Posted by: lordkyler | August 20, 2017

Radiance II: Part II – Loose Cannons

Previously in the Radiance RPG: Our not-so-secret agents arrived in the town of Quill to battle against an Anarchist cell and investigate rumors of corruption among the council. After encountering opposition, the players decide to curry favor by searching for the kidnapped daughter of the local police chief. While fishing for rumors in the underground, our heroes ended up splashed by some conspicuously illegal substances, and have just run afoul of a patrolling officer…


“Hold right there!”

The three agents halted, and Niku took a step backward, but Vera stopped him. Fleeing was just as likely to cause problems as solve them. He stepped forward instead.

“Evening, officer,” he said, genial. His grin still bore a faint trace of light from the magical cocktail he’d had earlier.

The man was having none of it. “What’s the meaning of this, then?” he demanded, using his nightstick to gesture at the glowing stain on Vera’s shirtfront.

“We’re, uh…” Kinu trailed off, and Vera nudged him. “We’re confederate agents,” he admitted.

The officer stared skeptically, his scowl only increasing further as they provided proof. He was a young man, with somber features, dark hair, and pale complexion. His badge – Vera noted – named him as Officer Van Weir, a name that seemed strangely familiar.

“So you’re the ones they’re talking about, eh? Perhaps you can explain what these late-night libations have to do with your mission here? I’m sure Governor Abbot would love to hear your reasoning.”

Irritated, Sarah stepped up, jabbing a finger at Officer Van Weir. “Listen, pal, we don’t report to you, all right? So–”

“So we were gathering information,” Vera interrupted. “We’re investigating the kidnapping of your captain’s daughter, Mr. Van Weir. Surely you understand the concept of undercover investigation?”

At the mention of the kidnapping, the officer’s irate expression changed, going blank. “You’re looking for Ophelia?”

Just then, Vera remembered where she’d seen the name Van Weir – it was the surname of the police chief and his kidnapped daughter. And, apparently, the man standing in front of them. Vera caught the eye of her partners and nodded toward the name badge. Their eyes widened in recognition, but there was no way to tell what the relationship was. A family member, or perhaps a more abstract relative? Whichever it was, he was obviously invested in the case, becoming instantly conciliatory.

“My apologies, agents. I… well, have you found anything?”

“Nothing conclusive,” Niku said. “But we’re going to keep looking.”

Officer Van Weir bit his lip and looked into the distance, pensive. “Perhaps I can offer you some advice, in exchange for a favor. I imagine you’re planning to inspect the scene of the kidnapping? Make sure to keep your distance – my father is very angry about what happened, and he shares Governor Abbot’s views on your presence here. You should probably stay away entirely until he leaves for the day.”

“Noted,” Niku said. “And the favor?”

“The situation with Ophelia is… rather precarious. If you find her, I would be eternally grateful if you could call me before you do anything else. Before you tell anyone else. Otherwise, things could become unpleasantly complicated very quickly. Find me first, and I’ll see to it that you’re well rewarded.” Taking out a personal card, he scribbled a few notations on the back. “Here’s my address and number. Please, contact me if you learn anything or need help.”

Niku nodded and took the card without comment. Looking grave, the officer nodded briskly toward each of them and marched off into the darkness as if on a mission. The three agents looked at one another, holding a silent conversation, and decided to trust the young officer… to a point.

Yawning, they made their way to the hostel Governor Abbot had appropriated for them and called it a night.

•••

“I despise that woman,” Niku growled. The others didn’t voice their agreement, but it was clear they agreed with the sentiment. Under normal circumstances, agents of their caliber would be housed with local authorities where possible. In this case, that would have been the comfortable chambers of the Citadel.

Instead, Governor Abbot had arranged for them to stay in a hostel only scarcely better than sleeping in the gutter. The room was cramped, dirty, and – judging by the way Vera was scratching – likely infested.

“Are we sure we even want to help these people?” Niku groused as he pulled on his boots. “For all we know, Evangeline is the one helping the Anarchists, and we’re doing her favors. Maybe we should just stick with our mandate and look into Governor Martin.”

“We’re saving a girl,” Vera said gruffly. “I want to be done with this as bad as you do, but I want to do it right. Besides, it’s on the way.”

Niku grumbled a bit more, but conceded the point, and after a poor breakfast, they were on their way, appropriating a ride on a passing truck.

