Project Aphelion Solo Play #037: Reason and Responsibility

Things are heating up in the Warrens as we take a short break from the main campaign and make sure that our protagonist’s life goes on outside of her current quest. You can’t wage a war 24/7 – sometimes you need to make sure nobody brings a second one onto your doorstep.


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May 12th, 2056

It’s just barely past the first coffee of the morning, when Sarah picks up the obvious topic of the day. ‘We need to talk about Salazar.’

‘Agreed.’ Adam scratches Nabucco behind the ear and the puppy retaliates by licking his palm with a hot tongue. ‘What’s your plan for that mess?’ 

‘I don’t have one. Not yet. But there’s about eighty percent chance he’s on the verge of doing something suicidally stupid, and I don’t want to participate in it.’

‘If that man ever overcomes his thirst for vengeance, he’ll be a useful asset. Do you know what he’s after?’ 

Sarah joins Adam in the hard, terrible, exhausting daily chore of playing with the puppy in their bed. 

‘Not really. I just don’t want to be a part of his potential vendetta. So I want to have a counter-offer ready, in case he asks for my help killing people. Nothing will bring his gang back… Oh no, buddy, do you need out?’ 

Nabucco whines and gets quickly levitated to the bathroom. Sarah sighs. 

‘I’m really trying to not do those kinds of things. So, what do you think?’ 

Adam rolls over onto his back and stares at the ceiling. He doesn’t need much time to come up with an answer; facts speak for themselves.

‘Hellhounds are done. Salazar has neither the resources nor the living conditions to tempt people to join his ranks. The only reason he still has the turf is that people are scared of the elementals flying around. For now. But his turf is worthless, save for that leyline perhaps, but it’s running through half of the Warrens and it’s useless to almost everybody. At this point, all he has is himself and his three lackeys, plus a bunch of hellhounds he barely manages to feed. He’s not rebuilding after this…’ Adam’s voice quickly gains several degrees of warmth. ‘Hey there. All done? Good boy.’

Sarah picks up Nabucco wagging his tail by side of the bed and covers his ears.

‘So they’re fucked,’ she whispers, making sure the dog can’t hear her swearing. 

Adam chuckles. ‘As a gang, yes, pretty much. As people – not necessarily. Three mages, even if one of them is mostly burned out – that’s a lot of potential. An adept with hacking skills as a freebie on top of that? Good deal. I’d take it.’

‘Would you? Well, that changes things.’ Sarah considers the option for a moment, then shakes her head. ‘You know he’d never accept a handout like this. Prideful little jerk.’

‘Not a handout. We’ve been short of a magician ever since Friese has left, and I need a counter for the potential trouble Crowley may cause. Or d’Venescu. Or whoever decides they want access to that bloody metaplanar gate. It’s obvious that will happen, sooner or later. Crowley aside, Salazar is probably the most powerful mage in the Warrens – and with the blood magic boost, possibly way beyond them. The choice between hiring him or letting him run loose, or him joining the competition… It’s not really a choice, is it?’

‘No, when you put it like that, it really isn’t.’

‘He’s a bit unstable, but it’s mostly desperation. He has no qualms about violence, which will save me a lot of time in the meetings. He’s smart, resourceful, and used to the shit of the Warrens. Moreover… I like Sal. For the sake of the argument, let’s say I even trust him – at least more than I would somebody sent from Seattle to fill the court magician role. I’ve been stalling on filling that vacancy.’

‘Why?’

‘Well, you people are all notoriously hard to work with, so I prefer the devil I know.’ Adam grins. ‘You don’t want the job, so I was waiting for Hellhounds to fall apart. They were going down that path for quite a while now. They might have been keeping our southern border safe as a buffer, but most buffers need replacing after prolonged exposure. I had little use for a bunch of thrill gangers, but now? Without a gang to run and without the need to posture to keep himself alive, I expect Salazar to be a rather sensible security officer. If not – I have contingencies in place.’

‘Which will be much easier to execute if he’s living on your turf, surrounded by fifty Cutters, and you can easily seize the one person he cares about. The one he uses to power his spells beyond containable levels.’

‘You’re making me sound so heartless.’

‘Am I wrong?’

‘No.’

‘Boy, I sure am happy I brought my sister here.’

‘Sarah…’

‘Chill, I’m joking. I obviously trust you.’ She waves away the explanation, busy conjuring treats for the puppy. She makes a line of tiny snacks on the bed and laughs when the hellhound happily follows the tasty trail. ‘Guess the game plan is to lure Salazar here, then. It will be reasonably safe for them, profitable for you, and convenient for me. I never liked going to that dingy school of theirs. Having my research buddy next door sounds lovely.’

‘Looks like a busy day ahead of you. Let me know when he’s ready to negotiate. I’ll make sure the conditions are better than dying with his pride intact. Maybe even… Favorable.’


Trouble in the Neighborhood

It’s been a hot spring in the Warrens, and this place was never particularly calm. Between Cutters growing in power through beneficial deals and strengthening their Assets, between BBs trying to wage a trade war they’re clearly losing, between Hellhounds in a steady and violent decline – there’s a lot of converging storylines.

I was trying to figure out how the strategy part will play out here.

  • Cutters, an exploitative Warfare/Social Faction, are focused on their growth – Wheeler is a man with a plan and he’s executing it without any hesitation, although it’s still a while until we get to that story beat (unless the dice make the decision for me).
  • BBs, a placating Social/Warfare Faction, were trying very hard to establish their monopoly in the area, but they clearly cannot yet get there (not with those rolls!).
  • Hellhounds, a vindictive Scientific/Technical Faction, would love to plunder and grow, but they really had a rotten luck and nothing goes well for them.

I was sitting on this topic for the last couple of days, and I ultimately let the dice decide. I’ve used the same rules as usual during the monthly state-of-the-world checks, and here’s where we’re at:

  • Cutters are staying the course of growth and using available resources around them. Including human and metahuman resources.
  • BBs have succeed at establishing their control over the Shadowmarket and the trade; this is, honestly, their only chance of winning anything here, as they simply cannot match Cutters on the Warfare front. However, their actions have also raised the Rating of another Faction’s Asset by 1, and as the only Factions they ever interacted with were us and Cutters, they actually gift us with a freebie – we’ll raise our Field Lab to R3.
  • Hellhounds have failed and they created a new Freelance Crew. And, as all they have is three magicians and a physad, it makes sense that the Freelance Crew is exactly them. That means the Hellhounds are now a Faction for hire, willing to work for the highest bidder – this also includes a highest-Familiarity bidder.

These 5 rolls total (three times for the resolution and two times for the consequences of the ended project) have solved my dilemma for me: the ex-Hellhounds go freelance, then will most likely get hired by the Cutters (Friese is no longer there, Crowley does what he wants, and Tomorrow isn’t working for them – which means they have no official magical support at all). The BBs, through a series of personal favors and outside of the hearing range of the foot soldiers, made the deal with Cutters, establishing themselves as the sole trader in the area and “allowing” the Cutters to sell weaponry on good terms in the Market.

What does it mean for us?

That we need to go and talk to Salazar. There’s a Payout 11 Scenario in it for us, and a contact rating raise to R3.


May 12th, 2056

The air is full of fire elementals and the blackened spots on the buildings and the ground show that they’re not just patrolling. Tomorrow makes a round along Hellhounds’ perimeter and wishes she hasn’t – there are just a couple of burned bodies, but enough to know their number will grow. In the Warrens, one could only be a predator or prey – and if you didn’t look like the first one…

Not alone.

The short mental message from Steven stops Tomorrow’s thoughts, but it doesn’t affect the flight pattern; no point in showing that she knows she’s being observed. She opens her eyes to the astral plane, making sure to mask her glowing aura, and winces at the brown and red streaks of violence and death that surround her. The disturbances in the mana draw the perimeter lines even more clearly than the burned bodies did. It takes her a while to spot the barely visible light green aura between the mess, right above the school’s roof. Well hidden. Skilled.

