Episode 33: 10/31/10
Ashelia Raminas, elf ranger 6/rogue 3
Nineve, human knight/9
Xicar, human cleric 7/entropomancer 2
After the party is over, we reunite with 31E and Dog and gather our belongings. The Palace guards escort us through the great gilded doors of the Silverspire, and out onto a wide terrace overlooking the snow-frosted and foggy city far below. Fog is everywhere. Fog along the river, where it glows orange, lit by streetlamps; fog rolls among the tiers of towers and tenements , and the polluted streets of a great and dirty city.
A short distance ahead is a sort of staging area for small, personal airships. A few seem to be available for hire, but most are elegant and ornate affairs that are certainly the private conveyances of wealthy individuals. After a brief discussion with the airman, we board a small airship. It begins its decent toward Dura, and the
Tower Macabre far below. The airship resembles a cross between a carriage and a longboat, with a comfortably appointed cabin. Outside we can see the fog-enshrouded city growing slowly nearer as we descend.
Suddenly, the airship lurches alarmingly, free-falling for a few heart-stopping seconds before returning to its previous controlled descent. Outside the cabin the airman begins shouting, obviously frightened by the strange turn of events. That's not a good sign!
The airman explains that occasionally the magic that suspends an airships fails, but it’s really rare. We press him about emergency procedures, you know, just in case. He tells us that normally he carries a supply of Tokens of Featherfall, but most of his went “missing” and he never replaced them. He currently has 2. He insists on keeping one for himself, but that only leaves 1 for all of us! As we're arguing with him about it, the airship simply begins falling. The sudden roar of rushing air is nearly deafening as the airship lists to one side, pitching us into empty space over the great city!
Nineve begins gently floating downward. I hear Xicar casting Air Walk and I quickly lose sight of them both as a bright flash catches the small part of my brain that isn't wholly consumed with the rapid approach of the unforgiving ground. A blinding bolt of energy leaps from the strange bronze canister, striking Haroldur in the back, and he stops plummeting! The intricate metal wings he has worn for so long have somehow become a pair of broad and graceful white-feathered wings! Lucky bastard.
Clutching a very tense Dog close to my chest, I turn my attention back to my impending doom. I know there's no way I'll survive the fall, but I begin to brace for impact anyway. Suddenly, I feel someone grab me from behind - It's Haroldur! With the combined weight of all three of us, he can't completely control our descent, but his powerful new wings turn a lethal plummet into a tumble we all walk away from with not so much as a sprained ankle. I'm not sure I've ever been so relieved to see him, and with our history, that's saying a lot!
We land roughly on street level and collect ourselves. Surprisingly, we managed to avoid being scattered too widely. After a few moments, Nineve and the airman touch down nearby - the airman wisely takes off at a sprint. Xicar finishes his descent down the AirStairs a few seconds later, breathing heavily from the excitement and exertion. However, there is no sign of 31E anywhere. Above us, we hear a faint whistling that rapidly grows louder. Looking up, we see a golden object tumbling out of the sky toward us! It strikes the pavement near us with a tremendous crash, throwing stone and dirt high into the air, along with a blinding shower of… rose petals of all things.
As the dust settles we recognize the familiar shape of the bronze canister we recovered from the Starry Mirror half-buried at the bottom of a shallow crater. As I climb down to retrieve it, I realize with a sinking feeling that 31E might well be in pieces at the bottom of a similar crater. Suddenly, I notice that my companions have turned away from my rescue effort. I grab the canister and vault over the lip of the crater to see 31E approaching! He's holding a feather token! He explains he found the "curious object" under his seat and was examining it when the airship malfunctioned. We're all thrilled to see him in one piece.
It is now very late at night, and there's no way we can make it back to the Cabal at this hour. We'll need to find a place to stay for the night. We’ll be unable to leave our current district (wherever that may be) until morning anyway.
I use my extensive local knowledge to lead us to the Duck and Goose, a six-story tower converted into an inn and tavern. We raise the sleepy innkeeper, who lets us two rooms. Nineve somehow intimidates him into providing us with hot baths in the middle of the night. We clean up and go to sleep.
A little while later, I'm pulled from my trance by a loud noise. Nineve is awake and bleeding from the head, and the Ulolock is rolling slightly on the uneven floor. It must've somehow fallen and hit her on the head. Then I notice something else that's strange...the inn is on fire! We wake the men and make our way out of the inn, and find that the rest of the staff and guests are also fleeing the burning building. We step outside just as part of the inn collapses and the fire rages out of control. We work with the innkeeper and other citizens to put out the blaze. Hours later the fire is extinguished with little damage to nearby buildings. Thin fingers of grey stretch across the sky, heralding the coming dawn. Just before we leave, I sift the ruins of the inn:
I see a cook loading the stove, knocking some coals onto the floor. Then a scullery maid accidentally sweeps a large coal through a doorway, where a boot just like Xicar’s kicks it down a stairwell to land in a pile of straw. It smolders for some time, before bursting into flames.
