I met a traveler from an antique land Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand, Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown, And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command, Tell that its sculptor well those passions read, Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things, The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed, And on the pedestal these words appear: "My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings: Look upon my works, ye Mighty, and despair!" Nothing beside remains. Round the decay Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare The lone and level sands stretch far away
-Percy Bysshe Shelley “Ozymandias”
Came, We Saw, We Rocked...”
Tiberio in Cauldron
While Tiberio and Swampjaw are walking the streets of Cauldron, looking for an armoursmith who specializes in barding (ha-ha), he notices a Finbell and the Boddyjons poster - it seems they are in town and playing a gig this afternoon! What does he do?
I am filled with nostalgia upon seeing the poster, however I wish to remain as unnoticed as possible. I will go to the venue, but I will only linger briefly outside - catching strains of the music and reminiscing.
Tiberio goes to the venue, "Rude Eruptions," a little early and are surprised to see a line a group of bards outside, doing scales, warming up and practicing on their lutes, mandolins and lyres. Although most of them are awful, some of them are truly awful. Swampjaw begins to whine. There seems to be a line up going into the front of the building.
As Tiberio approaches, he hears someone bellow in an unmistakable Gnomish brogue, "You look like an Otyugh in a bikini - what do you weigh, 400 pounds? And was your singing supposed to sound like a kobold yoddling? You're killing me," a pause, some mumbling, and then the shouting started. "SONNY BOY WE ARE DESPERATE, BUT WE ARE NOT "YOU" BLOODY DESPERATE! NEXT!"
Tiberio casually approaches Finbell and say "Sir, if you are desperate, perhaps my humble talents would suffice?"
The crowd of bards at the front of the queue Tiberio just jumped make some disgusted sounds and passive aggressive comments. After the past weeks, however, the Zularean bard looks as rough hewn as he feels, and none of these soft city-slickers dares follow through with the threats they are imagining.
Finbell does not lift his head from his hands and slumps with an animated sigh, “Tell this fine young Wop, whoever he is, that I’m too exhausted to hear another maudlin Zularean lament, Groaner.”
Groaner, the one-eared bass vocalist and crank-pipe player, nearly jumped out of his seat when he saw Tiberio, but he regained himself quickly. Sniggering, he gives his erstwhile band-mate a wink and says, “You heard the man, boy, give us a Zularean lament.”
Tiberio plays whips out his lyre, de-tunes all the strings to the most atonal intervals possible, and warbles in his best nasal whine:
Finbell’s head remains resting in his hands a moment after the last strains of Tiberio’s broken melody thankfully drift away. One of the bards at the front of the queue whispers, “Damn, he’s good.” Groaner is doing everything he can to contain his jolly mirth.
A moment passes, and Finbell starts to chuckle from beneath his hands.
“I’ve only ever met one man who could sound that bad on purpose,” still he doesn’t lift his hands away, “Tiberio, lad, I don’t want to lift my hands, because if it’s not you my heart will simply crack in half.”
Groaner looks at Tiberio expectantly. After several more silent moments, Finbell peaks between his fingers and lets out a great whoop!
“The Boddyjons are back, Groaner! We’re back!” Finbell rushes forward to hug Tiberio’s legs, tears streaming from his eyes. Groaner finally gets his well-earned release and pounds the table, roaring with laughter.
After complaining loudly how gaunt and skinny Tiberio looks, Finbell orders up a round of honey butter meads for the three old band mates.
The meads arrive and there is a quick round of toasts, and lots of back slapping and laughing. Groaner is humming “O Zulary, Zulary, Zulary.”
“Groaner, lad, get out there and tell that sorry lot of talentless hacks auditions are over,” Finbell beams as flecks of creamy foam drip from his ridiculous Gnomish mustachio, “The Boddyjons are back.”
Tiberio can see that Finbell, having regained his composure with the honey butter mead, is now holding his tears back. From the look on his face, however, they are not tears of joy.
While Tiberio is glad to be back with the lads, he wonders what is causing Finbell such grief. "I am happy to see you old friend. What is it that is troubling you so?"
Arek in Cauldron
Arek had been waiting outside the Temple of Moradin in Cauldron for nearly two hours before he finally saw a Stone Father emerge. In that time, nearly a dozen petitioners had entered, and some had left, though Arek doubted any of them would know what he needed ask. He shivered in the late autumn air that chilled this altitude far sooner and deeper than the lowlands. It was a clear morning and, to the north Dygranog peak and Axes Bithtat soon became visible in the distance, as Arek ascended the streets towards the higher class districts around the lip of Cauldron's caldera. While Arek had stood in line to enter the city, like many others, he had spent some of his time staring at the great black line that bisected the mountains to the south - the Wall of the Righteous, stretching beyond sight to the east and the west.
To arrive at the Temple of Moradin, he had walked past several open markets and independent stands and could not help noticing how dear prices had become or how scarce food. A winter war with the Brutes would surely test the Federation, as though it had not been tested enough already!
He had stopped only to buy a heavy Dwarven mushroom cake form a street vendor with whom he exchanged a few words about Riot’s Gate and Axes Bithtat. It seemed that reconstruction of the inner towers had not yet begun – the complexities of Stone Druid construction could not be easily duplicated in their absence. Much of the rubble had been cleared in the rest of the city, but a new wave of refugees from Bithal were making conditions there more crowded than ever.
Twice, as he continued on, he had been distracted form his thoughts by the loud and unfamiliar sounds of street proselytizing and singing from the Zealots of the One. It was curious to imagine how or why a theocratic regime with a reputation like that of the Monotheocrate Order might expel its faithful for being too enthusiastic. There numbers had always been small and they had only ever attracted amused curiosity from the Federation’s far more cosmopolitan citizens, but that was before the Doom’s Eye Eclipse; before the Horde. The Zealots had certainly come a long way. They had seemed more confident and more assertive in their street preaching than ever before and, to Arek’s dismay, more numerous. It would appear that these troubled times had drawn more converts to their cause, whatever it might be. It bothered Arek that he did not know, but there was already much to learn this day.
As he walked, Arek had assiduously avoided patrol groups of Sunterran Legionnaires. He saw some press gang officers entering a tavern while others set notices about town. Arek had stopped to look at one with a couple of other curious onlookers. The Federal Draft would begin two days hence for all men fit enough to bear arms. The merchants and craftsmen who had gathered to read the notice that Arek read had seemed worried but resigned to the fact that there was little else to do.
He had overheard two of them talking behind him of small raiding parties of Brutes marauding parts of the Dakar Province. With Unity strapped to his back, Arek was self-conscious about having anyone behind him, but he continued to eavesdrop as he pretended to study the draft notice. From what they said, the raids sounded more like recce groups, testing the ground and looking for information. Would Dakar be next? The thought made the bitter wind bite a little deeper.
Perhaps this cleric could explain more, Arek hoped as he ambled forward, once again running over his cover story as he approached. The Dwarf had his head stooped down and was wrapped in a heavy cloak. Who could resist the offer of a warm oatmeal malt mead on a day like today, Arek smiled. But when the Priest of Moradin had looked up after Arek had “begged the Father’s pardon,” he nearly froze in his tracks.
The cleric looked almost as startled as Arek had to have been openly approached by his fugitive cousin.
Stone Father Leonid Ulgarovich, the son of his mother’s brother!
Arek, after what seemed liked unending seconds, pulls the other priest aside next to a wagon and says: "Cousin Leonid! What are you doing in Cauldron? When last I heard you were responsible for a small group of faithfuls somewhere in Bithal. That was what, five or seven years ago? I am happy to see you and would like to speak with you for a few moments. But not here."
Arek raises his hand to silence his cousin just as he was about to speak:
"Do you know of a public, yet private place, where we could talk without attracting too much attention? Not the temple. You know what has happened in Riot's Gate and my involvement. If you do not want to get mixed up as well, I understand. Simply shake your head and I will disapear into the crowd. If not, lead on and I will follow a few paces behind. A quiet tavern or Inn could do the trick."
Leonid blanches when he sees Arek. His mouth agape, he quickly looks around, and Arek is still talking when he lurches towards him and makes to grab his arm and cover his mouth...
Arek takes five steps back and yells to Leonid: "Hold Cousin! Stay your hand and hear me out! Despite what you may have heard, you must hear what I have to say. Let Moradin judge my words. Let us call out a mutual zone of truth. The Soulforger knows our hearts. Let him be the judge."
Leonid moves forward again, his face an even sharper mask of bewilderment now than when he first set eyes on Arek. He grabs Arek in an arm lock under his cloak, throws the cloak flap over Arek’s head, wraps one of his meaty hands across his mouth and drags him quickly away, "Curse ye for a fool lad," he whispers harshly, "Coming here of all places to make declamations in the street. Ye' were lucky t'was kin that found ye first."
Arek is roughly set free in a narrow alley and then is just as roughly embraced by his uncle's son. Leonid is two decades Arek's senior and he has always been mightily protective, more like a father than even a brother. At last he unlocks his embrace, seizes Arek by the shoulders and looks long and hard into his eyes and over his shoulder with a question on his face. His hand had brushed something strapped, hidden, to Arek's back.
"Are ye' addled?" He asks at last, "By the Pillars and the Lakes, is it true what they have said? What in the Nine Hells is going on?"
Shaken, Arek finally finds his composure and says: "You had me worried for a moment there cousin. It is good to see a familiar face yet I do not wish to get you involved in all this. Some of what you've heard is probably true, some isn't. I seem to have made powerful enemies as well as powerful allies, allies at least for now. I would like to share some of my burden but not here. Is there somewhere safe we can talk? I do not have a great deal of time."
"Aye," Leonid spares no more time for chit chat. He grabs Arek by the arm and leads him deeper into a labyrinth of back allies. The two dwarves move quietly downslope, towards Cauldron Pond and the seedier parts of town. Leonid is always looking around corners, over his shoulder and into the sky. Leonid's extreme caution makes Arek wonder all the more acutely what his cousin has heard! A couple of times Arek tries to ask, but he shoots him a silencing glance. Arek is fairly certain they have been back-tracking.
Finally they reach a small empty stable. Leonid fidgets with some keys and a lock and pulls you into a dark and oily blacksmith shop. Only after he locks the door does he turn to Arek again. His furrowed face softens. It looks as though he is remembering some simpler time as he looks at his young cousin a moment. His shoulders slump, he puts his head in his hands and begins to sob.
Arek steadies himself against one of the rotting beams of the stable. Of all the reactions he was expecting out of Leonid, this was surely the last thing he expected. He waits a moment before putting a gentle hand on his cousin's shoulder: "Speak cousin, it appears we both have burdens to share. What news? What of the Clan?"
Leonid pauses a moment, gathers his composure and begins to speak.
“Forgive me Cousin, blubbering like an Elven Maiden. Seeing you like this has reminded me of all that has been lost in such a short time. The Claimer Conspiracy was a terrible blow to the Maddock, to say nothing of the Federation. He has never appeared so old, our King, so tired.” He pauses and straightens up, though his shoulders slouch further beneath his battle worn Dwarven plate. Arek notices for the first time that Leonid has probably neither slept nor changed since he last walked off a battlefield. From the look of him, it coul dhave been something that happened perhaps only hours ago.
“We had believed you dead or imprisoned following the Claimers’ disbandment and the Doom’s Eye, when you did not return home. Then the Unspoken came. They bore Ulgar’s shield, cleft in two and riddle with holes. It had been destroyed when the Great Seal beneath Axes Bithtat was opened. They asked their questions,” he spits, “The bastards can sow discord and doubt with a single question, then stand back and watch you tear yourself a part over it. Well, cousin, I watched our Clan debate for weeks and rip its heart out in argument, before I saw its flesh ripped apart in battle.
