Ponte Luka

The Mystery Hole
Ponte Luka adventure log, part 5

A fool’s errand. Shallieth scowled a bit, just a bit, as she contemplated the business that Murridoc had thrown himself to with the roden, business she was now convinced was a waste of their precious time. Worse, he had drawn Gennaro and the Guard’s resources into backing him up with the idiot Ijax’s contraption.

Not that that’s necessarily such a bad thing.

Shallieth herself had, of course, been free to pursue what meager resources she still had left in an attempt to draw more of a bead on Chantille’s whereabouts and plans. Namely, Masser. She still had no idea whether she could trust the street rat, had no idea whether at the end of the day he would live or die. The truth was, it mattered little except so much as it impacted her plans.

In the end, she was glad she had. Masser apparently knew of two exits to the hideout of which she had been previously unaware, one of which led directly from the second floor to a hidden location outside Ponte Luka’s walls. This would be Chantille’s bolt-hole, she was positive of this, and thus it should be Gennaro’s main objective to block it . . . and Shallieth’s own to be as far away as possible when the inevitable conflict erupted. She sent Masser on his way to locate that tunnel’s other end, after he had extracted from her an empty promise to leave town after the deed was done.

The seemingly-hopeless plan was finally starting to fall into place.

The troops were mustered, such as they were. It was not nearly the force Gennaro had hoped to compile, but given the lateness of the juncture they would have to suffice. It had taken a few hours, but his men had arrived discretely and were awaiting his orders to proceed.

Shallieth had conveniently agreed to watch over the tunnel leading to and from the (now-shut-down, he noticed) Lion and Bear Tavern. He did not overlook the fact that this put her conveniently out of harm’s way; given Chantille’s apparent intentions it was a wise precaution.

In the meantime, the hour had come and he rallied his men for the attack. Wasting no time, they rushed across the street and quickly breached the doors of the Crysanthe safehouse. Subduing the undisciplined rogue guardsmen at the front door proved an easy task, and after leaving two men to deal with them, the rest surged onward.

They were met shortly by heavy crossbowmen firing from the landing up ahead. No sooner had the men fired (and not connected) than with uncanny speed Gennaro was upon them. Having no ready weapons and no time to reload, they bolted back up to the second story. With a shout, the Guardsmen followed.

What they found upstairs was a large and ill-tempered troll being freed from his bonds by the fleeing thieves. Darting past the troll with the faster of his guardsmen, Gennaro left the remaining men to deal with the brute. Meanwhile, he came shortly upon what looked to be the Order’s conference room, now deserted except for a small group of warriors. Gennaro could tell on sight these were no ordinary cutpurses and thugs; these men moved like they had spent many years handling the blade. Gennaro’s men moved into position for what promised to be a formidable battle.

Company. Shallieth thought wordlessly. She had spent her time making certain the chameleon’s aspect was flawless and had let herself in silently and unseen, making her way to the tunnel’s entrance where she waited for someone . . . anyone . . . to come rushing through.

Good, this means the Guardsmen have made their point. With any luck they will have Chantille before he can make for his escape tunnel. In the meantime, I shall do what I can to slow down the peons. Perhaps . . . yes, that storage room door would make a convenient barricade.

Reaching for a conveniently-sized piece of timber she braced herself against the tunnel’s mouth, cursing the apparent loudness of her shallow breaths as she measured the approaching footsteps’ closeness by ear. At the last moment she braced the timber at ankle-height and the bolting man in front tumbled headlong and gracelessly into the room.

He looked up, directly at Shallieth.

It was none other than Lauren Chantille, followed closely by his young son.

What happened next perhaps should not have surprised Shallieth, but it did. Chantille proceeded to revile her as a witch, as a consort of the demons. Not that she was unused to such treatment, but to hear it from one she had thought as sensible as Chantille gave her a bit of a shock. She did the worst thing possible. She hesitated.

Chantille was no fool, and he took the opening, darting past her up the stairs and toward freedom, his son on his heels. Belatedly, Shallieth yelled for the Guard. The child was slow, however, and she knew her only option to prevent Chantille’s escape was to strike at the thing he held most dear. No sooner had the thought crossed her mind than the knife emerged smoothly from her tunic sleeve and embedded itself deeply in the young boy’s back. The child tumbled down the stairs in a pool of blood.

The elite warriors of Crysanthe were as canny as they seemed, and for a moment it seemed Gennaro’s reduced force had met its match. The valuable seconds flew by as steel whirled and sliced through the air, as bodies charged and closed and attempted to outmaneuver their equally-disciplined opponents. At length Gennaro got the upper hand and began to disable his opponent. Moreso, Gennaro had bloodlust in his eyes. He would show his men how treasonous dogs like this should be dealt with.

In the end there was not much left of Gennaro’s target. His allies fared little better.

Wasting little time to even clean his gorestained blade, Gennaro urged his men onward to what he could only assume was the Council’s escape tunnel.

The ladder plunged down a poorly-excavated tunnel, ending a good 5-meter drop from the ground below. Clearly there was no going back. With barely a second thought Gennaro released the last rung, letting his knees absorb the significant force of the fall. Ever obedient, his loyal guardsmen joined him on the ground below.

He could make out, in the distance, the fleeing thieves. A gilded cape in particular caught his eye. But it was the closer figure that gave them cause for alarm.

They had left one of their number, who was busily knocking supports out of the poorly-kept tunnel walls as he fled.

“Chantille.” While loud enough to carry, the voice was cool, almost conversational. “If you value your son’s life stop where you are.”

Reluctantly, the merciless manslayer, the self-proclaimed king of the Temple District, meekly complied.

“Good, I knew you’d listen to reason. Now, I’m not a monster. Go and see to your son, Chantille.”

He glared. “You are a monster.” But once again, Chantille complied.

He had no sooner cradled his boy in his arms than Shallieth was dashing up the stairs, slamming and barricading his only other exit from the storeroom.

