Waypoint RPG

Alpha Session 14
DRONEZZZZZZZZZZ

Character catch up time!

  • Fi has never been to a place like this before: either a higher education institution, nor a place full of cats. She’s therefore a little intimidated by it all, but nonetheless fascinated by her surroundings despite feeling out of place.
  • Roe likes animals and so is enjoying being around this many cats, is also impressed by the weird architecture, and is nervous about meeting the professor so she can ask about star maps, the horseman, and all that jazz. She’s used to rolling with weird situations by now, and this is certainly not the weirdest she’s encountered with this group, but is anxious to get some answers about things.
  • Serra is more experienced with the university setting than the rest of the group, but is not particularly conscious of being in a collegiate environment; she’s still thinking of it more like a weird building than a familiar milieu. Given recent events with her apparently being overtaken by the god of the swamp and the emergence of new powers, she’s hoping somebody here can help her understand why she’s suddenly being compelled to do weird things. 

Now, back to our regularly scheduled programming…

The group enter the offices of Professor Joachim Bachman, who is a cat. After being bid to enter, they push open the heavy door — which is not quite cat-sized, but not quite humanoid-sized, either — and crouch to do so. The room is large, but cluttered, with the same impossible architecture they’ve seen in the rest of the university. There are bookcases that span the length of two walls, and then continue across the ceiling, without any of the volumes falling out onto their heads. In the middle of the room is a large stone table covered in lab equipment, bunsen burners and such, and a complicated network of glass pipes feeding into any number of conical flasks and test tubes. At the wall furthest from them is a glass cabinet full of specimens. Protruding from the wall next to the door is a brass spiral staircase leading to a skylight on the opposite wall. 

From halfway up one of the bookcases, the professor welcomes them, but is surprised: he didn’t have any appointments scheduled, but asks how he can help. Serra is requesting information on the elf poachers, who appear to be in the professor’s employ, and says they were sent by the orc revolutionaries of Belbury. He nods his assent, yes, he knows them, and asks how they’re doing. Roe says they’re fine, “they’re alive…or they were when we last saw them.” Professor Bachman is less concerned with the strange wording of her answer than the unconscious elves Rurron is carrying. Roe waves them off as “collateral damage” and apologises for bringing them. She then asks instead if he can help the group with identifying the importance of the star maps.

The professor explains that maps are not his area of expertise. His focus of study is on parabiology and exotic flora and fauna, but Dean Hustvedt has some knowledge of cartography along with being a historian of the Chord du Vide. He reiterates that, despite Roe brushing the question of, he really does need to know what the deal with the elves is. It becomes clear that neither the elves nor the professor have ever met in person before, and so don’t recognise each other by sight. Serra sets the record straight and asks if he knew that the spores he had them collecting was, in fact, sentient. The gravity of that information, on an ethical level, doesn’t seem to phase him. Instead Professor Bachman is simply fascinated by the new information; he knew it was sentient, but it taking a human form is new to him.

He asks the group if they are adventurers, and if so, have they witnessed any similarly peculiar phenomena during their journeys? Fi is cagey, admits that they’ve seen “some.” Serra gestures to the skull she’s holding. Roe looks at Rurron. Serra explains the origins of the skull, found in the swamps outside Lynpythgow, which the professor finds very interesting. As they talk, Serra sees a vision of a snake slithering across the lab table, but when she cranes her neck for a better look it has disappeared…

When Roe changes the subject back to Dean Hustvedt, Professor Bachman again apologies that he can’t help with the map thing, and that the dean is currently on his lunchbreak but the group are free to hang out in his lab or explore the rest of the university before going to meet him in his offices across the atrium. Serra suggests that he might consider a less invasive form of research in the future, since the work he had the elves doing seemed to be actively damaging the mould; he agrees, insisting he has no interest in harming these interesting flora and fauna, he just wants to study them.

Roe asks if he’s ever been to Barent, which he doesn’t appear to have heard of. He says he doesn’t leave the university at all, really, and she’s unsurprised that he doesn’t get out much. She tells him about the worms the group tangled with there, drawing a crude diagram of one on a chalkboard set up at the side of the table. Roe also mentions the existence of Inu, but doesn’t divulge any further information about its “physiology” apart from “it was a big dog.” As he presses her for more information, saying that he’s seen all sorts of things, he begins listing some of the specimens he’s come across. 

Fi perks up when he mentions twig people, and confirms the group came across such a thing in Barent, too. He says he has never actually seen one himself, much less studied one, but has heard stories. Roe asks Serra if they might give the professor some of the remaining Rowan seeds, but she’s not convinced by his research ethics. He tries to reassure her, partly by insisting that the twig people aren’t sentient in the same way as Osti. Instead, they’re a form of homunculi (a concept Serra is familiar with from fiction, but not real life) that are created and controlled by some sort of master, perhaps a wizard or mage of some sort. He asks if they communicated with the one they met, which she confirms. 

Serra suggests a deal: if Professor Bachman will meet with Osti, realise that he has been harming things in his research — however unwillingly or unknowingly, she is not entirely convinced — and commit to doing any further studies in good faith, she will agree to handing over some seeds. The professor agrees, but asks if they might do it in the morning the following day, as he has classes to teach that afternoon and a dinner to go to in the evening? Serra agrees, and Professor Bachman rushes off to his next class, but again insists that the group feel free to make use of his lab, recommending the view from the skylight.

Left alone in the professor’s office, Serra begins examining the lab equipment, Lissie takes a look at the display case, and Rurron sets down the two unconscious elves by the door. Fi and Roe take the professor’s advice, and clamber up the sideways spiral stairs. The ranger sees from the window that the university’s impossible architecture is reflected on the outside too, with spires and walls jutting out at all angles. She also sees two drones, of the sort Serra encountered last time, flying right at her! She and Fi manage to duck in time, avoiding the mechanical flying machines. They smash through the glass, which hangs in mid-air for a moment as if it’s not sure where it’s supposed to fall, and then begin to double back to attack Fi and Roe again. 

Roe slides down the staircase bannister and fires an arrow at the closest drone before it has chance to turn around, confused by the weird gravity. It embeds itself in the back of the drone, but doesn’t appear to have much of an effect. She sees that there is a metal tube protruding from underneath the drone, where the ones Serra saw had bayonets. The druid looks up from the test tubes and stuff at the noise and, deciding that it’s too enclosed a space to take on an animal form, instead wields her staff and attempts to clobber the other drone.

Unfortunately the only effect is that clanging a metal enemy with a wooden stick causes the weapon to almost shake out of her hands. Well, not the only effect: it also means the drone is now focussing its attacks on Serra. The tube on the enemy’s underside turns out to be a flamethrower, and it shoots a small fireball at point-blank range. Noticing this, Fi attempts to control the flame and direct it out of harm’s way, but doesn’t manage to react in time. Serra, too, fails to dodge the attack and suffers serious burns to her back.

Lissie turns from the display case and attempts to throw a handful of knives at the mechanical beast attacking Serra. Aim doesn’t appear to be their strong suit, however, and one of their blades ends up sticking Fi instead. Rurron has had time to assess their surroundings, and leaps onto the wall next to the drone attacking Roe. Their gravity shifts, and they run along the wall, grabbing the enemy out of the air and tearing it in two. Roe was all ready to flee in the face of her pals getting hurt, but is galvanised by Rurron’s brute strength and instead leaps off of the ceiling with Baxter and wrestles the second drone to the floor. Baxter shields her from the rotor blades, and takes a nasty nick, but they succeed in disabling the machine.

Fi jumps down to defend Serra, who has rolled onto her back to put out the flames and is now resting on her front, while Rurron tears apart the drone Roe and Baxter have pinned down. After everyone is safe, Roe notices Baxter’s wounds and bandages him up. Lissie helps Serra up, and — feeling a bit useless after whiffing the dagger throw and hurting Fi — suggests investigating the wreckage, but the druid just wants to leave and heal up. Rurron picks her up and puts her over her shoulder, carrying her out of the office. 

Roe suggests taking one of the piles of nuts and bolts out to reception, either demanding an explanation or perhaps dumping the thing as a warning: do not mess with us. Lissie sifts through the broken gears and internal workings of their attackers, and pulls out a punch card that appears to have been controlling each of them. Roe recognises the technology from the equipment used in the factories back home, and identifies the logo on the punchcard as being the same, too.

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Alpha Session 13
xoxo gossip goose

Fi splashes dirty swamp water on the faces of the elf poachers the group subdued below deck. Serra goes straight into interrogation mode, still being compelled somewhat by the angry swamp god, demanding to know who they are, who they’re working for, and what information they can share about the university.

They say they were just following orders, that they can’t say anything about their employer, and remain curiously quiet on the subject of the university; it’s unclear if they’re playing dumb, or genuinely haven’t heard of it, as the frogs had not. Fi threatens them, but doesn’t quite sell it. She’s more annoyed with them — annoyed with the group’s lack of progress and how the obstinacy of the elves symbolise that deadlock — than intimidating, and so they remain steadfast in saying very little.

That is, until Serra beckons Osti over and they are immediately terrified of the sight of the mould man. It’s an unnerving enough encounter for them to start spilling their guts: they work for an academic at the university called Bachman, for whom they have “collected” all manner of unusual specimens over the past weeks and months. Osti confirms this, his connection with all of the fungi across the swamp allowing him to see the inside of a lab for a brief moment, before being snuffed out (as his matter cannot survive for long outside the swamp). 

