Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Bang vs. Whimper

Perhaps you're wondering when I'll be posting the next Rifts session recap. Unfortunately, it looks like there won't be one. Our campaign has sadly succumbed to its players' accumulated responsibilities of adulthood, health issues, and ennui.

I don't know if we'll ever get back to playing it, but it was great fun while it lasted, and it showed me that you can go home again, in a manner of speaking. I found writing the recaps extremely rewarding. I hope you all enjoyed reading about it.

A few people have asked me what I think of the Savage Worlds adaptation of Rifts, now that the first PDF has been released to backers, and I may post about that at some point in the future. For now I think it's wise that I take a break from writing about Rifts and concentrate my efforts on the game I have slowly been working on for over a year -- which I may also post about at some point in the future.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Rifts Misadventures: Session 28

You probably won't be able to tell from the recap, but at the table, this was a rather zany session of Rifts. Our last couple of sessions were cut short by technical difficulties and other constraints, so it was nice to have one where there was plenty of time for riffing off of one another and generally goofing around. It doesn't hurt that we seem to be heading for a big battle after several fairly cerebral sessions, either.

The Solutions @ Gun Pointe Roster (with ICONS "high concept" qualities, followed by traditional Rifts O.C.C.s)

Arisis Solstice, Radiant Daughter of Atlas (female titan Cyber-Knight), played by Felix
Kat, Mutant Psi-Stalker Sheriff (female mutoid Psi-Stalker), played by Chris
Maximilian Park, Runaway Teenage Mystic (male human Mystic), played by me
Valerie Cain, Amazon Cyborg Wildchild (female Praxian Headhunter), played by Kent

And "The B-Team" (with ICONS "high concept" qualities, followed by traditional Rifts O.C.C.s)
Black Puma, Nekoboy Ninjalante (male Mutant Superhero), played by Kent
Fay, Demigod Super-Genius Smuggler (female demigod City Rat/Runner), played by Chris
Mian Feng, Dedicated Alien Martial Artist (female Manarr Dedicated Martial Artist), played by me
Reez, Space Catgirl Bounty Hunter (female Kirn Bounty Hunter), played by Felix

With their awareness of the world beyond Blessed Valley beginning to return, Arisis and Valerie meet with Max at his saloon. Max, who the locals have taken to calling "Crazy Mr. P" due to his frequent bouts of mental disturbance, is relieved to see his friends ready to act. The trio put their heads together, and soon decide to arm themselves and head to Atticus Stone's mine near the edge of town.

Along the way, our heroes notice a mysterious-looking, mist-shrouded island in the lake that acts as the town's water supply, making a mental note to further investigate it later. They continue on their stated mission and make their way into Stone's Scar, a ravine that leads to the mine. Though her companions' psychic perception is negated by whatever strange force is at work in Blessed Valley, with her replacement implants, Valerie detects the presence of an individual ahead. She and her friends ready their weapons, but soon find that it is none other than Kat, who had earlier been reluctant to investigate the mine, but has apparently had a similar revelation to that experienced by her friends.

As the group continues toward the mine, Valerie's ocular enhancements, though primitive compared to those she lost when entering the valley, prove to be sophisticated enough to pick up nine more people somewhere in the ravine, as well as to spy Kat's TENGU drone hovering thousands of feet overhead. Kat is surprised, speculating that the drone is simply following its default programming to keep her in sight. Max wonders whether whatever force cancels out magic, psionics, and even high technology in Blessed Valley might be dome- or bubble-shaped, and wishes they had some way to test this theory. Kat recalls that her friends insisted that she had only been gone a matter of weeks while a decade passed for her in the valley, and suggests that if the drone is still operating, it's likely that whatever has accelerated the passage of time in the area is similarly limited in scope and range.

Before S@GP can give these hypotheses further consideration, a group of armed toughs led by a squat, unattractive individual appears. The man, who Kat identifies as Atticus Stone, demands to know what business the Sheriff has on his property. A brief standoff ensues, but Arisis forcefully (but politely) insists that she and her companions be allowed to investigate the mine. Stone backs down, saying that he has nothing to hide, and invites Arisis and her associates to join him for supper, to be followed by a guided tour. "Remember what happened the last time we agreed to have dinner with a stranger," Max hisses, recalling Intaglio the Procurer's similar invitation and attempted ambush. Nevertheless, S@GP agree to dine with Stone.

Stone and his men lead the group to a tiny company town located deeper in the Scar, which seems better-appointed and provisioned than the rather ramshackle environs of Blessed Valley proper. The mine itself proves to be a near-vertical shaft leading straight down into the earth, but Stone directs the group to an area with a simple table and benches, with his henchmen seating themselves nearby. Max inquires about the possibility of purchasing some silverware for his saloon, and Stone replies that he might be able to procure some for the young man. Max pointedly asks whether there is really any silver at all in the mine, noting that he's never seen anything made of silver in Blessed Valley. Stone indignantly begins to sputter a response, but an infuriated Max cuts him off, calling him a liar and abruptly storming off, leaving his shotgun behind in process. Arisis insists that she and her friends be shown the mines immediately, but the fuming Stone is not inclined to do so. Before telling S@GP to leave, he turns to Kat, saying "and Sheriff... say hello to my son," which clearly upsets the normally unflappable psi-stalker.

Max's friends catch up with him, and Max mutters an apology before asking Kat what her connection to Atticus Stone is. Kat reluctantly begins to explain, but is cut short by the arrival of a frantic young boy on burro-back. Chunchullo -- one of the children Arisis watches out for, and a relative of Max's employee, Concepción -- cries out that the Sheriff's son has been shot by Jesse Stone.

S@GP and Chunchullo rush to Kat's home, where her son, Kipling, is being tended to by Dr. Vines. Max takes his leave, hurrying back to his saloon to gather some of his herbal medicines. Arisis inspects Kip, finding that Jesse Stone's bullet exited cleanly, but also finding a series of injection marks on his arms. When asked about them, Kat reveals that she has similar marks, and explains that when she arrived in the anti-magic zone of Blessed Valley, she began wasting away, literally starving to death in the absence of eldritch energy. Only injections of a substance of unknown origin, delivered by Atticus Stone, kept her alive. When Kat had her son, Kip, with the town's previous Sheriff -- Rudy Flowers, brother to Jennie -- she found that he was likewise afflicted. In a cold fury, Kat vows to hunt down and kill Jesse Stone.

Chunchullo informs Sheriff Kat that Jesse has taken refuge in the town jail. Kat assembles her posse, consisting of herself, her S@GP comrades, the rhino-man Orson and his partner, Wellesley the ankylosaur, as well as Margot Briess, the so-called "Crow Girl", a teenage mutant sniper corvid and one of Arisis' projects. Chunchullo, who is only twelve years old, offers to help but is turned down. "Just a couple more years and you'll be ready," Max assures him, having himself become a professional mercenary at the age of fifteen. He briefly laments leaving his shotgun behind, but Valerie silently hands him his weapon with a smile, having picked it up before she left Stone's mine. Max and his friends choose mounts from among the local riding animals, with Max selecting a horse, Arisis an immense lizard, and Valerie a bizarre, floating tentacled creature. Then, they ride out to the jail and quietly take their positions for what promises to be a deadly shootout, with Max taking cover, hoping to find a way in without being noticed.

