Battle layout: “The Hustle” is a large open space littered with random lumps of masonry that provide good cover and thickly populated with market-goers. Lighting is adequate though not great and no penalties apply. The roof overhead is dark.
The team begin the combat with Jahr well separated from the other four, by about 10 meters; 10 meters further lies the headless, bleeding body of Orday the bounty-hunter, along with the valise he was about to sell the team.
[While Mola and Grimm do specify that they are looking up for the source of the shot that blew Orday’s head apart, all fail Awareness checks. So it is straight on to the surprise round.]
Surprise round: A nimble masculine figure drops down from the roof high above [half-action] and grabs the case [half-action].
Round 1: It is now clear this interloper is a human male, though with some form of Augmetic or other mech-tech on its lower limbs. His armor is powerful looking and he appears a very robust opponent! Grimm smoothly draws his Lawgiver and takes a snap-shot at the armored man. By chance the shot slams into his head [6 damage] where he proves to be unarmored! He yells in pain and bounds into action, firing at Jahr – by far the closest – with a powerful hand weapon of some sort! [AP3: 3 damage past adjusted armor and Tough.] Mola scuttles forward with surprising speed, crossing behind Jahr to the nearest solid cover. Jahr himself walks forward [half-action], leveling his laz-pistol, firing and missing. At almost the same time Z tries a burst with his laz-carbine, missing as usual. Franz aims briefly with his Autogun and tries a head-shot himself – and he scores! [13 damage, misses Righteous Fury.] The interloper, losing his grip on the valise, sees it tumbling away from him and past Jahr!
Round 2: The crowd is now panicking and forming a random amount of cover, especially between Grimm, Zarkov, Franz and their target. It’s hard to pick out where the valise ended up, but Mola and Zarkov do [Awareness all round, Z OK, Mola OK on re-roll. The players in turn ask the GM to make a check for the interloper, who fails (though he knows the rough quadrant it went).] The valise has bounced well beyond Jahr, perhaps 6 meters from Mola where she stoops behind cover.
Grimm runs forward as best he can through the confusion of the crowd. He does not seek cover: he ends only a few meters from Jahr’s right flank. The interloper tries to leap past Jahr toward where he thinks the valise went: Jahr lashes out with his Mono-ax [quick-draw, half-action free attack as the opponent moves through his zone] but misses. But it seems that the interloper has lost sight of the valise among the legs of the crowd! Mola walks over to where she saw it, menacing the crowd and ordering them back [fails Intimidate at half Str-20]. She’s ready to fire, but has lost track of the valise herself [Yet another Awareness check, fails even on re-roll!] Jahr swings round in pursuit, bellowing for the crowd to get out of the way, but although he closes in a rush [charge], he misses with his ax! Z closes on the action but his slower speed prevents him getting to any useful range. He also loses track of the valise! Franz has a different idea: he flicks the Autogun to full auto and fires a burst over the crowd [suppressive fire] and they clear like magic!
Round 3: The crowd is now clearing. The interloper, having brushed past Jahr, is barely 2 meters from Mola, with Jahr right on his back in the same space, Grimm a few meters away from Mola’s left, and Z a few meters behind Mola. As for the valise, now clear of the crowd, it lies right between Mola and the interloper!
Grimm readies his Lawgiver for a clear shot once his target breaks from the scrimmage with Jahr again. Jahr swings his Mono-ax as the interloper dives for the valise, but misses once again! Grimm places his shot with care, and though his target attempts to weave out of the way, the heavy shot slams home into the beefy man’s skull! [8 damage, interloper makes a Tough check to avoid effects, OK.] The interloper sweeps up the valise once more, and begins moving away: but Mola has been patiently waiting for her chance and making a called shot [1/2 round aim+10, point-blank+30, called shot -20] shoots him in the head, [10 damage] killing him outright! The valise tumbles from his nerveless fingers!
With Franz and Z covering with their long-arms, Grimm loots Orday and Jahr retrieves the valise from where it fell. There’s a flurry of the crowd as though they were eagerly rushing to get a close look at the victims, then when it ebbs back, there’s no sign of the interloper’s corpse… only Mola [08 on Awareness] catches a glimpse of the corpse being carried off, very rapidly, in a cluster of the crowd.
We hasten away, swiftly tallying our stock. Apart from the valise that Jahr is carrying, Grimm has retrieved the bounty-hunter’s bolt-pistol and two spare clips, a set of travel documents, a data key, and a magnetic key that will most likely open the valise.
