Posted by: lordkyler | February 15, 2014

Radiance: Part III – Dogcatchers

Part Three: Dogcatchers

After winning the night’s tournament and searching for information, our heroes seek rest, and the opportunity to consider their next course of action.

By the time the tournament had concluded, the moon hung low over the dark skyline, a sign of the impending dawn. Once they had escaped the train yard, they spied a clock on a nearby storefront that declared the time to be around four in the morning, but given the decrepit state of the neighborhood, it could well have been broken. In any case, It had been a long day and a busy night. Ian and Connor were weary, though uninjured, and Lilly was still tipsy. As the only one who hadn’t indulged in violence or liquor, Aria led the way to a small hideout owned by the Seven Sisters.

The hideout was in an unassuming building, a modest home with crumbling stairs and peeled paint, but when they had circled around and descended a steep and narrow flight of stairs, they found a surprisingly sturdy door leading into a basement. Aria motioned the others to be quiet a moment, and rapped out a rapid succession of knocks that sounded suspiciously like morse code. She waited in silence for an answer, but after several long minutes, she frowned and dug a small key from one of her many pockets.

“Where is Qeni?” Aria wondered aloud. “She ought to be manning this station tonight.” She opened the door regardless, and found only an empty room. It was simple and utilitarian, a few chairs and tables, several cots and a small partition that led to a lavatory. Aria stood a moment in consternation, looking for her missing friend, but Lilly shoved her aside.

“I have to use the bathroom right this minute!” she declared, and vanished into the small side room, slamming the door shut behind her. Ian and Connor picked cots and fell asleep almost instantly, followed by Lilly a few moments later. Aria stayed up for nearly half an hour, worried for her missing comrade, but when it was clear that Qeni wasn’t there, she locked the door and fell asleep herself.

They slept through the remainder of the night and on into late afternoon the next day. By the time everyone was up, Aria was eager to get moving. However, there were a few things that needed to be decided first.

“So here’s our situation, as I understand it,” said Ian. “We’ve heard a great deal of rumors about the Mongrels being involved, and a few more trustworthy sources saying they were involved in something different. Most people also agree that even if the Mongrels weren’t involved, they likely know who was, due to their informants all over the city.”

“There’s also talk of government activity,” Aria pointed out.

“Always is,” Connor snorted. “I say we just take this straight to the Mongrel’s leader. Shouldn’t take us long to get some answers out of him one way or another.”

Lilly and Ian said nothing, but Aria shook her head emphatically. “I’d prefer to avoid dealing with him if at all possible. Trust me, I know what they’re like. We do not want to cross them. Gang battles are a dangerous thing.”

“Well, who said you’re in charge?” Connor retorted. “Just ’cause you’re connected with the Seven Sisters doesn’t mean anything.”

“Means plenty if you knew what you are talking about,” Aria snapped.

“I think Aria would be a good leader,” Lilly said, massaging her temples. She had a hangover and didn’t seem to want the argument to last any longer.

“Who cares?” Connor said. “The Mongrels are clearly the next best lead. If you can’t see that, then you certainly aren’t cut out to be a leader.”

Aria bit her lip and turned the options over in her head. “Fine,” she said at last. “But if we’re going to do this, then I want it done quietly, and I want it controlled. We’re not going to march in there and demand answers.” She thought for a moment. “We’ll kidnap him.”

Connor raised an eyebrow. Ian raised two. “That’s ambitious,” he said. “Are you sure?”

Aria nodded, her mind now made up. “It’s the best way. We’ll be in control of the situation, and we can get whatever answers we need without dealing with his whole pack.”

“Very well,” said Connor. “Let’s go catch ourselves the King Mutt.”

The party gathered up their gear and left the hideout. Aria took a moment to leave a note for Qeni in case she returned, and locked the door behind her. Aria had never been to the Mongrel’s headquarters, but she was the only one who knew where it was, so she took the lead.