Meanwhile, Fay, Reez, Mian, and Black Puma have arrived at the desert ruins to which the coordinates Intaglio coughed up originally led them. The young demigod lands her spacecraft here, some distance away from Blessed Valley, saying that she won't risk the Horizont being destroyed the way Valerie's bionics and Max's techno-wizardry armor were upon entering the region. Instead, she says, her squad will proceed on land, and reveals gifts from her mentor, the god Anhur: a giant lion-mount for herself, and magnificent desert stallions for her comrades. "We ride for justice," Mian announces in her melodramatic way, and the group mounts up and departs for Blessed Valley.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Rifts Misadventures: Session 27

Another short session of Rifts last weekend, as spare time seems to be in short supply these days. This one was short on conflict and high on details. A good deal of what you'll find below was actually conveyed via our online message board, rather than in a sit-down tabletop session, but I think we've gotten to a very interesting turning point now.

The Solutions @ Gun Pointe Roster (with ICONS "high concept" qualities, followed by traditional Rifts O.C.C.s)

Arisis Solstice, Radiant Daughter of Atlas (female titan Cyber-Knight), played by Felix
Fay, Demigod Super-Genius Smuggler (female demigod City Rat/Runner), played by Chris
Maximilian Park, Runaway Teenage Mystic (male human Mystic), played by me
Valerie Cain, Amazon Cyborg Wildchild (female Praxian Headhunter), played by Kent

Arisis awakens to find herself unable to move, her strength drained, with her unconscious companions Valerie and Max out of reach, and Fay nowhere to be seen. A strange creature that seems to be a walking mushroom examines Arisis as someone unseen calls out to "Ma and Pa", informing them that they "gots a live one, and big!" A frog (nattily dressed in a waistcoat and top hat) then inspects Arisis, and comments that "three in one day" is "most unusual" and that "it appears our services are not required." As Arisis dazedly wonders if she is hallucinating, the frog states that he is leaving our heroes in the care of someone called Orson. He and a dozen mushroom creatures then depart in a horse-drawn cart labeled "Taggert & Bhagrem, Funereal and Custodial Services."

Orson turns out to be a massive, grey-skinned humanoid wearing a duster and badge, who comments that "the Sheriff will want to see them." He and his companion, a bipedal ankylosaur named Wellesley, load the still-incapacitated Arisis, Valerie, and Max into the back of an archaic-looking paddy wagon, which the pair then pull into town, rickshaw-style.

Max and Valerie regain consciousness along the way. Max finds himself completely drained of magical energy, unable to cast spells or use his other powers. Valerie's cybernetic implants are ruined, leaving her blinded and with a persistent ringing in her ears. Her bionic arms are capable of motion but little else. Valerie grimly bandages her eyes with a strip of cloth. Max matter-of-factly takes responsibility for their predicament, and wonders aloud whether this "Blessed Valley" might be located in an anti-magic zone or "reverse nexus", perhaps even one created by some sort of Coalition experiment. The group's questions to their captors receive no useful reply, and while Max attempts to cast a few spells (to no effect), Arisis elects to meditate and conserve what little of her strength remains.

Before long, they arrive at a crater-like rock formation that seems to serve as a natural amphitheater. A crowd has gathered to observe what S@GP soon surmise is a trial by combat, with a giant rhinoceros-man (somewhat similar in appearance to Orson) facing off against a small, lithe figure in a hoodie. Orson shouts "Come on, Sheriff, put an end to this," and a robed human man, who acts as an official in the process, raises a hand to pause the impending fight. Max yells "Kat!" and the hooded figure (or Sheriff) turns to look toward the paddy wagon. Before our heroes can get a good look at the smaller combatant, the rhino-man sucker-punches her. She quickly recovers, and then backflips over the rhino-man, revealing in the process that Max's hunch was correct -- the hooded fighter is indeed their missing comrade, the psi-stalker Kat.

Arisis instinctively tries to burst free of the cage that contains her, but finds her titanic strength still gone. Kat pays S@GP little attention as she finishes off her larger opponent with vicious precision, soon rendering him unconscious. A human-sized calico cat wearing an apron and bonnet flies into a rage, screaming that "the Sheriff has had it in for me ever since she arrived" in Blessed Valley, but the robed man -- who turns out to be the town's mayor, one Jonas Flood -- placidly dismisses "Ma Kettle's" complaint. "You all know the law," Flood says, and the gathered citizenry respond "Blessed be the Valley!" in unison, as the calico is dragged away. Max quietly summarizes these events to the blind Valerie.

Sheriff Kat approaches the paddy wagon in which our heroes are locked up. Her reunion with the rest of S@GP is tense, as Kat -- who appears considerably older and worse for wear than when they last saw her -- is openly suspicious, demanding to know why they look exactly as she remembers them despite her not having seen them in ten years. Flabbergasted, Max and Arisis inform Kat that she disappeared no more than a few weeks ago, with Max increasingly irritated with Kat's insistence that S@GP "gave up" on her. Max, for his part, demands to know why Kat "gave up" and stayed in Blessed Valley. Kat says she simply didn't want to leave, which Max finds hard to believe. Valerie tells Kat that she's glad that she and her friends found her.

Still having doubts, Kat has the group locked up for further questioning, but eventually is satisfied with their story and releases them, then shows them around town. Blessed Valley is populated largely by mutant animals and humans, with a few D-Bees. There is no magic in the area (though Kat doesn't know why), and as a result Kat had to learn to eat normal food over the years, apparently picking up a drinking habit in the process.

Kat explains that Ma Kettle, the calico cat, ran an orphanage that was a front for a child labor ring, where children were sent to toil in the nearby mines (owned by someone named Atticus Stone). When Max asks what's being mined, Kat is oddly unable to answer. (She later says that they were "definitely silver mines.") Arisis quietly voices her suspicions that the children were used to mine Caingorm Crystals. Max is disturbed by Kat's behavior, but keeps his discomfort to himself for the time being. Kat ends her tour of Blessed Valley, leaving her former friends at the doorstep to the local inn, which doubles as a brothel.

