As Vigrid recovers from the celebration of the new year, Alera, Bartok, and Reis trek through a cold rain toward an abandoned factory in The Fishmonger Precinct, searching for an echogenesis zone Reis believes might be there. The streets in the district are narrow and the homes small. Alera is a female deva, attractive, golden and statuesque in physique. The water beads clinging to her metal wings glint off the swaying lantern light. Bartok, a human looking lad, holds the lantern in his sword hand and a shield properly strapped to his shield arm. He walks a full step in front of his companions. His eyes scan the street with some confidence, but shallow puffs of breath escape from him at a somewhat accelerated pace. The third figure, Reis, is an eladrin male, outfitted with a rain repelling oiled cloak.
When they approach the unlit factory, they see one of the side doors cracked open, swaying slightly in the wind and make their way toward it. Reis casts a light cantrip, sending it forward through the crack in the door. It illuminates a small area where they see some old wood crates and a table that appears to have various chemical bottles piled on it. The stench of rotting flesh escapes through the opening.
Bartok pushes the door open with his shield and slowly enters the building. His eyes search the darkness and after a few moments he signals the way is clear for the others to enter behind him. The stench of rot overwhelms their sinuses and their ducts secrete tears before adjusting to the odor. Reis tells everyone to remain still for a moment to cut down on the noise while he concentrates, appearing to listen for something. Satisfied, he urges Bartok and Alera to advance. Other than the stacks of crates and the wooden table, the abandoned factory contains a lot of rubble and a lot of dust, though much of the dust appears to have been disturbed recently. The trio performs a slow and deliberate sweep of the area as they plod step by step through the debris. Bartok stops suddenly when thick dollops of blood splatter onto the lantern and slither down the glass panes.
* * *
Even though the city is dead tonight, being New Year’s Day and all, Johnny makes his rounds of the taverns in Vigrid’s Overbridge District. His people don’t take long to recover, or more accurately avoid recovery altogether and are probably waiting to score their next hit about now. He avoids most of the obvious tourist taverns and sticks to local spots like The Laughing Soldier, preferring the stability of local customers. Johnny enters the place and it is pretty quiet, locals, and some street performers celebrating their big take from the festival last night. He heads straight for the bar, whereupon a grayed out husk of a man buys him an amber with a gold coin. Johnny pats the guy on the back, sliding a small packet into the hood and taking the silver change from the ale, leaving something for the barkeep. Ordinarily, he’d bullshit a little and make it less obvious that a transaction went down, but the beast-boy bouncer was occupied by a loud conversation with a patron and the conversation was interesting enough where Johnny wanted to pay it some attention.
The bouncer was an odd creature that looked like some crazy wizard had fused a bull and a human together. Not quite the zen of chocolate and peanut butter, but if someone was looking to make a brawler, it works. From what he heard, the bouncer, one of the owner’s kids, was born Thonan Arroway, a human who started to grow features resembling a bull as soon as he was eight. It nearly freaked Johnny out the first time he walked into The Laughing Soldier to see the beast right at the door. The locals all know about the beast-boy, so they don’t react in any way other than to make sure their feet aren’t about to be stepped on. It keeps a lot of the tourists, not used to seeing a bull in a tavern, away, which probably has a lot to do with the popularity of The Laughing Soldier among the Overbridge locals. Perhaps it says something that the family hadn’t tried to exploit the kid as some sort of tourist attraction freak show.
“Like I was saying, I got something that you could help me with if you’re not busy,” says Tiburn Smith, a human who was a little rosy from the whiskey he’d been drinking. Thonan nods for the sot to continue. “A fortnight ago, I came into the possession of an old fish cannery over in The Fishmonger Precinct.”
“How did you come into possession of a fish cannery? Seems odd,” said Thonan, who at this point is still humoring the sot, rather than really paying attention to what he’s saying. Tiburn is a regular so part of the job to at least pretend to hear him.
“When did that happen?”