After this, she prepared the area, dousing the floorboards, the door, the tables against the door, with the most volatile liquor the Lion and Bear had to offer.

“Now, Chantille, we can do this the easy way or the hard way. Your choice.”

At the intense rattling at the door, followed by its partial penetration by a heavy crossbow bolt, she had her answer.

Pausing to ensure the security of her barricade, she rushed off to procure what Guardsmen she could. She still had hopes of taking the bastard alive, though to call this optimism would be a mistake.

Thinking quickly, Gennaro rushed to intercept and dispatch the saboteur as quickly as possible. If this tunnel came down they would find themselves either trapped with no food and little water or crushed beneath the very weight of the earth. Fortunately he had not had time to do much, and for the moment the tunnel seemed secure. Not for the first time, he wished Murridoc were with his men and not tied up with Ijax’s insane contraption hundreds of meters below his feet.

With the immediate threat neutralized, the Guard rushed down the rough-hewn passage in pursuit of the fleeing thieves’ council. He cursed under his breath when he emerged to the sight and sound of horses. His quarry were mounting up to make their escape!

Taking little thought for the thieves themselves, Gennaro knew his best bet of slowing them down was to focus fire on the animals. He drew his blade and savagely cut into the muscles and tendons of the nearest steed’s flank. The horse screamed a bit but held its rider, galloping off at a limping pace as its blood streamed down onto the hard-packed dirt and rock beneath. Quickly drawing and preparing his crossbow, he carefully leveled a shot at the same horse. It sank to the earth with another scream and a satisfying thud.

After instructing one of his more equestrian guardsmen to take pursuit, Gennaro took stock of the now-injured (but very much alive) thief he had halted. He had taken a nasty wound to the head, but it seemed he would live. Issuing a few more terse orders, they began to prepare him for the long drag back up the tunnel.

The guardsmen had been greeted by the tavern’s owner to the tune of his own crossbow bolt. After precious moments of persuasion, Shallieth managed to focus the two guards’ attention on the captive Chantille in the basement. They cracked the door to enter but Chantille was ready for them, brutally slicing into the first with the expert skill for which he was famous. After retreating and barricading the door once more, Shallieth set her full attention to convincing the Guardsmen to look the other way while she committed arson . . . and cold-blooded murder, albeit on Ponte Luka’s most ruthless criminal and his son.

“This is what we came to do. Punish the guilty. Protect the innocent. See to those upstairs, wouldn’t you?”

Somehow, some way, the words worked. Or at least the Guardsmen ran off to find the fire brigade instead of restraining Shallieth. Confident at last that it would take not a small effort to stop the growing inferno, Shallieth had a sudden thought.

The tunnel. This will not be over until I see to it the other end is blocked as well.

A few blocks’ running found her at the safehouse, where she boldly stepped past the Crysanthe guards as if she belonged (technically, she still did) and down the trapdoor leading to the basement and her quarry’s only remaining bolthole.

She almost chuckled as she saw one of her associates in the records room, carefully setting fire to incriminating documents. From what she knew of this structure it would not be long before it too was choked in blistering flame and noxious smoke.

I shall have to extend my thanks to this man for doing my work for me. Later. Perhaps much later.

From here, there was little to do but alert the fire brigade (with some very loose and confusing directions) to the second blaze. Divide and conquer, as they say. And then, with some satisfaction and no longer caring, in fact desiring, that the Order might see her on the scene, she had nothing to do but stand back and admire her handiwork.

Not exactly according to plan but all in all a satisfactory conclusion to that nasty business. She tried to hide her smirk as best she could.

“You what?!” Gennaro was near-dumbstruck with incredulity.

Shallieth shrugged. “You knew the plan. Capture him if possible, kill him if not. I didn’t get much help from your Guardsmen so I took matters into my own hands.”

“But, but!”

She placed a consoling hand on Gennaro’s shoulder. “You and your men acted nobly. Jail me if you must, or just call this business an unfortunate accident.” She couldn’t resist the jab: “I’m certain many of your peers would be quick to agree.”

“We must . . . discuss your methods at some length. Later.” He waved at his men to escort her out as he wearily turned himself to the ever-increasing pile of paperwork.

Moments later he dozed soundly, face-down on his writing desk, sheer exhaustion having taken its toll.

The Collected Diaries

Ijax’s Log; Day 409 addendum

I took the clever moron, what’s his name, the madman, down to the machine. Maybe he’ll be able to finish the damn thing. I gave him the basic information: what’s broken, what’s unbalanced. He says he can do it, but he’s got these ideas way above his station, something about poisoning the whole town. I dunno what to think about that. I made it clear that he isn’t allowed to leave until the field mice are burning beneath my feet. It might be that he’s a lucky find, and maybe he’ll serve us well.

(Below follows a crude sketch of the machine. It appears to be a giant black chariot, with flames shooting from the front,along with a row of spinning picks. On its side is an abstract drawing of a roden wearing an impressive helmet and wielding a vicious sword)

Or maybe he’ll burn to death trying to get the fire-thrower working and give us all something to watch. Wouldn’t be surprised. Men seem to catch on fire quick for creatures with so little hair. A bunch of my men have been burnt pretty badly from that thing, but as long as they’re still willing to test it I must be paying them enough. Perhaps.

I can’t trust any of them. I’m no idiot. I know that I’ll probably die with a dagger in my back, that someone will try to poison me or set a bomb in my machine. Maybe even that madman! He seems unpredictable, perhaps violent; he might know his way around explosives. But I must trust someone. The missus tells me so.

Darkness-in-Darkness’ Spirit Memory

I received orders from Sergeant-in-Arms Infondato to take The-Mountain-Spirit-Corpse-Eater alive. The pack will do this.

Infondato is a fool.

Krim’s Diary

No no! Ijax is a bad one, this place is a bad one. First, and most important. Doc comes down here. Maybe the terrible machine made him terrible. Doc goes and yells at Krim to use the horrible, bad machine. I ran, I couldn’t do anything else.

