Flintlocks & Fireballs

Epilogue: The End, And After

1. The Republic of Arakesh

“I still remember when Uncle Ibrahim announced the Empire’s withdraw in Schala’s Square. I mean, that goes without saying. Everyone knows where they were when they heard we’d won. And everyone’s read the speech these days — it’s a good speech. Nobody’s going to be forgetting that in a hurry. No, what I remember is when he finished, and they burst out cheering. And, with Arakesh free for the first time in hundreds of years, he muttered to me: ‘And now for the tricky part.’”
– Armad bin Zahn, Memoirs of a Revolutionary

The Empire pulls out of Arakesh, and shows no signs of intending to return. Arakesh stops being a rebellion, and starts being a nation. The leaders of the Rebellion establish a democratic republic in Arakesh, making it the first nation since ancient times to grant universal sufferage to its citizens.
There is still much to do. Arakesh’s infrastructure has been gutted by the war; there are dissident factions within the Senate; there is the prickly international situation.
In time, the Blazer population of Arakesh grow rapidly: Neumann’s Blazer soldiers who fought in the rebellion are recognised as heroes, and wear their Etherite crystals as a badge of pride.
Blazer deserters from the Legions and refugees flock to Arakesh. They prove an increasingly influential demographic. Arakesh becomes the first nation to legally recognise a marriage between human and Blazer.

2. Victory in Riverport

“And oh, did you see all the dead of Malacalta?
All the bellies, and the bones, and the bile?"
– excerpt from ‘Malacalta’, concept album by political musician Jack of Riffs

Unladen by heavy weaponry, Imperial troops move through the Riverport countryside at a lightning rate for two days, and it looks as though they will be at the city gates by the time the Jack of Flights arrives. Granted, the troops no longer have any of their siege weaponry, but the gates of Riverport are defended by only a token force in the aftermath of the battle between Vito and Roderigo, and the Jack of Flights is still returning from Seflheim.
On the second day, however, something happens. Somehow, news of the missing crown has reached the Imperial Legions, and they hesitate. The army billet themselves in several rural villages while the brass plan what to do next, including a fairly unremarkable place called Malacalta.

This is the move that loses them the war.

In what historians will later dub the Malacalta Massacre, a group of Jacks infiltrate the village and do what they do best: kill the commanders, light the place up, and execute people as they flee.

It’s not a war-winning move, by any reach. The Jacks don’t get all of the army’s command, and they don’t kill even a tenth of its troops. What they do achieve, however, is slowing its advance. By the time the Legions have sorted out a chain of command and spent time rooting out potential saboteurs from their own ranks, it is four days later and the Jack of Flights is raining firebombs onto the villages where the Legions are billeted.

Malacalta, Osterizzia, and Calpo aren’t rebuilt. The ruins, and the mass graves by the villages, are said to be haunted by restless spirits to this day.

3. Dourmoor

“We wanted freedom, and he gave it to us. Perhaps we should have asked what the price would be. But if we had, there is always the danger that we wouldn’t have been willing to pay it.”
– excerpt from Thorni Snevisson: Granite King, by Tarkin Igreksson

The Dwarven uprising in Dourmoor has made staggering gains over the past few weeks. They now hold most of the countryside, and have the four major cities of Dourmoor under siege.

But it is now that they start to run into problems of their own. Dourmoor becomes plagued by strange insectoid wolves: although they are little threat to a fortified military unit, they breed rapidly, make lone transport hazardous and ravage Dourmoor’s farms, hitting Netherfael’s supply lines hard.

Meanwhile, the Doomguard, some sort of magitech golem, starts to roam the countryside slaughtering anybody it comes across. Netherfael sends a crack troop of agents to defeat the golem, consisting of Duch, a trained tracker, Oglaf, an expert in magitech, and Mod 32, a golem of their own.

Duch’s first shot drives a hole inches wide right through the Doomguard’s chestplate, but the golem’s power is immediately revealed: with a flash of light there are now two Doomguard where once there was one. Both wearing identical scars from Duch’s volley, but both also charging towards her an an alarming rate.