Fi says they won’t turn the poachers into the frogs if the elves agree to direct them to the university. They agree, with the added proviso that the mould man won’t be coming with, because they’re still super freaked out by that whole scene. Rurron hoists the bound elves over her shoulder, one on each, fireman-style. With the elves giving directions, the group leave the boat after bidding Osti farewell for now, and venture deeper into the swamp. The vegetation gets thicker the further they go, and the water deeper, allowing Serra to continue swimming along in snake form but forcing the rest of the group to trudge through increasingly boggy, gross conditions.

At the back of the party, Roe has noticed that the further they go, the less wildlife she hears. In fact, after a couple of hours, she is alerted by the realisation that there are no ambient noises to be heard. No buzzing of flies, no running water, nothing. It’s at this point she also becomes aware of the fact that the ground she’s stepping on no longer feels like muddy swamp floor, but something more solid, despite it still looking the same. Similarly, the shadows being cast from overhead are no longer that of tree branches hanging across and blocking the sunlight, but something much larger and more solid. 

She alerts the group to this, and notes also that the end of the swamp appears to be in sight in the distance, the foliage thinning out again. Roe asks the elves where the university is, and they point upwards. When asked how they get up there, they admit they’ve never actually been themselves. They just collect whatever Bachman asks for, deliver it to a certain place in this area, and when they check back the next day it’s gone. Fi realises something is up, too. There is no more fungi to be seen, when there had been plenty elsewhere. After hearing about the delivery method, she’d been planning on luring whatever it is that transports the poacher’s goods to the university.

Instead, Serra slips the skull on and transforms into her duck form, to break through the treeline and see what lies above. What she sees is, as Aidan described, a floating university, high above the clouds. Before she can get a closer look, however, she is attacked by two mechanical drones, running on grinding gears and steam and heading straight at her with bayonets affixed to their underneath. She’s clipped by the rotor blades of one, but successfully escapes back to the swamp and loses them.

Serra suggests, if flying up isn’t a viable option, maybe they could climb the trees? Rurron agrees, suggesting she could punch the drones out of the sky. Roe takes a different tack, asking the elves how, if they don’t speak to Bachman directly and have never been to the university themselves, they correspond with him? They point to a nook in a nearby tree. Roe beckons Fi over to illuminate the nook with a small flame. The flickering fire is sucked up by something within the hole, and is then snuffed out, implying some sort of suction. Fi asks Roe to ask Serra to perhaps get in the hole, since it’s around duck-sized, suspecting it of being a pneumatic tube messaging system (pneumagic tube…?). Serra is less than wild about the idea, and instead scrawls a message with a quill plucked from her own feathered back that reads “HELLLLOOOOO?” is as neat handwriting as she can manage in duck form.

They put the message in the nook, watch it get sucked up, and a reply appears within seconds. Fi grabs the tube with the reply message, and immediately vanishes. Initially concerned, the rest of the group repeat the trick, asking with the second note for six more to be beamed up. They meet Fi in the expansive lobby of the university, which has a huge pair of oak doors at one end and a massive chandelier hanging from the ceiling. They make a beeline for a reception desk next to the door, which is being manned by a cat with a pair of wire-rimmed spectacles.

Serra says they want to visit Professor Bachman, and the cat asks if they have an appointment. When they admit not, the cat sighs, then hands over a stack of forms to fill out. Serra does so truthfully, with her full name and the details of the V Goode law firm, but hesitates when it comes to the “duration of visit” part. Roe says it depends, Fi suggests a couple of days, perhaps? Serra asks the cat if they can update the form as they go, to which the cat incredulously asks if she used her real name, before chastising the druid for not realising the power someone can wield over you if they know your true name. 

Shaken and a bit embarrassed, Serra asks for a new set of forms and everyone completes theirs with the fake identities established during the T’Eilt Industrial Ball. They are then allowed to step foot through the huge doors, which open to reveal a grand atrium that is peopled entirely by talking cats, walking up and down MC Escher-style staircases at seemingly impossible angles. Baxter, to his credit, is behaving very well through this whole thing, excited at being around other animals but not at all antagonistic to any of the felines. There’s a tea room full of cats having a relaxed chat, with one snoozing on a couch. In a laboratory, one is knocking a series of glass tubes onto the ground and smashing them.

The group happen upon a couple of chatting moggies, and ask for directions to Bachman’s office. One of the cats, a maine coon leaning on a broom who identifies himself as a janitor, points them up a staircase and says they can just knock on the door, he should be in there and is always keen to receive visitors.

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Alpha Session 12
We're on a boat

The group chase after Serra, who has transformed into her snake form and slithered off through the swamp in search of poachers. Breaking through the foliage into a clearing, she finds a half-submerged steamboat, laying at an acute angle in the boggy surface. She follows the flickering light coming from the open cargo bay doors in the ship’s deck. The rest of the team rock up after she’s already out of sight, and are spooked by what they find. Fi doesn’t like the creepy vibes given off by the forgotten ghost ship, and Roe’s fear of water is already being pushed to its limit with her being knee-high in the swamp. The ranger opts to run back to the frogs, whom she left Baxter to guard, while Rurron and Lissie — the former more than ready to beat some poachers up, the latter itching for adventure — convince the immolator to face her fears and climb aboard.

In the cargo hold, Serra sneaks down the stairs and conceals herself behind some barrels. From her vantage point, she spies two elves hoarding large jars. However, in the dim light provided by the gas lamps around the hold, she struggles to make out how many poachers there are, and what exactly it is they’re making off with. Nonetheless, she strikes out against the closest of the elves. Still slightly drunk on snake-god power, she eschews her usual melee attacks and sinks her teeth right into the poacher’s shin, drawing blood and a loud cry from her victim, followed by a club to the head. The yelp attracts the attention of the other elf across the room who, spooked by the noise in the dark, begins to cautiously approach his injured chum.

Back at the edge of the swamp, Roe attempts to get some information out of the frog-ilk who “greeted” the group upon their arrival and put Serra onto the trail of the poachers. They have no reaction when she brings up the university the gang are looking for, profess to have no knowledge of what a dog is (much to Baxter’s chagrin), and are suspiciously cagey when it comes to the steamboat. The older of the frogs introduces himself as Bob, and the younger as Gary. The former professes not to be a big fan of humans, implying that its usually such people who come to pillage whatever goods it is the boat holds.

On the main deck of the boat Fi, Lissie and Rurron cautiously make their way along the side closest to the ground, unable to scale the sheer approach to the other side. They find a couple of doors, and a collection of barrels huddled beneath a pair of portholes. Fi goes to peer into one of the barrels, only for her foot to break through one of the old, rotting floorboards beneath her. She leaps back, frightened but unharmed. Rurron pats her on the shoulder, then leans her sizable frame across the hole and finds that the barrels are empty, but for a load of mould. Fi is, understandably, disgusted by this discovery.

Down below deck, Serra once again strikes against the first elf. When the second approaches and notches an arrow in his bow, Serra dodges the attack by transforming into a swarm of mosquitoes — through which the missile passes harmlessly — and then back into a snake. The poachers were already pretty terrified when they assumed this was some kind of giant wild snake who had clambered in from the swamp; now they seem to be facing some kind of shapeshifter, they appear even more freaked out. Taking advantage of their shock, the druid returns to her regular form and hotfoots it back up the steps, closing the cargo bay doors behind her and dragging a couple of barrels on top of it to block the poachers in.

Up on the deck of the boat, Fi cautiously attempts to open the left-hand door, finding it locked. Rurron makes short work of it, and Fi picks up one of the broken planks of the now-demolished door to use as a torch. Stepping over the threshold, the flames reveal a room covered in spores and fungi, the low iridescent glow they give off illuminating the darkness along with Fi’s burning brand. It would be beautiful, if you were into that sort of thing, but the assembled group are just sort of grossed out by the smell. They back out and go to investigate the door on the other side, which nearly collapses when Fi opens it. This time, gesturing inside with her torch reveals a room absolutely covered in bones.

Roe continues to struggle with the frogs, who refuse to give any details about the boat while asserting how important it is to them. They don’t seem to be great at conversation anyway. Bob asks if her friends are trustworthy, to which Roe replies “Sure, when they’re not setting things on fire!” The off-handed comment is enough to put the fear of (fantasy) god into the two frog-ilk, but Bob stops Gary from explaining why exactly they’re so concerned by this information. Pushed to her limit — worried that the rest of the group may be in trouble, and these frogs aren’t helping; also, just kinda sick of this pair — Roe draws her sword and tells Gary she will rob all the swamp’s treasure herself if he doesn’t explain the deal with the boat. 

He puts his hands up, while Bob picks up his spear and trains it on the ranger, creating a classic (fantasy) Mexican standoff! Roe loses her bottle a little, not actually being prepared to murder some innocent froggos, and says she just wants to keep everyone safe. Sufficiently convinced of her pure intentions, Gary is allowed to explain that the spores which grow in the very, very old boat are the cornerstone of their culture: they ferment drinks with it, the mould is used as a recreational drug, it produces energy, they cultivate fungus-based foodstuffs from it. Poachers frequently come to nick it, and they’re worried about all the spores being taken away and their way of life disappearing with it. He also explains that the fungus is highly flammable, hence their panic at Roe’s gag.