[The GM awards 250 for the action to date including last session, the extra 50 being a bonus for securing Orday’s data slate. There’s a shortish period of xp-spending by some of the group.]
Having returned to the sanctuary of the Strophes’ spire, we investigate our trove. But Grimm, tapping the business card that the Gunmetal City industrialist Authwaite handed over, excuses himself and heads off to see if he can buy better equipment.
With the aid of the data key, we locate Orday’s account and loot it. We also return the travel documents for a refund. Zarkov scrolls through the contents of the data slate the valise held [Tech check, 5 levels of success!] and finds two key parts. The first, a list of names and numbers, he theorizes may be cult members, and the second, an encrypted section, he can make no headway on. He works for some hours, but finally sends it all off to Vaarak.
Grimm returns as we head to report progress to Laurent and Julia, showing off a new sighting aid for the Lawgiver [+10 to aim].
Laurent and Julia are happy enough with progress, and since a handsomely-embossed invitation on mother-of-pearl inlaid ivory has arrived repeating Lady Borella’s words, it is now time for the noble Fenksworlder cousins Quintilla and Franco to head off to the Alabaster Court and get a good look at Caros Shoal.
The others accompany us as far as the level, but are forced to wait at their ease as only invitees are permitted. I promise them I will keep my vox unit open. Our inlaid invitation gets us through, and we note that those heretical “harmony meters” are used to check us through.
Inside the vast “cathedral” candles light the court and an orchestra plays soothing light music. Lady Borella (and her assistant Deneen, I note) greet us, and we chatter for a while as the audience, or congregation, thickens around a raised, dark-draped stage. There seems no sign of Caros as yet.
The music changes and a robed and masked Chorus steps onto the stage. Chorus, a masculine figure beneath the lighted mask, opens a well-known play concerning a hero named Sipparin, who finds himself a victim of Imperial politics and eventually reviled and outcast. I bristle inwardly, for the play is far from orthodox in its treatment of historic Imperial matters!
As the play proceeds it is obvious that the titular hero Sipparin is half-doped. I realize we are watching a version of the “spurring” Julia warned us of. The cast, possibly all noble themselves, do a poor job of actually enacting the play and concentrate mainly on reviling the hero, who is presumably a lower-Hiver. I become irritated and bored by the constant narrative of Chorus, though that is the only thing holding the play together.
Suddenly I scream as Chorus impales Sipparin from back to front with a blade! [Fear check: Franco OK, Quintilla winces visibly.] I have been expecting the stage play to become lewd, and the sudden terminus of proceedings is a shock, even though I was warned about spurring. “Franco” remains impassive, which is a relief. As the crowd of Joyous Choir worshipers buzzes with pleasure, Lady Borella steps close, a quizzical look on her patrician features.
“My dear, you seemed to be almost frightened by our impresario’s dénouement – is Fenksworld so backward?” – Lady Tanae Borella
“I beg your pardon Lady Tanae, I’m afraid I found the whole thing terribly gauche!” – Lady Quintilla
And in one of those unlucky chances, the general buzz drops away just as the word “gauche” leaves my lips. An even more silent space seems to grow around me, and I feel my cheeks burning. By the time Chorus slithers over from his stage, unmasked now to show his haughty features, I am angry.
Elsurgei is the name of the impresario, and he claims insult. This makes me even angrier than I am already: angry at the thought of being stooged so easily into a duel! I may as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb, I think, and add a few more genuine insults to the unintentional one.
Franz’ fingers twitch, but he controls himself even when Elsurgei sneers that since this is a “minor insult” only the two concerned can duel. Since I have now deliberately insulted him, it seems a shallow evasion to claim such a thing, but I shrug: the damage is done and we must see what the Divine Throne has in store for us. [Franz’ player announces he is drawing and shooting Elsurgei, so I back him up, but the GM allows us to retract this.] Sorkat Authwaite steps forward to offer his services as second, which is interesting and pleasing.
It seems the Alabaster Court has its own blood square – a pit well below ground level – so our waiting comrades can do no more than listen in on the open vox. I can imagine them enjoying my sallies at Elsurgei’s expense, and some of the congregation seem amused as well. Sentiments are not all on Elsurgei’s side, especially when we are reminded of the rules – to the first wound only – and handed a blade. It’s obvious to anyone that I have no experience of such a weapon.
We are lowered into the square, and the rope ladders retracted, and Elsurgei raises his blade in mocking-grave salute. It is a blank, featureless square pit, with room to maneuver but nothing more. I raise my blade.
