High Rollers

Like a Boss

Never one to give in to setbacks, Hardluck strode into the chamber where the gnolls waited with a bright smile on his face and spun an extremely effective line of ’I’m an idiot’ bullshit, which the gnolls bought thoroughly. Gable followed and shortly thereafter, Harley and Iron Horse, though Lear remained hidden. Hardluck and Gable continued past them while Harley engaged the gnolls in light conversation, distracting them from the magical shenanigans going on down the hall. Hardluck and Gable found a piece of paper sitting on an altar within a magic circle, with a basin of water nearby acting as a damper. Gable performed an elaborate ritual in an attempt to convince Hardluck (as well as the ritual circle) that he WAS Asher Macavoy. This absolutely should not have worked, but by some favor of the Trickster, it did, to an extent. The shopping list Hardluck replaced the scoll with glowed brightly and vanished as a loud alarm echoed through the chambers. The party and the gnolls were in the process of sheepishly agreeing that they had all fucked up and were negotiating the amount of bribe the gnolls would require to stay quiet when one of the walls suddenly caved in, revealing what could best be described as a mobile rose bush trailed by their old friend, Arna the lich, whose eyes gleamed with a dark…well, with a different SORT of dark malevolence than usual.

‘Arna’, who appeared to be possessed by the Lich Queen herself, threatened the party with destruction for having the temerity to attempt to free her servants from her grasp, and our heroes opted to beat a hasty retreat, the pack of gnolls close behind them. This might not have been effective had the lich not unthinkingly triggered an ice rune on the ground and temporarily gotten herself and the plant stuck. This did not prevent her from shrieking imprecations at the rapidly receding party’s backs.

After getting well clear of the tunnels, the party and the gnolls went their separate ways, the gnolls deciding that skipping town was probably their best bet. After looking at the scroll and not making much real sense of it (it put Gable in the mind of a lich’s phylactery ritual, but that wasn’t quite right), they decided to first rendezvous with Mother Mercy and share what they’d learned. Mother Mercy, still dressed in her hoop skirts in the middle of the night, received them and led them to her office, only to have a brilliant flash of light greet them as Sparkle’s shopping list wafted down to her desk. This bemused everyone in the room for a moment as nobody could explain why the intended effect of Macavoy’s ritual would be to send a message to Mother Mercy of all people. They decided to play it cool and send Mother Mercy off to do what she would have done anyway had she not been involved, which was to seek guidance from the Shadowskins on the nature of the shopping list.

Gable and company instead went to the house of his contact in the Circle, Madame Mysterio (nee Deirdre), who was not well pleased to be rousted out of bed but accepted Gable’s statement that it was urgent. She revealed that she too had received a copy of Sparkle’s shopping list, which led the party to extrapolate that so had every prominent individual in the information trade. Madame Mysterio opined that it was a record of a ritual used to transfer a part of a person’s soul into another body. She couldn’t fathom why anyone would choose to do this as that other person would technically count as possessing their soul and could, say, transact it away. She then performed a spell to see on whom the spell had been cast only to find that somehow, Hardluck had obtained a piece of the Merchant Prince’s soul. At this point, the party decided to confront the Merchant Prince.

The Prince was waiting for them (perhaps not THEM, but someone) and told Hardluck the story: His mother had at some point during their romance attempted to steal a part of his soul for reasons unknown to him, but it had ended up in the son she was apparently pregnant with at the time. He also admitted that he had no further need to protect Macavoy and immediately attempted to bargain with Lear for her assistance in maintaining the portal. Lear made some initial demands but kept her options open, as it appeared that the instability of the portal was a danger to both the prime material plane and the elemental plane of water where Lear’s people lived. This conversation was interrupted by the frantic knocking on the door of the mansion by a guard reporting that zombies were swarming out of the tunnels and attacking the city. The party woke the Priestess, who led them to the temple to hold off the undead hordes and protect the civilians while she ‘blessed the city’. Our heroes were able to do so with relative ease, killing Arna and sending her to reform around her phylactery and otherwise holding off the undead until the Priestess completed the ritual which obliterated all undead in the city.

With that matter resolved, it became clear to Lear that Macavoy no longer had any hold over anyone, and there was only one course of action. She went to his office, knocked him unconscious, and carried him out of the building to general acclaim. Gable once again concocted a ritual, this one to destroy his soul utterly, and with the help of the more magically inclined of his ‘druids’, they enabled Lear’s friend Rana to enter his body, to Rana’s relief but utter disgust. Silver tattoos like the ones on the other druids appeared on what was Macavoy’s body. Lear left some simple instructions with Miss McGillicuddy, mostly consisting of ‘lock up the assholes’ and ‘just keep doing Macavoy’s job like you have been’, and the party took Rana to the Coyote Clan, where the risk of being assassinated by one of Macavoy’s former enemies unaware of his body’s new use was much lower.

The Coyote Clan agreed to shelter Rana and to investigate the Gate, something they had not previously had opportunity or permission to do. Songbird, who while not a true member of the Coyote Clan was the most knowledgeable present, agreed to summon other local experts to see what the combined investigation of the native peoples could turn up. It would take a few days, but that would give time for the heat to die down and for them to teach Rana to be a ‘meat person’.

After returning to the city, there was a lull of at least twenty-four hours where the city was not imperilled, and the party went about various pieces of personal business:

- Hardluck and Gable interviewed Hardluck’s mother Delilah and learned that she had filched the spell from a master necromancer she had apprenticed herself to (this is much less weird in the lands of the South than it sounds) and hoped to leech a piece of the Merchant Prince’s soul as a way to feed off his uncanny luck, but had unfortunately been pregnant and the soul-piece had gone to Hardluck instead.
- Iron Horse made the request of both the Herald of Progress and of Spider Grandmother that they work together to find a way to allow him to sire a child and continue his line for the clan. He also asked Twisted Rattle to be the mother of this child.
- Hardluck’s new PR agent Abdiel hatched a plan to ‘win a date with (some of) the Heroes of Vegas!’, putting Hardluck, Zharra, and Harley (possibly without his permission or knowledge) up for a raffle.
- Rebekah once more reiterated her fears that Astarte would use her high-profile position to somehow destroy Gable’s career, though he assured her he considered the matter taken care of.
- Lear asked the Merchant Prince to put Madeleine McGilicuddy in charge of the day-to-day operations of Water and Power, and informed him that her first choice would be to close the portal, but that before anything else could be determined the current instability needed to be investigated, and presumably addressed.

Raining Blood

Morning arrived and with it, the High Priestess of the Triune Goddess at the linked portal in the Post Office. As the Priestess was surrounded by an honor guard of constables and paladins, the party opted to move forward ahead of her arrival to hopefully intervene on any threats being prepared, only Hardluck stopping briefly to lament his failure to anticipate and prepare authentic High Priestess souvenirs to hawk to the crowd. All was well until Iron Horse spotted his clanspeople, led by the drug peddler Sun Lizard, preparing what he insisted was a non-violent protest: they’d been told to show up, cause a scene, and throw some pig’s blood around. Having received orders from the Priestess to allow the protest to proceed, Iron Horse let them pass. The protest did prove to be non-violent, and the Priestess met them with a smile and a promise that their valid complaints had not be heard and as a sign of her goodwill…the Totem of the Ash would be returned to the Coyote Clan. As the Totem of the Ash had been stolen from the Priestess’s vault several days prior by our heroes and now stood proudly in the clan-chief’s dwelling, the protesters were somewhat taken aback.