Having blocked the cargo hold doors, Serra follows the voices of her friends and rejoins Rurron, Lissie and Fi. No longer connected directly to the swamp (because her feet are firmly planted on the boat!), she has gotten over her swamp-god mania somewhat, and slumps against the wall in a daze. The three fill her in on what they’ve found. Roe follows up behind them, getting over her fear of water long enough to climb up onto the boat and warn everyone with the information the frogs gave her. Baxter is immediately restless, smelling the bones in the right-hand room, and Fi coaxes him in, whilst expressing scepticism about how important the mould is. She’s still mostly grossed out by it. Serra, apparently no stranger to spores, pipes up that “mould is alive.”

From the room full of bones, the group hear Baxter’s joyful revery interrupted by a gruff voice reprimanding him. They all freeze. Roe advances slowly towards the room, studying the bones — she used to hang out in her dad’s butcher’s shop as a kid — and discovering that not only do they appear to come from a variety of different animals, some of them are positively ancient while some look like they’ve been there a week. Roe calls out to Baxter, lost in the darkness, and he rejoins her, barking that there was a man who told him off. The ranger is incredulous, but her dog is insistent.

Roe asks Fi, still holding her torch, to illuminate the room. As the immolator steps forward, Roe remembers what the frogs said about the dangerous flammability of the boat, and pulls her back across the threshold. The pair bicker, while behind them Serra silently picks up a lantern from the bits of bric-a-brac concealed among the bones, magically illuminating it without the need for fire. She steps into the doorway and, lighting the room up, reveals a man sat upright against the far wall, looking a little worse for wear. He appears to be very old, and he has a large crop of fungi growing out of the side of his face, his chest, and right leg, which are almost fusing him to the wall and ground. He repeats his previous complaint, that Baxter was chewing on his leg. Serra asks what the man’s doing here, and he counters that he could ask her the same thing.

Through a peculiar line of questioning, the group ascertains that the man doesn’t remember how long he has been here, although he once was a member of the boat’s crew; in fact, at this point, he more or less is the ship; he has become one with the mould, which was introduced to the swamp by the boat, and it exists as a sort of hive-mind, meaning he has been able to “explore” the whole swamp despite his apparent immobility; he confirms that poachers are, sadly, common, and that by removing the spores from the swamp and mistreating it he kills it. Serra, still feeling a little #blessed, decides to try out one of her new powers on the mould-man. She places a hand on his, and a glowing rush of water appears out of nowhere, flowing over first his arm and then the rest of his body. Once it passes, the mould appears to no longer be securing him in place. He cautiously moves his head forward from the wall, and then gets to his feet, the fungi hanging down from his back and arm, a trail of spores following in his wake.

He asks Serra what she did. She explains that she sanctified him, although she doesn’t fully understand how. Roe is impressed, but also finds the whole scene pretty weird. Fi is generally just gobsmacked by the whole freaky situation. Serra asks his name, but he doesn’t remember having one; she suggests Ustilago, or Osti for short. He thanks her, and asks if she might do him one more favour: dealing with the poachers below deck.

The group return to the cargo hold doors, pulling the barrels off and allowing the elves to burst forth onto the deck. Roe immediately loosens an arrow at the already-injured elf, before Serra and Fi (the latter of whom is still trying to avoid using her control over flame) roll the barrels at the poachers and crush them underneath. While they’re prone on the stairway, Rurron leaps atop the bow-wielding elf and knocks them out with one punch to the head, and Lissie rushes in to make short work of the other with their dagger, surprised by their own strength; they give the unconscious elf a celebratory punt, but stubs their toe. With the poachers incapacitated but alive, the group plan to get to the bottom of who’s behind this swamp-pillaging.

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Alpha Session 11
The hug life chose me

Serra dreams, with uncommon clarity, of a body of water. She is walking, wading through it, fighting against a current which gets stronger and stronger until she loses her footing and it pulls her under. At first she panics, believing that she’s about to drown; then she realises that, in fact, being pulled beneath the surface invokes the opposite feeling in her. She feels powerful, and emerges from the water with a renewed sense of strength. She awakens with a start, covered in sweat, in the spare room she’s been sharing with Fi, Roe, Baxter and Rurron in the months since the completion of the T’Eilt Industrial Ball heist

The next morning, the group are roused by the smell of pancakes. Lissie is cooking up one of their famous breakfasts, intending the enticing scent to awaken the adventurers at an unusually early hour. After having laid low for an appropriate period of time, trick-or-treating off the coast and enjoying some end-of-year-celebrations with their host, the time has come for them to debrief with Aidan, Cassidy, and Innogen. They discuss how they’ll handle the meeting over breakfast. Serra is prepared to take some measure of responsibility for the chaos that broke out, but is keen to spin the heist as an overall win, an approach Roe more-or-less agrees with. Fi is more defensive and is relatively unrepentant about how things went down. After all, they got the star map, didn’t they?

A knock at the door, followed by an irritating bellow, heralds a letter delivered by Tor Giide, the scandal-stricken former self-appointed tour guide of Belbury. Lissie returns with the note, addressed to Fi. Over the festive period she had written to the guard with whom she had danced at the ball, apologising but also justifying her manipulation (and attempted mind-control) of the guy in pursuit of the map. He informs her that his name is Mutt Valancourt, and that the golem continued to rampage through T’Eilt, causing no small amount of property damage, before it reached the city limits and it crumbled into pieces. The horseman, meanwhile, appears to have mysteriously vanished.

After the plates are cleared away, as everyone gets ready for the meeting, Rurron pulls Roe aside to talk about the group’s future plans. Are they going to be leaving town soon? Where are they headed next? It’s an awkward, clumsy conversation in which both parties dance around the actual topic at hand, which is that the pair have grown increasingly close over the past weeks — snuggling at bedtime, Roe drunkenly launching herself at Rurron beneath the mistletoe — without ever clarifying the nature of their relationship. Roe finally, with some considerable effort and a glint of emotional maturity, says that she’d like if Rurron stayed with the group.

Once ready, Lissie leads the group to the rendezvous at the Belbury Resistance Group’s dockside lair across town. Aidan asks how they all are, Roe’s reply that she’s good eliciting a knowing wink from Rurron. Serra has made cakes, but gets into a fluster when it comes to finding somewhere to set the tin down. Cassidy sarcastically notes his surprise that she likes baking, given the group’s track record for following instructions. Serra immediately tries to counter the accusations, getting increasingly agitated until Aidan interrupts and gets everyone to settle back down. He asks the group to walk him through how exactly the plan went off track, and seems particularly interested in the horseman. Serra confirms that they have indeed spoken to Inu about him previously.

Still not sufficiently cowed, Cassidy continues to make sniffy remarks, evidently annoyed that he wasn’t sent on the heist. Serra begins to apologise, only for Roe to cut her off: “No, this wasn’t our fault!” She chastises Aidan for not really telling them anything about the map, what its importance is or how they plan to use it, an objection Fi seconds. Aidan finally lays all his cards on the table: besides being able to utilise the star map as a bargaining chip to gain favour with the T’Eilt mayor and, potentially, soften the border between the two neighbouring settlements, he’s also heard that the stars wield a certain amount of influence over the world below, if manipulated in the correct way. When pressed for details, he comes up short. Whilst he and his brethren in Belbury are more au fait than the rest of the continent, which is largely antagonistic towards and represses magic use, his knowledge of such things is still limited. He has been operating in concert with a group of academics who feed him information in return for the chance to study materials such as the star map the group stole.

Serra posits that perhaps the stars can be used to change the future somehow, before Roe admits her head is starting to throb with all this magic talk. She asks if they still have the map, and Aidan points out that it’s on the table in front of them. “Yeah, pretty fancy table cloth we have he!” Innogen jokes. Fi demands some contact information for this group of academics, at which point Aidan admits that he only ever really communicates with them face-to-face, and reveals that these academics — whose credentials the group have been calling into question — are a group of tenured professors operating at a floating university hidden among the clouds. Cassidy balks at Aidan’s helping of the group (as well as the fact that they still got paid for the heist, despite what he sees as their consummate failure to complete it properly), but Innogen points out this could work in Belbury’s failure: with the group taking the fall for burning down half the City Hall and unleashing a golem to wreak havoc, they’ve got a new “Other” to blame for all their troubles. 

Aidan gives the group detailed instructions on how to find the university, promises to find some way of informing the academics of their impending visit, and they say their goodbyes. Outside, Lissie somberly bids the group farewell too, until Serra suggests that perhaps they come along. They immediately perk up, noting that they may not be cut out for being a member of the resistance after all, and that they’ve been looking for an opportunity to explore beyond the outskirts of Belbury and T’Eilt. They say they’ll get in contact with their cousin, who will let out their flat as a boarding house while they’re gone. A group hug is initiated, with everyone piling in and Rurron wrapping her enormous furry arms around everyone and lifting them a good foot of the air. It’s adorable, take it from me.

The now six-strong party go on a farewell tour of Belbury, indulging in all the most earnest and most embarassing of tourist traps. Raiding the various gift shops the town has to offer (and successfully dodging Tor Giide’s offer of a guided tour, in favour of being shown around by a goat-ilk who claims to be descended from the figure immortalised in the market square statue), they each end up with a handmade wooden goat toy, Fi buys a woolen goat horn hat, and they all pose for a photograph in front of a painted facsimile of the Belbury waterfall with a ship halfway up it. 