My companions are curious. I dust the ash from my hands and shoot Xicar a look, but chose not to share my findings with the innkeeper.
As we start for home, Haroldur calls an informal meeting which turns into a minor argument. He points out that we've had nothing but trouble lately: the airship's failure, the fire at the inn, and blames our misfortune on the Ulolock. He thinks we should get rid of it or leave it here, because it's too dangerous to take with us back to the Cabal. Nineve agrees, rubbing the large knot on her forehead. I point out that the Ulolock has saved our lives twice, once by giving him wings (which, disappointingly, have turned back into his familiar mechanical accessory overnight), and once by waking us up, which alerted us to the fire. Furthermore, if the canister really is dangerous, leaving it anywhere but the Cabal would be completely irresponsible. No one seems to have a retort for this, so we continue on with the Ulolock in tow.
As a foggy dawn breaks and the legitimate portions of Istivin wake, we begin the last leg of our journey home. Before we really have an opportunity to look for a hire carriage, one drops its first hire of the day directly across the street. As the wealthy-looking passenger disembarks, the driver glances toward us and indicates that his carriage is now available.
As Xicar finds a seat within the carriage, he sits upon something wedged between the cushions. He finds an unmarked coin pouch with a handful of coins within. A quick count reveals 40 platinum pieces! We glance about for the carriage's previous occupant, but he's already gone. Xicar shrugs and happily tucks the pouch into his pack.
A short while later a loud crack interrupts our journey. The carriage lurches violently, nearly throwing a couple of us from our seats and comes to an abrupt halt. The driver quickly explains that one of the coach’s wheels has broken, and
he’ll be unable to take us any further. He apologizes excessively for the inconvenience.
Back out on the street, it takes us a few minutes to secure a new coach, but soon enough we are under way again. The coach continues for several hours uneventfully, as I reflect upon the relative peace of Istivin. A panicked shout disturbs my reverie.
A moment later the coach is full of dust and noise as something large crashes through the roof into the passenger compartment! The coach comes to an immediate stop. After a second or two, we determine that a worker has somehow fallen from his perch on a ladder far above the street, and into our carriage! Lucky for him, the coach broke his fall, and he is completely unhurt, although a little shaken.
The startled driver explains that he will be unable to continue your journey. He apologizes for the inconvenience.
As we make our way towards Dura on foot for a while through the crowded and foggy streets, we are once again interrupted. A young man rushes up to us, carrying on at some length about his day-long search for a Greycloak such as ourselves. He explains that recently, the Cabal helped him sort out a tangled legal affair involving his inheritance. Extremely grateful, he has been searching for a Greycloak to whom he can pay the legal fee. Luckily, we came along when we did. Unfortunately he knows nothing about the Cabal member who aided him, but he seems sure we can
locate them. He hands Haroldur a small pouch containing several gems, and seems content that that should cover the fee.
A quick count values the gems at about 1,200gp!
The young man shakes hands with all of us vigorously, and turns to leave. As he is crossing the street, he turns to wave to us, again shouting his thanks. Tragically, he doesn’t see the heavily loaded wagon that plows into him before any of us can react, despite the driver’s attempt to halt his draft team. After doing what we can to help clean up the mess, we continue on our journey.
The remainder of the trip back to the Cabal can only be described as strange. Several more peculiar and unlikely events punctuate the bizarre journey home. Needless to say it takes far longer than it should, but eventually we make our
way through the long rows of mausoleums that encircle our home, and arrive at the Tower Macabre.
When we arrive it is late evening, but the familiar faces of Legionnaires and acolytes greet us warmly. Apparently Marten has told the Cabal staff to expect our return. We are shown to our old chambers; although spartan, they are familiar and comfortable. Clean clothes and a simple meal awaits each of us, as well as a note from Mossad requesting a word once we’ve settled in. Dog jumps onto my bed, turns around a few times, and immediately falls asleep. It's not a bad idea.
I take a long, relaxing bath, thoroughly soaking the dust, sweat, blood, and grime from my hair and body for the first time in months. Why is it the road to adventure is never lined with saunas and spas? I'm not given to vanity, but I revel in the thought that good personal hygiene is once again a luxury I can afford.
I slip into clean clothes, climb into bed around the immovable weight of Dog, and drift into a deep, restful trance.
In the morning, we visit Mossad. Though normally quiet and reserved, he is clearly happy to see us. Mossad’s office is covered with maps of Istivin. Each is marked in red with circles and numbers, although what they indicate isn’t clear. We inquire, and Mossad explains that there have been a couple outbreaks of undead throughout the city. At first they seemed unrelated, but the increasing severity of the outbreaks has raised concerns. Also, the alchemical nature of the undead in each of the outbreaks provided a common thread.
