The City of Lives

Lord Useless and the Men of Real Talent: Stupid Idea No. 143: Gamble Away My Father's Land Holdings Part 2: In Which Gruda Hulks Out

Stupid Idea #143 Part 2: In Which Gruda Hulks Out

Abruptly, the scene erupted into violence. The Iversdotter duo leapt to their feet and began assaulting Gruda. Nearly a dozen other Iversdotter guards appeared from across the street, heading towards the Men of Real Talent with murder in their eyes. While Jonakin and Gruda held off the mercenaries, Mili disappeared into the background and headed towards the rear of Blanche’s house, hoping to retrieve her without alerting the mercs. She succeeded in sneaking in, and saw an attractive Rural eating her lunch in a rush. Unfortunately, Mili’s poor interpersonal skills led her to whisper (still camouflaged) in Blanche’s ear “don’t scream.”

Blanche, unsurprisingly, reacted with a tremendous screech, and Mili tried in vain to calm her. Jonakin, watching from her fight outside the window, used her Bloodshifting to remove Blanche’s mouth, making her screaming both more frantic and so muffled as to be inaudible. Iolanthe headed into the front door (twisting an ankle while avoiding a sword blow), while Gruda and Jonakin used their specialized skills in fighting groups and gangs to completely demolish their fellow Iversdotters. Eustice continued to use his devastating charm, convincing a full four of the mercenaries to stop attacking him by flashing a smile and saying “Ladies, I’m flattered, but there’s plenty of me to go around.” Unfortunately, not everyone was so easily convinced, and he was forced to actually call for help, bruising his ego if not his flesh.

Jonakin came around the back of Blanche’s house, in time to help Mili calm the Rural down and show her Fortunato’s note. As Mili, Blanche, and Eustice started to escape out the back, Jonakin Bloodshifted a duo of Iversdotter mercenaries into physical duplicates of Eustice and herself, which slowed down their compatriots as they came upon them and slaughtered the “enemies” ruthlessly. As the majority of the Men headed down the back alleys towards the old woman who cared for Blanche’s daughter during the day, Gruda crashed through the house’s window to get at more mercenaries. Upon seeing the bodies of what appeared to be her Sister Iversdotter Jonakin and her Most Beloved, Gruda went completely mad, snapped one Iversdotter’s neck and smashed the other’s head against the wall until she was dead.

Heading for the “day care” house, Mili found herself cornered far too close to use her signature bow-and-arrow, but her hunter’s instincts helped her improvise an arrow into a dagger and plunge it into the mercenary’s eye. As Iolanthe, Jonakin, and Eustice fetched the babies and nanny, Mili headed to the rooftop and began sniping, while Gruda, still in a sobbing rage, continued to wreak havoc.

Finally, Mili took down the last Iversdotters before they could escape to report back to Freyj, and Gruda was informed that Eustice was in fact still alive. Her joy and relief was somewhat overshadowed by Eustice’s disdainful remark that she should be ashamed for thinking he could leave such an unattractive corpse.

Heading back to the manor with Blanche and daughter in tow, the Men of Real Talent breathed deep before their next task: preparing for the showdown game…

Notes:
The original Iver wore “maternity armor” - usually depicted as pregnant
-breast-feeding armor with hinged breast-plates
-Blanche’s kid: Cabbage-patch kid
-Mili can put rainbows and puppies on her skin
-Eat a Rural baby: meat and salad in one
-Eustice isn’t smart enough to not metagame (not sure what this means)

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Lord Useless and the Men of Real Talent: Stupid Idea No. 143: Gamble Away My Father's Land Holdings Part 1: Uncle Mios’s School for the Morally Bankrupt

Relaxing after their traumatic fight with the Cobblestone Golem, the Men of Real Talent retired to Eustice’s favorite club, the Thousand Tastes (owned by infamous loan shark Freyj Passion-Seller). There, he got into a high-stakes match of the popular card game “Councilman’s Hand” with a house proposition player known as Fortunato… and promptly lost the deed to the textile mill the Men had spent so long keeping in Varos hands. Eustice was unperturbed, but also decided it would be fun to do a rematch, and foolishly agreed to Freyj’s terms for the mill vs. the mining rights to [Mili’s home Realm]. Mili, worried, watched the game and “recorded” it with her Farsharing, ready to show it to someone who knew more about the game and would be able to discern if Fortunato had cheated. They left Iolanthe behind at the Thousand Tastes, as collateral until they replaced Eustice’s IOU with the actual textile deed. Iolanthe, unwilling to waste an opportunity, began to prepare intelligence for her compatriots by watching all the people who attend the Thousand Tastes and looking for weaknesses.

Eustice decided to go and get lessons from his favorite uncle, inveterate gambler Mios, in order to prepare for the rematch. Mios confirmed that Fortunato had cheated, and spent the next few days teaching Eustice some tips and tricks (while Gruda scrounged in Mios’s insufficient kitchen for food for Eustice, getting ridicule for her efforts).

The Men of Real Talent discussed what to do about the game and the cheating, and decided to consult with Theonides while getting their hands on the deed. Theonides was disappointed but unsurprised, and told Mili that while her proof of Fortunato’s cheating was useful to know, it would also implicate Eustice as a cheater (as Mili had been watching and recording the game). Mili found herself laid into by Ryline when she described uncle Mios, feeling that Mili had been insulting her dear brother. A fight started between Theonides and Ryline, apparently not for the first time, as Theonides said “I know we promised we weren’t going to say “your son” or “my son” anymore” while complaining about Eustice. Eventually, they decided to give Freyj the deed for the mill, but to create a false set of paperwork for the mining rights, that would give the rights to Freyj… in twenty years, after Theonides’ death.