She relaxes instantly and flies closer, flapping her wings in front of the astral form of a long-haired mage in a hoodie.

Tomorrow. Ahab nods in greeting. I was hoping I can catch you. May we talk?

Tomorrow lands on the flat roof and switches forms. ‘Hi. What’s up? Patrol duty again?’

Somebody has to. I stand out the least.

‘I’ve seen. Good masking. I’ve barely noticed you there.’

You did notice me, though.

‘Ahab, I literally pay my bills by setting up and testing magical security. It’s just what I do.’ She sits down on the edge of roof, legs dangling outside, and waits for the mage’s astral form to join her. ‘So, what did you want to talk about?’

What do you see, Tomorrow? Ahab sits down next to her, his ethereal body kept in place by will, not any resistance of the concrete roof. In the astral, his voice sounds even more tired than usual – much more than his thirty-year-old physique would suggest.

‘You want a conversation or a tactical assessment?’

The latter.

‘Y’all gonna be overrun in under the week,’ she states calmly, not looking at the mage. ‘It’s good effort, but… I once had to break into a building that was being patrolled by materialized fire elementals. It’s a great deterrent and a show of force, but all I needed was to bring forth some rain.’ She looks up at the strands of mana flowing above her head. ‘It will be raining this week.’

We can make more of them.

‘Sure you can. Man, I taught y’all how to bind elementals. I know how expensive it is. I’ve been there when Sal figured out how he can make his own ritual supplies. How’s Gargoyle?’

Alive.

Tomorrow nods. ‘Figured as much. Your ground cover is good and I’m happy to see that it works. As long as the weather holds, your biggest vulnerability is the underground. The old sewer system goes right under the school, and the connection is big enough to be exploited. That’s what I’d have used if I didn’t know how to move through the earth with magic.’

We have the hounds in the basement, should anybody try to go through there.

‘Smart. What is it that you really want from me, Ahab?’

The mage sighs and stares at the wall of brown and red mana in front of them. Honesty. Do you think we have any chance?

Even if she tried to be polite, the answer would have been the same. ‘No. You had a good run, but it’s time to move on.’

There were over a hundred of us in Chicago. We’d rule this place.

Tomorrow shrugs, not one to contemplate the days of glory past. ‘And now you have a choice between the four of you living elsewhere or dying here.’

Remind me to never again ask you for your honest opinion. Ahab winces and floats up, then extends a hand to Tomorrow in a polite gesture, forgetting that his form is only ethereal. She gets up without help but with a smile of acknowledgement. Salazar is waiting for you. I hope you can figure something up. Before the rain falls.


It’s so quiet inside, realizes Tomorrow, walking down the stairs from the roof entry. There were thirty people here last year – almost exactly a year ago she broke into this building. She knows its vulnerabilities about as well as the people who live here; she told them about those after she broke in.

She helped them make this place safer, more livable. Almost like a home.

But it’s barely above the hellish standard of the Warrens. They’ll be safer in Best Western. They’ll be happier there, even if they’ll have to trade in part of the freedom for living conditions. Even if it means Salazar will really have to get a job.

She assumes he’d rather get a job than kill his boyfriend.

The halls are full of emotions; there’s a black spot of despair around the roof entry, where Caw-Caw usually goes for a smoke. There’s sadness and grief in the air, violence and anger, and there’s something absolutely heartbreaking as she nears Salazar’s and Gargoyle’s room, something that she can barely identify… 

Tomorrow bites her lip and lets her sight return to the physical realm.

She knocks gently on the door and hears the quiet movement behind it. Sal opens it after a moment, but doesn’t let her inside. He gestures towards the library without a word and walks down the corridor, expecting Tomorrow to follow. She does, her whole attention focused on her friend. His sallow skin, the shadows under his eyes, the hard and determined stare. The tension in his whole body, as if it were all that’s keeping him together.

She says nothing.

‘I don’t want to wake him up,’ explains Salazar once they’re in the library and he finds his favorite spot on one of the old desks. ‘It’s been a rough couple of days.’

There’s no accusation is his voice, but Tomorrow still feels the pang of guilt that her a couple of days became a week. ‘I’m sorry, Sal. I should have… How is he?’

‘He’ll be fine. Just needs proper rest and nutrition.’ From his tone alone, it is obvious that neither of those things are in high supply. ‘We all have our wars to fight. Thanks for coming.’

‘You said it yourself, we’re family now.’ Tomorrow considers the situation for a moment. This won’t be one of their usual verbal matches anyway, she decides and sits down on the desk next to Sal, letting their arms touch. He scowls at her but doesn’t move away. ‘Just tell me how I can help.’

‘We need to leave. Soon.’ Salazar’s stare would burn the hole in the old carpet if he had any willpower left for such wasteful activities. ‘Sad as it is, you’re literally the only person I can trust outside of my people. I need to cash in that favor you don’t owe me.’

‘Name it.’

It takes him a long while. It’s obvious how much it pains him, but Tomorrow knows that she can’t just offer the solution. It needs to be his idea, it needs to come from him – otherwise, he’ll feel forced and coerced, and if the whole thing ends up in Adam’s contingencies, then it will be her fault… So even though she wants to just cut this short and move to the planning part, she waits.

‘Any chance you could talk Wheeler into renting us a couple of rooms in Best Western? At least for a while. I’m flat broke, but…’ Salazar stops when she sneaks her arms around him and gives him a hug. ‘Still gay, Tomorrow. I know you always wanted a piece of this, but now you’re just taking advantage of my unfortunate circumstances.’

‘Shut up, you socially awkward pancake. Of course you can move in. My home is your home.’

‘Somebody got comfortable with the Cutters’ property. I mean it: we still have the hounds, they’re worth a fair sum to the right buyer…’

‘Are you open to suggestions for paying the rent?’

‘As long as I don’t have to sleep with Wheeler, sure. I know that pretty, skinny elves are his type, but I think it’s bad enough that one of us uses this currency.’

Tomorrow chuckles and shakes her head. ‘Friese is gone and they have a vacancy. Would cover you easily for three flats and leave enough for comfortable lives. You wouldn’t owe anybody anything. And it comes with a budget for reagents and ritual supplies.’

‘Low blow.’ Salazar winces. ‘But I see your point.’

He falls silent again and Tomorrow resorts to watching her nails, playing with their color and length. Around the third pass through the color wheel, Salazar sighs. ‘Guess the gang days are over. It was fun when it didn’t suck.’

‘You’ll still get to set shit on fire. And you’ll still have people to order around. Only, you won’t have to worry about all your family dying.’

‘As long as I’m Wheeler’s loyal dog.’

Tomorrow shrugs. ‘I ain’t gonna lie to you, he runs a tight ship. But I am yet to see him unreasonable.’

‘You’ve already discussed it with him, haven’t you? You’re not here to help, you’re here to deliver a job offer.’

‘Is it helpful?’

Salazar finally turns around to look her in the eyes. ‘Yes.’

‘Then stop moaning like it’s your date night and just take it. It’s a mutually beneficial thing and neither of us needs to treat it like a favor. You’re a godsdamn powerhouse and you get to negotiate the terms of employment. And then, if you two come to an agreement…’ Tomorrow grins. ‘I’ll get to show you all the awesome security measures we’ve set up with Friese. And hopefully, we can improve them after some celebratory booze. It’ll be fun.’

‘I’m gonna see much more of you from now on, aren’t I?

She smiles in the most predatory way she can muster. ‘You say it as if it were a bad thing.’


Scenario 024: Reason and Responsibility

So the dice have decided that Salazar’s primary motivation in this mess is loyalty. There’s more to being a gang leader than the biggest share of spoils; taking care of the people under you is generally also on the list. And Salazar is, apparently, fiercely loyal to the few people he has left. If their survival requires making sacrifices, he’ll make them. It will be less than others have sacrificed for him.

