Waypoint RPG

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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Alpha Session 6
WHISKEY!

At the  bottom of the stairwell, Cassidy rolls up his sleeve to reveal a tattoo of a key on his forearm. Tracing its shape opens a doorway in the floor, through which he and Aidan — with the bleeding-out, unconscious Innogen slung over his shoulder — descend down a ladder. Roe, a little shaken by the group’s encounter last time and holding the dazed Serra (still in duck form) in her hands, is hesitant to follow. Fi brushes past, beginning to clamber down and getting her first look at Belbury: a large town that appears to have been constructed in the side of a mountain, it faces out towards a waterfall and is spread out across several levels. Roe follows, placing Baxter in a bucket usually used to transport post and other deliveries, in which he is winched down to ground level. Duck-Serra, meanwhile, gets stashed in her backpack. Both are adorable sights. Lissie joins close behind.  

On reaching the first level of Belbury, Aidan and Elinor take Innogen off to get healed. Roe says she hopes that Innogen is okay, to which Cassidy snaps back: “Well if she is, it’ll be no thanks to you.” Before things get too heated Lissie intervenes, taking responsibility for the mix-up in the first place. Safely on the ground, Serra turns back to normal, feeling a bit dazed and sitting on the floor, trying to collect her thoughts. Fi asks if Belbury is a somehow secret or hidden town; Lissie is taken aback, surprised none of the group has heard of it before, to which Fi (somewhat hurt) explains she grew up somewhere pretty small and isolated. Lissie explains that Belbury is a port town, popular with traders — so long as they can pass the borders of T’eilt — and as if to illustrate the point, a large ship comes floating vertically down the waterfall, righting itself at the harbour down below. Roe, whilst still mostly sceptical of magic as a thing, is impressed. 

Lissie notes again that they brought the group here because they thought they were magic users. Hearing it said out loud, Cassidy asks if that’s true. Fi clicks her fingers and creates a small flame in her palm and says “uh-huh.” Flustered, Roe closes Fi’s palm back up and extinguishes the flame, muttering that she doesn’t do magic. Also under his breath, Baxter insists that she does. Serra explains that whilst she is currently using magic, it’s only a phase, something she needs to do something important. When she’s done with this, that’ll be the end of it. She avoids specifics, but generally seems a bit off when the topic comes up. Roe asks if she’s okay, whether she needs anything, whilst Fi shakes her head sadly. “Just give me a hand up,” says Serra, and the ranger obliges. Clad in a shawl and still a bit shaky, Lissie suggests they take Serra to a nearby inn to fully gather her bearings, whilst Roe, Baxter and Fi explore Belbury and get the lay of the land.

Roe asks Cassidy if they’re under arrest or anything, to which he concedes they’re not, but he does want her sword. She hands it over semi-reluctantly, asking for assurance that she’ll get it back in one piece. “That depends,” says the orc, “if my friends remains in one piece.” He looks Fi over, who explains that she doesn’t have any weapons, just her magic, and that’s a part of her. Cassidy asks if it comes from a tattoo, like his, which she confirms is not the case. He then leaves them to it, going off to regroup with Aidan, Innogen and Elinor.

Gazing down on the movement of the town below, Fi ascertains that this isn’t an enclave of the resistance. It’s just a regular trading town, with families and individuals of all types — not just orcs — going about their business. The radical activities of Lissie and co must be a small part of what goes on there. She also sees a statue of an orc astride a goat in the square at the second-but-lowest level. 

At the inn, Serra orders a tea and Lissie a hot toddy, and they sit in a booth off to the side. Still not sure what the orc wants them for, Serra asks for more information on what they’re doing in Belbury. Lissie lays it all out on the table: they think the group, being magic-adept and non-orc, might be the key to a mission their band of resistance members have had planned for a while. Feeling like they’re still being evasive, Serra presses them for details. Lissie, whose hands are noticeably shaking as they sip their drink, spills the beans. There is some sort of black-tie event coming up, a meeting of captains of industry from T’eilt and beyond, at which council members and the mayor are set to unveil an old relic. They explain that the plan is two-fold, with a plan A and B. The primary objective is to somehow win over the influencers in the room, to perhaps soften the borders around T’eilt for the populace of Belbury, for either trade or just vacationing. Failing that, other members of the group think that stealing the relic — a centuries-old star map — could either be held to ransom, or perhaps used by the people of Belbury, although they’re in the dark as to how the latter would work.

