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The Big Leagues (narrative fiction from a narrative league; Misaki focus)


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Hi all,
I'm playing in a narrative league run by Jonasty and (being an author myself) decided to do write-ups before and after each game. The league is fixed-leader; it's my first crew and I'm playing Misaki. We're using the M2E rules, including the second wave of cards, but no Avatar rules.


I'll post 'em as I write 'em, along with a little behind-the-scenes to explain what happened in the game itself.

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Episode 1: The Missing Shipment


(The story happens prior to Game 1, vs. PeregrineFalco)


Dust motes sparkled in the air of the warehouse, courtesy of a slanting ray of sunlight through its gapped wooden walls.

Mistress Misaki whisked her matcha powder carefully, three times to the left, before adding steaming hot water. The figure in the corner slouched in aggressive annoyance; he knew how to hold his cards, but he sure wasn't happy when he had to.

"Will you join me?" Misaki asked quietly.

Lynch took the bowl with both hands, nodding ever so slightly. Only the broad brim of his hat revealed the motion at all. He slurped noisily at the bowl, and wiped his lips on his sleeve. "Needs some whiskey."

She smiled, a pained smile, visible only in the pinching of her nose; for she wore her ceremonial veil, as she did all the times that Lynch spoke to her in her role as Misaki. The corners of her eyes never moved. "One presumes you have heard of the disturbance near Madame Maker's shop."

"One presumes correctly." Lynch had lost two good fighters in the fire, not to mention half a shipment. Packets from a shipment of Brilliance were scattered all over the town; it was good for business, but problematic in the short term.

"One also presumes that an honest businessman would be concerned about the results of such a disturbance."

"One figures out a way to profit from such occurrences," Lynch said with a sigh. "Any chance I could interest you in getting to the point, Mistress? I'm losing money standing here, and so are you."

Misaki stared out the doorway for a long, calculated time, long enough that the tavern owner began to tap one toe. She turned to him, the same pained smile showing. "It is uncommon for the Torakage to work with outsiders."

"I'm not too keen on getting their help myself, but they do have a way with getting around," Lynch said. "In fact, I--"

A knock at the door disturbed them both; a looming presence, his bald head bowed to fit under the door's sill. "Begging your pardon, masters, but a feller's here to see you both."

"Ah, Mr. Graves," Lynch said. "We were just talking about you."

"You was?" the big man asked, with a hint of curiosity. As usual his true emotions were covered by the mask of imbecility he wore, a mask borne so adroitly that even his insightful employer barely suspected his true nature.

"Yes," Lynch said. "And bring that...friend of yours, too. It'd be good for him to get out of the Honeypot from time to time."

"Sure, boss, but what do I do with this guy? He's got a sword. It's big."

Misaki made a small motion, and a piece of shadow detached itself from the ceiling, revealing itself as a slight figure in a crimson keikogi. The figure put a hand on the giant's shoulder, casually, the way a mother might touch a sleeping child; at the touch Mr. Graves spun, but yielded his spot.

"Ichiro will show him in," Misaki said quietly. "You may leave us."

The big man nodded and resumed his post out front, idly whittling at a toothpick the size of a steak knife. He knew better than to cross the Mistress of the Ten Thunders.

The new figure was tall, and narrow in the shoulders, with a weary face. He squinted into the darkness with his left hand on his hip, where hung a flat-bladed schlagger. He bowed, a formal bow with hands at his sides, before proceeding.

Misaki wondered idly if the demonstration of respect were not, instead, an opportunity to let his eyes adjust.

"Who's this guy?" Lynch asked, the note of derision in his voice covering a deeper concern: for this was clearly a gentleman of some puissance, and despite his spies Jakob Lynch had no idea who he might be.

"An acquaintance who may be interested in a mutually beneficial arrangement," Misaki said.

"I don't work with strangers," Lynch growled. "It's bad luck."

"I think you'll find this gentleman has already suffered more than his share. Additionally, no request was made."

"Phew. For a minute I thought you were going to tell me I had to bring him along."

Misaki held her smile a long while.

"Aww, hell, that is what you mean, ain't it?" Lynch cursed, but quietly, for despite all appearances, he had a healthy respect for Misaki's ability to make his life unpleasant. "Fine. It's gonna cost you extra, though. I'll need a third shipment this month, and at ten percent off. Now, what d'you want, mister?"

The lone figure nodded slowly. "I have only one goal," he said quietly, in a voice faintly tinged with an accent Lynch couldn't identify. One of Ortega's boys? No, the accent didn't sound quite right for that lot.

"Assistance toward your goal may become available, should our own needs be met," Misaki said.

The swordsman seemed unmoved by this, so Lynch spoke up. "That means if you do good we'll see what we can do for you. Got any tricks other than that steel of yours?"

"I do," the man said.

"Great," Lynch barked. "Another one. I'm going to go get drunk. Better than listening to all these half-sentences."

Misaki smiled as he left; a real smile. The fire had been a small price to pay for flushing out the rat in the distribution chain. Now that she had her finger on the source of the trouble, she had no intention of letting the slippery cheat escape intact...

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And the conclusion...


Misaki grimaced. It wasn't a deep wound, but it was enough to kill if unattended. "Finer stitches, Ichiro," she said sourly.

The torakage looked up from his work, and pursed his lips. "Had you the sense of a newborn lemur, you would not have committed yourself to killing that which cannot be killed."

Misaki nodded. It had been a lesson learned at some cost...

* * *

The encounter had begun with a rush, a blur of motion. Misaki, her hand-picked agents shadowing her at some distance, had gone to set up a meeting at a new bar near Big Bill's Ammo And Taxidermy; for she had still had some trouble securing the services of the inestimably annoying Mr. Tannen. And so it was that, as she walked along in escort with Mr. Graves, his booming footsteps making the cobblestones shift and clatter. A pace beside lurked Chiyoko; her brother Ichiro had been sent in deep cover, searching for a hint of the trail.

Takoko was perched atop the roof of Big Bill's; she'd crept up there hoping to lure one of the townspeople to a grave end, for an unconnected mission. But the fellow had come ill of a mysterious ailment, and so she found herself in the surprising position, and a bit unsure of how to get down. This accidental vantage did provide, as Misaki later, a rather useful view of a quite confused encounter.

But it did not provide the oiran any clues as to how to achieve her primary objective-for Misaki had tasked Takoko to request an audience with the time-manipulating sorceress who called herself Tara. The latter had been sniffing around with the same independent agents that Misaki pulled from, and the competition was getting frustrating.

In the past week, a simple request for a straightforward delivery had gone awry when Taelor and the man named Sue had rejected Misaki's advances. Finding they had been working for the Rezzer at the time? Most demeaning.

It was high time, Misaki thought, to bring the upstart in line; but such things had to be done correctly. A declaration of war, Misaki had insisted on; one done at the proper time.

If only Ten Thunders had realized she was facing a master of time.

Mr. Tannen, who had not troubled himself to stand up from the counter at The Potted Plant, waved an idle greeting. "Cold night, inn't?"

The Mistress of the Ten Thunders nodded, cloaked and hooded that none might guess her identity. "It is most pleasant. I trust you are well?" Ahead, she gave a careful glance to one of her most faithful servants, Giuseph, a native and in deep cover. He was escorting her newest hire, the mysterious out of towner; both had found reasons to convene at Big Bill's.

"Can't complain, can't complain," the big man said. "You'll be wanting to join us in the bar, then?

"Briefly," Misaki said with poorly contained distaste. The place looked cramped--and was made even moreso by the presence of the sickly Mr. Tannen. Even from here she could sense the wrongness in his aura, a disturbing combination of ennui and pain. His frail form contained more energy than it should; even an unattuned observer such as herself could sense it.

"Do you...feel something?" she asked.

"S'a bit of Malifaux stirring up, indeed, missus," Graves said. He growled under his breath; more than a little. There was a funk and a stench around, and a wreched void in the trees. He tensed his hands around his walking stick.

Slow realization dawned on Misaki. The streets were crowded, especially as dusk settled, but the seemingly random gathering of strangers was as purposeful as that of her own crew. Ahead of her, she saw another of the blue cannisters--then another, and another. At last! Now it was time to set up the new tavern's owner to take the fall. She gave a signal--but too late.

Instead, it was Ichiro's sudden startlement that set the encounter in motion. Thinking back, it seemed to Misaki to unfold in slow motion. Ichiro spotted within a rather out-of-place farm cart the tell-tale blue color of a tin of Brilliance, buried within; as luck would have it, he was himself spotted simultaneously by a daft Necropunk nearby, who was traveling with a wicked Nurse that claimed to work the local infirmary.

The stench of decay surrounding both of them gave Ichiro pause; and so he called out to Misaki, across the square; and things collapsed. Tara, with a quick motion, summoned energies around herself and stored time, in a locket she kept around her neck. From the porch of the tailor's store, a greenish blue light resolved itself into the shimmering form of the once-alive, a horrific sight outlined in witchfire. Misaki grimaced; it was none other than Yan Lo's niece, delving in energies she didn't understand and couldn't control. Misaki hoped there would be an opportunity later to school the young brat.

Meanwhile, Mr. Graves smiled in satisfaction; things were about to get properly messy.

Ichiro sprang into action, leaping forward to secure the Brilliance, but paused to plant the bill of sale his mistress had requested, first. It went under the boxes of bullets clearly headed for the store; close enough. Ahead he saw Giuseph do the same, a damning double dose of evidence that would point at Bill as the source of the illicit drug.

Graves stepped into the thick of things, in an attempt to retrieve the bits of the crucial shipment, only to find himself beset by a monster from beyond the grave. He paused, and in pausing, Tara found the time to whisk herself away. Worse, Misaki saw she'd picked up one of the cannisters--and not just any cannister, but the only one stamped with the seal of quality. It was a damning mark, that tracery, a signature sufficient to connect the Ten Thunders back to the flow of drugs. This was unacceptable.

There came a sound of a wooden door being slammed, repeatedly. Surprised, Misaki whirled to find herself beset by Guild minions. This was most unexpected--though they did seem to follow Tara around. The Death Marshal, lugging her enormous coffin, sidled slowly down the street, intent on putting Mr. Tannen in the cooler. The clever fellow, however, slipped half-out the window, intent on haranging Tara--only to find his target gone.