As soon as Kat departs, an agitated Max suggests that he, Valerie, and Arisis try to escape the region of Blessed Valley, hoping that his powers might return beyond its borders. The group attempt to leave town, but as soon as they pass its outer limits, a strange glowing female figure materializes and forbids them to continue, cryptically calling Arisis "little bird" and blasting the trio with lightning. S@GP black out. Arisis and Max remember their strange encounter when they abruptly awaken back at the inn, but Valerie has no recollection of the events. Our heroes make their way to the town saloon, where an assortment of characters have assembled (with passing a group of hungry-looking children chasing a cat outside):

  • Sheriff Kat, Mayor Jonas Flood, the town physician (a drunkard called Dr. Vine), and the saloon's owner (Cliff Stokes) invite Max to participate in their poker game
  • a blindfolded chimpanzee engages in an elaborate tea ceremony in a far corner table
  • a local mechanic, a humanoid theropod dinosaur named Jennie Flowers, helps herself to a drink and eyes Valerie intently

Meanwhile, S@GP's allies, Mian and Reez, have arrived in Serendipity as promised. They inform S@GP's benefactor, Nysa, of their situation, hoping that she will be able to convince one of Arisis' titan followers to teleport them back to the Three Galaxies when their mission is complete. The duo are planning their next move, considering tracking down some of the coordinates they discovered on the crates of Cairngorm Crystals they were carrying, when Fay's Horizont spacecraft suddenly materializes above S@GP's headquarters. Fay explains what happened in Blessed Valley, and asks if Reez and Mian will help her rescue their friends. The bounty hunters readily agree. After equipping themselves with conventional "slug-thrower" weapons from Wrightsmith Armaments, they and Fay board the Horizont and travel to the Yucatan to recruit the fourth member of their rescue team, Black Puma. Puma -- who had been working alongside Relos, some of Arisis' titans, and the Range Knight Irregulars in their attempt to pacify the region -- jumps at the chance to help, particularly when he learns that fellow attractive cat-person Reez is on board.

Though Fay assembled her force in less than a day, six months pass for Valerie, Arisis, and Max in Blessed Valley. During that time, the our heroes find themselves strangely preoccupied with their day-to-day existence in the Valley, unable to follow up on (or even maintain) thoughts of leaving town or investigating the mines.

Max, in particular, is haunted by fleeting ghostly images of figures that disappear as soon as notices them, and recurring sensations of déjà vu. His days are nonetheless taken up with running the establishment he won from Cliff Stokes during their poker game months earlier. Stokes seemed happy enough to hand over proprietorship to the 17-year-old, who agreed to allow Stokes to keep an open tab as long as he taught him the tricks of the mixology trade. Max also convinces one of Stokes' former employees, Concepción Yepez, to teach him to cook, and after synthesizing his new skills with his knowledge of herbalism, "Max's Apothecary Saloon & Famous Life-Giving Tamales" is soon in business, with Max rooming upstairs, and Arisis and Valerie making regular visits.

Arisis has accepted a position as Kat's deputy, which entails a good deal of fighting judicial champions as Blessed Valley's lawful representative in its Justice Pit. She also dishes out a good deal of tough love to the Valley's orphan children, keeping an eye out for the youths while instilling in them a sense of discipline, duty, and pride.

Jennie Flowers takes Valerie under her wing, helping her to develop and install a new low-tech bio-implant to replace one of her shattered eyes. Valerie covers the other with a smart-looking eyepatch (which somehow accentuates her beauty rather than marring it) while working on another replacement with her rapidly deepening knowledge of mechanics. She finds that she has to ingest mass quantities of food in order to keep her VAMPS bionics responsive, though they are incapable of performing any feats beyond acting as simple prostheses.

During this time, Jennie redirects Max's questions about what happened to Kat in the previous decade back to the Sheriff herself, but quietly reveals to Valerie that that some very low-level electronics can function in the Valley. This is a secret known to few -- namely Jennie, Kat, the mayor, and the former Sheriff (whom S@GP gathers is deceased). Not long after Valerie receives this information, Arisis and Max's suspicions about Atticus Stone's mines finally begin to resurface...

Friday, March 18, 2016

Rifts Misadventures: Session 26

We finally picked up our Rifts campaign where we left off -- only to have it abruptly ended by technical difficulties. (Chris, who is currently the GM, was running the game long-distance via Google Hangouts and suffered a power failure at home.) We had fun anyway, and here's hoping we have better luck next time.

The Solutions @ Gun Pointe Roster (with ICONS "high concept" qualities, followed by traditional Rifts O.C.C.s)

Arisis Solstice, Radiant Daughter of Atlas (female titan Cyber-Knight), played by Felix
Fay, Demigod Super-Genius Smuggler (female demigod City Rat/Runner), played by Chris
Maximilian Park, Runaway Teenage Mystic (male human Mystic), played by me
Valerie Cain, Amazon Cyborg Wildchild (female Praxian Headhunter), played by Kent

After some discussion of their options, Solutions @ Gun Pointe elect to travel to the coordinates the space pirate Intaglio provided them, hoping that the rendezvous with the unknown buyer of the Cairngorm Crystals will give them concrete information on Kat's location. Arisis and Valerie are somewhat dubious of this plan at first, but Max convinces them that charging blindly after Kat without first getting more information would only put her, and themselves, at greater risk.

First, however, they take a night's worth of rest, during which Valerie experiences a terrifyingly vivid dream. In it, she chases a giggling Patty Biggers -- the young girl whom she and her companions rescued from Mexican vampires -- around S@GP's compound. Valerie eventually tracks Patty down, and finds her drawing a figure-eight on a wall in blood. At her feet lies S@GP's ally, the bounty hunter Reez, with her neck slashed open. As Valerie steps forward, Patty is replaced with a cackling Mian, who then changes once more  -- into a long, sleek dragon.

Valerie awakens with a jolt, finding a small blue crystal placed on her chest. She wraps the crystal in a towel and exits her bungalow, nearly tripping over a sleeping Patty Biggers along the way. The sleepy youngster says she gave Valerie "the shiny... 'cause you're purty," and then runs off into the dawn. Disturbed, Valerie spends the rest of the night contemplating her dream, then heads into the compound proper to alert her friends and review security footage. With Arisis' aid, the amazon headhunter determines that Patty swam to the group's headquarters, entering their property via the river behind it. The girl picked up the crystal from the hangar where the cargo S@GP took from Intaglio was kept. Security footage shows that an errant gardening drone knocked over one of the crates filled with Cairngorm Crystals. When a few of them spilled out, they changed from the spiky, urchin-like form Max in which saw them harvested (in his postcognitive vision) to blue shards like the one that Valerie found on her chest. (An identical change had occurred earlier, when Max tried to examine one of the crystals and saw it metamorphose to a state that resembled his own crystalline armor.) Max, mystified, casts a spell to find Patty's current location -- something which proves difficult for him to ascertain. He then decides to try touching one of the crystals that spilled out of the container to his armor, and finds that the crystal is completely absorbed, recharging his armor's energy slightly in the process.

Questions abound, but with the appointed time fast approaching, Fay points out that the group needs to formulate a game plan and get moving. Subterfuge is considered, but since the identity of the buyer is a complete unknown, our heroes decide that the best course of action is to bluntly point out that the original procurer, Intaglio, is out of the picture, and that S@GP now have the goods the mystery buyer wants. With that out of the way, they board the Horizont with their crystal cargo and teleport to the Three Galaxies dimension en route to their final destination. (The Horizont's dimensional teleportation drive can only jump from one dimension to another.) While in transit, the face of Karen Cray appears on the viewscreen. The hacker says that she's been trying to reach S@GP for some time, and that they're heading into a trap. Before our heroes can ask for more details, they materialize back in their home dimension, at the coordinates provided by Intaglio.