Now, how about that Scenario?

Looks like the whole jig will be about helping the ex-Hellhounds move, negotiate, set themselves up, and then re-organize the security. Yes, the motivation for Salazar could have been vengeance, but the dice have decided otherwise. Safer for him, although not necessarily in the long run. We’ll see about that one. We’re adding Salazar as a R2 Contact to the Scenario, so he can participate in his own story, but we’re not generating a whole character sheet for him.


Scenario Generation

Payout: 11 (There isn’t really that much we can gain there other than influence. It’s not a research project, we’re not getting paid – all we’re getting is basically increasing our influence in the area. Because whether Tomorrow realizes that or not [she is vaguely aware, but doesn’t pay attention], she is becoming important around these parts. If not by herself, then by people with whom she’s allied.)

Legwork: Tomorrow, Investigation, 5v2=5. Chloe, Diplomacy, 6v4=6. Tonight, Diplomacy, 5v3=5. Total 16, 5 net. Finished on May 12th. Scenario happening on May 13th.

Threat Rating: Scenario, 11v3=8. TR = 6 (crew) + 1 (half of Sal’s) + 4 – 3 = 8. We’ll throw in 4 points of local gang intel to take this down to 4.

Scenario Rating: 11 + 4 = 15. Default Actors: R4.

Free Modules: 11 + 11 passages
Free Scenes: 11
Build Points: 15

  1. Gateway, because we need to start the narrative somewhere. We’ll put the Delayed Reinforcements Scene (1/11) here, because I want the time pressure, but they will spawn at Module 8, not here. They’ll bring the free R4 War/Cre Actor and their two War/Inv friends + 10 Extras (BP 3/15) as they try to take over Hellhounds’ HQ. We better be done with the Scene in Module 8 by the time they arrive – and we’ll shorten the delay from 21 to 15 intervals (BP 9/15), triggering the moment we start the Scenario.
  2. Social Space, where we can talk to the ex-Hellhounds and discover what they’re really after. It’s a simple Offense Scene (2/11) and the free Soc/Tech Actor here is just pro forma, as we mostly need to convince Caw-Caw and Gargoyle. We won’t spend any BPs here.
  3. Hardpoint and the Checkpoint Scene (3/11) with preparations for the negotiation. Mostly, Tonight needs to get herself access to the Module 4 – she’s not technically invited to be a part of the negotiation. A R4 Soc/Tec Actor will try to stop her – but can anything?
  4. Operations Module with a Fox Chase Scene (4/11) – both sides have their objectives to score and they’re not mutually exclusive. A default R4 Soc/Sci Actor is there to aid Wheeler (using his stat block) in negotiations. I’ll add 3 points of Resistance in here (BP 12/15), because it’s an important part of the story.
  5. Social Module with an Offense Scene (5/11), so we can get Gargoyle set up in his new job and life, against a R4 Tec/Inv Actor. Again, more of a point for narrative and a ‘waste of time’ against the delayed scene.
  6. Social Module with an Offense Scene (6/11), to get Ahab sorted, against a R4 War/Inv Actor. See above.
  7. Social Module with an Offense Scene (7/11), to get Caw-Caw in place, against a R4 Sci/Inv Actor. See above.
  8. Operations Module with an Offense Scene (8/11) of getting back to Hellhounds HQ and rigging it will all kinds of nasties for anyone who’d want to breach it. There’s ‘not being vindictive’ and there’s ‘letting things slide’. This is more of a magical puzzle of R4 Sci/War proportions – unless we’re too late and it suddenly becomes a battlefield. If we manage to finish this Scene before the delayed reinforcements trigger (in interval 16), they become inert, but we might hear an explosion later on.
  9. Hardpoint with a Checkpoint Scene (9/11), because we need to convince Salazar to not be a prick and let us help with the new security measures. We’ll let Salazar’s pride boost him to a R4 Sci/War Actor. As we’re removing him from our team and putting him in the Defense team, that’s a BP spent (BP 13/15)
  10. Operations Module with an Offense Scene (10/11) full of magical preparations for the taking over the magical security responsibilities. As I can’t see this scene as anything else than Tomorrow and Salazar talking shop during a congrats-on-a-new-job party, the module gets a +2 Logic modifier (BP 15/15), as they’ll be both completely drunk. In Defense, a R4 Sci/War abstract issue of magical security.
  11. Control Module with the Finale Scene (11/11) and its awful 11 points of Resistance (on top of 2 from Driven, because this is very much a side quest for Tomorrow). Default R4 Sci/War Actor won’t be much issue, but this is not a Scenario of a three-act-structure and heroic fight to the bitter end. I’m working hard lately and I don’t have the steam for those. I’ll just let Tomorrow have fun with her research buddy and rework the defenses of the Cutters’ turf. Maybe have a heart-to-heart, as much as the two are able to do it (not that much). After all, it’s supposed to make Salazar into a R3 contact and it will raise the Fam to 9, so the narrative needs to be there.

Is this Scenario rather linear? Yes. I have a story to tell.


Preparations

This is mostly a Social Scenario between friends. For all intents and purposes, our Familiarity with Cutters is at 9 and with Hellhounds at 8. Fam between Cutters AND Hellhounds is at 9… So we are just a bunch of people who are legitimately trying to help one another due to mutual sympathy. This means that base difficulty in this Scenario is set at 1 or 2 in Social Scenes, for all parties, making the skills basically obsolete – which is what happens when you’re talking to people who know and like you. You don’t have to be a master negotiator when it’s your BFF on the other side. First Impression trait won’t matter, as they all know one another. Tonight’s Ace in the Hole AAC and the proper Social wearables – will. Tomorrow’s Driven shows its ugly side, but we’ll cope.


Playthrough!

T1: Module 1, Gateway. Interact, move to Module 2. Trigger the Delayed Reinforcements counter; they’ll arrive in T16 at Module 8.

Scenario complications: 11v2=11/11, 0 net. Rolled a 6, no complications.


May 13th, 2056

An armored truck might not be the most convenient moving van, but it is what Chucky Parker, Cutters’ head rigger and Wheeler’s XO, was willing to lend for a morning trip through the Warrens. He offered a driver too – and was only dissuaded after Tomorrow made a solemn promise to cover the costs of any repairs.

If you survive, adds Chucky, but they both know that there’s no real danger between the Cutters’ turf and the Hellhounds’. Tomorrow doubts she’d be allowed to drive without the extra security otherwise.

The main road near the UCAS-CAS border is kept relatively clean if unmaintained. The worst they encounter is potholes. As they near the old school building and pass through the perimeter, Chloe’s fingers tighten on the steering wheel. She swivels gently to avoid the burned out husk, still vaguely humanoid.

‘I’m glad they’re moving out,’ she says finally.

Tomorrow waits for her to continue, but Chloe stays quiet, paying full attention to the road in front of them.

‘It will be safer for them in Best Western,’ prompts Tomorrow. ‘As far as Warrens go, it’s basically gentrified.’

Chloe nods and drives through the broken concrete of the school’s parking lot, stopping the truck in front of the barricaded entry. She kills the engine and stares at the wheel. ‘I hate this place. It reeks of misery and death.’

‘If everything works out, it’s the last time you see it.’ Tomorrow furrows her brows and looks at her sister with a renewed interest. ‘What’s going on with you?’

‘Things.’ Chloe sighs and continues when Tomorrow’s stare makes it obvious that she won’t get to avoid the topic: ‘I’m not a big fan of living with a blood mage under one roof, okay? I know he’s your friend, and obviously he’s not that blood mage – it just puts me on edge. I’ve been talking to Gargoyle about it – I’m still allowed to have friends, right? I know what they’re doing is consensual, and it’s never done lightly, and it’s literally none of my business, but…’ Chloe looks through the window at the dilapidated ruin. ‘I personally think it’s awful. And I think Salazar is a total dick for doing it. And I think he’s dragging you into his dark and bloody bullshit.’