"Well, there's more than two ways to skin a cat," Mr. Tannen said to himself. "Which reminds me--I know you're into ghosts, and all, but aren't you alive? I've got a lovely story of a hanged man you might find interestng--maybe you can look him up some time, get together, have a few drinks..." But the Chiaki was having none of it, instead devoting her energies to meddling in the melee in the center, and so the creepy old man shifted his focus. The Death Marshal, weighted down by her pine box, grew steadily more and more tired, until the very life force ebbed out from her. Mr. Tannen smiled in horrid fascinating, allowing just a hint of his true nature bleed through as he sucked her dry.

Misaki, beset on all sides, smote the Void Wretch a fatal blow--only to hear cackling laughter from behind her. Two flashbulbs went off simultaneously, a picture from each side--and she was caught. The trap had been sprung, and the rotting nymphomaniac in front of her patted the camera with glee. "That'll be in the evening paper--the Mistress of the Ten Thunders, attacking a Guild minion."

"The truth will out," Misaki said, but under her breath--for it wouldn't do to show her irritation. Instead she cast about, trying to figure out where Tara had gotten to, and finally found her hiding behind the outhouse. "You. You are my target," Misaki said, summoning her energies and focusing at last.

The torakage gave solid chase, but the necropunks were just too agile. Even a brief assist from Takoko was insufficient to slow up the speedy assailants, and Ichiro lost the creature around a building corner. "Mistress!" he cried.

"No matter," Misaki said. "Tara is all that matters."

With that Takoko nodded sagely, carefully putting her right fist in her left palm, and bowed deeply. From within the long sleeves of her robes, a pair of smoke bombs fell, detonating on the roof of Big Bill's--and when the smoke cleared, she was gone.

"Where?" Tara cried--for her own minions were dwindling in number. But the answer became all too clear as the oiran stepped from the shadows beside her.

"Tara," Takoko said. "I greet you, and give you this." The letter hung in the air between them, a brief hand-printed scroll. Tara read it involuntarily as it whisked to the ground, a declaration of war against her and her crew. She felt its binding force wash over her, and cursed mightily.

"Just for that," Tara said, "you die dishonorably. Bête!"

The horror erupted from beside her; Tara reached out with horrid energies and lassoed the oiran, burying her within dark chambers where her will was sapped.

Misaki, sensing a losing situation, charged in, but it was too late. With savage strokes she sought to fell Tara, but the Rezzer was able to fend off her attacks--barely. It seemed the fate of the encounter fell to a single flip of the cards, with Tara's energy sapped and her neck ripe for severing, but Misaki was unable to land the killing blow.

Instead, as the clock tower struck eight, the crew melted into the evening fog like a bad idea, leaving Misaki to lick her wounds. The swordsman lay in a crumpled heap, a dozen stab wounds in his abdomen from the Belle's poisoned umbrella; one torakage was seriously hurt, while the other was merely winded. Mr. Graves was riddled with wounds, but unbowed; he gathered up Chiyoko in one enormous arm, the torakage barely a burden. Mr. Tannen shuffled along unimpeded as the crew returned nearly empty-handed; for only Giuseph had managed to hang onto his cannister of Brilliance.

Of Takoko there was no sign. Misaki shuddered to think what price would be required to return her spirit from the realms to which Tara had banished it.

Behind the scenes:

This was a confused one! We played week 2, which meant Blind Deployment; we started extremely intermixed on the board, as described above, and a messy melee ensued. Search was the mission. With 4 objectives, one was worth 4VP to him, and all were worth 1VP to me; I knew which was which.


My crew:

  • 美咲 Misaki (w/ Smoke & Shadows, Stalking Bisento)
  • 一郎 Ichiro, Torakage
  • 千代子 Chiyoko, Torakage
  • 貴子 Takoko, Oiran
  • Brother Giuseph, Ten Thunders Brother
  • The Lone Swordsman (w/ Recalled training)
  • Mr. Graves, Bouncer
  • Mr. Tannen, Creepy Old Guy

His crew:

  • Tara (w/Dead of Winter, Eternal Journey, Obliterate Symbiote)
  • Nurse
  • Rotten Belle
  • Death Marshal
  • Chiaki, The Niece
  • 2 x Necropunks
  • Void Wretch
  • Bête Noire (w/Decaying Aura)

My schemes were Plant Evidence and Send A Message, both revealed. I was successful in both. The former was largely due to the Ten Thunders Brother defending the two scheme tokens I was able to plant (a third got removed by a necropunk); the latter was due to the oiran using Smoke + Mirrors at the end of one turn, and me getting initiative the next.

His schemes were Spring the Trap and Marked for Murder. The latter was a complete success--I bit hard on killing the Void Wretch with Misaki, and on turn one no less! The former was a mixed success--he still outnumbered me when the trap was sprung, so he only got 2 VP.

Tara picked up the crucial marker early and carried it the whole game, so he got 4 points for that; my Ten Thunders brother had one marker, so I got 1. This made the final score 9 to 7; a victory for the Rezzers! If I'd been able to kill Tara on the last turn (and it was close), it'd have been 7-6 to me. So close!

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(The next game was to be vs. Kaeris. I wanted to mix up my Crew a bit and try out some new models...so the story provided some justification...)


Misaki looked up from behind an enormous stack of papers; she had been poring over reports from the other side of the Breach, where incursions by Guild spies made it challenging to keep supply streams steady.

"Mistress," the voice came; quietly, for it was late at night.

She nodded her head a fraction.

"We have the details you were looking for." The woman stepped fully into the light. Wearing street clothes, Chiyoko seemed almost invisibly plain--other than the scar that had not healed, a reminder of her close encounter with Tara.

"The whereabouts of the traitor?" Misaki spoke the words almost silently, her lips hidden by her face mask. She held out one long-fingered hand. The torakage moved silently beside her, a necklace clenched in her fist. "This--this is my father's," Misaki said slowly.

"He bade me keep it close, until you received it."

The Mistress of the Ten Thunders fingered the necklace thoughtfully. Dangling from it was a tiny book, no larger than a postage stamp. Misaki pulled out a magnifying glass and a pair of thin gloves of coated silk, and selected a pair of long-handled tweezers from a toolbox inside her desk. Carefully, she twisted the latch on the book; it sprang open with some force, jetting black liquid against her magnifying glass.

"From my father, indeed," she said. Her hands were not shaking: but this was due to an effort of will. The Last Blossom knew what the black substance was, and what would have happened should it have contacted her skin.

Inside was a tiny shattered piece of red crystal: vayrynenite, a fragile stone found in the far north. Misaki pulled it out with the tweezers. Then, with a slow motion, she pushed both tweezers and stone into a small vial of acid pulled from another drawer in her desk. There was no sound, but the smell was foul and sharp.

When she was done the stone was shining clear, a dim pink light coming from within.

"What is it?" Chiyoko asked, her eyes wide.

"Our opponent. We face fire, and ice, next. Send notice to Ototo; we will need his strength."

"Of course, mistress. Anything else?"

"Set up a meeting with the steamworker."

* * *

Mei Feng rose from beside the split tie. Around her blasts of steam made a cacophonous racket, harsh blasts intermixed with the constant clanging of hammered steel. "Shit. We'll have to pull it. Get this out of the way and hold the track while we can fetch a new block of wood." She patted the enormous contraption of steel and steam that stood beside her.

The massive golem nodded slowly, a motion like a mountain calving boulders, and lifted the steel rail up two inches. Then, with its other manipulator, it yanked the tie clear of its moorings, sliding it as easily as a child might move tiny building blocks. The screetching noise made Feng wince and cover her ears; but then she straightened.

"Kang!" she shouted.

The burly fellow strode over with confident steps, a grin on his face. "We slapping a new block in there?"

"Yes, that. Who's the chick?"

Kang blinked, and stared where Feng was pointing. "No clue. Want me to go ask?" Truth be told, he was looking forward to the task, for though the maiden wore an ornate kimono and obscuring veil, what little he could see seemed comely enough.

"No, I'll go. Make sure these rails get trued once the golem resets them."

"Ayup," Kang said, patting her on one bare shoulder. "You go have some...tea...or whatever it is your people do."

"Watch it," Feng said, with a playful swipe at him.

The robed figure did not move as Feng approached; did not move until they were within arm's reach of each other. Mei Feng had brought her five-pound sledge; it seemed appropriate. She leaned on its handle, a full four feet in length, and stared at the newcomer. Finally, she smiled. "You gonna talk, or we gonna stare at each other all day?"

"I would have words," the figure said quietly.

Mei Feng cursed inwardly. "You came yourself? What's up? Let's go in my tent where it's quieter."

"One may well linger. The steam covers conversation from eager ears; and your men may as well see you hiring oiran, as three will be by later."

"You are most generous," Mei Feng said, though she herself did not care for the trade of the oiran. "You don't think someone followed you here?"

"Were someone to, they would have an introduction to a slender blade."

Feng gulped. While she didn't mind cracking a few heads when that was called for, the figure's cold-blooded delivery made her shiver. "So what can I do for you, mistress?"

"Appellations bring danger," Misaki said.

"Right! Uh. Person. Who I totally don't know."

"One might seek information on a wielder of flame."

"I know a couple of those," Feng said with a laugh. "Can you be more specific?"

"It is said there are wings."

"Ah. Her. Yeah." Feng scratched her cheek, leaving a long streak of dark grease. "Not my best friend in the whole world."

"If one were assessing areas of strength, what would one notice?"

"Hmm. She's tough at range. You'll want to get close in. Bring a bucket of sand, or several--or try to fight her near water."

"Anything else?"

"Beware her gunmen; their weapons are unpredictable, but deadly. Do you want a golem for company?"

"It is appreciated. One must, however, maintain appearances."

"Understood. Though I think Snuffly there would be an excellent ally. Hey--careful out there, alright?"

Misaki bowed; Mei Feng felt a tug in her stomach, knowing that she should return the gesture, complete the ritual. Instead, she forced herself to remain standing, against years of childhood training, while her mistress shuffled off and back into the woods.

"What in hell was all that about?" Kang asked.

"I've arranged some company for the men," Feng said. "The three hardest workers on this shift are gonna have a nice reward."

"Damn! Am I eligible?"

"I have other plans for you," she said, putting a possessive hand on his arm.


* * *

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(And the results of the battle with Kaeris...)


The burn ointment sizzled where it touched Chiyoko's flesh. "That...does not feel good."

Misaki pursed her lips. "It is necessary. A river may splash about stones cast into it."

"An ocean's wave may reach a thousand miles, if the mountainside falls," Chiyoko countered.

"Even the blind swordsman need not hear his blade," Misaki said.

