- Plane Weaver
A message has been working its subtle way around the city - first, distributed only to those in the know, but then inevitably finding its way to nearly everyone with any kind of contact:
'I need some good, combat-capable people of a certain moral flexibility to help with a job in the Barrens. Compensation should be reasonable. Meet at the pub on the border: the Underwhelming Swallow. Weaklings need not apply.'
The players make their way to the appointed location: one of the pubs on the very border of the Barrens: The Underwhelming Swallow. This is one of a couple of places where ne’er-do-wells in the Barrens get business from the rest of the city; occasionally, there’ll be someone looking to get a job done in a less-than-legal manner. Here, after engaging in half a card game, they meet Flavia, leader of the Blazing Bolts: their prospective employer. She makes a show of not believing them to be up to the job, and suggests they 'audition' by fighting the pubgoers. After the party make an impressive showing in said fight, she is forced to concede that they might be stronger than they look.
Before they leave, Mordecai pauses to finish (and win) their card game.
Initially, Flavia regales them with a rather vague story about hiring the party as bodyguards. She also explains that the Barrens are divided into “Districts” akin to those of the rest of the city; they are currently in “Rom”. However, after an encounter with another gang leader, Aphra, a little more light is shed on Flavia's motivations.
Upon the promise of further payment, the party defend Flavia against Aphra - who, once defeated, agrees to do things her way. Flavia then explains what she didn't tell them.
Several months ago, her brother Gaius joined a job organised by a gang from the “Esteban” of the Barrens: The Counting House. Unfortunately, due to incompetent planning on the part of the latter, Gaius was killed, and the two gangs have been feuding ever since. As per the Day of the Burying of Regrets, the leading Tyrants of both Districts (rulers and members of House Keelan) have arranged to negotiate and make peace between the two gangs. However, Flavia, frustrated at the thought that there might not be proper retribution, seditiously took matters into her own hands.
Over the past few months, a rogue thief has been causing trouble for the “Rom” District. Normally, those who live in the Barrens make it a point of pride that they will not steal from each other - just the people outside. All theft is organised by one’s direct superior in the strict Barrens hierarchy. Honour amongst thieves. However, this man, Maximus, along with his team, The True Outlaws, claim that this is anathema to a truly free lifestyle, and has been making a name for himself by attacking other thieves.
Flavia hired this individual to kill the two members of The Counting House. However, later came the news that her Tyrant (Laverna) had negotiated to have the two punished more severely than anticipated. Now, she is bitterly regretful of what she has done, and determined to make things right without alerting her Tyrant to the fact that she betrayed them.
The party, thought dubious as to the logic of this venture, agree to help her.
The players travel further into the “Rom” of the Barrens. The area is a directionless cluster of ramshackle, makeshift buildings and dimly-lit passageways. Half of these seem to be made of old industrial barracks with handmade augmentations. Bridges and underground roads loop in and around one another. Passersby eye them interestedly; it is clear they don’t get too many outsiders here.
It is suggested that they form a gang themselves, in order to fit in; Eli, after all, has already made a bit of a name for herself in the Barrens. They fix upon The Woodcutters, and establish a series of surprisingly useful combat-oriented codes. Most of them also draw catchy slogans on their knuckles.
Later, they are passing through one of the winding back-alleys when they almost stumble over a pile of recently-slaughtered thieves. Flavia knows the victims - they are members of another gang: Dawn’s Lights. Appearing from the shadows in order to surround them are a series of thugs with a distinct circle tattoo on their cheeks. The tattoo looks almost as if it is a mock Mark of the Blessed. Flavia recognises these as the True Outlaws.
The Outlaws, already weighed down with loot and spotting fresh pickings, seize upon them. Initially, the party fare badly, and it seems all might be lost when Mordecai is taken hostage - however, they manage to take out all of their assailants (and, indeed, all of the party) via a well-timed blow that fells the bridge under which they are standing.
They arrive at the Tyrant’s Lair. The upper half of the building seems to be a chaotic mess of buildings clumped together: a kind of makeshift palace that looks as if it has had rooms added piece by piece, and haphazardly. There is a defiant sort of grandeur to it.
They are led into a vast, candlelit hall that is absolutely awash with miscellaneous items of value that have clearly been taken from elsewhere in the city: ornaments, jewellery, pieces of art, weaponry - even furniture. Here, the Tyrant Laverna keeps her court. She is accompanied by Petronax, Tyrant of “Esteban”. They have finished negotiations, and are ready to enact the deal that will restore harmony between the two feuding gangs.
The party are introduced as bodyguards who potentially wish to form an official gang within “Rom”. Laverna seems amenable to this request; it seems that if they work well now, she may look favourably on them later.
Unfortunately, the meet and greet cut short when, as expected, Maximus' outlaws come crashing into the building via the windows. Maximus himself appears, but speedily retreats - swiftly pursued by Laverna. Meanwhile, the party, despite valiant efforts to fend off the thieves, allow the “Esteban” hostages to be murdered - though they do make short work of the True Outlaws.
Flavia leads them to find Laverna - only to be cornered by another group of True Outlaws. Not to worry! She has a Conflict ritual prepped!
The party watch in horror as the ritual visibly misfires, rendering the True Outlaws supernaturally strong. One taunts them by revealing the severed head of Laverna.
Upon defeating the outlaws, the party capture and interrogate one. Through this, they learn that Maximus plans to establish himself as tyrant - and that Aphra, though vanished, seemingly has no hand in this.