Ijax’s Log; Day 409 add-addendum

And again! The guardsman shows up, guards and peasants at his back and made a whole show about getting the madman back. I expected a duel, some real violence, but the armored twit barely spoke to me! He is a lesser man than I expected, perhaps the above will be my children’s conquest.

Still, there is cause for worry. My new engineer told him to “return at dawn”, despite my orders. Worse still, he has the audacity to ask me to try the machine, as though it’s all finished. He is a bastard and a liar, it seems, and work must be done.

Of Rats and Roden
Session 3 adventure log

Okay, first order of business is to get out on the table who is really responsible for this attack. Shallieth smirked slightly at the thought. We can find or fabricate the evidence later.

Shallieth herself knew, of course; how could she not, given the events of the past day? Gennaro, however, might require some convincing. But still, what little evidence they did have seemed to support Chantille’s involvement in the collapse. More to the point, Masser had risked a great deal to ensure that she knew his whereabouts this evening. Assuming Masser was to be trusted himself. Well, for now I must assume he was on the level. At the moment it’s the only lead we’ve got.

Gennaro and Murridoc too seemed eager to discuss Chantille and the Crysanthe, for different reasons. And of course, the time had come for full disclosure, within reason. Gennaro knew the basics, of course; what he had gleaned from his guardsmen and Shallieth herself in the past. The Order of Crysanthe, while not the only game in town, was definitely the largest and arguably the oldest, known at times for deliberate acts of defiance such as “silencing” a pirate in his own cell. Murridoc added a new (and hitherto unexpected) piece to the puzzle: a certain Judge Almus, veteran of the pirate trials, who had paid him a surprise visit the previous night, leaving behind a yellow chrysanthemum in a vase amidst the wafting aroma of chiropteran-derived incense. Shallieth devoutly wished she had more to tell. She had only begun to earn the Order’s trust (or so she thought); nevertheless, she knew where the meeting would take place. She knew the names of Chantille’s son, his bodyguard, and the six members of the Inner Circle who were likely to be, among other things, deciding her fate that evening, among them the pirate Byanzara. And she knew at least one of the secret entrances through a pub known as the Lion and Bear.

Gennaro was unsure what to make of this new development. The clues did seem to point toward Crysanthe’s involvement on some level, and having Chantille for questioning would be useful in any number of ongoing investigations. The problem was, they really had nothing solid, especially surrounding the tricky issue of Judge Almus’ involvement. If he decided to get involved personally things could get very uncomfortable very quickly. And so, with a few hours to kill, he opened his files and began to pore over the old records, beginning with the early days of the pirate trials, looking for some hint of information.

Murridoc, meanwhile, set about scouting his previous assignment from Finneas. Not so much out of a sense of duty (there were, after all, more important threats to the foundations of his handiwork) as to scout out the intentions of the hsigo and odonata factions. Certainly there was no love lost on any side of this particular investigation, but he was confident he would walk away with something.

“Something” in this case turned out to be numerous small welts and bruises from the savage hsigo whelps, as well as an irritated guardsman Murridoc had called in to assist. Clearly his questioning was unwelcome, and of course that might amount to an admission of guilt. These things were, after all, guilty until proven innocent as far as Murridoc was concerned.

Lastly, Shallieth had her own scouting to do, which she accomplished with (she hoped) more than her usual level of subtlety. After all, should any of Chantille’s eyes and ears catch her snooping around the safehouse the game was up and they would be marching the Guard into nothing short of a trap. So she had spent a long few minutes concentrating, weaving the unseen energies of thought and misdirection around her. She had done well, if she did say so herself, and she was loathe to let this one drop. This done, she had ghosted around this week’s HQ for a few hours, gleaning what little information there was to be had (and in all honesty not walking away with much more than she started with). Still, she knew the meeting would be held upstairs, away from the lower-ranking members of the guild, and this would give them a definite strategic advantage if they struck quickly: there were no escape routes that led directly off the upper level. Satisfied that at least there was nothing else to be gleaned here, she ghosted back to the guardhouse so that she could sit in on Offo’s examination of Krim.

True to his reputation, Offo was quick to set the roden at ease, and was much better at translating his words and body language. If the roden was to be trusted (and they each had their doubts) he was a digger, a respectable and honest trade in the Below. He had been tasked with repairing one of the smoke tunnels when the collapse had happened, at which point (as he had mentioned before) he had gone up when he should have gone down, ending up trapped in the rubble of the collapse where Murridoc had found him.

Krim also elaborated on Ijax a bit. Though he did not know much of the machine, he knew Ijax himself to be an important figure in the Below, a brilliant if loud-mouthed roden. Krim agreed to lead them to Ijax provided Murridoc was present. With little else to pursue before the Crysanthe meeting later that night (and leaving instructions for the wolves to track down the redcap) the three set off with Krim far down into the Below.

The guards were not unexpected (though clearly not professionally-trained, Gennaro noted) but they seemed adamant that the men (for men they saw; Shallieth was there but all eyes were elsewhere) were unwelcome in their home, especially the Guardsman. Krim had bolted through the door as soon as they arrived, leaving them to haggle their own way in; they had no idea if he waited on the other side or not. The roden guards did not think highly of “bad Krim” as they put it, but of course they would not elaborate on this.

Pushing his way to the front, Murridoc called on his substantial (if puzzling) knowledge of roden protocol and behavior to convince them. Finally, grudgingly, they were allowed through.

The tunnel opened into a vast cavern filled with roden. Somewhere in the distance was the ringing of what sounded like a hammer and anvil, and somewhat closer than that was an obviously agitated gray-haired roden with a single eye who called further guards to block the tunnel.

Ijax had at last made an appearance. If only to tell them in no uncertain terms to go away.

Gennaro tried his best to calm the roden, to assure him that they were merely there for information about the collapse. Shallieth was not optimistic, but perhaps in her own way she could help things. Softly mumbling in her native tongue for a minute or so, she probed her way between the threads of the roden general’s conscious thoughts to simply whisper a single phrase: hear him out.