“Now I weep, for the Unspoken have darkened my own heart such that when I see my dear Cousin, returned from the dead, my heart is filled with suspicion and doubt rather than joy. I weep because I must ask you the question they asked of Ulgar, and of every one of us, though they already had their answers.” Leonid goes rigid, and sets one foot back behind him as if he is about to sustain a blow.
“Are you, Cousin, a traitor?”
Arek took a moment to consider everything that Leonid had just said. Leonid's battle-stained clothes. Ulgar's torn shield. The Clan divided. So many questions. But that would be for later.
"Cousin Leonid. Your news brings much ache to my heart. The last few weeks have been trying. For some, a life`s worth of adventures and sorrow. I saw Axes Bithtat fall, was witness to the Claimer's disbanding, fell, felt Moradin's grace and was sent back, and many other wondrous and horrible sights I have seen. Yet I fear it is nothing compared to what is to come."
"I have shared a dream with my companion, cousin. I dream that brought us all to the Bones of the Earth, just prior to the Doom's Eye. We all appear to be connected to each other and to events much bigger than us. That is what we are trying to do, cousin. Find and explain our connection and how this relates to all the other events of the last few weeks."
Arek further explains their flight from Riot's Gate, their finding of the portals and their use by the Horde and their discovery of the Devourer of Souls. "So many riddles cousin. I have often feared it was too much for such a novice as myself. Yet I have tried my best to follow Moradin's teachings. The Soulforger has been often with me cousin and he guides my steps, even in utter darkness. I have always been loyal to the Maddock, the Federation, and what I knew of the Claimers even as I saw these institutions fading and losing their rightful place. I cannot do more than be loyal cousin. Loyal to Moradin, the Clan, the Claimers and the Maddock, first and foremost. But also loyal to the Federation and the good that it used to stand for. These things are my bearings in all this confusion."
Arek reaches to his back, unstraps his shield and lets it slowly drop to the ground, careful not to make too much noise. He unstraps Unity and falls to one knee:
"I have been given the task of carrying this sacred burden, cousin. A powerful wizard, a friend or foe it is still unclear, handed me Unity after the fall of the Claimers. All that he asked was my loyalty. And I gave it to the Maddock. I protect Unity with my very life and shall bring it forth to the Maddock when I understand more of my role in all this. The Claimers will rise again, cousin. For Clan Dakar, for the Claimers, for the Maddock and the greater glory of Moradin!"
"But I need your help cousin. Let us talk and try to understand what all this means and what roles we might have to play. The gods themselves appear to be directly involved. The One and the other deities are at odds, cousin, and we are pawns."
Leonid looks stunned. “Can it be?” he finally whispers, “Most believed Unity lost to the invading Horde, or worse, to bureaucrats enthralled to some outlander politician. Our Clan’s honour lost forever. But you, little brother…
“Gods and Dreams, Watchers and Wizards, Dungeons and Dragons, and the One…?” He shakes his heavy head, “Yours is a strange and terrible tale, but if you bear Unity, no matter how it came about, it is Moradin’s will. No Dwarf would take it from you – not even the Maddock himself.
Leonid laughs, a deep rolling joyous laugh, and his smile is so great it looks as though it might actually be painful for his worry-worn face. “Don’t you see? This is a powerful portent of hope, not just for our wounded Clan, but for our beleaguered Federation.”
Leonid kneels before Arek and grasps him by the shoulders. He is suddenly serious, “My strength, my steel and my faith, little brother… Lord Unifier… such as they are, they are yours to command!”
He bows his head and says a quick prayer of thanks to Moradin. The two cousins talk further and he explains that, after Ulgar was revealed to have been a part of the Claimer Conspiracy, the Clan, in its bewildered shame, marched off to fight in the Battle of Bithal. Many hoped to recapture some of the honour that was lost. Even those who were certain the Claimers must have had sound and reasons righteous in the Maddock’s name for having done what they did, regardless marched off to battle.
Similar tales have played out throughout the Clans of the Lake Dwarves, across the Federation. Even now, the Maddock himself, venerable though he is, rallies what remains with the intention of leading his kin into battle himself. His Generals and the Prime Minister are not pleased, “But what of it,” Leonid laughs, “He is the Maddock.
“So I am here. Gathering what priests, warriors and volunteers I can.”
He warns Arek that the Federation is undergoing an enormous amount of political turmoil in the capital and counts it a tribute to the loyalty of the local governors that the Sunterran experiment has not gone the way of the Zularean Empire. Keepers and Unspoken are looking for Arek and his companions, though, before today, Leonid had believed it was related to Ulgar’s supposed betrayal.
“There are jackals amongst our noble wolves, Lord Unifier,” he continues, “A most cunning Orindish Royal is making great strides insinuating himself amongst our leaders and plans to stand in the upcoming by-elections to replenish the Councils of Riots Gate. You must choose the time you reveal yourself carefully, or those who dream of power would crush the hope you represent before it has a chance to crystallize.
“I already came to Cauldron to help rally an army. Tell me Lord Unifier, what would you have me do?”
Arek, embarrassed by the title given to him by his cousin, answers after a few moments:
“My role in all this is still unclear cousin. I will indeed head your words and wait before revealing myself and the fact that our sacred icon has survived these troubled times.
“Tell no one of our meeting yet. You must, however, start tallying who is trustworthy. When the Claimers are reborn, those you help me identify will be the new madaras, the new foundation of our order.
“I will need you to stay alive cousin, first and foremost. Stay alive so that you can be our eyes and ears. When I return, I will join up with you. Is there a way we can stay in touch or where you can leave a message for me when I return?
“I must go with companions. I must go South and finish my part in this quest. Perhaps more answers will be provided when all is done.
“Your tales have raised several questions Leonid. Answer me these few questions, as best you can, before we part: “Tell me more about the Claimer Conspiracy. What is being said about the Claimers?
“Concerning Ulgar: Was he at Riot's Gate when the Doom's Eye appeared? I was not aware of this. Are the Unspoken framing him? What did the Chieftains and Clerics think of the holes in Ulgar's shield? I have a new friend who might explain this.
“Tell me more of the Battle of Bithal. What role is the Maddock playing in all this? Who's side is he on?
“Tell me more of the Orindish royal. Who is he or she? I might know of things related to this political power struggle.
“I know there are many questions cousins, but any information might be critical.”
Leonid strokes his beard as he considers all Arek have said and all Arek have asked. He smiles broadly. “It would be easier, Little Lord Brother, to tally who would not welcome word that Unity was not lost on that terrible day, but I understand your meaning.
“I will do all you ask, though, I dare say, only Moradin can decide whether I am to live or die. When you return, pass again through Cauldron. I will leave word in this place – it belongs to a friend, someone we can trust. Let me show you something…”
He walks you over to a rusty old anvil. Arek swears he hears a click when his cousin brushes hay and feed off the top. He stomps the ground twice in front of it, seizes it by its tapered base and throws it back to reveal a small cache beneath. Leonid looks up smiling. “I will leave word for you here.”
“You are wise to follow your companions south. Some greater force is clearly acting upon your fates now. But, forget not Moradin’s teachings on destiny.”
Arek smiles and remembers Moradin’s famous admonishment to his superstitious kin who believed too much in prophecy and fate, “Keep your will about you.”
“It’s far more important that you stay alive, Lord Unifier.” He looks outside and comments on the passing of the afternoon. “We haven’t much time. I will do my best to answer some of your questions, but then I must go.”
With a sigh, Leonid recounts what he knows of Ulgar’s fate. Ulgar, as you know, spent much of his time in the Underdark, hunting Steel Dwarves and their allies and searching for clues to reversing their treachery. Although Leonid cannot confirm that Ulgar was in Riot’s Gate on the Doom’s Eye, he admits it is distinctly possible. Ulgar had always kept his own counsel but he had been even more secretive of late. Arek is surprised to learn that Ulgar was very worried about sending him off to become a Claimer.
“They brought his shield back from Riot’s Gate. That much of the story I believe,” Leonid states simply. “As for the Unspoken, there is little I would past them, but they are as fanatically devoted to the Federation as the Claimers have been to the Maddock. Ulgar was a patriot. There would be no sense in framing him. Why? To what end? Besides, you forget Ulgar. Not a Dwarf to fall to subtlety and manipulations,” Leonid’s chuckle turns into another sigh, “Yea-yah.”
He shuffles around the room a bit. A seems a little uncomfortable. He closes the anvil gently, careful not to let it make a sound. “What has come to be known as the Claimer Conspiracy was no machination of the Unspoken. It was quite real. Many of us knew about it. It was likely why Ulgar was uncomfortable allowing you to enter the Claimers in the first place. Stubborn as he was, though, he could as soon stop you from entering into adulthood as he could take the salt from Lake Dakar.
“There were many amongst the Elder Claimers, Ulgar included, who felt that opening the Stone Druids’ seals on an auspicious occasion was far more important than studying them any further. Their desire to explore what the Steel Dwarves had stolen and the Stone Druids had locked away overcame their reason.
“I do not know what moved them to place their devotion to the Maddock beyond the orders of the Maddock, but always it was easier for them to forget the mystery of the Nephilim and their connection to the first seal. They convinced themselves that they were acting on the Maddock’s true will – suppressed though it was by politics and the Federation. They believed they acted in the best interests of Dwarfdom. Some of them sounded like Steel Dwarves, to hear them speak.
“Sadly, few saw their romanticism at the time for the folly it was. Even I was swept up in it – though I never forgot the stories of the rampaging Watchers. Like others however, I believed that the there might be clues about that ancient enemy amongst the records hidden away in the lower levels of Axes Bithtat.
“Fortunately for me, I lacked the courage of such convictions. Fortunately for the Federation, others did not. But this is not the tale that is being told now. There are those in Riot’s Gate who would paint the Claimers as traitors, and I dare say, many would have believed them but for the words of the Maddock.
“The Maddock himself leads our forces in the Battle for Bithal – you asked whose side he is on,” Leonid grunts, “He’s on our side. Even the Elven separatists are finding it difficult to complain about our noble King. The politicians scheme. The Maddock fights. He disbanded the Claimers, but he also issued a statement eulogizing them after the Doom’s Eye. He said the invasion they thwarted would have been worse than the events of that terrible night. Before the fall of Sunfalls, few believed him. He said he forgave them, but admitted that with Unity lost, they were gone forever and even said that it was for the best as they had defied his will and betrayed the Federation even as they saved it.” Leonid shakes his head, “There’s scheming afoot, to be sure.”
“It is early in the battle itself to determine how it goes. I have seen enough of war to know, however, that this one has only just begun. There’s an old Elvish saying, I’m sure you know, “Never wage a war of attrition against a Dwarf,” he chuckles, “True enough, waiting the bastards out has always been our advantage, and lengthy campaigns has never been the strong point of the Brutes. These ones are different. There is cunning I nthe war they wage.”
After a moment of silence he continues, pulling his beard again, “About the holes in Ulgar’s shield there was some discussion, some unknown magic, it was believed. Perhaps some abomination from the Order we have not seen. If you have information on this, I will listen and convey what I can.”
Another pause as he ponders Arek’s questions further, “I know nothing of the Orindish princess you seek. I trust she is not as slippery as the survivor, Magnus Mór. From what I hear, he’s a very effective politician, that one.” Leonid says no more. He doesn’t have to.
Arek considers silently for a few minutes all that Leonid has just told him. Finally, he shakes his head and begins picking his things. As he slowly binds Unity with the leather straps to hide the relic, he says to his cousin:
"Much of what you have said implies further thought cousin. Our road is far from clear in all of this but some things are falling into place. Perhaps the future will hold even more answers?"