The trip took them across the tracks, and eventually they disembarked in the middle district, where a small neighborhood sat nestled amidst the factories like a secluded oasis. Citizens of higher tiers and seniority were afforded more elaborate properties and privileges, and Captain Van Weir fit neatly in that category. The houses here were more modern than those in the high district, two compact stories, with white picket fences and neatly-trimmed shrubbery.

The Van Weir estate was in the middle of the block, essentially identical to its neighbors, with the exception of a boarded-up window on the back corner of the second story. A sign of the break-in, perhaps. The Captain was gone, and the whole neighborhood was still, save for the occasional trilling of songbirds and the whirr of a push mower from the worker cutting the front yard.

“I’ll bet that broken window is Olivia’s room,” Sarah said, pointing.

Niku took another look at the lawn-mowing man, and nodded to the side. “Let’s take a look at the back, shall we?”

Together, the three trotted around the corner and into the gravel alleyway behind the house. It cut in a straight line across the block, with a third alley intersecting the main one right behind the Van Weir house. The fences were high on the back side, with places for trash cans and compost piles.

The gravel had recently been raked, leaving no sign of tracks, and their initial investigation revealed only that the latch on the back gate had been broken open.

Vera frowned. “Typical. Make everything nice and tidy. It’s not as if anyone else might need to investigate, after all.” She huffed, then looked around to make sure they were still alone.

“Let’s look around a bit,” Niku said. “Everyone take an alley, check the edges, look for anything that might have been dropped or marked.”

They did so, and after a few minutes, Vera signaled to the others. She had found two items: a strip of cloth that looked like the handle to a bag or purse, and a handful of muddy, crumpled papers, including the remains of a thin paperback book, nearly a pamphlet. A scrap of ribbon marked one page, and the margins and cover were extensively marked.

Millicentenial Edition.

Cover of “Millicent the Magnificent,” a series of dime novels from Foundation. Original cover illustration by Alex De Bernadis.

Annotations Included

Bookmarked pages of “Millicent the Magnificent”

“Oh, that’s one of those Millicent books,” Sarah said. “They’re quite popular in Foundation, but they’re sort of discouraged here. Foreign materials, y’know. Uptight sorts see them as borderline propaganda.”

“A bit odd for a constable’s daughter, then,” Niku commented, puzzling over the equations in the margins. “But it’s clearly hers. A bit of a rebel, then?”

Vera took the book, keen eyes scanning for any clues contained within. “She circled the sixty,” she noted. “Is it a doodle, or…”

“We need to look inside the room,” Niku said suddenly. “You two keep watch.”

“Agent Yamahara!” Vera said, but he was already gone, jogging with surprising silence across the gravel path. Cursing, she followed, and Sarah brought up the rear, anxiously looking over her shoulder for watching eyes.

Moving with confidence, Niku jostled open the broken latch and stole across the backyard of the Van Weir estate, moving like a ghost through the dappled shade cast by the trees. In a few heartbeats, he had hauled himself onto the roof of the back porch, and found himself facing the boarded-up back window.

It was less sturdy than it had seemed from the street, little more than plywood held in place with twine – it was likely only intended to hold until the glass could be replaced. Niku tried to undo the twine in a way that would let him replace it afterward, but it snapped at his touch, and he only barely caught the board in time to keep it from falling. Carefully, he laid it aside and took one final glance, then ducked into the room.

The room was tidy – almost unnaturally so, with no sign of dust or disarray. The bed was made, the books shelved, and all clothes and clutter hidden away in drawers. Looking more closely, however, revealed a few anomalies.

Upon the desk in the corner lay a disassembled radio. Niku had only a cursory knowledge of engineering, but it was plain to see that this was a prefabricated kit meant to be assembled by children. It was equally clear that it had been heavily modified and upgraded. On the wall above the desk, a large map of the city was prominently displayed.

Niku stepped up to study the map. It was divided into a grid, with letters along one axis and numbers along the other. There were pinholes in the paper, difficult to make out, but Niku managed to spot a few. Labels marked some – a school, a library, the constabulary – but there were some placed in more unusual locations, such as train-yards, junkyards, and shops. Clearly a budding inventor.

Niku stepped over to the bookcase to confirm this hypothesis, and discovered another oddity. The bottom shelf was nearly empty, and trace amounts of dust revealed that there once been books there. Even more interesting, the carpet showed signs that the shelf had once been hidden behind something – perhaps a chest or a trunk. Had something been hidden here? What was going on?

“What’s going on?” someone said. Niku started, stumbling to his feet and reaching for a weapon, but it was only Vera, who had grown tired of waiting.

“You were taking too long,” she explained, voice low. “Sarah’s keeping watch. Find anything?”