Their last stop is Inu, with Fi quickly popping to the tattoo parlour for some dog-themed ink on her side so she’ll actually be able to see the canine deity this time. They climb up the ladders and through the series of tunnels through which they first accessed the underground town, wanting to both bid the god adieu and potentially find more information about the magical potential of the stars. Inu, an incorrigible gossip, is delighted to hear about the heist, but admits his knowledge of both the horseman and what he may want with the star maps is somewhat limited. He does recall, centuries prior — during the age of the Old Kingdom — that a wizard in the king’s employ had been asked to look into the stars, with the goal of extending the monarch’s reign through magical intervention, although he isn’t sure if he ever got anywhere with it, and the wizard eventually disappeared. Serra asks about the seeds she scattered in the woods nearby, and Inu says that a twig-person sprung from the ground and ran further into the forest a few miles away. Everyone snuggles into Inu’s soft fur, and Baxter again gets a little jealous.

Back down in Belbury, as promised, the group are afforded the use of the orcs’s train. They climb aboard and head north-east, following Aidan’s directions. Fi takes the role of enticing the fire elemental in the boiler to keep the steam engine going, Roe scouts (with the help of Baxter and Rurron’s hypersensitive senses of smell) ahead for any potential threats, and Serra keeps everyone on track. Roe and Rurron have another chat about things, the former eager that the latter not be there entirely for her, which Rurron interprets as a soft rebuke. In actuality, Roe is struggling to communicate that she cares a great deal for Rurron, and is worried about leaving her alone should something happen to her. These crazy kids, they just aren’t very in touch with their emotions! Everything goes smoothly on the journey side of things, at least, and after a day’s travel they find them pulling off from the main railway and stopping in an engine shed besides a large, swampy stretch of marshland. The instructions for finding the university say they must march straight across it. 

Serra, no stranger to this sort of terrain, immediately clambers down from the shed to the murky water beneath, wading confidently forward even when Baxter — having paddled ahead — brings back news of something swimming towards them. Roe suggests that Fi might be able to set alight the noxious gases in the swamp, but it’s possible this was just a tortured set-up for a fart joke. Roe sees two shapes swimming beneath the surface of the water, and catches the dim glittering of something shiny on the swamp floor, too. She yells ahead to be careful, Fi and Lissie following behind Serra while Baxter, Roe and Rurron remain on dry land.

Two frog-ilk pop up in front of Serra wielding spears, demanding that she get out of their swamp. She responds that this is her swamp, with a tone to her voice unfamiliar to the rest of the group. It appears that her earlier dream was some form of communion with the swamp deity, and she is now blessed with great (or possible terrible) power. With a motion of her hand she casts Cause Fear upon her skull, which she then wears proudly, inducing a sense of panic in the now-cowering frogs. Serra demands passage, and they haltingly tell her that they mistook the party for poachers who have been terrorising the marshes. Roe asks for more information, but falls into the swamp with a marked lack of grace mid-sentence. Serra reiterates the question and, still terrified of her, they point in the general direction the poachers have been sighted. Serra transforms into her giant snake form and slithers off at speed, leaving the rest of the group to puzzle her sudden change in temperament.

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Alpha Holiday Special 2017
A Very Chord du Vide Christmas

It’s the end of the year, and Lissie has invited the group to spend the holidays with them in Belbury, before they move onto their next destination. Lissie's apartment, small and quaint, becomes positively cosy when it’s dressed up in the decorations of the season and snowfall is visible beyond the underground town’s half-frozen waterfall. 

The docks are full of the scents of the season: spices and preserved fruits and alcohol. Lots of alcohol. Tor Giide, fresh from a new scandal, has taken up a new (self-appointed) position as deliverer of holiday tidings, reciting messages while loudly ringing his signature bell. 

The orcs Cassidy, Aidan and Innogen are enjoying a much-deserved break, reintegrating into wider Belbury society now they’re in their civvies and not planning insurgent actions in T’Eilt. Carolers gather in the square outside town hall, beneath the goat statue, and some claim to be able to hear the great canine god Inu singing along above ground. 

Roe, Serra and Fi take time to reflect on the tumultuous first few weeks of their journeying together, the successes they have presided over and the losses they have suffered since first encountering the horseman in the northern territory of Barent. Rurron is eating whole cooked geese from the Belbury market, apparently untroubled by her recent unemployment and teetotalism. Baxter’s wearing some kind of hat, and getting a lot of treats.

Serra

During the group’s sacking of the T’Eilt City Hall Industrial Ball, Serra has the misfortune of bumping into Rami, an old colleague from the Law Firm she abandoned back in Hadenburgh. It was both an unwelcome reminder of the life she had left behind, and potentially an opportunity for her exploits across the continent to be reported back to people who may still be out to get her.

After a frank conversation, he is convinced to leave her name out when he tells stories of his crazy adventures in T’Eilt, and she also asks him for information about her parents, who she hasn’t been in contact with since escaping Hadenburgh.
 
As Lissie seems keen to know what everyone does as a seasonal celebration, and welcomes them all to share, Serra does her best, and eventually has lot of fun. She does feel sad when she looks over the market though, and sees things she knows family and friends would like. A tradition in the Hadenburgh region is to gather thin tree branches of different colours and types from nearby forests, bundle them with white ribbons, and hang them horizontally above doors, so she heads above ground, wishes Inu festive cheer, and gets to work. Unfortunately, she finds Lissie doesn’t have the requisite nails hammered in above the door frame, but they’re happy to put them in, and so Roe does the deed, hefted onto Rurron’s shoulders. 

She also gathers everyone into the kitchen to help decorate the snow cakes, a local festive snack, following her mother’s recipe. These are small, light sponge cakes, cut into bite-sized cubes and topped with fluffy waves of meringue icing, decorated with preserved berries. It’s hard work to whip all the egg whites, even with the help of Rurron’s huge forearms, but as a team they make trays and trays of them.  Fi does all the meringue toasting by hand.

There’s another cake-based tradition to follow, though this one is native to Belbury.  After the main lunch of roast river fish, Lissie brings out a large puff pastry pie, scored and heavily dusted with icing sugar, and filled with sweet chestnut and almond paste. They explain that whoever gets the china figurine of a goat hidden inside in their slice is King Goat for the day, and gets their presents first, while wearing a fetching paper crown.  

Fi

Fi took the horseman head on, trying to intimidate him into giving up information (who cares if it didn’t work?) and ably handling a panic-stricken Lissie who was cowering in the kitchen. To her surprise, using her burning brand and controlling the gaslamp flames in the T’Eilt City Hall resulted not in ostracisation, but celebration. She’s starting to feel somewhat comfortable in her own skin and the company she keeps, which has not been the case for a long time. Feeling a little guilty for dropping him in it before, she enlists the messaging services of Tor Giide. She apologises for accusing the put-upon town crier of being a sleaze, and subsequently requests that he pass on a message to the guard she danced with briefly at the Industrial Ball.

Fi’s Christmases often don’t turn out the way she imagined, but yet somehow she manages to keep her Christmas spirit year after year. Her relationship with alcohol is very dependent on her mood to begin with; mulled spirits are a staple of the holidays, and are often relied upon to try and bring everyone together. But if (for whatever reason, surely nothing that’s Fi’s fault) there are tensions, these can be brought forth by its’ consumption. The end result can frequently be Fi drinking alone, craving the company of her loved ones, but in turmoil with herself for her role in their turbulent relationships. Despite this, Fi always imagines the next year will be better, and looks forward to the season. No matter the mood, she always puts on a little show in the lighting of the customary boozy steamed pudding for dessert on Christmas day.

This year, Fi finds herself rather overwhelmed with all the fuss going on in the kitchen in the lead up to the day, and with so many baked goods being produced, wonders whether anyone would actually appreciate a steamed pudding in its apparent simpleness compared to the sound of some of Serra’s delights. So while she does get roped in to help give some meringues the perfect finish, Fi tries to stay out of the way of the preparations, and have a run of festive naps — the perfect cover up for the lack of sleep she got a few nights previous, rustling up her pudding in near-silence in the dead of night. It’s currently hiding in a cupboard, soaking up rum, waiting. It will be produced when everyone is almost comatose from eating and drinking, but still finds themselves somehow wanting something more. Then Fi will produce the pudding, put on her show, and hope that everyone’s drunk enough to appreciate it, even if they wouldn’t have earlier in the day.

Roe

Despite facing the horseman a second time, the thing that seems to be troubling Roe the most is June, the statuesque elf she met while schmoozing at the ball. She’s only just been getting used to her friends’ (and now her own) magical abilities, far outside her usual frame of experience. Now she’s been introduced to the widespread industrial devastation of the natural world with which she has such a deep, even spiritual connection with. In the immediate aftermath she confronts June outside the City Hall.

She gives her a piece of your mind, and she seems perturbed by her reaction to her tree-felling business. Roe suggests that maybe she finds a more environmentally-friendly line of business, and she suggests consulting you further on this topic at a later date. She is both perturbed but also inclined to listen to Roe.

Roe hasn’t had the chance to celebrate holidays for a long time. Even her own birthday, which she does remember but doesn’t bring up with people, went uncelebrated for a few years since she simply didn’t have anyone to celebrate it with. During other holidays she always felt like an outsider looking in, and she never truly felt lonelier than during the days where she saw families gather and engorge themselves on nice meals. Because of this she doesn’t expect anyone to think of her during gift-giving holidays, but now she’s spending more and more time with people she’s growing comfortable with, this might lead to awkward situations, for Roe will absolutely break down in tears if she is presented with a gift, no matter how small. The thought that people care about her enough to give her something means a lot to her. She might even get a bit silent and teary eyed while hanging up decorations and eating baked goods. She draws everyone a little doodle and writes down a few kind words to make them smile.
 