Chiyoko fell silent, rebuked.

"One who performed a great service is treasured forever," Misaki said.

"A tiny acorn is laid," Chiyoko said, pleased.

* * *

The plan had been perfect; the execution, a struggle of ill fate. Misaki had, at her father's insistence, put a tail on Kaeris. The sorceress had been building power in a quite alarming fashion, gathering minions from near and far to her crew. This was itself concerning; but most upsetting were the minions in question.

After her meeting with Mei Feng, Misaki had seen the Firestarter sniffing around the camp. Unwilling to compromise her disguise, she asked Takoko to be among the oiran visiting the camp that evening. This trusted insider was able to ascertin that Kaeris had recruited, among other allies, two able gunsmiths and the control glyphs for a rail golem.

This concerned Misaki greatly. However, there was little to be done about it; Kaeris had been messing about too long with Ten Thunders agents, and it was time to punish the upstart.

The occasion came soon--too soon. The Lone Swordsman, who had failed Misaki so dramatically in the previous week, was in negotiation with Kaeris for hire. The deal was to be struck on the outskirts of town, near the Hanging Tree. Rather than let Kaeris escort her new ally out of town, Misaki decided she would teach the newcomer a lesson. A deadly lesson.

The morning was misty and overcast; Misaki's crew, hiding in the ruins of the old church, could see Kaeris and her ungodly minions emerging from the damp woods. With a silent signal, they spread out and took defensive positions; but it was too late. Kaeris had seen them, or sensed them. The rail golem, big brute in the midst of the woods, started to heat up alarmingly.

Impatient, Misaki gestured to Takoko, who lured forward a gunsmith. Then Misaki leapt forward, and with quick blows struck down a fire gamin and a gunsmith. Kaeris cackled; for this gamin had once again been sent only to reveal Misaki's murderous nature.

Ashamed, Misaki vowed to stalk and kill Kaeris, but her focus led her directly near the Hanging Tree. Its evil presence made her lose courage, and only a tremendous effort steeled her will ((had to blow the red joker on the WP duel!)).

Meanwhile, the archer and samurai crept forward. This was good; this was the plan. Both were expendable in Misaki's mind; the Samurai, a reckless fellow named Rokuro, moreso. Her father had given her orders to dispose of him, for he knew too much of the Ten Thunders inner workings.

But Kaeris' troops make cagey use of cover, and threw up a tremendous wall of flame between themselves and the enemies. The archer flung a hail of shuriken blind, only to have his aim fail disastrously. Torakage went scattering for cover as the targets laughed ((Black Joker, naturally)).

Ototo, his presence almost unnoticed behind the ruins of the church, took matters into his own hand. Fire be damned he strode forward, his great kanabō stunning a fire gamin before he reached his true target: Kaeris. For a moment they fought, flame against strength, but in the end the fire was too much for the fighter and he fell. Within the flame Misaki swore she could make out a laughing face; as the bonfires flew around the battlefield, seemingly possessing a mind of their own, she was sure.

With the sun rising and time running out, the Torakage sprinted forward. Chiyoko, having used the cover of smoke bombs to relocate behind the Swordsman, threw cunning shuriken to wound the fellow. Misaki tried to follow, but could not perfect the art of escaping into the smoke. Cursing, she blamed the hanging tree, and whisled for her oiran to lure her away from its influence.

Then Rokuro showed the Crew how to do things, striding forcefully through the worst of the fire to land a perfect blast from his gatling gun. The bullets cut deeply into the Swordsman, felling him instantly! ((Red Joker, naturally!))

The rail golem burst out of the flame, seeking to cut down Takoko, but the oiran dodged and juked, evading the massive beast's rush. Misaki switched her focus abruptly, channeling all her attention on the vast metal beast; her onslaught was furious and sudden, but nothing the rusy monstrosity couldn't handle.

The sun arose; both sides could hear the bellowing of Guild agents approaching. Swearing, Kaeris sowed fire in a deep arc around her and took to the air. Chiyoko's garments began to smolder, and the torakage screamed in pain. Kaeries hissed commands; her minions scattered into the night, flames trailing behind them.

"Let them run!" bellowed Rokuro! "Weaklings! We will hunt them down!"

"One would be advised to lower one's voice," Misaki said evenly. The samurai quieted instantly. "This was not a victory." She knelt by the badly-burned Ototo. "You will live, Ototo-san," she said finally.

"Will I?" the massive man asked slowly. "Right now it sure doesn't feel preferable."

* * *

Behind the Scenes

Deployment: Standard.
Mission: Escort, I was defender ("Crows"), seeking to kill the escort. I succeded in doing so (4 VP). (We used my Lone Swordsman model for the escorted figure, just to add flavor.)

My crew:

  •   美咲 Misaki (with Smoke + Shadows, Stalking Bisento)
  •   Sheng, a Kitsune
  •   弟 Ototo (with Call The Thunder)
  •   六郎 Rokuro, Samurai
  •   裕大 Yudai, Thunder Archer
  •   一郎 Ichiro, Torakage
  •   千代子 Chiyoko, Torakage
  •   貴子 Takoko, Oiran

His crew:

  • Kaeris (with Purifying Fire, Arcane Reservoir)
  • Eternal Flame
  • Rail Golem (with Powered By Flame)
  • The Firestarter
  • 2 Fire gamin
  • 2 Gunsmiths

My schemes:

  • Framed for Murder: Samurai (0 VP; he lived)
  • Make Then Suffer (scored on turns 2 and 4, 2 VP)

His schemes:

  • Plant Explosives (netted 2 VP on turn 3)
  • Framed for Murder: Fire gamin (killed by Misaki on turn 2, 3 VP)

Final score: 6-5, a slim victory for Misaki! (My first Malifaux win.)

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Here's the setup for my game with Jonasty...

"Katanaka-san!" Takoko called, her eyes agleam as she ran into the room.

Misaki disentangled herself from the training apparatus she hung from, a series of silk ropes suspended from the high ceiling of their clan temple, and carefully put down her bisento. "One's attention is required?"

"I have the most wonderful news," the oiran gushed. "Madame Du Bois is hiring!" She held out a crisply pressed newspaper; on the back page was a large ad. Performers Needed, it said. Exquisite Requirements; Only The Fairest Need Apply. Precision Timing Essential.

Misaki waited quietly. The oiran had had a rough month, including a terrifying encounter with a rail golem in the line of duty, and for this reason Misaki allowed her some lassitude.

After a moment the younger woman bowed. "Very well. I understand. A bundle of reeds is not easily broken; the clan comes first."

"I am thinking," Misaki said quietly.

The oiran stood in barely suppressed glee.

"There is another matter that needs attention," Misaki said at length; for she had heard from Giuseph, one of the Ten Thunders Brothers in the area, about a ritual that needed some assistance. "Secure an audition for yourself and for Kaneko. Two flowers will sit in a vase; the performer must take her own bow; and two sticks will feed better together than one alone."

* * *
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And the post-mortem from the game with Jonas.

Ten Thunders -- Episode 6 (after 'week 4' game; played third)

The auditions, such as they were, were held in a natural depression on the west side of town. At its center stood a small stage; around were various places to perch, rubble left from where lightning strikes had decimated a temple and burial ground. A curious tree had sprung up in the middle of it, one that bore pods that were said to enhance the abilities of those that ate them. Misaki did not believe such nonsense, of course.

"This place is holy ground, ma'am," Giuseph said. "Brother Orai will not tolerate fighting here." Nevertheless, the Ten Thunders Brother had brought his large cudgel with him, and Orai his vicious knives. Both were attired in formal garb for their people, shirts and pants freshly pressed, and ceremonial makeup covering their faces in turqoise lines.

Misaki smiled at the shorter man--a smile visible for once, for the Mistress of the Katanaka clan wore no mask; no disguise at all. She, too, was dressed in finery, a long dress of flowing burgundy fabric. "Even peace can fell a forest. Even a tiger, distracted, can lose its prey."

Giuseph took this as affirmation and smiled; for he and his brother had important work to do tonight, and it was critical that it proceed uninterrupted.

The small party moved forward--to all appearances, a cluster of friends out to support two of their own. But each member bore with them some extra surprises, for Misaki had split up the latest shipment of Brilliance amongst them.

Ichiro, his blades well-hidden under a long formal coat, smiled as he escorted Takoko and Kaneko toward the center of the arena. To his left Sakae strolled casually toward a pack of showgirls; one, in a brilliant white shortcoat and top hat was demonstrating tricks with a pair of mannequins, manipulating the contraptions so that they nearly seemed to move on their own.

Off to the right, Misaki saw Chiyoko conspicuously plant a bag by a tree. The bag was full of rocks; but Du Bois didn't know that. Misaki watched for any reaction from her opposite number; but there was none. Meanwhile she herself brought up the rear, in the company of a cranky old man who had invited himself along.
"Fine night for tryouts, isn't it?" Mr. Tannen cackled. "Going to see some fine displays, I hope?"

"One presumes all will be entertained," Misaki said, keeping her own smile firmly in place.

None but Mr. Tannen knew his true reasons for joining Misaki's crew: the ritual that Giuseph and Orai were attending to was of great interest to the Neverborn as well. Forces were aligned to this place, ancient forces that had brought the lightning down upon the outsider temple, and now had brought the Thunders to this spot, and the being called Mr. Tannen intended to see those forces bound and constrained. If it meant leaving it to a pack of teal-faced baboons, then that was the price.

Colette Du Bois scintillated in her ruffled dress, high blue collar and dancing cane at the ready. All around, low tables had been set up with drinks and comestibles on them. The parties came together cautiously, with many sidelong glances; for secrets abounded on both sides. But the entertainment started, and the wine flowed, and the conversation began.

Misaki was rather concerned to see four men she didn't know with Colette. Two were clearly stagehands--but they bore the insignia of the MS&U, and their strong builds marked them as miners. Worryingly, they were moving false scenery and props around seemingly at random. The other pair were even more curious: Oxfordian mages, in full regalia and sparking with magical energy. Were they part of the performance? Were they present to keep the peace? Or was there some other arcane ritual at work, beyond Misaki's ken?

She sent quick hand signals to Chiyoko to keep the miners occupied. The torakage approached under the cover of conversation, and was able to plant some of the Brilliance on each of the miners in turn. Misaki rushed toward, nearly running as one of the mages strayed too close. She flashed him a smile and a hint of cleavage; his eyes glazed over, but then he recovered and clinked glasses with her. The other mage was more troubling, for he headed directly toward the center of the clearing, where the odd branches of the fruited tree swayed.