The first outbreak, which happened over two months ago, wasn’t very bad. There were less than 200 casualties. Most were simply killed by the rampant undead, but a few awakened as undead and continued the outbreak for a short time before it burned itself out.
A little over a month ago there was another outbreak. This one was worse. With the help of several other Churches, the outbreak was controlled after several days, but with nearly 1000 casualties. Many of the victims rose as undead to spread the problem, more than with the previous outbreak, but most of the victims were simply killed. The undead were mindless, like zombies, but quicker, and dripping with caustic alchemical fluids.
We get the feeling we've seen something like this before. Our thoughts turn to Filge as Mossad drops the subject and asks us about our long travels. We give an informal explanation, trying to hit the important highlights without taking all of his time. We leave out the part about Lazare turning into a copper dragon...
Mossad tells us that Marten is already expecting a full formal report of our actions since leaving the Cabal nearly 3 months ago, and notes that he'll be glad to have 31E returned.
We show him the Rod of Lawsome and the Uloloch. Mossad is impressed and intrigued by the Rod Fragment, and handles it reverentially. However, he is visibly concerned about the Ulolok, and recommends speaking to Advocat about it.
Mossad also jokes with us about the incident at the palace and the play we put on, asking that we perform it one day for the members of the Cabal. We politely decline.
As we are about to leave, our attention is once again drawn to the maps of the recent outbreaks. Xicar brings up the name which has been on all our minds: Filge. Mossad gets up, and gesturing with his remaining hand, leads us out of his office. He guides us to a portion of the Tower that we have rarely had reason to visit: the Feeble Rooms.
Within, dozens slack jawed men and women stare at us with blank eyes as Mossad leads us onward. Here and there an acolyte will occasionally wipe drool from a chin, or carefully spoon food into the open mouth of one of the pitiful wretches. As I suppress a chill, Mossad explains that we are walking among some of the most dangerous and notorious necromancers in Caledon. That they no longer have the power to harm is a blessing of the Lady.
With a dismissive gesture he indicates Tares, the young acolyte we captured in Diamond Lake so long ago. Curious, I look at him intently. The change which strikes me most is in his eyes: where there was once a bright, hard gleam reflecting madness, desperation and hate, there is now nothing. Looking into his eyes is like looking into an empty grey fog. I feel myself begin to pity him, and immediately stiffen. I force myself to recall his undead horrors, the Caller-in-Darkness which he was protecting, and to imagine the terror and suffering he would have unleashed on the world if given the chance. I turn away from him abruptly, as one would from a discarded object, and continue down the corridor.
A little further, Mossad stops before another of the drooling, mindless animals, and turns to us expectantly. It takes a second, but recognition dawns on us. Sitting before us, staring blankly off into space is Filge, the necromancer who plagued our early steps as Greycloaks.
Mossad tells us he was captured shortly after we left Istivin. The Church had a Seeker infiltrate what was left of Filge’s organization. It is suspected that Filge turned our agent against the Cabal, or killed him, but not before we got what we needed to trap him.
He was convicted, and his sentence carried out. He’s been here for nearly 3 months.
We thank Mossad for the tour, and take our leave.
In need of a lift, we decide to check in with Hezzrak. He isn’t in his small chamber when we arrive to speak with him. Life seems to be going well for the conniving little devil, however. Ostentatious displays of wealth are everywhere within the small room. Suddenly and with great fanfare, an opulently dressed but grubby young man steps into the chamber carrying a diminutive golden
throne atop a glittering miniature platform. Wrapped in lavish finery, Hezzrak glares at us contemptuously and gestures with a jeweled scepter for his porter to bring him closer.
Hezzrak can’t keep up the charade for long. Soon he breaks into gales of impish laughter, tumbles off of his throne, and tries to catch himself with his wings. They get tangled in his miniature cape and he falls to the floor with a smack. We try to suppress our laughter. He continues cackling madly until his porter reaches down to place him back upon his platform. “Don’t touch me, urchin!” the little devil snarls as he bats at the boy's hand.
Smiling, he starts chattering to us as he climbs back up onto his seat. "It sure is good to see you again. Things haven’t been dull since you left, but they’re bound to be much much more exciting now that you’ve returned!" Proudly gesturing at the lavish, gaudy surroundings, Hezzrak explains that he and Advocat have collaborated and created a lucrative trade in information ("And the occasional soul!" he whispers). He has contacts throughout the city, and so long as he gives Marten a 40% cut, the Cabal doesn’t get in his way.
We take a few moments to collectively grumble about Marten and insult his parentage. Then Ninenve, whom some might consider a connoisseur of enslaved help, gestures to the ridiculous footman and says "Who's the kid?"
Hezzrak explains that the “urchin” is his familiar. He decided that someone as mighty as Hezzrak the Shadowmaster (I raise an eyebrow) needed a loyal servant, and what is more loyal than a familiar? He cast the spell, and this street
urchin turned up. Hezzrak seems to find this quite fitting and begins muttering and cackling to himself about human wizards having imp familiars, and how he's shown them! We excuse ourselves and make our way to Dr. Morgus's lab.
