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…