Then with a tinny-sounding Dwarven war anthem, the Doomguard are intercepted by several tons of angry, charging robot. Mod’s razor claws rapidly wrestle them to the ground, but the Doomguard continue to replicate and rapidly dogpile Mod, methodically taking it to pieces.

The Doomguard, now a small crowd, rise to their feet and continue their charge towards Duch, a target eminently unsuited for melee. Realising the danger she’s in, Duch darts away, but the horde are too fast for her.

Until Oglaf steps out from behind a rock and unleahes a magitech missile at the centre of the crowd, scattering them. The magitech device at the core of one of the Doomguard cracks, and arcs of power leap between the charging golems. The Doomguard collapse to the floor as one…

…however, Mod 32 is still in pieces. Oglaf gathers the remains and returns to Thorni’s headquarters, where he announces his resignation. Duch goes with him. Thorni barely lifts his head to listen to the report — the responsibilities associated with the war are weighing heavily on him.

4. Ceasefire.

“Ultimately, it was a kindness. We could have pushed for harder terms, we could have forced them to grovel and beg and abase themselves before us. But if we had done that, then there was always the chance they would have chosen their pride over their survival. The Empire would have fallen apart, and a lot of people would have died. So instead, we have shown them how adults handle these things.”
– editorial in the Akhrat Times

The Empire, clearly feeling its losses at this point, offers ceasefire agreements to Riverport, Arakesh and Netherfael, pending more concrete negotiations. Riverport and Arakesh sign but Netherfael refuse to even consider a ceasefire: the dwarves refuse to believe the Empire’s line that it has no control over the beasts ravaging Dourmoor.

What remains of the Seflheim, Elfholm and Mocte Legions are relocated to the Ramaslu border, ready to hold against Afareen bin Zahn’s undead legions.

5. Dourmoor (Continued)

The campaign in Dourmoor slowly grinds to a difficult, unpleasant halt. The human armies are lost and leaderless following a series of high-profile assassinations, but the Netherfail forces are continually beset by the scorpion-wolves.

Thorni’s leadership becomes more and more distant — initially, people assume, from the stress of losing the companions he travelled to Dourmoor with. Before long, he barely leaves his office. Then, one day, the door locks from the inside and never opens.

The malaise at Netherfael HQ is interrupted by a ragged, bearded Dwarf calling himself Jal, and carrying a package to deliver to Thorni personally. By this point the general malaise seems to have spread to everybody present: growing more and more frustrated by the obstuctive refusal of Thorni’s honour guard, Jal finally takes an axe to the door and kicks it out…

…to discover with horror that the office is blanketed in solidified Etherite crystal, a heavy layer of which has crystallised around Thorni. Crouching behind him is a hideous figure, something which might once have been a Blazer but now looks more like some awful spider, coccooning Thorni’s body in threads of raw Etherite. With a sickly wail it tries to flee, but Jal is already charging across the room in the Thunder Hooves Rage, burying his twin waraxes deep inside the foul creature.

Thorni recovers from his ordeal, but by then the human forces have had time to rearm and resupply. Worse, the Rose Knight Andrew Alderton has arrived and taken over leadership of the human military forces, renewing their determination to win.

The fight for Dwarven liberation is brutal, exhausting, and bloody, and it drags on for a very long time. But King Thorni doesn’t stop fighting until it is won. History remembers him as the Granite King, who led his people to freedom on a road of their own bodies, and he remains a divisive figure to Dwarven historians to this day.

Andrew Alderton himself is brought down during the final battle of the war: Jal himself leads a final, heroic charge to capture him after he is spotted trying to escape the battlefield. Though he tries to go down fighting, Alderton is taken alive, tried in front of a Dwarven committee, and executed by Skornaxe.

6. The Church

Crowning Federica Belacqua bin Zahn as the Divine Vessel created a schism within the Church, but there was no reasonable doubt over whether the ceremony was done correctly. Freddie was clearly the Vessel.

People expected many things of Federica I when she was crowned. Some people had expected a stooge of the Council of Cardinals, or of the bin Zahn family. Some people had claimed she was a servant of Afareen herself.

Nobody expected this.