The doctor is in and grumpy as ever. For a change, the lab seems to be focused on a single pursuit. The corpses of several humans lie in various stated of dissection, and the rest of the Doctor’s experiments seem to have been pushed into one corner. Dr. Morgus barely acknowledges our presence, and indicates that unless we have something important (or very interesting) to discuss, he really has essential work to get back to. I hand over our vials of Nineve-eating Cthulu goo samples from the Nexxus. He actually looks at them before shooing us out of his lab to continue his work. As we're opening the door to leave, he mutters that he might be able to actually study those "interesting new samples" if Marten would back off and give him some breathing room.
It's late afternoon when we decide to drop in on Tamclar. He grins widely and hugs our knees in the crushing embrace only a dwarf is capable of, and we all laugh and exchange greetings. Despite the happy reunion, Tamclar has changed since we last saw him, and not for the better. The left side of his face is badly scarred, and his left eye is cloudy and sightless. Tamclar also seems more care-worn, like he has aged decades in the 3 months since our parting. Something seems to be troubling him.
Tamclar explains that he got most of the people out of Diamond Lake safely, and had them scatter in small groups throughout the countryside to escape the dragon. His group was briefly attacked by the dragon, and he fell in the skirmish. Some of the townsfolk carried him to safety, and somehow he survived, but not unscathed.
While he was unconscious he had a vision of Wee Jas which he credits with his survival. Since then he has dedicated himself fully to the Cabal, and wholly embraced their teachings.
We chat about our adventures for a time, and eventually work around to If asked about what’s troubling him, Tamclar asks that the party come speak with him once they’ve ‘made the rounds’ and settled back in to life in the Cabal.
After dinner, we are asked to surrender the Rod and Uloloch to the safekeeping of the vault. Haroldur is bereft at the loss of his favorite accessory, so we leave him to pine for it alone.
The next morning, we are summoned to Marten. He greets us coolly, and then expresses interest in reading our complete report, especially the part that explains how we ended up on stage at the Prince’s celebration. Gods, he's such a douche.
Then, adopting his usual haughty manner, he says "About the Uloloch, I’ve spoken to Advocat and Mossad about that, and the Rod. It disturbs me that they fell unheralded
from the sky into your hands. You have been rather foolish to bring something so powerful into this place. At least together they seem to conceal each other in a way." He holds up his hand, dismissing any further discussion of the topic.
"Additionally, I expect your report within a week. When you are not compiling your account, I expect you to confine yourselves to the Chapel, and meditate upon your departures from the Ruby Lady’s teachings. I sense that the seeds of Chaos have taken root within each of you." He waves his hand dismissively and turns his attention back to the papers on his desk. As we're leaving, I mention Dr. Morgus' unusually organized and focused lab. I toss in that he seemed overworked when we spoke yesterday, and hint that pushing an unstable personality like Morgus can backfire if not handled delicately. Marten responds with a non-committal "Hmph". We leave, each of us fighting a mental battle to contain our seething hatred for the pompous ass.
At Haroldur's request, we head to Mossad to ask about the Rod (and the Uloloch). Mossad tells us the Legionnaires have secured the canister and the Rod in the Cabal’s vault for the time being. He says that according to Advocat, it is a battery, storing vast amounts of chaotic energy and influencing events around it. The Ulolok could prove devastating in a large city like Istivin. It seems to be stabilized somewhat by the presence of the Rod fragment. For the time being, they should remain in close proximity. He firmly adds "In the Cabal’s vaults" with an emphatic glance towards Haroldur, who looks positively crestfallen.
In the hall, we run into Arrad. His scarred face contorts itself into a rare smile as he stops to greet us. He seems genuinely pleased that the rumors of our disappearance were exaggerated, and makes it a point to observe that he was confident in our safe return as long as we have Nineve at our side. He mentions
that if we get time, he would be happy to train with the party, and see if we’ve learned any new tricks. He adds he might also show us a few tricks of his own, if we're up to snuff.
We settle into Cabal life, writing our reports, meditating in the Chapel. 31E retires to a storage room and asks to be left alone while he "runs internal processes". We even preside over a funeral, and for once, NOTHING HAPPENS!
One morning at breakfast, a junior acolyte informs us that Mossad would like a word with us in his office.
Mossad greets us warmly, but immediately gets down to business, occasionally pausing to take a bite from a tray of glazed cinnamon rolls on his desk. “You handled that funeral well, but there’s no rest for the weary. A local tax collector by the name of Blinder, was found dead yesterday evening, a hazard of the profession, I’m afraid.” Mossad pauses for another bite, then continues, “Evidently he left 3 children, and no mother. With his profession being a rather unpopular one, his children are at a considerable disadvantage.” Mossad seems somewhat troubled as he
continues, “The man was necessary, and did no harm through his trade. Taxes, though evil, are a necessity, and he maintained his children with his wages. I would like you to go to his residence and look in on his children, and make sure they are being cared for.”