Once again, the procession processed until Hardluck spied the ne’er-do-wells Grimna had told him about. He approached, gave the call-sign, ‘Orange Sky’, and ordered them to disperse, which almost all of them did at once. As the Priestess approached this location, clouds covered the sky, turning it a sickly orange, and portals to dimensions unknown to man opened, emitting first what looked to be stirge-like creatures, who scattered to the four winds-all except one who landed on one of the thugs who had apparently hidden himself in the crowd to watch what would happen next, drained him of his blood in a matter of seconds, and then turned to face the heroes, looking rather more substantial. Also coming through the portals were an amorphous shapeshifting creature, a large corrupted ogre or oni, a robed figure on a large floating disc who Zharra recognized as one of the Starcaller siblings, and several cat-sized mosquitoes with humanoid heads bearing Zharra’s (or more likely Zora’s) features, shrieking the word “DESPAIR!” in a shrill voice.

It was approximately then that the blood rain began to fall.

We will slide over the details of combat; suffice to say that the constables and paladins did as ordered and protected the civilians, the heroes prevailed against the monsters, the Priestess somehow erased the shapeshifter and Heinrich Starcaller from existence without so much as arching an eyebrow, and Hardluck’s new fuschia cloak was badly stained a dark russet.

The party herded the Priestess first to the civilian safe houses to have her assure the populace that all was under control, and then to the Merchant Prince’s mansion before setting off to determine what had just happened. Rains of blood, several of the party knew, were a trademark effect of witchcraft, which could produce powerful and widespread ritual effects so long as a catch was built in which would deactivate it. The ritual site also needed to have line of sight to the place affected, so Lear scaled the top of the Temple and attempted to use the tainted clouds to find a candidate. After an hour or so, and feeling more than a little ill, she located a circle in the mountains of the Coyote Clan. Hardluck located an old contact of his, a witch named Wither, and hired him as a ‘consultant’ for the low low cost of getting him out from under the lynch mob about to do terrible things to him. Wither was a veritable font of useful informatIon:

  • Witchcraft uses pain to power the spells. Blood works well, children’s blood works best.
  • The party’s three primary choices for figuring out the catch that would break the spell were a journey into the spirit world, or finding someone who was there when it was cast, or letting Wither cast a spell of his own, presumably using the blood of children.
  • Destroying the ritual site won’t help. Killing the witch won’t help and will probably just get the witch to release their death curse on you. Only satisfying the built-in condition will end the effect.

Armed with this information and unwilling to stimulate the blood-of-children market, the party opted to head towards the Coyote Clan’s tribal grounds in the hopes of finding someone who could tell them how to break the spell, with a batch of peyote in their back pocket as a plan B.

It didn’t take long along the ride to the tribal grounds before our heroes were menaced by a group of riders on horseback. Iron Horse proved he was stronger than a regular horse by knocking it over onto one of the riders, Gable quickly determined that they were acting under some sort of mind control, and Hardluck found a medicine bag in one of their pockets which appeared to be a focus for the effect. Lear noticed that one of the riders, a shaman, was not under the effect and attempted to sway her to her side, an effort that proved completely unnecessary as she quickly called for the heroes to aid HER in freeing the others from mind control. The riders fell under a combined assault, Hardluck removed the mind-controlling bags from each of them, and our heroes could finally learn what had happened: the new champion and Iron Horse’s former lover, Twisted Rattle, had ascended to the chieftainship of the Coyote Clan after the sudden death of Standing Elk, the prior clan chief. She had taken an advisor, who looked suspiciously like Zharra, and the shaman, Songbird, saw this advisor place the medicine bags on each of the clanspeople. Songbird herself was immune, whether because she was magically adept or because she was not a native of the Coyote Clan she was unsure, but she said that the rain of blood and the mind control would last as long as Twisted Rattle remained clan chief. Iron Horse, grim with determination, led his friends to his homeland, where the eerily silent members of his tribe met him, parted ways to allow the heroes to the clan-chief’s dwelling, where Twisted Rattle sat, apparently waiting for him to receive his challenge for chieftainship of the Coyote Clan.

Living Dead Girl

Hardluck’s grandfather, Eli Botherstone, while not willing to pursue violence to stop the group from descending to the tunnels, was also not willing, or able as it came out, to tell them anything about what they would encounter there. He did say that they would regret bringing it to light, especially given that they were working for the Merchant Prince. Our heroes took this under advisement, by which I mean they tied him up and ransacked his office for a map of the tunnels. Immediately discarding the official map they found in the top drawer of the desk, the quickly found a more complete version buried in a different pile, and Harley’s vision was able to pierce the illusion hiding the secret tunnels. Sadly, nothing was labelled ‘Secret Monster Lair’, but Gable and Lear were able to piece together which of the newly-revealed chambers didn’t make sense, and everyone decided that this was by far the most likely place of interest.

Hardluck led the way and disarmed or pointed out several traps in the tunnels, some of dwarven make and some newer, before reaching the path to the chamber. Zharra released her familar to scout the room; she returned announcing that there were several figures milling about the room, one sitting at a table reading a book, and all of them smelled terrible. There was also shouting coming from another tunnel leading in the other direction.

Hardluck, having reversed his fuschia cloak, snuck into the room with the intent of engaging what he correctly assumed to be a lich in the center of the room, only to find that she shouted in a language unfamiliar to him, and several skeletons ran to beat him about the head and torso with swords.

The jig being up, the rest of the party rushed into the room. Iron Horse and Gable leapt to the defense of a now badly wounded Hardluck, who dodged past the skeletons and hid in a nearby sarcophagus. Harley found himself going hand to hand with what must have once been an ogre before its zombification; Lear and Zharra harried the retreating lich with ice javelins and fireballs. Hardluck took this opportunity to strike at her and steal a ring from her, by the expedient of simply removing the finger it was attached to. The skeletons fell quickly to the onslaught, and Harley’s eye, possibly guided by the Trickster herself, was drawn to the zombie’s exposed carotid artery, the flesh having long since rotted away. A quick single sword stroke, and the enormous creature fell.

Hardluck put the ring on and found that he could now understand the lich perfectly, and that she not only intended them no harm but had been trying to restrain the other undead forces from doing deadly violence to the party. He returned the ring to her and she activated a spell in it to allow everyone to understand each other. Her name was Arna and she was here as a sort of combination refugee and ambassador, seeking a haven for undead who did not wish to be under the thrall of the Lich Queen, who was taking advantage of the Invoker’s hospitality to subvert the local undead to her control, something the Invoker would presumably not be pleased to learn. After convincing Iron Horse not to murder her on principle, the group agreed to take her message to the Merchant Prince and hopefully also the Invoker, in exchange for reports of anyone else trying to use the tunnels to move anyone or anything. Also, having time to investigate the map, it seemed the tunnels ran to nearly every major building in the city, something Gable duly noted for later use. The shouting had been an argument between Crag, the paladin of the Triune Goddess, and Carina and Alejandro, ostensibly of the Water and Power company but actually double agents for Coyote Clan. Arna had been removing the memories of intruders and releasing them to the surface otherwise unharmed, but the ritual was difficult and people were arriving faster than she could return them. She admitted she had done this to Duna Sparksteel, who had been investigating the site of the party’s battle with the Magician’s forces a few days prior. The party left her to her work and retraced Duna’s steps but were not able to find anything that might have explained her path down here; the granite from the subverted golems was valuable, but not immeasurably so. There was also a fair amount of residue from the squamous fiends; Hardluck took a sample on the grounds that SOMEONE might want it, naturally spilling some on his hands in the process. After seeing Crag safely to the alley where he would come to, Harley, as any true paladin of the Trickster would, spilled whiskey all over him and rifled through his pockets, coming up with nothing of particular interest except a fairly nice sketch of a certain half-elf.