Mordecai contacts the Order of the Rod in order to see what can be gleaned about Maximus. They learn he was once a member of the Order, but vanished a long while ago: rumour has it that he became an official member of House Keelan. Mordecai then draws apart in order to consult the Rod as to what they think of them pursuing and defeating Maximus. They receive a vision of someone weaker beating up someone stronger. It seems the Rod does not disapprove of the prospect of a fight. Probably.
The party join with some other escaped thieves at a safe spot within the District: a junkyard. Amidst shenanigans and planar buffoonary, they ascertain that there is a way to defeat Maximus, even if he has officially become Tyrant: they are outsiders, and therefore do not have to abide by any thieves' code. Flavia hints to a couple of the party that although her recent fall in status means she will be unable to pay them, Aphra - Laverna's heir - will probably make ousting Maximus worth their while. Aphra, it seems, has been captured.
Eli and Gemini speak apart. With Eli's consent, Gemini shares the fragment of Glory in his head. One of Eli's eyes turns golden. Afterwards, Eli befriends a Perfection weaver thief, who is happy to perfect her nose.
After keeping watch against rats and wild dogs through the night, the party head to the secret entrance by the Tyrant's lair. Although there seem to be numerous guards, about half of them appear to be rather suspiciously lax about their duties - to the point of, well, literally backstabbing their more loyal counterparts. This culminates in farce, as Mordecai dons the clothing of a True Outlaw, only to be nearly stabbed to unconsciousness by a Barrens loyalist.
The party head through a series of Erosion-made tunnels that have clearly been in disuse for decades. On the way, they have to head through a series of puzzles to do with where a thief's duty lies - and, in answering wrongly, are cursed with the urge to obey any direct command given to them.
They come across a caged Aphra, who confirms that if they spread the story that Aphra killed Maximus directly, the rewards will be plenty. An agreement is made.
Finally, they emerge in order to face Maximus himself. Mordecai challenges Maximus to a one-on-one duel, with no interference from their respective allies. This soon dissolves into chaos, as Mordecai falls once - only to get up in a berserker rage, and finish off Maximus just as Maximus sends them sprawling. Notably, Maximus seems to have a rogue Forest Touched on his side.
Although Maximus seems to yearn for death, the party do not grant this. Instead, they begin to earnestly debate what to do with him.
Before any decision is made, Mabel asks Maximus quite sternly to reveal where Katya is. Perlexed by this 'interrogation', he initially insists he doesn't know - but after a couple more hints, he gets it. Katya, he says, was last seen in… Esteban. Yes. Only they say she went to the Forest after. Satisfied, Mabel makes note of this information.
The party then turn to the issue of what to do with Maximus. Mordecai argues that he ought to be taken back to the Order of the Rod, but is outvoted. Instead, Maximus is brought to Aphra, to be dealt with as House Keelan see fit.
Meanwhile, a couple of the party spread the word that it was Aphra who defeated Maximus, thus legitimising Aphra's rule and fulfilling the terms of their agreement. Aphra is happy to give all of them 3 Favour in return - mostly to compensate for the fact that Flavia, now out of favour, has no means by which to pay them.
The party go their separate ways, but not before all agreeing to join Eli's newly-official gang, The Woodcutters.
Mordecai reports back to the Order of the Rod, giving them a full update on everything that happened with Maximus: that the duel between them was witnessed by the Rod, including Mordecai's attempts to return them to the Boulevard so they could be reconciled with the Order. They explain their conflicted feelings about the berserker rage that fell on them and seek guidance that this was OK.
The Order seem disappointed that Maximus could not be brought back into the fold, but understand that in this instance, the stronger suggestion prevailed. However, Mordecai is congratulated on winning such an exciting, high-stakes duel. They are assured that instances of such rage are not unknown within the Order - far from it. It is the sign of a fight well fought.
They report to Forester's Guild. They let them know that Eli and Gemini have joined House Keelen, in a gang called 'The Woodcutters', and that their plan is to join this gang and keep an eye on them. Eli acted with no problems; Gemini is still in danger of being a liability. Normally, the Guild would be cautious about such accusations, but the mention of Gemini is enough to raise palpable alarm. They thank Mordecai for their prudence, and agree that it would be for the best if they were to report any unusual occurences.
They also attempt to track down Maximus' surviving relatives. After pursuing records at the Order of the Rod, they find out that Maximus had a sister - Adriana, of the Order of the Throne. She invites them in, and receives the news with an air of sadness and resignation. She and Maximus quarrelled years ago; they have not been in contact since. She had suspected that his behaviour might lead to such an end - his ambition always was of an uncontrolled variety, ever since they were children.
She thanks them for the news. It seems that the calmness of her demeanour perhaps belies a deeper grief - but, if so, she betrays little sign of it.
Mabel tells the Order of the Throne nothing whatsoever. She informs Forthright that she was in the library. This excuse is received with equanimity.
She too accepts Eli's offer to join the Woodcutters.
Gemini and Eli set to the task of building said gang from the ground up. With Aphra's aid, they are able to establish themselves as a force to be reckoned with: part of the “Rom” of the Barrens. Although Eli wishes to be the “Forester's Guild”, this is currently a little ambitious, given they are reliant on Aphra's support. Instead, The Woodcutters become one of the junior gangs who report to Aphra within “Rom”.
There is a catch. Gemini introduces an initiation ritual. All new Woodcutters are obliged to drink from the same cup, to symbolise equality in the gang - after all, sharing a cup with Forest Touched is a significant step! However, all non-Paladins are tricked into drinking not just an ordinary cup, but the Chalice itself. Thus far, the two Paladin members have yet to discover this deceit…
Eli also reports back to the Foresters Guild, painting Gemini in the best light possible. They receive this information gladly, although she cannot help but notice they seem to be questioning her very closely about his involvement…