Some clever talk among the low-lifes of the City [by Jonakin? who else?] explained why Fortunato cheated: he had been virtually enslaved by Freyj, as she has been blackmailing him over the existence of a crossblooded daughter and his Rural lover Blanche. Freyj has been keeping Blanche safe and well-guarded in order to keep Fortunato in line. The Men of Real Talent went to talk to Fortunato, and after he briefly denied cheating (“I just won the deed to a mill from your drunk guy there…”), he agreed to throw the game if they would rescue his daughter and lover from Freyj’s grasp.

Eustice (very drunk): A daughter? Is she hot?
Fortunato: She’s a baby! You animal!

A three-day bender later, the Men of Real Talent prepared to rescue Blanche and her daughter, Eustice planning to send the girl to a boarding school and Blanche to some far-off Realm. Armed with a note from Fortunato telling Blanche the situation, they went to find the Rural. Approaching her house, the Men saw a duo of Iversdotters apparently guarding the place (and engaging in a lovers’ quarrel). Eustice ignored the Iversdotters’ sexual preferences and established relationship and proceeded to seduce them both, pitching a threesome in the house next door (throwing money at the resident to clear out). Surprisingly, they went for it… and then Gruda, overcome with rage at other women getting near her man, Forceshifted the duo into a hedge…

Notes:
-Sons of Light were living projectors, sold decorate prosceniums to put shadow puppets on the wall.
-Mios is shocked at how Eustice and his friends are so likely to get violent.

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Lord Useless and the Men of Real Talent: Stupid Idea No. 84 - Investigate the Disappearances in the Factorium, Part 1

The Men of Real Talent pondered what to do with their prisoners. Jonakin didn’t believe that Mo would try to get back his men unless they were important somehow (believing Mo’s rhetoric about solidarity to be lies), but considered it might be a double-bluff. After consulting with Theonides, they decided that, whether they were to return them to Mo or not, they should first interrogate them. The two prisoners—one Jonakin suspected as being the leader of the revolutionaries, and the other a dim-looking Kipman named Skizz—were separated, with the intent to tell each that the other had given up his secrets. Jonakin pressed the leader for information, but found out little besides the rhetoric that “It’s better for the mill to be burned down than to be hands of the rich,” only that a Promethean bomb-maker had been hired to make their explosives. Armed with this knowledge, Iolanthe went in to Skizz to kill him with kindness. She easily turned the dim-witted henchman, convincing him that the workers would suffer if they tried to take over the factories, as they don’t have the money to make it work—and convinced him that Mo was probably working with the upper classes anyway—“All he did was to get a big insurance payment to Varos”. Skizz, infatuated with Iolanthe, told her that their next plan was to ensure that the textile mill wasn’t rebuilt, and that there was some big plan meant to go down at the Curia [the Council and Parliament’s building] soon, but he didn’t know what it was. The Men of Real Talent ensured the leader saw Skizz being well-treated and then released back to Mo—asking Mo for further concessions in order to get back the other prisoner, and hoping Skizz would act as a double-agent. Jonakin, intrigued by the bone-spur “thorns” that the revolutionaries wore, sawed one off the leader to study. As they returned Skizz to the Commune, they saw that the former Aderino Manor has become a walled compound with a moat, with rich people hung in effigy all around.

The Men of Real Talent informed Theonides of what they had learned, and he promised to look into the Curia information while the Men checked on the textile mill. Heading down there, Eustice and the Men saw a group of Forceshifters, Worldshapers, and run-of-the-mill construction workers hard at work clearing the rubble and starting the new foundations. They spoke to the foreman Midanty, who worried that they were there because of “the disappearances,” which were “not a problem.” Though the less socially aware of the Men took his statement at face value, Iolanthe was more skeptical, and he admitted that a number of workers had gone missing since they started work the previous day—one every three or four hours. The Men then heard a bloodcurdling scream, and Mili Farshared to see a dead Kipman who had been hit with something heavy, and his left arm and other bits of meat were missing—but he had apparently not been butchered. She also spotted a large, misshapen creature running away from the body. The Men of Real Talent headed over to investigate the scene, though Iolanthe hung back and started talking to the workers.

Eustice was not concerned about the dead man, saying “It’s not like we lost any money. Just give [his purse] to the next worker.” There was also discussion as to the possibility that the man had committed suicide, perhaps beating himself to death with his own arm through Forceshifting [“Stop murdering yourself! Stop murdering yourself!”] Mili, however, decided to follow the trail of footprints the killer had left, and Eustice followed his pet (while Jonakin stuck to Eustice to ensure he didn’t get himself killed). Meanwhile, Iolanthe discovered that there had been a strange red-haired Iversdotter by the name of Cedris hanging around recently, and that the first worker to go missing was a Kipman named Malth. She tracked down Malth’s home address, only to find the man’s widow sobbing outside a ransacked tenement. The widow said that Malth had gone missing the previous night, and that morning she had noticed a red-haired Iversdotter hanging around. When she arrived home, she found that a knife and the ticket stub from her and Malth’s first date (to the dog-fights) had been taken from her box of mementos. Iolanthe gave the widow some money and followed [what clue?] to a junkyard.