Not to Shallieth’s surprise, it worked. Of course, Ijax had no idea the thought was not his own and so he proceeded to answer Gennaro. Of course he knew nothing of the collapse (if he did he would be a fool to implicate himself and Ijax, whatever else he may be, was no fool) and resented the implication that his people or his machine had anything to do with it. After all, such an event was potentially as dangerous to the Below as it was to the men’s city above. He knew nothing of any spider activity in the area either. When Murridoc asked to see the machine, his cryptic response was to ask him to return tomorrow, alone. With that he considered the matter closed and ordered his guards to “escort” the group back out of the chamber.

Krim, however, picked that moment to make an appearance, beckoning to Murridoc, who quickly followed. In short order the mason found himself restrained by the iron grip of Ijax himself and yelled out for the Guard before the old gray roden clamped his other paw over his mouth.

Murridoc and Shallieth heard this, of course, but the odds of getting past the spear-wielding roden which at this point completely blocked the tunnel were not good, nor were the odds of fighting through the hostile rodentine pack below. For the moment they had no choice but to do as Ijax said and leave. Gennaro warned on the way out that if anything befell their friend the Guard would return in force, and once clear of the roden guards began meticulously marking the walls so that they could navigate their way back if need be.

Meanwhile, Ijax had released his grip on Murridoc’s mouth, and once confident he would not cause any more trouble he asked simply: “So, you want to see the machine?”

Delving Deeper
2nd session adventure log

Krim told of Ijax, presumably his boss, who had built some sort of wondrous machine in the Below. From what they could gather, in fact, it seemed to be directly beneath the area that collapsed. Then something had happened. What, no one could be certain, but the result had been devastating. The entire cavern had collapsed, filling with deadly rubble and saltwater in the blink of an eye. Krim had apparently been one of the lucky ones. He would not reveal (if he even knew) Ijax’s intent or the purpose of the machine, but the facts seemed quite clear, to Murridoc and Shallieth at least.

The rats had caused the collapse.

Quickly talking Gennaro out of any naïve thoughts he might have about releasing the creature, they arranged transport to a more secure position in the city gaol.

For the time being, there was little left to do here, so while Gennaro assisted with whatever he could in the temple/infirmary, Shallieth took the much-needed chance to allow her bruised and fatigued body a little rest. If only her mind would follow.

Murridoc had much the same idea. Confirming that his work there was indeed done for the moment, he headed back to the masons’ quarters and his comfortable bed. When he opened the door, however, it was clear that he was not alone in his quarters.

In the torchlight, combined with the half-light flickering through the windows from outside, Murridoc could make out a somewhat familiar face. Judge Almus, a prominent member of the council, had broken into his quarters like a common burglar. Another mason might have found this a bit absurd, as well as alarming, but Murridoc took it in stride. Almus clearly had a purpose here, and Murridoc would hear him out.

So Almus explained. He shared Murridoc’s rising concern about the savage inhuman element in Ponte Luka, and he agreed that the time was coming when action must be taken to correct this. Once assured of Murridoc’s support, he urged preparation for the inevitable conflict before taking his leave. Murridoc duly noted the vase on the table. A vase containing a single yellow chrysanthemum, which had not been there before. Even to a mason such as himself the meaning was clear: the Order of Crysanthe was somehow involved in this.

. . . Fascinating.

The acolytes approached a by-now somewhat harried Gennaro with another small request for assistance. It seemed the door that led down into the mortuary was stuck and they could not free it. Nearly verbalizing his mental sigh, Gennaro nonetheless dutifully went to see to the matter personally.

It took a bit of effort. Nothing a trained Guardsman couldn’t handle of course. A few seconds’ sustained effort saw the door push open, knocking bits and pieces of rubble out of the way. Apparently the collapse had taken its toll on the temple infrastructure as well.

This duty done, Gennaro grabbed one of the corpses by the shoulders while an acolyte held his feet and followed another acolyte who carried a torch down into the darkness below.

A short while later, the torch fell abruptly to the floor, its bearer stammering ritual prayers under his breath at the sight set before them. In the center of the room was one of the dead, and crouching over it was a small humanoid who looked like a knobbly old man in a large red hat. His impossibly wide, needle-toothed mouth was relishing chunks of corpulent flesh rent out of the cadaver by his vicious, clawed hands. He quickly noticed the newcomers. And smiled.

Somehow Shallieth had managed to fall into something resembling normal sleep, and she woke with a start in a mixture of relief and apprehension. It was not good to have let her guard down so quickly, even with the City Guard posted at the doors. They had aptly demonstrated the depth of their concern for the denizens of the temple district already. Idiots.

Her train of thought was interrupted when she abruptly noticed something. Or rather the lack of something. Granted the victims by now were for the most part stable and asleep, but the acolytes that had attended them were nowhere to be seen. Waking a sleeping harlot, she inquired about their absence, but the girl was as much at a loss as Shallieth herself.

The guardsmen. Surely they would know. And so she quickly headed toward the doors to ask of them. They had seen nothing.

I’m surrounded by incompetents. Very well, it seems as though I must look into this myself.

A few minutes’ searching revealed the heavy oaken door into the temple offices had been closed (a rare occurrence indeed) and behind it were the sounds of panicked voices. Many of them. Bracing two fingers momentarily over her quickly-forming headache, Shallieth called out to the acolytes. Quickly she was brought up to speed.

A demon. A most foul of the unholy abominations that war with the God Himself. It had invaded the sacred precincts of the Temple Mortuary and was feasting on the dead. It had attacked them and killed Shallieth’s friend.

“Wait, Gennaro?! It killed Gennaro?”

The acolytes continued to mumble out words of terror and warning, and Shallieth excused herself quickly. She wasn’t sure what scared her more: the unknown menace waiting mere meters beneath her feet or the sheer stupidity of these cowardly, over-indoctrinated simpletons.