Expecting the worst, S@GP are confronted with a relatively sedate scene: the ruins of an old church standing in the Southwestern desert, near what once would have been called Four Corners. Fay's instruments detect two lifeforms on the far side of the rubble, who are soon revealed to be S@GP's friends, the bounty hunters Mian and Reez. Max is immediately suspicious, especially in the wake of Valerie's nightmare and Karen's warning. He attempts to surreptitiously cast a nullification spell on Mian from inside Fay's spacecraft, hoping it will reveal Mian's true self if she is not what she seems. Unfortunately, the spell fails.

Fay lands her craft, and our heroes cautiously disembark. Valerie hears the sound of an approaching engine and leaves to intercept it on her Cyclone, in motorcycle mode, with Max trailing after her in his (much slower) flying crystalline armor. Arisis and Fay ask how and why Mian and Reez came to be in this location, and the frustrated bounty hunters explain that they were offered a simple cargo pickup job via the Three Galaxies' IMJN network, and cashed in the favor that Naruni Enterprises still owed them to travel to Earth. The four put their heads together and soon learn that the crates in which the Cairngorm Crystals are held are marked with serial numbers that correspond to additional dimensional coordinates. Fay and Arisis opine that someone is trying to lead S@GP and their allies on a goose chase.

Meanwhile, Valerie finds the source of the engine noise -- a beat-up jeep-type vehicle driven by a portly man who tells her he was on his way back to his home settlement, a town called Rattle Cliff, apparently roughly 50 miles away. Valerie informs the man that she will be escorting him away from the area (but still toward his destination). He insists that he wants no trouble but has little choice but to agree to her terms. Valerie radios her team and updates them on her status, then is on her way.

Max gives up on trying to catch up with Valerie and returns to his companions, wondering aloud how Mian and Reez were planning to get back to Phase World. Reez and Mian reveal that they brought along their spaceship (and their giant mecha), and had planned to travel to Serendipity after securing the cargo, to enlist S@GP's help in returning home.  Arisis suggests that Mian and Reez stick with their plan and carry the cargo back to Serendipity. The pair agree, and waste little time in boarding their ship and departing. Max then realizes that the area is highly reminiscent of the desert landscape he saw Kat's BAKENEKO drone traversing in his earlier psionic reverie.

Not long afterwards, Valerie returns, having ensured that the man in the jeep was on his way. Max communicates his hunch to his comrades, and they elect to set out aboard the Horizont in search of Rattle Cliff, as a possible lead on Kat's whereabouts. Soon after taking to the air, Fay detects a massive sandstorm, rapidly heading directly for them. In his flying armor, Max exits the craft, trying to exert magical control over the storm -- and fails to do so. He returns to the cockpit, softly cursing, as his magic has thus far failed him and his friends thrice in one day. His frustration is forgotten when the group spots the man in the jeep, speeding across the desert a short distance away, with the sandstorm -- which turns out to be charged with bolts of magical energy -- threatening to engulf him.

Calming his mind, Max reaches out with his powers of telekinesis, successfully lifting the jeep and its driver into the air and towards one of the Horizont's cargo compartments. Valerie and Fay work to get the ship into position, but too late: the storm is upon them in all its fury, which proves too much for the young mystic. "No," Max murmurs, and he and Arisis watch, crestfallen, as jeep and driver are wrenched out of his psionic grip and into the howling storm, out of sight. Arisis seethes, insisting that they do something, but Max dejectedly states that the man is now beyond their help.

Fay and Valerie struggle valiantly to control the Horizont. While Valerie flies with steely expertise, Fay, unaccustomed to piloting a spacecraft in atmosphere, overcompensates wildly, and the gale force winds and eldritch lightning overcome her ship. The Horizont tumbles out of control, knocking Fay unconscious in an instant. Max's armor protects him from the initial shockwave, but when the ship crashes to the sands below, he is also knocked out. Valerie maintains consciousness, but is wedged against the controls by her broken co-pilot's seat. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the impact has no effect on Arisis' titan physique. The giantess frees Valerie, and the two then attend to their teen companions, who regain consciousness several minutes later. In grim silence, our heroes wait out the storm inside the crashed spaceship.

Exiting the Horizont, a battered S@GP find a weathered sign hanging on a fence, beyond which are visible two large heaps of junk covered in fungi and crawling with insects. Further off in the distance, our heroes spy a village nestled in a small canyon or valley. The sign looks very old, with several sections of additional text added more recently, and bears a symbol that resembles an inverted capital "A" with a cross above it -- the same sigil that Kat scrawled on the scrap of paper her drone carried back to S@GP headquarters. The sign reads as follows:

Welcome To

NO YES Fishing or Hunting Without Proper Permits
NO Motorized Vehicles

(additions to sign)
MUTIES, D-BEES and the like welcome!


NO Prestidigitators, Conjurers, Witch Doctors, Medicine Men, Voodoo Priestesses, Firestarters, Mind Whammiers, etc, etc, etc…


Max, who speaks a half-dozen languages but whose grasp of literacy is limited at best, spots something familiar in one of the piles of wreckage -- his dearly missed Wastelander motorcycle, which Kat "borrowed" from him before disappearing. "That's my bike," he says, and steps past the fence to investigate before his comrades can stop him. Max screams in pain as soon as he sets foot beyond the gate, his armor breaking apart before he collapses. Almost simultaneously, Arisis charges in after her young friend, and Valerie extends her VAMPS bionic arms to drag him to safety.

[Around this point in the session, we lost our connection with Chris, the GM, who elected to tell us what happened to our characters via our Google+ community. I'll let him describe it in this his own words:]

As he approaches his wayward bike, he begins to hear a jingling, tinkling sound - like wind blowing through a chandelier. It starts out low, then grows louder, and louder, AND LOUDER, until finally the din becomes a roar -- no, more like a scream. Max soon realizes the scream is his own. Pain rushes through him like a wave as every ounce of magical and psychic energy leaves his body. Simultaneously, he feels his armor begin to vibrate, crack, then shatter. The shards explode outward slightly, pausing mid-flight in a kind of blown-up pattern mimicking the original form of the armor. It surrounds Max, who stands rigidly frozen in a silent scream. Then the shards suddenly drop as Max crumples to the ground.

Val's VAMPS suddenly retract. Her arms (of their own volition) begin clawing towards her face as blood and smoke stream from her eyes and ears. There is a sickly sizzling sound followed by an audible pop as Val rips out one of her own eyes. She then collapses to her knees, her one remaining eye glows red then burns out like a used piece of charcoal. Her mouth moves wordlessly as she crumples to the ground the eye she removed rolling out of her hand into the dirt and grime.