A few weeks after her coronation, Federica Spoke with the Voice of the Divine for one last time. She declared that the Divine had judged the world unworthy, that it had abandoned it entirely. That the Church, which had claimed to act in its favour, had abused its power and shirked its responsibilities, and was judged corrupt beyond redemption. That never again would the Divine speak through a mortal vessel, or seek control or rulership. And that perhaps, after many years, it would return and see whether mankind had abandoned its lust for power and dominance, and judge whether the world was worthy for it to return.

But that personally, she doubted it.

And then, as the high chamber of the Great Cathedral of Seflheim’s erupted into confused shouting, she removed the Crown from her head and hurled it into what everybody had assumed was an ornamental brazier.

The collapse of the Church mirrored the collapse of the Empire. Confidence in the Church was shaken to its very roots. The Church of the Little Mother became the voice for those who just wanted their faith to carry on as it had before. Estarritism became a prominent force, denying Federica I’s divinity or the validity of her decree, and gaining a significant foothold amongst the Jottenar family. The Senescent faiths, too, gained ground, especially the cat-cults of Mocte. In Dourmoor, the beginnings of a resurgence of faith in the Order of the Rose was seen briefly before falling to pieces upon Andrew Alderton’s death.

The next few decades were dominated by religious strife. Sectarian violence was common, dividing streets, dividing neighbourhoods, dividing everybody in the face of the undead advance from the South.

But that was the price, and it was one Federica had been willing to pay. Better divided in liberty, she would say many times over the next decade, than united in oppression.

7. The Principalities of Riverport

“Okay, look. Yes, of course he’s dead. Nobody lives for over a hundred and fifty years. But in this city, there are two choices. You can nod and smile and pretend that some immortal old moblord coot whispers advice into Vito and Isabella’s ears every morning, or you can wake up one day sinking into the Vassa in a weighted coffin.”

The first shipments of grain from Arakesh arrive in Riverport shortly after it declares for the Republic, to wild celebration. The city is no longer starving; the Empire has been kept from its gates; the Stellazzo have time to rebuild.

Vito struggles, initially, to keep his side of the city in order, and for some time Isabella is clearly in a position to take Riverport for herself if she so wanted. She doesn’t. It’s unclear whether this is an act of kindness, whether she is genuinely fatigued by Stellazzo infighting, or whether Vito has been able to somehow placate her. Some theorise that Riverport’s refusal to join the Republic of Arakesh, and to remain a separate political entity, might have been the price Vito paid. Others note the absence of Vito’s most capable lieutenant, Angela Mariano-Stellazzo, from Riverport.

Whatever the case, the Stellazzo family are united. Vito and Isabella capably administer the city, ably advised by Papa Stellazzo from his rooms at the manor.

And Riverport becomes rich. Even before there is talk of a permanent peace treaty between the Empire and Republic, the Stellazzo have signed their own agreements under the table with either side, and make a considerable profit trading Arakesh grain for Elfholm magitech and Seflheim firearms.

8. The Jottenar Empire

Seflheim is confused, lost, and leaderless. Various factions of the Jottenar family struggle for power. Simon Estarr, sole surviving member of the University’s board, begins to flex his political muscle. And the older noble families who had been pushed aside by the Jottenar rise to power start to claw their way back.

Things settle down, eventually. An agreement is reached, Seflheim portioned out into districts, a coalition formed. But things are not stable, not for a long time, and every day more people cross the border.

It is, perhaps, the first time in the history of the Empire that people have emigrated to Riverport seeking stability.

9. The Negotiating Table

And finally, it happens. The ceasefire becomes peace talks. The Principalities of Riverport, the Republic of Arakesh, and the Jottenar Empire agree to send representatives to discuss a more permanent peace, and an alliance against Afareen.

But travelling with the Arakesh contingent is a surprise guest.

A surprise, skeletal, guest.

The negotiations nearly fall to pieces when the Empire learn that Afareen has sent a representative and that Arakesh have granted it their protection, but the Imperial representatives are quietened down. The Empire’s power was broken weeks ago: their presence at this negotiating table only confirms it. They are here to listen, not to dictate terms, and they all know it.