Arek, finally ready, takes one last look at Leonid:
"Thank you Cousin. Take care and may the Soulforger protect you. With your help, we can bring order back to the Clans and perhaps the Federation as well. Unity will return, this I promise. When our quest in the South is complete, I will return here and look for a clue to find you again."
Without another word, Arek takes Leonid by the shoulders, offers a quick smile, and walks out back into the alleyways of Cauldron, hurrying his step to so as not to be late for his meeting at Uncle Ogre's Monocle.
The Prophecy of St. Cuthbert
As explained by Primate Wulfgar to Nimbus: “The Ascendant god, St. Cuthbert, is going mad. In a last ditch effort to determine how they might rescue their god, save their religion, and restore their power, the Cuthbertian Church gathered its priests to perform a powerful divination ritual. The ancient rite was based on divine magic older than the Ascendant Pantheon itself. With it, the Church sought to determine what they must do to find the lost mind of their god. The ritual lasted a year and a day and required enormous sacrifice and effort on the part of the faithful. When divination was complete, its message was so simple, at first many believed that the effort had failed.
“Mountain city assembly, Awakening night, Beginning and end, was all it said.
“For months, the Church was wracked in debate over various interpretations, all the while, Cuthbert grew more addled and more disturbed. Finally, a year and a day before the Eye of Independence eclipse, the Primature of the Church decided to act upon one of the most widely accepted interpretations. They ordered their priests to travel the length and breadth of the world, to proselytize as never before, and to encourage all they encountered to gather in Riot's Gate the night of the Eclipse. Then, they would wait for a sign.”
In Cauldron, Wulfgar interpreted Nimbus's description of the Dream of Horrors and, particularly, the appearance of the Red Rider during that dream, as the sign the Church had been waiting for. Wulfgar believes the Red Rider was St. Cuthbert himself. The Companions' quest, then, to find Tallim Nuvam, must be integral to this larger vision, for that is where it began. He encourages the Companions on their quest and promises to deliver tools unto them to facilitate this end.
Wulfgar explained that the divination, powerful as it was and its subject being none other than the God of Justice, the prophecy it engendered could only be brought about through free will. There would be no pre-determination; fate would be carved from the marble of being through choice and will alone. The Companions' path would somehow lead to the revelation of the mystery.
In Nimbus's tale Wulfgar also saw powerful omens and dark portents of forces working against the realization of the quest and the prophecy. He encouraged Nimbus to take heart, for even in Domaldi's death, Wulfgar saw great meaning. If the Companions had not entered the Devourer in pursuit of the truth about his father's death, they would be ill prepared the journey ahead, into the realm of the One.
Yet, for all if his answers, Wulfgar could not explain why Nimbus appears to have been the "hub" of the prophecy; why the six people who, alone, deposited a coin his begging bowl, were drawn, that night, into that fateful dream.
Gathering Information, DC 32
• To the north, Dygranog and Riot's Gate reach up to the sky; to the east, Lake Dakar, ringed by mountains, blends with a horizon of white mist; and to the south, the mountain range itself is bisected by a great black line - the Wall of the Righteous!.
Orindish Royals & Magnus Móhr
• All the Orindish Royals, but one,
died during the Doom's Eye Eclipse
Keratone explains that there are three distinct sects to which that worship and draw strength from three different manifestations of Cable - one good (the Finder), one neutral (the Observer) and one evil (the Liberator). Keratone explains that the devotion from which it derives divine energy is the Finder. This manifestation of Cable eternally seeks forgiveness that it can never be granted for his patricidal act. The devout Clockworks of the Finder dedicate themselves to pursuing Cable's redemption.
Keratone explains, "Clockwork phiolosophers argue about the meaning of Baerest's death and Cable's unforgivable act, and interpret it in various ways. There are those, particularly the neutral sect who go so far as to suggest that Baerest actually offerred himself up for sacrifice.
"We Finders believe that Cable's killing of Baerest created the seeds of the ultimate split in its personality. When the first Finders were awakened and sent into the wilderness to hunt Cable, many did not return. Most of those who did, had found that the trail had gone cold. A small number returned with fantastic tales of having met Cable and held palaver with it. Some claimed to have seen some of the missing Finders with Cable and others still claimed to have received enhancement crafted by Cable itself. The one question that the Cable could not or would not answer to those who searched it out was "Why?" To this, it only said, "Look into your own being and find an answer to this."
"The other sects claim different responses, of course. To us, Cable is an object of devotion beacuse it sinned; because it had faults and failings with such serious consequences; because it was trapped in a labyrinth of its own madness and could not find a way out. Nothing can altar the fact that this was the font of the first Clockwork experience, and all sects yearn to understand these origins. Cable was flawed. Life is flawed. Perfection is misanthropic.
"The Liberators considered Baerest's murder the ultimate act of free will, something in which they firmly believe to the detrimant of all else, I'm afraid. All of our gnostic traditions tend to characterize Baerest's death as the completion of a divine cycle of creation and destruction - something familiar, I think to the more abstract, and less anthropomorphic religion of the Gnomes, I hink. In a sense, the Observers are correct, Baerest's death was indeed a sacrifice - the ultimate one that a parent makes for its child - whether he did so knowingly or not. The question we ponder is whether Cable must be punished forever for this malfunction. It is the dearest wish of all devout Clockworks to learn of those first waking moments. For this reason the awakening of any Clockwork is a sacred event.
"Who is right? All of us? Perhaps. There are idealists who believe so. There is no question that all of the sects derive divine power from their particular devotions. There is no question that when differently aligned Clockworks look into their fundamental beings, the find very different Cables. That is to say, they find very different destinies, and what is being alive if not discovering and pursuing one's own destiny?"
Revelations in the Zeppelin
The gentle hum of the Daisy Cutter reminded Thalazzar vaguely of the devices that had whirred in the depths of the Khi’Ganad. The difference here was that these devices were gnomish in origin and intended to keep this ship in the sky, whereas his former masters’ machines were decidedly nastier in their intent. Kobolds and gnomes were similar in some ways, thought the wizard, and yet so different at the same time. He was not yet comfortable with them, particularly surrounded as he was by Sparks Kantakerin and his gnomish kin on their flying machine, but he recognized that the outright hatred demonstrated by Dragana, his Khi’Gujtuppto servant, was a little dramatic. Thalazzar now knew more about gnomes and despite their irritating banter, tendency to carry diseases like Jungle Rot, and suspicious behaviour, the gnome that had traveled with him the past few weeks had been valuable on a few occasions. Whereas before Thalazzar would not thought twice about killing a gnome, his newfound knowledge on their customs gave him pause when Dragana demanded to rip out his companions entrails and drink her blood.
This Kantakerin fellow had been greatly useful and his flying ship might prove even more useful still to Thalazzar and his companions. He had provided an overwhelming amount of information that had confirmed the many threats facing them, and a few more that they hadn’t thought of! His account of the final trial of Domaldi had saddened Thalazzar. He hadn’t known him very long but his valor had been impressive, even if it had been the death of him.
More interesting were the bits of information about his companions and this "Sub-Inquisitor Quinn" of the Unspoken. Apparently, there had been more to their irritating gnome companion that had met the eye and she had some connections with the Unspoken. And that they too were greatly interested in them. The gnomes apparently were attempting to decipher some sort of new, powerful weapon given to the Brutes by the Feraln Elves, some type of “lead-launcher” that had turned the tide of their offensive. While the gnome had relayed nothing about the identity of “the client” and his “special operatives”, he had said nothing to suggest that Thalazzar’s previous thoughts on that threat were incorrect. It was possible that the client could even be the same person as one of the many other individuals who wanted them dead.
Woden, it seemed, was mistrusted by more than just Thalazzar and his companions. Apparently he had been not seen as much of late in Riot’s Gate and it was rumoured that he had been in Cauldron very recently. Perhaps he was arranging for elemental beings to threaten his pawns, thought the wizard. Thalazzar trusted Woden even less after talking to the gnomes. With him, the group would need to proceed cautiously.
While Thalazzar had considered Maghnus Mor, the wizard had not understood much about him. Between Kantakerin and talking to people in Cauldron, Mor’s role seemed that much more ominous, particularly since he had now decided that he too held something against the wizard and his companions. Stories about Maghnus Mor negotiating with Gallant for surrender of the last Orindish stronghold on the Island of Cyr did not sound like something the perceived last remaining heir to the Orindish throne would do. Thalazzar wondered what role Tallim played in this. If Tallim somehow jeopardized Mor’s claim to the throne, negotiations with Gallant, campaign for a seat in the Federation Senate or support from the Landholder’s Bloc, it might make sense for him to want her to disappear. It was very suspicious considering that Mor had previously lobbied for the Federation to support the war against the God King. It was also suspicious as, like Woden, Mor had been rumoured to be traveling south to Cauldron even as far as the Wall of the Righteous. Thalazzar smelled a traitor and an enemy.
The situation with Lokiyar, the Keepers and the Church of Heironeous was another issue, but one that Thalazzar understood less. All he needed to understand was that all of them were potential threats. Their treatment of Domaldi and role in the conflict with the Brutes was suspicious. Lokiyar seemed to have an agenda, and that agenda was not likely something positive. The only positive note was that Maghnus Mor and Lokiyar may be at odds with each other. With the current state of magic and the preoccupation of the deities, Thalazzar didn’t trust any of them. It was ironic that Kurtulmak, a devious and hateful god by human standards, was at least understandable compared to the gods of man whose faction’s slaughter each other and loose their minds in the name of “goodness”. Thalazzar did not consider himself to be overly religious, in fact when he prayed it was more about hoping his god did not eat him, but neither did he have any desire to explore the crazy faiths of man.
That said, there seemed a good chance that the Dream of Horrors was related to this Prophecy of St. Cuthbert and the mysterious Red Rider may have been the god himself, albeit a god who had apparently lost his mind. Perhaps their shared experience had been the irrational desire of a mad god determined to make them his tools? Did this mad god want them to fight the One on his behalf? Again more questions instead of answers and Tallim remained the missing piece of the puzzle. At the very least, this prophecy was further evidence that the power behind the Dream of Horrors truly existed. Perhaps it was a manifestation of the One if that was who the mad god fought? Despite his confusion and private misgivings against their faith, Thalazzar did note that the emissary of St. Cuthbert at least believed enough in his tale to offer them powerful gifts. The wizard hoped for an arcane magic staff to replace Kalthanalas, his powerful druidic item which he had parted with only because he could not unlock its secrets.
Perhaps most importantly, Thalazzar’s thoughts returned again to the question of the One. His studies of the Last Book had been informative but he still had much to learn, particularly about their way of magic. What he had learned from the gnomes was that others believed what Thalazzar had grown to suspect, that his namesake may have been indeed one of the Thala Mourne, descended of the Seventeen and one of the ruling wizard-priests of the Order. His questions about the events in the Temple of Sss’rast and Last Martyr of the Seventeen were unanswered, but perhaps when prey confronted hunter, more answers would be revealed.
With the most sensitive part of his past laid bare on the table for all to see, Thalazzar had finally told his companions the secret of his identity. He told them that he had been the humble slave of a kobold tribe and that he had escaped bondage only when a powerful wizard had met his end in the lair of his masters. He told his companions how he had stolen what he thought was the wizard’s identity and taken the name “Thalazzar” not knowing that, in fact, it likely had been Thala Xevar. He had told them all of these things so that they understood at least one of threats to their quest, particularly as that quest would lead into the Order. And perhaps his secret did not matter anymore anyways. He had stolen the wrong name and no one could now claim his identity but him. He was no longer Unj’Kaltigmag uv Khi’Ganad, former kobold slave, nor was he Thala Xevar, slain wizard-priest of the Monotheocratic Order. Strangely, the wizard was no longer afraid of his past, particularly since his claim to being a powerful wizard was hollow no more. He was Thalazzar the Conjuror and his name, his own name, would be attached to events that were shaking the roots of Sentar.