‘That’s a lot of thinking.’

‘Sarah, for fuck’s sake.’

‘What? As you said, Salazar is my friend. He might be a dipshit, but I would never have found you without him. I’d try to do it alone and I’d die. I owe him more than my life. And if I can do my part in dragging him out of his dark and bloody bullshit, I’ll do it. Okay?’

Chloe turns around and it’s obvious that no, it’s not okay.

‘Chloe, please. I get where you’re coming from. What we did with Sal then… It was a one-off. We didn’t do anything like that before and we’re not planning to do it in the future. They have a chance for a better life. I’m not going to take it away from them, even if it makes you uncomfortable. Maybe…’ She looks her sister in the eyes and smiles. ‘How about we just help them move, then get back to what we were doing? It will be over soon, and you and Fayette will be free to live literally wherever the hell you want, without any blood mages in sight. Works?’

‘Works. But I still don’t like him.’

‘Well, you don’t have to.’ Tomorrow picks up the packing tape and opens the door. ‘Do it for Gargoyle.’

Tonight is waiting for them as they approach the building, a stack of folded boxes levitating behind them. The illusion of the barricaded doors is still there, but they pass without any trouble, their steps soon echoing in the empty halls. Tonight looks between the two of them but keeps silent as nobody decides to fill her in on the reason for the palpable tension. She finally shrugs and disappears, leaving the sisters alone in the corridor.

‘I just don’t want you to go through any more blood rituals. You’ve been such a mess the last time,’ mutters Chloe after they pass a couple of doors. ‘I worry about you.’

‘I know.’ Tomorrow stops and gives her sister a quick hug. ‘But I’m fine, you really don’t have to worry.’

‘Just…’ Chloe shakes her head. ‘Don’t let him change you into somebody you’re not.’

Oh, Raven. I hope she’ll never know.

‘Come on,’ she says instead. ‘We got a job to do. Sooner we finish…’


‘Took you a while,’ complains Salazar the moment he sees them in the door to the common room. ‘Hi, Chloe. Gargoyle’s over there.’ He waves a hand towards their room and gets back to his complex task of throwing clothes onto a pile in the middle of the floor.

‘You heard it all, haven’t you?’ asks Tomorrow when Chloe disappears from the view.

Salazar’s shoulders stiffen for a second, before he tosses another armful of clothes at the pile. ‘You’re not the only one with surveillance at the front door. Didn’t mean to eavesdrop.’

‘It’s fine. Don’t mention it. Where’s the rest?’

‘Gargoyle’s packing our stuff, Caw-Caw and Ahab are dealing with theirs.’

Tomorrow drops the boxes on the floor and looks at the amalgamation of things in front of her. Mostly clothes, mixed with knick-knacks and shoes, photos and toothbrushes. Lots of toothbrushes.

‘Are you gonna… Pack it?’

‘No. It’s not mine. I’m building a pyre.’

‘Do you need any help?’

‘No.’

‘Do you want company?’

This one takes a moment longer. ‘Yes.’

She looks around the room in which she has spent at least a dozen of evenings, partying with the Hounds. Mismatched, worn-out couches stand empty and it feels wrong to just sit down where others no longer will. She resorts to leaning against the table, hands crossed in front of her, and her eyes following Salazar around.

He seems to pay her no attention, but after a couple of minutes, he starts talking, not looking in her direction.

‘We didn’t even get to collect the bodies. Not before the scavengers did. It was a good ambush. They didn’t stand a chance. I wish I was there. But no, I was busy consensually bleeding out my boyfriend to put up stronger wards around our home. For protection.

‘I wanted to go and rain fire on all of them,’ he adds after a pause. ‘I still do. But there are limits to what I can do without him and I’m not going to ask him for that. They’re already dead. He needs rest. Probably medical attention. We need to leave. I can’t…’

Salazar empties the last box onto the pile and looks at it silently, then joins Tomorrow at the table. ‘I’ll need to come back here later and burn it. There will be no looting of this place. They’ve stolen enough from us. I can’t make them pay the way I want to…’ He glances at her and drops the topic. 

‘If somebody hurt my sister, I’d burn the world,’ she says to nobody in particular.

‘I thought I’m dragging you into my dark, bloody bullshit.’

Tomorrow laughs dryly. ‘You are. But that doesn’t mean I don’t have dark, bloody bullshit of my own. We’re kin, Salazar. I’m just trying to stay on the non-murderous side, for my own good. And for the people who actually give a shit about me.’

Salazar’s eyes dart towards the door to his room, behind which their much better counterparts are busy with real work. ‘I’m pretty sure I had a cutting remark about how much of an evil, lying, two-faced bitch you are. And how much you don’t deserve that pure faith in the goodness of your heart. I must have left it in another jacket, though.’

‘That’s okay, you can give it to me later. It will be about as true then as it is now.’ She shrugs, unfazed. ‘Let me know if you need any help with that pyre. We can burn this whole place if you want. There will be nothing left to scavenge.’

Salazar nods. ‘Later. Gotta take care of the living first. The dead will wait. It’s not like they have anything else to do.’


T2: Module 2, Social Space. Offense Scene vs. R4 Soc/Tech (Conservative Offense) Actor. We’re just all going for the MT here, generating 4 Res.

Tomorrow: MA Investigation+1, 5v4=4. MA Sorcery+1, 5v3=2. PA TaB. MP 7/8
Tonight: MA Diplomacy+1, 5v3=5. MA Negotiation+1, 5v3=4. PA TaB. MP 6/7
Chloe: MA Diplomacy+1, 6v5=3. Negotiation+1, 6v6=4.PA TaB. MP 7/8
Salazar: MA 2v6=2

Defense: MA 4v1=4+2 automarks. PA TaB.

MT 24-6=18/15 -> Offense wins.


T3: Passage. Moving to Module 3, replenishing our Morale Pools.


T4: Module 3, Hardpoint. Time to get ourselves into the negotiations, even though we have no business being there. But we’re nosy magicians. The Hardpoint comes with 6 points of Resistance and one R4 Soc/Tech (Conservative Defense) Actor. This is a Social Scene of negotiations with base difficulty 1. As it’s a Checkpoint, MT = Defense Rating = 4.

Tomorrow: MA Artificial Intelligence (Sorcery+1), 5v1=5 points of Clout for Logic-based tasks for Chloe. MA Leadership+1, 3v6=1 point of Clout for Tonight’s Negotiation. PA TaB. MP 7/8.
Tonight: MA Negotiation+1, 5v5=2 +3 automarks from wearables. MA Ace in the Hole (Negotiation), 5v1=5 automarks for Chloe’s attempt at MT. PA TaB. MP 7/7.
Chloe: MA Commerce+1, 5v4=4+5 automarks. PA TaB.
Salazar: Grins.

Defense: MA 4v1=4+2 automarks. PA TaB.

MT 14-6=8/4 -> Offense wins.


T5: Module 4, Operations. This is a two-sided Fox Chase Scene with 3 points of Resistance for both sides. I don’t expect it to happen over one meeting; this is not a standard job interview. Think of it more as a series of conversations happening within a couple of hours, as the ex-Hellhounds move into Best Western. Wheeler wants Salazar as his security officer, Salazar realizes this is his best available option for survival, so he just tries to milk it for as much autonomy as he can… Both sides are scoring marks against the other side’s Challenge, equal to the highest Rating of the Actor +1 per each other person in the team.