Roe regrets parting with Elinor on bad terms, and she doesn’t really know what to make of Innogen’s mysterious recovery. She doesn’t really hate Innogen but due to circumstances she is very wary about her presence and feels quite awkward when she is around. A nagging, mean voice in Roe’s head tells her that it’s her fault that Elinor died. Most of the time she manages to ignore it, and sometimes, when the guilt is really weighing her down, she talks to Baxter about it (by now she is more or less used to her dog talking back to her). Baxter never really has a lot of good advice but it is nice to get it off her back regardless. Plus, Baxter does like some good Roe-cuddles and scritches and when she’s sad he’s always there to comfort her.
 
Before they mingle with the festivities in town, Roe gives Baxter a tiny festive top hat, and he seems all right with it. Roe spends some time roaming the square, maybe indulging in free punch a little too much, then giddily runs up to Rurron and takes her hand to lead her around the market (leaving a jealous, barking Baxter to trail behind them until Roe tells him to knock it off). They laugh at the ridiculous holiday ornaments and frocks they’re selling, dance, eat, and talk a lot, until they find themselves underneath a mistletoe and Roe practically launches herself at Rurron.

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Alpha Session 10
Choo-choo, motherfuckers

Picking up immediately where last session left off, Serra drags the Mayor of T’eilt out of danger and into the City Hall’s kitchen. She runs straight through the kitchen, still in a state of disarray and also occupied by Fi and Lissie, and deposits the mayor outside the back door. She shakes his hand and explains she has to go deal with an old friend. 

Since she’s been left holding the star map, the golem and horseman turn their attention to Roe and so — whilst confident at all the sweet tricks she’s pulled off thus far — she decides to follow Serra. They bump into each other at the back door in the kitchen, and debate what to do next: Serra thinks they need to deal with the threats, while Roe is of the opinion that they should just book it, since they have what they came for (the star map, still safely ensconced in its display case). They compromise on fleeing, but then fighting their enemies once they’re clear of innocent bystanders.

Fi, meanwhile, is absolutely prepared to go ten rounds with the golem and horseman, being characteristically wound up by the whole situation. She yells for everyone who remains in the kitchen and ballroom to get down, then flings open the doors of one of the still-burning stoves and directs the flames out the kitchen doors. However, lacking line of sight, she doesn’t manage to damage the bad guys, and instead succeeds in creating a ring of fire that prevents those still inside — including Rurron, still trying to extricate Serra’s old colleague Rami from beneath some rubble — trapped by the flames. Noticing this from outside, Serra insists on rescuing those in the ballroom before the group gets the heck out of T’eilt.

Roe agrees, but notes they still need to get the star map safely away, and hocks the case at the wall in an attempt to break it. The mayor freaks out, and tells them that he will willingly open the case for them — just as soon as they get him to actual safety, as per his agreement with Serra, as he does not consider being two feet from a now-burning building full of monsters adequately “safe.” Serra says she can get him away, but only with the map freed. She runs the plan by Roe: she’s going to steal one of the parked carriages from round the front of the hall, transform into a horse, and beat a hasty retreat with everyone else aboard.

In the kitchen, Fi and Lissie are now both panicking, until Roe whistles for their attention and fills them in on the plan. Finding her druthers, Fi gains control of the raging fire long enough for the remaining guards and party-goers to flee whilst the horseman and golem’s attention is on the group, and Rurron and Rami join them round back. They find Serra, in horse form, with a carriage, as promised. Everyone climbs aboard and they head out, with the golem — smashing through the wall of the kitchen — in hot pursuit.

Roe directs the carriage through the narrow streets of T’eilt, hoping to shake their pursuers in the maze-like labyrinth of the city. Rurron is sat up front with her, impressed by Roe’s taking charge but questioning if she actually has anything resembling a plan. Roe asks if the horses are tired yet, and Serra responds that she’s good for now, but they can’t keep running forever. Inside the carriage, Lissie asks the mayor how to open the star map case; he confesses that the keys are kept at his house, which they’re fast encroaching on.

Parked up and without a horseman or golem in sight, the mayor attempts to renege on his agreement and run into his house, locking the door behind him. Still pumped full of adrenaline and more than tired of his nonsense, Fi stops him and intimidates him into handing over the key. Transformed back into her regular form, Serra unlocks the box and pulls out the star map, then leaves the empty case on the mayor’s doorstep.

Hearing the slow-moving but still-raging golem smashing things up in the distance, the group are anxious to get to safety themselves. Lissie guides the group back to the train station — closed for the evening — rolls up their sleeve and pulls the string of a whistle tattoo on her underarm. At that, Cassidy pulls up in the train and welcomes everyone aboard (but not before confirming they’ve completed the mission), and they head back to Belbury.

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Alpha Session 9
"Oh, this map?"

Whilst the rest of the group are upstairs of the T’Eilt Town Hall doing some map stealing, Rurron is down at the buffet alternately stuffing her face and flexing for the crowds. Owing to her size, and the amount of food she’s putting away, people are leaving her to it. That is until a creepy little goblin man, in coattails and monocle, approaches from behind, sizing her up in the manner of an aristocrat in the market for a new fur coat. She starts when he begins speaking behind her: “Interesting story, you know, how they built this place.”
“Is it?” she asks, mouth full, having glanced around and found him utterly non-threatening.
“The town hall is one of the oldest buildings in T’Eilt. Dates back way before the Reformation, even, if you can believe it. And most of it’s not made of, you know, limestone, brick, any of the usual construction materials.”
“What is it made of, then?” Rurron asks, not totally engaged with this unwanted conversation.
“Bone,” he says, tapping his cane on the ground. “The pillars, the walls, even the floors we stand upon. All made from bone.”

Up in the armoury, Roe is surprised by the sudden blackout followed by silence and weird colours being cast across the darkened room, but assumes it’s probably some sort of firework display. She tries to peer out a window, but can see nothing. Fi, meanwhile, is locked in the bathroom across the landing, trying to devise a plan. She, like Serra, does recognise the portent of the green light and clomping of hooves outside the building: the Horseman has returned. Already in a tight spot having been caught red-handed by the town guard trying to pinch the Mayor’s prize star map, Serra barges past the men — getting a spear jabbed in her side as she does so — and, with the map in its glass case under her arm, bursts into the hall and hollers “we have to get out of here!”

Before the guards can pursue the thief, Roe pulls her into the armoury with her and Baxter, who has barked a warning of trouble at his owner. Serra assures them she’s okay, despite the flesh wound, and shows them the map in its container. Roe is interested in the map more than anything, trying to surreptitiously pry it from Serra’s grasp. They agree on a compromise: Roe will get the chance to try and break it out of its glass case, as soon as they’ve left the building. Following doorways from the armoury further along the corridor, they peek their heads out and see Fi cracking the doorway of the bathroom opposite them. Fi goes to join them, darting across the hallway, only for the floor to collapse beneath her!

Downstairs, the doors have boomed open. Fi falls on top of the guard she had danced with earlier in the night, cushioning her blow and giving her front-row seats to the Horseman entering the ballroom and, as he did in the observatory when their paths first crossed, summoning an undead creature to do his bidding. In this case, he pulls chunks of bone from the building and forms it into a huge rock golem. Upstairs, unaware of this development, Serra asks Roe if it’d be best to run away with the map — knowing that’s what the Horseman is after — or whether to stand their ground and fight. Roe thinks they should return it to Cassidy (whose name she completely spaces on), but notes they probably shouldn’t abandon the rest of the group still in the building. Serra agrees, turns into a big old snake and absorbs the box into her being, much to Roe’s chagrin.

The golem smashes through the stairs, scaring Roe, but she notches an arrow nonetheless. She leaps atop snake-Serra’s head as she begins descending the stairs and shoots an arrow right at the golem, which embeds in its “abdomen” and causes some crumbs of bone to fall off. On the dancefloor, Fi tries to get the guard to fight on their behalf, but he’s dizzy and annoyed at getting squished. So instead, she directs the flame from the gas lamps illuminating the ballroom into a circle around the golem, halting its ascent up the stairs. Doing so means the room is plunged into darkness, illuminated only by the dim glow of moonlight outside and the fiery green smoke pouring from the skull the headless Horseman keeps under his arm, and is now turned to stare right at Fi.

Serra leaps down onto the golem from the top of the stairs, knocking it into the ring of fire before it evaporates, charring a chunk out of its back. Roe witnesses all of this and is unsure how she can contribute other than firing off more arrows. She instead slides down the banister, straight past the golem, but bumps into June, when she reaches the bottom. The elf seems relatively unfazed by everything, and asks with interest what’s going on. Roe notices the Horseman and mutters, “oh no, not you again,” which June takes as an insult against her.

With half of the partygoers already fled and the rest cowering in the face of the Horseman, Fi demands to know what the skeletal apparition staring at her wants. A haunting voice bellows “THE MAP,” the jaw of the skull having become unclenched with a painful creak. Frustrated by his vague answer, she symmons a burning brand and grabs a random piece of paper from the ballroom floor. “Oh, this map?” she bluffs, setting it alight as a distraction whilst she makes a beeline for the kitchen to regroup with Lissie.