The negotations carry on long into the night. Finally, an agreement is reached. Afareen claims Ramaslu as her own, but will refrain from entering Seflheim.

It’s not the most comfortable of compromises. Nobody is happy about the continued undead presence in Ramaslu. But with Seflheim ripe for invasion, with food still scarce, and with continued infighting among the military as Jottenar factions jockey for power, a respite from the undead has likely saved what remains of the Empire from total destruction.

And uncomfortable compromises are, after all, the price of peace.

10. The Great Work

Ahead of the undead marching steadily onwards, a lone figure reaches the impromptu defences prepared by the People of Earth, at the base of their valley.

Nyke Vallen.

The Mistwalker returns to his people at last. The people of Earth are ready to fight the final battle against the undead, to carry out the strategem they have prepared for years. They will sell their lives as dearly as they can and buy the People of Air the precious minutes they need to complete the Great Work, the art that will create a new world.

Nyke’s position isn’t to fight alongside them, though. Nyke is of the Air. Always has been, always will be. His job is to help finish the Work.

Nyke works quickly. Everything he has learned in his time with the Rebels: the weaknesses of the Empire, the power of deception, the use of its vast, bureacratic strength against it. All of his experience is summarised in a few short, beautiful, vital brushstrokes that complete a tiny corner of a mural bigger than a cathedral.

And now it is finished. The undead have breached the People of Earth’s barricade, but they are too late: the new world has been created, and its esssence will survive long after skeletal hands have torn its physical form to pieces.

And in the few minutes before he leaves, before he begins the work of evacuating his loved ones from the citadel before it is completely overrun, Nyke can fully comprehend what his people have created, the shape that their next world will take.

The People of Earth and Air, in every incarnation, have always made one mistake when building their next world. They have tried to build a weapon into the world that can be wielded against the darkness pursuing them. And, crucially, they have always assumed that the weapon has to be a physical object.

What they have learned in this incarnation is that whatever form the darkness takes, whether that be the footsoldiers of an Empire motivated by greed and thoughtlessness, or the mindless undead driven by Afareen, the darkness has always found its strength in numbers, in vast, rolling tides of mediocre minds. And one man, no matter how well-armed, can never defeat an army.

But that fact is just a parameter of the worlds they have built so far.

So the world they have built is an arena, where the People can battle the darkness face-to-face. And it is an arena where the darkness’ armies do not have the advantage. A world where there is no limit to the power one man can wield. Where a single individual with the will to do so can change the face of the earth.

A world of heroes.

12. Angela

Angela does what she does best: she disappears.

Stories begin to trickle in from Dourmoor first. Dwarven freedom fighters are aided by a ghostly gunslinger, who appears out of nowhere and vanishes just as suddenly. Sometimes they share their campfire with her. She doesn’t say much, but she supposedly brings luck.

(She is building her operations in Bierstadt – the Pearl, the Stellazzo headquarters there, the trains out and the trade routes. She’s trying to keep what she started strong. Eventually, however, she’ll tire of it, or she’ll hear word of Zaszperezal, and go hunting again. She wants that hat-trick. Her adventures take her north into the New World, sometimes with new parties of adventurers, sometimes alone.
She must have died on one of those adventures. Certainly she is never seen again.)

Coda: Many years later, in Riverport, an aging woman with failing eyesight and trembling hands opens Ms. Rosenbecht’s School for the Disadvantaged, working closely with the Church of the Little Mother, teaching orphans.

She teaches literacy.

13. The Hordes of Praxia

“This man is ARAKESHI.
He is your ALLY.
He fights BY YOUR SIDE.

EMPIRE AND REPUBLIC: UNITED
AGAINST THE HORDES OF PRAXIA"

– Lot 45, Imperial propaganda poster c.501. One of forty-seven remaining intact.

Afareen takes her time consolidating her position in Ramaslu. She’s in no rush; she’s used to strategems that unfold over decades, not years.

The Empire is confused, divided, and badly battered. But the treaty buys them time, and decades of peace are more than enough to rebuild and rearm. A new wall is built on the Seflheim-Ramaslu border, and the Republic of Arakesh lend troops to man it.