The next morning, Thalazzar rose early and left the Uncle Ogre’s Monocle to finalizing his business with Nulzdindantilus. Having completed his business and returned the gold to his companions, the wizard undertook to make one final stop in Cauldron. Seeking to exploit his past mercenary contacts, the wizard had sought out a member of House Golgadin. He had learned that Ivindof Golgadin, the younger brother and business partner of Baron Mastof, had been spending his days at the Gwuzbuloolpip Steam Hall on the shore of Cauldron Pond. The “Gwuz” was a local private bathhouse for Dakare elite where hot, lava-heated water cascaded down the slopes of Cauldron and from intricate, carved fountains, showering over the rich and famous. It was named for an infamous steam mephit who had lorded over the mephits of the Cauldron volcano when it had been active hundreds of years ago. Today it was filled with Dakare’s best, escaping the pressures of dealing with the influx of refugee filth amongst their beautiful trade towers.
Thalazzar had paid fifty gold pieces for a membership at the Gwuz, but he hoped that it would be worth it. Having learned from Loifen Three-Feathers about some of Golgadin’s trade interests, he hoped that he might divine some insight about the Order or even passage across the Wall of the Righteous for him and his companions. Ivindof fit his reputation and was certainly more of a playboy than a business man, unlike his older brother. He found him lounging in a pool with the Federation Border Marshal of Cauldron’s northern gate, the obviously corrupt Marshal Wali. The Federation, it seemed, was increasingly indebted to the merchant houses and an aspiring House Golgadin had been loaning money to finance the town guard for several weeks. Unofficially, they had been doing it for far longer. The two friends were surrounded by naked girls, half of them delirious with Dream, with several of the Wali’s favoured watchmen standing guard nearby. For the price of Thalazzar’s remaining packet of Dream, something he had been eager to be rid of anyways, he had gained “audience” with Ivindof, several glasses of Azmaiiy rum and sugarcane, and the much-needed company of his girls for the rest of the afternoon. The wizard was, however, sure to enchant himself with arcane stamina, lest the rum impair his concentration – concentration that was needed to discuss business with Ivindof, conquer his first half-elf, and retain his composure enough to return to his suite at the Monocle as darkness had fallen.
With the dead buried, the taint of the Devourer scrubbed away, and the promise of riches finally won, Ivindof's girls helped Thalazzar to forget the new pack of troubles that had reared their ugly little heads the night before.
As Arek clambered down the last rung of the slightly swaying ladder of the airship, he was already deep in thought and never noticed how he got from the courtyard to his room in Uncle Ogre’s Monocle. The last few minutes, not to mention his afternoon meeting with his cousin Leonid, had given much to ponder. Arek removed his armour and thought of Domaldi again. His heart still ached as he thought of his friend’s lonely demise. What a strange and sometimes cruel course Fate has laid out for all of them. No one has been spared so far, no one. Tis a high price we are all paying here.
After having lit a small lampion on his small end table, Arek sat on the floor to meditate and offer a prayer to the Soulforger. His thoughts then started to flow to more immediate concerns. Corporal Pickett, Arek still had trouble imagining the honest but green militiaman as Grand Inquisitor Quinn, had given his group of friends much to think about. While Arek knew and deeply felt that their quest was linked to the gods, Pickett had revealed the dangerous aspects of what they had gotten involved in. Domaldi’s fate had underscored the political power plays they were now part of. And that was just within the knights of Hieroneous. Magnus Mohr did not want to see Tallum return from where she had been taken and would take the necessary steps to prevent this. On the other hand, Woden was determined to get his “apprentice” back and the party had struck a deal which left them no choice. Arek grimaced. It’s not enough to be part of a godly mystery, we have to be involved with two of the Sunterranse Federation’s most powerful and influential men, as well as being sought by the Keepers and the Unspoken. I do not like the odds here.
Arek got up and slid into bed, still deep in thought. But instead of Woden or Pickett/Quinn, he was thinking of Dakar pipe weed his uncle Ulgar used to smoke. He imagined Ulgar’s shield riddled with holes. Frankie’s tale about her previous research endeavours had tied in with Leonid’s account of Ulgar’s death. Again a connection I wish we could have avoided, Arek whispered to himself. Could the Horde have much more of these weapons? Were the Federation, the Maddock and his people facing a danger beyond any previous war or battle? How could Arek and his friends help? Clearly Frankie knows of these weapons, perhaps she can devise a way to counter their effectiveness? But that would have to wait. Arek blew out the lampion. Their priority was the South and time was running out. Another day in Cauldron for supplies and information and they would get closer to Tallum and perhaps to other answers.
If Arek had been worried the previous following their meeting with Pickett/Quinn, this time he was shaking as he closed the door to his room. We are on a quest to save the sanity of a God! Moradin help us. Arek sat down, sighed, and stared at his readied pack on the floor. They would be leaving shortly for House Golgadin where Tiberio and his band would perform. But he had to take a few minutes to digest what Nimbus had just told them. Surely there are others on Sentar better qualified for this task? There are certainly more powerful warriors, wizards, and…priests. Arek’s meeting with Leonid had given him a sense of purpose, a mission that he thought he could handle. Rebuilding the Claimers and helping the Maddock was feasible. But this? How the blazes were they supposed to help St-Cuthbert? How to find him? Tallum was the key to many things it seemed. The earthly political implications seemed very insignificant now to Arek. Light was being shed on their adventure and he could see what they had to do. But he still had his doubts. He sighed again and took his pack. First things first. Out of Cauldron and then we shall see.
For the moment, Arek had to prepare mentally for his next task: security for the band. He would have to ask Tiberio a few questions along the way about how security was handled in previous shows and tours. The only reference to band security he vaguely remembered was an ugly outcome a few years back at the Altamont Chariot Track when things had gotten out of control with some members of the Nine Hells Angels. He hoped things would go smoothly this time. But considering how things had gone in the last few weeks, it probably wouldn’t.
CHAPTER TWO: House
Frankie took a moment to gather her thoughts as her comrades took a breather in her uncle's airship's meeting area. She opened up a new journal, having handed off her old ones to her uncle for safekeeping.
Quite a few things had happened since she arrived in Cauldron.
Things were going as good as they usually did. Tiberio was getting ready to do a show with his old band, and the rest of the group was about their own business with no worry. Strange, since she couldn't wait to get into the Monotheocratic Order. The impending threat of an earth weird was enough to motivate her; she didn't want that thing smashing apart her uncle's airship trying to kill her. At least one good thing had come of her watching over Calibre: the thrall unit had been removed. Another mystery lurked inside of Calibre, but perhaps when she had the time to learn more technomancy schemas, she could discern what the ring portended. Or she could always ask Thalazar or her uncle. Hmmm, maybe her uncle.
Thalazar kept getting to be more interesting all the time. After he related his background, and having talked with her uncle about keeping an open mind, she had a new perspective on things.
Religion included itself in her ponderings. After speaking with Keratone, she had found out the religion of the Clockworks was racial specific. Kind of ironic that she wanted to see what was out there, and found that none of it was too her liking. Of course, this could have something to do with St Cuthbert manipulating the members of her group, and inadvertantly causing Domaldi's death in the giantish dungeon. Not that she was blaming that on the god, but he was certainly the one that instigated all of this. On the other side of the coin, chances are if I had not been tossed into this scrap-pile, I would have been killed by some unknown killer in the dark for the secrets she had shared with Prof Corrie back in Riot's Gate.
She thought of "Inquisitor Quinn". Not too happy with him, throwing secrets around that get people killed. Now my uncle bears this burden, this technology which could add more misery to a world laden with it's share. No, if she had to decide on a religion, she'd believe in what drove her: gnomivation balanced with ethical conduct.
A familiar kobold intruded on her thoughts, "The master has been kidnapped!". The familiar anger seemed to be missing at this intrusion into her thoughts, and gathered with the rest of her fellows to discover what has transpired.
It seems that fate had more in store for them in Cauldron: Tiberio had discovered Thalazar's erstwhile kobold companion near the manor he was going to be performing at. He decided to follow two thugs, and this led to a deadly confrontation with them. He returned to us, and we set out as his band's support team. I grabbed a few colourful concoctions that would make flashy and colourful explosions "just in case". After all, EVERY band worth their squeezy-easy needed an FXpert.
They arrived at the manor, and Tiberio
sweet talked our way past the gate guards. They made it into the kitchen
area, and soon were going down a secret entrance into the depths. Frankie
soon found herself challenged by all manner of nefarious traps. It was
good thing Baron Mastof Golgadin
had not employed any Kantakerans in their creation or she would have
been in trouble disabling them! As it was, she managed to do ok. Even
the kobold showed some respect for her abilities. She smiled inwardly
and looked forward to sharing this tale with her uncle and his friends.They
finally managed to work their way to the Baron's study, which contained
enough incriminating documents to put him away for good. They found
quite a few other items, but unfortunately no Thalazar. Proceeding past
this area, they came upon two conjoined doors which had a unique opening
mechanism. She took care of these, and the next room was full of undead.
The group began to combat them, Moradin's might punishing them as Arek
asked his god for help. No one suffered any injury, and she managed
to help by grabbing some
Time was beginning to run out until Tiberio had to perform. With a sense of urgency we moved onwards, into a large laboratory. A strange construct of flesh with a clockwork's arm greeted us. Frankie recognized the schema it was designed on; whoever made this obviously needed to be educated in how to make these things properly. Taking aim, the purple "x" of her sighting ray locked upon the joining mechanisms of the poorly made construct and she let loose. The halfling's magic encapsulated each x-bow bolt with a slight purple cocoon that exploded in small magical bursts in the construct as each bolt struck home. "I think I can get used to blending magic with technology," she thought to herself.
Unfortunately, this fight resulted in some serious injuries. Even Nimbus was injured, but healed the wounds away in front of her eyes. She still wondered what just happened back at that temple to him.Looking about the room, she saw a trapped clockwork on a lab table. The kobold had tried to work him loose, and had almost succeeded. She released the last parts, and after a quick inspection realized that the bumbling Baron had unleashed his ignorance on this poor clockwork. It was also missing an arm. She went over to the construct and removed the arm hastily, making sure it suffered no damage. Her comrades went about their tasks while she revived the poor clockwork. Unsuprisingly the clockwork recognized her for what she was, and began to beg her for more repairs. Ah, to have the time for that. I haven't even begun to learn my techomagic schemas yet. No time.
She apologized and promised to fix up the clockwork at a later time, which identified himself as Ts'Elf. Her comrades had searched the area while she was busy, and soon discovered the area Thalazar was being held in. Another quick battle led to him being freed.
After being checked over, we soon discovered that he had been subjected to large quantities of Dream. It seems there is no end to the evil people will inflict on others, Frankie pondered.
Having had enough of what the Baron was doing here, she offered to safely blow the lab and study up. Arek backed her on this, with the other members of the group asking to do some last minute looting. Frankie had to admit that if Arek had not been a priest, he would have made a great engineer. He thanked her for the compliment, but with that familiar smile stated with calm certainty that his path was with Mauradin. Frankie returned his smile, and for a small moment envied Arek's devotion. What would it have been like for her, if she had found faith early on?
