“The isles are chocked full of danger. Danger is everywhere. It’s smell, like the remnant odor of a fine bottle of wine long ago consumed, lingers inside, even though there’s no good reason for it to still be there. Should one survive a foray into this tangle of misery, the smell of that misery will linger with you as well. Forever.”
Lord Humbolt, once Captain of the Guard, Far Realm
“We’ve got to hurry!”
Scroll in hand, they raced towards the scrap yard just outside of town. At first, the clues the killer had given them within the note had pointed them to the only other place one might find themselves in Areia’s Landing in the evening, Glitterdust. A bar of a very different sort, whose sole performer was a local celebrity. After some detective work, Zy’an and the others found that Star was being followed, tracked, watched. This led them to an abandoned warehouse just across from her apartment, which was above the bar. But that lead turned cold. For Star’s stalker was nothing more than an infatuated kid, who knew something more sinister was afoot. Now, after discovering that Star wasn’t who she claimed she was, and neither was the person stalking her, the new governors had found themselves with a second note. And this one was far too direct.
In a sprint, with so little time and a murderer on the loose, they debriefed as best they could. “What do we know about this place?” asked Zy’an. His arms and legs were moving perfectly in unison. His breath hadn’t changed. The monk controlled his breathing in the way a horse trainer rode a horse. It was as if he were talking while relaxing in a chair, effortlessly.
“We know that the lord Andril used what we call “war-forged” to build the docks and this is where they were scrapped. We do not go out here. It is where they live,” huffed Billingsweed in a little shrill chirrup between breaths. “That is, it is claimed by some that several of them are still activated. And as such are not needed anymore”. Zy’an detected a trace of polished verbage from the gnome. If anyone could smooth over a phrase, certainly it was Billingsweed. The little man was many paces behind them, rounding a corner as fast as his feet would take him. No one asked about the war forged. Although they were quite rare to see in the isles, they were known to be golems of a sort brought to life by arcane magicks. Celns did not believe in slavery, a crime punishable by immediate inquisition the realm over. However, the war forged were simple re-animations. Soul-less. And so users of magic dabbled. But little came of them. It was common for many towns to scrap their discarded remains. Little thought went into it.
“So the murderer is about to kill someone in a place that we aren’t wanted by a group of rusting and perhaps resentful slaves essentially,” said Iricah. “That sounds fairly typical.”
The night had gone from tiring to hysterical to fundamentally insane and now quite serious. While celebrating their grand performance earlier than night, a note arrived for them at Slimmy’s Bucket, and it’s contents were simple enough. The clues stacked up. Someone was being murdered, slowly. Each was easy enough and Frank more than once wondered why. This latest led them to the scrapyard. But they were only just realizing that this was now the third such set of notes. For several weeks, the person or persons known as The Raven had butchered twice, and sent notes to the local newspaper. At first, the notes were published as if it were some serial fiction. But the fiction part ended when the first death, a young writer at the newspaper herself, was brutally murdered there. This was what the locals were discussing their first night at The Bucket, but there was too much going on to take it all in. Literally, and metaphorically, the smoke obscured the city. The second victim had been a young miner. Now the choking and suffering stench of the fires from the mines and the idea of another death by this villain calling him or herself The Raven, was threatening to break their hold on their new province.
And they couldn’t allow that. Without the mines working again, and the murderer captured or stopped, Areia’s Landing was going to fail to be more than a latrine stop for pirates soon. And for some reason, they didn’t feel like letting that happen.
They arrived at the hill overlooking the bay just as the sun was beginning to settle near the treeline. It was indeed a dump, but because it sat above the smoke from the mines, and the burning sections of the town below, it was refreshing in a way they didn’t expect. It was also filled with twisted metal and debris of varying sizes. In the middle of the piles rested several large crates, intact. Large enough to each hold several horses, it was there they knew they needed to look first.
Iricah was about to ask the others if they thought the war forged builders had maybe left their hideaway, or perhaps they had run out of fuel in the way a fire would. She wasn’t sure about such things, but had heard stories of these Kasillian inventions being brought to use. Suddenly, a jumble of rusted metal seemed to collect into one motion and what looked like something meant to do an arm’s job, but made of metal bars came to life and grabbed her leg. Behind the arm a body formed which rose upon several metal legs ending in large points. The legs totaled eight in number and the creature moved around on them like a giant spider!