This means that Offense’s Challenge equals 5 (R4 Defense Actor +1 for Wheeler), and the Defense’s Challenge equals 4 (R2 for Tonight +1 for Chloe +1 for Salazar). Each side can either score marks for their MT, reduce the opposition’s marks, attack the Actors directly – all the standard jazz. Each side comes in with the main condition for the negotiations (for Defense, it’s hiring Salazar as the security officer; for Offense, it’s getting Sal hired as a freelance contractor with his own team instead of a Cutters’ employee). The scene ends when either of the sides manages to finish their MT – then the agreement is reached and each side that achieved their MT gets their main condition fulfilled and gets to impose additional conditions in the number equal to net marks. In either case, Sal gets a job – the devil is only in the details.

The Defense in this case is a R4 Soc/Sci (Balanced Defense) Actor and Wheeler, in a Balanced Control mood. Looks like the conditions will, indeed, be favorable. Tomorrow stays of out of this, because she’s not about to insert herself between Wheeler’s business and Salazar’s livelihood (and possible future demise). The three of them know that loyalty is a non-negotiable condition (in literally every single relationship in this triangle) and they’d all rather avoid any conflicts there. Instead, she’ll just move towards Module 7 and making sure that The Other Raven’s Child is taken care of.

Tonight: MA Stalling Tactics (Con+1), 5v2=5 = Wheeler’s Resolve, 1 MA wasted. MA Negotiation+1, 5v5=3 +3 automarks towards MT. MA Ace in the Hole (Negotiation), 5v2=5 automarks for Sal’s Negotiation. PA TaB. MP 7/7
Salazar: MA 1v7=1 +5 automarks towards MT.
Chloe: MA Diplomacy+1, 6v7=4 towards MT. MA Negotiation+1, 6v7=4 towards MT. PA TaB. MP 7/8
Offense MT: 20/5.

Wheeler: 1/2 MA wasted. MA Tactical Analysis, 4v1=4 automarks for R4 Actor.
R4 Soc/Sci: MA 4v2=3 +2 automarks +4 automarks against Offense’s MT. MA 4v3=4+2 automarks towards Offense’s MT.

Offense MT: 11/5. Defense MT: 6/4.

Both sides finish their main tasks and the deal is struck; Salazar gets to impose 6 extra conditions and Wheeler gets extra 2 – we won’t bother with the exact details here, but I’ll keep it in mind. For now, it’s good enough to know for whom the agreement is more favorable.


‘It is a pleasure to see you, Tonight, but I’m busy.’

‘Oh, I’m aware.’ The spirit smiles and sits down in the armchair on the other side of Wheeler’s desk, not waiting for an invitation. ‘That’s why I’m here.’

‘To make sure I don’t have the time to do my job properly? I know how you operate.’

Tonight scoffs, amused. ‘Please. As if you needed to get prepared for this. We might as well get most of it out of the way ahead of time, because we both know what’s going to happen.’

‘Enlighten me.’ Wheeler crosses his arms and leans back in his chair, looking at Tonight with a perfectly neutral expression.

Tonight smiles and the resemblance is uncanny – but she’s no Sarah. Too much flair, not enough grit. Still, unwise to ignore and underestimate, even if she’s contractually obligated to be loyal to Sarah. Even if he considers her a friend too.

‘Well, they’re already packing. Salazar knows this is the safest solution for them and one that lets him keep his face around here. As far as people are concerned, it’s a promotion – whether he has failed as a gang leader or not, working as your chief security officer is several steps above running a random thrill gang. You’ve been allied for long enough for it to not even be surprising that he got the job. If anything, there will be rumors about whether or not he got rid of his own gang to pull this off.’

‘There might be,’ he allows as if it weren’t a part of the plan. ‘Little point in people knowing the truth.’

‘You know he’ll want to keep his people around and will offer his services as a team of contractors. You know there can’t be any other way, because you don’t just let people join the cartel like that. Maybe, after a year of successful co-operation, you’ll offer him a permanent position. If he’s good enough. If you and Sarah are still around here. Yet, you’ll let him believe he won this thing from you, and this is all that matters for him. The illusion of choice.’

‘He has a choice.’

Tonight smirks, picking up on the unspoken. ‘That he does. The question is, what else can he win here?’

‘Anything he wants, within reason,’ he admits with a shrug. ‘I have no use for disgruntled employees, they’re inefficient and lack initiative. I need his loyalty, his skills, and his head in the game. I don’t mind having him a long leash, as long as he doesn’t try to chew through it.’

‘Exactly, it’s a clear-cut case. So what exactly did you want to prepare before those negotiations?’

‘Coffee. Would you like some?’


T6: Passages. Time to split the party, because why wouldn’t we? TaB all around. Chloe, Tonight, and Sal will follow to Module 5, to take care of Gargoyle, and Tomorrow goes for a heart-to-heart with Caw-Caw. Somehow, she never really got too close with Gargoyle. She’s not one to spend time digging for somebody’s personality if it isn’t offered on a silver plate – not when there are so many other people around.


T7: Module 5, Social Space. A simple Offense Scene against a R4 Tech/Inv (Balanced Defense) Actor. Basically, we’re making sure Gargoyle’s taken care of, which means basically everything from medical attention to giving him the wifi password. He needs both. This is still a Social Scene, which means Defense doesn’t get to roll its 4 dice. We’ll let Chloe take the lead here, because she won’t be particularly engaged in anything that follows.

Chloe: MA Biotech+1, 5v4=4 towards MT. MA IT+1, 5v3=5 towards MT. MA Diplomacy+1, 6v4=5 towards MT. PA TaB. MP 6/8.
Tonight: MA Biotech+1, 3v5=0 towards MT. MA Ace in the Hole (Negotiation+1), 5v2=5 automarks for Sal. PA TaB. MP 7/7.
Salazar: 2v3=2 +5 automarks towards MT.

Defense: MA 1v1=1 against MT. MA 1v1=1 against MT.

MT 19/15 -> Offense wins.


The old Lil’s flat is almost empty; nothing but basic furniture in it. It’s smaller than the classroom that Gargoyle and Salazar repurposed as their room in the gang headquarters, but it looks so much more like a living space… It was obviously recently cleaned up, and the absolute, clinical sterility of every surface makes it obvious who did it. Even the air smells of cleanliness. Sarah is nothing if not thorough with her magic.

Chloe pushes the door fully open and keeps it in place with her body, letting Gargoyle walk in. The troll drops the heavy boxes on the mattress and wipes his forehead, then sits down next to them. ‘Thanks for the help,’ he says when Chloe puts her box on the floor. ‘You really didn’t have to.’

‘Yeah, we got it.’ Salazar levitates a couple more bags inside; he’s followed by Tonight with her hands in the pockets. The spirit looks around the flat, suspiciously quiet.

‘Sure you do,’ agrees Chloe shortly. Breathe in, breathe out. Be civil. She pulls out a bottle of water from her pocket and hands it to Gargoyle, who blinks in surprise. ‘It’s not a bad place to live. The clinic is downstairs when you feel like visiting. You probably should. If you give me your commlink, I’ll set you up with the connection. I’ve built somewhat of a framework here for myself, because I couldn’t deal with the lag. I’m happy to share.’

‘Chloe.’

‘Yes?’

‘I’m fine. Really.’

Chloe mutters a vague acknowledgement and pretends that the view from the window is fascinating. ‘Right. Do you need any help? Unpacking, I mean? Anything?’

She doesn’t miss the glance Gargoyle casts Salazar and she’s painfully aware how awkward she is making the situation, but… Damn, she’s not the one using people as convenient, self-propelled batteries.

‘I have a couple more things to deal with,’ says the blood mage hesitantly. ‘Your help would be greatly appreciated, Chloe.’

‘You just don’t want to leave me alone,’ laughs Gargoyle. ‘You two should both chill. Will it make you feel better if I’ll go to that clinic?’

‘Yes.’

Chloe looks at Salazar and the mage seems about as uncomfortable as she feels having answered the question at the same time. She bites her lip and extends a hand. Metaphorically. ‘I’ll stay with Gargoyle if you need to go. We’ll get you set up and all.’