The party, true to their word, proceeded to the Merchant Prince’s mansion and delivered the news about the lich in the tunnels to the Merchant Prince, who was aware, and his finacee, who was not. Aliza Longbottom was less than pleased to learn that her husband-to-be was consorting with the undead, but she seemed to take it as a matter to be discussed later. The Merchant Prince thanked them for their work and reminded them that they were to escort the High Priestess from the train station to the mansion the next day.

The group, after discussing strategy, split to engage in preparations for the next day. Gable and Lear went to the constables, where Lazgar informed them that there would be an honor guard for the Priestess, but that protecting her was not their primary objective as she had rather formidable means of handling that herself; they were there to assure the safety of the crowd should anyone attempt to harm them. The constables would be at the party’s disposal. Gable set up a code phrase and answer to ensure nobody had been compromised, as there were rumors of shapeshifting agents in the city. Hardluck went to the Shadowskins and offered them the vial of ichor as a means to probe them to see if they had been hired to menace the Priestess in any way. They had not, but had heard that many independent operators had been picked up for a job the next day near the Merchant Prince’s mansion. Hardluck was able to track one of them down, a dwarf named Grimna, who was not the brightest apple in the bushel and let slip that she had been hired on for the next day; after a bribe from Hardluck, she told him she’d been contracted by a very generic-looking man to hang out along the Priestess’s route and await further instructions, to the call sign of ‘orange sky’. She agreed to be elsewhere, possibly due to the bribe and possibly due to the fact that Hardluck was opposed to it, and while dim-witted, she was not suicidal.

Zharra reported back to Prosper, who agreed to have the casino staff on double alert, and also planned to put some imps in the air for surveillance. Harley met with Ausviir, who was in charge of security from the Temple, and convinced her to hold back a few of her people in case there was an attack there while everyone was focused on the Priestess. Iron Horse went out to look for signs of his people, and did not find an ambush prepared, but did find his cousin Mirage, who reluctantly told him that Twisted Rattle and her people were planning to accost the Priestess, but nonviolently, and begged Iron Horse not to hurt them. He made no such promise, but assured her he would do his best. After reporting in, it was agreed to send a message to the Priestess to see how she recommended handling the situation, as being forewarned could give her the chance to prepare something. Lastly, Gable sought out Azaria of the Silver Lodge seeking a way to detect shapeshifters. Azaria readily agreed; all someone would have to do was trade one of their eyes for a spider eye he just happened to have handy. After trying in vain to sell ‘totally sweet spider eye’ to virtually everyone else in the party, he agreed to have it implanted himself. Preparations exhausted, the group retreated to their rooms to rest for the next day’s task.

Cry Little Sister

Zharra’s “sister” Sara approached her in the dark alley with a deal: She could become free of her affiliation with the Magician by doing as she had done: forging an allegiance with the Weeping King. Upsides included the innate ability to pierce lies. Downsides included her soul’s consumption on her demise. After giving the matter all the consideration it deserved, Zharra politely declined, at which point Hardluck, having seen dark shapes creeping into position around the party, took the opportunity to both stab and rifle through the pockets of Sara, coming away with a small cylinder of the kind used to protect parchment.

It was, as they say, on. Several additional apparent clones of Zharra (or Sara) appeared and harried the party with blasts of dark energy. Lear was momentarily overcome with disorientation from an unknown source and an additional clone, bearing the marks of both tiefling and drow, appeared. Hardluck catapulted himself up to the rooftops and began mowing down the clones as Harley closed with Sara and Lear attacked with javelins from behind. Gable, in attempting to pick the lock on one of the alley doors, was surprised to find it open…triggering an alarm and what turned out to be a very irate were-dog of some sort who initially assumed that everyone in the alley was a threat. Gable was able to convince him otherwise after sustaining a savage claw attack, and he retreated back into his home. In the meantime, Lear and Zharra turned their attentions to two amorphous forms that assumed the shape of winged humanoids, while Harley and Iron Horse continued to attack Zharra’s clone, dropping her to the ground, at which point her consciousness appeared to transfer to one of the clones on the rooftop. Sara, realizing that the tables had turned, attempted to flee, but the party continued to attack her as she flew into the sky, and blood loss overcame her, her body plummeting down into a conveniently-positioned manhole.

After having caught their breath (and once again placated the were-dog, whose name turned out to be Geoffrey) Hardluck opened his rightfully-stolen parchment cover and attempted to read the contents. After his ears stopped ringing and he could see again, Harley took it and tried the same. He had the same effect, but out of intuition or sheer stubbornness, he was able to piece together the words and the rest of the party saw a silver light flow into his eyes as Harley heard the laughter of the Trickster in his ears. He saw Hardluck and Lear glowing with a silver nimbus, and after a bit of trial and error, the party determined that Harley could now, if temporarily, perceive lies.

There was only one thing to do: go to the Trickster and verify that she hadn’t been lying to them all this time. Her secretary Chance received them and performed some tests to give everyone confidence that Harley’s soul had not been compromised; he also let it drop that he could perceive the influence of powers beyond the world on mortals. The Trickster was happy to receive them and reiterated her (existing) plan to the party, but also mentioned that, to be truly honest, she was known for her fickleness. The fact that she meant it right then didn’t mean that she wouldn’t change her mind in an hour or two. The party also asked if they could borrow Chance for the next banquet in an attempt to flush out any double agents in their midst: she agreed on condition that they not allow him to drink or gamble.

With that squared, there was only one thing to do: take Harley gambling! Even after his agent’s fee to Hardluck he came out rather well ahead for the night and retired to his room at the Spider and Fly to sleep off his adventure, which he did until the next morning when the paladin Ausviir came knocking on his door with news: Crag, who had been professing loud and intense dislike of Harley, had been missing for two days. Ausviir had been trying to cover it up, but she was worried (a) that something bad had happened to him, and (b) that Harley might unfairly take the blame for this after all the shit-talk Crag had been doing. Harley agreed to look into it, much to Ausviir’s relief.