Two eyes opened in something resembling a metal mask upon the body made at first glace from ship parts, and Iricah immediately flashed back to the iron golem on First Isle. A monotone yet powerful and anger filled voice came from the mask. “Trespassers! Celn trespassers!” And then other bits of metal in different places began to animate and form crude bodies. The war-forged golems were rusted and broken in many places. One could see where bits of junk like an old ship’s railing guard were reworked and attached. Several held what looked like crude weapons, nothing more than bits of junk yard rubbish really. But they still looked formidable. Zy’an slowly crept into his defensive posture. He whispered to Frank. “Somehow, this seems like your territory, big guy.”
“Me? Why because they are soul-less, I am supposed to use the power of soul to sooth them?” Frank stood his ground, and moved his shield around to the front of his body, but words failed him.
“SOUL-LESS?!!!!” roared the spider legged creature. “SOUL-LESS????!!!!” Behind them, something was activated, something big! A huge metal crane of some kind swung around and nearly took their heads off. The other war-forged moved in to the command of their leader.
“Wait!” cried Iricah. “Wait. We are not your enemy blast it! And it’s likely we might even be your friends!”
(Below is the bullshit when a player rolls several 20s during a skill challenge and makes complete enemies into her personal buddies. You know who you are! ) Between the lot of them, they manage to convince the war-forged to let them search the cargo containers in exchange for a gift. The leader, who is called Spider by the others, is reluctant at first, but hears something of value in what they say, each of them. Additionally, the party promises to rethink their place in the colony’s charter. A promise that none of the war-forged fully believe. The party is given just minutes to conduct their business.
“There,” points Spider with a hand made from several spoons, forks and knives. “A young member of your humankind is being refitted for parts.”
Zy’an, knowing the time was limited, led the others quickly to the cargo hold and he knew, as did they all, before opening it that Star was no longer alive. The stench of carrion met their noses yards away. Drawing their weapons and preparing their spells, they opened the cargo container doors, and immediately wished they hand’t. Nothing they had seen had prepared them for this, even the hag’s lair, the most abyssal place that Frank could think of, didn’t compare. A blue dragon streaking for them in the sky, a horde of undead crawling silently through a moonlit grassy hill. This was worse.
While the fading light of the day diminished behind them, and the smell of the smoke lingered from the fires below, the doors creaked out to reveal the work of a butcher. The glistening red that met their eyes from every wall was staggering. Chains dangled from the ceiling, pieces of flesh hung loosely from them here or there, grizzle and gore scattered on the floor as though someone had simply opened up a body and flung it’s innards outwards. No one quite knew what they were actually looking at, until Iricah pointed to the head of Star, stuck upon a table. A note was neatly tented next to it that read simply, “Too late.”
“By the Light’s Holy Radiance,” sighed Frank. “Who could do such a …”
And that was when a primal, grinding, brain rending voice from the back of the cart, deep in the shadows there, spoke to them. “DO YOU LIKE MY WORK, CELNS? DO YOU LIKE WHAT I’VE DONE FOR HER?”
“For her? Don’t you mean to her?” Areia stepped inside. It’s stabbing time friends.
Together, they crept towards the back of the cargo container. In just a few feet they could make out a body, hanging from the back wall. It was that of a young woman, nude, and what was done to it was unthinkable. A definition that Iricah planned to renegotiate after seeing Star’s corpse. But who could this be? A new victim? Someone they had missed? A series of chains were protruding from gaping and bloody holes in the back of her flesh. Her arms were pulled by chains so that they were spread outwards, but the hands were not tied, the chains were attached somehow to bloody stumps where hands should have been.
“Who is that? Another victim?” asked Iricah. She was crouching behind Thrak who was swishing his axes in the air and making his guttural noises that told all he was nervous even though he would never admit such a thing.
“Be wary, the villain is here somewhere. We will worry about this poor soul when we’ve dispatched the fiend.” Zy’an answered.
Frank walked slowly next to Thrak careful where he stepped. And careful to keep his mind at ease. Flame guide me.