‘Thanks. I gotta check on Ahab and Caw-Caw. And then deal with the stuff we’ve left at…’ He stops himself and pushes his hands into pockets of his trousers. The clenched fists show even through the thick, rough fabric. ‘Call me if you need anything, man. I’m around.’

‘Will do. Go. Do the things. I’ll be here when you get back.’

Salazar smiles a crooked smile and nods, then turns towards the door. ‘Tonight?’

‘Yeah, I’m coming with you.’ The spirit sighs. ‘At some point, one of you will have to update me on what the hell is happening, because I could hang an axe on the tension in this room, and I’m missing data.’

‘Let me.’ Gargoyle raises his head and smiles, but the tired look of his eyes betrays his real feelings. ‘Chloe is pissed at Sal for doing something she doesn’t understand and that is none of her business. Sal feels guilty, because he didn’t want to do it in the first place, but he’s trying to be polite, because otherwise Tomorrow will be annoyed at him for upsetting her sister. At this point, Chloe and Sal have hopefully realized that they both care about me, no matter the approach, and can potentially co-exist. And I just want a nap, but I need to stay awake, so the two of them can feel better about themselves by trying to smother me with care and attention.’

‘Ah.’ Tonight nods sagely. ‘I’m gonna take them both out of here, okay?’

‘Please.’


T7: Module 7, Social Space. A simple Offense Scene against a R4 Sci/Inv (Aggressive Defense) Actor. Time to make sure Caw-Caw finds her place in Best Western. I have a good idea where that is, helping Salazar aside. This is, again, a Social Scene, but we’ll be talking magic – so I’ll allow the Defense to use their primary Focus. Worse for me, but who cares? There are no stakes in these social scenes. As long as I finish before Module 8 before Interval 16, nothing bad will happen.

We just use the mechanics to facilitate the story.

Tomorrow: MA Summon Air Elemental (Conjuring+1), 5v2=5 actions for the summon. MA Biotech+1, 5v4=4 towards MT. MA Sorcery+1, 5v1=5 towards MT. PA TaB. MP 7/8.
Air Elemental: MA Confusion, 4v2=4 MP dmg to Defense. MA Confusion, 4v2=4 MP dmg to Defense. 3 actions left.

R4 Sci/Inv: down to 0 MP, forced to TaB. 4v6=2. MP 2/8.

MT: 9/15

T8:

Tomorrow: MA Diplomacy+1, 5v4=4 towards MT. MA Tactics+1, 5v4=3 towards MT. PA TaB. MP 6/8.
Air Elemental: MA Confusion, 4v2=4 MP dmg to Defense.

R4 Sci/Inv: down to 0 MP, forced to TaB. 4v6=1. MP 1/6.

MT: 16/15 -> Offense wins.

Meanwhile, Sal, Chloe, and Tonight move through the Passage to Module 6. PA TaB all around.


‘It feels so weird to just be outside like that.’ Caw-Caw lets out the smoke and leans against the bannister on the roof. ‘Good view from here.’

‘It’s honestly my favorite spot. In a year, I’ve literally seen one other person here.’ I wonder where he’s at these days. Yucatan? Caribbean? ‘It’s quiet. Sometimes, you can even see the stars from here, if the pollution is low.’

Caw-Caw’s gaze turns to the southeast, but the Hellhounds’ HQ is too far away and too low to be seen from the roof of Best Western. ‘Did he tell you to help us again?’

‘I don’t think I helped you all that much the first time around.’ Tomorrow sits down, putting her back against the railing. ‘I was due a second try. A more… Helpful one. But no, it wasn’t an order. By now, he probably just expects us to watch one another’s backs.’

‘You’re doing well enough for yourself.’ The shaman takes another inhale of smoke and passes the joint to Tomorrow. ‘In case neither of the guys gets around to say it – thank you. You’ve very likely saved our lives.’

The smoke is sweet and calming, and leaves a minty aftertaste on Tomorrow’s tongue. ‘I didn’t do anything. At most, I’m just the messenger. Don’t thank me.’ She exhales and watches the greenish smoke curl in front of her face before the wind carries it away. ‘Even if – you know it’s nowhere close to selfless.’

‘As if anything in the world ever were.’

Tomorrow laughs and returns the cigarette. ‘Do you know what you’re going to do?’

‘Help Salazar, I guess. Not that he needs my help. Ahab is the one with actual tactical knowledge. I was never into this whole thing.’

‘We have a clinic downstairs. They could use a healer.’

‘I’ll think about it.’

‘They also have a secret drug lab.’

Caw-Caw chuckles and sits down next to Tomorrow. ‘How secret is it?’

‘Ever since they came clean to Wheeler and sorted out the back-pay cut of the profits? Not particularly. But they seem to have fun there.’

‘I’ll look into it.’ The exhaled smoke twists in several directions at the same time, exploding into a wind rose. ‘You know, I’ve been asking for a new path. Now that I can see several… I’ll take my time choosing the right one. I might not get another chance.’

‘He probably just wants you to be yourself.’

‘Is that where you’re at?’ Caw-Caw passes the joint again and for a while, they both just look at the sky and the vast city below it. The black spots flying through the endless blue might be ravens; even if they aren’t, the message is clear. ‘I don’t know what he wants from me. But maybe, now I’ll have the time to figure it out.’


T9: Module 6, Social Space. Time to sort out the last of the ex-Hellhounds. Ahab has been on the sidelines of this story until now, but with the group now living in Best Western, who knows what’s going to happen. A R4 War/Inv (Conservative Offense) Actor is there against them, but this is still a Social Scene.

Tonight: MA Diplomacy+1, 5v2=5 towards MT. PA TaB. MP 7/7
Chloe: MA Tactics+1, 6v4=4 towards MT. Diplomacy+1, 6v4=5 towards MT. PA TaB. MP 7/8
Salazar: MA 2v3=2 towards MT

R4 War/Sci: 1v1=1 against MT

MT 15/15 -> Offense wins.

Meanwhile, Tomorrow and her air elemental are in the passage to this Module, and will arrive next interval to collect Sal and go to Module 8.


It doesn’t take them long to find Ahab; his and Caw-Caw’s flats are located just down the corridor. Chloe wonders fleetingly who got displaced to make sure the Hellhounds can stay together, but even she if forced to admit that it’s a good solution to keep them all close in case of an emergency. The flat is much smaller than Gargoyle’s, barely a room with a kitchenette and a tiny bathroom – exactly the same as Sarah’s, minus the posters and colorful furnishings.

In fact, they find Ahab working; a map of the Warrens is splayed across his desk and an open notebook shows pages covered in minuscule scrawl, barely decipherable from a distance of a few steps. The mage gets up when they enter, welcoming them with a nod.

‘Tomorrow has vastly undersold the strength of this astral rift,’ he points out after dismissing their offers of help in the unpacking. ‘The background count here… I can’t even do the simplest spell. Astral’s all hazy. It’s amazing. Once we get used to it…’

‘It will be almost like the old times.’ Salazar nods. ‘She always said her magic is strongest in Best Western. No wonder, with such power behind it.’

Tonight adds with a grin: ‘It’s a rather slow day, actually. No ectoplasm seeping through the walls, no ghosts walking down the halls. There’s a reason people say this place is haunted.’

‘I’ve heard you had a poltergeist here. Is it true?’

‘If there is one, I haven’t seen it. There’s probably more elementals than anywhere else in the Warrens, though. We used to see more spirits, but the local shaman got eaten by a cat-sized spider, from what I’ve heard. And there’s of course the free spirit in the penthouse. And well, me.’

‘This place is bonkers,’ agrees Ahab and looks at Salazar. ‘It’ll do.’

‘It better be worth it.’


T10: Module 6. Tomorrow arrives at the place, says hi, then collects Sal and they’re both going to move towards Module 8. Chloe and Tonight… There is neither place for Chloe in the next couple of modules, nor would she want to be included, so she’ll go back to living her life. Tonight is a spirit and can pop in and out whenever she wants, so we’ll call for her if and when she’s needed.


