The retreat is tense.
Many of you are at or near your limits, physically and mentally, and already frayed nerves have a tremendous toll taken upon them by the thought of gods-only-knows-what kinds of Necrol horrors might land on your heads from orbit. As your initial, frantic withdrawal yields no signs of pursuit you are able to ease up on the pace a little. Starchief and Kaedras both lend some healing to Mara, the worst-hurt member of the team. When he has a moment, Starchief asks Champion if he’s ever seen anything like those lab-grown monsters. The ancient rune sword replies in the negative. Otherwise, you hurry back- limping, nervously glancing at the skies behind you, and privately wondering what the hell just happened.
The dazed feeling eases when you return to the safehouse, and are able to take a load off and decompress a little from your experience. Mara joins the children in your makeshift eating area, shoveling food into her gullet with slightly more gusto than the rescued captives and answering Kaboom’s query in-between mouthfuls. Juan, Kaedras, and Icky all toss out one-liners alluding to the grim horror of what you beheld, but Sorrenson tiredly provides a more concrete description of what you saw down there. Kaboom is visibly shaken by the news, and after Sorrenson removes himself to do a quick check under the Drudge’s hood the Skrayper unsteadily settles into the nearest chair, listening in rapt horror to any of you who care to elaborate on the descriptions of what you found. As you compare notes, it paints a dark picture, and you cannot help but fear for the future and nervously check your armaments. Those of you who previously entered a mindlink with Sir Zem are privy to some of his memories, including a trip to the future where Phase World had been conquered by Necrols. The path to that future is much, much clearer now than it was 24 hours ago.
You barely have time to finish catching your breath after that. A thunderous knock at the door. The sudden appearances, both of Haad with her good squad and the obnoxious psychic with his. Sorrenson scrambles into his powered armor, flailing to activate systems through his adrenaline-deprived stupor. In the process, he realizes that none of the new arrivals triggered the notice of his surveillance drones. D-man obviously can teleport, but either Haad and her crew was exceptionally good at stealth, or they took an approach that wasn’t above ground. The rest of you ready yourselves, wearily standing to attention between the children you rescued and those who would undo that heroic act. Haad throws down the gauntlet. You have one chance to stop the confrontation from escalating into a bloodbath.
Sorrenson remains silent and tries to power through his fatigue, and power on his weapons without anybody noticing. Icky and Starchief retort by painting a graphic picture of the conditions in that lab- experimentation, residents of Seeron hooked up to strange biological machines that left them effectively mummies- those of you with successful perception rolls last round will notice a few of the Skraypers behind Haad casting wary eyes at one another. Mara waxes poetic on the atrocious nature of the activities within and she, Juan, and Kaedras condemn the murder and call it for what it is. Genocide in the name of freedom. Juan also brings up the drop pods.
Juan Echo wrote:"You wouldn't happen to know about that, would you Urqos Haad?"
Haad snorts. ”I resent your accusation, child. Whatever you aliens do to one another is no concern of mine. I am certain that whatever you saw was merely some sort of security measure, no doubt tripped by your inept intrusion into matters that do not concern you.”
Like the rest of you, Kaboom jumped to his feet when everyone burst in. Unlike the rest of you, he remained silent during the initial response to Haad’s ultimatum. At this remark, his eyes widen and he speaks. ”Wait… you knew about this?”
Haad blinks, taken aback for the briefest of moments, then responds in a cool, conciliatory tone, ”My child, these creatures were brought to the resistance by the Burning Scythe. I only just learned of the details mere hours ago. I realize that these kinds of steps seem drastic, but it is the only way your people can gain the power to fight off the Tarlok. We must continue- like it or not, to stop now would dishonor the sacrifices of those who have already given their lives to our cause. It will all be worth it in the end, you shall see. Merely have faith.”
Kaboom retorts. ”That is some twisted-ass logic- and pure bull besides. You know everything that goes on in this city- I recognize plausible deniability when I see it.”
Haad shifts, ever-so-slightly, uncomfortable in place. ”You can’t possibly tell me that a bunch of new aliens show up, kidnappings start in all the slums, and you knew nothing about it.”
He pauses again, his tone growing angrier. ”And you let them go in anyway. Were you hoping they’d all get killed? That your secret would be safe?”
Haad tries to retort, but Kaboom seems to make up his mind about something. He affixes Haad with a steely gaze and cuts her off. ”When you first came here, you told me we were the same. I believed you- but here’s the thing. Being a Skrayper means being up against impossible odds. It means dying by the dozen, every week, and getting beaten and bloody and bruised, and never quitting on your people no matter how bad it looks. Seems to me, there’s one team doing that here, and it ain’t yours. Maybe I had a couple things backwards.”
He pauses, cranes his head and looks to the back of the room, and adds in a bit of a stage voice ”Maybe we all did.”
Cue a couple nods.