Following Mossad’s directions, we soon arrive at the base of a run-down tenement tower in one of Dura’s poorer areas. Upon going to the entry and ringing the bell, a very ugly young boy comes out of a sort of office, and looks at us over a
spiked fence. “What do you want?” says the boy, fitting his chin between two of the spikes.
We start politely, inquiring after the childrens' address, but the boy is being unnecessarily evasive and difficult. It's not long before Nineve loses her patience with the brat, roaring at him that if he doesn't cooperate, she will teach him to know fear. He wets himself and gives us directions.
As we step into what passes for the tenement’s lobby, an unpleasant-looking woman with a case of dropsy or asthma or perhaps both gestures us over. “Whatcha want?” she asks, rather rudely. She suddenly seems to notice our dress and markings, and looks startled. “Oh, begging your pardon!” she says, then leans forward conspiratorially, “Has someone died? No one’s told me, I assure you.”
We ask her about Blinder and his children. She seems to relish her momentary usefulness and chatters on "Blinder? Neckett Blinder? His children? Yes, 3 of them, if you please. Five floors up, #7 on the left, opposite the stairs.” She slides a key across the counter, and looks at us expectantly. Xicar picks up the key, flashes one of his trademark megawatt smiles, and we head up the rickety stairs.
When we reach the second floor, we find that we’ve disturbed a man who was standing there, looking out of his room. “Is it Gridley that’s wanted?” he says, fixing his eyes on us with an angry stare. He is a tall, sallow man with a careworn head on which little hair remains, a deeply lined face, and prominent eyes. He has a combative look and a large and powerful build, though evidently in its decline. He blocks our path up the stairwell, and shows no sign of moving as he fixes the same angry stare on each of us in succession.
We spend a few minutes explaining our business, with Xicar attempting to placate the old codger, but without much success. This man is impossible! I could slip past him, but he'd still be a problem for everyone else. Just as Old Man Gridley starts in on yet another rant, Nineve steps up to him, a shade too close. In a quiet, even tone she explains that as Greycloaks, we help people complete their journey to the Ruby Lady. And sometimes, we help them start it, too. Gridley seems suddenly aware of the contrast between Nineve's imposing form and shining full plate, and the thin rags clinging to his aging body. Squinting at us, he tightens his grip on the moth-eaten blanket wrapped around his shoulders, and then turns into his apartment and slams the door.
When we come to the correct door and knock, a little shrill voice inside says, “We are locked in, the Land Lady’s got the key!” Xicar unlocks it.
Inside is a poor room with a low ceiling and containing very little furniture. A mite of a boy, some five or six years old stands near the door nursing and hushing a heavy child of about eighteen months. There is no fire, though the weather is cold; both children are wrapped in some poor shawls and blankets. Their clothing is not so warm that their noses are not red and pinched, and their small figures shiver occasionally.
We swiftly learn a few relevant facts. The boy’s name is Tom, the little girl’s name is Emma. "Charley", apparently also called Charlotte and presumably the third orphan, has locked them in the room. Also, Charley is out "a-washing".
Just then, there comes into the room a very little girl, childish in figure but shrewd and older-looking in the face, drying her bare arms on a womanly sort of apron. Her fingers are white and wrinkled with washing, and here and there some
soap-suds are yet smoking in the cold air. Apparently she had come running from some place in the neighborhood, and had made all the haste she could. Consequently she is out of breath, and cannot speak at first, as she stands panting, wiping her arms, and looking quietly at you. The small child in the boy’s care stretches its arms and cries out to be taken by Charley. The girl takes the small bundle in a womanly sort of manner, and stands looking at us over the burden that clings to her most affectionately.
Once Charley has recovered from her dash up the stairs, we question her as well. She goes out washing as often as she can, and proudly states that she "earns six copper a day!" She says she comes back when she can, and Tom doesn’t mind being locked in. Tom nods emphatically in agreement. Charley tells us also that Mr. Gridley and the landlady check in on them (Tom & Emma) when she's out.
Charley sits on one of the unsteady chairs, and soon Tom lays his face among the scanty folds of her dress and passes from smiling to crying quietly. While Tom cries, although she sits quite tranquilly, looking quietly at us, not disturbing
a hair of the head of either of her little charges, several silent tears fall down her face.
Panting and gasping, the landlady bursts into the crowded room. “Really, it weren’t much to forgive them the rent, sirs. Who could take it from them?” She leans in the doorway, regaining her heavy breath by painful degrees.