The cooperation doesn’t go perfectly, and in the end Republic and Imperial troops have to be stationed at separate forts to remove the temptation to settle old scores. But with their help, the wall is well-manned enough that Afareen has more tempting targets elsewhere.

There are rescue missions, of course. Ramaslu refugees smuggled out of the province. There is little response from Afareen. She considers the opportunity to slay and raise a talented soldier to far outweigh the cost of losing a few serfs.

The truce doesn’t last forever. Few things do. But when the undead forces finally make their move for Seflheim, they find a refreshed, re-armed, and heavily fortified army more than capable of defending their homeland. Afareen will take her undead no further north.

The battle to push the undead out of Ramaslu will take longer, far longer. There is still much uncertainity about how it will go. And there is much bitter fighting ahead. But for the first time in decades, there is hope.

14. An office in Bierstadt

“The inn? Well, there’s a long story to that. See, the sign used to show a decapitated head being hurled across a barroom. And it didn’t used to be called the Quaint Head at all. I had to step in. There are sensitive folk coming through these days; I wouldn’t want anybody to be offended.

I still have no idea how those BDMS folk could have known the dwarves would rip up the Elfholm railway. Or how they could have figured there was going to be that much of an uprising at all. But I’m not complaining. To think I laughed when they said they’d be competing with the Dourmoor cartels! But Dourmoor needs salt, and so many other things now. And the rest of the world needs Dourmoor steel. And the cartels have been broken, and their railway smashed, so all of that traffic comes through us now. No, I’m not complaining! Not at all.

But, you know — call it a hunch, or intuition, or whatever, but I always did have a feeling there was something a little odd about them."
– Will Wayhew, mayor of the bustling market-city of Bierstadt

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Mar 04 498: The Fall of the House of Leder

There is little more to tell. A bishop from the Church with known Rebel sympathies (it might be more accurate to say that he is more aware of which way the wind is blowing than most of the church) verifies that yes, this is the true crown, and yes, he is willing to perform the ceremony to mark Freddie as the Vessel of the Divine in a sufficiently public place that the Church won’t be able to deny it. This happens. It sparks a public brawl between those who think Freddie should be lynched, and those who think that lynching the Vessel for the Divine is blasphemy. Freddie flees, fakes boarding a train to Arakesh, and sneaks away.

The party sneak their way up into the Imperial Spire itself. It’s quiet. Most of the guards have been posted on the streets to try and contain the rioting; when they find the Dauphin, he is alone in his room watching the darkened Seflheim. The party are expecting a battle, or some sort of resistance, but in the end he’s just one man. They incapacitate him before he can activate his magitech protection, and — after a very brief interrogation — kill him and hurl him out of a window, thenflee to Arakesh.

The Emperor is dead, and there’s no obvious line of succession. Freddie has been crowned as Vessel for the Divine. Zaszperezal is gone: fled, or in hiding; it’s not clear. The Empire, as a nation, is finished.

What will come after, of course, is yet to be seen.

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Mar 04 498: The Last Emperor

The archmages ignore the undead hordes invading their territory to concentrate on settling decade-old scores, while the Emperor goes for the crown and Papan goes for Zoe. Zoe rushes forward to grab the crown for herself, and is mobbed by their phantom bodyguards; the crown drops to the floor, where it rolls a short distance and is caught by the Emperor. Before he can flee, Freddie dispatches him in a whirlwind of blades, but Zoe is cut down by Papan in the process. Papan grabs Zoe’s body and leaps from the window; though she can’t fly herself, she expects to be caught by her phantoms. Meanwhile, Jal finishes off the last of the phantoms. Angela hurls herself out of the window after Zoe, shooting Papan in the head on the way down. Papan is the first thing to hit the ground. Zoe is the second. Angela is the last. Papan shatters into icy fragments as she drops. Zoe is already unconscious and bleeding to death; the shock from the fall kills her dead. Angela is the third to hit the ground, and — like any Riverporter worth her salt — lands on her feet. She is merely badly wounded. The others grab the crown and hurry out the window as quickly as they can to get Angela some medical assistance, as the duel between Thay and Ferny starts to consume the whole room.