Arisis barely gets a toe past the invisible barrier that has left her S@GP compatriots paralyzed in their tracks when her strength seems to fails her. Arisis attempts to steady herself, leaning against a nearby saguaro cactus. Much to her surprise, the needles pierce her skin, the barbs digging deep into normally supernaturally enhanced flesh. She reels back more in shock then pain, staring at the blood dripping from the fresh wound. She slowly falls to her hands and knees, reduced to crawling like an infant to make any further progress towards her friends.

Before Fay can take a step, the hieroglyphic markings on her arm turn black and begin to smoke. The smoke swirls around her, forming into a shadowy figure, cloaked and hooded. The figure wraps its arms around Fay, and a disembodied, gravely voice croaks, “This is not a place for you, my child.” The shadowy robes engulf Fay and they both vanish. At that same moment, the dimensional engines of the Horizont engage, and the ship teleports away.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Rifts Misadventures: Session 25

The Messenger
My brother Chris took the helm of our Rifts campaign as GM last weekend, for what must be the first time running a game in decades. He hasn't lost a step, producing a session that fully reflects his inimitably quirky sensibilities. It looks like this might be our final adventure with these characters in the Rifts setting, and though I'm glad that we'll send them off into the sunset with style, it will be bittersweet to say goodbye to something we've played (on and off) for nearly 25 years.

The Solutions @ Gun Pointe Roster (with ICONS "high concept" qualities, followed by traditional Rifts O.C.C.s)

Arisis Solstice, Radiant Daughter of Atlas (female titan Cyber-Knight), played by Felix
Fay, Demigod Super-Genius Smuggler (female demigod City Rat/Runner), played by Chris
Maximilian Park, Runaway Teenage Mystic (male human Mystic), played by me
Valerie Cain, Amazon Cyborg Wildchild (female Praxian Headhunter), played by Kent

Max is vexed by the acquittal of Alexis and her troupe, and openly frustrated that he and his friends have found themselves on the defensive since arriving in Serendipity. These disappointments get the better of him when he tries to reach some kind of understanding with his on-again/off-again flame, Quinn. When Fay expresses an interest in apologizing to Quinn for their earlier spat, Max arranges a meeting with her, but Quinn takes offense at Fay's suggestion that she might one day want to leave Black Fortress. The young mystic and the Coalition heiress later have a public shouting match at the local shooting range, and predictably, the two are soon back to not being on speaking terms.

In an attempt to put his entanglements with Quinn behind him and focus on impending threats, Max sequesters himself in his section of Solutions @ Gun Pointe's compound. Noxious fumes and discordant music waft out of Nexus Garden for the next two days. With his mystic colleague Nysa assisting him, Max plunges himself into a deep state of altered precognitive consciousness, during which he experiences a vivid clairvoyant vision -- parts of which include:

  • The vampire lord Inocente, amid scores of sleeping vampires, dismisses Max with a wave of his hand
  • Yeshka, the hatchling night stalker dragon, laying with her companion, Tetka the sphinx, whose voice is heard to say "The Coiled Serpent sleeps in the lap of Heaven"
  • Kat's houseboat recedes away from the dock behind the S@GP compound, and Kat's voice whispers "His skin shimmers in the light of remembrance" in Max's ear
  • Fay, along with Mian, Reez, and Black Puma, in the cockpit of her Horizont, apparently in distress -- all four say "Those who are forsaken await the Revenant" before the ship explodes in a flash of light
  • Quinn emerges and takes Max's hand, then turns to enter a black doorway, saying "Come forth, you damned and damaged" before the door closes
  • A vision of the cave in which Max received his mystic training -- his master's voice says "And meet your fate, your master..."
  • The face of Max's father, screaming "your MAKER!" at Max

As Max ponders the meaning of his vision, our heroes take a trip to Phase World in Fay's Horizont, this time bringing the Metry brothers along as a reward for their recent services to S@GP. Once in Center, Max attempts to contact Karen Cray, but is unable to find her -- although someone has clearly released new "Champions of Light" video material. (Among this is footage of S@GP's arena battle against the Othrys Totality, apparently shot from the crowd, along with some clips that could only have been shot by S@GP's sometime ally Nahar.) Determined to bring something of value back, Max resolves to collect as much information about Center as he can during his brief stay, planning to deliver it to Nysa when S@GP returns. (Nysa had asked Kat to gather intel on Phase World before their first trip there, but Kat hurriedly left Serendipity before delivering it.)

While our heroes refresh themselves at a spacers' bar in Center, they are approached by an old-fashioned-looking robot, who informs them (via ticker-tape) that an individual called "Intaglio the Procurer" requests to meet with them. Fay seems nonplussed, explaining that Intaglio is a notorious space pirate known for his fascination with robots. The robot, who identifies itself as "the Messenger", states that Intaglio has information that might interest S@GP. Fay is still dubious, but admits that the pirate's reputation is not especially bloody, and the group agrees to Intaglio's request. The Messenger extrudes a punch-card detailing the time and coordinates of the meeting from a slot in its chest and departs.

The Angler
After spending the night in Fay's capacious Horizont, S@GP return to Serendipity to drop off the Metry brothers and the information Nysa requested. At the appointed hour, they teleport back to Phase World dimension, arriving at the coordinates specified by the Messenger's punch-card -- in close proximity to the Angler, Intaglio's large, fishlike starship. The Horizont is directed into the Angler's now-gaping maw, as Max wonders aloud if "flying into spaceships' mouths is just how they do things in this dimension" (recalling the Horizont's earlier capture by the titan flagship Xanthus).

Intaglio the Procurer is a gracious if foppish host, treating S@GP to a sumptuous, multi-course meal aboard his opulent spacecraft, served to them by a dazzling array of intricately crafted automatons. The pirate himself is attended by a quartet of feminine-looking robots named Diamond, Pearl, Gold, and Onyx, after the materials with which they are adorned. S@GP are polite but uneasy -- Valerie attempts to test the victuals for poison with her cybernetic sensors, to no avail -- but Intaglio insists that decorum dictates they not discuss business until the meal is concluded.

Intaglio the Procurer
After the table has been cleared by his hovering robot drones, Intaglio finally deigns to reveal his proposal. He informs our heroes that he has information on a party that hired him to collect certain components used in the construction of Amethyst Deceivers -- the crystalline magical artifacts that allowed Tetka and Yeshka to infiltrate and ensnare S@GP undetected some weeks prior. The Procrurer says that he will part with this information in exchange for Valerie and Max. Valerie flatly refuses, but Max is caught off guard, first advising the pirate not to trifle with S@GP, then briefly bantering with Intaglio in an attempt to understand his brash proposal. When it becomes clear that the pirate intends to turn the pair in, to collect the outstanding bounties on their heads -- and that he has no intention of allowing them to refuse -- Max abruptly summons his psionic blade and informs Intaglio that he "fucked up" by not heeding his warning. Intaglio sighs, his bejeweled robot companions transform their arms into wicked-looking double-bladed swords, and the battle begins.

