Alternate-Art Short Stories

By Josh "juicebox" Pseudonym, Smoker of KeyForge

(3/9/2020) Hock: An Alternate-Art Keyforge Story

By Josh "juicebox" Pseudonym, Smoker of KeyForge

“Come on, focus!” Selwyn cursed himself under his breath. Cold sweat started to bead up at his temples, dripping down the back of his neck. It was sweltering out, but still, his body jolted with a quick shiver, his purple skin going all gooseflesh. He’d done hundreds of jobs just like this, pinching artifacts from some of the darkest corners of the Crucible. In fact, his Routine Job was to snatch and sell. He was good at it. The thieving part was old hat. He’d been doing that since his Urchin days, reporting to Faygin each night for his supper rations. However, where Selwyn really earned his reputation was his uncanny knack for fencing the stolen goods, often back to their original owners for up to double their value. Sometimes stealing an artifact didn’t even require outright theft, like the time he bamboozled Mad Prophet Gizelhart for that Orb of Wonder for just two bits! Selwyn turned around and sold the Anomaly for a small fortune. Mack the Knife sang his praises every night for a hundred nights after that, calling it the hoodwink to end all hoodwinks.

With his profits, Selwyn invested in winning the hearts and minds of his fellow crew members with many a Special Delivery. On top of that, his roles in helping establish the crew’s Rigged Lottery system, pulling off The Sting, and scoring a Nightforge on the cheap cemented him as a deeply respected member of the company. Selwyn even earned the confidence of Deipno Spymaster, a coveted endorsement. Still, given the rough start he’d had in life, he could Trust No One, save possibly the affable Weasand. He kept the official’s pockets at the Customs Office well lined, which helped him avoid taking a hit when someone higher up made their next Pawn Sacrifice. All in all, Selwyn felt he had carved out a somewhat Safe Place for himself. He loved his work; the thrill of the Heist Night, the Swindle, the Master Plan coming together. But this job felt different. This time, he was to steal and destroy.

Ever since the Quixxle Stone had come onto the scene, it wasn’t just bad for business. It had brought their entire operation to a screeching halt. Selwyn hadn’t seen Faygin this upset since the time Fidgit got overeager and accidentally revealed an Unlocked Gateway, completely decimating Gamgee, Knuckles, Noddy, Magda, both Vinda sisters, and the Yantzee Gang in one fell swoop! Oh, and Penny too. Well, sort of. It was always "sort of" with Penny. Somehow, she managed to find a way back no matter what, over and over again. In any case, it was an utterly devastating setback; a real Sucker Punch to the gut. Old Bruno and the boys down at The Gambling Den got a good laugh out of that one, but The Shadow Council was none too pleased. It took a pretty hefty Sack of Coins from his Hidden Stash for Faygin to finally get back in their good graces. Even still, the old curmudgeon was checking his Mug for Bonerot Venom and watching his back for Whistling Darts for weeks on end.

Anyway, that story was one for the Dusk Chronicles. With the mess they were in now, everything stuck at a complete stand still, an Inky Gloom had settled over the entire company. Murkins, usually so eager to play his luck on the town, was sulking in his Hideaway Hole. Hugger Mugger was restless and miserable. Umbra was in much darker spirits than usual. Even Ruth was frowning, which is really saying something, since her incident involving the not so Subtle Maul. Relentless Whispers began circulating that this would be a Finishing Blow to all the hopes and dreams of their Furtive Investors. No Safety in Numbers, it was all up to him. He had to produce some Keyforgery.

Selwyn took a deep breath and adjusted the Ring of Invisibility on his finger. He pulled his Finch Cloak a little tighter and glanced one last time at his Treasure Map. Yep, he was in the right spot. He crept quietly, just along the outside of the cathedral wall. Tall stained-glass windows stood above him at attention, like spirit knights, ready to Smite him with a Blinding Light. What were the Grand Star Alliance thinking anyway, hiding their precious Quixxle Stone in a church? Probably something that blasted Yshi helped them set up. Fingers was always going on and on about that guy. “Gahhh!” Selwyn bit back his frustration. It hurt to think of her betrayal. He hated her for joining up with that annoyingly chipper space crew. She had been one of their best and brightest. A Duskrunner of the highest regard. It hurt even more that she was so cute. “Ah well, she made her choice,” Selwyn thought, trying to force her from his mind. He pressed on.

Skipping past the narthex and rounding the northwest edge of the cathedral tower, Selwyn made his way to the outer wall of the north facing transept, searching out the hidden passageway to the secret dungeon, marked with an Evasion Sigle by the Ghostly Hand of their Star Alliance Plant. Should things go wrong, Selwyn had his Seeker Needle and Guard Disguise at the ready, but he hoped it wouldn’t come to that. The stakes were so high, there had been plenty of suggestions from the rest of the crew for how he should go about tackling what, if he screwed up, would ultimately be his One Last Job.