Niku shrugged and gestured at the map. “See if you can find something.”

She did so, running her fingers over the worn paper. Quirking an eyebrow, she dug out the Millicent novel and scanned it once more, looking for any possible connections. There. The circled sixty. Sure enough, the number corresponded to a line of longitude on the map, Now she only needed a corresponding letter to pinpoint the location. After a bit more study, she found it: an underlined “A” on the back cover. Together, the coordinates indicated an area in the industrial district.

Looking closely, Vera found signs that this site had once been pinned and labeled, but the hole had been pasted over and the words erased. Or nearly erased – she could still just make out the impression of the pencil on the paper, naming the location as “train scrapyard.” Eureka.

Meanwhile, Niku was making discoveries of his own. Working under the assumption that something had been hidden on the bottom shelf, he had started searching in nooks and crannies – under the bed, beneath the cushion of the reading chair, even a quick look in and beneath the dresser drawers – but he struck gold in the tiny gap between the bookshelf and the wall.

The trove consisted of a few Foundational pamphlets, not vaguely rebellious dime novels, but full-fledged propaganda, touting the wonders of Foundation’s alleged democracy and scientific achievement, while conveniently omitting their economic inequality and antiquated ideals. Fate wasn’t a perfect country, Niku acknowledged, and Fortune was far worse than either, but at least the people there acknowledged their corruption.

Both agents were interrupted in their musings by the sound of footsteps in the hall. With catlike reflexes, Vera and Niku bolted for the window, moving with uncanny silence, pressing themselves against the wall on either side of the window. The door creaked open only a heartbeat later, and they heard a woman talking to herself.

“What in the name of reason…” She had noticed the missing board, and was coming to investigate. As one, the agents scrambled silently up from the roof of the porch to the roof proper, clearing the ledge just as the woman – a maid, judging by her kerchief – stuck her head out the window.

She looked from one side to the other, perhaps trying to convince herself there hadn’t been another attempted break-in, and finally muttered, “Damned raccoons. Geoffrey’s going to have to put out some traps…”

Niku and Vera let out a slow sigh of relief, only to have it catch in their throats when they caught sight of what was going on below.

While Niku and Vera had been off gallivanting through other people’s houses, Sarah had been left in the alley to keep watch. So as not to be seen by those inside, she had elected to remain outside the fence, pressing one eye against the gap by the gate in order to surveil the grounds.

Unfortunately, when the other agents made their hasty retreat from the room, she was so focused on the house that she failed to notice the man who had snuck up behind her. [The result of another critical failure.]

“What’s the meaning of this!” he barked, and Sarah jumped guiltily, whirling around to find the lawn-mowing man with a bag of yard trimmings and a very stern expression. Dropping the bag and drawing a pair of shears from his belt, he waved them menacingly in her face. “Talk fast, woman! We got no tolerance for strangers around here.”

Caught off guard, Sarah took a step backward, but was stopped short by the fence. Mind racing for a solution that wouldn’t lead to violence or trouble with the authorities, she settled on the first solution that came to mind. “I’m, uh… I’m sorry,” she stammered. “I didn’t mean any harm. I’m from the station – just made detective, you see – and I was hoping to, well, make a name for myself. Break out of being the rookie. Solve the big case. I didn’t mean to cause alarm.”

“Well, I’m plenty alarmed,” the groundskeeper said, not relaxing in any fashion. “A detective ought to know better, after a kidnapping. Let me see your badge.”

Knowing she couldn’t show her actual badge under these pretenses, Sarah raised her hands and shrugged apologetically. “I don’t have it with me. Not exactly on duty at the moment.”

The man squinted his eyes suspiciously, then brandished his shears. “Well then, Detective Rookie, I suppose I’ll have to call the Constabulary and confirm your story. If you’re really an officer, turn around and put your hands on your head, or I’ll know you’re up to something.”

Without a better option, Sarah complied, and the groundskeeper grabbed her by the shoulder, pushing her through the gate and across the yard to the house, thankfully staying so focused on his captive that he failed to notice the two astonished agents on the roof.

Sarah was escorted into the kitchen and forcibly seated on a stool at the table, ordered to keep her hands in place. Not removing his eyes for a second, the servant stepped into the parlor and fetched a decorative saber from the wall, swapping it for the shears. “Mabel!” he cried, keeping the sword at the ready. A moment later, the maid descended the stairs.

“Geoffrey? What’s the… Superstition!” she swore, shocked. “What’s going on here?”