It is obvious to me that we can't leave these children here. The spartan room is without light, heat, or food. It is obvious young Charley, whom I estimate to be about 10, cannot continue the pace she has set for herself, and even if she could, six copper a day is not a sufficient income to provide for three people. The drafty room is uncomfortably cold. With the approach of winter, I doubt the two younger children could survive the environmental conditions, even if they had enough food, which they don't. I make this case to my companions, who are at first disinclined to intervene. I point out that prisoners are treated better, and express my astonishment that humans take such poor care of their young. No wonder they're so short-lived!
At last, their guilt pushes them to action. As it's getting quite late, we decide to take the children back to the Cabal for the evening and figure out more permanent arrangements later. Xicar carries Emma, and I distract Charley and Tom from a potentially scary situation by pointing out tracks and telling them stories on our walk back to the Cabal.
The acolytes who greet us express reluctance to take the children in. We explain that it's just for one night, and we will personally see to other arrangements for them in the morning. We see the children to a simple guest room and put them in the charge of a matronly acolyte. I instruct her to ensure they are bathed and well-fed this evening, and to watch over them and tend to their further needs, if any.
Before retiring to our chambers, we drop in on Mossad and bring him up to speed. He's not happy we brought them here, as the Cabal is no place for children, but understands that we were doing the best we could under the circumstances.
In the morning, I use my encyclopedic knowledge of the area to locate a reputable orphanage. We take the orphans with us to check the place out. The place is well-built and clean (though worn), and the proprietress is a plump, cheery looking woman with curly red hair and rosy cheeks. She was obviously born to work with children. She greets us skeptically (people tend to get intimidated when a squad of Greycloaks in full regalia drop in unexpectedly), but relaxes a bit when she notices the children. We have her show us around the place, which she does with pride. It is obviously a well-run operation. The children in her care are healthy, happy and clean. She speaks at length about the "betterment program", under which the older children learn skills or trades of their choosing, so that they may be be prepared to make a life for themselves outside the orphanage.
Xicar asks Charley and Tom if they would like to stay here instead of going back to their old apartment. They enthusiastically agree and beg us to let them stay in the orphanage. With the children agreeable, we enter negotiations with the proprietress. She takes some convincing, but after a compassionate speech from Xicar and some bombastic religiosity from Nineve, she agrees to take them in. We see the children settled in and the proprietress shows us out. As thanks, and to defray the costs of their care, I donate 30 pp to the orphanage from party funds.
As we turn down a deserted alley on the way back to the Cabal, Zolara appears!
Nineve - The Wax Works
Ashe - The Desert
Xicar - The Brass Dwarf
The Theater The Lost The Brass Dwarf
The Tangled Brier The Owl The Sickness
The Eclipse The Beating The Uprising
"The Theater represents both your position in the greater scheme of things, and your recent moment of triumph on stage. Although Lost for a time with in the Tangled Brier, you have emerged, with new knowledge and hope for the future, despite the dangers you may never really forget. The Eclipse reveals self-doubt and loss of purpose. It also represents losing one's way along a path. The Eclipse overshadows your most difficult trials, but thus far you have overcome ever one.
"Here, the Lost has finally been made whole, although now he is lost in a different way. For him, the word makes no sense. The Owl represents the harsh reality of the natural order. The Owl's needle binds life together, but can just as easily pick it apart. It is a card of life and death. The Beating warns of coming under attack from all sides, but also indicates the dissolution of a greater whole. Strength - no matter the source - dissolves under the relentless attack.
"The Brass Dwarf represents surviving a grave danger. He also warns of a possible dark fate for one, which may save others from danger. The Sickness warns of corruption, in this case of a multitude of souls, and is influenced by the Uprising. The Uprising represents a powerful force of overwhelming strength, that if not brought under control could spell disaster, especially being under the influence of the Sickness. I fear a terrible riot of plague looms in your futures."
On that cheerful note, we stop by Tamclar's house and invite him out for a drink. We get settled with our cups, and Tamclar tells us that he has a personal matter that has been distracting him lately. “I never spoke to you about my life before we met in Kolbenborg. I moved there to escape my past.” Tamclar rolls up his sleeves to reveal two tattoos: one a pair of crossed claw-hammers, the other, the dwarven characters HFLLFH.
Xicar recognizes the tattoos. The hammers indicate membership in the notoriously violent dwarven syndicate the Hammerheads. Infamous for numerous criminal activities in predominately dwarven lands, the Hammerheads have a presence in most cities with a significant dwarf population, especially among the underprivileged in dwarven communities. The runes stand for “Hammerheads For Life, Life For Hammerheads.”
Tamclar continues “I made a name for myself in the Hammerheads; that was when I was a lot younger. Then I got married, and had a son. I decided it was time to get out. I left the Hammerheads quietly, and settled in Kolbenburg, made a living as a miner. Things weren’t great, but we got by. Then my wife took ill. Later the goblins came, and you know most of the rest. A lot of the survivors of Diamond Lake made their way to Istivin, and I, uh, became something of a local hero in the community."