While Kaboom and Haad face off, Kaedras turns his attention to D-Man and tries to get through to him- figuring the criminal exhibited some scant morals before, and perhaps would again. D-Man’s brow furrows at the outburst, and a tightness around his eyes suggests some kind of struggle. Still, he replies tonelessly ”G…Gotta do what th’ boss says.”
Then, Starchief steps up. Perhaps accidentally, Champion gives off a very faint glow, that suffuses Starchief’s profile and gives him a distinctly aethereal affect. He calls out Haad, comparing her to the Tarlok, and pointing out that these weapons will cost not only the lives of his people, but the free will of many survivors. Then, he calls to Waldo.
Starchief wrote:"Professor. Are you in agreement with the Priestess here? That we should hand over the children to be experimented on further? That we should just look the other way to torture for the sake of a new breed of mindless soldier?"
A clear, distinctly miffed voice pipes up from the back of the Skraypers’ ranks, as Waldo pushes through wearing a very finely crafted exoskeleton. ”No, I most certainly do NOT!”
The Skraypers make way with a minimum of fuss, though more than a minimum of surprise, and she moves to stand behind Starchief (and next to Juan). ”I have long warned the Council of the inevitable results of ‘Priestess’ Haad’s ends-justify-the-means philosophy. I am only surprised it didn’t take you longer to show your hand in such a horrifying manner. Whatever game you’re playing, I shall be no part of it. Nor shall the people of Seeron, so long as I live!”
That seems to be the final push for a few of the Skraypers. Some of them simply disappear through the use of abilities- others more pugnaciously square up and take a conspicuous place between Haad and the children. Bringing Starchief to his grand conclusion.
Starchief wrote:"Here's what's going to happen. We are going to take these children to a safe place. You are going to allow us to leave and keep fighting the good fight. Earlier, I asked for a message to the rest of the galaxies to hear about our struggle. Obviously, you chose not to comply. I will inform the various councils myself of what is happening here. With assistance, we can shed the reins of Tarlok occupation."
Kaboom mutters, ”Your war…”
then looks up at Starchief. ”That’s what this is all about, isn’t it? You didn’t bring it- you were chasing it.”
He turns back to the remaining Skraypers. ”OK, gang- stand down. Andra’s right- this is a lot bigger than us, and we wanna make sure we’re helping the right side.”
He affixes Haad with a glare.
The Skraypers behind Haad are now conspicuously absent- she stands alone, her entourage now either unobtrusively slipping out the back or guarding the children (and are very much obtrusive in so doing). Mindlock, who has been licking his lips and watching the scene before him with mounting concern and visible anxiety, turns to D-Man and screeches ”Get us out of here!”
He turns back an scowls at Haad, as the group of gangsters abruptly fades from sight.
Haad’s face goes from affected tranquility to pure, inhuman rage so quickly and so abruptly that any of you who rolled a 16 or less on your 1d20 JIC roll last post take an involuntary step back. Her tone is cold, and totally devoid of her earlier matriarchal warmth. ”This is not over.”
She then turns, and storms out. A moment later she is gone- Sorrenson’s drones can find no trace of her. She has vanished as if by magic, or some equally arcane ability.
The collective release of tension is palpable, and virtually everyone takes a big sigh of relief. Waldo says, ”Let’s get you all back to headquarters. Haad wouldn’t dare try anything there, and I daresay the local council is going to want a full report on what you found. They’ll decide what to do about… Well, about all of this.”
While your fatigue and injuries make the prospect of another long slog through Rylor’s underbelly quite unappealing, it is less so than that of spending the night in a building the Burning Scythe can teleport into whenever it pleases. Waldo and a few of the Skraypers (her picks) take charge of the children, while Kaboom again leads the way underground. Most of the other locals disperse, to keep an eye on the area around the safehouse (and the lab grounds) and monitor any Tarlok response. Later, they will report all quiet- and that everything inside the lab perimeter has been razed.
In a turn of events that is exciting by virtue of its very banality, nothing happens on the return trip. The venue is cramped, smelly, and generally uncomfortable but you all power through and eventually return to the main subterranean resistance haven where you first made the displeasure of Haad’s acquaintance. Waldo calls a few of her friends over, and hustles the children away to receive proper medical care. Before leaving, she turns back and says ”I will convene the council for a morning session- they’ll want a complete debriefing if you are willing. Try to get some rest- I’ll see you all later.”
She smiles at Starchief then, as she leaves, her gaze lingers on Juan for a good two-count than can be easily explained, and she smiles a little wider before stomping off in her armor. The rest of the Skraypers that escorted you take their leave as well, including Kaboom who follows Waldo with a friendly nod.
By the time you return to the resistance haven, it is about 10PM and you’ve all had a long day. You have the evening and a few hours of the morning to yourselves around the haven, followed by a council debriefing at 10AM. In the interests of expediency, post any in-character debriefings you care to offer, and I’ll cover the full council scene in my next post (barring any Q+A or something like that.