The dance continued. Misaki felt light-headed, suddenly realizing that the mage had somehow poisoned her drink. She withdrew behind a bit of rubble to gather her thoughts, sending signals for the oiran to spread out. This was no simple audition!

Colette Du Bois called for attention, directing her performers the way a chess master might arrange her pieces. With a snap and a clap, she produced a dove from nowhere. At her command it flew off--then, with a flash of smoke, appeared in its place. All applauded; but Misaki saw how Colette stole glances in the direction Misaki had come from, as if she coveted the exit.

Subtly, she sent signals to Kaneko to intercept. The oiran fell back as Colette appeared in front of her. Beseeching the showgirl for an audition right then and there, Kaneko strove to distract Du Bois, but to no avail. Grimacing, she sprinted to be beside her ward.

Meanwhile, the Ten Thunders Brothers worked feverishly on the ritual, disguised as a pas de deux. They bobbed and weaved in and around each other, taking the opportunity to lay their hawthorne branches at the foot of the tree. Each branch burst into brilliant blue flame, then was gone; one after another, until nearly their entire load had burned. The mage, his curiosity piqued, strove to interfere--but Mr. Tannen and Orai worked together to misdirect and harange him until he almost didn't know where he stood.

From behind, Sakae planted the Brilliance with abandon, distracting all with his antics. The showgirls had started to realize the cursed drug was in their possession, and started speaking in a silent language of their own: get rid of it! Miners, mages, and showgirls all started checking their pockets frantically, some finding the devilish substance, others distracted simply with the effort. Misaki smiled; this meant that none were interfering with the ritual.

She turned her attention back to her counterpart. "Du Bois-san," she said. "There are two here who would entertain you." The oiran bowed, one after another, seeking to lure the showgirl out of her comfortable spot; but Colette barked a laugh at their pitiful efforts, instead producing another dove from the depths of her dress. Once again there was a flash; and then Colette was nearly gone, hiding in the corner of the arena with her doves surrounding her.

Misaki's smile became a hard line. She still didn't know what Du Bois was up to--but there was more than one way to halt it. She became a flurry of activity, hands moving in complex patterns as she charged Colette. The showgirl never saw the knife; never felt it as it cut the strings of energy around her. But when Misaki was done, Colette was bereft of any connection she'd had to the mystic energy of Malifaux. Misaki smiled. "Is there an audience for such skills?" she said.

"Get away from me!" Colette exclaimed as she realized her weakness. She stumbled back, but Misaki pressed forward, the smile ever present.

"Are you feeling unwell?"

"That's none of your business." Colette looked up to see Angelika give her the thumbs-up; whatever secret ritual the Arcanist had been pursuing with her magic tricks and shell games was complete. "This audition is over."

Behind her Misaki saw Giuseph also give a thumbs-up, a smile on his wide face. "Very well," Misaki said. "Thank you for the refreshments, and the entertainment. One wishes you and your company the best."

Colette Du Bois barked a short laugh, and clapped her hands. "You're most unwelcome," she said, in a voice dripping with disdain. The doves swooped low at the Thunders crew. Misaki sought refuge in an explosion of smoke and shadows, but the pair of oiran were not as lucky. One dove detonated into a shower of feathers and glass. Kaneko shrieked, throwing up a robed arm to protect her face; Takoko ducked behind her sister. When all straightened, the traveling show had moved on.

"What a show," Tannen said, smiling an oily smile.

* * *

Behind the Scenes

My Crew:
- Misaki (Cutpurse, Smoke & Shadows, Untouchable)
- Mr. Tannen (Servant of 5 Dragons)
- 貴子 Takoko, Oiran
- 金子 Kaneko, Oiran
- 一郎 Ichiro, Torakage with armblades (虎影)
- 千代子 Chiyoko, Torakage with kusarigama (虎影)
- 榮 Sakae, Torakage with dual kukri (虎影)
- Giuseph, Ten Thunders Brother ('Hammer')
- Orai, Ten Thunders Brother ('Chain')

His Crew:
- Colette (Arcane Reservoir, A Lady's Secret, Cabaret Choreography)
- Angelica (Practiced Production)
- Performer
- 2 Mannequins
- 2 Oxfordian Mages (Blood Ward; Nemesis Ward)
- 2 Union Miners
- Eventually, 2 (3?) Mechanical Doves


Deployment: Corners

Mission: Shindig (Red Joker variant) plus Arcane Ritual (Masks) where the Defender is trying to cross the board.


I elected to be the Attacker, as I figured Colette would have absolutely no trouble dropping scheme markers aroud the monument, but might have trouble getting past me. This turned out to be the winning element. I was able to score as Attacker on turns 2, 3, 4, and 5, giving me 4 VP. He was able to get to my deployment zone, but it took till turn 3--meaning he only scored 3 VP.

Neither of us ever damaged someone with an attack(!), so no one claimed the 2VP bonus from Shindig.

My Schemes:
- Cursed Object (turns 2, 3, 4... 3VP)
- Distract (turns 2, 3, 4... 3VP)

His Schemes:
- Entourage (revealed; Colette was in my deployment corner. 3VP)
- Gathering Power (revealed; he had a zillion scheme markers. 3VP)

Final score: 10-9 VP, victory for Misaki!


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  • 2 weeks later...

And here's the write-up against Ed's Pandora crew.

Misaki closed the book with a delicate motion. "One's contribution is appreciated," she said.

"My pleasure," Mr. Tannen said. "It was just lying there. I couldn't leave it behind, now, could I? It reminds me a bit of the time I was down by the river, and I felt a sinking feeling in my--"

"One must perform certain tasks," Misaki interjected quickly, before the short man's story could ramp up into full boredom. She had found him to be a quite useful person to employ, but his company was rarely a pleasure.

"Sure. Say, did your brothers get the ritual completed?"

"Their satisfaction was evident."

"Great. If you don't mind I'd like to drop by and chat with one of them--Giuseph, his name was? Giuseph. Good strong name. Had a horse named Joseph once, a little different, but..." Mr. Tannen let the sentence wind down, then coughed. "I'll show myself out."

Misaki enjoyed the silence in his wake. The evening was young; but she had much to do. Giuseph and his brother had indeed completed the ritual, under the cover of the auditions for Collette, and the results were most alarming. Someone--or something--was tainting one of her primary sources of the main ingredient in Brilliance. She'd tracked it down to a warehouse on the edge of town, where the shipments were stored temporarily before being repackaged for distribution. But the warehouse itself was at a nexus of magical energy, of the sort Malifaux's inhabitants were more than a little interested in. Even as minor a practitioner as herself could sense the chi flowing in and around the area; the plants had grown large and carnivorous in response, breaking apart what had once been a solid stone building.

But tonight was the only night before the next shipment; and, worst, most of her other agents were busy with a more important task. She sat cross-legged at the center of a circled square, lost in thought. This one would require a certain amount of muscle, of the sort rarely seen on Earth.

"Shang, I require you," Misaki said. "Shang, I bind you. Shang, I summon you."

A spark--then a flame, then nine tongues of flame. Then, from behind, a burst of hot air, and the small, glowing form of the kitsune erupted from within the circle.

"About time!" Shang said, grinning. "We going somewhere? You're all dressed up."

"We are," Misaki said. "Please make preparations. Our friends and ancestors are required."

* * *

Misaki crept quietly along toward the warehouse, Giuseph a step behind. He looked worried; whatever information Mr. Tannen had shared was enough to startle the usually-unflappable Ten Thunders Brother. "Mind the vines," Giuseph said quietly, though the warning was rather superfluous--said vines looked strong enough to rip a horse in twain.

Beside Misaki, a tall figure armed with a taller rifle began a silent climb up the remnants of a bell tower. Misaki had pulled some strings to get the sniper's help on short notice; she hoped it worked out. Her crew was quite varied--odds and ends and the returns of favors. Ahead, Lo Xiao-Sheng bowed his head in walking meditation; the stalking horse of their operation, he strode forward in quiet calm. Beside him glowed the brillant scales of a majestic beast: the Dawn Serpent, chi made flesh, venemous fangs framed in a mane of flame. Shang had enlisted the Serpent's services, once he had realize Misaki's dilemma.

On the other side, Mr. Tannen bulled doggedly forward. Misaki hadn't asked him to come; but the creepy man had his own reasons for arriving. His senses, not the ones shared by his human employer, told him that his own kind were haunting this place; and he bore no good will toward his fellow Woes, not after last month's debacle.

There came a murmuring. Misaki's battle-trained heart froze, just a bit. The murmuring became a mournful moan, then a quiet wail. "One is most honored," she said quietly, bowing deeply.

The stench hit her first; a pus-filled smell, of flies and boils. Her eyes watered; but this did not account for the wavering of the figure that rose before her. With a terrible laugh, Ama No Zako rose from within the soil, her wavering features flowing in the moonlight. "Mistress," she said. "It is well you roused me. Evil is afoot; enemies of the clan seek to undermine our hold."

"It is well that you answer," Misaki said quietly.

With a sudden motion the Oni flew forward, trailing bits of gore and gristle from her last meal. She seized upon something, harried it, threw it down. Shang flowed forward too--it was a tiny, winged creature, baby-faced but angry and full of teeth. "Put me down!" it cried, stamping one foot.

"Run back to mother," Ama No Zako said with a cruel laugh.

"Moooom!" the tot cried--and from behind the warehouse, a crowd of figures faded into view.

"Well, that's something you don't see every evening," Mr. Tannen said. He knew the figures well; they were his old 'friends', that blasted Pandora at the lead. Beside her was the dark-eyed figure that some called Kade, and foolish men mistook for a baby; and behind her, Pandora's newest henchman, Candy. Around them flowed the stuff of nightmarish self-doubt: a full complement of Woes, and other figures shambling in the dark woods.

From above Bo, the Katanaka Sniper, let off a shot--but his target, a terror tot skulking behind one of the trees, was able to dodge out of the way. Bo cursed and reloaded his rifle, carefully working the clockwork mechanism until the gun was ready. The tots advanced at a sprint, flowing forward, followed closely by the monstrous form of a swampfiend--Bad Juju, some called it, but Mr. Tannen just called it rude.

"They're here to spike the shipment," Misaki said. "This will not be tolerated. Any and all use of force is considered appropriate."