I wouldn’t mind so much if only once in a while I weren’t the most competent one to deal with these things. Shallieth sighed. Well, if Gennaro is dead, I must see for myself. If he lives, he will probably need my help, and any favor that he owes me is a good thing right about now.

As it turned out, Gennaro was very much alive, and from the looks of things there hadn’t even been a struggle. Shallieth scowled as the cowardice of the acolytes took on a new dimension, but she herself remained in the shadows, not wishing to provoke the small being which was currently embroiled in what appeared to be a legal and philosophical debate with the Gennaro.

Her friend spoke, naturally enough, of the laws of the people, and how it was his duty to enforce them. He urged the creature to come with him and he would see to it that it had plenty of food and to leave the bodies of the fallen in peace.

The creature in turn spoke of “the curse”, of “bodies of war” (but no war had caused these fatalities!), and perhaps of “war to come”. It spoke of a deal with the spiders, who had created its passage into the catacombs. It seemed to be toying with Gennaro, seemed to be enjoying his discomfort.

When Gennaro mentioned the guardsmen upstairs that would take him by force if necessary, Shallieth decided the time was right to make her presence known, confirming the guards’ overwhelming numbers and brutality.

One could almost see the creature’s shoulders shrug as it realized that Gennaro’s resolve was unwavering. Sensing that the thing was about to make a break for it, Shallieth (against her better judgment) moved to block its escape route.

She was not prepared for the superhuman speed with which the thing bowled her over and bolted up the stairs, Gennaro hard on its heels.

“Two pair. Fishers and ravens.” The tower guard lay his cards on the table with a mocking grin.

It was outstripped by the smile to his right as he casually laid down his own hand. “Queen’s Court.” Amidst the groans of the other players, he began casually sweeping the pile of copper coins toward his side of the table.

“Wait, what in the seven hells was that?”

Several of the other guardsmen had seen the commotion and were scrambling for their crossbows. It was fast. Impossibly fast. And it looked for all intents and purposes like an emaciated old dwarf in a red hat.

“Halt! In the name of the Empire!” The creature did not even hesitate. A few seconds later a volley of bolts showered the section of street where the creature ran. None connected. They reloaded for a second volley, but somehow the ungodly thing evaded those as well. By the time the third volley was loaded, the redcap had disappeared down the harbor road.

A few moments later the second runner came, this one entirely recognizable even in the dim light of the torchlit streets. Sergeant Gennaro Infondato. He hailed the tower guard and briefly inquired of his quarry’s whereabouts.

Onetwothreefourfivesix. The door again. Not the guard this time though. Murridoc arose to answer. This was a more normal visit. Finneas Armiteo Sakzul-Inash McBrint VII, head of the Mason’s Guild. Most men called him by name, but to Murridoc that seemed inefficient. He was Guildmaster, first and foremost. Of course, without title, would he be of any significance?

The Guildmaster had a task for him. Understandably, as he was in fact Murridoc’s employer. A section of the wall had collapsed between the districts of the Odonata and the Hsigo, and the flying monkeys, of course, were outraged. Pushing aside thoughts of how he’d really like to address that problem, he pointed out instead the urgency of the situation in the Temple District. Finneas would hear nothing of it; he was assigning Murridoc’s expert hand to the Odonata/Hsigo wall.

Hmm, while I see his point, he’s shortsighted. Missing the big picture, definitely. More to be found in the Temple District. Can’t let the rats get away that easily. Just a little insubordination; not a big deal.

It had taken the better part of an hour, but the acolytes (Shallieth repressed for the moment the string of expletives playing at the back of her mind) had finally calmed down and returned to their duties tending to the wounded. The situation here seemed to be under control, and the time was ripe to get a finger on what really happened here.

So Shallieth headed for the source she knew best: the streets.

It was not long before answers found her, though not precisely the ones she sought. Her source came in the form of Masser, a former apprentice (not that she really cared for passing on her secrets but when the Order insisted Shallieth complied) who approached her with a nearly tangible air of apprehension and fear. He whispered that they needed somewhere safe to talk.

Nodding, Shallieth led him to a corner of an abandoned warehouse. No eyes and ears here, she knew. Nothing worth seeing or hearing.

“Now, Masser, what’s this about?”

“You’re out.”


Masser went on to explain that Lauren Chantille himself had given the word, and while it was not official until the inner circle decided, everyone knew that Chantille’s word was law, and to get on the wrong side of it was to invite a most unpleasant death.

Slowly the pieces began to fall in place. He’d known. Somehow, some way he’d known of her intentions for him, though she had told no one. Failing to take her out in the “accidental” collapse, he’d conspired to turn the entire Order against her.

What a fool she’d been, blind to the menace that lurked behind her very back. It was only by sheer luck that she survived. The collapse hadn’t been her mother’s doing at all. It was a deliberate work of sabotage orchestrated by none other than Chantille himself. Clever work, she had to admit, using the roden (or was it the spiders?) as scapegoats. Clearly he intended to lead her down the wrong track.

Well, now the playing field was even. Shallieth was onto him as well. And so, taking great care to ensure she was not seen leaving, she sought out the only source of refuge she had left.


No sooner had Murridoc’s men begun the excavation of the collapsed section of the Temple District than Gennaro pulled the master mason aside and explained to him the situation with the redcap and the tunnel beneath the temple. It would seem they had a new suspect, and along with it a new course of investigation.

The men grumbled as they were called back up to assist, but for the time being they were needed elsewhere.

The passage was cramped (unsurprisingly, as it was built for the short, slight creature and the spiders) but easily located once they knew to look for it. Unsurprisingly, it had collapsed a short distance down its length, but the gossamer glint of spiderwebs was apparent in the flickering torchlight. The redcap had been telling the truth about at least one thing then. Also apparent was the familiar drip of saltwater down the walls and to the tunnel floor. Murridoc set to work making a safe passage through the rubble in order to follow the passage to its source.