At about the same time, there came a rather low-positioned knock on Zharra’s door: Hardluck answered to find Sparkle, the prostitute he and Harley had saved from Crazy-8. She expressed her deep gratitude to Hardluck and begged a second favor: a place to stay since Crazy-8 was insisting to see her, and he could probably locate her if she stayed at Mother Mercy’s. Hardluck was more than willing to grant Zharra’s hospitatlity to Sparkle (call her Claire), and she set about preparing breakfast for them. Hardluck sent invitations to the rest of his friends to join them for breakfast. Most proceeded willingly, but Iron Horse interpreted the urchin’s message to him as a threat and called a strike team of Circle wizards onto Zharra’s house, damaging the door, window, and stove. They did insist on testing all people present for elder-god contagion, seemed unsurprised at Zharra’s positive result, but did look askance at Harley until he was able to talk his way out of it.

Now gathered, the group decided to investigate the disappearances of Crag and Duna, who Madame Mysterio had informed Iron Horse was last seen near the Golden Vault. A quick tour of the marketplace turned up that they were not the only people missing: two support staff from Water and Power, named Carina and Alejandro, were also missing, and also a dragonborn merchant, Chimalli. Investigation at Carina and Alejandro’s house turned up messages in a cipher Iron Horse recognized as belonging to the Coyote Clan, and also spelunking gear that had been used recently, based on the chips and dust on the handle of the pickaxe.

The party decided it was time to confront Eli Botherstone at the Golden Vault. He began by stalling for time, but eventually admitted that while he rather strongly did not want the party entering the tunnels below the casino, it was beyond his power to actually stop them, and the party bound him up and prepared to descend to the tunnels below.

Celebration of the Lizard

After Hardluck quickly delivered the Totem of the Wolf to the Shadowskins, it was time to attend the Merchant Prince’s (first) engagement party. Everyone who was anyone was there, including Gable’s girlfriend Rebekah and Asher Macavoy; the Merchant Prince was joined at the head table by the Herald of Progress himself and a representative from the Dragon Empire, the Emperor’s Champion Teuxin. After an ostentatious dinner and a boring speech hailing our heroes, it was time to mingle. Hardluck lost no time walking up to the Merchant Prince and delivering a ‘friendly message’ to him about his continued existence, but any attempt to monetize this relationship was interrupted by screams and the dissolution of several of the guards and guests into a fine red mist as the dining hall was invaded by several shouting dragonborn and a basilisk. As the Merchant Prince activated an emergency teleport for himself, his fiancee, the Herald, and the Champion (to the latter’s chagrin, it seemed) Harley leapt into action, grabbing a tablecloth and wrapping it around the basilisk’s head as it barrelled toward Hardluck. Iron Horse, spotting a set of pipes wielded by one of the dragonborn, challenged him to single combat and prevented him from commanding the beast. Lear moved to support Harley and Gable made his way to Rebekah’s side to protect her. Zharra noticed what could only have been a frost draconian making its way to the center of the room in an attempt to detonate itself, causing even more damage, and melted the creature with her fire. Hardluck was struck by the beast’s gaze and found his left arm slowly dissolving; the limb had fallen off altogether and the contagion had almost spread irreparably to his torso when Iron Horse, having dispatched his foe, blew on the pipes in a way that caused the basilisk to charge about in a frenzy, creating openings for the rest of the heroes to put it down. This also caused the gaze to cease, though Hardluck had now become a one-armed bandit.

Concern on that front was short-lived, however, as a response team of healers from the Temple, including Gratia, arrived, and were able to put everyone who was still alive back together. Hardluck’s arm was reattached and showed no signs of developing a conscience. Iron Horse’s opponent had been incapacitated but not killed; he proved unusually forthcoming and freely told everyone how they had come through a portal to a safe house in town and through the underground tunnels on the condition that he be neither put to death nor released back to the Army (who would put him to death), at which point the constables took him away for further questioning. All told, eleven had been killed, but the number would have been much higher without intervention. Our heroes made their way to the Merchant Prince’s mansion, correctly assuming that would be the location of his panic room. They were allowed in after reporting that the basilisk had been slain; the Prince concluded that the Army of Io was attempting to create the impression (and possibly the reality) that Vegas was not a safe place, draining the wealth that was the Prince’s source of power. The Prince officially hired our heroes as security consultants for the rest of the week; he was convinced that there would be other attacks. Having the ear of the Herald of Progress, Gable tried to sell him on an adaption of his communication technology to a large billboard which could display moving pictures to the entire city. The Herald was unimpressed by the financial arguments but conceded the value to public safety of such a device in an emergency; he agreed to ask Duna Sparksteel to look into it.

Our heroes next turned their attention to the matter of the safehouse and tunnels. They first cleared the tunnels of other Army agents, then sent for Azaria, the wizard of the Silver Lodge, who agreed to open the portal in reverse (and set up a few nasty tricks later on) for the sheer pleasure of thwarting allies of the Magician. Several of the heroes went through the portal to an equally hot but much more humid climate; an open-air storage facility with rations and weapons, surrounded by stone ziggurats, as well as statuary depicting snake-bodied creatures worshipping a conjoined pair of dragons. Gable remembered them as a species known as the yuan-ti which had reportedly gone extinct several thousand years ago, though the statues were newer than that and the yuan-ti historically worshipped a god named Zehir, not Io. In the absence of any living yuan-ti (or dragonborn) they grabbed a few plant samples and returned with the conclusion that the Army of Io had bases far to the south of Aztlan.

The Gable and Zharra show was even more packed than it had been the last night, and Gable continued his tradition of incorportating current events into his act with a replica basilisk which proved very popular. After the show, he was confronted by a jealous Astarte, and chose for once not to ignore her thinly veiled threats; temporarily cowed, she backed off for the night.

Our heroes opted to head off for a nightcap before going their separate ways, and making their way down a dark alley they were confronted by a dark figure ahead of them and about twenty feet in the air, slowly lowering itself to the ground and walking towards them. Gradually, they could make out the familiar-but-not-familiar face of another of Zharra’s clone-sisters, but this one’s neck stood at a painful angle. Silver tears streamed from both eyes as she came to greet her sister.

Do You Want To Know A Secret?

It became time to plan the heist of the double-crossbow. Hardluck, having been informed that his story checked out and the Shadowskins would receive him, went alone to the gang’s hideout, where the leader, Stiletto, directed him to his mother, Blue Alice. Hardluck put aside his trepidations as Alice led him to a heavily-secured room with wards and sigils on the doorway, walls, and floor, and was rewarded with the chance to ask three questions of the writhing, fleshy mass Alice summoned from another plane. The being answered truthfully but unwillingly, telling Hardluck the hour the Temple would be unguarded and the nature of the defenses against unwanted intrusion, but opting to suggest burning the Temple to the ground to prevent pursuit, which, while true, was not useful. Alice made a point of emphasizing the extent of her power and her dislike of betrayal while escorting Hardluck back out of the room, which he took with the seriousness we have become accustomed to from him. Hardluck also asked Stiletto if he could cut him in on the heist, and Stiletto requested a totem wielded by the Wolf when she was a woman; most of the objects in the vault were too high-profile to be fenced, but there were factions in the Coyote Clan who would trade generously for an artifact they felt was held unrightfully.