Elsewhere in town, Baxter is happily leading the pack, enjoying the sights and smells of the harbour. Roe asks Fi if she really couldn’t see Inu, the giant dog-deity the group had to get past to enter Belbury in the first place. Still annoyed about the whole incident, Fi insists she really couldn’t, and thought maybe the group were playing a prank on her. “Can you…see Baxter?” asks Roe, to which Fi says “Of course!” waving hi to the border collie who turns and wags his tail in response. Down the street they hear the ringing of a bell and the incessant calling out of “TOURIST INFORMATION!” and, getting closer, the trio find a pint-sized orc named Tor Giide. He plays a ditty on his own music notation tattoo, then cheerfully answers all of Roe’s questions about Belbury, ringing his bell the whole time and speaking at an unnecessarily loud volume. 

He singles out the statue Fi saw as a particular point of interest, explaining it sits outside the council building; tells them there’s a tattoo parlour on the level below that is quite popular; and recommends the fish and chips in Belbury as the freshest you’re likely ever to taste. The only time his bell stops ringing is when Roe asks if there was a king or queen of the town, to which he explains there has been no royal family for a very long time. After his spiel, Roe awkwardly stands around, not knowing the etiquette for tipping. Tor stares up at her, smiling blankly. With a bit of sleight-of-hand, Fi makes a coin “appear” from behind Roe’s ear, but he makes no move to accept the money. They shuffle off in silence, at which point he returns to his route walking up and down the promenade, bellowing and ringing his bell.

Back at the inn, Serra accepts Lissie’s plan, on the assurance that the group are not being roped into any violent or illegal activity. Lissie also promises some sort of payment for their involvement in the scheme, should they pull it off. Anything more substantial, however, cannot be discussed until Serra has reconvened with the rest of her group, and Lissie with their own. The druid asks what there is to do in Belbury, to which Lissie explains there are plenty of market stalls, a harbour with fresh deliveries coming in constantly, and the tattoo parlour. Suggesting they go explore, Lissie gets up to go and pay for the drinks. Whilst they are at the bar, a familiar face sits down in the booth opposite Serra: Rurron, the tiger-lady from the train! It’s only lunchtime but already she’s absolutely hammered, clouds of whiskey breath hitting Serra whenever Rurron speaks. Apologising for the sorry state she last saw her in, which apparently directly lead to her losing her job, Serra offers to make amends by buying Rurron a drink. At the bar, Lissie asks who she is. As Serra is explaining, she’s interrupted by a huge crash. The giant drunk tiger woman has tried to stand up and promptly passed out, knocking over the table and breaking all the glasses in the process. The landlady insists they take her home, and Serra asks if she can take the glass of water she had also ordered for Rurron. Sharing the weight with Lissie, the orc suggests they take the unconscious beast back to their apartment. 

At the tattoo parlour, Roe is troubled by a “NO DOGS” sign at the door. Fi volunteers to take Baxter for some of the fish and chips Tor mentioned. They sit on the dock of the bay watching the tide roll away, Fi sharing her large portion with the doggo. Gazing at the range of designs on the walls of the parlour, Roe instead asks the lady orc behind the counter if perhaps she can have some of her existing tattoos gone over; she doesn’t appear to be interested in imbuing them with magical properties as she is with making them move (it looks neat!) and expresses particular interest in applying it to her bird tattoos. The lady orc checks with the artist in the back room, from where a constant buzzing has been emanating, which he confirms.

Serra and Lissie manage to drag Rurron up the two flights of stairs to their apartment, having to awkwardly pivot past an elderly neighbour in the stairwell. Laying the enormous tiger lady in the bathtub, they try to get her to drink some water, but she’s out cold. She snores loudly, and Serra has the uncomfortable sensation of being in an unusual situation in an unfamiliar location, and immediately starts trying to play host or somehow make things less weird by helping Lissie out somehow. They insist everything’s fine, and suggest Serra takes a seat. Their apartment is small, but cosy, minimalist by choice rather than laziness. There is a large bed, a locked chest at the foot of it and a large wardrobe opposite; a well-stocked kitchen; various papers strewn about the place. Collapsing into an armchair, Serra asks about the mind-wiping spell that the group usually use on their regular train robberies. Lissie explains that that’s a higher-level magic that Aidan employs, implying that it involves either a tattoo in  a sensitive area, or perhaps that the orc resistance leader’s booty is so magnificent it makes those that witness it forget about everything but the butt.