The Dawn Serpent blew a gout of flame in anticipation; this was going to be fun. But before it could get underway it was met by a translucent apparition, a twisted figure of smoke and shadow. With a gesture, the poltergeist bent the Serpent's mind, forcing him to burn his own flanks with his flame. Roaring, the creatures sprang into fierce combat.

Unpeturbedly, Lo-san walked a measured pace forward, the flames barely touching his cloak. His clasp revealed him to be a disciple of the Low River, and so he walked the path of non-interference; but in his hand he carried a large bag, the better to collect the shipment of Brilliance before it could be fouled. The poltergeist screamed at him, but the Monk was unimpressed; instead, he trusted in his friend the Serpent to make short work of the spectre.

Giuseph swallowed hard as he saw Juju rushing forward; he knew his job here was to protect the others, to allow them to complete the mission. He rushed forward, waving his massive hammer and slapping his flanks fiercely. Juju took the bait, shambling forward and laying into the smaller figure with vicious claws. The trap was sprung, then--Misaki sending a downburst of water that shoved Giuseph out of the way, allowing Ama No Zako to substitute herself as target.

"Such a good Bad Juju," she murmured, her words binding the beast's spirit to her. "Surely that tot behind you would be a better snack?" And it was, and the swampfiend's claws made short work of the tiny Nephilim.

"Damn sure glad I'm on your side," Tannen said. He pushed to the middle wanting words with Pandora, but she eluded him; instead, another Tot converged, along with a pack of Woes. Misaki, concerned for his safety, pressed forward herself. A sudden charge and she dispatched Juju with two slashing motions; the body slid to the ground in stunned disbelief.

"What a pretty trick," a squeaky voice shouted from the darkness; Misaki found herself drawn forward, irresistibly, until she was nearly nose-to-nose with the baby-faced figure. "Perhaps you'd like to sit down for a spell?"

Dazed, Misaki danced away, but her movements were sluggish. Woes swarmed in, seeking to pen her in, but Ama No Zako's whispers made them reconsider. Suddenly Baby Kade found himself the target of the Woe's attentions instead, freeing Tannen to escape.

Meanwhile, on the other side fo the battlefield, trouble lurked. The Dawn Serpent, his scales gleaming in the night air, glided forward on wings of chi; for a juicy target lay ahead. Candy, her pink dress damp in the evening dew, smiled winningly at the great beast--and promptly vanished. Growling in anger, the serpent let loose another blast of flame, but once again found itself aiming at its own tail! Diverted, the beast spun to dispatch the mischevious poltergeist, and this time his claws found purchase on the slippery spectre. A wail and a sigh, and the spirit disbanded into thin air.

The Woes rushed forward, clinging to Giuseph, seeking to get their hands on the shipment. Bo, realizing his high perch was more of a liability given the poor forest sightlines, leapt down to engage the woes and rescue his compatriot. Switching rifle for katana, he soon found himself back to back with Giuseph, seeking to fend off the attackers. A dart and a cut, and one fell, but the others pressed them most severely.

Then came the help--Ama No Zako whispering words of misdirection and luring one Woe to its doom upon her wicked claws; and Mr. Tannen, whose words cut across the clearing with vicious impact. The woes listened, and in their listening lost their will to live. Even the tot near him fled the plane rather than listen any longer. The shipment was clear! Now it was just a matter of collecting it, and surviving.

Kade made things difficult, luring Giuseph forward before viciously head-butting the Brother. He fell to the ground insensate; enraged, Misaki sliced Kade in two, but echoing laughter from Pandora told her this was all part of the plan. She focusd her energies on Pandora, but the mistress of self-doubt eluded Misaki, fleeing across the clearing to engage Lo--for the Monk had snuck, unnoticed, across the field and was scooping Brilliance into his readysack. With a sigh and a glance across the battlefield, Misaki shoved down her urge for revenge, instead helping with the retrieval. Her rucksack bulging, she whistled long and hard--for the job was done.

She expected a fighting retreat, but as she took stock of the battlefield realized the only ones standing were her own allies. With Giuseph in the tender care of the Katanaka sniper, all others were able to leave the field in short order. Across, she saw Pandora and Candy fleeing into the night; and she chanced a smile, to think of the self-doubt they had to be feeling.

* * *

"Wha!? Where am I?" Giuseph sat bolt upright, drawing a shuddering breath. He found himself in a well-appointed bedroom; he was lying on a bed that had to be made of goose feathers, it was so soft.

"You're okay," Takoko said. "Or you will be, once you relax."

Giuseph tried--it helped that Takoko's voice was as fair as her features. He ran his fingers over his face, feeling the traceries where Juju's claws had cut him. The rents had been cleaned carefully and restitched; he'd live, though his innards felt rearranged and bruised. "The ritual--the Neverborn--"

"All is well," Takoko said, running a moistening oil across his stitches. "Misaki sends her warm thanks."

"And Mr. Tannen? Did his betrayal--"

"Betrayal?" The interjection came from a voice in the corner of the room. Misaki unfolded herself from where she'd been sitting. "What does one mean?"

"That Neverborn was playing us," Giuseph said. "I figured it out when I saw him laughing it up with Pandora."

"The one of whom you speak proved most instrumental in our success," Misaki said slowly.

"Can't be trusted--must--" Giuseph fell back. He was more tired than he'd thought.

Takoko looked at her mistress with a worried expression. "Think he's right?"

"When temperatures are high, thoughts and skies are cloudy," Misaki said slowly. "Still, a cool stream can hide many mysteries. Set up a meeting with the tavern owner; I would have words with him about his employees."

"It will be done," Takoko said.

* * *

Behind The Scenes

So I could wrap up my games for the narrative league, Ed was kind enough to provide an extra opponent--he'd played this mission already, and gave his new Pandora crew a try. We both learned a lot about what to do and what not to do with the Woes. Meanwhile I decided to try out lots of new models, hence the bizarre mix of creatures.

My Crew
Misaki (with Stalking Bisento, Untouchable)
Shang, a Kitsune
Ama No Zako, an Oni (with Recalled Training)
Mr. Tannen (with Servant Of 5 Dragons)
The Dawn Serpent
Bo, a Katanaka Sniper
Giuseph, a Ten Thunders Brother
Lo Xiao-Sheng, a Monk of the Low River

His Crew
Pandora (with The Box Opens)
Candy (on her Best Behavior)
Baby Kade
Bad Juju, hired muscle
2 Sorrows
2 Terror Tots

The mission was Sabotage (Masks); I elected to be the Defender, assuming it'd be easier for me to kill him off and get the outnumber condition. This worked well, and I scored 4 VP from the mission.

For schemes, I selected Breakthrough (since I was going that way anyway) and Cursed Object, because it was hilarious. I got 3VP for Breakthrough (announced), and 2VP for Cursed Object (on turns 2 and 3).

His schemes:
Framed For Murder: Baby Kade (killed on T4 by Misaki - 2VP)
Bodyguard: Candy (only 1 point; she lived, but was too close to his Deployment at the end of the game)

Final score: 9-3 -- a decisive win for Misaki!

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Ten Thunders - Episode 8 (we replayed the 'week 3' game; played fifth)

Somewhat delayed, the write-up against Matt's Lucius crew.

"Where is the gambler?" Misaki asked sharply. Her patience was wearing thin. It was bad enough that she had had to come to town; but she had had to wait three hours already, with no sign of Lynch. To top things off, the recent rains from the hills had washed through town, making the ground trecherous and muddy; a cache of soulstone dust had mutated some of the plants in the center of town, making the general assembly area a hazardous place to walk.

"I can't rightly say," big Mr. Graves rumbled. "He's never delayed us like this before, has he, Mr. Tannen?"

"It's most peculiar," the smaller man said. "Perhaps the flood's washed out the bridge, and he is delayed."

"The honorless one seeks to annoy us," the last figure said; Rokuro, his armor freshly polished for the trek into town, his Gatling gun cleaned and oiled.

Misaki flicked away a black fly in annoyance. "Very well. One prefers to deliver messages in person; but this is a message that can be understood without one's presence." She gave a subtle gesture, and behind her a pair of torakage sprang into motion. From high above, in the window of the General Store, Misaki saw motion--her sniper, Bo, lining up a field of fire to cover their activities.

"What're you gonna do, missus?" Graves asked.

"A plan shared is a plan thwarted. Chiyoko and Sakae know what needs to be accomplished."

"Well, what are we supposed to do, then?" Graves asked. "Sit on our thumbs?"

"How about a drink, old friend?" Tannen said, eyeing the welcoming doors of the tavern.

"That...would not be advisable," Misaki said slowly.

"Aww, c'mon. We'll escort you there. What could go wrong?"

"Misaki Katanaka!" came a loud shout from across the square. "Halt, and be recognized!"

Misaki cursed, recognizing the voice of the Governor's Right Hand--Lucius, and armed with a squad of men.

"We have you and your men surrounded!"

Misaki looked back, realizing there was a much larger posse behind her. The only way out was forward. "Very well," she said, "let us have that drink."

"Hot damn!" Rokuro said. "You paying?"

"A metaphor was used," Misaki said angrily. "These men have forfeited their lives; we shall drink when they are dispatched."

But things took a sudden turn for the worse. From around the corner of the building, driven as if by fear of his compatriots, lurched the looming form of the half-machine some called Ryle. Clanking forward, heedless of the carnivorous plants at the center of town, the cyborg extended his Gatling gun. Misaki dodged to the side as bullets flew wide; Bo, high in his perch, returned fire, but the rifle round barely slowed the figure.

Graves growled, deep in his chest, a sound like tree trunks snapping in a hurricane, and leapt forward. He noted with some astonishment that Sakae had gotten ahead of him, the agile Torakage leaping toward the tavern's first floor. But there came a great flapping of wings, and a raptor burst out from the tavern's second floor, landing and pecking at the torakage until she collapsed, her face savaged and bloody.

Bo sent a shot deep within the tavern, and was rewarded with a cry of pain. But then Ryle returned fire, a sustained burst up into Bo's perch, and the rifle went silent.

Misaki cursed, again. Two of her best operatives wounded or worse, and things were only beginning. Ahead she saw a clump of guards hesitantly marching forward, urged on by orders barked from within the ammo store. One of the figures was odd, though, its form seeming to shift. As it started to take her own form Misaki sprinted forward, recognizing the Doppleganger for what it was; with two swift bisento strikes, she cleaved the figure nearly in two, before dancing away with a departing slash at one of the guards.

