gondolier himself in life, and has long been a thorn in Griggs' side. A ghostly oar breaks the waters first and Crow is taken aback with the skeletal hand grabs onto the side of his boat. Since the boat hasn't been an official gondola for a while, the warding has lapsed and doesn't have its usual protections.

Vond is obviously coming for Griggs and the whisper jumps to his feet very quickly. He draws his lightning hook out from his coat and brings it to bear on the advancing ghost. His hook is a bone whip, and as it unfurls to show the fine wire connecting the bony vertebrae - it cuts through the ghosts hand and Crow nearly drops his oar in fright as it comes within inches of his head.
The next swipe of the hook cuts the ghost in two, from shoulder to hip and the electroplasm dissipates over the sides of the boat as the controlling spirit is destroyed. Griggs is standing in the middle of the gondola triumphantly.


In a high tower overlooking them at the end of the canal, Stone the Hound is set up. Her long rifle's sight has Griggs in its crosshairs. She has a custom electroplasmic round in the chamber - best destroy the whisper's ghost as well. Crow knows where to look and see the glint of the sight behind Griggs' shoulder and drops to the deck. Whether it's his sudden movement, or some other instinct that causes Griggs to shift his stance, the round misses and hits the water behind the gondola soundlessly.

By the time Stone has fished out another electroplasmic round to reload, the gondola has rounded a corner and is out of sight. On the upside, Griggs has dropped his interrogational tone of Crow and has turned his back to side down and he's scribbling away in a notebook.


Stone picks up her rifle and runs as quick as she can. The original sniper's perch she'd identified is still open and with a bit of rooftop running she can make it in time to take the shot. Crow rows slowly down the long canal heading into Six Towers. Stone stumbles descending the last rooftop, twisting her ankle, but she lays down on the kerb of the roof and steadies her breathing. She has an view of his chest, coat opened from when the lightning hook was drawn and she calmly squeezes the trigger.
The round goes straight through his forehead, killing him instantly. The electroplasmic charge stays inside, and his ghost is drawn up into his skull and implodes in a spiritually devastating attack. We'll never see his ghost again.

*

They dump his weighed down body (the weights and chains were hidden under the tarpaulin forward in the gondola; after having filched all his whisper ritualist equipment (they can be sold on for some profit via Flint.