Shallieth, meanwhile (still unseen) ghosted around the room. She herself would not have been traced here, or at least she hoped not, but Gennaro was another matter. She’d worried about the predictability of her move in seeking out the guard sergeant, but upon consideration she had been out of options. It was either face the Order with the Guard’s assistance, or face the Order alone.

Clearly a bit of caution was in order.

Be that as it may, it was not an assailant that caught Shallieth’s attention, but a series of crude paintings on the wall. Paintings made with a tacky, dark red substance that to her trained eyes was unmistakable.

Partially-dried blood.

What caught her attention more than that, however, was the subject matter. Though the art was crude, one of the pictograms depicted a man with long dark hair and an ornate pipe spewing clouds of smoke. The likeness was uncanny; clearly this represented Chantille. The other pictures were of a large sailing vessel of some sort (no flags or insignia; this could represent anything larger than a schooner; no great help there) and another figure. This man’s face she could not place, but the amulet around his neck clearly depicted the Empire’s symbol, the mythical lady who had killed her own son in order to keep the valley united. Heroic self-sacrifice, Shallieth supposed, or some tripe like that. Still, if it calmed the masses who was she to argue?

Her eyes returned quickly to the likeness of Chantille. What could this mean? Was he a target as well, the redcap’s intended next meal? Could the cannibalistic demon prove to be a useful ally, for the time being at least? Or did the picture represent the creature’s allegiance? Surely she had never heard of the Order of Crysanthe working with such things, but given recent revelations she was certain there were quite a few things she had been kept in the dark about. But if it worked for Chantille why had it not taken the chance to kill her where she stood?

Questions, too many questions, and not an answer in sight.

For the time being she reported her findings to Gennaro and they headed out to meet with the roden criminologist.

He went by Offo, and his demeanor was scholarly and professional. Clearly a man who thought highly of himself, perhaps too highly, but at least he seemed competent in his area of expertise.

At length Offo expounded on what he knew of the mysterious Ijax. He had apparently been a general in the last skirmish between the field roden and their cousins of the Below. He had lost his eye to a sling stone in that battle, which had turned against the Below roden. Humiliated and shamed by his defeat, Ijax had vowed revenge on the field roden. That was the last Offo had heard of him. Of a great machine, he knew nothing. In fact there was a certain skepticism when the topic was broached. Roden were great miners, to be sure, but their knowledge of engineering was rudimentary at best.

At length it was agreed that after a short break for supper Offo would assist in interrogating Krim. Hopefully more answers would come this time.

Panic in the Streets!
1st session adventure log

(I probably butchered the other PCs’ intents and motivations, so please change, add, revise!)

Shallieth skirted the shadows, floating as much as walking. She knew the dangers of this neighborhood all too well; she was one of them. But a danger known is a danger lessened and once again she made it home without incident.

Against all odds, it was after this that the trouble started. Having just shed her cloak and helped herself to a nightcap and a book she was caught off-guard (a rare occurrence) by the shifting and cracking of the very ground beneath her abode giving way. Allowing her instincts to take control, she beat a hasty retreat in the opposite direction, diving out the back door just as the timbers began to collapse.

Hell had broken loose, had a picnic, and decided to play some cricket with the broken bodies of her neighbors. Amidst shrieks of alarm, panic, and utter pain she fled, never pausing to assist those she passed, her mind focused on one thing.

Gods and spirits, she’s found me.

Shallieth let out a yelp in spite of herself as a beam came crashing down, grazing her right shoulder. Got to get out of here fast. Got to make sure she doesn’t follow me. In the relative safety of an alley, she poured her mind into the aura of the Chameleon. She didn’t really become invisible, per se, so much as people would suddenly find their attention diverted to more important things. It was a game Shallieth had been playing long enough to be very good at, but panic and distraction took their toll, not on the hastily-cast spell but on the caster herself.

Got to find Gennaro. He’ll know what to do.

Always work to be done. Gennaro sighed as he shifted another page from a long pile of reports onto the “finished” pile and noted the specifics in his own log. Working by the lantern’s dim light was taking its toll on his eyes, and for a moment he contemplated joining his guardsmen in slumber.

No, there’s more work to be done. Got to at least finish this batch of reports.

The next thing Gennaro noted was the whispering in his ear. A voice without a body. How this intruder had gotten past the guard at the front door, he could only guess. But he did know the voice. Shallieth Trifalgar. This could not be good.

He waited in a state of semi-shock as his underworld informant notified him of an emergency situation in the Temple District, a situation his fellow guardsmen were apparently doing nothing about. Resolved to see to the rescue of his fellow townspeople, Gennaro hurriedly rallied the garrison, sending a few to gather experts and advisors and leading the rest through the otherwise-quiet streets to the broken crater that had mere minutes ago been a stable, if destitute, neighborhood.

Onetwothreefourfive. Sharp rapping noises. For a moment Murridoc struggled to comprehend the strange rhythmic tapping. The door, definitely the door.

A clearly-shaken guardsman stood outside and for a moment Murridoc wondered what the City Guard was accusing him of this time around. And then the guardsman began an uncharacteristic plea for assistance.

A collapse? My stone, my houses and precious walls? How could this be? And yet as Murridoc stared out in the direction of the loud crash he had heard earlier, a mere 1,423.7 meters away, he saw the evidence with his own eyes. Grabbing his coat he hurried out the door to assist.

Chaos reigned. What was left of the streets was choked with the wounded and the dispossessed. Many more were still buried in the rubble. And what had been the guardsmen’s first and only act? A blockade. As if these were dangerous livestock to be contained, to be kept away from those with a right to live. Gennaro was appalled.

There were criminals, certainly. These sort of districts always attract the lower elements. But there were far more innocents, law-abiding citizens whose only crime was not being able to afford to live elsewhere. Surely even the criminals deserve better than this.

He saw it in Shallieth’s eyes as well, gave her a cautionary look when he saw those eyes boring into the offending guardsmen. She had doubtless lost her home as well. Her friends. Her neighbors. Gennaro struggled to take command of the situation, but he could not completely keep Shallieth at bay and he didn’t blame her. Poor woman; grief has taken her and her “protectors” could care less.