Clearing these thoughts from her head, she began to organize the supplies and Arek and her set about planting explosives all about the lab. Double checking their work, they made their way to the study. The group that had went ahead were slightly irritated, but quickly made speed back down the passage with no complaint as Arek and her started laying about the explosives in the study. She chuckled, Can't say their gears are calibrated for friction.
Finishing up in the study, the group joined
up and two big questions were asked:
It turned out the answers were: long enough, and back into the city.
As they ran down the tunnel to the Baron's soap warehouse, the explosion went off and caused a nice seismic shake-up. That one was for you Professor Corie!
They ran into a set of giant skeletons. The new clockwork ran in and got itself smashed up a bit. Frankie made a mental note to have "the talk" with it.
After another short jaunt, the group came upon a warehouse. Nimbus spent a few moments and convinced every yard worker to find another job. She stiffled a laugh, since the yard workers obviously weren't noticing that the man addressing them was covered in rags with various broken limbs.
Cauldron greeted their them again as they made their way back to her uncle. Another stranger was waiting for them. Frankie only hoped that they didn't hold any more wrenches ready to toss into the gear works; that was one thing this group didn't need.
THALAZZAR & D.exM.
"Where is Master? He has been gone long. What is he doing? Probably something nasty - he's so wonderful. Wonderful like the funny story the priest man told last night about the Paladin who killed all those people without knowing and then died. That was great. Great like the puppet show I have watched five times now. The little puppets hit each other and hurt each other. It is very funny. Master told me to wait and watch the funny puppet show until he got back. Where is Master? He has been gone long..."
In this way Dragana's mind ambled on. His intelligence had been magically enhanced, somewhat to be sure, but this had only given him enough common sense to obey Thalazzar's orders when they were first given. The wizard had told him to stay put and watch the puppet show until he had emerged from the Gwuz bath house. "Do not stray!" he had warned with a darkened face. Intelligence magically enhanced or not, Dragana knew well enough to comply lest he anger his beloved master. The problem now, however, was that the puppet show had packed in for the night and still the master had not emerged to fetch him.
When Dragana had finally worked up the courage to inquire at the steam bath entrance, the bell of the first watch had long since rung, and the lamplighters strode the streets. Much to his frustration, Dragana found that the bath had long been closed. He did not know what to do so he wandered into a side alley thick with the smell of refuse. This helped him to relax and to think.
"Where could the master be? Has he forgotten Dragana? Left him here? Trapped in a strange and frightening (and wonderful) city filled with all sorts of fun and nasty puppet shows. What should he do? Dragana was sure he could not find his way back to the Inn of the Big Breasted Ogress by himself. Maybe Dragana would go back to the Inn and claim all of master's treasure and take the big breasted Ogress for his mate (even though she had only a single freakish pair of breasts rather than three normal pairs). Yes... that is what he would do. But how would he find the Inn? Maybe master could tell him! Where could master be...?"
The intelligence enhancement had clearly worn off.
Dragana did not know how long he stood in the dank alley trying to think what he should do. Perhaps master was playing a cruel trick on him or, (horrors) perhaps Dragana had done something wrong to anger master and he had abandoned him. The kobold whelp was just beginning to work himself up into a worried lather along this line of thought ("Dragana promises to be nastier to Gnomes if only Master please comes back and fetches him.") when he heard low and hurried voices coming from inside the Bath House – someone was coming out!
"Draw no attention to yourself," had been another of the master's admonitions. Dragana wanted to make sure he did nothing to make the master angry, so when he heard the voices, then, he did his best to hide. It was easier to skulk in the shadows now that the transmutation had worn off as well.
A concealed door opened in the side of the Bath House and three large figures emerged hefting a massive sack over their shoulders. They were two humans and a particularly large Half-Elf, by the smell of them, and, by the smell of them, the large sack contained none other than the master!
They were too concerned with their heavy bag to give the alley a careful search and Dragana remained hidden. They threw the master-sack on the buckboard under which Dragana had been hiding. It made a loud thud when it hit the floor and Dragana almost cried out with delight when he heard it followed by a moan.
"Oh joy, oh bliss, master is alive, even though he smells like he needs a good roll in the mud! Poor master what have these creatures done to you!?"
While one of the men went to fetch some horses Dragana worked his way into the bottom workings of the buckboard. One of the two remaining men wanted to talk, while the other did not respond to any of his attempts to strike up a conversation. Dragana listened.
"Heard there's a party tonight at Golgadin's. Helluva' time to have a party, what with the war and everything..."
"My invitation musta' got lost? Did youse get one...?"
"I wouldn't go anyway. Them Golgadins gives me the creeps"
"So they want us to drop this asshole off there, just dump him in the cellar, with the caterers all running around...?"
No response. A longer pause.
"So whaddya' think this asshole did to cross Ivindof?"
Dragana heard the second man shift uneasily in his seat on the buckboard. He finally spoke in a short clipped whisper, "Probably talked too much."
The Half-Elf's horses arrived to break the uncomfortable silence. As the talker hitched up the horses, Dragana heard him mumble to them under his breath, "May not know what he did, but I got a pretty good idea of where he's going." He shivered and snorted a half laugh. He climbed up on the buckboard and soon they were all underway, rattling down Cauldron's cobbled streets.
"Don't worry master," Dragana nearly blurted out, "Dragana will save you!" and then, after hitting a particularly jarring pothole, "I wonder if there will be kobold dancing bitches at the party!"
* * *
The woman eaten by the Ogre with the swirling tattoos was memorable, and not only for the manner in which she met her end. The three women Ivindof had supplied, however, made Thalazzar forget even the slurping of Fagorgitto's ragged teeth. Their beauty was surpassed only by their skills in stimulating pleasure. It was as though Thalazzar had entered a dream.
Thalazzar felt at first as though the room were expanding - too much wine, his mind barely registered amidst thrusts and parries - and contracting - far too much wine. It was only when he felt his face begin to meld with that of the half-elven maiden with whom he was locked in an embrace that he realized something far more potent than wine was at work. He wanted to protest, but he no longer had a face, or a mouth, though he had another head.
A shadow had crossed Ivindof's face. He cast a slight look over Thalazzar's shoulder and subtly nodded with his chin. How could Thalazzar have been so blind? Ivindof's eyes had been far too honest! How did he not see it at the time? He thinks I am Thala Xevar. It was all so plain. The note in the crate with the Clockwork had been signed T.X. What did Thala Xevar want with an underwater Clockwork? It had to be the Khi Ghanad! What? No! The sahuagin had been crushed. It made no sense. It was all so clear! Hadn't the rambling gnome mentioned a ring? A ring encrusted with waves, inside the Clockwork? As clear as the slurping sound that filled his ears. Tentacles slapping on stone, eyes rolling around back in their sockets and all the way right again. Oh gods, how Thalazzar wanted to scream.
Thalazzar became one with every nightmare he ever had. Every debased thought. Every fleeting horror that ever oozed forth from his lizard brain, vomits outward from mouths on the palms of his hands and greets him with a friendly nod as they saunter by on their way to the City of Tin. Thalazzar is a god. More than a god. More than the Nine Hells. More than all the planes. He is becoming everything at once. Expansive and vast. That within which all else was connected. How clear everything seemed. The Universe expands and contracts. Pulsates. A mote, then all, then a mote, then all. Make it stop. Make it last forever. It does.
* * *
Dragana cackled with glee as he tossed sharp cutting implements across the leather shop at one of the burly warriors. What they lacked in effectiveness, they made up for in distraction as the kobold’s curses and bits of metal distracted the man long enough for Tiberio to work his own magic.
“Sub-master! Look out! Kill the big stinky pinkie smooth-skin outside the door. Eat this human!” yelled the kobold as he bounced a pair of scissors off Hardigan’s armour.
Tiberio danced about the shop with martial grace, parrying Hardigan’s chops as he chanted a spell-song – a dark lament for the curse of undeath - that sent the brute banging at the door fleeing back up Ash Avenue in terror.
“Crux you coward!” screamed Hardigan, “get back here and help me kill this two-timing lady-boy minstrel…”
Seeing Crux flee the fight, Dragana scampered across the shop and out the barred windows onto the avenue beyond. The sub-master was good fighter – not as good as the master – but he might not survive thought the kobold. Better to hide as they didn’t have numbers on their side. He could always follow the man who kidnapped the master if the sub-master was killed reasoned the kobold. Seeing a shiny sword laying abandoned on the street, Dragana hefted it with both hands.
“Whoa!” exclaimed the kobold, “those who serve the master get the good loot!”
There was a grunt and cry of pain from within the shop.
“More gold than all the Khi’Gujuppto! What a nice shiny!” rambled the dragon-kin.
Dragana climbed up the wall of the shop and hid in the shadows atop the street sign above the door, poised to chop Hardigan on the head if he emerged. But instead, a wounded Tiberio cursed his cowardice and called out to him from within.
“Sub-master! You are alive! I knew you would kill the stinky-pinkie who took the master!”
Tiberio slouched against the wall in exhaustion catching his breath. From the floor, Hardigan groaned.
“He’s still alive sub-master – I’ll get him, don’t worry!” exclaimed the kobold.
Before Tiberio could restrain him, Dragana brought his new shiny down on Hardigan’s head with all the finesse of a tree falling in the woods, lopping part of it clean off the corpse. The bard’s mouth dropped wide-open in repulsion as Dragana lifted the sword above his head and flexed his scaly arms in victory. The murder of a Federation citizen might not go over very well if they were seen thought the bard. Before anyone else arrived, Tiberio scooped up the lizard and stuffed him back in his sack…
* * *
Thalazzar is naked. Covered in vomit. His once jet black hair, blanched white by the Devourer, cleaned gleaming in the Gwuzz, is soiled grey with feces and ash. Death hangs in the air. Teeth gnash at steel bars. Thalazzar wants his mother. Thalazzar is his mother. He holds himself as he would a frightened child. Fagorgitto laughs. Limitless wisdom pours out of the kobold skull in his hands. It flows into his mouth. It takes him away, expanding him beyond this subterranean chamber, its undead horrors and lavendar scents. This is what it is to feel as one. The barriers between Thalazzar and all things disappear.
There is a woman in a caravan, bound atop a mound of supplies heaped upon a skiff. She appears familiar. Is she what the sound of wet tentacles slapping on stone looks like? Thalazzar's heart rate calms, though it should be registering fear. Betraying heart! Her hair is covered with sand. Her pallid skin is burned red beneath her veil. There is power in her. Thalazzar can see it coursing through her blood. She used to be young. Dark men shout in a dark language he has only ever read. Some beast bellows. The Men curse. Their tongue sounds the way it looks. Thalazzar savours the sound. They are afraid of her. They do not want their task. They are taking the woman southwest. Slowly. They plod through the howling sands. Towards Eudaemonia. All ends in eudaemonia. Thalazzar falls north. Falls through a gate in a tapestry.
* * *
“The master is being tortured! Buried alive! Drowned! And sub-master is breeding?” chattered the kobold. “All these locks and traps and dead things – no time for breeding… Fight fight fight.”
The companions skulked their way through the crypts beneath the mercantile compound of House Golgadin, shown to them by a lusty serving wench seduced by Tiberio. Their experience within the Devourer served the group well as they worked quickly to surpass the guardians and obstacles that Baron Mastof, the necromancer it seemed, had placed in their path. The group broke into Mastof’s study and pilfered several incriminating items. It seems that there was indeed a darker side to House Golgadin’s business interests. And it appeared that the rumours were true that Golgadin did traverse the Wall of the Righteous conducting business in Divinity. Stealing this information would be of great use, but would not likely endear the group much to Baron Mastof.