Zoe is dead. Papan is dead, hopefully for good this time. Angela is stabilised, and brought to safety. And the True Crown is in the hands of the rebels.

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Mar 04 498: Impurity

The notes the party have recovered from Rebecca’s desk indicate that the crown went missing at the university, where it was sent for verification; they are exhorting Anna Ferny on Zaszperezal’s behalf to recover it with all due haste.

Deciding to recover the crown themselves, the party find that the university has been sealed up, the front gate barred with vast, magical burning chains of iron. They fast-talk and intimidate their way into persuading the mage maintaining the wards to let them in, and find that the place has become a battleground between the three Orders of magic: the arrival of the crown, and the circle of accusations following its disappearance, has lit the touch-paper on several decades of bitter academic rivalry. Each of the three is convinced that another stole the crown for their own purposes; after investigative work, they are convinced that Simon Estarr was responsible and bring Anna Ferny to the office of Hermann Thay. Once they suggest handling the alliance between the two in Thay’s chambers, however, Thay becomes noticably nervous; they barge in with Ferny to they find the crown left openly lying around on a sofa.

At that point, a lot of things happen at once:

1. Thay hurls a volley of spells at Ferny.
2. Ferny responds in kind.
3. The undead revenant of Emperor Leder bursts through the window, being ridden by the ressurected form of Papan Tippani, and flanked by a squad of phantom bodyguards.

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Mar 04 498: Into the Fire

The party depart from the Five Finger Discount and stow away on a train into Seflheim, arriving with Dauphin Maximilian’s coronation imminent. They locate a rebel safehouse and make a plan.

The crown, they hear, has been moved to the University to be verified by academic experts. More recently, the University has been sealed by magical wards: nobody is getting in or out.

Thinking back to Praxia, they recall that Rebecca Byrne also wanted to speak with them, to try and explain her defection from the rebels. Feeling short of information, they decide to take her up on the offer, and meet her in an upstairs office over a barbershop.

Rebecca doesn’t deny that she’s working with Zaszperezal. She says that he showed her the afterlife: an endless caldera of obsidian and brimstone, where mortal souls are enslaved to devils for eternity, and where their devil overlords are themselves enslaved to other devils. Zaszperezal has been employed by the Dauphin in order to oust his father and allow him to take control of the Empire; Zaszperezal plans to rule from behind the scenes as an advisor, and harvest its’ inhabitants souls, in order to form an army and storm the afterlife.

Rebecca warns them that they cannot defeat Zaszperezal, but he is willing to make a deal: if they allow him to complete his plans for the Empire, he will persuade Maximilian to abandon any claim to Arakesh or Riverport.

They refuse to deal, and Rebecca — with a certain amount of regret — calls for guards. Imperial soldiers burst into the room, and Rebecca rips a document in two, then tries to flee. The party fight their way out with some difficulty, Freddie hampered by a series of concussion grenades hurled by Rebecca, but Jal and Nyke manage to take down Rebecca before she flees, as the south wall of Rebecca’s room starts to open into a vast, flaming portal. Angela takes cover, preparing an ambush, as portal opens onto the inside of a command tent in Arakesh. Leaping through come three Hellfire Batallion elites, backed by Zaszperezal himself. Angela gets off a surprise attack, and blinds Zaszperezal in one eye; he screams furiously for his elites to take down Angela, but they’re not able to catch her. The party flee, and regroup once the heat has died down.

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Feb 29 498: Face

First things first, the party decide. They check in with Alderton, who is enthusiastically running a soup kitchen in the Church of the Little Mother. He claims that he arrived in Riverport to help the poor and needy, and learned that the Church had been skimming the emergency food rations arriving in Riverport, intending to sell them for a profit rather than distribute them to the poor and needy. He also speaks of his need to leave Riverport, so that he can raise an army and stand against the false Knight Thorni Snevisson — but he doesn’t want to leave his operation leaderless.

Nykevallen promises to stand in his stead, and Alderton agrees; Alderton also teaches him a secret technique of the Rose that will scour an enemy’s mind clear, replacing it with the power of the Rose. Alderton warns Nykevallen only to use this forbidden power on individuals who are irredemably corrupt and evil (such as Snevisson). Angela is vaguely disappointed that she doesn’t get to kill Alderton.