Hardluck quickly collected Lear and returned to Mother Mercy’s to betray the Shadowskins’ secret as previously promised. Mother Mercy was a woman of her word, and in exchange for the Shadowskins’ secret, allowed her favorite Evony to tell Lear and Hardluck of the depravities Asher Macavoy had requested from her. Unfortunately, she had nothing in the way of incontrovertible proof, and she had also learned that Macavoy was blackmailing the Merchant Prince and had developed some sort of dead man’s switch somewhere to prevent the Merchant Prince from simply murdering him. Mother Mercy also let drop that she was aware of Lear and the other druids’ nature, and that she was no fan of slavery; while not an especially moral person, she felt slavery was not profitable as slaves will go to great lengths to become free, and in addition tempting the Priestess’s wrath on the subject was most certainly a dangerous bet. She and Evony would be willing to help entrap Macavoy, for the right consideration.

Our heroes then took the information provided by the Shadowskins and hatched a plan. Harley and Hardluck, having visibly cased the joint, would establish an alibi while Gable, Lear, and Iron Horse performed the actual job. Harley and Hardluck became visibly drunk in the company of a gnome named Tremble, in the hopes that casual passers-by would mistake him for Gable (Lear and Iron Horse being far too distinctive). The rest of the party infiltrated according to Hardluck’s plans, shimmying up a rope to the roof then sneaking through a secret passage to the vault doors. Lear recited the prayer to the Triune Goddess and found herself unexpectedly face-to-face with the three aspects Herself. It seemed the goddess, having traveled with the Trickster in Her mortal lives, kept tabs on her, and was unsurprised that she was attempted to retrieve the crossbow. She reasoned that if Lear was blocked from taking the crossbow, the Trickster would probably just take it herself, further weakening reality, and that it was in Her best interest to let Lear have it. Lear also asked the Wolf what Her feelings on her totem were, and She replied with complete indifference, as it was merely an object, so Lear felt free to take it as well.

The heist achieved, the companions returned to daily life, Gable and Zharra performing their act in their new, later timeslot to a packed audience and all of the companions being heralded as heroes of the city for identifying the culprits. Some of our friends took to this attention more willingly than others. Gable was greeted by the unexpected surprise of his love Rebekah, who had somehow connived her father into allowing her to become his stage manager. She had big plans for Gable’s success, many of which involved the utter destruction of his ‘competition’, a fact that did not go unnoticed by the Hellfire Revue’s headliner, the devil Astarte.

Later that night everyone delivered the crossbow to the Spider and Fly and were rewarded for the first time with the presence of the Trickster in the flesh. She thanked them for the crossbow and revealed her plan, such as it was: the crossbow could switch the minds of the two beings its bolts struck. She intended to use it to weaken the Magician by transferring her mind into the body of, on Gable’s suggestion, a goat. Presumably both the goat-Magician and the Magician-goat could then be defeated with relative ease. The Trickster assured her proteges that she would protect the crossbow until it was needed, and suggested they carry on with their lives for the time being.

With that in mind, the crew found themselves invited to the Merchant Prince’s engagement banquet as honored guests and heroes of the city. Hardluck at the least had definite plans for the receiving line…

We Didn't Start the Fire

Our friends reported to Azaria’s unassuming room at the Bright Tomorrow to allow him to proceed with the magical ‘scanning’ of Zharra. She was enveloped in a pillar of lavender light with strange shapes swimming through it, but emerged unharmed. Azaria provided the party with several pieces of not-immediately useful information: 1) Zharra’s power as a sorcerer was derived directly from the Magician herself; the fact that she could wield it directly was most like the reason the bond between her and the Magician was stronger than any of her ‘sisters’ shared, and thus probably the reason she was most favored for eventual possession. 2) Zharra’s ‘fire’ was not in fact elemental fire but a reality-warping energy that mortal minds (and indeed inert matter) perceived as fire as a defense mechanism. 3) Zharra’s blood contained a magical signature similar to her ‘sister’ in the far north, which was probably an effective tracking mechanism. It was unlikely that any of Zharra’s doubles could truly hide from her. Azaria also admitted that he had a similar bond with a different Great Old One, in an attempt to “fight tentacles with tentacles”, but declined to reveal which one. He promised he would be in touch if the Silver Lodge learned anything of practical use; the possibility of using the bond between Zharra and the Magician as a magical focus to influence the Magician was raised but remained at this point conjecture. He also warned Zharra that if the Lodge found a way to use her to destroy or neutralize the Magician, they might not necessarily be held up by trivial matters like her consent.

With this new information in hand, the party turned to the next order of business: the night’s meeting with the dragonborn Quauhtli, a merchant who travelled the road between Aztlan and Vegas. Harley and Hardluck took Zharra to purchase less conspicuous clothes and ended up at a second-hand shop where several of Mother Mercy’s prostitutes were in the fitting rooms, loudly venting their frustrations about one of their number, Evony, who had recently come into Mother Mercy’s favor due to ‘the business with Macavoy’. Hardluck’s ears pricked up at the mention of Lear’s least favorite person in the universe, and he assumed the guise of a shop clerk to try and milk them for more information. It turned out that Evony had been spending quite a bit of time in Asher Macavoy’s office and was always called in to spend private time with Mother Mercy after she returned. Hardluck and the others reached the natural conclusion that Evony was spying on Macavoy for Mother Mercy, a fact Lear was later able to confirm matched with the story she had heard from Madeleine MacGillicudy.

While Lear tried to plumb her host’s memories of sorcerous theory to better understand the bond between Zharra and the Magician, largely without success, Iron Horse and Gable went to the workshop of Duna Sparksteel for Iron Horse’s weekly tune-up to find Ms. Sparksteel uncharacteristically absent. Gable attempted to break in but realized he was outmatched by the lock and called in the big guns in the form of Hardluck, who was able to pick the lock over the protests of his ‘conscience’. The party searched the house and found no sign of a struggle, but that two of the prosthetic hands Sparksteel habitually wore were missing: a hand used to pick locks and one that produced a small, localized electric charge. Iron Horse was concerned and so they bagged up one of the other hands to take to Bette. Bette scried on the hand but declined to reveal the whereabouts of Duna, stating that she was in no physical danger and that she would say more if Duna failed to return the next day, but that otherwise her principles forbade her to invade Duna’s privacy.

Hardluck and Lear proceeded to Mother Mercy’s house, where they arranged a meeting with Evony, but as it quickly became clear they were interested in dealing in information, Evony set off a silent alarm which summoned Mother Mercy herself to do the negotiating. Mother Mercy openly admitted that Evony had been spying on Macavoy and had been looking for the right buyer. She proposed a trade of information: she would give Lear and Hardluck everything she knew on the subject in exchange for the secret of how the Shadowskins, a local gang of smugglers and burglars, managed to always be in the right place at the right time. Disrupting this mechanism was not required, and perhaps not even preferable; only the information was important. Hardluck and Lear agreed to look into this and went on their way.

Hardluck, having several connections within the Shadowskins, went to see their fence, Squinty, and made out as though he had information on a job that he needed confirmed. Squinty naturally stated that the Shadowskins would prefer to be cut in, but Hardluck, knowing the rumors that the Shadowskins and the Merchant Prince had an arrangement, bluffed his way into pretending that he was closer to the Merchant Prince than he perhaps was, and Squinty agreed to see if his boss, Stiletto, would give him access to their information source.

Hardluck also stopped into Prosper’s office to seek employment as waitstaff at the Merchant Prince’s engagement banquet in three days; although the engagement was not officially announced, preparations were underway for a week of festivities throughout the city. Prosper was perhaps a little suspicious why Hardluck would want to serve drinks to rich people, but was hard up enough for workers that he agreed.