Garl’s lapdog was refusing to pick the locks that impeded their progress noted the kobold.
“Locks and gears are kobold inventions!” declared Dragana as the lizard broke through the doors when the gnome would not. Dragana could see that the gnome could barely contain her disgust with his presence but it didn’t matter. No one else moved to open the locks, so they would have gone no further in pursuit of the master without the kobold. Soon, thought the lizard, they would rescue the master and eat the gnome.
* * *
Waves of golden holy power washed outwards from the dwarf, his head bowed and hands resting on his sacred hammer. The waves washed over the ranks of the undead, clawing towards the companions, disintegrating their shadow-cursed flesh. More were kept at bay by the scarred, nimble human. His fists and feet sparkled with divine light as, one after another, he punished the dead for daring to stand in his path. Tiberio’s spell song encouraged the companions as his arrows loosed from the shadows brought down even more of their enemies. Dragana watched from behind them all, ready to run and bar the door should any of the master’s mighty companions fall to the undead horde. The gnome had retreated – of course – mumbling something about alchemist’s fire. Obviously she was useless thought the kobold. Better to eat her soon and get it over with. Dragana eyed the traps that the gnome had disarmed, attempting to see how he could re-rig the traps to spring when the gnome returned. But he couldn’t do that! The kobold spit out a curse as he realized that rearming the traps for the gnome would cut off his escape route if the others fell. Choices, choices, choices... What would the master do?
In the end, the battle turned in their favour and the companions began pushing into the cavern. Dragana drew his daggers and dove into fray, once again serving as a distraction more than anything else. His sword was mighty, but beyond his skill to wield. He relied on his old sharpened hydra’s teeth that had killed many before, poking them into the putrid flesh of some undead clawing at the dwarf. The kobold was unsure if he had any effect but after taking a tough blow from one of the creatures, he knew that his battle lust at least had been noticed. The dwarf smirked at the irony of being supported in battle by a kobold. The gnome returned as the battle was won, starting a tiny alchemical fire that burned some of the few remaining dead cowering in the cavern’s dark recesses. The dwarf’s hammer and the human’s fists ground those undead that remained back into dusty bones and ripped flesh.
Having vanquished their foes, the companions tended to their wounds. The dwarf called on his god on behalf of Dragana, healing the kobold of his blow. What powerful friends the master had! Dragana was nervous that the attentions of a dwarven god would anger the jealous Kurtulmak, but he didn’t disappear in a cloud of blood so the kobold determined his god had missed this minor indiscretion.
Lifting a portcullis on the far side of the chamber, the companions stumbled upon Baron Golgadin’s workshop. By the soft light of several braziers, they could see several tables and racks of tools. The chamber smelt of rotting flesh overpowered by a strange scent of lavender. It appeared that this room and the adjoining chambers were used for the cleansing of flesh from bone and the magical animation of those bones. House Golgadin would likely be quite annoyed that the companions had just destroyed a good many of their “product”. But further revelations were delayed by the appearance of the chambers’ guardian, an enormous humanoid automaton composed of stitched flesh and dark magic. The creature waded into combat, hurling crushing blows at the companions, bashing them about the chamber with its powerful arms. Curiously, one of those arms was metallic and covered with Yithic runes. It appeared to have been taken and attached to the golem from the now-dismembered clockwork lying in chains on top of one of the work tables. With everyone else distracted by the rampaging flesh golem, Dragana snuck into the chamber and began to free the clockwork. Perhaps the master was held captive close by? Perhaps this mechanical creature could tell them where?
Before too long, Dragana’s companions had defeated the golem and the gnome finished freeing the clockwork, working to reactive it. Searching the room, more evidence of Golgadin’s “soap” trade was uncovered. They found a pit of acid, used for cleaning flesh from the dead and manuals on the construction of undead and automatons. They also found more documents on the sale of soap at high expense around the realms. Apparently Golgadin had a broad base of clients and connections. The gnome succeeded in activating the clockwork – who called itself "Self" – but she did not have time to reattached the construct’s dismembered arm.
Opening another door revealed an adjoining chamber filled with cages and guarded by yet more undead. The master! The companions moved to tear through Thalazzar’s guardians, now experienced in bringing down Golgadin’s valuable exports.
* * *
Somewhere far away, dead flesh is being crushed with stone and steel. Somewhere, Thalazzar's unkown mother is calling his name. He wants to weep and call out to her for comfort. He wants to tell her all he has seen and learned, but the sound of her voice, is the sound of Fagorgitto's ragged teeth.
A pure blade of silver slices through Thalazzar's brutally overloaded senses. Cuts away all the wisdom all the sensation all the all. Make it stop. Make it last forever. It washes away the connection to everything with the fresh cold of a mountain stream. It is a relief. It is more than sadness. The world become smaller. Duller. Disappointing. The world returns to normal. He was a god once. Thalazzar vomits his contempt and asks for a glass of water.
* * *
Arek administered an ointment made of Silverleaf weed to Thalazzar, helping to bring him out of his drug induced hallucinations. The wizard was very ill and suffering from the debilitating side effects of Dream. As his mind cleared, Thalazzar found that he was able to walk. Searching the chamber the companions found much of his possessions and the wizard was able to cloth himself in his old robe. Dragana followed him around like a dog, chattering away in Draconic about his adventures, his new shiny sword, and about how he had led the master’s rescue. Thalazzar determined that his gold had all been taken but he had his spellbooks, so nothing else mattered and he thanked Kurtulmak for that.
The clouds in the wizard’s mind parted to allow bits of the surrounding banter to enter his consciousness like rays of sunshine breaking through the rain. Explosives? Soap soldiers? Ripplestick? Hadn’t they heard that name before? There was a new clockwork, covered in Yithic runes not unlike Calibre. Was there a link between these automatons and his namesake wizard-priest? Thalazzar had other things to worry about at that moment but he was sure his Dream-induced visions had revealed something. Gwuzbuloopip? Tallim? Was Eudaemonia a city in the Order? The gnome was babbling about a timer being set and coordinating with the dwarf on the collapse of several hundred tons of earth in close proximity to Cauldron. What was going on?
Dragana was tugging on his sleeve. “Dark magic master, documents you must see! This way, time we no have.” Ah yes, Mastof Golgadin was a necromancer recalled Thalazzar.
“Show the master Dragana, you shall be rewarded for your loyalty if you survive our escape” promised the wizard.
Dragana led Thalazzar down the darkened crypt hallway, past the blasted remnants of the undead and past the disarmed traps to Mastof’s office, passing his master the documents he had found in the workshop desk. One document appeared to have a transliteration of Yithic into common. He would have to reexamine the clockworks he decided. The kobold’s new sheathed sword hung low on the lizard’s back, clipping at his heels as he led them on. This kobold has done well thought Thalazzar, noting the chattering creature’s bulging pockets. They would have to discuss the kobolds rewards indeed determined Thalazzar. Slightly behind them the clockwork Self plodded along with them.
Entering Mastof’s office, Thalazzar drew forth Sally’s spellbook. His clouded mind was void of arcane spells and so he expended the copy of detect magic in the necromantic tome rather than miss an opportunity to find some of Mastof’s trinkets. Thalazzar had decided that it was far too late to avoid adding House Golgadin to their growing list of enemies. Ivindof had kidnapped him. His companions had looted the Golgadin covert facility. They had destroyed some of his expensive product. They had stolen evidence of his illicit trading enterprise. And now the gnome was planning to explode the underground catacombs. What? Thalazzar’s mind cleared and the realization of what the gnome was about to do finally sunk in.
“Dragana! We must run!” shouted Thalazzar as he ran past Self and back towards the workshop.
The kobolds little legs pumped hard to keep up to the master, slowed by his protests that he had tried to warn the wizard. Bursting back into the workshop, the trio saw that their friends had completed their plans and they were prepared to detonate the whole place. With a wry smile, the gnome set the fuse and they were off again at full speed, hurtling down a poorly lit tunnel that they thought led towards Cauldron Pond. What? Why are we blowing this place up when we don’t know where this tunnel goes? Apparently it was too late. The companions were still running when the explosive charge detonated and the roar of collapsing tunnels behind them filled their ears and staggered their stride.
They kept going and, thankfully, their choice in tunnels was correct. Delayed only by a short melee with some final undead guardians, the group escaped from the underground complex intact through the Golgadin waterfront warehouse. They headed back to the Uncle Ogre’s Monocle. It might not be safe for long but after the past day, they had no choice but to rest. Ahead of them lay the Order, behind them lay yet another new enemy.
* * *
As the companions sat about a table in the corner of the Monocle discussing their next move, Thalazzar filled the companions in on what he knew about House Golgadin. What he had heard as rumour from the Bostikan privateer Loifen Three-Feathers was now confirmed and Thalazzar related this to his companions;
“This merchant house based here in Cauldron is owned by the Golgadin family. The Golgadin, once hereditary rulers of the River Barony of Golga, are the survivors of a factional conflict between rival barons serving various members of the Gallantish nobility. Golgadin lands were overrun and annexed by the forces of Baron Smiltsvin ten years ago and the remaining members of the Golgadin have lived in exile ever since. Although without land, the Golgadin retained a substantial amount of wealth including a small fleet of ships on Lake Seluna. Baron Mastof sought refuge with his younger brother in the Federation city of Cauldron. Ivindof had invested his inheritance into soap manufacturing and with the addition of his brother’s capital, shipping assets and connections in the River Baronies, House Golgadin quickly strong-armed their way to mercantile success. Despite their success, Baron Mastof seeks to re-conquer his lands in the Baronies. This is apparently a source of tension between Mastof and Ivindof as the latter has grown fond of his luxurious playboy lifestyle and fears that his brother’s obsession with things political outside the Federation will be bad for business.”
“Originally, Baron Mastof began dabbling in necromancy as a source of power, drawing on the dark magic of Nerull to inspire fear in his political rivals. Ironically, Nerull’s gifts over the dead presented Mastof with an odd business opportunity when his Barony was overrun – the trade of animated corpses from one conflict to another on either side of the Federation. House Golgadin began acquiring spent dream herds in Divinity and bringing the corpses onto the Federation side of the border where they were cleaned, armoured, and animated. House Golgadin soap factories thus began a more ominous and secret production after hours with their large vats boiling unwanted flesh from valuable bones. The Baron reportedly finds the smell of rotting zombie flesh highly offensive. Only polished bone will do, and only the most artistic and intricately carved bones suffice for his personal retinue. Once prepared, the “Golgadin Soap Soldiers” are sold back to the factions fighting in the jungles of Divinity and his allies in the River Baronies. In particularly, remember hearing that they worked with the El Jabón Dream Cartel in Divinity. House Golgadin made a nice profit, as their Soap Soldiers could easily carry heavy armour in the hot, humid jungles and could hack their way through the vegetation without exhausting themselves. They could also hide in the weedy depths of the Bithtat Sengar River, doing nothing except creating the occasional soapy bubble as they wait for the command to march into Golgadin hereditary lands.”
“Apparently, Ivindof and Mastof have had some additional tension recently as the Baron has grown tired of the former’s spending habits. It is good fortune that the Baron is away in the north as he is far more powerful than his playboy brother. Perhaps he is in Kronos? I heard he has a dwarven agent there named Jormak who acquires components for him. Altogether, I count myself lucky as what happened to me as a result of Ivindof’s displeasure pales in comparison to what Mastof could have done. It could have been my animated corpse you were fighting down here. We will have to beware his servants now. Loifen told me stories of the Baron’s enforcer, a particularly violent hobgoblin named Haggledip. He is said to always wear a mask to hide his bright blue nose and often travels in disguise. House Golgadin is even more powerful now. From what I learned at the steam baths, they are in league with some corrupt members of the Federation Border Marshals and are even funding the town guard at their own expense. We will have to take care in leaving the city as we can expect many Cauldron officials might be tempted to bring justice to us rather than to House Golgadin, particularly since we have caused great damage to Golgadin and thus Cauldron interests. Perhaps the gnomes can fly us out in the Daisy Cutter?”