“I’m not quite sure, but I mean to find out,” Geoffrey said. “Caught her peeping at the back gate. Claims to be a detective. Get to the phone and give headquarters a ring, would you? See if they can verify a detective…”

“Mason,” Sarah said, using her real name. If the other agents were going to make an attempt to talk her out of this, there was no point in muddying the waters any more than necessary. The maid began searching for the number, and Sarah sat up with as much confidence as she could muster, keenly aware of the ticking clock behind her. Her partners were sure to notice the commotion, and would be arriving any minute now…

“Should we leave her behind?” Niku asked. “Not abandon her, I mean, but do we want some deniability?”

“Vera considered it for half a moment, then shook her head emphatically. “Best to get on top of this as quickly as possible.”

“You’re right,” Niku sighed. “I guess the real question is how we handle this.”

“Better to bend the truth than lie outright,” Vera said. “They don’t know what we did, and they don’t need to. But we’d better hurry.”

Descending as quickly and as quietly as they could, the two agents snuck down the way they’d come and raced around to the front entrance. Vera took a moment to compose both herself and her story, then rapped on the door.

In the kitchen, Geoffrey jumped at the sound of the knock, eyes darting back and forth. “Mabel, do you have that number yet?” he whispered.

“It’s still ringing,” Mabel replied. “I think Josephine is off today.”

“Who is it?!” Geoffrey called.

“Confederate agents,” Vera barked back, authoritative. “We’ve got a few questions.”

Geoffrey dithered for a moment, then pointed his sword at Sarah and gestured for her to rise. He escorted her to the door, backed her against the wall with the sword in her general vicinity, and then opened the door to cordially greet the visitors.

“What in the name of myth is going on here?” he growled.

“Have you seen a young…” Vera trailed off in the middle of her question, seeing the sword and leaning almost lazily around the door to find Sarah. “Never mind. It seems you’ve found our missing trainee.”

“What were you thinking?” Niku demanded. “Disobeying orders?”

He tried to reach out and grab his “wayward” protege, but Geoffrey blocked him, having none of it. “Hold on just one blasted second,” he said. “I want badges, I want names, and I want explanations.”

Vera and Niku reluctantly presented their badges, and Geoffrey peered at them closely, memorizing the details. “We’re confederate agents,” Vera repeated. “We were assigned to investigate the kidnapping, but our impatient mistress here decided to jump the proverbial gun. We’re terribly sorry for the trouble.”

Sarah scowled, annoyed despite herself – after, Niku was the one who had rushed into things – but it served to lend their tale a touch of credence in Geoffrey’s eyes.

But not enough that he would let it go unproven. “Mabel!” he called again.

“They’re putting me through,” she called back. “Just a moment.”

“Now, what exactly is going on here?” Geoffrey demanded, growing more agitated as he continued. “Agents sneaking around our grounds without a warrant? What sort of operation are you running, here?”

“Geoffrey!” a voice rang across the street. All heads turned to see a lean figure in a policeman’s uniform striding toward the house. A familiar figure.

“Master Daniel,” Geoffrey said, relief evident in his voice. Officer Van Weir – the very same constable they had spoken to the night before – was glaring at the agents with jaw set sternly. Niku couldn’t decide if this was a good or a bad thing, but decided to roll with it.

“Good morning, officer,” he said. “It seems there’s been a small misunderstanding.” Daniel locked eyes with him for a moment, calculating, then turned to Geoffrey.

“I’ll handle this,” he said brusquely. “You can tell Mabel to hang up – we don’t need to bother my father with this mess.”

Somewhat reluctantly, Geoffrey lowered the sword and withdrew, calling for Mabel to report a false alarm. Sarah slipped outside, shutting the door behind her, but before any of them could speak, Officer Van Weir was herding them to the end of the sidewalk, where they could speak away from eavesdroppers and the like.

“I thought I told you to stay away from the house,” he growled, surprisingly ferocious for a man with such solemn features.

“We were being discreet,” Vera retorted, then glanced at Sarah. “Or we were trying to be.”

“We had to get a closer look if we were going to find anything,” Niku added.

Daniel folded his arms and eased back slightly, but he was still far from happy. “And did you?”

“We’ve got some theories,” Vera said evasively. “As soon as we get back from questioning Governor Martin–”

“Wait,” Daniel interrupted. “You think Cyrus Martin has something to do with this?”

“What? No,” Vera said, confused. “We have to talk to him about the Anarchists.”

“The Anarchists? What… what’s going on here?”