As the robots advance, their torsos (and blades) whirling at blinding speed, Arisis dives at the pirate, hoping to clinch him and end the fight quickly. However, Intaglio's body -- now revealed to be entirely mechanical -- separates at the waist, effortlessly avoiding the titan's grappling attempt. Max nearly gets skewered by the robot called Gold, but Arisis recovers from her earlier miss in time to block the attack. Max thanks his friend and casts an armor spell upon himself to prevent future potential impalement. Valerie transforms one of her bionic arms into a force-pulse cannon, then blasts away at Intaglio's "fembots", as Fay likewise opens fire on them with her laser blasters, anticipating and evading their attacks as easily as she did the vampires' days ago.

The robot Gold turns "her" attention to Arisis, but Arisis deftly parries its whirling blades, allowing the titan to riposte with her own weapon and throw it off balance. Seeing an opening, Max reaches out with his telekinetic abilities, achieving a partial hold on Intaglio. The pirate's mechanical body warps and stretches in attempt to wriggle out, but the slippery, polished floor of his dining room proves to be his undoing, sending Intaglio sprawling ineffectually, still in Max's grip. While Valerie and Fay continue blasting away at the blade-spinning robots, the young mystic, infuriated by yet another presumptuous attempt to capture him and his friends, shouts another inelegant insult at Intaglio and smashes the foppish freebooter into one of the ornate chandeliers hanging overhead.

Once Intaglio drops back to the floor, Arisis again lunges at him -- this time, her mastery of wrestling serves her well, and she seizes him in a nigh-unbreakable hold. Intaglio seems unperturbed, for good reason: his head suddenly detaches from his body and flies away. Our heroes are astonished to see Intaglio's head alight atop a new, massive robot body that forms itself from the chassis of his bejeweled companions: Diamond, Pearl, Gold, and Onyx. Max psychically stuns Intaglio, rendering him unconscious, but his body regains its ability to act -- and attack. However, before the newly-formed giant robot can do much damage, Max immobilizes it with his magic, then advances menacingly with his glowing psychic knife still in hand, allowing Intaglio to regain his senses. "I warned you," Max says with murderous intent. Arisis interposes herself between the two, reminding Max that Intaglio might have information useful to the group. The teenage spellcaster admits that he has lost control, and steps back.

Arisis interrogates the now body-less Intaglio, as Valerie sets about destroying his giant robo-chassis with her arm-cannon. Intaglio proves much more willing to divulge his information now that he is at S@GP's mercy, and commands his innumerable robot servants to stand down. He reveals that he was contracted to steal materials called Cairngorm Crystals by an anonymous employer, who dealt with Intaglio only through encrypted communications signed with the seal of an ouroboros serpent, twisted in such a fashion as to resemble an infinity sigil. Max immediately recalls "the Coiled Serpent" referred to in his vision, then re-stuns the pirate after he provides the time and coordinates for a meeting at which he is scheduled to hand over the crystals to his employer.. S@GP head to the Angler's cargo hold and loot it thoroughly, loading up Fay's Horizont and ensuring that they take the stolen Cairngorm Crystals in the process. Fay, a demolitions expert, also rigs Intaglio's starship to explode before the group makes its escape with Intaglio's head still in their possession. Aboard the Horizont, Max cruelly wakens Intaglio to see the Angler erupt in a ball of fire. "I warned you," Max repeats. Arisis' psychic senses alert her to impending danger, and she cold-cocks the furious pirate before he can do whatever damage he intended.

The "Coiled Serpent"?
As Fay and Valerie pilot the Horizont, Arisis and Max turn their attention to the captured Cairngorm Crystals -- small balls of glassy spikes that resemble sea urchins. Arisis tries to use her powers of postcognition to get a reading on the crystals, but is unable to glean any useful impressions. Max gives it another try, and is rewarded with a vision of the crystals being technologically refined -- somehow "concentrated" out of vapor on a gas planet -- then stolen by the Angler from the craft that is performing this process. When his vision concludes, Max is surprised to find that the Cairngorm Crystal he was examining has changed shape: it is now a single bluish shard that seems identical to those that comprise his own crystalline power armor (the origins of which have never been understood). Max, bewildered, takes care not to touch the transformed Cairngorm Crystal with his armor.

Fay learns via accessing IMJN (the Intergalactic and Megaversal Justice Network) that Intaglio is wanted for numerous crimes, and has been sentenced to death in absentia by the Transgalactic Empire. This being the case, the group contacts Bastille Impenetrable, who agree that Intaglio is a high-value target, and will count towards the five remaining apprehensions required under S@GP's bargain with Bastille if handed over to them in Cuba. Arisis requests that they first stop in Center, where she reassures the four titans that fled Serendipity when she was possessed by Alexis and convinces them to return to Earth. S@GP then teleport back to their homeworld, turn Intaglio in as agreed, and return to Serendipity.

Solutions @ Gun Pointe take a moment to regroup at their headquarters and ponder their next move. While sharing a meal in the mess hall, something crashes through its skylight -- something that is quickly recognized as the BAKENEKO stealth drone, which their missing companion, Kat, brought with her when she suddenly left town weeks ago. Badly damaged, the catlike drone carries a crumpled piece of paper in its mouth: a Coalition medical supply order. On the back of the sheet is scrawled a symbol that none of our heroes recognize, but which Fay analyzes and confirms was drawn by Kat.

Max uses his powers to get a reading on the order form, seeing fleeting impressions of Kat traveling from place to place, questioning people in her own inimitable (and intimidating) style before some sort of psychic interference cuts the vision short and thrusts Max's perception unwillingly out. The young mystic tries once more with the BAKENEKO itself, and is rewarded with a more detailed vision of the drone running through desert. Again, something -- or someone -- attempts to force Max's consciousness out, but Max powers through and follows the drone's progress all the way back to Serendipity and the present.

Having learned all that they are likely to from the drone, Max's friends look to him expectantly. Without them having to say anything, he sighs in resignation and contacts Quinn. Yet another tense reunion follows, with Quinn immediately identifying the symbol on the sheet as representing Project Helix -- a Coalition genetics program said to have been shut down at least fifty years ago.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Rifts Misadventures: Session 24

Artist unknown
Last session ended in mid-fight, with things looking decidedly bad for our player characters. Our final Rifts session with Felix in the GM's seat was a huge, knock-down battle that saw us thinking strategically, using our Qualities in creative ways, and spending all the Determination points we had to win. We really gave ICONS' combat system a thorough workout for the first time -- a valuable thing to do.