The time drew near for the meeting with Quauhtli. Lear led the party through the patrolled areas near the gate to a cave, where she stoold guard. The rest of the party positioned themselves inside the cave and waited for the merchant to arrive. Two dragonborn, one more ostentatiously dressed than the other, arrived, and it quickly became clear that they had no idea who Zharra was or why they were called there. After a brief, tense standoff, once it became clear that neither party was interested in hostilities, the real Quauhtli emerged from one of the deeper passageways of the cave. Quauhtli insisted that he had no interest in burning Vegas down as it was a very profitable for him, but admitted to being a member of the Army of Io, smuggling chillglobes into the city in exchange for cash, currency being hard for the Army to come by. Quauhtli suspected his superior, Graxus, of having set him up to take the fall. The party agreed to try to find his agent, although after leaving, also considered turning Quauhtli in himself, the Army of Io being known saboteurs and terrorists.

The party split for the night, and everyone slept peacefully except Harley, who dreamed of the painted desert landscape and his spirit guide, Sedona. He began playing fetch with the puppy and telling her the events of the past days when the Trickster appeared behind him, thanked him for the cactus fruit, and told him she had another job, suggesting he and his friends meet her at the Spider and Fly that afternoon.

First thing the next morning, our heroes gathered in Prosper’s office to pin the blame on the Army of Io. Prosper accepted this as an expected outcome, paid the party their wages, and offered an additional 200 gold per person bounty if the agents themselves could be apprehended. Full of pride in a job well done, they then proceeded to Duna Sparksteel’s workshop, where the tinker was hard at work. After bringing Duna to Madame Mysterio for analysis, it quickly became clear that Duna had had false memories implanted in her for the last twenty or so hours. Furthermore, she was distinctly less concerned about this fact that she should have been. This was a matter of some concern, but as she was unharmed physically, the party left her in the hands of Madame Mysterio to try to determine what exactly may have happened.

Harley and company proceeded to the Spider and Fly to meet with the Trickster, only to find a note on her door that only Harley could read, apologizing for her absence and directing them to ‘retrieve’ a magical artifact, a double-bolted hand crossbow, from the vault at the High Temple of the Triune God.

Hardluck, meanwhile, inspired by seeing Madame Mysterio inside Duna’s head, went to see if she could tell him what was really happening with the voice telling him to behave. She took one look and then began laughing; it seemed that while the healer Gratia had in fact removed a twisted spawn of the Magician from Hardluck’s brain, she had filled the space with an artificial conscience. It was half corrective mechanism, half practical joke, though Hardluck was not amused. He, guided (and a bit restrained) by Harley, sought forgiveness from Lazgar, and Gratia restored him to his former self.

Now freed of all compunction in matters Priestess, Harley and Hardluck availed themselves of the services of the paladin Ausviir, who seemed to have a crush on Harley and guided them on a full tour of the temple, including the vault itself. Before entering the vault, she pulled out a small green stone on a chain around her neck and prayed briefly; she explained that the wards on the doors would only relax for someone who truly intended to open them for a purpose that would increase Good. Inside was the crossbow, as well as several other artifacts of the Dragon Crisis, including a hat of disguise worn by the Trickster herself. Hardluck and Harley opted NOT to beat Ausviir about the head and make off with the crossbow immediately, but Hardluck was able to locate a secret passageway that led from the sleeping quarters to directly outside the vault, and armed with this knowledge, they returned to their friends to plan their next moves.

Family trees

We left our heroes in the middle of a drug-addled dream, having been confronted by a figure Iron Horse identified as Coyote and the rest of the party recognized as the Trickster. After pulling Lear into the dreaming by temporarily ‘stealing’ her elemental nature, she explained in a manner which could only be described as ‘addled’ that she had recruited each of them to help counteract plans of the Magician which she may possibly have been inadvertently responsible for through frivolous use of her special abilities. These plans, it seems, were to be set in motion by a theoretical discovery by the Silver Lodge. She declared herself to be a ‘hands-off’ type of patron, and in fact offered relatively little specific advice on how to handle this, short of clearing Lear of her indenture and finding a way to thwart the Magician’s plan to possess Zharra or one of her doubles. She also mentioned desiring three hearts of funeral cactus, conveniently available at the oasis our protagonists would have to refill their canteens at due to an unfortunate loss-of-consciousness incident, and then sent them on their merry way.

Our heroes managed to retrieve the hearts of funeral cactus heart with relative ease, even the largeish one from a dragon corpse which had been overgrown. Upon returning to Vegas proper, they delivered three of the hearts (including one which had grown around Iron Horse’s grandfather) to the Trickster’s suite at the Spider and Fly. The Trickster was not currently in residence, so the party deposited the hearts with her secretary, a human named Chance and went to discuss their options.

After fielding several suggestions from the party as to how Lear might be released from her indenture, she realized she would have to explain her true nature. She led them out into the desert and told them that while her body was that of a drow sorceress, she was in fact a water elemental who had been pulled through the Gate during its stabilization ritual and was in some way necessary to its maintenance. She had, for survival, inhabited the nearest available body. This seemed to botch some of the party’s plans on the subject, but as her physical proximity to the Gate did not seem necessary (she had been wandering Las Vegas for a couple days and it had not collapsed), the party decided merely to try to bribe her supervisor to not report her absence for some time.

This was accomplished in relatively short order, as Hardluck impersonated an agent of the Merchant Prince and managed to secure the silence of Crazy-8, a halfling ‘druid’ with the same nature as Lear, in exchange for agreeing to ‘send a message’ to a prostitute at Mother Mercy’s named Sparkle. Hardluck agreed despite having no intention of doing any such thing, and went to see his ‘contact’ at the brothel, who turned out to be his mother. Some money changed hands, Delilah Botherstone agreed to pretend that Sparkle had met with an accident for a few days, and Lear was released on her own recognizance, at least temporarily.

Gable returned to his apartment to see Sorrow, but found that she had skipped town (after somehow burning a hole through his frying pan); in gratitude for (a) alerting her to the fact that many people wanted to kill her and (b) not being some of those people, she had set up the meeting with Quauahtli as requested for the next evening. Gable decided to take some time to investigate the Silver Lodge. As luck would have it, his contact in the Circle, Madame Mysterio (aka Dierdre) had heard that a member of the Silver Lodge, a tiefling named Azaria, was snooping around the Bright Tomorrow. She provided Gable with a sigil the Circle had noted as associated with the Silver Lodge, and he quickly drew it on his arm. She also mentioned in passing that the tunnels to the Golden Vault had were already sealed when the Herald’s demolition crew arrived to do the job, and dropped in passing that the head of the Invoker’s excavation staff was also a Botherstone.

Hardluck decided to pay this new Botherstone a visit, primarily to make sure that nothing had happened to the miners. He was received about as warmly as seemed to be typical for the clan (which is to say, not much), and was bored with the conversation until Hardluck said the phrase ‘clearing the vermin out of the tunnels’, at which point his body language shut down completely and he provided Hardluck with a surprisingly large bribe not to say anything about what had happened. The party filed this under ‘deeply suspicious things we don’t have time for now’ and went to meet the Silver Lodge.