“Nevermind that, my boy,” he said, laughing to indicate he didn’t want to talk about it. “I hired some guys to clean it all out, so that I could expand my furniture business and I haven’t heard from them in a week. I went there this morning to see what was going on and I didn’t like the smell. Dead body smell. Maybe they had a falling out or something. If you could check it out and get rid of the problem and avoid getting The Watch involved, I’d make it worth your while.”
In the middle of that last exchange, Johnny stands up and paces toward the beast boy and sot carrying on a conversation that should probably have been kept down low.
“We’ll definitely check it out,” said Johnny, patting the sot on the shoulder to reassure him that everything was going to be okay. Thonan looks at Johnny for a second.
“Great to hear. Just tell me when you and your posse are done,” said Tiburn just before stumbling out the door.
“Do you even have a posse,” asked Johnny.
“If I did, I still wouldn’t call it a posse.”
“Right. Anyway, that load the old guy spilled doesn’t add up.”
“As long as he pays, I really don’t care,” said Thonan. “Besides, who are you?”
Johnny nods his head to direct Thonan to look behind to his right. “Looks like I’m not the only one who heard this conversation.”
“Need a third?” It was the elf.
* * *
Bartok raised the lantern to cast the light toward the ceiling. Four humans attached to sheer surfaces on the ceiling like spiders, released and fell to the ground to surround Alera, Bartok, and Reis. The thirty foot drop should have caused a lot of pain, but the creatures, human corpses dressed in tattered work clothing, did not appear affected that much by the impact. Bartok saw dry blood around their eyes, ears, and mouth. This pushed the young lad over the edge and he let out a battle cry. He rushed toward the creature nearest to Alera and smashed the lantern in its face. Lamp oil burst out and soaked the tattered work clothes worn by the creature, which ignited, covering the creature in flames. Some of the lamp oil splashed onto the table piled high with chemicals and when the creature ablaze stumbled back from the blow bumped the table, it caught flame. Choking fumes from burning chemicals began to fill the air.
Johnny, Thonan and Erdan, the elf, reached the back door of the old cannery which Tiburn Smith wanted them to check out when they heard a yell come from inside the factory. Thonan shoves his gauntlets on and smacks his ham hands on the doors, which weakened from years in the salt air, splintered apart. The three rushed inside.
They see flickering light on the other side of the warehouse and the nasty combination of death and chemical odors hit them hard, forcing a choke and some gags. Somebody had stacked a large pile of dead rats near the floor drain. Johnny bolts forward, veering toward the burning table. Thonan and Erdan looked at each other and shrugged. There sure were a lot of people in this abandoned fish cannery. Then from the other side of the factory they hear loud incantations before lightning flashed at the strange looking workers in tattered clothes.
“What’s Reis doing here,” Thonan muttered to himself and charged forward to slam his fists into the back of something awful’s head.
When Erdan entered the fray, a fifth creature dropped from the ceiling.
The two groups converged around the creatures and put them out of their misery. They weren’t zombies or some other form of undead as they had suspected. A more accurate description would be the corpses were more like marrionets that the six of them battered into uselessness, corpses that which something controlled rather than the dead arisen to exact vengeance on the living.
Reis, Alera, and Bartok moved toward the pile of decomposing rats. Alera began to push the rats aside with her staff. A number of the rats were actually comatose as opposed to be dead and decomposing, though that didn’t stop maggots from eating through parts of their still living flesh. The comatose rats were a telltale sign of the echogenesis phenomena that they were looking for. A few moments later, Alera uncovered a small sphere of frozen light suspended eight inches from the ground. Bartok picked up a plank from the ground and motioned to nudge the sphere.
“Don’t touch it,” said Reis, putting a hand on Bartok to keep him from touching the plank to the echogenesis zone. “That is a very dangerous thing you’re about to be doing. It might be tiny compared to the others, but I’ve seen men die instantly, fall into comas, or worse go mad and wither into husks goading people into beating them to death. I’ve warned you. It’s up to you if you want to die or not.”
“That’s why I was using a plank,” said Bartok, who then changed his grip to prop one end of the plank against a crack in the floor as he lowered the other end toward the top of the sphere in a slow and deliberate manner. Reis held his breath. Sometimes there’s no cure for youth other than to watch them make mistakes which hopefully won’t kill them. The board stopped against the top of the sphere, which didn’t move or appear to be affected in any way.