Attracting attention to himself was the last thing Tamclar ever wanted to do. He worries that his unintentional notoriety will put him back on the mafia's radar. Nothing's happened yet, but he wanted to come clean about his past and voice his present concerns. We tell him we've got his back, and head back to the Cabal after finishing our drinks.
The next day, Mossad calls us into his office. He greets us warmly, but immediately gets down to business, occasionally pausing to take a bite from a tray of cookies and dried fruit on his desk. “From your report, the situation with the tax collector’s children was a rather difficult one. I’m glad you handled it so well."
Mossad pauses to select a cookie from his tray before continuing, “A wealthy patron of the Cabal contacted me. It seems she has a servant that has failed to report for
her duties for several days now. She fears the worst, and would like the body collected and laid to rest appropriately. Here’s the address, and name. Try to be quick about this one; I’ve got more for you after lunch.”
The carriage drops us off several blocks from Mossad’s address, at the edge of a particularly poor slum. A street urchin, in exchange for a silver piece, guides us to the houses we seek. It is one of a cluster of wretched multi-story hovels, with cramped pigsties close to the broken windows and sad little gardens near the doors growing nothing but stagnant puddles. At the doors and windows some men and women lounge or prowl about, and take little notice of us, except to laugh to one another or to say something as we pass about gentle folk minding their own business and not
muddying their boots with coming to look into other people's.
The urchin guides us to a three story cottage at the farthest corner. The door squeals loudly as our group nearly fills the otherwise empty ground-floor room. The room is surprisingly dark, barely illuminated by the light from the doorway. The damp weather has reduced the floor to a sticky morass of smelly mud. The building is silent, except for the creak of floorboards above us. The whole pace smells foul; it’s not a scent we can put our fingers on, but it’s definitely unpleasant. I hear the faint sound of dripping water from somewhere above us.
The stairs creak loudly as we climb them. Near the top of the stairs, something black scuttles out of the shadows and races across the floor! Nineve startles a little, but I notice it’s just a rat. It’s got something in its mouth, but I can’t tell what it is. A strange, flickering light, like that of guttering candles, leaks out into the hall from a door only slightly ajar. The foul smell is stronger here, and we can clearly hear the sounds of dripping water.
We go through the door into the room. Besides ourselves, there are in this damp, offensive room a woman with a black eye, holding a little bundled baby by the fire; a man, all stained with mud and clay, lying at full length on the ground, smoking pipe; a powerful young man fastening a collar on a dog; and a girl doing some kind of washing in very dirty water. They all look up at us as we come in, and the woman seems to turn her face towards the fire as if to hide her bruised eye; nobody gives us any welcome. “There ain’t,” growls the man on the floor, “any more of you to come in, is there?” A pause. "Because I thought there weren’t enough of you, perhaps?” This elicits laughter from the man and the washing girl. The young man with the dog echoes the laughter noisily.
Nineve "Ahems" loudly. The sprawled man says "So what is it you want with us, other than crowding our cozy abode, that is?" Using as few words as possible, we explain we are inqiring after a missing servant girl. He answers, “Her? Ha! I been drunk for 3 days, and I’da been drunk for four if I’da had the money. She’s been here ta whole time. That’s her, by the fire. And how did she get that black eye? Why, I give it her; and if she says I didn’t, she’s a-lying!” We're a little taken aback by this, and stand in stunned silence for a moment at the candidness of this drunken lout.
Impatiently, he continues "I suppose you’re done now? You’ve done what you came for, its time you went." This seems pretty reasonable. Nineve tells the servant she should report back to work or send word to her employer. As we turn to leave, I glance at the child held by the woman near the fire. She only looks at it
as it lays on her lap, and she moves to cover her discolored eye with her hand when she feels my eyes upon her. I notice with a shock of dismay that the little baby is quite dead, and has been for some time.
The woman meets my gaze and she knows I know. At first she stares at me in astonishment, and then bursts into tears.
This is clearly the reason for the servant’s absence. She refuses to relinquish the deceased infant, or accept its pitiful fate. Perhaps we can help her move on with her life, as well as provide the child with a proper burial. Strangely, the rest of the family, particularly the abrasive man still lying on the floor, are silent as I speak to the woman by the fire. The others quickly realize the situation and join me.
I visit with the woman for a few moments, gaining a little insight into her misery. I learn that her name is Jenny, and this is the 4th infant she has lost.
Xicar carefully explains to the woman, and the rest of the family, the gravity of the situation, and the importance of moving on, and letting go. He finds a particularly moving passage in the White Book to relay to the woman and her family. They seem to find the words of Wee Jas especially comforting in this dark time. Building on this, he begins an impromptu sermon, conveying the message of Wee Jas in such a way that the woman finds a great deal of comfort in his words. After we at last convince the woman to relinquish the deceased infant (to Xicar, the baby-carrier), Nineve takes the opportunity to lambaste them for their putrescence. In a powerful speech about the physical dangers and moral degeneracy of filth, she intimidates them into cleaner living conditions. Even the drunk on the floor is up and cleaning the hovel by the time we leave.