Insisting that they can take care of Rurron, Lissie suggests Serra meet up with everyone else to see what they think of the plan. Following her instincts, which prove to be correct, Serra finds Roe at the tattoo parlour, arriving alongside a well-fed Fi and Baxter. Roe proudly displays her tattoo although, when drumming her fingers along with it, it doesn’t play the birdsong she was expecting; she chalks that up to the new ink not having healed yet. Baxter is non-plussed by the addition, whilst Serra is surprised and impressed. Fi is a little taken aback. “I thought you didn’t like magic?” she asks, to which Roe replies (somewhat tactlessly), “Yeah, but this doesn’t hurt anyone.” Before any more arguments can develop, Serra reveals that she bumped into Rurron — whose drinking problem Roe was aware of from her and Elinor’s first run-in with the former deputy train conductor — runs them through the plan as Lissie explained it, and her reservations. As a former member of the upper crust, she is concerned that she might bump into somebody she knows at this fancy event, or that word of her involvement with a ragtag group of adventurers may find its way back to her parents. Lissie, meanwhile, seemed to think her insider knowledge could help.

Everyone piles back to Lissie’s, where the orc is cooking a big pot of something delicious-smelling on her stove and Rurron still snoozing in the tub. They compare tattoos with Roe, whose birdsong is still a little out of tune. They ask if everyone’s on board, going over a few of the particulars. Roe starts at the mention of a star map, then tries to play it off as wincing at the pain of the fresh ink. Fi admits to being intrigued by the offer. With some time to kill still before meeting up with Elinor and company, the group peruse the market stalls of Belbury for suitable outfits to the T’eilt ball: an ostentatious lace number for Fi, an elegant dress for Serra, a tailored suit for Roe and a ribbon tied around Baxter (which he hates) after he’s had a wash. On another stall, Roe spies a dagger and — missing her confiscated sword — asks if Fi could make her something like that. Scavenging scrap metal from some trashed shipping crates at the dock, she fashions an improvised shiv. Serra buys some tasty fish and rice, and everyone waits patiently for the all-clear on Innogen.

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Alpha Session 5
Roll to see if you scritch the giant dog

“Don’t you see it?” Lissie asks, with Serra stood next to them at the threshold of the valley leaving T'Eilt. The rest of the group are huddled behind them after their  race through the city’s streets. After the smog-filled train station and town centre Roe is happy to see some greenery again,  Elinor’s looking on the bright side of their current situation —  at least there’s no reanimated whales or skeletons on horses — but Fi is fuming that they’re in yet another difficult spot. Serra, meanwhile, is sceptical about the whole situation but nonetheless has her problem-solving hat on. Still, it’s not clear exactly what their new orc buddy is gesturing at. Confused, they ask if anybody else sees it; Baxter, at least, seems to be sniffing something on the wind. Taking a few steps forward and gesturing them to join them and look closer, Lissie is relieved when the magic users can at last make out the giant dog sleeping between the two huts across the valley. Except Fi. Fi can’t see anything, and has no idea what everyone’s reacting to.

The creature is huge, with a split tail and jointed fingers and toes like a human, with a red clay mask covering its face and snout, its eyes visible. Elinor instinctively reaches into her bag and pulls out an Eldritch tome which, having been written a long time ago, can tell her only that this is Inu, an ancient dog deity of some kind, with a poorly-rendered illustration next to it. Inu sits up and looms over the group, noting in an upper-crust kind of voice that “They never could get my profile right.” Roe asks what’s going on, and Inu rolls his eyes in the direction of Lissie. “Didn’t you tell them anything, darling?” he asks. Lissie sighs, clearly irritated at this whole situation. “This is Inu,” they explain. “He sort of guards where I come from.” Their eyes dart back and forth conspiratorially. “I guess we’re safe to talk here.” They explain that the borders around T'Eilt have become increasingly restrictive, and passing through town is particularly difficult for their people. (“Are your people dogs?” asks Roe, to which Baxter barks in reply: “More dogs?!”). They regularly steal tickets by night to create copies and allow them to pass through T'Eilt unhindered — whether for business or pleasure — before returning them. The group’s intervention the previous night messed up the usual routine, but Lissie is now trying to atone for that. They also suggest that, since they’re magic users, they might be able to help them out further.