“Do you think this had anything to do with what happened to these guys,” asked Alera. She had come to Vigrid a few months ago to study the zones, having heard of The Echographers, a league of scholars and arcanists, to which Reis belonged, dedicated to understanding the nature and composition of the echogenesis zones which appeared twenty years ago during The Arrival of The Authority. “It looks like they removed something big that was in this space, which uncovered it.”
“And one of them touches it. Goes insane and turns on the rest of them,” said Bartok.
“I don’t know about that,” said Erdan, who was kneeling on the ground examining the broken corpses. “None of them look like they’d taken a pipe to the head or a knife in the belly…other than what we just did. They didn’t die by beating on each other.”
“All we saw when they dropped on us was dry blood around their sinus and ocular regions,” said Reis who pulled out a notebook and some ritual components.
Johnny stuck his head out from the drain. Thonan still held the grate, so Johnny wasn’t down there for long.
“I think it might actually smell better down here,” said Johnny, elbow on the ground.
“No it doesn’t,” said Thonan standing just above him, looking at the grate in his hands, then at Johnny whose head was sticking out of the manhole.
“Anyway,” said Johnny, looking up at Thonan. “There are a whole lot of half eaten rats down here.”
Erdan rose from the ground with about as much effort as a trout hovering in a stream and moved toward the drain hole and waited for Johnny to get out of the way so that he could climb down and take a look. The corpse of the odd one of the five began to jitter. The skin on his abdomen pulsed quickly, a force exerted pressure from within, increasing how far the skin stretched out before the abdomen burst open. A small humanoid creature with a large mouth and razor sharp claws stood in the wreckage of the corpse it was inside. The congealed blood of its former host slithered down its limbs.
For a second, the blood covered creature stared at Erdan before Thonan whipped around and flung the manhole grate at the creature standing in the corpse. The creature bolted out of the way and escaped before anyone could pursue.
“What the fuck was that,” said Johnny, looking at Erdan who was halfway in the hole. “And fuck why was it staring at you?”
The elf ducked into the hole to look at the half eaten rats. “I think I knew that guy, or more like, that guy that thing was inhabiting knew me.” Erdan climbed out of the drain pipe. “Looks like that thing was eating some rats.”
“So it’s not a big deal that some creature bursts outta that dead fucker’s stomach and eyeballs you,” asked Johnny.
“It is.” Erdan knelt down next to a worker’s corpse, tears off its shirt and slides out one of his knives. “Time to find out if there’s other creatures hidden inside these bodies.”
Bartok looked around for his lantern and then remembered smashing it into the face of one of the corpses. He formed a fist and then relaxed his hand. “I should get The Watch.”
Bartok left and Erdan then sliced open one of the corpses at the gut and rooted around the innards, reaching into the chest cavity feeling for anything that might be hiding in the corpse. Gurgling sounds came from the body. The elf was defiling a corpse, but nobody stopped him. The elf had a point. “Nothing. I doubt there’s something in the other bodies.”
“Are we done here,” asked Thonan. It seemed that the grate he threw cracked a hole into the side of one of the crates, revealing jars of canned fish. “We found out what happened to the guys that Tiburn hired.”
“We’re going to have to talk to him,” said Johnny, who picked up a few bottles on the half burned table and tossed them back down. He didn’t seem to find anything useful to salvage, though there were fewer bottles remaining on the table than when he first walked up to it.
This left Reis and Alera in the abandoned factory. Reis moves his hands and spoke incantations in a formulaic manner for the ritual magic needed to record the details of the small echogenesis zone the unfortunate workers who lay dead behind him had discovered. While he did that, Alera walked over to the crates and put several jars of canned fish into her pack. When Reis finished recording the details of the zone, the two left before The Watch arrived.