It was late afternoon, and the strong evening light painted the noisy city in russet and ochre hues. Motorcars and horses passed occasionally on the roads, and the sidewalks were populated with shopkeepers and bums, but the streets were nowhere near as crowded as they would have been in other parts of town. The neighborhood came alive at night.

Aria was up front, talking with Lilly about her concerns for Qeni, and Lilly was nodding sympathetically. Ian and Connor walked in the back, not speaking, but each content with this arrangement. There was already an unspoken bond between them. Neither of them were prepared when a wiry, towheaded lad of about fifteen snuck up behind them. Before they could cry out, he had snatched Ian’s wallet and Connor’s spare pistol right from their belts, and bolted back into the narrow alleyway from which he had come.

Still, even taken by surprise, Connor was lightning quick. He tore after the thief, drawing a throwing knife in an attempt to lame him. The youth was incredibly fleet-footed, and was already halfway down the alley despite the miscellaneous crates and barrels that clogged the pathway. Connor whipped the knife overhand, fast as a striking snake, but he was hurried, and his throw was off. The knife punctured halfway through a broken crate, startling the beggar who was sleeping there. Connor took off after the thief.

Sensing the disturbance, Aria responded immediately. Even though she was nearly at the corner, some twenty feet away, she had ascertained the situation and took after the pickpocket as well, darting down the alleyway behind Connor before Ian even had a chance to recover from his surprise.

Lilly pulled out her pistol crossbow and loaded a shot, continuing on around the corner in the hopes of cutting off the thief. Indeed, there was another alley branching off of the first, and she readied her crossbow in preparation should the thief come this way. After a moment staring at the chase, Ian joined her, fingering his sniper’s rifle anxiously. He wasn’t one for quick chases like this.

Meanwhile, in the alley, the youth leapt off a stacked pair of boxes and kicked off the alley wall to make the ninety-degree turn into an intersecting alley. The same one with Lilly was guarding at the other end, unbeknownst to him. The alley was incredibly packed with various obstacles, crates and barrels in various states of disrepair, clotheslines strung out like snares, even a rusty relic of a car. But the lad’s nimble feet carried him through the familiar route with remarkable speed.

Connor was close on the boy’s heels, but he was not as familiar with the path, and unfortunately missed a step and found himself snagged by an empty clothesline, which gave slightly under his weight, then threw him onto his back as if thrown by an enormous rubber band.

The pickpocket reached the end of the alley. Lilly had since crossed the street in hopes of a better vantage point, but unfortunately, he saw her waiting and immediately backpedaled. Instead of leaving the alley, he ran partway up a wall, grasped a pipe, then leapt back across to land on a fire escape, and began to climb, seeking refuge on the roof. Lilly swore as she lost her line of sight and circled around to get a better shot. Ian stayed put, too far from the action to be sure what was going on. From his vantage point at the corner, he could cover both exits from the alley.

Aria was not far behind Connor when he tripped, and saw an opportunity. As Connor sat up, Aria used his shoulder as a stepping stone to launch herself into the air. She landed with both feet on the same springy clothesline that had caught Connor, and then when it snapped taut, used the motion to propel her into the air, sailing halfway across the alley before landing on a fire escape adjacent to the pickpocket. It was an incredible maneuver, but unfortunately for her, the boy was already halfway up the fire escape.

Lilly circled around to try and get a shot off using her crossbow. The boy paused a moment at the top of the fire escape, and Lilly let off a shot, hoping to hit the boy in the leg. She missed, instead sending the bolt only a few feet over Aria’s head.

“Watch it!” Aria barked, and began climbing up the fire escape from the outside, hoping to gain ground quicker by climbing that way.

“Sorry!” said Lilly.

By this time, Connor had made his way through the crowded alleyway and leapt to the lowest level of the fire escape. Frustrated that they had not yet caught the thief, he tapped into his magic. Mana burst from his heart and spread to his limbs, magic strengthening him to grant him superhuman speed. He took the steps five at a time, and climbed the fire escape in a mere moment.