This junkyard, colloquially known as the Debris Fields, was where Mili had tracked the killer. There she had found a dog-faced Kipman boy, who she tried to connect with through food and nonthreatening gestures. However, as soon as she asked about the [killer? shape? what DID she ask about?], the boy ran into the junkyard. Mili and the Men of Real Talent pursued, following him through the twisted alleyways of trash until they came to an open space near the center, where they saw an awesome sight. A winged, red-haired Iversdotter armed with a polearm flitted back and forth in the sky, diving at a fifteen-foot-tall monster seemingly made of junk—cobblestones, iron bars, even hunks of flesh. The Men of Real Talent leapt into action, ready to vanquish the terrible monster. However, the boy shouted “No! Don’t hurt him!” as they began, throwing some doubt into the encounter. Mili sank into the shadows, preparing to strike, and Iolanthe reached out with her Soulsharing (which, luckily, affected the monster—implying it had a definite mind and life energy), inflicting terrible lethargy on both fighters. The flying Iversdotter teetered in the wind, and the golem threw her to the ground, then struck her again with leaden fists. Eustice tried to rush into the fight, but Jonakin mysteriously was in his way every time he took a step forward.

The fight raged on…

A discussion on Iversdotter sexuality determined the following:
-Iversdotters must be inseminated in order to become pregnant, but ancient Bloodshifting magics built into their genes destroy their partners’ chromosomes, leaving every baby as a clone. They also often use pure Bloodshifting to keep men out of the process entirely.
-It is possible for Iversdotters to use Bloodshifting to stop their bodies from destroying the father’s chromosomes and have a traditional baby. These mothers and daughters (or… gasp! sons!) are shunned at best and executed at worst.
-It was noted that Gruda probably wants to have a Crossblood baby with Eustice. It fits with her “black sheep” status in the Iversdotter community.

On Eustice’s artistic talent: He’s not so much an artist because he loves art, he’s an artist because it gets him laid.

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Lord Useless and the Men of Real Talent: Stupid Idea No. 83 - Quiet the Factory Uprising, Part 2

The Men of Real Talent found themselves in a dangerous situation, as the saboteurs rushed to set off their explosives. Two of them headed to the open window, one causing a mass of grass to erupt from the ground, thatching the window shut—and the the second vomited hard, sticky blood all over it, reinforcing the thatch and making it virtually impossible for someone to get through. The Men began striking at the revolutionaries, but not before the first bomb, in the exhibition room, went off, deafening Iolanthe and injuring several of the revolutionaries, as Jonakin and Mili took cover among the looms.

Iolanthe’s brainwashed revolutionary tried to stop his compatriots from setting off another bomb in the loom room, but was unable, and it went off in their faces, injuring several of the revolutionaries. Mili took pot-shots from the corner, and Jonakin struck at the burned men.

Eustice, hearing the explosion, headed to the boarded-up front door, intent on a heroic rescue. He valiantly failed to remove the boards, but his tarts, working as a team, managed it. Eustice tried to rush in, but Jonakin blocked him at the door, convincing him that the burning factory was a lost cause, and Eustice could be of more help outside. Eustice went and fetched the fire brigade, then negotiated a good price (down from the brigade’s initial offer of “sell us the land at a loss, or we let it burn to the ground”).

The revolutionaries, to a man, rushed upstairs. Deciding it would be safer to deal with them as they came out the top-floor window rather than to follow them into the flames, Mili ducked out the front door and headed around the side, readying her long bow. As the saboteurs came leaping from the window, she pinned two to the ground with well-aimed arrows, while two more were caught in another explosion from their last bomb on the second floor. Jonakin and Mili wrestled the revolutionaries into submission, and they took the thorned men into custody.

Back at the manor, Eustice took a tongue-lashing from his father, but Theonides congratulated the Men of Real Talent for keeping the damage from getting even worse. Eustice took the opportunity to celebrate the (in his mind) complete success of the venture, throwing a tremendous party. Near the close of the evening, there was a knock at the door. It was Mo Proudhoe, that dangerous revolutionary who was almost certainly responsible for the trouble at the mill. He said as much, admitting that the men in custody were his, and he was willing to pay to get them back. He told Eustice and the Men that there was nothing they could do to him: the variable laws of Sylvennis meant that nobody could touch him at the Commune, and nobody in the Factorium or Sylvennis would speak against him, as he was their savior. He left an offer of money for the return of the prisoners, and left.

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Lord Useless and the Men of Real Talent: Stupid Idea No. 83 - Quiet the Factory Uprising, Part 1

Lord Useless and the Men of Real Talent

The year is 542 Breaking (or 554, or 566, depending on which calendar you use). Forty years have passed since the valiant and unsung men and women working for House Trevelanius turned back the Niontian invasion and removed the corrupt Tessiria Aderino from power. In the intervening years, House Trevelanius rose to extraordinary influence in the City, and brought several allied Houses to power with it. House Varos, a strongly Triochean Promethean family, has become a great power, its head Theonides in his fifth year as head of the High Council. An unprecedented economic boom has made the City richer than ever before, as the burgeoning industrial revolution ticks along.

However, all is not well in the City. A sudden explosion of religious revivalism fills the populace with guilt and dissatisfaction over their Triochean money-loving ways, and House Varos finds more and more of its eminently logical laws voted against on ethical grounds as the Canonists and Publicans rise in power. As industry has increased over the last half-century, the rich have grown richer, and the middle class as well… but the lower classes, exploited more than ever, are growing restless, and a revolution is well under way, violent terrorism sweeping through the streets on a daily basis. The ringleader of this revolution, the single-minded Mo Proudhoe of the Commune, has only grown tougher and angrier in his age, and nobody has been able to stop his advances (and fear to turn him into a martyr).