The party reconvene with Vito, and he tells them that he’ll be moving in on Roderigo’s territory. He requests they help him by staking out Roderigo’s HQ, and preventing him from fleeing should his forces lose: Vito wants him dead, not exiled where he can recover his power and strike back. The party agree, and draw Roderigo out of hiding. Angela badly wounds him but is forced back, and Zoe — with a certain amount of regret — is the one who gets the killing shot in.

But there is no time to rest. The True Crown is in Seflheim, and Dauphin Maximilian likely intends the coronation to begin soon. The party take the Five Finger Discount most of the way, giving it time to return so that it can provide aerial protection for Riverport when the Empire’s retaliation comes.

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Feb 29 498: Knives for Angela

On their way, however, they are jumped by a team of Stellazzo assassins. They make quick work of them and learn that they were employed by Salvatore Stellazzo, a mercenary dispatcher under Isabella’s employ.

The party recruit the assassins they’d captured, and promise them their lives in exchange for their loyalty — a deal which the assassins gratefully accept. They decide to question Salvatore, and have Angela delivered into his office, hidden in a coffin.

When Angela bursts from the coffin and holds a gun to his head Sal caves almost instantly, and is revealed to have turned his coat and taken employment from Zaszperezal. As well as paying his squad to pick up the party, he has also taken delivery of a very intriguing item. About a week ago what appeared to be a very clever forgery of the True Crown of the Empire appeared on the black market. The man who was trying to pass it off as genuine was taken in, and the forgery fell into Sal’s hands — who quickly discovered that it was the real thing. The True Crown has been sent over to Seflheim, and doubtless will shortly be ending up on the Dauphin’s head, legitimising his reign in the eyes of the Church.

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Feb 29 498: The Streets of Riverport

As the Five Finger Discount approaches Riverport, plumes of smoke are visibly rising. The party contact the Stellazzo by comms mirror and learn from Vito Stellazzo (no longer Panzo-Stellazzo, indicating that he has married into the family) that several days ago rioting broke out in the streets ahead of the rebels’ schedule when a Rose Knight by the name of Andrew Alderton (the party groan in unison) led an angry mob to a warehouse where the Stellazzo were stockpiling food.

When the Stellazzo forces restored order, they were split three ways about how to proceed, and the city is now deadlocked between three factions, each of whom control a portion of it. Vito Stellazzo wants Riverport to fully ally with the rebels; Roderigo Stellazzo (an old nemesis of Angela’s) wants Riverport to remain neutral, and Isabella Stellazzo wants to negotiate with the Empire now that Riverport is in a position of power.

Angela is confused as to why Papa Stellazzo hasn’t taken charge, and Vito is forced to confess a hard truth: that Papa is not well, and has not been well for several years. He has become senile in his old age; for the past few years, all of the instructions coming from ‘Papa’ have been filtered through his advisors.

As things stand, each faction controls about a third of the city and are gradually wearing one another down. If the situation deteriorates, then by the time the Imperial forces arrive to put down the Riverport uprising the city will be theirs to take. If two factions were to unite against a third, then the city could withstand the Imperial peacekeeping force.

The party propose to negotiate with Isabella rather than Roderigo, given his vendetta against Angela. On their way to the docks where Isabella’s headquarters are, however, they are interrupted by a runner, who declares that Roderigo offers her parley, and gives his word that she will be permitted to leave peacefully. They decide to check in with Isabella first anyway.

Rather than hostility, Isabella tries to argue the party over to her side. She wants what’s best for Riverport, and believes that she can extract better terms from the Empire than from the rebels. Moreover, she wants to clean the city up: to make the Stellazzo legitimate rulers, rather than criminal overlords who gain power by oppressing their population. She cites, to Angela, Zoe and Freddie, Roderigo’s involvement with the Blue Pearl — and Vito’s willingness to keep the place open — as evidence of their callous attitude towards women.

Angela and Freddie are able to convince Isabella of the imminency of Rebel victory, and that siding with the Empire will only get Riverport destroyed. They offer to split Riverport between Isabella and Vito, persuading her that Vito’s half will contain much of Roderigo’s former territory and thus be less of a prize.