As we leave the pathetic scene behind us, we realize that it has grown quite late, evening is near, and a red, fierce glow spreads through the all-pervading fog that swirls around the city so that all seems like a waving, hazy sea of blood.
Mossad won’t be happy that we’ll be returning so overdue, but given the circumstances, he should understand. As we walk toward the closest area that we can reasonably expect a carriage to be available, we can’t help but notice several
plumes of dark smoke rising above the hovels and towers nearby. It is not the smoke of chimneys, but of large fires burning.
Nearby, a sudden commotion breaks out as a handful of dirty vagabonds come flying toward us out of the fog, like wisps of straw blown by the wind, their eyes wide with fright as they sprint past. A thin, high-pitched scream cuts through the air as a young girl, clad in a torn and blood-stained frock stumbles out of the heavy mist. The girl falls at Xikar’s feet with a wail and a sob, and lays clutching at his ankles. She lays still, and a quick examination shows that she seems to have only fainted.
Although we are used to grotesque sights, the figures that appear next cause a slight coldness to travel down our spines. Two men have emerged from the fog and stand before us in silence. They are tall and gaunt, and their clothes hang from them in bloody tatters. Blood and other fluids streak their faces and dribble from their slack-jawed mouths; their eyes are inhumanly large and inhumanly red. As they stand there, it seems that only their burning eyes live.
Several similar figures shuffle out of the obscuring fog, and stand for a moment, regarding us with their hideously red eyes as their torn lips and jagged teeth suddenly gape in a series of horrid, dripping grins.
In this silent moment of dread, it dawns on me: Oh my god, it's the Zombie Apocalypse!
Suddenly, the girl a Xikar’s feet leaps up, her talon-like nails tearing at his face, the hideous red eyes staring into his with a terrible threat, noxious fluids pouring from her nose and mouth!
As if responding to a cue, out of the mist they are swarming, the terrible, tattered shadowy shapes in the fog; out of the alleys they come charging and down the street they clamber, and their red eyes and dripping mouths are all turned toward us, the figures who stand alone in the street. The fog belches them forth in an unholy torrent.
Nineve bisects the girl clinging to Xicar and prepares to fight, but I know we have no choice but to RUN. I drag them after me, my mind racing through all the possible avenues of escape. As we flee into the fog the dead hands are close at our backs. We keep running. Gradually I realize that it has become silent for a moment. I look around to realize with growing dismay that we’ve become separated in our flight; my companions are gone. I am alone in the oppressive fog and growing darkness.
Cowering in a corner, near some crates, is a young boy. Standing protectively over him is a large dog, his fur and jowls smeared with gore. He growls deep in his chest as several lurching corpses approach. Reuniting with my companions is my priority, but I can't abandon these two to their fate. Dog, whom I have named Furmis'ul, seems to share my thoughts, and we leap down to their aid. I notice the zombies do not attack animals; they seem to only be interested in humanoids. I tell the boy not to be scared, and the two dogs and I tear through the approaching knot of zombies with a smooth efficiency.
When the immediate danger has passed I check the boy for wounds. Convinced he is unharmed (and thus uninfected), I tell him and his dog to come with me if they want to live. I know that mobility is our best defense. We stick mostly to the rooftops, leaping between buildings and balancing on ledges rather than risking confrontation on the ground. I take the time to frequently check for any sign of my companions, but the city is a maze and they are lost to me in it. Fortunately, I know we are all heading to the same destination: The Cabal.
Wholly in my element, I dance over obstacles and skirt the roving undead mobs as if it were child's play. I've trained my whole life for exactly this eventuality, and it's immensely satisfying to see my long preparations serve me so well. I reach the Cabal swiftly, with Furmis'ul, the boy and his dog in tow, all of us completely unscathed. The look on the faces of acolytes who quickly usher us in reminds me that I should probably not be grinning. I regain my stoicism and inquire after my companions. I'm apprehensive but not surprised to learn that I am the first to arrive back. Despite my fervent protests, Mossad forbids me from going out after them. I wait in the entry hall, pacing like a caged lion. After what seems like an eternity, Nineve staggers into the tower, barely alive and sentient, a shattered husk of her former self. There is no sign of Xicar.
In the morning, however, Xicar strides into the Cabal having somehow survived, "Courtesy of the Brass Dwarf", he says.
As we tend the wounded and work to come up with a plan for this new crisis, we are interrupted by a courier from one of the secure areas. It's a package from the orphanage! Inside is a note from the children and a doll for each of us, which they made as a thank-you for rescuing them and bringing them to such a nice place to live. The gift warms the cockles of our hearts (and we get a permanent +1 morale bonus to Will saves as long as the dolls are in our possession!)