Shallieth’s mind, however, was elsewhere. It was not grief or sorrow that burned from those eyes. It was anger. And vengeance. How could she? In my very own home! Mother, I’m an ocean away and no threat to your damned ivory palace! I don’t want it! Just call off your dogs already! But her words were honey and ice as she gently appealed to the man’s sense of dignity.

Gennaro tired quickly of the verbal posturing. There was work to be done, lives to be saved, and so Gennaro Infondato, hero of Ponte Luka, took up a rope and led the charge into the twisted wreckage. This was of course after their master mason had assured him of its stability; no need endangering the lives of those who must assist those trapped within. So certain had Le Lacheure been, in fact, that he was one of the first to follow.

Good. That takes care of the Guard. Now let’s see what there is to be seen. Shallieth wasn’t certain what she was looking for. Cut timber, perhaps, weakened stonework, the stain of black powder and a smoking fuse? There had to be some shred of evidence to prove what she already knew. This was no accident, it was an attack. But if the evidence was there her untrained eye steadfastly refused to register it. Perhaps a more personal approach was in order.

Wreckage everywhere. Torchfires lighting up the dry timbers, highlighting stains of blood, dust and oil. They were too late for the first several victims, and without a single moan to guide them, searching for the survivors, if indeed there were any, was going to take some time.

Murridoc found the first. Found himself face-to-face with a wretched, furred visage, hissing in pain and panic. Something less than human. Doubtless if there was one roden here there were many, and if many were here . . . perhaps they had found their culprits. But for the time being he had to ensure that this roden survived to testify. Calling for the guardsmen and a rope, Murridoc began to extract the furred survivor.

Shallieth looked suitably haggard and stricken as she surveyed the wounded and the dead. It was all an act, of course. She felt no particular sorrow over this lot; many were probably better off dead anyway. But each was potential lost revenue, and of course corpses are hardly fun to play with. And there was something else that bothered her . . . but she pushed that to the back of her mind where it belonged.

Four. Four missing. She had names, faces, descriptions. They were likely dead, and this made little difference, but she put on a show of tearful anguish as she returned to pass the news to the Guard.

His name was Krim. He was clearly not all there, but aware enough to mumble about what he had seen. Or at least to mutter repeatedly “Went up, should’ve gone down.” At one of his more lucid moments he mentioned a machine and a man named Ijax. Murridoc’s suspicions of the savage began to crystallize into something more solid.

When Krim spotted the temple, what remained of his sanity broke and he took off running. Fortunately, Murridoc, Gennaro, and Shallieth all happened to be looking that way.

Can’t these roden say anything useful? Or at least learn when to shut up? Shallieth had heard enough of their dodging. Her gut told her they were in on it, but of course she had no proof. Not even any useful leads. There had to be something better to do with her time. Then, out of the corner of her eye, she saw the other roden, the injured one, make a break for it.

“Excuse me, but I have other duties to which I must attend. Perhaps we can continue this later?” She didn’t wait for an answer.

At length the bolting roden was cornered and recaptured, and the guard had taken him to a very secure location in the temple for treatment of his wounds. The three had regathered to question their witness/suspect. At this point, though, he was nearly foaming at the mouth. It took all of their combined efforts to convince him he was, in fact, among friends (however true or untrue that may actually be).

But convince him they did, and Krim began his tale.

Creatures of Ponte Luka

Alright! The first installment of some further details, this time on the very important Creatures of the New World. I’ll post these here first, and then probably fit it into the Wiki a little later.

Admittedly, it’s longer than I expected it would be. Comments, questions, contradictions I missed?

The Creatures of Ponte Luka:



“I bear it! I bear Tacius Black’s head!”
-Shouted from the ramparts, during the Black Seige of Ponte Luka

The Men of the Empire, more particularly, the Men of Ponte Luka are a varied and adaptive people, yet time and scarcity has had its effect on them. They have spent many years striving for sustenance and the next winter. They have been fighting, more than anything, for some sense of normalcy and civilization, something they cannot seem to achieve. They are surrounded only by harsh wilderness and suspicious, foreign eyes, their “allies of convenience”.

Five years ago, however, The Black Fear, flagship of a desperate pirate navy, sank under Ponte Luka’s Combined Militia, and the cadavers of a pirate army have proved a kind fertilizer to the growth of the city. The tensions that plagued the city have begun to ease and the varied species are meeting on grounds other than war, need and suspicion. It seems that finally, Ponte Luka may stand on its own two legs. Now Men have the luxury to wonder, how much do we know about these strange creatures? What do they want from us, really?

The cautious and cynical quietly store supplies and bide their time, knowing that people celebrate far too early, and that Ponte Luka will never be far from collapse.


The Great Wolves

“The interminable strength of a ‘pack’ follows from the uncharacteristically hopeful view that Wolf-hood and the trial of survival and procreation is the greatest Gift. Every Wolf bears the mark of ‘Great Grandfather’, and together they are the only light against the ancient and the hollow.”
-From An Introduction to the Predatorial Testament, by Enciammand Astrezza

Great Wolves in appearance are just that, wolves magnified. They stand four to six feet tall at the shoulder, with disproportionately large teeth and claws. They are mainly terse when interacting with other races, eagerly cutting to the heart of a discussion, though their motivations are sometimes impenetrable to non-Wolves.

The Great Wolves do not, for the most part, live within the city, but rather in man-made clay caves, along the walls of Ponte Luka (The “Kennels”). Within them live pregnant females, newborn pups and the ‘Aunts’ and ‘Uncles’, assigned to raising the little ones.

Dominant wolves are rarely within sight of the city walls, but they have sworn to cooperate with the Men of Ponte Luka and the surrounding villages, and they always arrive when properly called. It’s hard to keep track of all of the various packs that visit and leave Ponte Luka, but if a Man informs even one wolf of important information or a need, it spreads to its intended target with a supernatural speed.