Before that though, they have to get past Inu. He’s a sort of de facto security system. Every day he switches which hut contains the entrance to Lissie’s home, which is good for keeping out undesirables, but kind of annoying. Roe pets Inu’s fur, which he appreciates, but which throws Baxter into a jealous rage of barking. Elinor asks if Inu is a sphinx, a creature from old mythology, and Inu suggests they were the inspiration for them. He lays out the terms under which they will tell the group which hut they want: tell him a story. Entertain him. Lissie shakes their head and pinches the bridge of their nose. Serra makes a decent fist of it first, showing off her party trick: putting her skull, on and transforming into a Samoyed, whose form she witnessed on the streets of Barent. Inu tries to hide how impressed he is, brushing it of as the sort of magic trick he saw all the time in the king’s court. He asks how she learned it, to which Serra can’t give a good answer, just that the skull helps. Inu reiterates that he’ after stories, not tricks, and Serra recounts a particularly juicy law case from her old life.

Impressed by this rollicking courtroom drama, Inu continues the conversation, intrigued. “Let’s get to know each other, it’s so rare I get new company,” he says. He asks what brought the group here. “Apart from my friend Lissie here,” he says, to which Lissie hisses at the group: “We’re not friends.” Roe greatly embellishes the story of the train robbery, adding some stuff about them being kidnapped and blindfolded by some bandits, and manages to get away with it. Inu then asks how long she’s been able to talk to Baxter, to which Roe stammers a denial. Inu then asks Baxter, who says (in barks) that it’s a recent development.

 After needling the group to ask about him a little, Inu reveals that he used to roam the lands more freely, back when the continent was still under monarchistic rule. He was a member of the king’s exotic menagerie, many hundreds of years ago, on land that was tended to mainly by his gamekeeper — who rode a horse and was rarely seen without his royal armour. Fi, meanwhile, can neither see nor hear any of this, and has chosen simply to believe that the rest of the group have lost their minds. Elinor intuits she can’t see Inu, but decides not to tell her, given her propensity for blowing stuff up. Serra asks if Inu has any experience with twig people, still considering a place to plant more of Rowan’s seeds, and Inu recounts a story of the gamekeeper steering clear of some woods eastwards where he heard “voices coming from the trees.” Serra produces the seeds and asks if it’s okay to plant some in the woods behind Inu; he waves away any responsibility for anything except for the huts, and she scatters a couple between the trees. 

Inu leans forward to Fi and Elinor, asking why they’ve been so quiet. He notes how strange Elinor’s eyes are, which Roe protests, but Elinor explains are linked to her magical abilities. Before he can question them further, she asks for further information about this gamekeeper he mentioned. Inu expands: he saw more of this man than he did the king, as the gamekeeper was responsible to tending to his entire land, patrolling up and down the continent, defending from attackers, hunting down threats and generally keeping things in good nick. He was fiercely devoted to the king, too. Serra asks if he’s seen him recently, to which he laughs. “Oh goodness no,” Inu says, “he must have died centuries ago.” Serra takes Elinor aside and asks if she’s thinking what she’s thinking: that this gamekeeper is the self-same headless, skeletal horseman who summoned the whale skeleton they fought in Barent’s abandoned observatory. 

Before allowing the group access to the correct hut, Inu is tickled at Roe’s initial suggestion that they might have to solve a riddle to get in. Lissie groans loudly, like a teenager being embarrassed by a parent. So he poses one: “I have a tail, and I have a head, but i have no body. I am not a snake. What am I?” Immediately Roe guesses “coin?” Inu claps his hands and congratulates the group on clearly being an intelligent bunch, and tells them it’s the left hut. As the group heads that way, Fi asks if they’re finally moving, which is when Elinor finally expresses incredulity over her not seeing the giant dog deity. She then continues her speculation with Serra: “So the ghost we saw was this groundskeeper who was fiercely loyal to maintaining the kingdom?” To which Serra replies, “And he’s raising ghosts?” “So we’re not crazy, that’s good,” nods Fi. “Well, I’m not anyway,” she adds, still convinced everyone else has lost their marbles a bit and just had a long discussion with thin air.