Serra slithers past the golem to join the rest of the party in the ballroom, thwacking the monster with her tail as she goes. It glances off without causing any damage, and the golem stamps down on her, causing Serra to transform back into her regular form and feeling dazed by the blow. Roe is careful not to rush to Serra’s side, although her instinct is to help her friend, knowing she still has the map and so is the focus of both the golem and, now Fi’s out of the room, the Horseman as well. She asks Baxter to get her the lay of the land, not being able to make out the scene in the low light. He reports that Rurron is across from them, trying to help Rami out from beneath a pile of rock pinning him to the ground; the Mayor is cowering beneath the now-empty bandstand; and the golem is winding up to smack Serra square in the head. She slides over to Serra, who passes her the map. The terrible gaze of the golem and Horseman henceforth move to her.

Meanwhile, Fi bursts into the kitchen, which is in complete disarray: pots of boiling water bubbling over, trays of food dropped onto the floor, flames licking the ceiling from untended saute pans. Lissie is crouched in a cupboard beneath the sink, in the middle of a panic attack. They suggest they run for it, what with the other exit at the back of the kitchen, being utterly unprepared for this turn of events; Fi giving them the details of the golem and the Horseman don’t exactly settle them, until she insists they arm themselves and get back out there. Still without her own weapons, which are still in the cloakroom, Fi selects the largest knife she can find. Lissie opts for a frying pan, still unconvinced this is the best course of action. Fi also constructs a makeshift torch so she can actually see what’s going on out in the ballroom.

With Roe dealing with the golem now, Serra slips past and notices the Mayor in his hiding place. She asks him how to open the case the map is in, promising she’ll return it once she’s had a chance to examine it away from the Horseman. He is not compelled by this offer and instead suggests that if she gets him out of this situation alive, then he’ll tell her, but she won’t be able to keep it. Reluctantly, she acquiesces, and begins to drag him in the direction of the kitchen as well. 

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Alpha Session 8
CRASHING THE PARTY

The group are on a train hurtling its way towards T’Eilt from the underground city of Belbury. Cassidy, a member of the orc resistance who has enlisted them to help curry the favour of T’Eilt’s mayor and perhaps loosen border restrictions on the city (and, failing that, steal a fancy star map he’s going to show off at a glitzy reception for local members of industry), paces around the boxcar they’re sat in. Lissie leans over and whispers to our heroes that their orc compatriot is a little miffed that they’re going on this mission instead of him. Cassidy yells to Innogen, who’s driving, to check how far off their destination is. Satisfied by her answer, he returns to gruffly ask the group if they need anything clarifying about the plan.

After running through the particulars of the mission — Lissie is going in undercover as a member of the waiting staff, to ascertain where in the building (the blueprints for which Serra stole last session) the star map is being held, and how it’s being guarded — whilst the rest blend in with the guests of the ball. To that end, Cassidy has each member of the group come up with a fake persona: Fi opts for “Lady Macbeth,” Roe for “Arabella Trevelyan,” Rurron for “Elena Messanger,” and Serra for Sarcina Ficar. Satisfied, Cassidy expresses his personal preference that they just skip plan A and go straight to robbing the thing, before getting confirmation from Innogen they’re coming up to their stop. Now seemingly in a sunnier mood, Cassidy slides open the boxcar’s door and gestures outside at the countryside passing by. “Here’s your stop!” he says, and Lissie immediately leaps out of the carriage. Alarmed that the train still appears to be moving at a fair clip, it takes a moment for everyone else to follow suit. 

Fi throws caution to the wind, but hikes up her dress not to muddy it, and finds that when she leaps Cassidy activates a tattoo on the inside of his upper arm, shaped like a cord, which causes her to float gently down to a dirt path beside the train tracks as if carried by an invisible parachute. Serra is less convinced, clutching the side of the doorway in terror. Cassidy lays a hand on her shoulder to reassure her, then shoves her off the train, and she floats safely down too. Roe follows with Baxter (who is, adorably, wearing a bow tie) tucked under her arm, landing a few feet from everyone else. Rurron joins them last, panicking all the way until she lands, and then trying to pretend like she wasn’t scared at all.

Bidding them to hush up and stay low, Lissie leads the group through a thicket of bushes towards the T’Eilt Town Hall, a large round building made of marble and replete with huge columns and banners advertising the evening’s festivities. Lissie parts with the group to take the servant’s entrance, turning to give them a big thumbs up as they enter through the main door. After a moment’s hesitation, the doorman accepts their forged invitations and each are, in turn, announced as they enter the ballroom, having left their items in the cloakroom. In this main hall there are a band playing and people dancing in front of them on one side of a grand stairwell leading up; on the other side, there is an empty stage. There are tables of food and drink along the walls, one of which Serra makes a beeline to after catching sight of somebody she used to work with. She notices on her way to stuff her face with buffet food that the empty stage appears to be being prepared for something. 

Baxter is immediately the centre of attention, a dozen or so of the previously-mingling guests all coming over to ruffle his fur and ask, rhetorically, whether or not he is a good boy. Separated from her animal familiar, Roe is introduced to a statuesque elf named June. She asks what Roe does for a living, and she quickly fumbles something about being an animal trainer, looking to expand her business into T’Eilt. June concedes that a lot of the locals own pets, and rarely are they as well-behaved as Baxter. She then reveals that she is in the logging industry, explaining the process of chopping down whole swathes of forest, something which deeply wounds the nature-loving ranger but which she tries her best to conceal. However, it appears the elf can in some way intuit that she has a deep connection with the natural world.

Meanwhile, Fi has snuck off to a secluded corner to case the joint, having been a bit freaked out by the sudden crowd of people gathering around Baxter. She finds herself leaning against the kitchen door, alerted to this fact by Lissie emerging with a plate festooned with shrimp cocktails. The undercover orc tells her that the map is being kept in a room on the first floor, and then insists she go mingle so as not to arouse suspicion. After taking one of the cocktails, Fi notes that along with four guards stationed around the perimeter of the room, there are also three “plainclothes” members of security mixed in with the guests. She sidles over to one of them on the dancefloor and convinces him to join her in a waltz (or possibly the timewarp, which apparently exists in this fantastical world). 

Over at the buffet counter, Serra has been spotted by her old co-worker Rami, who is tipsy and referring to her loudly by her real name. So as not to blow her cover, she tries to convince him that she’s working on some top-secret work for their solicitor’s practice. Rami calls bullshit, because he was recently made partner and is subsequently aware of any cases being undertaken with a non-disclosure enchantment. Desperate not to be outed, Serra then admits to her true reason for being there, and for leaving the V Goode practice in the first place, but leaves out the stuff about stealing a map. Feeling sorry for her and believing he can help in her “campaigning” for the rights of Belbury, he offers to introduce her to the mayor, whom he knows personally. Apparently V Goode are thinking of opening an office in T’Eilt, with plans to expand all across the land, news which worries Serra further.

With June directed away to speak with some other guests, but promising to find her later, Roe goes back into the Town Hall’s foyer to recover her bag from the slacker orc working the cloakroom. She then heads back out of the main entrance, where the doorman questions her leaving so soon; she explains that she had one of the prawn cocktails and is now not feeling so well. Alarmed that they might be serving contaminated hors d'oeuvres, he rushes in to inform the kitchen, leaving the front of the hall — except for some valets having a smoke after having parked up all the guests’ horse-and-carts — unattended. With nobody to stop her, Roe goes off in search of a back door to the building, changing out of her dapper evening wear into her usual dress.

Back on the dancefloor, Fi tries to subtly pump her dance partner for information. He reveals that the star map is due to be unveiled in half an hour, and that he’s going to be taking a break when they finish their dance; it’s all hands on deck for the big ceremony. After they part, and Fi promises they will have another boogie later, the guard goes off to a break room on the opposite side of the hall, joined by another uniformed guard from upstairs. Fi then begins confidently, if a little sneakily, heading up the main stairwell herself. There she finds more doorways, a number of portraits and other paintings, and a single guard in front of a main door opposite the stairs. The guard seems unbothered by her presence, until she begins edging a little too close to him for comfort. She tries to take control of his mind, which only serves to agitate him further, to the point that he insist she go downstairs and begins drawing his sword.

Having been introduced to the Mayor of T’Eilt by Rami, Serra tries to make the case for softening borders between the town and Belbury: increased trade is always good, more people to spend money, and so on. As he dismisses each of her arguments, Serra gets more and more het up, before more-or-less intimating that she might stand against him in the next election. The Mayor, seemingly exhausted of such arguments, tries to placate her by offering the chance to speak with him in private at a later date, if she contacts his secretary. Realising she’s hit a wall and plan A is a no-go, Serra drifts towards the kitchen, finding Lissie and asking where they’ve stashed her skull. Becoming agitated upon learning it’s being kept “safe” with the bones being used to make stock, she insists Lissie meet her with it round at the servant’s entrance.

Round back, Roe is already scoping out her options, finding the servant’s entrance along with a trap door leading underground, seemingly to some sort of basement storage. There are a number of windows leading to the first floor, most of them open. She takes off her jacket and rolls up her sleeves in preparation of breaking in to steal the star map. She is joined by Lissie and Serra, with Roe suggesting they should just get on with the heist. Taking a glass of champagne from Lissie’s tray and downing it for courage, Serra transforms into a mosquito with the aim of flying straight into the room the map is being kept. However, a stray gust of wind knocks her off-course, and she instead finds her way through the front window, where Fi is trying to defuse the situation with the guard by heading into the bathroom. Noticing the mosquito and hoping it’s who she thinks it is, she emerges quickly from the bathroom and engages the guard again, giving Serra enough time to fly through a crack in the door jam. As she does, the other guard returns from his break.