“Oh, I’d worry about me now master monk!” came the inhuman voice once more and this time the head of the tortured woman swiveled around. Red eyes gleamed outwards, placing a twin beam of red right on the monk’s chest. At the same time, a whooshing noise from behind them blasted through the container, sending chains flying and slamming the outer doors shut. It was no accident. They heard a lock click into place, and the chains began to animate all around them. Many they now saw had knives attached to their ends. They were trapped in a den of horrors!
The unholy marriage of chain and woman from the back somehow was more than a body. The chains, like living snakes, came to life and sprang out from her towards them all, slashing and cutting them down. She laughed as though watching something funny in a play, and stepped nonchalantly forward. Her nude form was a sick menagerie of wounds and cuts, holes that oozed and pussed where the chains coiled outwards from her insides. It was disgusting and cruel to look at. The thing stepped forward confidently, like a queen, a queen of anger, of hatred. The red eyes searched for her next victim.
Snap went the chains around them. They tore into the flesh of their ankles and their arms and legs. Iricah recieved a blow across her back that sent her tumbling backwards. “Pain! Pain you impudent fools. You will be cleansed of your fear, through pain!!!!” The chained thing moved through them, swiping the hanging meat aside, licking it’s lips. It’s fangs glistened. It was a nightmare. A thing that should have been on the floor writhing in pain, and yet, here it was relishing it. Almost, happy.
“Oh snap!” yelled Areia as a chain broke over her head. She used her momentum to tumble over the floor and side step the beast, tripping it. “Who could do such a thing to you, dear woman?” she sighed, plunging her dagger into the back of the chained thing. But the devil simply laughed and stood up, knocking Areia over.
“I did this to myself. Do you like my art? Wait until you see what I plan to do to you!”
They were in a heated battle now, with chains rattling around them, slashing and piercing their skins. Zy’an waded in and seemed to jump around the room like a caged cricket. He bounded over a chain here, and through a loop there. Each time, he struck with expertise, sending the putrid monster back with each punch, or kick. Iricah sang to the others, giving them strength, while Frank swung away, slashing through the chains, and into his foe.
Finally, it was she who was pushed back. She lay against the back of the compartment, and laughed, breathing, finally as though she couldn’t much longer. Blood splattered outwards of her nose and mouth and she began to cry. “My father, the fool!!!! My mother saved me!!!!! She saved me from what he planned!!!”
Father? They were dumbfounded, and yet before anyone could think, Thrak pushed through them all. Frank had never seen him in such a rage, a fit of monstrous motion. Both axes swung in an arc from left to right, taking off her head, and slicing into her abdomen, spilling her guts. She fell over into a heap. The battle was over.
It took them awhile to control their breathing. Zy’an waited. Something about his meditations had led him to a deeper state. He found himself no longer needing to breath as he had before. There in the darkness, after several minutes, they finally let their emotions calm. It was Thrak who spoke first.
“I now remember this creature.”
“What?!” cried Areia. “Thrak, you been hanging out at Glitterdust again?”
No one laughed at the joke. Zy’an glanced at Thrak, “Tell us barbarian of the isles, where have you seen this poor soul before?”
“I do not recall her name. I simply know she is one of several sisters. And her father,” he squinted his lizard eyes, as if making sure his memory was right, “His father is the Lord Humbolt, who arrested Areia, Andril, Haryk and I all those years ago in Far Realm.”
“Well, that doesn’t help us much now,” said Frank. “I mean, clearly whoever did this to her, took away so much of who and what she was. I think we saw the person in there, at the end. But besides a moment of memory, I don’t see how any of that helps us track down the murderer.” Frank stepped around the poor thing, and began to look for ways he could free her flesh of the chains embedded there. His face looked disgusted, and in truth, he had never seen such anguish in another living soul. Except his own.
“It does help us,” replied Iricah. “Tonight in The Bucket I learned that Humbolt came to Three Harbors some years ago, following his daughters who left him in Far Realm. He was distraught, becoming convinced that something dark had befallen them.”
“Sounds like the person we should speak to then,” said Frank.
“We should,” said Iricah. “He’s incarcerated in our prison. He lives in the insane ward.”