With the increased industrial growth of the last half-century, the Factorium has grown larger and larger, spilling into the Plains and displacing many Rurals. As the factories need more and more workers, these displaced Rurals have moved into the City en masse, and the third generation of City-dwelling Rurals are now reaching maturity, distinctly different from their forebears. Though their soil-enriched blood still runs thick, the citified Rurals’ gardens are patchier and more likely to be cultivated for fashion than practical use, and some, known as the “Industrials,” have abandoned their plants entirely in exchange for Bloodshifting and surgically-implanted relics to improve their work efficiency. No matter who they are, these third-generation Rurals are no longer so naive or confused by the City, and for many, the romantic notions their grandparents had about the City’s promise have been transformed into disillusionment and bitterness… and hence the revolution…

Out in the Realms, the war continues to rage between the Shertasi and the Ma’ar, well into its seventh decade. The City of Lives has been acting as arms merchant to both sides for decades, and their increasingly impressive and efficient weaponry has turned the war deadlier, both to their own forces and the poor Outlanders who have the misfortune to live in between the two empires. Refugees of all kinds flood the City, while charitable groups send their own to help in the other Realms, and diplomats struggle to keep the City out of the war without turning one or both of the empires against them. As more and more troubles boil in the City itself, public opinion turns away from helping the victims of a foreign war, and fuels the fires of revolution all the hotter.

Into this miasma of conflicting powers and loyalties steps Lord Eustice House Varos, ready to save the Realm. Unfortunately, Eustice (or “Useless” behind his back) is anything but qualified for this job. Though he is the only viable candidate for control of House Varos, everyone in his family is desperately searching for a way to remove him from succession: encouraging him to marry and have children of his own, supporting one or another of his lower-ranking (but more competent) cousins in a potential coup, or simple but inelegant assassination. Lord Theonides is well-aware of his son’s deficiencies as well as his importance, and has surrounded him with a cadre of talented women with the goal of keeping Eustice alive (and perhaps even improving his leadership abilities) while pretending to humor his wild fantasies and stupid ideas.

Characters

  • Lord Eustice “Useless” House Varos (Mindy) is a foppish idiot with delusions of grandeur, a penchant for cheap women and expensive trouble. He brings nothing to the team but his family name—which, thankfully, is worth a lot.
  • Iolanthe House [?] (Sara) is Theonides’ secret weapon, a “proper woman” mean to lead Eustice into the arms of respectability. She knows everyone and can twist them all around her little exquisite little finger.
  • Jonakin (Jeremy) is Eustice’s “minder,” the officially unofficial leader of this team and the only one who truly understands how difficult it is keeping her charge alive.
  • Gruda of Penelope’s Wharf (Molly), a cook turned bodyguard, is unhealthily obsessed with Eustice, ignoring his faults even as she protects him from every physical and romantic threat.
  • Mili (Anna) is Eustice’s “pet Outlander”—or his he hers?—a [?] Farsharer always on the lookout for the latest disaster to come Eustice’s way.

How will Useless and his “Men” of Real Talent keep the balance of power in the City and prevent the collapse and ruin of House Varos? They’re going to need a lot of luck…

Stupid Idea No. 83: Shut Down the Factory Uprising

At home with his father, mother, and coterie of doting admirers, Lord Eustice House Varos overheard his father discussing the union organizers causing trouble at one of his textile mills. He was quite irritated at the unionists, stating that he gave his workers everything they needed, and if they had more wages or fewer hours, they would only waste it on frivolities. Theonides specifically ordered Eustice not to get involved, but once he’d gone to bed, Ryline encouraged Eustice to “work his magic” and settle the dispute.

The following morning, Eustice and the Men of Real Talent headed down to the Factorium and the Varos textile mill. There they found the building surrounded by strikers—chanting, marching, and holding signs. They spoke to the foreman, a Pariah named Midanty, who said that the strikers were led by a Kipman named Bock. Eustice and the Men spoke to Bock, who said he would only negotiate with Theonides or a duly-appointed representative. He also mentioned a “person he couldn’t talk about” (assumed to be revolutionary Mo Proudhoe by the Men) had been lurking around, encouraging the strikers to take control of the factory or burn it to the ground. Eustice insisted he was a Varos representative, and was extremely insulted that Bock insisted on written proof. He responded by “solving” the situation very simply: he declared that all of the striking workers were fired, and told Midanty to go and get some new workers: “Outlanders, Rurals, Kipmen with cognitive defects.” Eustice wrote via Farscribe to his mother: “The strike is over, new workers will be arriving soon. Please send someone to remove the old workers. What’s for dinner?”

This declaration quickly caused a riot, violence spilling into the streets. However, Jonakin managed to quiet the crowd before too much damage was caused (though one Kipman was hamstrung with a pin-point dagger throw from Mili, and Bock took Gruda’s fist to his face). Forcefully grabbing Gruda’s braid, Jonakin pronounced “pay no attention to my sister. She is acting on her own with no authority from Theonides. I am arresting her for assault on your fine leader.” As the riot calmed, Jonakin proceeded to convince Eustice that he should consult with Theonides about this latest turn of events (though, of course, Eustice came to the conclusion that it had been his own idea the whole time). Eustice and Gruda headed back to Varos Manor while the other Men stayed to examine the mill.

Mili headed into the mill through a convenient window (now that all the strikers were out front) and began to search for anything of interest. While she pored over the mill inch-by-inch, Jonakin employed her Bloodshifting to heal Bock and the injured Kipman.

Back at the Manor, Eustice bragged about how he had solved the problem. Even his doting mother realized that things were not going as well as he’d like to think, and summoned Theonides. Theonides chastised Eustice for getting involved, then pulled Gruda aside. He told her that with the Publicans breathing down his neck, he could not afford the scandal of hiring strike-breakers, taking jobs away from rightful City workers and encouraging illegal immigrants. Gruda insisted she had been trying to protect Eustice by keeping him away from the riot, and Theonides agreed that her job was to protect Eustice, but that “The most dangerous person to Eustice is Eustice.” Reluctantly, Theonides wrote up a document authorizing Eustice to negotiate with Bock, and told Gruda to get him back to the mill ASAP to send the strike-breakers home and get things sorted.