Thalazzar looked to his companions for their thoughts, but the exhaustion of the past day was catching up to him. They would need a rest in preparation for the road ahead.
Nothing in master Blaylock's books prepared me for the world outside the lab where I was born. So many strange peoples, most with motives I do not understand. I understand now why so much of master's journals were focused on thought governors and and morality circuits. It appears to a very difficult to get right. A frighteningly high percentage of the creatures I've encountered in my short life are suffering from malfunctions in ...well... whatever passes as a morality circuit in a biologic brain.
Master Blaylock's journals referred to 'Evil' at one point. At the time I couldn't infer the meaning of the word. Now I understand. Evil is a malfunction of the mind. With master's research notes, I might eventually learn to correct a malfunctioning clockwork brain, but what of biologic brains? I assume the creator of the biologics would have repaired his malfunctioning creations if he knew how. Or perhaps the creator of biologics has disappeared just as my creator ahs disappeared. Did he leave design notes as master Blaylock did? I must enquire.
It seems those suffering from 'Evil' have a particular interest in me. First the thugs on the street who subdued me. Then the one who experimented upon me and took my arm. Was he trying to discover a cure for his 'Evil'? If so, he was looking in the wrong place. I doubt a ticktock brain will be of much help in the repair of the biologic brain. No, he seemed interested more interested in my runes and my arm. His interest in my arm seems clear, increasing the destructive potential of his 'Flesh Golem' creation. Why my runes intrigued him, I cannot say. A pity I didn't have more time to examine his library. Perhaps there was a book on biologic brains and their malfunctions?
Fortunately I was rescued be a new group. My rescuers appear to mean well. The seem to be more skilled than I at identifying those suffering from the Evil affliction. Sadly they have no 'cure' to offer. They are often forced to destroy the malfunctioning ones when the 'Evil' is causing them to act destructively. Is it acceptable to destroy the destroyer?
I decided to test this by charging the malfunctioning creature called 'Undead Minotaur' which had demonstrated an intent to damage companion Nimbus. My own morality circuit did not intervene. However my attack failed, and almost lead to my destruction. It seems I must study the ways of combat, since 'Evil' seems to have an interest in me. However, my top priority must be to find the creators, including master Blaylock, and find a way to repair 'Evil'.
CHAPTER THREE: Clockwork Blue
D.ex.M. & RIN
Enter Tiganis Rin
After making the trip from Selunaport to Lake Dakar, Tiganis Rin was not in the least disheartened to find that the Dwarven shipbuilder his patron hoped to purchase had already been sold. Even if the overland visit had taken him away from his dreams of swashbuckling on Lake Seluna, it did afford him a chance to visit Riot’s Gate, and on the eve of the terrible eclipse, no less! He and Bao Xi (Lu Rin's business associate) were in the Skybridge Tram returning from McGreevy Town when it was stalled by a fantastic battle, and rescued by a daring group of adventurers who were still being celebrated as heroes across the Federation (Oh how Rin wished he could have been there himself!)
In Cauldron, while Patron Rin’s representative looked through the books of several other shipbuilders whose operations were up for sale (or potentially for sale) Rin had a lot of time to wander around the docks of Cindercone, Cauldron’s neighbouring port. Most owners were based in Cauldron while most operations were based in Cindercone. Rin’s task of hanging around the docks to try to get a sense of the operations Bao Xi would consider purchasing left him a lot of time to do what he most inclined to do regardless, hang around with sailors and dockhands to swap lies and tales.
The lines to get into Cauldron, a state capital, were long and the Border Marshals here were particularly corrupt, so Rin found a place to stay in Cincdercone. He would meet with Bao Xi every couple of days to share his observations of the establishment under consideration and here the latest update on the sales negotiations.
Rin had found another Dwarven shipbuilder, Piotr Timbershins, who ran a tight little operation that he was not looking to sell. Rin had learned, however, that Tibershins was enough in debt that he might be willing to take on a partner, especially one as wealthy as Lu Rin. Bao Xi was delighted with this news and said he would look into it. Apparently negotiations in Cauldron were not going well.
Rin had started watching the Dwarf regularly and making discreet inquiries. By and large he liked what he heard and saw of the shrewd businessman if not the conservative shipbuilder. One evening after watching Piotr speaking in a tight little knot of older, rougher looking dwarves in a dockside bar, he was surprised to see them joined by a human priest of St. Cuthbert. After speaking briefly, all, including Piotr, soon left the bar and Rin was a little too curious to exercise as much cautious as was his nature. He found the surly group of Dwarves, and the priest, waiting for him outside. “Like what you’ve been hearing sonny-boy?” one of them growled.
Rin stood in the doorway of the bar, his back to the light pouring into the street, his darkened face would be his only advantage, he thought to himself wryly as he surveyed the area for a quick exit to the rooftops.
Rin had little doubt he was about to receive a beating, when he heard one of the Dwarves comment on the “nimbus of light” that framed him in the window. These words seemed to hold the priest fast where he was standing, a wizened Trudorean with long white hair. He called for the closing Dwarves to halt and stepped forward to inquire Rin’s name and business.
For some reason, Rin thought the better of lying and was totally honest with the man he would later learn was named Wulfgar. Much to his own surprise, he even spoke aloud about his interest in Piotr.
Wulfgar was immediately very interested to know more of Rin’s heritage and Rin was only too happy to keep the conversation going. As long as the ywere talking, those Dawrves weren’t kicking him into the dust. Even as he spoke, and the Dwarves became notably calmer and more interested in the conversation, Wulfgar’s attention seemed to be elsewhere.
By this point, Rin was not surprised when Wulfgar suggested to Piotr that he consider Bao Xi’s offer and said he would act as a guarantor for Rin’s character, begging the shipbuilder to overlook the bit of “spying” in which Rin had been engaged as “all in the name of business,” something that to Piotr, being a Dwarf, actually made perfect sense.
Wulfgar begged the Dwarves to excuse his haste, their business having been concluded, and asked Rin to join him on a walk to Cauldron. Before they left, Piotr grabbed Rin’s shoulder and spun him around to offer his hand to shake. He looked at him slyly and growled, “I look forward to doing business with you.”
Wulfgar leaned on Rin much of the walk up to Cauldron Gate, much as a grandfather might walk with his grandson. Rin found himself doing most of the talking, answering Wulfgar’s familiar questions, which seemed to Rin, like little more than friendly small talk.
Along the way, Wulfgar explained that he would like him to meet some friends of his who would have a business proposition for him, but he would ask another Cuthbertian priest to make the introductions. For the small indulgence, he assured him that he would be able to guarantee the sought after partnership with the Dwarf, Piotr.
At the temple, Wulfgar bade farewell to Rin. When he exchanged words with a neophyte, who seemed to have been waiting his return with a large bundle of equipment, the young priest cast Rin an appraising look. Wulfgar told him that he had to attend some business, which would include a word the following day with Bao Xi He asked that Rin accompany the neophyte and assist him with the load. Had it been any less a person than this distinguished priest who had begged such indulgences, Rin would surely have balked, but as it was, he felt he could only agree.
After moving down towards the central part of the city, the docks around Cauldron pond, Rin and the neophyte soon reached a ramshackle if not well kept tavern and inn called Uncle Ogre’s Monocle. Rin felt some splash on his cheek, though it had not rained in days and the sky remained clear.
Rin and the neophyte waited barside, soberly playing pick-sticks, well into the night. Finally, long after the last visitor had left, a group of companions, as filthy as they looked exhausted, stumbled noisily in. The neophyte smiled broadly, looked at Rin, and stood, looking for all the world as though he were preparing to address royalty.
Peering through the glass view plate Thalazzar felt a little nervous. Although he had full control of his movements in the murky depths, he had been through a lot in the last few days. With only a few hours to sleep to clear his mind of the residual effects of the Dream, they had undertaken another quest. They were running short on time but to have left Cauldron at that moment would likely have meant further suffering for the city.
Returning to the Daisy Cutter they had found that Calibre had somehow managed to open a planar gate to the plane of elemental water and disappear within it. It was now thought that the water pouring forth from the open gate would flow into Cauldron and dangerously raise the water level within town. Or so they surmised. The gnome engineers onboard the zeppelin had ventured through the gate and found it akin to an undersea mechanist’s nightmare. And so, the gnomes had outfitted their company with underwater armour that permitted them freedom of movement and the ability to breath. The group had then entered the plane searching for Calibre and a gnome and Clockwork who had been lost within. Perhaps they would save the city from yet another calamity.
Accompanying them was a new addition to their motley crew – Tiganis Rin. He was a Selunaport swashbuckler of mixed elvish descent, not unlike many of the other sell-swords who he had sailed with before the Eye of Independence. Thalazzar immediately liked his demeanour. He had the good intentions of Domaldi with a little of the tendency to misbehave that he liked about Tiberio. He seemed to know his way around a sword as well so Thalazzar put up no dispute when the Order of St. Cuthbert asked them to let him join their company. Thalazzar had shown him the Hankuan tapestry that they had retrieved weeks prior. Rin was able to tell them that it was not, in fact, Hankuan and that Wooden Toad had died five years ago. A vague memory from his visions returned to him – a gate in a tapestry?
An agent met the group from the Order of St. Cuthbert in the Uncle Ogre’s Monocle who claimed to speak on behalf of Inquisitor Quinn. He passed to the wizard and his companions the broken hilt of the Justinian family blade, now enchanted to link them to the Inquisitor during the journey to the Order. He also bore magical equipment, promised to them by the representatives of St. Cuthbert, to aid them on their quest inside the Monotheocratic Order. For Thalazzar their gift was Pillar, a dark arcane conjuror’s staff of some power. Holding the firm ash wood in his hands, the wizard was humbled by the powers within it. He could sense its links to the beyond and its ability to strengthen his magic. This was a mighty gift and holding it in his clenched fist alleviated the guilt he felt for having sold Kalthanalas to the merchant Magus of the Ebb, Nulzdindantilus. Wielding Pillar, the Dream-induced clouds in his mind parted even more. He had been very uncomfortable leaving it, along with most of his possessions, onboard the Daisy Cutter while they traveled about the planes of existence.
Thalazzar’s only previous sight of the realms beyond was a momentary glimpse of the City of Tin during his last battle with the Khi’Ganad. In that moment he had observed watery war elementals bearing magic cloaks, bound into infinite, enchanted servitude to their alien astral masters. The wizard did know very well how elementals felt. The blow he had received in the Devourer depths was perhaps the worst of his life and had brought him close to death. Venturing into the plane of elemental water did not seem that appealing.
The wizard went, however, bearing only what he could wear under the underwater armour, his daggers and a harpoon launcher. His kobold manservant also came along. How humourous the creature looked in his underwater gear! Babbling about his adoration of the wizard within an enclosed bubble of glass, the kobold was quite comical if not for the sharpened daggers the creature carried and the evil glint in his eye. Dragana had served him well in the past few days and had already paid for Thalazzar’s mercy several times over. The wizard felt justified in thinking that he had been right about the lizard’s destiny. What dangers it had faced and what more lay before it? Thalazzar determined that his companion would serve a while longer.