- “Lady Quintilla” AKA Mola
Round 1: Elsurgei makes an over-elaborate, flourishing lunge and fails completely.
“If that’s the best you can do, Elsurgei, you had better apologize now” – Lady Quintilla
Lady Q takes a full-defensive stance.
Round 2: Elsurgei, embarrassed by his failure, makes a more determined attack, but is fooled completely by Lady Q’s defense. Lady Q tries a feint [1/2 adjusted WS vs Elsurgei’s WS] but it does not come off. She is clearly a master of stumble-fu, [with 12% chance to hit] and more of the crowd begin encouraging her.
Round 3: Elsurgei misses again. Several among the crowd are openly sniggering or at least sympathetic to “Lady Quintilla.” Lady Q feints again, this time successfully, [allowing a half-action attack that Elsurgei can’t dodge] but misses her actual thrust. Still more of the crowd cheer for her.
Round 4: Elsurgei finally connects [4 damage to left arm, less Tough 2 = 2] and since the wound is fairly serious the seconds immediately call for the combatants to separate. Elsurgei does so, and Lady Q offers her apologies, admitting his play is certainly superior.
Franz begins an ironic slow-clap for Elsurgei as he is raised from the pit, and a fair proportion of the crowd follows suit. Despite “Lady Quintilla’s” wound and apology, the moral victory may be hers.
We return to the general hall, and with my left arm sprayed and bandaged I am feeling fit for action. Caros Shoal now arrives, with several good-looking attendants of either sex, and finds a moment to greet us convivially among the various others pressing in. I am disappointed: I was expecting something more… impressive; but Shoal reminds me of a cheap trinket-merchant in expensive clothes.
Franz later murmurs that Shoal was not paying us full attention – he seemed to be looking off into the crowd, as though expecting someone.
I work my way over to Authwaite, thank him for standing as second, and mention my mild disappointment. This is mainly to test Authwaite’s adherence to the cult. He assures me that Shoal, when speaking at length, is riveting.
Franz has headed back to speak to the attendants at the entrance of the Court. I lose track of him, as I can’t switch my vox unit over without being obvious. But I do notice that only one attendant remains at the entrance. As I’m looking to see where he went, I notice [1 degree success on Awareness] that a large man dressed as a monk has joined Shoal, and they seem to be disputing something. Worse, the monk is studying me casually. From Sorkat I learn that his name is Theodosia, supposedly an adviser to Shoal, though that’s not what it looks. They look like conspirators.
At the same moment, I at last catch sight of Franz, drifting quietly past the pair. I signal him to close on me, but instead, he drifts surprisingly quickly to the entrance and out. Suspecting that he has performed some egregious assassination I make my apologies and farewells and leave.
Franz is not far, and fills us in as our comrades rejoin us. He is on his way to meet up with Thierry, the male guardian at the entrance. As someone that uses the Harmony Meter, Thierry must know at least some part of what the Choir is involved in. Franz had struck up a rapport [2 degrees of success on Fellowship] and has agreed to meet him at a mid-Hive club.
Franz had also caught an exchange between Theodosia and Shoal. Shoal had said angrily, “You can tell them back at Ambulon that I’ve made them a fortune several times over!” Ambulon rings a bell, but my data slate has nothing on it.
Franz (with all of us nearby) meets Thierry at a sleazy dive. They drink and laugh at various bawdy stories. The evening passes slowly for we sober watchers, but at last, Franz signals us. Thierry is very drunk, and it’s an easy matter for Grimm and Jahr to act as his friends helping him home. We take him back up to the Strophes’ spire.
Grimm handles the interrogation [he has just bought the skill] but it’s not until Zarkov extends his Mechadendrite arm with rotary blade attachment that Thierry really starts talking. [Grimm fails even on re-roll, Z gets a level of success.]
Thierry’s information: The Joyous Choir moves farcosia for another group, and Theodosia is liaison for that group, and Shoal is scared of him. The Choir kidnaps psykers, who are at least party identified by the harmony meters. Some of the Choir’s practices, such as drinking farcosia presumably, lifts psyker abilities a little. He remembers Saia, and that she registered on the harmony meter, but has no information as to her fate: he hasn’t seen her for around three months.
We now brief Laurent Strophes. He agrees to keep Thierry. He also passes on what he knows of Ambulon, which is a mobile hive, primarily used as a mining refinery, roaming the surface of the planet.
We know that Theodosia uses an ornithopter with which to leave Sibellus, so we begin plans for watching him and intercepting him.
[The session wraps at this point, with a further 150xp.]