By the time Gruda and Eustice returned to the mill, Mili had discovered a group of thorn-covered Kipmen and Rurals examining some kind of clockwork device. Coming from a jungle Realm of negligible technology, Mili had no idea what it was, but figured that these men shouldn’t be in a boarded-up factory, and headed back out to speak to the rest of the Men of Real Talent.

When the scabs arrived, Jonakin headed off Eustice’s no-doubt-insulting gesture and paid the strike-breakers two hours’ wages for their trouble in coming to the mill (hoping to be reimbursed by Theonides at a later date). Mili then utilized her color-changing skin and Farsharing abilities to show the thorned men’s activities. Iolanthe was able to identify them as part of Mo’s group the Burnt Thorns, and the clockwork device as a bomb. Unfortunately, the Men were unfamiliar with explosives and clockwork, and unable to determine if the bomb would be triggered as a suicide attack or if they could safely wait until the thorned men left before trying to disarm the bomb (though none of them had any idea how to go about doing that).

Jonakin pierced Iolanthe’s skin with painful thorns so that she could go in undercover, and she and Mili followed just behind the deceitful Promethean. Iolanthe quickly ingratiated herself into the saboteurs, and used her Soulsharing to convince one of them that he should not set off the bomb. This saboteur began an argument with one of his more aggressive colleagues, and another headed out into the next room, passing by Mili. Unfortunately, Mili’s camouflaged skin failed to hide her well enough, and he shouted in alarm, then ran over to another explosive device hidden in a corner.

Chaos erupted, as Gruda rushed in and Mili attempted and failed to place a Forceshaping shield over the nearest explosive… while Eustice calmly negotiated a new contract with Bock outside…

New Canon:
Many people in the City get their news from Dreamsharers, who act as “ambulance chasers,” rushing to the sites of tragedy and watching it, then going door-to-door or to special parlors to mentally share their experiences with the rich (especially Epicureans) who want to feel what’s going on.

Eustice has a habit of pretending (even to himself) that any time someone else changes his mind, it was his idea in the first place.

Mili’s home Realm has carnivorous hedgehogs. In fact, everything there is either carnivorous or has absurdly strong defense mechanisms. It’ll all chew your face off, the question is if they’ll swallow after.

Jonakin is totally going to get fired (given her harsh treatment of Eustice today).

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Treasure Hunters for Hire: Homecoming Part 3

With the Silencing Staff activated, everyone found their Crafting completely blocked—and the insurgent leader freed from his Forceshifted bondage. He and his minions immediately rushed over to Akina and tore the staff from her hands, and after Yorgen failed to get the staff back, Thalia bowled them over like ninepins. The leader sacrificed his minions to block the hunters’s progress, and rushed up the stairs out into the world, still holding the staff. Yorgen pursued him, but lost him quickly. As the effects of the staff wore off, [?] intimidated the remaining insurgents into telling the hunters about their plans.

The insurgents told them that Fultermann, one of the broader group of rebels, purchased the Staff of Thundering Earth from a dealer in the City, and then when he found out the insurgents’ plans, refused to give them the staff, and they killed him and took it instead. However, the agents who took the staff never returned to the rest of the insurgents. It had been a week, and the magical signature of the staff just showed up, and the insurgents had been on their way to find it when the hunters encountered them in the woods and drove them into the rebel hideout. The leader, along with others, was on his way to retrieve the staff and use it to destroy the Hexfinder seminary and the rest of the “city” it was in, killing hundreds of people, including helpless children studying to be Hexfinders.

Knowing this information, the hunters decided to leave before the rest of the rebels had a chance to confront them—and Yorgen “reclaimed” a magical sword, cloak, and sheet set [yes, really] from the armory. The hunters followed the insurgents’ directions to a clearing in the snowy woods. There they encountered Mathilde, a Hexfinder Yorgen had known in the seminary. She was known to be even more rule-bound than Yorgen, and allowed no exceptions to her rules, nor did she hesitate to perform any number of despicable acts to achieve her goals. Mathilde told the hunters that she had killed the insurgents a week ago and had waited for their compatriots to come retrieve them—and finally, getting no results, had allowed her null sphere around the staff to lapse, using it as bait for the rest of the insurgents. She welcomed Yorgen’s help, but informed him that she did not approve of his allies that “had the stink of magic on them” (as each of them had used their magics since being ritually cleansed), and that after the battle, she would need Yorgen to take her back to the rebel hideout and help her slaughter them all. Yorgen informed her that his allies were helpful and honorable, and that they did not have the authority to kill the rebels, and instead should take them into custody for the magistrates to judge. Mathilde said that their numbers made that impractical, but that they would have to argue about it later…

…because as Thalia discovered, the insurgents were approaching. Each of the insurgents made it their highest priority to race to the fifteen-foot boulder at the center of the clearing, where Mathilde had placed the staff. Several got the staff and then were disarmed by Yorgen and his fierce chain, until one fumbled the staff onto the ground nearby, where Akina grabbed it and fled into the woods. Yorgen and Gemma held off the insurgents while Thalia and Mathilde followed Akina and the several insurgents that followed her. Akina hid herself in a hole in the root structure of a tree, down deep where nobody could grab her. However, Mathilde held the staff as a higher priority than the insurgents, and began ignoring them in favor of locating Akina with her Nullcrafting and attempting to regain the staff—beginning by stabbing at Akina with a makeshift spear made of a branch, then thrusting her body into the hole… where she became stuck [did Thalia kick her in there]?.

The fight went on for quite some time, both Mathilde and the insurgents trying to get at Akina while Yorgen and the rest of the hunters tried to stop them. The insurgents (and Thalia) injured Mathilde significantly, until one managed to remove her from the hole, and a Waveshaper flooded the tunnel while a Forceshifting insurgent tried to pull the staff from Akina’s hands, forcing her to use its powers (which she had figured out) to fight back.