Despite their best efforts to act casual, it seemed that Azaria knew at least Gable Clifton and Zharra by name, and seemed well aware of what had transpired in the tunnels. He offered a deal of knowledge for knowledge: in exchange for allowing him to study Zharra, in full view of anyone they cared to have present, he would share that knowledge with the party and possibly further assistance, and would also put Zharra in contact with her ‘sister’, Sara, who was currently in the northern wastelands. It seemed that Zharra was the best candidate for the Magician’s purposes, and hopefully taking a set of differential readings might explain why Zharra was better suited than Sara, and possibly help neutralize all five duplicates’ uses to the Magician. We left the party prepared for a series of magical engagements, and then a meeting with a dragonborn trader.

Everybody's Gotta Learn Sometime

Hardluck awoke on a stone slab that wasn’t in a jail cell for once, with four figures hovering over him. Two were familiar to him: the beat guards Laszlo and Skippy, and two were not: a human cleric who did not introduce himself, and a creature of a race he did not recognize (tall and rocklike), who introduced herself simply as Gratia. Gratia informed Hardluck that he was at the Temple of the Triune and that she had removed a small spore from his brain that had most likely been planted there by Ulrica Starcaller. She was almost completely certain that he would, therefore, not be taken over and eventually transformed into a horrible being of a kind that man’s nature cannot comprehend. She also offered him the presumably-inert spore as a keepsake, which Hardluck politely declined. Laszlo and Skippy did not detain him, and in fact informed him that Deputy Chief Lazgar had been quite insistent that he be brought to the healers immediately on hearing of his predicament. Hardluck took the opportunity to slip out before they changed their mind.

After the combat and conversation with Sorrow, the rest of our heroes retreated to their separate apartments for the night. Sorrow went with Gable to his place, where she promptly barricaded herself in the bedroom after removing everything that might be flammable, which proved to be…everything. Hardluck tried to track his friends to Gluurug to find out what had happened, but neglected to bank on a rather sizable debt he still owed to the orc, and instead retreated to Zharra’s. Zharra was less than pleased to see Hardluck enter through the cat door, but quickly brought him up to speed on the situation. Hardluck then departed to spend the rest of the night in drunken dissolution, as was his wont.

Everyone slept well except Zharra, who was woken in the middle of the night by her distraught familiar, who sensed something bad on the figurative horizon, somehow related to the Magician. Unable to sleep after that warning but unsure how else to proceed, she dressed and paced the room until sunrise, when messengers found her and, separately, the other party members, asking them to gather at the Hellfire Club.

Upon arriving at Prosper’s office, they found an impressive, and in some ways frightening, group in attendance: Saerzra and Gianna, managers of the two rival casinos, and representatives of the Circle and the Herald. This last, a Reborn halfling named Lazarus Coppermein, appeared to be in charge; he informed the party that word of the possible incursion in the tunnels below the Golden Vault had reached him, presumably through Iron Horse via the devas. He asked the party to accompany him into the tunnels to stop the operation, and, to their suspicion, not to inform the Merchant Prince, the Water and Power Company, or the Constables of the operation. This was not universally well-received, but they did agree.

Gable was able to analyze the map and find a surface entrance that did not require entry to the Golden Vault itself; the Invoker’s people being unlikely to look kindly on this. Once inside, he and Harley navigated to the marked position on the map, while Iron Horse tracked their progress in case a hasty retreat was needed.

It did not take long to arrive at the source of the disturbance; several dwarven automata guarding what could only be described as a squamous drill, burrowing through the rock by secreting a powerful acid that also produced noxious vapors. Zharra and Hardluck destroyed several smaller versions of the drill while Harley, Iron Horse, and Coppermein attacked the automata.

It was then that a familiar voice called from the other end of the tunnel. Yet another Zharra-duplicate appeared, calling herself Zora Calderón, and began a monologue describe the torture and torment that she had inflicted on others to find them, and also of the particular horror that she claimed awaited Zharra: her body was to become the new host for the Magician as her old one failed. Her words were more than pompous posturing; they twisted inside the party’s heads, filling them with horror and dread, though Harley quickly put a stop to that by striking at her, only to watch her fade out; she had never been there at all. Hardluck performed a quick negotiation with her rather more solid orcish guards and convinced them to walk away, while Gable and Lear put the drill and the rest of the automata out of commission.

The fight, while brutal, was over quickly, and Coppermein praised them, offering each the reward they had requested: sacks of gold for Hardluck, Zharra, and Harley, an improved position within the revue for Gable, increased status for Duna Sparksteel as requested by Iron Horse, and…nothing, yet, for Lear, but the promise of assistance in the fall of Asher Macavoy.

(Speaking of Macavoy, Madeleine MacGillicudy sent a message to Lear announcing that while she was rifling through his papers, she came across the strong scent of a perfume she knew to be worn by his ‘mistress’, a prostitute named Evony who worked for Mother Mercy.)

The party decided to quickly return to Gable’s rooms to make sure Sorrow was safe, and found her unmolested, though the smoke smell from her attempt at breakfast would probably not clear out for some time. She was less than pleased to learn about Zora and her possible fate, but agreed to bundle up for the trip to Bette to see if, now that they knew what to look for, she could locate the others of their kind.

Bette was willing to offer assistance, and announced the presence of five individuals besides Zharra and Sorrow: one in the nearby mountains (presumed by the party to be Zora, at the Magician’s tower), one to the south, somewhere in the Dragon Empire, and one far to the north, where there were no large settlements to speak of. Since none of the others were in any position to be contact easily, the party dropped Sorrow off again at Gable’s and went to discuss developments and next steps.

Iron Horse had a proposal. It was customary among his people for individuals who shared a purpose to bind themselves into a group through the use of ritual and certain drugs. He sent Hardluck to acquire the drugs, who agreed. While the salesman’s back was turned, he attempted to pilfer a small packet of dreaming grass, but was troubled, for perhaps the first time in his life, by a twinge of conscience, that was so strong that fighting against it left him slightly but noticeably physically weakened. Everyone but Lear, who for reasons undisclosed claimed to be unable to participate, agreed to take part in the ritual. Lear accompanied them into the desert late at night to stand guard, and the others smoked from a communal pipe and slowly drifted out of consciousness….

…only to awaken in a strange place, with geography similar to the desert they had come from, but at midday, and filled with bright, almost garish color. As Iron Horse had predicted, spirit guides approached them; a dark crow perched on Hardluck’s shoulder, a sandy-colored dog trotted up to Harley, and a beautful tropical fish that could have been mistaken for yellow and blue jewels swam through the air to Gable. Zharra was not approached by a guide, but her cat familiar accompanied her to this place, and just as everyone was about to ask Iron Horse about his spirit guide, the sillhouette of a woman came over a small dune, sun at her back. As our heroes’ eyes adjusted to the light, they came to recognize one of the most famous women in the world; the hero of Jackson’s Fall, the only person to walk out of the Rift alive at the end of the Dragon Crisis, Jelenneth van der Graff, known better to the world as the Trickster.