"All of you!" she shouted, brandishing her bisento in a wide arc. "All of you have forfeited your lives!"

The guards, and Ryle, took a step back instinctively. From behind, Graves barrelled forward, charging in to displace Misaki and square up with Ryle. The two giants fought, the cyborg getting the better of it--but with each slash, with each grunt from Graves, the figures around them saw wounds open on their own flesh. Graves dispatched one guard, but then Ryle bore down upon him once more. Finally, with a shudder and a burst of black blood, Graves toppled to the ground.

Misaki cried out, the small wounds causing her little pain through the adrenaline, and danced away; but the damage was done. She leapt forward, hoping to confront Lucius himself.

Obligingly, the Guild dignitary crept forward, cane in one hand and a piece of paper in the other.

Heedless of his intent, Misaki slashed and dodged, laying open fierce wounds in Lucius's side. She wove an intricate pattern, and the Guildsman felt his energies leaving him; a burst of energy from his cane barely saved him from decapitation. He fled to the assembly area, shouting orders to his minion.

Behind her, she saw the smoke and felt the tug of energies, as Chiyoko vanished from her perch behind the outhouse. She reappeared a moment later, perched on the balcony of the tavern. Misaki smiled; the message would be sent after all.

Then she shook her head; a dangerous thing, to be distracted during combat! A guard had flanked her, and--oddly--handed her a piece of parchment. It fell open as she batted it away, falling in the mud: a warrant for her arrest, delivered and countersigned. She was now a fugitive, and marked by the warrant's energies.

As if to add an injury to that insult, there was a pop and a flash around her. At first Misaki thought the Torakage had set off their explosives too early--but then she realized it was the Guard, trying to knock her out with concussive grenades. Across the square she saw Rokuro shaking off the effects of the blast as well; but then the light was blotted out by the great bulk of Ryle. Misaki fled--but not fast enough to escape the cyborg's great steam-powered arm, which flattened her into the mud. She fell, insensate.

"Mistress!" Rokuro shouted. "That's it. You are ALL going down." The samurai swung his Gatling gun into firing position and stepped out from behind a wall. "Say hello to my rather large friend."

Lucius looked up, fear in his eyes, as he heard the shots. The stream of bullets walked its way across the courtyard, downing a guard before impacting on Lucius. The Governor's favorite toppled, a look of surprise on his face--how could it have ended like this? His eyes flashed purple as he died, a trick of the light. But Rokuro wasn't out of ammo yet, and walked the stream further left, tagging the big cyborg high in the chest. Ryle screamed and lurched forward--but a Guard got there first.

"Crazy samurai guy, whatever your name is--you're under arrest too!" He handed Rokuro another warrant.

"Bullshit," Rokuro said, slicing the paper into three pieces with his daito; the same two strokes laid out the guard with scarlet streaks across his torso. Rokuro nudged the corpse with one armored boot. "Arrest this."

But then Rokuro looked up to see Ryle charging his own Gatling gun, and dove behind a stone wall. This wasn't going well.

Tannen chewed his lip thoughtfully. Employer down; best friend down, too. Time for a drink? Perhaps. He lurched forward, casting aspersions at the Austringer he found within. Up above, he saw Chiyoko creep in and accomplish her task just in time to meet the same fate as her sister, dispatched by a bird. Tannen tried to get the Austringer's attention, but the focused fellow was having none of it.

"Truce!" he cried out. "We're calling a truce, okay? Your master's down; our master's down."

"On whose authority?" the Guild Lawyer said slowly, his voice muffled by the rubblestone wall he had been hiding behind. His cloak bore more than a few holes from Rokuro's massive burst, but none had impacted him directly.

"On *my* authority," Lynch said, dusting his hands off as he walked out of the tavern's office. "The lot of you'll be paying triple for drinks if this goes any further."

There was some grumbling.

"Now, look," the gambler said. "You got your warrant served--but you ain't got the manpower to make it stick right now. Go home and live another day." As if on cue, the tavern began to fill with Lynch's men: murderers, thugs, and women of the night, all with dark eyes.

The surviving Guid members counted noses, and looked at how far off their posse was. There was a silent moment of consideration; then the lawyer spoke up. "Your terms are acceptable. Bring Misaki and her accomplices to the Courthouse by noon tomorrow, or there will be a reckoning."

"Sure, I'll make sure she knows that," Lynch said.

"Thanks, boss," Tannen said quietly. "That was touch and go for a minute."

* * *

Misaki guzzled the whisky glumly. Her neck and shoulder were bruised to black, and she walked with a pronounced limp; but she was upright. Takoko, the oiran, was by her side once more, tending to the injuries with the devoted attention of a mother tiger.

"That woman kin hold her liquor, for sure," Lynch said to Tannen.

"Not to mention her own in a fight," Graves said. He, too, looked worse for the day's events; his massive torso was bandaged where it wasn't bruised, and bruised where it wasn't bandaged, with one great bolt of fabric holding his shattered ribs in place. "Reckon she should be bodyguarding me from now on."

"At least we killed Lucius," Rokuro said. The samurai, in contrast to his friends, looked fresh; even his armor was still polished.

"That wasn't even Lucius," Tannen said slowly. "Just another doppel."

"And you knew?" Misaki said slowly.

The old man nodded, grinning. "I can spot 'em. Can't you?"

The look he got in return made it all worth it.

* * *

Behind The Scenes

Though I was done with my games, Matt wasn't, so I offered to play his Lucius crew--partly to get an excuse to play on his enormous, gorgeous new Tavern terrain. I decided to go straight narrative on my crew--who would Misaki take to town? Also, as I kept forgetting to use my upgrades, this time I took Recalled Training three times, with the hope of remembering to use one of them. (I used two, to good effect.)

My Crew
Misaki (with Cutpurse, Smoke + Shadows, Misdirection)
Rokuro, a Samurai (with Recalled Training)
Mr. Graves (with Recalled Training)
Mr. Tannen (with Recalled Training)
Chiyoko, Torakage with kusarigama (虎影)
Sakae, Torakage with dual kukri (虎影)
Bo, a Katanaka Sniper

His Crew
Lucius (upgrades unknown)
The Scribe
3 Guild Guards
Guild Lawyer
Guild Austringer

So I was already down two activations to start.

We flipped for special terrain--Black Joker. So the carnivorous plants were back; we both put them toward the middle, before Matt realized that'd seriously hurt his Defender mission. It also meant Swamp, which only mattered on turn one.

The mission was Sabotage (Crows); I elected to be the Attacker, forcing the Guild to occupy the middle where I could kill them. Also, I figured they could drop Scheme Markers like crazy, which was true. I managed to eke 4 VP from this, with a marker on the sabotaged 2nd-floor balcony of the Tavern, and another on the first-floor balcony. Matt held the middle all four turns, easily outnumbering me from the get-go.

For schemes, I selected Breakthrough (since I was again going that way) and Power Ritual (hoping that Smoke and Shadows would get me downfield). I announced both. I got only 1VP for Breakthrough, barely missing a second (and therefore third), and only 1 for Power Ritual (in my deployment).

Matt selected Cursed Object, because it was hilarious, and Plant Explosives. He forgot to follow up on Cursed Object as much as he could have, but did serve the writ to Misaki and the Samurai (who promptly removed it); he also got both of those with explosives on turn 3, for a total of 3VP.

The game, of course, ends just before Lynch shows up; it just didn't make any sense to stop the story there.

Final score: 6-7 -- a slight loss for Misaki. But I'm still through to the "Finals".

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  • 2 weeks later...

Ten Thunders - Episode 9 (Semi-finals)

The gremlin chieftain spit in the mud; at least, that's what Misaki presumed the little filth-ball had done. It was hard to separate the color of his hair, skin, fingernails, the mud, the foul-smelling ichor exhuding from his gremlins, and the general malaise that hung over the area. She'd been tricked into coming here--an all-out scrap, in broad daylight, on terrible terrain.

Misaki thought back to a scant six hours ago when this had all began. She and her crew had spent the better part of two weeks in hiding, resting and recovering and seeking a way out of the Guild's magical warrants. The compulsion was strong--and time was approaching when she would need to present herself to their tender mercies, or face the teeth of the geas upon her.

She'd done her research--and only a greater magician could break the curse. But the true magicians were not her friends: there was no doubt Pandora, for example, would love to ensorcel her, but it was not for weal. Likewise Tara, after the beating the two had delivered to each other; nor Kaeris, nor even Ramos, despite a good word from Mei Feng. This left few good choices.

Finally, word had come back through the circle: The Brewmaster would help, in exchange for a little extra territory to cover for the Thunders. The feisty gremlin swore up and down his cocktails would break the geas; Misaki had her doubts, but it was a serious matter. She gathered her forces and headed into the bayou; her most trusted troops, with her hand-picked Torakage accompanying her, plus the omnipresent Takoko. And three who had proved themselves more recently: the honrable Rokuro, with his brilliant katana and even more effective gatling gun, and Giuseph, her guide to the upsetting back woods of Malifaux's native soil.

Behind them lurked a vengeful Oni; for Ama No Zako had taken a liking to her countrywoman, and had decided to watch over her for the time being. Plus, she was always around when mayhem broke out, and the Oni thought that a good thing.

But now they were knee deep in mud, near the ruins of an abandoned temple. It was overgrown with thick vines and wide, five-pointed leaves, the size of a man's outstretched arms; and from within it a smell emanated, equal parts delicious and disgusting.

"That bacon?" Rokuro said gruffly. "Brewmaster serving us food?"

"I don't think that's the Brewmaster," Takoko said. Her sharp eyes had spotted a broad-brimmed hat and the long barrel of a handcannon. She darted to the right as the Torakage scattered, smoke bombs erupting all around. Misaki surged forward between two stands of trees while Amanozako and Rokuro leapt forward to find what cover they could behind the remanants of a stone column.

There was an odd keening from ahead. Rokuro braced himself against the stone wall as a greased pig erupted from the church, sprinting surprisingly quickly on its stubby legs, and slammed into the stone support. The samurai dodged its gnashing teeth, shouting in alarm.

Meanwhile, Misaki thought she saw motion in the copse ahead of her--yes, there! another of the vicious boars, plus a pair of Gremlins. They bore the tell-tale hats of So'mer Jones, whom she'd had no end of trouble with. It was time to end this idiocy--and, while she was at it, she figured she could pin some evidence of wrongdoing on the little toad. She sent Giuseph to her right to wrap his cache of tainted Brilliance in some bacon grease, and charged the crowd.