Finally, the hunters subdued the insurgents, and the last one surrendered—at which point Mathilde slew him and methodically killed all of the injured insurgents around. She then demanded that Yorgen hand over the staff and Thalia and Akina (both of whom had used magic in the battle) for judgment, and accompany her to wipe out the nonviolent rebels, or he would NO LONGER BE A HEXFINDER. Yorgen realized that a) she had no authority to make that pronouncement and b) there was no negotiating with her. Tempted by the Worldshaping powers of the staff and unwilling to turn over his friends or kill the rebels without judgment, Yorgen decided to activate his Journeyman, and escaped back to the City of Lives. The other hunters followed him. Back in the City, the hunters again fought with Mr. Fix over his immoral acts (and discovered that under his rug he kept a safe filled with money and priceless artifacts).

We now leave the Treasure Hunters for Hire. They have many stories left to tell, with Yorgen’s reputation in Reich likely ruined by Mathilde (the only one left to tell the story), and the hunters so dissatisfied with Mr. Fix and his Masters that they are seriously considering stealing from him and finding new employers. But those are stories for another day…

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Treasure Hunters for Hire: Homecoming Part 2

Seeing Thalia and her unwilling mount leap off the edge of the cliff, the hunters investigated: they saw that they hadn’t splattered at the foot of the cliff, and saw no evidence of them otherwise. After Yorgen searched for magic, he found what seemed to be a Forceshifting net not far below. The hunters swallowed their hesitation and leaped, safely landing on said net and entering a hidden cave system.

Inside the caves, they found a burgeoning society of rebel Droghan, who were all Crafters and wanted to live in peace. They explained that there was a small subset of their ranks, dangerous terrorists and insurgents, who had attacked the hunters outside, and they were in custody. However, Yorgen was unwilling to let them be and started a fight. Meanwhile, Thalia and the insurgent leader had been jailed in a cell, and once they heard the fighting, tried to escape. Thalia easily squeezed through bars built for people much larger than herself, and the insurgents were not far behind.

Once the rebels realized that the insurgents had escaped, they turned their attention away from the hunters, and the hunters also focused on the insurgents, trying to stop them before they escaped. The insurgents led the hunters to the rebel armory, where they appeared to be trying to retrieve a staff. Thalia held them in force bonds, while Akina, assuming that this was the Staff of Thundering Earth they had been sent to get, rushed over and grabbed it. Unfortunately, it was instead a Hexfinder’s tool, a Silencing Staff that blocked all magic in the area, including the bonds that held the insurgents still…

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Treasure Hunters for Hire: Homecoming Part 1

In the few days between their amnesiac adventure and their next job, the hunters relaxed and followed up on loose ends. Thalia and Akina both pulled some money together to buy the Mirror of the Watchful Eye, Thalia wishing to return it to her not-father Tremes, while Akina simply lusted after the power of unlimited surveillance. They bid against each other, and even though Thalia borrowed some money from her mother, Akina still won the auction, taking the mirror home.

While asking her mother for money, Thalia also confronted her about Tremes and the identity of her father. Apparently, they had had this conversation many times, with Erema often throwing around cliches like “It doesn’t matter who your father was, we’re all children of Prometheus” and “It was just you and me against the world.” Erema admitted to spending time with the imperious Tremes, saying “sometimes a girl just wants to be dominated,” but said she knew he wasn’t Thalia’s father. Thalia didn’t ask her mother about “Cabot Thule,” the man who Tremes had identified as Thalia’s real dad, but she did ask around her mother’s social circle, her many “uncles” and such. They all remembered Cabot as a reclusive, powerful Crafter, who had vanished nearly twenty years before, and was rumored to have created his own Realm that he had retreated to.

Returning to Mr. Fix, the hunters fought with him about his not telling them enough about their tasks, not liking stealing relics from “innocent” people like Tremes (though the group was split as to how innocent the man was), and he argued back that it was work-for-hire, that they could decide not to take any job they chose, and that he had been more than reasonable in agreeing not to sell the Perpetuum to Master Clutch, and selling the mirror to Akina. Agreeing to disagree, the hunters allowed Mr. Fix to give them their next mission: following an earthquake-creating staff to Yorgen’s home Realm of Reich, where it had been purchased by a denizen of Yorgen’s hometown Kron, one “Fultermann.”

Yorgen was both eager and unhappy about returning home, not wanting to bring his magic-using compatriots to the intensely anti-mystical culture of the Droghan. He tried to prepare the other hunters, ritually cleansing them to remove the “stink of magic,” so that they would only start being obvious as Crafters once they started using their magics again. Akina, who had learned the Droghan language and culture from Yorgen, documented the scenario, but decided to take her relics along with her (tired of being practically unable to move without her magic shoes). Thalia (who spoke a little Droghan, mostly curse words) left her magical boots behind, and Moregar left his focus stone behind as well, not wanting them to be taken and destroyed by the Droghan Hexfinders.

The hunters Realmshifted to Kron, in the midst of winter, where Yorgen noticed that the wall surrounding the village was damaged and hadn’t been repaired… which he found very suspicious. Speaking to the mayor, he discovered that secret magic-using saboteurs had destroyed it, and had been doing a lot of damage recently. These saboteurs were described by one of the twenty Droghan words for “one who does not know their place,” specifically “those who have willfully denied their place,” and Yorgen thought about his recent Worldshaping temptation and the fact that while he had given it up, it was “like biting the inside of your cheek, much easier to bite it a second time.” He found magical traces on the wall, and gave the mayor quite a bit of money to fix it.