T11: Passage to Module 8.


T12: Module 8, Operations. Tomorrow and Salazar have some unfinished business in the old Hellhounds’ HQ. In the Defense, R4 Sci/War (Aggressive Defense) Actor. The unfinished business is basically burning the place to the ground, making this a Sci/War Scene.

Tomorrow: MA Summon Fire Elemental (Conjuring+1), 5v2=4 actions for the summon. PA Marksmanship+1, 4v8=0 SP dmg to Defense. MA Sorcery+1, 5v1=5 towards MT. MA Sorcery, 5v1=5 towards MT. PA TaB. MP 7/8
Fire Elemental: PA Elemental Attack, 4v4=2 -1 soak = 1 SP dmg to Defense. PA Elemental Attack, 4v4=2 -1 soak = 1 SP dmg to Defense. 2 actions left
Salazar: MA 2v4=2 towards MT.

R4 Sci/War: MA 4v2=2+2 extra Res for MT. MA 4v4=4+2 extra Res for Defense.

MT 12/15.


T13:

Tomorrow: MA Artificial Intelligence, 5v1=5 Clout for Logic Tasks. MA Sorcery, 5v1=5 towards MT. MA Sorcery, 5v1=5 towards MT. PA TaB. MP 5/8.
Fire Elemental: PA Elemental Aura, 4v2=4, creating Elemental Hazard R4, affecting Defense. 1 action left
Salazar: MA 2v8=2 towards MT.

R4 Sci/War: MA 4v2=3+2 automarks, reducing the EH to R3. MA 4v2=3+2 automarks, reducing EH to R2.

MT 24/15 -> Offense wins. The reinforcements didn’t manage to arrive on time, so it’s their problem, not our anymore.


The pyre is right where they left it. Nobody has breached the building yet – but they’ve seen a couple of fresh burn marks as they flew the short distance through the Warrens. By nighttime, the place will be swarming with scavengers.

‘There won’t be anything to scavenge,’ says Salazar the moment she mentions it. ‘Nobody will ever touch their things.’

Tomorrow nods, looking around the emptied room. ‘What did you do with the hounds?’

‘Sold them to Wheeler. He wanted them for months and I have nowhere to keep them. They’ve picked them up a couple hours ago.’

She smiles absentmindedly. ‘He really likes dogs. Thanks again for the puppy. He’s adorable.’

‘It’s a freaking hellhound, Tomorrow. They’re not supposed to be adorable.’

With a shrug, she focuses and brings forth a fire elemental. ‘You’re adorable too. Wanna… Say some last words or something?’

Salazar stares at the pile of clothes and shakes his head. ‘Not the first home I’m burning down. It really loses the impact when repeated.’ A flame bursts out above his open palm and he calmly throws it into the middle of the room. Magical fire catches on quickly, devouring the cheap fabric and melting the plastic. ‘It’s going to take a while. I got so used to doing things in just one spell.’

‘I got you.’ Tomorrow commands the elemental to start setting up fires in the furthest rooms. ‘I would even…’ she says hesitantly. ‘I’d even help you out, but you’d leave me with a scar I couldn’t hide, and we both know it would drastically change the terms of your employment.’

‘You mean, the termination of my employment. And of me.’ Sal laughs dryly. ‘Oh, I know. Next time I’m using you as a sacrifice is when he decides to control me by threatening Gargoyle. It’s only fair.’

‘Thanks, Sal.’

‘Well, you tell him to not do anything stupid.’

‘Well, you make sure to not do anything stupid.’

‘Deal.’ Salazar grins. ‘I look forward to this partnership. Aren’t you going to tell me that you’ll kill me in my sleep if I ever hurt the love of your life?’

‘No. It honestly sounds like the two of you are trapped in a contest to grab one another by the balls. I love you both, but I ain’t joining that. Y’all figure it over a beer or something. I just want you both alive and reasonably happy. Your collective problems are eating away at my research time.’

With a laugh that sounds more like a bark, Salazar throws another ball of fire into the room and turns away. ‘I think we can leave this now. I’ll just command my elementals to finish it off. Thanks for the help, though.’

‘You didn’t need any.’

‘I generally don’t need you, birdbrain.’ For a moment, he looks just like his old self. ‘But it would suck coming here alone.’

‘I’ve been relegated to being a moral support.’ She sighs with a bemused smile. ‘I can hear Raven laughing at me in my head. It’s the last time I’m helping anybody, ever.’

‘Yeah, right. You get off on people being grateful to you. Speaking of… Gargoyle kicked me out from our new flat until evening for smothering him with care and attention. Wanna grab that beer and waste a couple of hours of your prime research time?’

‘Damn you, Salazar. Sure. Our place.’


T14: Tomorrow and Salazar move through the passage to Module 9. Tonight joins them. TaBs all around, Tomorrow MP 7/8.


T15: Module 9, Hardpoint. Just a small Checkpoint against a R4 Sci/War (Conservative Defense) Actor, which is basically Sal needing to be convinced to just let Tomorrow help with the whole security gig. He obviously is an obstacle here for shits and giggles, because he will always accept free help. Extra 6 points of Res due to it being a Hardpoint, but it is a Social Scene, so the basic difficulty is at 2.

Tomorrow: MA Sorcery+1, 5v5=4 towards MT. MA Investigation+1, 5v6=3 towards MT. PA TaB. MP 6/8

Salazar: using a Social focus, so 1v1=1 against MT and calling it a day. He’s only being obstinate for the sake of the argument.

MT 6/4 -> Offense wins.


T16: Module 10, Operations. Time to drink and talk shop. Drunk spellcasting is definitely something that Tomorrow and Salazar call a nice evening. They’re both more or less disasters. Wheeler is aware what he has unleashed, but he hopes the building will not explode while he lives in it. Salazar’s back on our side, we’re just solving a problem represented by a R4 Sci/War (Balanced Control) Actor. Due to rampant drunkenness, we’re fighting a +2 Logic modifier.

Tomorrow: MA Sorcery+1, 5v3=4 towards MT. MA Job Well Done. MA Investigation+1, 5v3=5 towards MT, 3 MP recovered. MP 8/8
Tonight: MA (2) Stalling Tactics (Con+1), 5v2=5, 2 MAs of Defense wasted. MA Ace in the Hole (Negotiation+1), 5v3=5 automarks for Salazar. MP 7/7
Salazar: 2v4=1 + 5 automarks.

Defense: MAs wasted.

MT 15/15 -> Offense wins.


T17: Passage towards Module 11.


T18: Module 11, Control Module and the Finale. We got here! I know this was much more of a story than a Scenario, but it do be like that sometimes. Time to rework the security of Best Western, establishing Salazar as the new (freelance) security officer  for the Cutters in the area, adding him to the Cutters’ roster, and hopefully resolving some of the tension. Or maybe not. I usually figure it out as I write, and the story goes where the dice go. For the purposes of everything, the Finale has 14 points of Resistance (11 + 2 from Driven +1 for 1 person scoring marks). The Defense is a R4 Sci/War (Balanced Control) Actor.

Tonight: MA (2) Stalling Tactics (Con+1), 5v2=4, 2 MAs of Defense wasted. MA Leadership+1, 4v3=4 points of Clout for Tomorrow’s Sorcery. PA TaB. MP 7/7
Salazar: 2v4=2 points of Clout for Tomorrow’s Sorcery.
Tomorrow: MA Artificial Intelligence (Sorcery+1), 5v1=5 points of Clout for Logic Tasks. MA Summon Air Elemental (Conjuring+1), 5v2=4 actions. MA Sorcery, 5v1=5 towards MT. PA TaB. MP 7/8
Air Elemental: MA Confusion, 4v2=4 MP dmg to Defense. MA Confusion, 4v2=4 MP dmg to Defense. 2 actions left.