Bette Deva's Eyes

Six or eight hours before Hardluck paid a visit to Isidora Rose, Gable Clifton awakened from a long night of illness covered in unpleasant bodily fluids for what would be the first time that day. He dressed and decided to find Zharra to see how she had managed the show in his absence, only to find the Hellfire Club suffering from smoke damage and undergoing minor structural repairs. After noting a broken-out window on the third floor he could use to sneak past security to Rebekah’s tower, he went inside and learned from Prosper about the events of the night prior. After learning his partner was both a hero of the working class and a prime suspect in an arson, he went to search for her and eventually learned she had gone to the Spider and Fly. Along the way, he was stopped by an old acquaintance from the Circle named Juniper, who informed him, as a favor to a friend, that Zharra had been seen in the company of Gluurug, the orc who runs the Broken Skulls and who is generally assumed to be bad news.

Meanwhile, at the Spider and Fly, Hardluck had gone upstairs for his interview with Isidora Rose, tailed surreptitiously by Lear, Harley, and Zharra, Iron Horse having opted to remain in the bar. Not having decided on a signal ahead of time, they decided to just wait until Hardluck screamed, which was not long in coming. Harley broke down the door to find Hardluck on the ground, ashy gray and not visibly breathing, while Isidora stood over him with a wand pointed at his head and several formless monstrosities emerged from gates to unknown dimensions. Fortunately, Gable arrived at the Spider and Fly nearly simultaneously, and was able to both urge Iron Horse into action and charm the weapons-check into returning his hammer. Our heroes responded to the crisis as would be expected (with swords, fire, and a fair bit of nervous shouting) until Harley struck the acolyte of the Magician down with a mighty blow. The earth began to rumble, and another portal opened, huge tentacles emerging to pull a screaming Isidora through, leaving only her wand behind. This was promptly claimed by Zharra.

Iron Horse searched the cabinets of the room and located the Eyes of the Deva Bette had reported stolen; Gable and Harley relieved the room of its more mundane goods (175 gold worth of fancy women’s clothing and jewelry, as well as a bundle of ciphered messages). Gable also had the good sense to pat Hardluck down for any stolen goods and retrieved the jade bracelet off of him just before the constables arrived. They initially wanted to take everyone present in for questioning, as they were armed in the middle of a hotel room none of them had rented, the customer was nowhere to be seen, and the room was more or less carpeted with still-twitching tentacles and ichor. Lear headed this off at the pass by requesting the presence of Saerzra, the general manager of the Spider and Fly who was shocked—shocked! to find that there was summoning going on in there. However, she insisted that she was responsible for the Spider and Fly and did not request assistance from the constables, and they were forced to leave without inquiring further. They did take the unconscious Hardluck with them, promising to deliver him to the Temple of the Triune for examination.

The group retreated to the Lucky 13 to shower and debrief. Zharra showed a heretofore undemonstrated talent with ciphers and decoded the messages; they showed that Isidora Rose’s true name was Ulrica Starcaller and that she was sent to get access to either the Gate itself or the ley lines near it. Also in the packet was a map of tunnels the dwarves of the Golden Vault had apparently dug before being driven out of the city; one point on them in particular was marked with the sign of the Magician.

Concerned about this, and hoping for more insight, Iron Horse and his companions returned the Eyes of the Deva to Bette, who gratefully agreed to perform such scrying magics as the party needed. She was quick to explain that she was not a true diviner, and that seeing the future was a very rare talent. Her skill was best described as object reading; she could see the past of a physical thing or person she was touching. The bag of gravel retrieved from the stage at the Hellfire Club was indeed once a set of ritual stones designed to perform elemental summoning. These objects require talent to create but not to use. Troublingly, the Hellfire Club’s magical security checkpoints should have detected these, but apparently did not. When asked who had set the stones, Bette initially said that Zharra did, but after having her step out of the room, she admitted that she felt two presences in the city who were both the person who set it, and possibly others much further away.

The jade bracelet made Bette rather uncomfortable to hold, as Asher Macavoy was a rather unpleasant person. She was, however, able to determine that the bracelet, while now completely inert, had once had been enchanted to provide a scrying connection (ordinarily, to scry on someone, you must have physically touched them in the last year), and that Hardluck in some way had been the first person to touch it who met the requirements of the ritual and discharged it, meaning that someone was now capable of scrying on Hardluck, though the party agreed that it was unlikely he was the intended target.

Bette was able to locate the source of the second person who set the ritual stones in the direction of the slums, and Gable suggested they go visit Gluurug, having Zharra impersonate her ‘evil twin’. Zharra’s familiar was able to scout the way to Gluurug’s center of power, but Gable and Lear were unable to move stealthily enough to avoid attention, and the group was swarmed from above by Broken Skulls, included a mysteriously robed figure. The orcs of the gang immediately laid into Zharra, knocking her about grievously. Iron Horse was able to cause the archers on one of the rooftops to lose their balance by bashing his tools-of-man-destroying hammer into the wall of the building. Gable quickly mounted the rooftop and struck at the woman on the roof, whose hood fell back to reveal…a woman identical to Zharra. This woman pointed at Zharra and indignantly demanded to know why she was being impersonated.

Gable was able to negotiate a truce long enough for this woman, identifying herself as Sorrow Kildare, and them to agree to retreat to more neutral territory for discussion. Sorrow admitted to having set the traps but claimed to have had no knowledge of Zharra’s existence before the job. She was unhappy and fearful, assuming that she had been in some way set up. Sorrow shared some of her history, growing up poor in Alki and now ‘unwelcome’ there for reasons she preferred not to describe fully. Both she and Zharra agreed that, barring some sort of memory-altering magic, they did not in fact grow up together. Sorrow shared Zharra’s facility with (and love for) fire, but instead of manipulating it sorcerously, she preferred alchemical concoctions. Gable managed to convince her that he (and his friends) would be her best hope of protection, since they all shared the goal of discovering what had happened. Sorrow told the party that she was hired to do the job by a dragonborn caravan master named Quauahtli, who travelled from Tenochtitlan to Vegas, delivering goods to the settlements in between. She agreed to try to set up a meeting with him in a few days’ time, at a cave near the Gate Lear remembered. Gable took Sorrow back to his apartment and asked her to stay put for the time being.

The party split for the night. Iron Horse reported the threat posed by the Magician to Duna Sparksteel, who agreed to pass the information on to the Herald. Lear went back to the Water and Power Company and asked her night-shift security counterpart, Iannos, to steer clear of the cave for a couple days, for private reasons. She also showed him the tunnel plans, and he too agreed that this was a serious matter.

Harley took himself out for dinner, and had a pitcher of water dumped on him by a socially (and physically) awkward half-elven paladin of the Triune named Ausviir; she expressed excitement at meeting the famed ‘Paladin of the Trickster’. This fame came as somewhat of a surprise to Harley, but Ausviir told him that all of the paladins at the Temple knew who he was. While she just thought he was interesting, at least one of the others, named Crag, felt he was a mockery of the years of preparation and restrictive vows he and his fellow paladins ordinarily have to make. Harley expressed that he had never really taken the paladin thing very seriously, which seemed to satisfy Ausviir. He and the rest of the party then retired to their respective apartments for a sound night’s sleep.


I'm sorry, but we no longer support this web browser. Please upgrade your browser or install Chrome or Firefox to enjoy the full functionality of this site.