Everyone had their pet idea. While Symon talked disguises or employing the use of a Shadow Self, Nexus could not shut up about exploiting a Speed Sigil to set up an elaborate Bait and Switch. Manchego blathered on about Shard of Greed this and Key of Darkness that, as Redlock talked about using a Booby Trap of some kind, preferably a Spike Trap. Scowly pressed his Imperial Traitor philosophy, and good old Ronnie spoke wistfully about the Pestering Blow of a well-timed Kymoor Eclipse. Bulleteye predictably propositioned luring the guards away before turning on them and picking them off one by one, joking that their final thought would be, “Oh no!! Am I the Hunter or Hunted?” Meanwhile, Sneklifter had a lot of practical experience to offer in the area of artifact snatching, but the Quixxle Stone was Too Much to Protect. Theft alone was not going to be enough.

Tensions in the meeting really began to escalate when Brend got on one of his fanatical soap boxes, touting his radical ideology to go out in a massive blaze of sacrificial splendor and glory! Selwyn, however, was not interested in some kind of Life for a Life situation. He was old school, and he preferred to be in and out like a Silent Dagger. At the end of the night, the meeting finally fell apart completely when Mooncurser, who everyone was more than a little afraid of, ended up creating a Lethal Distraction by letting a Macis Asp loose right in the middle of their huddle. Everyone scattered. At lease the venomous creature wolfed down a Plague Rat or two before Carlo and Lamindra were able to beat it back with a Poison Wave and some Throwing Stars. Finally, Silvertooth nabbed the beast with a Subtle Chain and Little Niff, of all precious souls, managed to crush its head under the weight of The Quiet Anvil. It was Lights Out for the serpent, and for the meeting too. Selwyn let the Perplexing Sophistry of the swirl of opinions and ideas fizzle to a dull Whisper. He would do it his way.

Tiptoeing past some strategically placed Longfused Mines outside the cathedral wall, he finally found the hidden entrance to the Oubliette, made quick use of his Skeleton Key, and slipped in quietly under the foundations of stone. A noxious Miasma from the bowels of the underground crypt filled the air, and Selywn speedily navigated the dank passageway, finding the trap door which brought him up into the massive cathedral proper where the nave and crossing converged. Jackpot! He could almost feel the Quixxle Stone buzzing behind the thick sheets of the metal vault, its rumored pink æmber hue waiting patiently to illuminate the archways of the cathedral crossing above. So far so good. This was shaping up to be one of those Hit and Run jobs Breaker Hill and the Chain Gang loved to hear him talk about over a pint or two after a hard night’s work.

Selwyn approached the vault with care. Slowly, slowly, he activated his quantum tunneling sleeve and gradually penetrated the side of the box, left arm sliding in between the particles of the strong metal sheeting. He always loved this part. The smile on his face was illuminated by a warm blue light that broke up the shadows around him with an impressive glow. He felt for the cut stone, and for a second, his heart skipped. Where was it? Emptiness?! How could this be? Did their house Plant network feed him misinformation? This was not happening!! But wait…

He swallowed a wave of panic and felt again, this time, finding a delicate square seam hemmed into a false bottom inside the vault. A secret compartment! Of course. A vault within a vault. “Ha! Good one,” Selwyn thought, as he popped open the compartment and found the treasure inside. Relief flooded him as his hand closed around the precious object. He made a wish, and… Boom! The Quixxle Stone was no more. A simple Nerve Blast was all it took to destroy the wretched artifact. He could feel the force of a dam breaking. His crew was back in business. It was time to rush home, Into the Night, to celebrate in the Shadows.

- Josh "juicebox" Pseudonym, Smoker of KeyForge

Author’s Note: Inspired by FFG’s alternate art offerings as part of their Leader of the Pack quarterly prize support initiative, I thought, “If FFG can produce cards with alternate art, why can’t I produce some alternate lore to accompany the madness?” And an idea for a series of short stories was born. As I began writing Hock, I couldn’t help referencing various Shadows cards as I went along. It felt like a very KeyForge kind of thing to do, you know, out of respect for the Archons and their makers. As more and more references began creeping into the story, a rather absurd idea began to emerge in my mind. Could I somehow work in a reference to every single Shadows card produced to date (from Call of the Archons, Age of Ascension, and World’s Collide)? That also felt like a ridiculously KeyForge thing to try, and so I foolishly set about taking up the challenge. I hope you enjoyed the ride. Did you find all the references? Hock was first on the list of alternate art cards in the series, with Unsuspecting Prey and Axiom of Grisk to follow. Will there be more alternate art cards produced? Who knows? Will I attempt to include references to all of the Untamed and Saurian cards in my next two alternate art KeyForge stories? Time will tell. For future alternate art KeyForge stories, keep an eye out at an Epic Quest Adventure Log near you.