Defense: MP 0/8, MAs wasted. PA TaB, 4v6=0.

MT 5/15.


T19:

Tonight: MA Leadership, 4v3=4 points of Clout for Tomorrow’s Sorcery.
Salazar: 2v4=2 points of Clout for Tomorrow’s Sorcery.
Tomorrow: MA sust Artificial Intelligence. MA Sorcery, 5v1=5 towards MT. MA Sorcery, 5v6=1 towards MT. PA TaB. MP 6/8
Air Elemental: MA Accident, 4v4=3 -2 soak, 1 PA wasted. MA Accident, 4v4=4 -2 soak, 2 PA wasted. 0 actions left, disappears.

Defense: Out of PAs, out of MP – needs to TaB, doesn’t have actions to TaB. Idle and sad.

MT 11/15.


T20:

Tonight: MA Leadership, 4v3=3 points of Clout for Tomorrow’s Sorcery. MA Leadership, 4v3=3 points of Clout for Tomorrow’s Sorcery.
Salazar: 2v4=0.
Tomorrow: MA sust Artificial Intelligence. MA Sorcery, 5v4=3 towards MT. MA Sorcery, 5v4=4 towards MT. PA TaB. MP 5/8

Defense: No MP, forced to TaB, 4v6=1.

MT 18/15 -> Offense wins, 3 net.


Wrapping Up

Payout: 11 points of Influence for Cutters/Hellhounds related activities.

Rep: +11 for all three characters. It nets us 3 points of general-use Influence and it gets Chloe over 100 Rep, which means she advances to R2 Career Rating. The new Free AAC:
[Free] AAC Intrusion Protocol [M, S. Wit/Hacking. CR = System Rating. When Challenge reached, net marks scored serve as automarks to the next Hacking Task while Sustained.]

Familiarity: It was a beneficial Scenario for both Hellhounds and Cutters. The first rise to Fam 9, the second is at 3/4 to grow up to 10. We’ll get there. Familiarity with Salazar also rises to 9, and Sal himself is now a R3 contact.

Faction Changes: Hellhounds’ R2 (2) Scientific Crew has been hired by Cutters, which means that Cutters have suddenly become a Warfare/Scientific Faction, and their Social falls into a tertiary focus. The new Scientific behavior is Beneficial Growth, so we can reasonably expect mutually beneficial projects and Scenarios with the new almost-Cutter magicians. Cool.

Skill Learning:
Tomorrow: Investigation +3, Sorcery +7, Leadership +1, Conjuring +3, Biotech +1, Diplomacy +1, Tactics +1, Marksmanship +1
Tonight: Diplomacy +2, Negotiation +5, Con +3, Biotech +1, Leadership +1
Chloe: Diplomacy +3, Negotiation +2, Commerce +1, Biotech +1, IT +1, Diplomacy +1, Tactics +1

Scenario Consequences:
Median roll: 5 +3 = 8, positive consequence of magnitude 11! And then, a 5.
The target Faction appreciated your efforts and invited to a diplomatic meeting to establish relations. The initial Familiarity equals magnitude. If caused by hostile move, the target Faction’s most hostile competitor appreciated it.
Well, as the target Faction were Hellhounds, I think we’ll just bump the Familiarity with them to 10 and call it a day! It’s our first fully-befriended Faction. I’m pretty sure that the ‘diplomatic meeting’ can only be another reason to drink. They’re due a wake after that funeral pyre.

Also, when it comes to the general tension between Salazar and Wheeler… Cutters and Hellhounds are at Fam 9. They’ll figure it out pretty quickly. But the contingencies are and always will be in place.


It takes a couple of beers before the atmosphere clears. A couple of beers and a scolding from Tonight, surprisingly curt and clearly annoyed.

‘You make me wish I could get drunk,’ sighs the spirit. ‘Yes, you both are prepared for the sudden but inevitable betrayal. Yes, neither of you is planning any. Yes, you both know each other’s pressure points. Now kiss.’

I’d pay to see that.

Tomorrow chuckles, when the telepathic message pops up in her brain. She buries her smile in Nabucco’s fur, giving the puppy a kiss on the black head. I’d sell photos. The socialist fraternal kiss, Warrens edition. We could put it on a wall.

Just look how grumpy they both are. Underutilized best friend material, and they’re both expecting the worst. What is it with all of you today? First you and Chloe…

Oh, let me fill you in…

‘I’m not kissing him,’ laughs Salazar. ‘I can imagine where his mouth has been and I’m not touching that.’

‘I’m not kissing my employees. That’s against the company policy. HR department would be cross with me.’

‘Is that why the literal magical security expert didn’t get the job? I mean, man, not to sell myself short, but…’

‘He never asked me,’ lies Tomorrow offhandedly, more interested in her mental conversation with Tonight than in explaining why she is never going to work for the Cutters. ‘Which is fine, because it saved me the hassle of giving him a polite refusal. Left us with more time for hugs and kisses.’

‘I need at least one person in my life who isn’t a part of my job description,’ picks up Wheeler smoothly, opening another beer. ‘Also, we don’t have an HR department. All issues and complaints are resolved on the spot.’

‘It’s called court-martial.’

He raises the can towards Tonight and nods, causing the spirit to visibly relax. ‘So it is. Quick, effective, makes sure people don’t do stupid shit twice.’

‘I like it. Feels like home.’ Salazar grins. ‘Tomorrow has mentioned you have the elementals keyed to you. If you want me to take that off, I can – but it will be faster if Friese just releases them from the binding.’

‘I got used to it, actually. It would be shame to waste them. Their services will get used up sooner or later, and it will make it easier on the transition period, before you get used to the background count. Friese was complaining about the astral acclimatization every time she had to go to Seattle and back.’

‘Yeah, you got a nice hot spot around the gate. No wonder you have so much magical protection in here. I’m gonna need to talk to Crowley about readjusting the wards. They haven’t been renewed since Friese has left, right? They’re starting to unravel at the edges, and you’re going to need stronger ones on the south now.’

Wheeler shrugs. ‘Do what you think is right. There’s a reason I hired you, not some rando with a degree.’

‘Perfect. Do I get to order the civvies around? Especially those stupidly giggling on the other couch?’

‘Technically, yes.’ Wheeler looks at the two blue-haired elves playing with the dog in silence sprinkled with occasional laughter. ‘But I personally wouldn’t test it outside of emergencies.’

‘Not advised,’ states Tomorrow without missing a beat. ‘It’ll backfire.’

‘We’ve managed ten minutes without implied threats.’ Tonight throws a pillow at her, startling the puppy. ‘I thought you’re in my corner.’

Tomorrow laughs and a second later Tonight joins her.

‘They’re talking about us, aren’t they?’ Salazar finishes his beer and puts the can on the table. ‘So rude.’

‘Uncivilized.’

‘Them witches.’

‘Gotta love them.’

Salazar casts Wheeler a surprised look, then grins. ‘That an order?’

‘No, that’s alcohol talking. But I’ve been told you’re family now. So you might as well just get used to it.’

Awh.

Well done.

What can I say? I’m a very lovable shithead.

‘Tonight and I are going to take Nabucco for a walk.’ Tomorrow gets up from the couch and sends the both men kisses through the air. ‘If you do decide to make out after all, take photos. If you decide to have a normal conversation, that’s even better. I love you both. Don’t kill each other, because I’d be sad. And it would be counterproductive after a day of hard work.’

She moves towards the door, puppy in her arms and the spirit by her side. After a couple steps she turns and looks at Wheeler.

‘Just in case it’s not obvious, I love you more,’ she says with a wink. ‘I’ll be at Chloe’s. Call me when you’re done here.’


Coming Up!

It’s high time to get back to what we were supposed to do. We have a war to win and girlfriends to rescue. Well, one girlfriend. But it’s an important one, because our hacker doesn’t really have the best time lately.

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