“What are you all talking about?” Lissie asks from in front. “Oh, we saw a ghost who can summon other ghosts,” says Serra. Lissie notes this with some confusion, but is further convinced that the group may be of some help with something, given their experience with such strange situations. Leading the way into the hut, which is fairly cramped and sparse, Lissie crouches down to open a trapdoor in the floor, and asks cheerfully who wants to go first. Fi immediately leaps down without thinking, but Serra is a little more careful. Before clambering down she asks what’s down there. Fi briefly conjures a flame which reveals a long, narrow, winding spiral staircase made of stone leading down into darkness. They can’t quite make out how far it goes down, except it’s really long. Having confirmed it’s not some kind of bottomless pit, Serra joins Fi, followed by Elinor. Roe is more reticent. Whilst mostly suspicious of new-fangled technology, being from a rural town, she was entranced by an elevator seen during one of her cross-continent trips so far and asks why Lissie doesn’t have one of those. They apologise, but she heads down anyway, after popping her head out the hut to wave Inu goodbye; Baxter follows, again sulking from envy. Finally, Lissie joins them, and they wander down a little ways until Roe asks why Lissie isn’t leading the way. Everyone else agrees, and Serra steps aside, but they have trouble squeezing past on the narrow staircase.

As they attempt to do so, the sound of footsteps comes from below. Roe instinctively draws her short sword. Serra calls down “Hello?”, her voice echoing into the void. For a moment, the footsteps cease, before continuing at greater speed. Behind them, they hear the trapdoor slam shut, and the small amount of light it was providing is snuffed out. “Guess that’s why they call it a trapdoor,” Roe quips, and Serra pulls her skull on in preparation for combat. Elinor shoots a glare at Lissie, who shrugs innocently. Fi is increasingly pissed about their bad luck. Two orcs, their faces masked not unlike the group on the train, rush them from the front, whilst a third comes from behind at Roe. The third jabs a spear at Roe, but misses as Baxter drags her out the way, and she responds by stabbing with her sword, the orc collapsing in a bloody heap. Roe immediately goes numb from shock, having never done such damage to a flesh-and-blood creature before. Since the group were advancing down the stairs in single file, Fi has to deal first with the orc in front of them, failing to summon a burning brand and instead clocking one square in the jaw. In return, he brings down the axe he was wielding above his head leaving him wide open for that punch, and it cuts through Fi’s armour into her shoulder. 

In the middle of the group, Elinor casts a curse on the second orc coming up the stairs, causing him to get into a panic. “What’s going on?” he splutters. “What are we doing here? Is Innogen okay?!” he asks, flailing his axe wildly. Behind her, Serra dramatically steps off the steps and falls into the darkness. She then swoops back up, having transformed into a duck, and flies at the frightened orc. In his panicked frenzy he smacks her upside the head with the butt of his axe, knocking her out of the air and falling straight down to the bottom of the staircase. Lissie demands to know what’s going on; the first orc pulls down his mask, revealing that he’s the thief from the train. He immediately lays down arms, but his crazed pal barrels straight towards Fi. She manages to dodge his charge, and the other orc pins him against the wall, apologising. He introduces himself as Aidan, recognising the group from the train, and tells them the crazed orc is called Cassidy (thanking Elinor when she lifts her curse with a flourish), and the one Roe mortally wounded is called Innogen. “What are you doing here, Lysandre?” he asks. “We had no record of anybody going in or out this morning.” “Yeah this was, erm, off the books,” they explain sheepishly. He calls up to Innogen, who is out cold. Lissie checks her pulse, confirms she’s alive, but both she and Roe are covered in blood. They sling Innogen over their shoulder and the group begin hurrying down the stairs, hoping to help her before it’s too late. 