Downstairs, Roe has snuck back into the main ballroom whilst in her civilian rags and holding her equipment, where she retrieves Baxter from the admiring crowd that has only grown larger in her absence. It turns out Rurron has been at another buffet counter this whole time, stuffing her face in lieu of drinking. Roe and Baxter leave her to it, and the two of them begin creeping upstairs. Through the gaps in the banisters Roe ascertains that the map is about to be retrieved to begin the unveiling, that more guards are beginning to gather, and she catches sight of a room on the first floor that appears to be full of weapons. She successfully sneaks past the guards who are still having it out with Fi, and finds a room indeed full of ceremonial weapons — swords, axes, flails — displayed on the walls. 

The guard who returned from his break calms down his colleague, insisting they need to get on with the unveiling. In the room, which turns out to be the mayor’s office, Serra transforms back into her normal form and finds the map in a glass case on his desk. She picks up a paperweight, intending to break said glass, only for it to bounce off without causing so much of a scratch. This sets off an alarm throughout the building and the guards walk through at the same moment. They demand to know what she’s doing but then, as quickly as it began, the noise of the alarm is silenced and an eerie quiet falls over the Town Hall: the band has stopped playing, people have ceased their conversations. Then, piercing that silence, the sound of hooves clopping against the ground outside and a pale green light is cast across the building

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Alpha Side-Session 1: Halloween Stunt Spooktacular
On Skelling they call it "Hop-tu-Naa"

During a break from their adventures on the mainland, the group venture to the offshore Isle of Skelling for their Hop-tu-Naa celebrations. The island — which is actually a gargantuan tree, the inhabitants living in homes built into the trunk, its branches covering the sky so that the changing in the seasons is evident from the change in leaf colours overhead — is one of the places which claims to be the origin of the October celebration of the dead, which has since been exported and commercialised across the land. The team get into the swing of things, going from door-to-door begging for treats whilst dressed in suitably spooky costumes: Fi has cobbled together a witch outfit at the last moment, with a black bin bag as a dress; Serra has gone full luxury goth, wearing a veil over her skull and traditional mourning garb; Roe has a homemade budgie costume; Baxter has been wrapped in bandages, like a mummy; and Rurron is wearing a tiger costume, a reclaiming of a style of Hop-tu-Naa outfit she finds a little distasteful.

They go from door to door with their sacks full of goodies. Serra is very much into the season but a little awkward, knocking politely or else letting Rurron take the lead. Roe is absolutely using Baxter’s cuteness as leverage for more treats. At one house, a hunchbacked old man offers them apples of varying freshness. At another, a extremely excitable younger inhabitant of Skelling, wearing several different costumes atop one another, lets them take what they want from barrels of cinder toffee and sweets. When Roe asks if he has lollipops, he reveals a small treasure chest full from beneath his many layers. Only Serra and Fi are polite enough to thank each homeowner, although the latter does so with her mouth full, which maybe cancels out her other good manners.

Emboldened by their treat-gaining success thus far, Roe takes the lead with the next house, knocking hard on what turns out not to be a door. Instead, she puts her first straight through a section of Skelling’s trunk. Initially distraught about having caused damage to a natural wonder — especially one whose species she doesn’t recognise — she ascertains that it was not her strength but the weakness of the bark that resulted in the damage. It appears this part of the tree is dying. Not good news for the inhabitants of Skelling. However, she does catch a glimpse of something glimmering in the dark within — perhaps gold? Good news for our heroes! Fi summons a torch and illuminates the inside of the tree from the hole. There is a tunnel, with beams supporting it, with stairs leading up and down the inside of the trunk.

Roe is still upset with the idea of the tree dying, and Rurron comforts her, before explaining that she needs to tear a bigger hole if they’re to get in and find out what’s killing it. She does so as delicately as she can, ripping away more of the flimsy dead bark and gently setting it aside. Fi then leads the way down the stairs, with the rest of the group coming up the rear, Roe relying on Rurron for protection in case they come across trouble. From further down their appears to be some kind of light, and the sound of drums which get louder the further down they go. Hoping to scope out the source of both, Serra transforms into a cat, but immediately gets a furball. The coughing and spluttering attracts the attention of a trio of skeletons: one wielding drum sticks, the other two with pick-axes raised above their heads.

In the cramped confines of the stairwell, Fi only just manages to dodge the swipe of an axe, taking a glancing wound from the front skeleton. Immediately drawing her sword, Roe runs up the wall and leaps down, striking the other axe-wielding skeleton and completely obliterating it. Its loose bones tumble down the stairs, with Baxter eyeing them with slathering chops. Serra, still in cat form, runs beneath the legs of the remaining skeletons with an aim of attacking from behind. Rurron roles up the sleeves of her tiger costume to reveal her real (and real beefy) tiger arms, nudges Fi out of the way and clocks the front skeleton square in the jaw, knocking said jaw flying to the wall where it shatters. In turn, Fi shapes her torch into a fireball and flings it at the same skeleton, exploding it. Roe then destroys the final skeleton.

The group explore the alcove the skeletons came from, revealing a large taiko-style drum and a half-excavated portion of tree interior. Roe hits the drum with one of the recovered sticks, the sound echoing down the stairs and beyond, implying a larger open space further into the trunk. In the alcove are several sacks stuffed with goods: one full of seeds, the other with belt buckles and jewellery, the last with old coins. Serra intuits that the skeletons were graverobbers, stealing things from the bodies interred within the Skelling tree, and sees that the coins are very old, covered in dirt and no longer legal tender. Nonetheless, the rest of the group are not dissuaded, and Roe and Fi grap a handful of jewellery and money each, with the hope of pawning it later. Baxter, meanwhile, is content chewing on the bones of the defeated skeletons.

Whilst they debate what to do next, a voice emanates from down the stairs: “WHAT HAPPENED TO THE DRUMS?” Already frightened on this most spooky of evenings, Roe suggests they flee, and tries to stop Serra from investigating. The druid recognises a shimmering, blue light which has appeared along the walls as being a sign of a lich in their midst. Roe immediately books it back up the stairs, while Serra transforms into a tiny snake for a stealthy approach. She finds, at the roots of the tree, that the bottom of Skelling has been almost entirely excavated, torn open and pillaged for treasure. A lich is floating in mid-air, wielding a fiery staff, blue flames burning in the eyeholes of his skull. Muttering to himself about his skeleton workforce, he begins to ascend the stairs to find out why they’ve seemingly stopped digging. Upon seeing his approach, Fi immediately casts a wall of flame between her, Rurron and Baxter and the lich. When it disappears, Rurron runs up and delivers an uppercut to his face.

Shaking the strike off and altogether baffled by the situation, the lich delivers a devastating blow to Serra — who has transformed into a larger snake and taken a chunk out of his side — who dodges it in the form of a mosquito cloud, before turning back into her human form. Fi looks into his eyes and distracts him with her low-level telepathy, giving Rurron an opening to slap him upside the head again. This time he has the presence of mind to attack back, and he dodges her next punch, despite being frightened by Serra transforming into a snake again. Meanwhile, Roe has begun to walk back down the steps, having assumed that everybody was right behind her and now concerned about their absence. She finds Fi trying to parley with the lich, saying she’ll give back the stuff they stole if they end the fight now. The lich is incredulous: he’s already stolen much more than that, he doesn’t care if they steal it. At that moment, Roe looses an arrow from a vantage point further up the stairs, which sticks in the lich’s head.

Realising that Fi had the right idea, and a physical confrontation isn’t going to work, Serra talks to the lich. She asks what he was doing here, to which he confirms her theory: he reanimated some skeletons to steal from the dead of Skelling, justifying it as a victimless crime. He doesn’t have a good answer for what he needs the money for, however. He explains that he hasn’t been a lich for very long, and he came to Skelling because he grew up there. Serra explains that his actions have been killing the tree, which is news to him, and he appears distraught to have done damage to his childhood home. He introduces himself as Javits, and he makes his peace with the group.

Leaving behind the last vestiges of his stolen goods, Javits instead joins the gang with the last stops on their Hop-tu-Naa rounds. Roe offers him the strawberry lolly she received earlier, which he chomps between his teeth but cannot actually taste without a tongue. Serra apologises for the scrap but invites to spar again in the future, and the two swap addresses so as to become penpals, on the off-chance that Javits finds anything interesting during a future “excavation.” Fi, meanwhile, is starting to feel a bit sweaty and gross in her makeshift costume and wants to get home. Baxter, meanwhile, is happy with his bones.

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Alpha Session 7
“People say we’re v good!”

The group reconvene at Lissie’s apartment, where Rurron has (somewhat) sobered up in the bathtub. Lissie makes her a cup of coffee while everyone else convenes around the kitchen table. There’s a knock at the door. Tending to the hungover tiger, Lissie asks somebody else to answer it; Serra peeks from the spyhole in the front door and sees it is Cassidy. Still gruff in his manner but with a touch more sensitivity in his tone, Cassidy tells the group that whilst Innogen — the orc Roe seemingly-fatally wounded during their entrance into Belbury — is now doing just fine,  Elinor is looking less rosy. Unable to completely explain the situation in words, he requests the trio join him at the small surgery on the lower level of the town. Roe stays behind because she’s not ready to spend time with Cassidy, who blames her for everything that happened to Innogen, and Innogen herself, so she stays at Lissie’s, nattering with Baxter about how weird it is he can speak to her now. The good dog corrects her: it is her who has changed, and is now able to understand him, rather than the other way around.