The mayor said that Fultermann was a recluse (always suspicious in the community-based Droghan culture), and Yorgen vaguely remembered him. Yorgen considered visiting his parents, but realized he had little connection to them: as Droghan are largely raised by the community as a whole, and especially since Hexfinders are sent off to study early on. He led the hunters to Fultermann’s small farm, where they trudged through the pristine snow and examined the farmhouse and barn. Thalia began by getting distracted, her breath fogging up the glass and proceeding to draw pretty pictures, while Akina failed to find anything notable looking around the area. Gemma entered the barn and found a frozen body of an elderly Droghan man, and continued investigating, not bothering to tell the rest of the team about her discovery. Thalia climbed to the top of the house and down the chimney, and the hunters discovered that a plate was mysteriously on the floor, the bed hadn’t been slept in… and the mysterious chest held nothing more exciting than clothing.

Eventually, the other hunters attended Gemma, and her investigation skills combined with some very impressive Bloodshifting on the part of Moregar revealed the following facts:
-Fultermann had died exactly six days, twelve hours, and twenty-three minutes earlier.
-He had been attacked by two other Droghan, each wielding similarly-designed daggers, and while he struggled, they had easily dispatched him and hid him in the hay.
-The animals had apparently been taken or released.

After burying Fultermann in the hard ground, Moregar tracked the blood traces the murderers had left, guiding the hunters into the nearby woods. There they encountered a quartet of Droghan, who immediately assaulted the hunters as soon as they saw the ritually-shaved Hexfinder. Yorgen was intensely confused by these antagonistic Droghan, and tried to calm them down—which made one consider giving up, but only angered the others more. Thalia was attacked by a Worldshaper, and lifted him into the air to cut him off from the earth… and Moregar, after holding another heretic in place with his Bloodshifting, gutted the man hanging in mid-air. Yorgen knocked another unconscious, and Gemma did the same to a third.

Meanwhile, the apparent leader of the Droghan touched Thalia’s mind, possibly learning about the hunters’ mission, before Yorgen blocked his magic, and he started to flee. Thalia refused to let the man escape, and leaped onto his back, trying to bring him down. She failed to injure the huge Droghan, but held tight as he leaped over a nearby cliff…

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Treasure Hunters for Hire: The Fogs of Astoria Part 4

Approaching the fortress, the hunters debated on what their strategy should be. They knew they had been there before, and as such would be remembered. The argument went back and forth on whether they should try and sneak in, or allow Renegade [who was by this point represented by a picture of Lorenzo Lamas from the TV show “Renegade,” an old crush of Mindy’s, giving way to recurring jokes about his manly, oiled chest and tendency to wear his armor open to show off his abs] to bring them in as prisoners, or disguised as visitors. Thalia insisted that she get a chance to speak to Tremes, as he might be her father, so was against any idea that wouldn’t allow her to meet him.

They ranged around the fortress, determining through great leaps (Thalia), spying through windows (Akina), and mental scanning (Akina again) that every door was guarded, and Tremes was looking over documents in his throne room… and then Akina and Yorgen discovered a secret door right next to Tremes’ throne room. After Thalia rushed into the secret door before determining it was safe [while you can’t see a secret door, figuratively, it’s a very shiny thing], they discovered Tremes’s study, including plans to conquer the other warlords in the valley and the fact that the surveillance mirror had been moved to a secret room after the hunters’ first heist failed. They decided that Thalia should act as a distraction by confronting her possible father, while Akina, Yorgen, and Gemma sneaked in the secret passageway.

Thalia went to the front gate, undisguised, and told the guard she needed to talk to “her father.” He looked at her skin and reluctantly agreed to escort her to Tremes. Tremes, a paranoid and harsh man, he demanded to know what she was doing there. Thalia told Tremes she was the daughter of Erema, and thought he might be her father. Tremes admitted it was a possibility, and he had fond memories of Erema, but also that she was a “very passionate woman,” and there were several other possibilities for her lineage. He summoned his “sage,” a Bloodshifter, and demanded a blood test. Thalia was reluctant, and revealed a ring that had belonged to her father. Tremes said it wasn’t his, but didn’t trust that it had actually belonged to Thalia’s father. Eventually, Thalia relented to a blood test, after forcing Tremes to do it himself instead of allowing a guard to touch her. Their blood mixed in a dish, and Tremes’ blood absorbed and “ate” hers—which, according to the sage, meant Tremes was not Thalia’s father, and also that his blood was “stronger” than hers.

Tremes, still holding some affection for the daughter of his old lover, told Thalia he would tell her who had owned that ring if she agreed to leave immediately. She stalled, trying to give her friends time to get the mirror, and inadvertently revealed that her friends were in the fortress [while she managed not to actually say anything, it was quite obvious to Tremes by her reaction to the question]. Tremes immediately sent several guards out to hunt down Thalia’s friends.

Meanwhile, the other hunters had entered the fortress, attracting the attention of a guard, who then fetched a compatriot before coming back—which gave them a chance to send Renegade out to distract him. Renegade was recognized as “Delos,” and he lured the guards into a trap, where Yorgen and Gemma quickly dispatched both guards, keeping them alive (though barely, in one case, as his lung was punctured) out of respect for Renegade/Delos. Yorgen’s Nullcrafting told them that the mirror was south, near the center of the fortress, and they quickly headed towards it, trying to figure out how to negotiate the geography to find the secret room.

Gemma encountered a maid sweeping just outside the area they suspected was the secret room, and intimidated her into escorting her to the kitchens (mainly trying to get the servant out of the way)—only to find herself assaulted savagely by the “maid.” Gemma disarmed “Gia” quickly, and eventually discovered that she was a spy working for one of the other warlords [she never said so explicitly, but… yeah], there to steal or destroy the mirror. Gia said she was willing to work with the hunters, so long as the mirror got out of Tremes’ hands. They also bonded over Renegade/Delos and how hot he was [the notion of enemies “bonding over man-candy” caused Anna to exclaim, laughing, "I love this game so much].