The Solutions @ Gun Pointe Roster (with ICONS "high concept" qualities, followed by traditional Rifts O.C.C.s)

Arisis Solstice, Radiant Daughter of Atlas (female titan Cyber-Knight), played by Felix
Fay, Demigod Super-Genius Smuggler (female demigod City Rat/Runner), played by Chris
Maximilian Park, Runaway Teenage Mystic (male human Mystic), played by me
Valerie Cain, Amazon Cyborg Wildchild (female Praxian Headhunter), played by Kent

What was intended to be a hostage transaction has now devolved into full-scale combat, with the Muluc vampire lord Inocente, his undead minions, and the carnival troupe of "la Princessa" Alexisandriath on one side, and the badly outnumbered Solutions @ Gun Pointe on the other. Fay yells for the recently released Biggers family to run like hell, and again opens fire on Inocente, missing him and setting the roof of the Biggers residence on fire in the process. S@GP's recently arrived ally, Nikomedes, leverages his titanic might to flip over the armored ATV Alexis and company travel in, an act which seems to shock the woman who currently occupies Arisis' body and her troupe. Her strongman, Hamilton Ponchartrain, leaps at Nikomedes, knocking the giant out with hammering blows to the torso, as Alexis' brother, Invictus, carefully recovers a battered and bloodied -- and bound -- elven woman from inside the upturned vehicle. Max decides engaging Alexis physically is a mistake, even with her inexpert use of her stolen titan body, and tries to psionically exorcise Alexis' presence from Arisis. Unfortunately, the young mystic finds hers to be one of the most formidable minds he has ever encountered, and is incapable of loosening Alexis' psychic grip.

As the battle rages, Valerie, whose power armor's controls have been compromised by the young hacker Jack Spade, manages to overpower her mecha's servomotors with her own considerable inborn Praxian strength. First, she stops it from punching through her helmet with its blades, then wrestles the missile launcher system's chest-mounted hatches shut, preventing the mecha from incinerating her friends with plasma blasts. Spade is shocked by her display of muscle and grit, frantically tapping at his datapad as she inexorably powers her way towards him, even as Spade's friends open fire upon her. Max tries to shield Valerie by telekinetically moving his unoccupied suit of crystalline armor into the line of fire, to little effect. Alien Ahmed, the driver of the ATV, uses his own telekinetic powers to lift and right the vehicle.

Fay, meanwhile, has squared off with Inocente and a pack of his vampire followers, deflecting their repeated lunges at her with ease, sending the undead sprawling into the dirt. Max -- still in the form of Quinn, whom Inocente wants for his own nefarious ends -- has considerably less luck fending off the vampires. He finds himself grappled by several of the bloodsuckers, who begin to drag the struggling Max-as-Quinn towards the waiting ATV. Inocente commands his minions to load "Quinn" into the vehicle, as Alexis' drug-crazed flunky, Joaquin, again attempts to cloud Max's mind and put him to sleep... and again fails miserably. Furious and confused, Joaquin tries to pour a bottle of liquor down the squirming and sputtering "Quinn's" throat. Alexis takes charge, staring intently at "Quinn", but like Joaquin, her psychic assault is easily turned away by Max's mental resistance -- not without cost, however, as in the process, Alexis senses that "Quinn" is not what she seems. She shouts that Inocente has been deceived, and the vampire lord instantly orders his progeny to drop Max and slay the fleeing Biggers family.

The atmosphere again fills with a now-familiar mist, and the vampires rush to slaughter their prey. Fay, unable to see the vampires, pragmatically decides instead to shoot the nearby Jack Spade, mortally wounding the young man and causing the exoskeleton-wearing Miss Tess to cry out in anguish. Having regained control of her mecha, Valerie transforms it to motorcycle mode and speeds into the fog, through and then past the vampires, cutting them off and preventing them from attacking the Biggers. Max, realizing his ruse is done, reclaims his empty armor via telekinesis and lets it envelop him. Alexis' troupe, realizing that Inocente's plan has been ruined, focus on loading into their ATV rather than prolonging the fight.

Valerie and Fay concentrate their efforts on stopping Inocente's vampires from slaughtering the Biggers. Max senses an opportunity, however, and uses his still-active spell of telekinesis to lift the ATV -- now occupied by nearly half of Alexis' troupe -- high off the ground, then furiously slam it into the ground in a nosedive, with as much force as he can muster (which turns out to be considerable). The occupants of the vehicle are, to a man, either badly injured or rendered unconscious. Alexis looks on in shock, and Arisis -- still in the bruised and hogtied body of Alexis -- takes immediate advantage, summoning all of her mental reserves and casting the usurper from her own body. Instantly, the titan's consciousness returns to its rightful place, as does the elven woman's. Alexis is rendered helpless, and though a few of her followers -- and all of the vampires -- escape into the night, S@GP soon take Alexis captive, along with the badly wounded Jack Spade and those that were aboard the ATV.

After the fog dissipates, our heroes speak with their captives, as well as the rapidly recovering Nikomedes and Pelagia, to piece together an account. Inocente apparently learned from Alexis' fortune teller, Reana, that Quinn could potentially engineer a cure to his kind's vulnerability to running water, and determined to capture the Black Fortress scientist. Alexis is adamant that she and her troupe were mesmerized and otherwise coerced into assisting the vampires, though admits that she possessed Arisis simply because the opportunity presented itself. Alexis demands that she and her employees deserve a fair trial, immediately threatening that if they don't receive one, her escaped troupe members, as well as her swamp-dwelling family and their subjects, will rise up and attack Serendipity. Max, infuriated by Alexis' brazen threats and unrepentant attitude, openly scoffs at the idea that someone "who's spent years making the dreams of half the guildmasters in this town come true" could receive a fair trial, but ultimately recognizes with disgust that S@GP have no other real options.

In the end, the court is sympathetic to Alexis' argument, despite Arisis' eyewitness testimony -- perhaps because of the influence the elven woman wields over the town's upper crust, or perhaps because of the still-fresh memories of vampires, pestilence, and maddened dogs attacking its citizenry and laying siege to Black Fortress' headquarters. The idea of solely vampiric responsibility is bolstered when Black Fortress operatives testify that vampires mesmerized their own men into ambushing Master Sergeant Jesse John Ross. When Alexis offers to monetarily compensate Black Fortress for their damages, the matter is declared settled. Max silently seethes, barely comforted by the fact that Arisis was not held responsible, and that Serendipity authorities promise to enact tighter security measures and begin an anti-vampire training program. The young mystic, angry that he and his friends have found themselves on the defensive since arriving in their new home, vows that Solutions @ Gun Pointe will not be victimized again.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Rifts Misadventures: Session 23

V. Cain. Headshot. by K-Bonifield
This was the most "traditional" RPG session I've played in a long time, with hours of planning, investigating, and joking around leading up to a massive fight that still didn't quite go the way we had planned. The fight is so massive, in fact, that we were barely able to finish the first round due to the number of combatants (and the fact that we've just now started to understand some of the ICONS combat rules).

The Solutions @ Gun Pointe Roster (with ICONS "high concept" qualities, followed by traditional Rifts O.C.C.s)

Arisis Solstice, Radiant Daughter of Atlas (female titan Cyber-Knight), played by Felix
Fay, Demigod Super-Genius Smuggler (female demigod City Rat/Runner), played by Chris
Maximilian Park, Runaway Teenage Mystic (male human Mystic), played by me
Valerie Cain, Amazon Cyborg Wildchild (female Praxian Headhunter), played by Kent

Valerie hurriedly administers first aid to young Patty Biggers, the child whose family are held hostage by vampires. Max, seething, states that the vampires "fucked up" by giving Solutions @ Gun Pointe the better part of a day's worth of sunlight to formulate a plan of attack, and proposes using shapeshifting magic to assume Quinn's form for the supposed handoff. Fay thinks this could work, and further suggests that Max mimic his own presence at the midnight meeting by controlling his (empty) suit of crystalline power armor via telekinesis. After leaving the exhausted child in the care of the neighboring Gun Street Girls militia and speaking with the crew they have working on Fay's spacecraft, Solutions @ Gun Pointe, still missing a founding member, head north for Biggers' Farm for reconnaissance.