Cassidy leads Serra, Fi and Lissie to the surgery, a small room behind a curtain, where Aidan stands with his back to them and Innogen sits up on a hospital bed, looking conspicuously not dead. Aidan explains that Elinor worked long and hard to heal Innogen, eventually resorting to a form of necromancy — whether she strayed into this dark magic on purpose or by accident isn’t clear —  which, unfortunately, forfeited her life for the orc’s. He gestures towards a skeletal figure sat in the corner, wearing Elinor’s characteristically classy clothes. Serra is shaken by the sight of their friend, now nothing more than a burnt-out husk, trying to contain her tears by making practical steps towards some kind of burial. Fi is similarly struck dumb by this surprising development, quietly asking Aidan about local customs for the dead.

They decide on following Lissie’s advice and giving Elinor a traditional Belbury funeral, setting her body adrift on a boat, set ablaze. Aidan expresses his condolences (which is more than can be said for Cassidy), but notes his disdain for Elinor’s use of “dark” magics. Innogen, slightly more cheerful, says she is perfectly fine with using dark magic if it means she’s not dead. 

Meanwhile, back at Lissie’s apartment, Roe is making Rurron an omelette and making smalltalk. She apologises for any part she might have had in Rurron losing her job (whilst not really admitting to any fault on her part), and wonders if maybe she should go easy on the drinking. Rurron explains that her heavy drinking was a way to deal with her job, essentially acting as a “bouncer” for the T'Eilt Railroad, ferreting out and ejecting passengers without the proper papers. Sensing that she might be sympathetic to the political goals of the orcs, Roe asks Rurron if she might be interested in the heist, noting they could do with some muscle — very noticeably checking out Rurron’s impressive boxer’s physique as she does so. Roe also explains that they will make more elaborate plans once Elinor returns to them, as she is convinced that Elinor is all right, if worse for wear.

It’s at this moment that Fi, Lissie and Serra come through the door, the latter now losing her composure, sobbing as she explains the situation to Roe (who at first is convinced it is Innogen who has died, but is then quickly reduced to silence as the situation is explained to her). The plan is: the funeral will happen the following day, they’ll do it down by the docks, Fi will set the boat alight, everything’s been taken care of. Roe struggles to follow her rushed, garbled speech punctuated by choking sobs. Lissie helps Serra to a seat, and everyone spends the rest of the evening sharing fond memories of their witch compartiat. Including Roe, who is still convinced she turned her into a duck one time, but doesn’t appear to hold it against Elinor any more.

They gather on the dock and prepare to send Elinor off into the Great Thereafter. Roe suggests tossing a few of Rowan’s seeds on the boat, as some sort of ritualistic tribute, something which Serra — hoping to plant these seeds somewhere to bring about new life — vetoes. Fi casts Zuko Style to send a controlled flame at the boat with Elinor’s remains on, cocks it up, and sets her sleeves on fire. Serra tries to help, succeeding only on catching her clothes alight too. Quick-thinking Roe pushes the two into the dock, setting the ship on fire and off along the current, whilst putting out the flames on her friends. Fi and Serra emerge from the water, soggy but unhurt, and the group watch the boat as it floats along the pier and horizontally up the Belbury waterfall, until it leaves their sight.

Lissie allows the group — now consisting of Roe, Serra, Fi, Baxter and Rurron — to stay in their spare room. They remind them they have to be up early the next morning — the day of the ball. After a brief discussion of Aidan’s allegedly-hypnotic booty, and which members of the party its powers may or may not work on, the exhausted party fall asleep. It feels like they’ve only just shut their eyes when Lissie awakens them, at the crack of dawn. A stack of delicious-smelling pancakes is not enough to stop Roe from being annoyed, burying herself under one of Rurron’s large arms, the pair having snuggled up with each other in the close quarters of a spare room shared by four people and a dog.

Quietly descending Belbury in the half-light, Lissie leads them through the surgery and into the makeshift headquarters of the orcs. There is a large wooden table with numerous papers and plans spread across it, and more pieces of parchment pinned to the stone walls. Aidan reiterates his dislike of black magic, and requests that nobody use it during the heist. Fi states that neither she, nor any of the group, even knew that was part of Elinor’s skillset. Apparently sated, Aidan runs through the plan in full, noting that they still require a few last-minute materials to pull it off: updated plans for the T'Eilt Town Hall, being held in the Belbury Council offices (it turns out that not everyone in town is supportive of their cause, although they will apparently benefit from it); invitations for the ball which can be duplicated and then returned as, Innogen explains, they do with their stolen train tickets; and party supplies, namely wine and oysters, that will provide cover for Lissie to attend the ball undercover as waiting staff. That’s the reason the group has been enlisted. Whilst orcs can work in T'Eilt no problem, suspicion would be raised if one attended this event for captains of industry.

Serra volunteers to get the Town Hall plans, but asks again about the significance of the star map being unveiled at the ball. Aidan provides as much explanation as Lissie, with slightly more detail: this is a plan B, wherein the star map can both be held for ransom or leverage in negotiation of loosening borders around T'Eilt, or else could serve as a guide for trade ships from Belbury to go “around” the borders. However, he also adds that there is some rumoured magical properties to the stars, and then seeing them laid out on a map could unlock something more powerful, if ill-defined, than simple orientation. Fi volunteers to rob the mailman of his invitations, unsure about how she’ll do it, but assured that she can use whatever method she sees fit — whether sneaky or aggressive — so long as it can’t be traced back to the cause. That leaves the supplies to Rurron, Baxter and Roe, somewhat reluctantly on Aidan’s part, who requests that neither of them “makes a scene.”

Serra approaches the Belbury Council building, also on this level of the town, and sees that a middle-aged orc is currently opening the doors to start the day. She claims to have made an appointment to view something in the Hall archive that day, to which the orc yawns a lot and kvetches, saying they will have to check the diary for that day to confirm Serra’s appointment. They invite her in to wait, whilst the orc continues setting up. The council building is a large, cavernous room, not unlike a cathedral, every wall covered in shelves stuffed with papers, books, and bric-a-brac. Whilst the orc is off in a back room switching all the lights on and making a cup of tea, Serra sneaks to the diary — sat on the front desk — and adds her name to the day’s appointments. The orc returns and confirms she’s on the list, then asks what capacity she’s visiting in and what she wants to see. Serra claims she’s a solicitor gathering materials for an upcoming case, saying she’s part of the Victoria Goode Practice (“People say we’re v good,”) and consequently requests the Town Hall plans. Having ascended a long ladder and descended with the rolled-up papers, the orc baulks at Serra’s request to take the plans away with her, and then again at her asking for some kind of reproduction. With some improvised legalese, she navigates the orc’s shaky grasp on copyright law, and spends the next hour sat at one of the archive’s study tables, producing a copy of the plans.

Innogen explains the mailman’s postal route to Fi, noting that she used to be a postal worker herself, although he takes a slightly illogical path wherein he collects the mail at the docks, then lugs them to the top level of Belbury, working his way down. With the mailman already at the top level, having begun his day’s work, Fi requests that Cassidy winch her up there aboard the bucket used for transporting supplies from the pier to the rest of the town (as used to lower Baxter into the town last time). Disgruntled but acquiescent, Cassidy complies, and on her journey upwards Fi catches the eye of  Tor Giide, the obnoxious and potentially self-appointed tourist information guide, who awakens from beneath a pile of newspapers and starts excitedly yelling at her and ringing his bell. Knowing she has to move quickly before Tor meets her at the top level and rumbles this undercover scheme, Fi approaches the mailman — who, it turns out, is pulling a huge wooden cart with a sizeable sack full of post behind him — and claims that she is being stalked by Tor. Understanding that this local eccentric can often unwittingly breach social mores, the mailman agrees to have a word, if Fi keeps an eye on the cart. She agrees, and one the mailman is out of sight, Fi dives headfirst into the cart to seek out the gilded envelopes of the T'Eilt Business Ball invitations. The mailman returns when she’s still rifling through, but buys her excuse that she dropped something in there. 

Down by the docks, Roe gets Baxter to sniff out the supplies they need. She and Rurron decide to get everything from one large ship, rather than hustling a couple of the smaller skiffs that are unloading their deliveries for the morning. They approach a large vessel manned by goat-people, who have a good production line going: a couple on the ship taking crates off a couple below deck, before handing them to a couple more goats down on the pier. Roe directs Baxter to pounce on Barry, one of the deck-bound goats, who delightedly falls to the floor with the adorable pupper licking his face. In doing so, he lets go of a crate, which lands on his pal Jerry’s foot and puts him out of commission with a sprained ankle. Noticing the hold-up, the ship’s captain appears above deck to see what’s going on. Explaining the situation (and pretending not to know Baxter), Roe volunteers Rurron to help unload the ship. The captain agrees, thankful, and the pair help the goats unload their full cargo — whilst Rurron stacks a couple spare crates of wine and oysters behind a pillar. As the group prepare to leave with their ill-gotten gains, Barry is back on his feet and notices their scam. Rurron turns on her heel, intimidates the billy goat with her not-inconsiderate physique, and he is suitably scared enough not to raise the alarm. They carry their cargo back to the orc’s headquarters, ready to get going with the heist.

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