Meanwhile, Akina and Yorgen found the secret room and the mirror, which Yorgen immediately placed inside a Flare and sent back to Mr. Fix. They heard guards approaching, and Akina made them forget what they were looking for, which led them to encounter Renegade/Delos and think they were supposed to escort him back to Tremes. They did so, and Renegade inadvertently revealed that he knew Thalia.

Thalia, already feeling guilty over manipulating Renegade, told Tremes that he wasn’t a traitor, but had lost his memory and the hunters had manipulated him into thinking he was on their side. Tremes, furious, sent the guards back out, and took Thalia to the door. He told her he was extremely disappointed in her, and very glad that he was not her father—and told her she should look for a man named “Cabot Thule.” He also told her to give her mother his love and good wishes.

Gemma brought Gia to meet her friends, and when Gia found out that the mirror was already gone, she freaked out, revealing that she had intended to assassinate them and take it for herself, and rushed away. Akina sent a mental signal to Thalia, suggesting to her subconsciously that she should meet the group back where they had left Ilsa near the secret door.

[Upon Akina secretly giving Thalia the notion that she should meet the others at Ilsa:
Thalia: What? What just happened?
Thalia: Wait a second…
Thalia: Ilsa?
Thalia: Holy crap, I can talk to animals!]

They encountered the guards, and fought briefly before Akina made the guards terrified of Yorgen—and instead of hunting the fleeing guards down, the hunters headed for the secret door [Mindy thought the door was other than where it was, and moved her miniature so that, if it had happened, Yorgen would have crashed right through the wall—shades of “I’m the Juggernaut, bitch!” and the Kool-Aid Man]. When they all came together, Thalia left a note for Tremes in his study: “I’m sorry for stealing your stuff. Please don’t kill Delos. I will give my mother your message.”

The hunters used their Journeymen, returning to Mr. Fix, who was admiring himself in the mirror. He was disappointed in them for running days late, but gave them pay—and both Akina and Thalia immediately expressed interest in purchasing the mirror back from him [Akina so that she could see everything, Thalia to give it back to Tremes so he wouldn’t be destroyed by the other warlords, both to keep it out of Master Clutch’s hands].

Mr. Fix said he would think about it, and the hunters were left wondering if Delos would one day show up on their doorstep…

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Treasure Hunters for Hire: The Fogs of Astoria Part 3

The hunters examined their mysterious discovery: He was carrying a letter that was badly damaged by water, leaving only “Hunt down”, “beware the fog,” signed by “Tremes” readable, and wearing some kind of amulet. Gemma examined the letter and reconstructed "Hunt down the thieves … beware the fog’s effects on memory. Your encolpion should protect you. Signed “Tremes.” Figuring they were the thieves mentioned, the hunters examined their equipment, looking to see if any of their Flares were missing or if they had any new stuff. Akina did find an expensive-looking vase in her gear, but decided not to reveal it to the group. She then used her vast knowledge to determine what an “encolpion” was: a type of magical amulet that can hold a material and provide protection against that material (put poison in it, and the wearer will be immune to arsenic).

Thalia remembered the name “Tremes,” that he was a blue-skinned Outlander that hung around her mother’s House back before her birth, and was a plausible candidate for being her father. She remembered being excited about being assigned a job going after Tremes. Akina used her Mindsharing to examine her own memories, and found several pieces of forgotten memory. With all this information, the hunters reconstructed a basic timeline:

They were sent by Mr. Fix to fetch a magical surveillance mirror owned by the warlord Tremes in the Realm of Astoria. They arrived, tried to steal the mirror, failed, and escaped out into the fog. The fog wiped their recent memories. Tremes sent the guy, perhaps a guard, after them, protected from the memory-altering effects by his encolpion. Somehow the relic failed, and the guy lost his memories. The hunters decided to take advantage of the nameless man, and with a combination of persuasive talk and subtle mental manipulation, the hunters convinced the guy that he was their compatriot, a deep-cover operative inside Tremes’ fortress, code-named “Renegade.”

The hunters and Renegade started following his directions (he vaguely remembered the way “home,”) but as Thalia and Yorgen reached out into the fog with their minds, they discovered they were nearly surrounded by Mist Moths. Judging the best defense to be a good offense, the hunters pursued the nearest group, Yorgen starting out by Nullcrafting the leader into helplessness. A hidden Shadowy Mist Moth caused the hunters some trouble, but the others were fairly easily dispatched, especially as the leader was virtually useless. During this battle, Yorgen tried his newfound Earthshaping abilities again, tossing rubble in a way that hurt himself and one of the moths.

As they moved on, the hunters passed by an alcove where they knew several more Moths were hiding. They intended to sneak by, but Thalia thought she saw something, and as she discovered it was just a rock glinting oddly, she found herself surrounded by moths. After taking a sound beating, she immobilized two of the moths, who were fairly easy to incapacitate from that point. Meanwhile, the remaining Moth injured Renegade, and after the battle, the hunters had to convinced him that he’s a competent fighter and shouldn’t be frightened.

The hunters moved on, discovering a river of lava with a narrow rope bridge across it. As Thalia crossed, she was attacked by a dive-bombing Mist Moth. Yorgen joined her on the bridge, and they drove both attacking Moths into the lava below. Finally safe, the hunters crossed the bridge and found their way to Tremes’ fortress, but not before Gemma used her Lightshaping to disguise them all as generically “other.” As they approache the dull-red brick fortress, they were all struck with a feeling of deja vu…

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