Thalazzar might not have gone into the plane if not for the curious connections to his namesake, Thala Xevar. Calibre was an underwater battle-clockwork with an internal link to the plane of water. For what purpose? Speaking with the gnomes and Ts’elf, Thalazzar had learned of their connection to an evil clockwork maker named Ripplestick. Elements of the Order plot were falling into place. Apparently the clockworks had been smuggled to agents within the Order, one of whom, the buyer, had signed his document “T.X.”. Was this his namesake the wizard-priest Thala Xevar? Alive and plotting within the Federation on behalf of the Order? Ivindof Golgadin seemed to have thought that Thalazzar was Thala Xevar, so much in fact, that he had kidnapped him and held him in his brother’s dungeon! Given the leather token that Urban and Arek had found in the Temple of Sss’rast there now seemed little doubt that this was the case. Perhaps, thought the wizard with a sense of irony, he had now twice robbed the wizard of his possessions! Unfortunate, he mused, that he had not connected these threads while he himself was at the Temple. Perhaps one of those Order agents ate by giant frogs had been one of the infamous seventeen ruling Thala Mourne? Thalazzar doubted that, although within his glass breathing bubble he chuckled at the thought of twice passing by the presumed dead body of a ruling member of the Order. Perhaps the beggar knew more, his mysticism had linked him to that Temple and he now shared its memories. Would he recall the wizard-priest? And what connection did this 300-year old clockwork vessel in another dimension have to the Order plot if any? Despite the headache that still clouded his mind, the Dream had connected some of the various questions in his head. The various plots were weaving closer together.
The companions had already assumed that the Order agents had been the ones to smuggle Tallim out of the Federation. They had found the escaped Tyconderoga’s feathers within the cage in their hideout. Images in his head burned clearly as he pushed along behind his companions through the water. The gnome was on the trail of her kin through the eerie green waters of the beyond. They were exploring this mechanical ship, the Venture.
Thalazzar’s thoughts drifted to the image of Tallim – it must be Tallim - veiled in black, white skin burned red, raven black hair matted to her flesh with sweat and sand. Swarthy, Yithic-speaking men were guarding her caravan as they moved. The sounds of that language was all that had alluded him before, soon their tongue would be his own just as he had learned the language of devils in the dark depths of the Khi’Ganad.
Sharks - these were no elemental beings. With a few arcane shouts, his minions came; Dribblinateen, an aquan water-devil of Skorvatok and Uyummagund, a mischievous water mephit, likely drawn to this place from his own watery home not so far away. Thalazzar left his companions to the sea-creatures and returned to his thoughts.
The trail had grown hot, acknowledged the wizard. He now had faces to find, voices to listen for, and places to search for. The agents trail passed through Telemar. It ended in Eudaemonia. The companions must turn to geography now to see where exactly their road would lead. The stolen Golgadin documents marked a smuggling route under the Wall of the Righteous. Thalazzar would need to observe the maps, but that would likely be their way. They only had a few days remaining before Woden’s threat would come due. Would that road lead too close to Divinity? Having made enemies of House Golgadin, and perhaps the El Jabón dream cartel, would that road be clear? Perhaps the infamous Golgadin undead soap soldiers waited for them in the jungles beyond?
The companions began to venture outside of the Venture and into the elemental plane, crawling along a chain through the murky green in search of Calibre and Keratone, the Daisy Cutter’s Clockwork doctor. One of the gnomes had been found amongst the sharks so their wandering had not been in vain. The chain appeared to lead to a coral node, floating adrift in the planar vastness. Schools of exotic fish darted in and out of its environs and the water of the current passing over his armour felt pleasant, despite the danger of being washed away into the nothingness around them.
Thalazzar’s full attention now rested on the objectives at hand as they all sensed danger ahead. They located a skiff, indicating the probable presence of Keratone and Calibre and so they dared journeying into the darkened alcoves and coral caves. Following his companions into the darkness, they saw their way by the light emanating from the beggar. The wizard considered that he likely should adjust his view of the man. While he was as strange as ever and continued to speak in riddles, his power had grown considerably and he was now far more mystic than beggar.
Winding through the elemental depths they came upon a large cavern. Peering into the gloom, the companions could see multi-coloured stalactites piercing upwards through a layer of gold and jewels. The wizard’s mouth dropped open with the sight of such wealth. Much of his gold had been stolen by Ivindof and this treasure would go far to readjust his wealth to the lifestyle to which he was growing accustomed.
But there was movement in the water. A lithe, black, scaled monstrosity clawed its way down a ridge of yellowish-coral from above. A dragon! The companions froze in terror. The beast opened its maw wide, displaying an impressive rack of sharp glinting teeth and emitting a gargled, burbling roar of challenge that resounded off into the watery depths. They began to step away, gauging their next move. Many of his companions were wounded from their fight with the sharks. Thalazzar had expended several spells and wondered if his remaining repertoire would be sufficient to fell such a terrible opponent. There was doubt and fear. Their new companion Rin retreated in absolute terror. With one swoosh of its great wings, the beast launched itself off the coral ceiling, swimming rapidly at them through the water, its claws reaching out for them. It seemed quite eager to devour them for disturbing its horde. As the creature charged Thalazzar cursed his own greed. How could he have missed the gigantic skeletal remains of a sea creature and the broken clockworks amongst the glimmering treasure? Too late now.
The dragon rushed the companions, intent on their destruction. If not for Tiberio’s spell song that dazed the creature, they might not have survived its charge. As it was, Thalazzar blasted the beast with everything he had remaining. The wizard hit the dragon with a purple burst of blinding demon dust, covering it with a million glittering motes of light and illuminating the chamber with its sparkling brilliance. But the spell had no other effect on the creature. As the beggar-turned-mystic moved to absorb the dragon’s charge, Thalazzar unleashed a spell that covered the creature in magical webs, anchored the dragon between two coral stalagmites and the floor. Furious at its entanglement, the dragon reared its neck back in the webs, thrashing about for a moment trying to free itself. Unable to do so, it roared and breathed a cloud of acidic breath directly onto the beggar in its path. But the strange mystic emerged unscathed and to the dragon’s surprise, the man swam away into the shadows created by the brilliant purple dust, perhaps searching now for two lost clockworks.
In his absence, the companions fired everything they had into the creature. Harpoons, magic, floating enchanted hammers of Moradin, retractable clockwork arms, and more harpoons. The dragon thrashed in its web, unable to avoid the blows, and unable to bring its ferocious talons and jaws to bear. From an air-filled alcove above, the mystic quickly returned with Calibre and the lost gnome, all of whom quickly engaged the captured dragon pummeling it repeatedly. Clouds of the dragon’s blood began to flow freely amongst the coral cavern, intermingling with the remaining particles of demon dust. Thalazzar thought that it looked a bit like a miniature lightning storm on a dark cloudy night, reflecting on a moonlit sea of treasure below. Before long the dragon slowed and with one final blow, it fell still. The companions raised their arms in a silent, underwater cheer, each to their own within the water-tight air bubble of their underwater armour.
A victory! But only one success in a longer war. And the companions’ time was quickly running out.
Frankie knew something was bad when she noticed the stream of water coming from her uncle's airship. She pulled a clean rag from a pocket compartment of her Kantankeran utility suit and wiped her brow before reseating her engineer goggles. I wonder what else is going to go wrong today? She thought to herself.
Her hand drifted down to a gift from the order of St. Cuthbert. A wrench like no other, the DM Good Wrench. She had never heard of it before, but it was definitely made for a clockmaker. Her other companions had received similar gifts, but Frankie was uneasy. If it was not for a God's manipulation, she wouldn't be here. A shiver passed through her as she realized that here was far better, than as a corpse. She could have ended up like Professor Corie.
As she climbed up, she only hoped this new issue wouldn't top having to blow up a necromancer's lab, after surviving a labyrinth of deadly traps and filled with foul undead.
One of her uncle's crew greeted her at the top of the ladder, and urged the group to go to the ship's meeting room. Arriving there, the ship's first mate, a clockwork named Auger, greeted them and filled them in on what had transpired while they were away at the necromancer's. Apparently the ring attached to the recently removed thrall module on Calibre opened a gate to the elemental plane of water. Her uncle and Keratone entered the portal to get Calibre to return, in the hopes that he could close the portal... otherwise, the city of Cauldron could get flooded! To make matters worse, her uncle and Keratone had not been heard from in some time. This meant that her group, dead tired, had to venture into who knows what on a rescue mission. Auger topped this bit of news with more gloom: the diving suits to allow the group to enter the plane of water needed to be modified. Frankie stiffled a yawn, and advised everyone to get some rest while she worked away on them.
Looking over the suits, she recalled the exertion required for swimming. The last thing she needed was to be physically tired, especially when the swimming pool would all encompassing. Frankie remembered from some recent studies that clerical magick could remove exhaustion. She asked Auger to fetch a cleric for her, and then got to work.
An hour passed, and things were going ok. Considering that she had never worked on suits like this before, she was doing very well. A cleric of Yondalla arrived, and cast the restorative magic. Frankie handed her some rubies as thanks and went back to work.
Finally Frankie was done. She decided to stretch her legs, and went to look over the bilge operation to see if anyone needed a hand.
The sun was starting to peak at her in the predawn, and she sent a prayer that her uncle, Keratone, and Calibre were doing ok. Please watch over them Cable.
Eventually her companions stirred, and after Thalazar emerged from his cabin, Auger explained how the suits worked. She went over her tool belt and placed needed materials in her water-proof backpack. Finally she walked up to Auger and handed him her x-bow. "Please take good care of it Auger", Frankie smiled at him, hoping they would make it back.
The companions suited up, and Nimbus went through first into the water beyond. They eventually entered a large ship, with nothing but grease pencils and whiteboards to communicate with.
Moving further in, they spotted grease markings notating where Keratone and Uncle Sparks had gone. Frankie noticed the large amounts of clockwork Tick Talk throughout the ship. She smiled, silently thanking Calibre for all the discussions they had had on the Clockwork language.
Exploring further, they finally made their way to the forward operations area. In there, a console showed Calibre as being part of the crew's manifest... and that the ship had been around for over three hundred years! Apparently gnomes had not created the clockworks. Just wait until she told the folks back home about this one! In hindsight, Frankie realized she had forgotten to look to see if Ripplestick's name was on the manifest. Her investigation was interrupted as an octopus came in through the operation area broken window. Nimbus calmed it, and it swam away.
Moving onwards, they made it down to the forward launch bay. There were lots of strange underwater creature bits floating about, along with sharks of all sizes. A fight broke out, and Frankie had to do some quickwork to fix some people's air regulators from excessive shark bitage.
Once things were calm again, they came upon a derelict launch. Inside, they found Uncle Sparks! The air was stale, so Frankie hooked up their spare air supply. Tiberio helped him come too, and Uncle Sparks related what had happened prior to his unconsiousness.
With a promise to return to him, Frankie joined the group in heading over to a large ball of coral that the mammoth vessel had anchored itself too.
Crossing the chain was hazardous. Luckily, the underwater suits had enchanted collars of free-movement in them. After a short exploration, they came into a large chamber... and a familiar sense of dread came over Frankie.
Two eyes, smaller than Mnemonium's, regarded the companions. Unlike her experience with the great gold dragon, this black dragon did not withold it's fear, and it's intentions were clear.
Frankie gasped at the sight, and a memory surfaced...
..and shot the harpoon dead center into the breast of the black dragon, steeling herself to ignore the overwhelming fear it was exhibiting.
She noticed out of the corner of her eye poor Rin running off in dragon terror, but resumed firing at the dragon. 'This is it', she thought to herself, 'it is the dragon or us.'
Soon Tiberio joined her to get more harpoons, and even Kerato