Sarah spoke up, having seen the cause of the confusion. “That’s part of an entirely separate investigation, sir. We’re dealing with multiple cases, but I promise we’re doing our best to find your sister.”

Daniel paused a moment. “Alright. You’ll have to forgive me – this situation has us all on edge. So tell me, did you find anything?

“Nothing conclusive,” Vera said. Daniel stared at her, pale eyes piercing into her soul, and after a long moment, she relented with a sigh. “We found a couple of items in the alleyway.”

She offered the scrap of cloth first, and Daniel took it gingerly, as though afraid it would dissolve in his hands. “This is one of the straps to her book bag,” he said. “I’m surprised it didn’t break earlier – she always overloads the blasted thing. Where did you find this?”

“In the back alley – the one leading away from the house,” Vera said.

“The back alley?” Daniel demanded. Vera nodded, and Daniel scowled. “The tracks lead down the side alley. Heading north.”

“Hmm,” Niku said. “This whole thing seems off, somehow. We found markings and signs, but I don’t see how she would have been able to make them while being dragged from the house. Unless she was lured out, but then–”

“Markings?” Daniel said. Reluctantly, Vera handed him the copy of Millicent the Magnificent. Daniel turned it over in his hands a few times, and flipped slowly through the pages. “I always knew these damn books would cause trouble,” he muttered. “Did you… well, manage to decipher something? Anything.”

Once again, Vera spoke before either of the others, jumping in just a little too quickly. “We’ll let you know as soon as we find anything.”

Officer Van Weir studied her for a moment, then slowly removed his helmet and ran his fingers through his dark hair. “Look… I can tell you don’t trust me. But I promise you, all I want is to get my sister back. I’m not even supposed to be here right now, but I came by hoping you might have found something we missed. Didn’t expect to find you breaking in, but at the moment, I don’t care. As long as we find her. Please, I’m begging you.”

Vera tapped her fingers on her arm, pensive, but Niku nodded his assent, and she sighed. “Fine. We found some coordinates to her map. A scrapyard near Central Station?”

“You think she’s gone there? That would make sense, I suppose, though I don’t know why she would-”

Now Niku was the one to interrupt. ” ‘Gone there,‘ officer?”

Daniel groaned, taking a look around. Curtains rustled in the house where Geoffrey was watching, and Daniel lowered his voice, just in case. “I suppose I ought to be honest with you as well. I suspect that my sister may have run away, and faked the kidnapping to cover it.”

The agents seemed surprised, but none interrupted. It would certainly explain a great deal. “Those Millicent books,” Daniel continued, staring at the one he held. “They helped spark her interest in engineering, but I’m afraid the outlandish adventures may have inspired her to do something foolhardy.

“Neither of us get along well with my father. He can be… draconian at times, and things only got worse when our mother passed away. I was able to get out of the house, but our disagreements are one of the reasons I’m out here instead of working in Headquarters. But Ophelia… well, I can’t say I blame her. But it’ll do no good to get her back if she comes back here – she’ll either run off again or do something even more drastic.”

Daniel paused, taking a moment to collect himself, and replaced his helmet. None of the agents spoke. It was difficult to say whether Vera had any sympathy for the situation, but the story had clearly touched a chord with Niku and Sarah. “So. I would like to accompany you to the trainyard. I’ll need your skills to track her down, but she’s more likely to listen to me than anyone else. My father will get suspicious if I don’t finish my shift, so I’ll meet you at Central Station by sunset. Agreed?”

Stepping forward, Niku extended a hand. “Agreed.” That would give them plenty of time to investigate Governor Martin, and allow them to work under cover of darkness. Vera might be skeptical, but Niku felt he could trust the solemn policeman.

Officer Van Weir rejected the hand, gesturing toward the house with his eyes. Geoffrey was still watching. Niku withdrew, making an apologetic gesture, and Daniel made a show of shooing them away with stern words, shaking his fist and shouting about warrants and due process.

As soon as they were out of sight, Sarah shook her head and gave an incredulous half-chuckle. “Well, this has been an eventful morning.”

“I have the feeling we’re just getting started,” Kinu grumbled. Taking a deep breath, he turned westward and began leading the way.”Let’s go pay our friend Cyrus a visit, shall we?”


This was a somewhat shorter session than normal, due to unforeseen complications that delayed and disrupted the game. Still, we ended up having a pretty good time, with some fun hijinks. I did pull my punches a little bit, but this was only the second session, and since most of the trouble came about as the result of a single critical failure, I think it was fair to let them slide a little.

Stay tuned!

 

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