A whistling noise surprised her. She looked up to see three dots in the sky, round balls resolving themselves into screaming, sparking porcine projectiles. She sidestepped left, seeking cover among the throng she was in, but two of the pigs swerved unerringly in the air. The first struck her shoulders; the second, as she toppled, blasted itself apart near her midsection. The third deviated slightly at the last moment, blew away the piglet she stood near as an afterthought, then detonated loudly. When the smoke and ham cleared, Misaki was nearly submerged in mud, her veil blown aside, her face planted firmly in the mud.

Rokuro, across the clearing, cursed. It was the second time he'd seen Misaki fall, and it brought the adrenaline to his blood. He sliced apart the piglet in front of him and strode forward, trusting in his armor to save him. He was peripherally aware of Amanozako dissecting a Gremlin beside him; the Oni pulled entrails free, wrapping them around another packet of the tainted drug, and whispered for Rokoru to engage.

Beside him, Takoko ran forward to try to aid her fallen mistress; instead of assisting, however, she ran straight into the firing line of Jones. His long-barreled pistol barked loudly, and the oiran crumpled.

"Well, this keeps getting better," Rokoru thought. "Torakage! To me!"

The ninja appeared in flashes of smoke around him, leaping forward to engage the swarming goblins. When the cutting was done the goblins were eliminated, and the Samurai, Oni, and ninja formed a tight circle around the remaining piglet. Once again piglets began to rain down around them, piercing Rokoru's armor, and driving Amanozako back many steps. The towering monstrosity surged forward, seeking to feast on the remaining gremlin, but his fragile frame would not support her claws; robbed of a feast, she screamed in anger.

"We have to take out So'mer!" Ichiro shouted, roaring forward. "Misaki wants--" His words were cut short, as the gremlin master fired back. Three shots, three hits, and the wily torakage found himself crumpled in the mud beside Takoko. He reached out for her hand, giving it a gentle squeeze, as the two struggled for labored breaths.

"You heard him," Sakae said, and surged forward herself. Squealing, Jones leapt away, but Giuseph bounded ahead from the right flank, easily dispatching a gremlin as he sprang.

"Where do you all keep coming from!?" So'mer shouted, laying about himself with a vicious slash. Sakae reeled from the blow; as if from nowhere, a tiny piglet erupted from the mud beside her as she fell. Behind, the pigapult continued its ceaseless barrage, felling both Amanozako and the Samurai.

Giuseph, alone, took grim stock. He had backed himself up against the wall, behind which stood the pigapult; but there was no way into the ruined temple, not for one larger than a piglet. Ahead of him was the goblin chief; with a moment's consideration, he prioritized his Mistress's desires over his own life, and leapt forward.

"Seriously?" Som'er shouted. "Fire on my position! Damn the giblets!"

The pigapult swung round, unleashing load upon load, but Giuseph drew deep upon his knowledge of the terrain and became one with the wall. The piglets exploded harmlessly all around him. Som'er, firing wildly, retreated and sought shelter. But with a leap of brilliant animal-style gongfu, Giuseph arrived behind the gremlin.

"Mistress says--you--must--" Giuseph said, each word accentuated with a blow from his might hammer--"DIE!" The gremlin toppled over from the impacts, his broad hat falling askew. The surviving piglet squealed and ran into the woods as the rain came down.

"Damn," Giuseph said, surveying the battlefield; for he was the sole figure standing. "Now how am I gotta get 'em all home?"

* * *

There wasn't much talking happening in the abandoned church that night. The torakage, all three stripped to their undergarments and covered in bloody stitches, ate quietly. Rokuro was polishing his armor; his chin and neck were red and raw from explosion debris, and one eye was swollen shut. Misaki was worst off; her arm had been broken in two places, and one knee was smashed, and her concussion prevented all but the slowest of motions.

Mr. Tannen came in jauntily, whistling, and stopped. "What happened to you fellows? I leave you alone for one minute..."

Misaki threw a pear at him. Even in her weakened state the projectile struck him squarely between the shoulderblades, nearly crumpling the frail figure.

"What was that for? In any case, I brought you the morning paper."

Misaki glared at it with her one good eye. "DRUGS BUST LEADS KEEP CASINO CLEAR", the headline read. She made a "what of it" gesture.

"They've got nothing on him," Tannen said gleefully. "Don't you see? The Guild have bought it! They've taken the bait--sunk the lure. We're home free."

"One wonders about the warrant, still," Misaki said at long last.

"Oh, that little spell on you? Yeah, boss says he's got a way around that. What were you doing in the swamp, anyway?"

Rokuro sat heavily beside the old man, his armor nearly blocking the thin man off his perch. "We were following a lead. One *your* friend Lynch gave us."

"Lynch? He doesn't know any swampfolk--hey, wait a minute. How did you know you were talking to Lynch?"

"What do you mean?" the samurai said. "I'd recognize those sunken eyes anywhere."

"You've never seen a shapeshifter."

Rokuro tapped his ammo feed. "Seen one, shot it dead. Turns out they go down easy."

"And could you tell it was a doppel before you shot it?"

The samurai's face twisted. "I could not."

"Right!" Tannen said brightly. "And that's what I'm saying. Now, there's one way to solve this little dust-up, and that's to get you and the missus here together with Mr. Lynch Actual, and see what's going on with this tainted Brilliance. It sure isn't good for business. Reminds me of a time in ought-five, when the stampede came through Camel Mountain. Me and Graves had to hold down the bar for twenty-seven hours while--"

Misaki cut him off with a sharp gesture. "The reed may bend; but the wind must blow across every mountain. Every river must come before the ocean."

"What's she sayin'?" Tannen asked, though he'd caught the gist.

"Just bring him here," Rokuro barked. "And no funny stuff."

* * *

Behind The Scenes

Jeremy and I were matched up in one of the three "semi"finals, with only the top two scorers advancing to the finals. (Neither of us advanced, but I'm going to look to close out this narrative with another game.)

My Crew
Misaki (with Cutpurse, Smoke + Shadows, and Stalking Bisento)
Amanozako, a vengeful Oni
Rokuro, a Samurai (with Recalled Training)
Takoko, an Oiran
Ichiro, Chiyoko, and Sakae, all Torakage
Giuseph, a Ten Thunders brother

His Crew
Som'er Teeth Jones (upgrades unknown)
6 Bayou Gremlins
5-6 Stuffed Piglets
2 Piglets

As with last game, I was down a TON of activations to start...but that's unavoidable against this sort of list. The game went to six turns, at which point we called it; the only models left were my Ten Thunders brother, the pigapult, and one wounded (summoned) piglet.

Deployment: Flank Deploy. He picked the ruined temple, planted the pigapult in it, and swarmed around both sides. I got stuck with some impassible buildings and a bunch of forests, which blocked any chance of shooting him down, so I pushed for the clearing in the middle.

The Mission was Turf War. I scored one point on turn 2, and that was it for us; the center was too deadly a place to be!

For schemes we flipped Four of Crows and Three of Masks. I selected Assassinate (for story reasons) and Plant Evidence, revealing the latter. I figured the Ten Thunders brother could protect one of the markers, and someone else would figure out a way to plant another one; that turned out to be Ama No Zako, before she died, so I earned 3VP here. Giuseph killed (!!) Som'er, but in Turn 6, so 2 VP.

He selected Line In The Sand and Breakthrough, both unrevealed. He ended up scoring nothing for either as I didn't let him drop many markers.

This made the final score 6-0, a solid victory for Misaki--but not enough to compete with the Finalists. They both had perfect games (10-0 and 10-6). Hats off to Matt (who crushed Ed) and Ian (who blew through Zombie Matt); your prize is that you have to face each other in the finals.

Things that went oddly:

+ The Ten Thunders Brother was kind of ridiculous, surviving two and a half turns on his own. Defensive Stance +2 or more running most of the time, courtesy of a handful of Tomes and some high flips.
- My hand was ice cold all night, usually 2-3-4-5-8-J or worse. I did flip a hand of Masks first turn, though, which let me bury two Torakage. Didn't do any good, though, as my forward models died.
+ Top-decking went awesome starting in turn 4. The last turn the 10TBro straight up flipped 13, 12, 13, 11 to slay Teeth, even if I did have to cheat his (0) trigger to get him into range. Woah.
- The pigapult was ridiculous. The barrage that slew Misaki hit all 3 times, and randomized to her twice (in a crowd of three). Throw in a great hand that my opponent used wisely (three severe flips, two cheated?), and you have a dead Master. (I even ran her out of soulstones after the first shot, trying to get that extra defensive flip!) On turns 1 through 4 it killed 1-3 models a turn!
- I'm going to have to remember the trick of cheating a friendly defender's Df *down* to get better blast damage. That one hurt too.
+ Torakage one-on-one with Gremlins equals Gremlin death. Duh.
- The oiran was completely out of place in this list; the only thing she did before getting shot was a failed Lure to reposition the Samurai. Have to play her differently, or replace her when going up against enemies you don't want near you.
+ Play the mission! Play the mission! Play the mission!

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Ten Thunders - Episode 10 (Finale)

The air was still, the kind of stillness that presaged a great battle. Misaki breathed sharply of the chill air. The meal had gone well--Rokuro had not become too drunk, but was in his bowls enough that faint snatches of drinking songs could be heard through the double doors. Takoko had ended up dancing on the bar and earning a round of applause from the assembled.

Even stiff Giuseph had dragged his buddy Xiao-Sheng along. The taciturn monk didn't precisely smile at the festivities; but neither did he turn down the free drinks.

The sole inhabitant of the bar when they'd arrived had been a tall gunslinger, dressed all in black. He gave his name as Sue, and showed a flair for the dramatic--not to mention an excellent singing voice. Misaki found his company pleasing, and bought him more than a few drinks.

Of Lynch there had been no sign; his new Saloon was a risk, out on the edge of the forest, but Misaki had been quite clear in her summons. The insult was becoming too much to bear; the gambler would have to pay. She had been thinking over the best way to send a message to him. The explosives they'd planted in the saloon had done some damage, but hadn't really cut into his profit margins. She decided it was time to interrupt his supply of Brilliance; let him see how that affected his income.

And that, of course, was why she had agreed to meet in his Saloon at all; she knew the next shipment was arriving out front at midnight, in a supply wagon made of rickety wood and old steel. She could hear it even now--a clanking and creaking noise.

"Tako-ni," Misaki said quietly to the oiran.