Roe is otherwise silently freaking out, but finds the strength to insist they don’t let Elinor help, given her past experience with her healing potions. The witch protests: “I won’t charge you!” Roe expands on her long-held grudge, yelling “You turned me into a duck once! I mean, I got better…” Elinor is completely wrong-footed by this, having previously believed Roe was just one of a long string of people she ripped off back in the bad old days. Elinor insists such a thing would be way above her skill level; it transpires that when bed-ridden with the flu, Roe had a very convincing fever dream where she turned into a duck, and thinks it really happened, but nobody knows otherwise right now. With Innogen’s life on the line, they carry on walking down. At the front, Aidan and Cassidy discuss something under their breath; Elinor tries to come up with a recipe for a healing potion; Roe expresses concern over Fi’s injury, but she shrugs it off, downing a healing potion; Roe and Elinor continue to bicker about ducks before reaching the bottom, where a dizzy and still fowl-looking Serra is picked up by the former and cradled as Aidan bids them to walk through an entryway that presumably leads out of the stairwell.

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Alpha Session 4
Alighting and lighting up

Picking up immediately from last session, the orc introduces themselves as Lysandre (or Lissie for short), before rolling up their sleeves to reveal — as the thief the group pursued last session also had — a bunch of tattoos on their arms. Tapping their fingers along an inked musical stave on their forearm, Lissie produces a piece of flute music which suitably covers their speech from any would-be eavesdroppers. Lissie apologies, and says they didn’t intend to get the group wrapped up in this, but is willing to help get them out of it. Hesitant to explain any further,  Elinor reiterates that she does not understand the ticket-stealing scam in the slightest, and asks if Lissie is trying to recruit them into some kind of thieves’ guild. Losing patience, the orc snaps and insists they are a legitimate political organisation agitating for…something.

They also explain, when questioned, that nobody was supposed to remember their daring train robbery, and that whilst the group slept members of their organisation patched up the hole Fi blew in the luggage car. When pressed on how exactly they did that, they quip, “Not for nothing, but one of you is wearing a skull on their head and another has dang lizard eyes. I take it you’re all magic users?” Something which Fi, Elinor and Serra aren’t chomping at the bit to confirm, but  Roe is eager to dismiss — still being in denial about her sudden ability to speak to Baxter and all.

Promising to explain more once they reach a safe place and trying to speed the group up as the train pulls into the station at T’Eilt, an industrious city nobody in the party are familiar with but which Lissie regards with dismay. As everyone gets ready to disembark, cramming their luggage into Elinor’s cauldron — which, not recognising it, Lissie keeps referring to as some kind of stew pot, a mistake Roe and Serra are keen to maintain — and dragging it loudly towards the door, the orc suggests maybe taking a stealthier approach. They pop out to make sure the coast is clear, and give the four of them (plus Baxter) time to change out of their bedclothes. Roe isn’t totally on board with the plan, since she managed to grab a ticket during their pursuit of the thief the previous night, until Elinor reminds her that Baxter doesn’t have one and they’re still trying to pretend he’s a gnoll. Still freaked out about being able to understand her dog familiar, she bundles herself up in a cloak and worries a little about the apparently magic-friendly environ Lissie is planning on delivering them to will accept her as readily as they will her compatriots. Serra is cautiously optimistic about their chances of escaping scot-free, knowing she can just transform into an animal and flee regardless, but stashes her skulls and pulls up her hood just to make sure. Fi doesn’t entirely believe Lissie but doesn’t see many other options, but is committed to wearing her regular fancy clothes, regardless of the desire for the group to be incognito. Elinor, having had a weird few months, is just willing to go with the flow at this point, although she finds few inconspicuous clothing choices in her wardrobe of fancy magician outfits, so settles for taking off her top hat.

Joining Lissie in the hallway outside their compartment, they debate whether the best course of action is blending into the crowds of the station, or sneaking out track-side. Serra asks for Lissie’s opinion, and they think joining the other passengers disembarking would work, since it’s peak time and the station will be busy. They also note that, being an orc, they might stand out a little with the other members of the group; Roe asks if there are many other orcs around in T’Eilt, to which they sadly shake their head. Serra suggests that, if she holds the cauldron stuffed with all their worldly possessions, she might be able to transform into a mosquito and the heavy item will disappear, as all her clothes and equipment do whenever she takes on an animal form, before reappearing when they’re safe. Unfortunately, her attempt fails, and she becomes a buzzing insect without the strength to fly; Elinor tries to help, but her spell simply creates more mosquitoes, the sudden appearance of which draws the attention of other passengers preparing to leave their compartments.