Our heroes take position a considerable distance away from the Biggers' compound, where Max hunkers down to get some desperately needed rest. Valerie, pushing the limits of her transformable VAMPS bionic arms, detaches one of her hands, reconfigures it with an assortment of high-tech sensors, and sends it crawling towards the family's house, connected to her arm via nano-fiber. She then remotely explores the house, finding little of interest other than nine distraught, unguarded family members bickering with each other. Valerie attempts to make contact with the Biggers patriarch via hand-microphone, but he is beyond reasoning with, refusing to leave and apparently able to do nothing but rave in terror and despair. His family does not fare any better. The headhunter retrieves her wandering hand, and Fay opines that the Biggers family and their employees have been mentally dominated by the vampires into remaining on the property, with the destruction of the undead being the only way to break their hold.

Valerie decides to move closer to the compound, and Max and Fay follow, camouflaging themselves with techno-wizardry. As they approach, the group confirm that the farm hands are still working the Biggers' fields as if nothing were out of the ordinary, and either don't notice S@GP's arrival, or simply ignore it. Transforming her bionic arms into seismic "thumpers", Valerie acquires subterranean imagery of the area, which reveals that a number of bodies have been buried in a nearby pit. Max casts a spell of earth control to exhume them, but finds that they are not vampires -- they do not burn in the daylight. After reburying them, the young mystic has second thoughts, and again opens the shallow mass grave. He casts another spell to commune with the spirits of the deceased, and confirms his suspicions: these were farm workers, murdered by the vampires, and their souls are seeking to be released before their bodies rise as bloodthirsty undead. Before he grants their wish, Max asks why the vampires want Quinn, and learns that their master believes she has the knowledge to permanently remove one of his kind's weaknesses. Max then incinerates their corpses with fire bolts from his armor, and buries their ashes for the last time.

S@GP receive a call from the crew working on the Horizont, informing them that there has been more trouble at Black Fortress headquarters. Max decides to contact Quinn telepathically and learns that there is dissension in the Coalition-affiliated group's ranks, with several of their operatives having made an attempt on Master Sergeant Jesse John Ross' life. The psi-stalker is now in critical condition, but recovering, she says, and Max hypothesizes that the vampires mentally dominated several Black Fortress members when they attacked their base. Quinn is confident that she'll be safe as long as her brother, Brigadier Omar Espinoza, is with her. Max warns Quinn that she is in danger until he and his friends resolve the situation, and insists that "after this, we're done -- it has to be over, seriously." Quinn agrees, but implores Max to be careful, then ends the communication. Max sighs in frustration, and admits to his friends that the two have continued seeing each other in secret since "officially" breaking up at the power armor tournament (after the revelation that she was a member of Black Fortress).

The group then return to their headquarters to rest and equip themselves for the impending battle, having decided not to return to the farm until the appointed hour to prevent being spotted by the returning vampires. Our heroes load up on wooden stakes and silvered ammunition, and Max metamorphoses into an exact duplicate of Quinn Espinoza. Fay climbs onto the back of Valerie's Cyclone mecha-motorcycle and the group heads out, with Max-as-Quinn being flown to their destination, cradled in the arms of his own (telekinetically controlled) crystal armor. Almost immediately after leaving their base, S@GP are contacted by an excited Emerson Metry -- the crew working on Fay's ship has successfully detected two dimensional "blips" on the east side of Serendipity. Having little time to investigate, our heroes elect to continue to the farm, but en route, they receive another call from Metry. Two titans loyal to Arisis -- Nikomedes and Pelagia -- have arrived at Solutions' headquarters and want to help. S@GP ask the giant warriors to meet them at the Biggers compound.

As soon as they arrive at the farm, our heroes are confronted by "La Princessa", Alexis -- still occupying the body of their friend Arisis -- and her entire entourage, as well as a pack of vampires led by an armored, shadowy figure in a poncho and sombrero, perched atop the roof of the Biggers' home. Valerie finds that her electronic sensors are being jammed. Alexis mockingly congratulates S@GP for laying their traps, and for finding and eliminating the buried vampires-to-be. Fay responds that they've brought Quinn as asked, then demands that the Biggers family be released. The vampires, seemingly satisfied that Max is indeed Quinn, acquiesce, and soon enough the Biggers march out of their house. The master vampire then introduces himself as Inocente, and announces (in Spanish) that Quinn is "the key for a new life for the tribe of Muluc", accompanied by the howling of wolves. Max-as-Quinn raises a finger for silence, then draws the Sword of Baragor from the scabbard carried by his (empty) armor.

Inocente is momentarily taken aback. Before he can react, Fay opens fire upon him with a Wrightsmith-crafted shotgun loaned to her by Valerie (and loaded with silvered ammunition), blasting the vampire in the face. Inocente is more enraged than injured, and commands his progeny to attack, but they make little headway, as the titans Nikomedes and Pelagia arrive. Nikomedes holds most of the vampires at bay with a ward against the undead, a feat which S@GP have seen Arisis perform in the past. His companion, Pelagia, however, is quickly humiliated by Alexis' bruiser, Hamilton Ponchartrain. The short, stocky fighter incapacitates Pelagia with a devastating pair of leaping punches that the female titan proves incapable of withstanding, and she crumples to the ground soon after arriving on the field. Ponchartrain's employer, Alexis, proves less adept with physical combat, as she is noticeably uncomfortable with Arisis' giant frame. Valerie avoids her giant-sized attacks with little difficulty. Her teenage companions also evade their foes: Fay shrugs off an attempt on Inocente's part to control her mind, and when Joaquin Miranda tries to use his dream-powers to lull Max to sleep, he successfully resists.

Valerie's electronic jamming troubles come to a head when her Cyclone power armor suddenly shuts down, disabled remotely by the young hacker, Jack Spade. The skull-masked Horacio begins to weave a spell, and Max, seeing that Valerie is in trouble, begins to make his way towards her, shrugging off Alien Ahmed's attempt to telekinetically grapple him in the process. Still in the form of Quinn, Max mentally guides his armor out of the path of a blast aimed at it by the cyborg Remy, hoping the ruse that its empty shell contains himself holds. Several of Alexis' troupe seem to be biding their time, but one of the vampires stymied by Nikomedes tries to dominate Max's mind, which the mystic barely manages to fight off (invoking the Always There For Val quality was the only way I made the roll). Finally reaching his goal, Max lashes out at the Alexis-possessed Arisis, with the Sword of Baragor urging him on... and misses.