"Yes, mistress?" Takoko stopped dancing immediately, laying a lingering hand on Rokuro before plopping down cross-legged in front of Misaki.

"One's crew should be presented outside," Misaki said.

"We on?" Rokuro said. "About time we got some action."

Sakae, dressed in a peasant's outfit that easily hid her kusari-gama, ducked back in. "The wagon's guarded," she said quietly. "By Neverborn." A chill fell over the room.

"I will get a better look," Takoko said, running up the stairs to the second-floor balcony.

The gang crept out the side door cautiously. The wagon sat, apparently unattended, right outside the main doors. Past it, Takoko saw a horrid shape, nine feet of mangy fur and bad stitching. Involuntarily she gasped at the terrifying sight. Beside the demented teddy bear, she saw its master: the evil spirit disguised as a baby.

"Mistress!" she shouted. But Misaki was already in motion. For she'd seen something different--a flash of white in the darkness. A top hat, and a cane, and a smirking gambler.

All sprang into motion at once. Xiao-Sheng and Giuseph jumped forward, seeking to secure the wagon, but so did Teddy and a twisted addict accompanying him. The Ten Thunders brother pulled up, realizing his night was about to get much worse--but a sweet voice from ahead lured him forward.

"No, no!" Takoko shouted from her vantage point. "Come to me!" But Giuseph wasn't listening; another had his attention, and was drawing him directly into Teddy's embrace.

Cursing, Misaki sprinted toward the wagon. She gestured, and a heavy downburst of air struck Teddy, driving the crowd away from it. When everyone had picked themselves up Teddy stood alone, and the wagon had gone nowhere. It was a start.

"So, the kitten has gas," came a sly voice from ahead. Lynch stepped out of the shadows, his white suit crisply pressed, his top hat tilted just so.

"The wheel comes to all in turn," Misaki said, sizing up his slim figure. "And now--you pay!" Then she leapt, diving past Teddy and Kade and landing in the midst of a circle of enemies. Lynch's showgirl, cried out in her sweet voice, but Misaki had eyes only for the gambler, anger narrowing her vision and tinging her view with red. She struck a series of blows. Lynch fell back before them. Blood striped the white suit, but her target did not fall. Instead Misaki felt strangely hurt with each blow, as if fate itself was wounding her. Growling, but all-too-aware of the lurking horror behind her, Misaki sprang free to reassess.

Rokuro, barely clear of the doors, grabbed his gatling gun and opened up on Lynch; but the wily gambler ducked and dodged, and Rokuro couldn't track. Instead the gun slipped from his grasp, landing heavily on his armored knee. Shells exploded, and the samurai swore in pain. Over his shoulder, Rokuro saw the man named Sue stride forward, his pistols barking.

To their left there came a high-pitched laugh--a hysterical one--and then the misshapen addict sprang forward. Brilliance, or the lingering effects of the drug, sparkled off his flesh, illuminating him in the lantern-light. He strode forward and with quick strikes knocked Ichiro flat. The torakage grunted as he landed, his armblades scattered. Another addict lurched forward and made short work of Giuseph, the Brother's hammer no match for the vicious claws of the Illuminated.

The wagon began to drift slowly away from the Saloon, a slim woman pushing it steadily along. From behind it lurched a great furred bulk, dank cloth saturated with old blood and worse. Misaki screamed as Teddy closed in, flailing wildly. The hellspawn creation swatted at her, a glancing blow. But her attention was fixated on Lynch, and as he moved to advance, she matched him, eluding the construct momentarily. But with a heavy walk Teddy pursued, grabbing and mauling the waif-like Misaki. It bellowed, sewed-on claws gleaming red with Katanaka blood.

Sakae, seeing her mistress down, redoubled her efforts against the Illuminated, sending one of them spinning down to the mud. "Get her away from it!" she shouted. Rokuro nodded, fumbling to re-seat his Gatling gun. A burst felled the wounded Lynch, but gave an opening for the other addict to leap on the Samurai. The pair wrestled, but in the end Rokuro did not arise.

"Oh, this is horrible," Takoko said. "I must get down there and help them!" She ducked inside, running down the stairs, knowing with every step her friends' troubles grew worse. But at the foot of the stairs she stopped, suddenly--for a ghost had drifted through the wall, a horrid, malignant being of violet mist and brilliant anger. "What *are* you?" she asked; but the darkness did not respond. Instead, it reached out with long tendrils. Takoko squirmed away, drawing her blades.

Sweet lilting calls filled the air once more; Xian-Sheng and Sakae, as one, felt their heads snap up, felt their feet dragged inexorably forward. Neither noticed the knife of Baby Kade, nor did Sakae really sense Teddy's strikes, not until it was too late.

Sue, seeing his new friends decimated, waded in--pistols blazing, he confronted a figure who seemed to mimic him, its motions oddly suggesting pistols where hands might be, its skin half-missing. Suppressing a shudder he planted two slugs in its chest, but the being was unfazed. Instead her hands slithered downward, to become replaced by violet tendrils. Sue batted them away. "Hey! I'm not comfortable being grappled there!" he shouted at the evil creature.

Behind him Sakae was contending with the same tendrils, and faring more poorly. One of them touched her; she felt her world swim. Her skin began to sparkle, and the sparkling only encouraged the hungering spirit. Vainly she struck at it, blades flashing in the dim light of the saloon, but in the incorporeal darkness enveloped her.

Sue looked up, realizing he was alone. "Hey--fellas--" he said, holding his pistols out like a poor man's cross. "Can't we talk about this?"

The Neverborn converged on him, forcing the gunslinger back into the bar. "You dirty old egg-suckin' darkness," he said, firing shots into the spirit. "You ain't getting me." The darkness shied away, cautious of his intent; but this just let Teddy come surging in. The construct slammed through the doors, knocking the lanterns askew and snuffing their flame.

"Hell, it's dark as a dungeon in here," Sue said. "I guess I'm up against the wall now." He hung his head, and regretted ever taking his guns to town.

Teddy laughed, a horrid sound of ripped stitches and squelching stuffing; and the man in black was no more.

"Are they dispatched?" a voice came from outside. Lynch picked himself up from the mud, his suit stained and torn.

"All are gone," the fluid figure said, her skin flowing and reconfiguring. The doppelgänger walked to her boss. "Just as easy as you said it'd be."

Lynch nodded, and shook back his clothes all around. The fabric flowed and melded with his skin, until he was a she: tall, with flowing black hair. She reached down and plucked Baby Kade from the mud, holding him as if he were a real baby. "Well done, everyone. We've got another shipment here to taint; that'll make some trouble for the Thunders."

Kade laughed. "I can't believe you figured out how to pin it all on Tannen," he said. "That was genius."

The doppelgänger smiled, her skin pulling back from a fang-filled mouth. "But you owe me--his voice is SO annoying to duplicate."

"It's about time he took some heat," the black-haired figure said. "His betrayal has not been forgotten. Now, come--we have much work to do. Teddy! Put that down. You can eat later."

The beast growled, but returned Sakae's limp form to the mud.

"And as for you--" She pulled something from the wagon, a small box, and opened it. The violet spirit screamed as its form was sucked into the box, its tendrils scrabbling for purchase. With a quick motion, she snapped the box shut. "And that's two. Now--off to have words with Lynch. He's been associating with some very naughty company..."

Teddy got its big form behind the wagon, and the crew pushed off into the darkness.

From the divot where she lay pinned Misaki watched, her one working eye tracking the scene carefully. "Pandora," she said quietly. "I will not forget."

* * *

Behind The Scenes

Jonas was kind enough to put together a Lynch crew for me to face, just to close out the narrative. I asked him to surprise me with crew composition, and he sure did!

It's been a fun challenge to weave a story around whatever random Master I faced each week; I hope you've enjoyed reading it.

My Crew
Misaki (with Cutpurse, Servant of the 5 Dragons, and Stalking Bisento)
A Man named Sue (Mercenary; with Recalled Training)
Rokuro, a Samurai (with Recalled Training)
Takoko, an Oiran
Ichiro, a Torakage
Sakae, a Torakage
Giuseph, a Ten Thunders brother
Lo Xiao-Sheng, Monk of the Low River

His Crew
Jakob Lynch (with The Rising Sun)
The Hungering Darkness (with Addict)
Baby Kade
2 x Illuminated

Jonas asked for a Story Mission, and we flipped Supply Wagon--which fit perfectly. Tomes variant, and he chose to be the attacker, so I was stuck trying to blow up the damn thing. I never got close.

Deployment: Standard Deployment. We once again managed to score Zombie Matt's amazing Saloon to play on; Jonas stuck me with it in my half of the board, since he hoped would impede the wagon. Mostly it just impeded my oiran.

For schemes we did a "non-binding flip": the 5 and 7 of Tomes. I selected Make Them Suffer (which fit the story) and Distract (because it's hilarious). I got one turn of Distract (1VP) and nothing else. Oops.

He revealed Exterminate and also selected Distract. Since I had no Henchman, and Teddy's nigh-invulnerable, he was easily able to complete Exterminate (3VP). He got off one turn of Distract (1VP) before killing all my models. He also dragged the wagon all the way back to his deployment zone (4VP).

This made the score 1-8, a crushing victory for Lynch, but that wasn't really the point. Not that it didn't gall me...

Things that went well or poorly:

- Misaki charged Lynch, a total tactical blunder. Cheating fate did nearly as much damage to her as she did to him. Oh well. But it fit the story, and I figured if I could down him easy, I'd be able to mop up the rest of the crew. Oops. Also did not expect her to Black Joker while defending Teddy.
+ Armor works. The Samurai hung on a turn longer than he should have, at least.
- The mission itself feels unbalanced in favor of the attacker, but maybe that was a result of getting creamed.
- Holy crap, the Illuminated are bad-ass. They slaughtered the mid-field and couldn't be touched in return.
+ Sue's Relentless was key; everyone else was tossing cards just to manage to attack with all the Terrifying and Manipulative on the board.
- Sue couldn't flip a card, period. He routinely failed his 0-actions(!) with a 5 required, once on a BJ just to rub it in. Ring o' Fire sounds awesome; perhaps some day I'll see how it works.
- Three turns of 9-high hands. Sigh.
- I picked a dumb Schemes for my list; MTS was especially hard to get full points from with his list.
- Beckoner + Kade + Teddy combo worked perfectly for Jonas, killing two models during the Beckoner's Activation.

And that's about it. I'm probably going to turn into a Neverborn player for a little while; we'll see how that goes.

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