However, the thief was already off and running, cutting to the left and leaping over the narrow alley he had first fled to. He landed nimbly on the other roof, rolling to cushion the one-story drop, and headed for the edge of the building. However, Aria was also getting frustrated, and since nobody would see her here, she decided to use her magic as well. She also leapt the gap, and while still in midair,  concentrated her focus and tapped into her mana, reaching out beyond her body, and using her telekinesis to sideswipe the boy’s legs. The effort was taxing, but effective, and the boy went sprawling, eventually rolling to the edge of the building, stopped by the lip. Despite the effort of casting magic, Aria was an accomplished acrobat, and made the landing easily in spite of the distraction.

Connor reached the roof seconds later. Rather than jumping to the other side of the alley, he took up a vantage point on the higher roof and drew his other pistol, pointing it directly at the boy.

The lad snatched the coin purse he had taken from Ian and held it up, threatening to throw it over the edge. “Don’t hurt me, or you’ll lose your coin!” he said, clearly panicked.

A voice drifted up from the street below. Ian had heard the commotion on the rooftop and come closer. “Is he up there?” he called.

“He is,” shouted Connor. Then, addressing the boy, he continued, practically snarling. “Give us back our stuff or I’ll blow your head off.” He drew back the hammer of his pistol for effect.

The boy was clearly frightened of the grizzled warrior, but was far from cowed. “I half suspect you’d shoot me anyway, sir, so I think I’ll just stay where I am.” He flipped onto his back and held the stolen gun in a throwing grip as well. “This purse is sure to break open, and you’d lose at least half your coin to sewers and beggars before you got it back.” He hefted the coin purse. “And it feels like you’ve got a lot of coin to lose,” he said. “What’s it to be?”

Aria tried her hand at negotiation. “What if we just let you keep some of the money?”

The lad shook his head emphatically. “Be just as bad for me,” he said. “Old Skinner would flay me alive if I lost that much.”

“Oh, for heaven’s sake,” Aria said. She reached for her telekinesis again and simply plucked the items from the boy’s astonished hands. He stared wide-eyed as the items floated through the air and landed in Aria’s outstretched palm.

Connor was apparently satisfied that their things were returned, and immediately sheathed his weapon, uncaring of what happened to the boy next. “Throw me the things,” he called to Aria gruffly. She scowled slightly but complied. Connor caught the pistol and the pouch with ease and strode back to the fire escape, just as Lilly reached the top.

She was confused. “You didn’t kill the kid, did you?” she asked Connor in surprise. Connor merely descended the fire escape without comment. Lilly scampered over to the edge of the building, looking relieved when she saw the boy on the other roof, scared but alive. Aria was in the middle of questioning him. She kept a hand on her knife, but didn’t seem particularly angry.

“Listen, kid,” she said. “You’re a cute kid and you’ve got some skills. I don’t want to hurt you if I don’t have to. So just answer my questions and you’ll be fine. Understood?” The boy nodded. “What’s your name?”

“Garret, ma’am. Garret Crust. That’s what they calls me, anyway. Long story behind that-“

“Not important right now, Garret,” she said. “We’re on the search for information. Have you heard any rumors or seen anything strange lately?”

Garret shook his head quickly. “Oh no, I don’t know much.”

Aria frowned, but she had expected as much. “What did you mean when you talked about somebody named Skinner being mad at you?”

The lad gulped. “Well, it’s awful hard making a living in such a place as this, ma’am. Awful hard. I took in with one of the gangs for protection. Skinner’s my supervisor, y’see, and he can be awfully strict. Better than being on my own, though. Safer.”

Aria nodded thoughtfully. She reached into one of her pouches and produced a hundred dollar note. “Here, take this. I know what it’s like to be in a situation like yours. You’ve got some skills. Were you a girl I’d offer you a… never mind. A hundred has to be better than nothing, right?”