Isabella eventually accepts, and the party now realise that the task of ousting Roderigo from his nest will largely fall to them. They decide to make their next stop the church Alderton is distributing food from, to try and dissuade him from causing any problems (or just to kill him; they haven’t decided.)

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Feb 27 498: Jack of Flights

The airship, which Angela christens the Five Finger Discount, sails on its way to Riverport. The captured Imperial elites are interrogated and then quietly thrown overboard by Angela while the rest of the party aren’t looking, and the rescued scientists working on Project Diamond are debriefed. Freddie is delighted to discover that her sister is among them.

The party learn that Project Diamond was an attempt to decode a series of Ancient Praxian hieroglyphs. Various archaeological and linguistic experts had been kidnapped from around the Empire and put to work trying to learn the Praxian language, but they kept on running against failure due to lack of source material. They had figured out — as the party had done in Praxia — that the ancient Praxians used constellations in their murals to indicate the time and location that the drawing was set in.

The party receive a further call on their mirror. It’s from Gasparo again; this time, he’s bruised and dirty, and out of breath. Hurriedly, he warns the party not to return to Ramaslu: undead have poured out of the IBIS work farms and are sweeping the nation. He especially warns Zoe to run: “she” is not dead, and she’s looking for her. As the party are starting to wonder who “she” is, their questions are answered when the door behind Gasparo is kicked down to reveal a silhouetted figure, covered in purple, glowing Etherite tattoos and armed with a longspear. She hurls it at the mirror, killing the connection. Papan, it would appear, has returned.

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Feb 26 498: Burning Bridges and Backstabbing Bastards

The party rendezvous with Armad bin Zahn in Whitendon, and pick up a basic sketch of the Elfholm Fortress layout — including the secret wing where Freddie believes her sister Anoushka is being held.

On the train to Elfholm, the party hatch a plan to steal the airship and rescue Anoushka bin Zahn from Project Diamond. Angela will resume her disguise as Lieutenant Marian, Zoe will resume her disguise as Agent Rosen, and they will good-cop-bad-cop the director of Elfholm Fortress, Professor Dancer. ‘Marian’ will antagonise Dancer, demanding Project Diamond be shut down, while ‘Rosen’ will gets in his good books by slapping her down and then suggesting Dancer move Diamond off-site in the airship.

It almost goes to plan. Angela, Farqual and Jal arrive and antagonize Dancer enough that he insists on demonstrating to them the secret projects he’s developed to annihilate Dourmoor: the Progenitors, a plague of magically-engineered chimeras; the Doomguard, a heavily enhanced Magitech golem; and “Number 42”. They don’t have the time to see exactly what 42 is, though — at that point, Zoe, Freddie and Nyke arrive.

While Dancer is away, Angela knocks out the guard watching over the gates to the secure area where Project Diamond takes place, stuffs him in a locker, and dresses Jal in his uniform. Jal takes the opportunity to investigate Diamond — unfortunately, he’s not the master of stealth that Angela is (though he does get a good look at what it is: it seems to be a normal-looking office with people working at desks). The alarm is raised, and Jal is captured. Meanwhile, Dancer becomes suspicious of the rest of the party bar Faqual, who persuades them to surrender, intimating that he has a plan. They abandon their weapons and enter a holding cell.

It transpires that Faqual’s plan is to betray the party, threatening to leave them in the cells unless they offer up their souls to him. When they aren’t willing to play ball, and Angela starts to pick the lock of her cell, he switches to plan B: call for the guards and flee.

The party fight their way through Elfholm’s guards and evacuate the scientists — including Freddie’s sister - from Project Diamond. They race to the hangar where the airship is stored and, thanks to Jal’s pet rat having scouted the area, are able to defeat its crew and get it in the air -

- just as a devil armed with a vast array of spellgems arrives, and hurls a magical chain of flames into the hull of the ship, anchoring it to the ground -

— but the ship’s engines are too powerful, and they break free, Angela taking a parting shot at the individual they assume to be Zaszperezal and leaving him with a visible scar across the eye.

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