Pressed for time and starting to appear less confident, Lissie harries everyone to get off the train and try their best not to stand out. Elinor suggests lending the orc her hat, but isn’t sure it’ll hide much, while Serra starts rummaging through her bag to find a bonnet, before realising that Lissie — in her official train uniform, unlike the generic formal wear the thief had worn — can simply pretend they are escorting the five of them to some form of detention as stowaways. Lissie assents, asking that the group keep an eye out for Antonio, since the head ticket inspector is the individual most likely to rumble their scheme. Serra somewhat condescendingly repeats the request to Baxter, who replies that he hasn’t done anything wrong.

They are met at the ticket barrier by a goat-person who asks for tickets, which Elinor — unfamiliar with train protocol — questions. Serra looks imploringly at Lissie, who doesn’t seem to have the situation quite as in hand as it seemed, and in the silence the goat sighs and picks up a clipboard to check their names against. Serra lies and says her name is Caroline, but notes they won’t be on the manifest anyway, since they’re stowaways. Lissie is galvanised into continuing the plan, and the goat lets them through, pointing out the office to deliver them to at the back of the station. Past the gates, the group — lead by the orc — struggle to push their way through the throng of passengers, starting when they notice Antonio stood near the office the goat pointed out, scanning the crowd. After ascertaining that Lissie is kind of making this up as they go along and that Antonio is clearly on the lookout for them, Elinor summons a swarm of mosquitoes right in the tiger person’s face, having dismissed the suggestion that they blow something up to distract him as “plan D”; the insects works well enough that they continue pushing through the crowd towards one of the exits.

As they reach the back of the station Rurron, the tiger-lady from the train, grabs Fi’s arm. Not recognising her initially, she leaps away from her paw and yelps “Get off me!”, causing a bit of a kerfuffle. Frightened, Serra backs away from the scene, whilst Roe doesn’t understand what the Rurron’s doing here. “Hey, are you guys sneaking off?” she asks, to which Elinor responds “You didn’t want us on the train any more, so…we’re not!” Not swayed by this argument, or the suggestion that having disembarked the group are no longer under the “jurisdiction of train law,” Rurron implores the group to return to the cabin she thought they had been locked in. Attempting to parley, Roe points out that drinking on the job is perhaps as much an offense as having no ticket, referencing the state she and Elinor found her in when they went to report the theft the previous night. “Whoa whoa!” she raises her paws defensively, a little hurt. “I thought you were cool!” As things appear to be heating up, Baxter books it, Lisse following after him in the direction of the exit.

Serra begins to slide her skull out of her back and begins to flee, too, whilst the other three trip over Elinor’s dropped cauldron. Realising Rurron is super-pissed and going on the offensive, Fi ducks behind the cauldron, which provides ample defense as her attacker’s claws clang off of it. Taking advantage of this gap in the action Elinor tries to get away, but struggles to push through the crowds, and Fi attempts to box Rurron on the nose, as a warning shot. She swipes back at her, but is pulled — along with Elinor and Roe — through the sea of people by Serra.

Upon reaching the steps outside the station, the group are given their first look at T’Eilt: a huge, industrialised city, the landscape dominated by huge chimneys, factory buildings and houses, all covered in a thin cloud of smog. The crowds have thinned out enough that they can move unencumbered, checking over their shoulder for Rurron. They reconvene with Baxter and Lissie, who have taken shelter in an alleyway, the orc asking what took them so long. “I had to fight the tiger lady!” says Fi, to which Lissie asks if anybody saw them. Incredulously, Elinor replies of course people saw, to which Fi insists she had no choice but to start swinging. With time still very much of the essence, Lissie leads them through a labyrinthine series of alleyways, the group getting intermittent glimpses at the city’s main streets. The further they go, the stone walls and cobbled streets begin to give way to plantlife, weeds bursting from the ground and vines growing up the side of buildings. Lissie stops once they reach a clearing: the city limits.

They beckon Serra to have a look at what awaits them, and she takes in a large area of scrubland, a dirt path leading beyond the valley-like bowl. Serra notices a couple of buildings either side of the path, albeit without any noticeable barrier to suggest it’s a checkpoint, despite what Lissie says. The orc tells them their promised safe place is beyond this point, but they’re not so sure it’ll be easy to get there.

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