Garret took the money quickly, looking at Aria with awe. “Thank you, ma’am. Listen, if it’s information you’re looking for, I can’t help much, but I know somebody who can. He knows most everything that goes on in this town.”

“Who’s that?” Aria asked.

“His name is Simonson. Noah Simonson.”

Aria immediately stiffened, though she kept her face carefully neutral. She knew that name well. It was the leader of the Mongrels. The alpha dog.

“You work for the Mongrels?” she asked carefully.

Garret nodded. “They’re the only ones that’d have me. But like I said, they hear most everything that goes on in this town, and if I tell them you were kind to one of ours, I’m sure he’d be willing to help you out.”

Aria nodded distractedly, looking out over the city, deep in thought. After a moment, she said, “Very well.”

“Who shall I tell them was so kind to me?” the lad asked.

Aria paused for a split second. She couldn’t very well tell the lad her true name, as she was a known member of the Seven Sisters. She settled for the name of a childhood friend from long ago. “Sasha. Sasha Yoshido.”

“Sasha Yoshido,” the boy said slowly, committing the name to memory. “I shall pass the word on immediately. Thank you again for your mercy, ma’am.”

“It’s miss Yoshido,” Aria said. She shot a significant look at Lilly on the other roof, they descended back down the fire escapes to rejoin the men below.

•••

I wasn’t initially planning on having this chase scene take up the whole session, but I think it turned out well regardless. This may appear to be a random encounter, but actually, this incident was a “fork” in the story. Since the kid works for the Mongrels, the way they dealt with him would impact their eventual showdown with that gang. I was pleased to see that they tried for maiming shots instead of kills and were ultimately quite kind to the boy. This will help them in the next session. Had they killed him or beat him up, things would not go as well…

Aria’s crazy parkour move on the clothesline is a result of Gideon getting a critical success (four + results in FUDGE) on that parkour roll. Previously, we’ve had a critical failure when Joseph caused Ian to break a doorknob he was examining. Results like this are rare but quite entertaining, as they lead to moments of pure awesomeness or abject failure.

•••

Radiance Info: Creatures

Radiance was founded by pilgrims seeking to escape an oppressive culture of superstition and magic, and establish their own land of reason and progress. It is ironic, then, that the continent they discovered seemed filled to bursting with magical flora and fauna.

There are two main types of magical creatures on Radiance. The first is the “normal” magical beast, often described as monsters (even though many are harmless or even benevolent). These beasts take the form of any ordinary animal, but have strange powers associated with them. Some well-known examples include hellhounds, fierce black dogs with a fiery bite, and the Ivory Cattle, who’s milk has healing properties.

A few of these creatures have been domesticated, including both of the examples above. Perhaps the most common magical creature is the drake, a wyvern-like creature that has essentially become a flying mount for those that can afford them. Most magical creatures, however, live in the wilderness. The governments have established vast natural preserves of forest. This protects the monsters from the people, and in many cases, keeps the people safe from the monsters. Only licensed, professional monster hunters are allowed to hunt in the forests, and these hunters are often quite famous. Game wardens are also employed to prevent poachers, as there is an active black market for the many strange and useful byproducts of these creatures.

The second type of beast is much rarer, and is generally found in only the most isolated locations. These are the elementals. Although they take the form of beasts, they have no internal organs or the like. Instead, they are constructs composed entirely of the pure elements of the earth, somehow animated and given life. Well-known examples include the phoenix, pure fire in the form of an eagle, and the hoarfrost wolves, fearsome creatures made entirely of ice.

There are also rumors of strange creatures that do not fit into either of these categories, singular creatures of fearsome power and proportion, that do not seem to resemble any known animal. So far the only confirmed example of this type of monster are the gryphons, but legends abound of such creatures as seven-headed serpents and leviathans that haunt the deep sea. Time will tell if there is any truth to these tales.

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