* * *
Bartok ran down the narrow streets of the Fishmonger Precinct to the docks of The Molo Nord before he found any of The Watch. In this case, the watch were two men talking about the ins and outs of carbunkle, a card game that sailors from Somus brought to Vigrid. They saw Bartok, or rather heard the plates of armor as the out of breath lad clanked toward them. The two didn’t stop talking carbunkle until Bartok came to a full stop, took three deep breaths, and spewed out a bunch of words about dead bodies and a warehouse. It wasn’t until Bartok finished that they turned to address him.
“I’m sorry young sir, could you repeat that? I didn’t catch all of it,” said the Watchman with a moustache.
“Oh, Thursday, don’t be a goblin cock,” said the other Watchman and gave Thursday a punch on the arm. “Can’t you see the boy’s out of breath. Hey lad, take your time. Our shift doesn’t end till dawn so we can wait. Say, do you know anything about carbunkle?”
“Now who’s being the goblin cock,” said Thursday.
Just then a scream tore into the night. It sounded like it came from one of the merchant vessels behind the two men on watch. Bartok ran past the two men toward where he heard the scream. It was still raining and he could hear nothing more beyond the chitter of rain landing in Black Harbor.
The Watch were catching up to him. “You better not board a ship. We’ll have to arrest your for trespass!”
Bartok yelled back as he ran up the plank of one of the merchant vessels. “Are you crazy? Didn’t you hear it? Someone needs help!”
On board the vessel Bartok saw a door that led to the interior was three-quarters open. He grabbed a storm lantern that lit the deck and pushed open the door to enter the ship’s interior. A puddle of rainwater and blood lay in the entry landing. The blood and rainwater appeared to continue further into the vessel. His hands were cold at the bone, but the skin felt like it was on fire and itchy. He felt like scratching his hands, but his hands weren’t free. He yelled into the ship, but there was no response.
Bartok moved deeper into the ship. The lantern light left so many shadows that shifted as the lantern swayed back and forth in his hand that it disoriented him, made him dizzy, and cold sweat to form on his face. Room by room went the search. The first few rooms were empty, probably because most of the sailors were on shore, but then he found the galley and stumbled over three bodies, one of which had had their face torn off. Blood still flowed out from the dead sailor’s face, who was on its side, hands covered in his own blood that tried to hold it in.
Thursday yelled. He screamed that a small creature just jumped off the ship into Black Harbor. Bartok straightened up and headed toward the deck. He looked at the floor as he made his way through the ship and saw small clawed footprints through the thickening pools of blood. He stopped for a moment and pieced together how the violence transpired between the shipmates. When he made his way back outside into the rain, the harbor master was there to greet him and Bartok was arrested for trespass.
Bartok stared at the table in the harbor master’s post. The table stunk of spilled soups and greasy lunches. He didn’t seem to understand why the harbor master kept drilling him, after all, Bartok came to The Watch to report the dead bodies in the old cannery and then boarded the ship to hopefully rescue someone who was being attacked. What he failed to appreciate was the common element with all seven dead bodies was him. The harbor master posed the same questions a ninth time and then left, having decided to hold Bartok till sunrise.
* * *
Alera parted with Reis. The two agreed to meet in the morning to go over everything Reis had captured. When she slung her pack on again, the sound of the canned fish containers bumping into each other reminded Alera that one more thing needed to be done before going to sleep.
Instead of keeping to the streets, she wandered into alleyways looking for people without a place to stay. It didn’t take a lot of time or effort to find a family of four huddled together underneath an overhang to keep away from the rain. The four humans tightened up when Alera approached them. The father slid in front of his wife and two children, not that he could properly defend himself from Alera if she wanted to hurt them, but she appreciated the instinct.
Alera with her metal wings on her back stood over the family. “Would you like to get out of the rain and sleep in a warm bed,” she asked them. The two adults didn’t know what to say. They’d been living on the street long enough to not run straight for a helping hand, because living on the street for as long as they have they’ve learned to be suspicious of help when they didn’t ask for it. “I can put you up at an inn for a couple of nights.”
- +1 Token: Game Session
- +1 Token: Tiburn’s Errand
Johnny’s got to clean up and clean out some new hustlers moving in Vigrid. Alera meets an odd potential ally in her quest. And Erdan stumbles upon something sinister.