The Great Spiders

“…for the servitude and protection of the two-legger wall-guards from time of White to Black and then again from Black to White again, We write that We shall taste our brethren in the air, and hence devour them, and so provide greater protection than walls that would not delay a hatchling.”
-From Treaty of Mutual Protection, drafted by Handmaiden Zi of the Great Overnest

The Great Spiders are large creatures, anywhere from one to six feet long, and sit low to the ground. Size often expresses importance, with the matriarchal females known as “Handmaidens” being the largest. They may be all variety of spider, bodies depending on how they live and their necessary role.

Recently, the Handmaidens have agreed to use the strange expertise and senses of the Great Spiders to help guard the walls from things that would not be stopped by brick and mortar. Before then, however, they seemed to do very little except for build their vast Orb Home. There are many theories as to why the ruling council welcomed the Spiders into Ponte Luka. Some say it was just too dangerous to leave them out. Some say that a silver-tongued spider manipulated his way into the council. Some say it is clear that their strange web runes will ensure Ponte Luka’s safety. Some say that regardless, there will be Spiders to feast on all of us when we are dead.

The giant Orb of webbing, or “Great Overcity”, stands pressed up against the northern wall of the city, protected from the weather above by a ceramic dome, and is protected on all sides by thick tarps of carpet (hand-sewn by the Hsigo). These also serve as a general limiting barrier for smaller Spiders who lack express permission to enter the city, as it is clear that without barriers there would be eggs and webs everywhere.


The Hsigo

“The Prophet spoke into the ear of the mighty Celestial Emperor and said, ‘Grant them wings, so that they may attain the heights of the mountain most holy and pay you proper worship.’ And so it was done.”
-Introduction to The Analects of the Prophet, Central text of The Celestial Emperor

The Hsigo are chimerical creatures, in appearance. They are monkey-like, with large eyes and sad, expressive features. On their backs they have large, feathered wings which they use to fly all across their Sacred Mountain (The “Vedanta Hsigaeri”). Around Men, they wear loose-fitting silk robes, bartered from the Great Spiders.

If you asked a Hsigo what they provide Ponte Luka, they would look at you condescendingly and answer something akin to “Illumination”. Some Men agree, it is clear, as the many subtle rules and ceremonies of The Celestial Emperor have gained some popularity. Children, too, enjoy listening to the endless myths and morals that the Hsigo tell. But Men more concerned with the survival of Ponte Luka (in this life, at least) see their value elsewhere. Hsigo are consummate explorers and mappers, although they do not always keep to the plan, or understand exactly what the Men want, they are a great resource for learning what lies beyond this strip of land.

The relatively few Hsigo that live in Ponte Luka (most finding the city to be too flat live in) find their home in a strange construction that is part shanty town and part mansion. Just south of the great Empire Temple strange, ramshackle rooms and towers build off of each other precariously, alternating from hedonistic luxury to scavenged trash. Perhaps stranger, from every corner you’ll find cage of rare and fantastic birds.


The Odonata

“The Summer, the moldy Summer – Oh! The honeymoon
Will be a flower bed and his children will fill his home
With a thousand roses!”
-Fragment of an Odonata mating poem

The Odonata (“Odonata” being singular and plural) are five foot long, talkative dragonflies, yet it would be hard to not call them beautiful. Their chitin of every color, and their shining, transparent wings have given many painter reason to pause and watch the sun reflect from their exoskeleton. The Odonata know that they are beautiful, and they are beautiful for a purpose which is their constant occupation and interest: Mating.

The Odonata were the first to forgive the Mankind for their aggression, and the first ‘monstrous’ citizens of Ponte Luka. They leapt into the politics of Ponte Luka, claiming that the shows of power and dominance were perfect parallels to their other main pursuit, a comparison some officials find disconcerting. Some would consider the Odonata to be useless chatterers, but in truth, many of races which joined Ponte Luka did so through their efforts.

Just south of the Noble district, the Odonata live in large, glass aeries, homes that have become an extension of their natural colors.


The Roden of the Below

“Most were trapped within the lands of Men. They were forced to seek safety in what would be known as the Below. Beneath the vast cities of Men were forgotten labyrinths of darkness. In the hills were carved caves of pitch-black nothingness. Into such places the Leavers fled. There they found refuge, and Corruption.”
-From the Histories of the Field Roden

The Roden of the below, natives of the Old World, are three to four foot tall rat-men, with an unusual, if consistently dolichocephalic (long headed) combination of rat and man parts.

Although they are the scavengers that they were in the Empire, the Below Roden of Ponte Luka deserve particular mention as being the entrepreneurs and frontiersmen of the subterranean. They work to build a new Below, better than any city in the Empire. They seem bent on exploring the entire White Mountain which Ponte Luka rests upon, under the guiding hands of their sometimes friends, the Chiropterans.


The Field Roden

“Within the obscuring shadows of their caves, there is neither grain, nor berry, nor root, nor cheese to curdle. Aecer protect us.”
-A common end to Field Roden liturgy

The Field Roden are similar to their old-world cousins. They look similar but they tend to be chubbier, with short, furry tails (rather than long and naked). They are perhaps a little more friendly as well, but similarly have been both headache and boon in varying measures.

They are skilled farmers and gatherers, and make up at least half of the population of the farming villages near Ponte Luka. However, their devotion to Aecer, their god, leads them to see the Roden living below the city as the ‘missing children’ of their histories. A few surprisingly violent skirmishes have broken out between the Field and Below Roden leading to a number of deaths, and not all of them Roden. Currently, the council is of the opinion that the best thing to do is to keep them as separate as possible.


The Chiropterans

“All at once, it started. It wasn’t a choir like they said it would be, and it wasn’t like any instrument I’d ever heard, even in the Kaprika music halls. It was.. it was a like thousand instruments, ten thousand… all being tuned at once, again and again and again, and when the echoes came back, Milo fainted on the spot and I had to hold him up to stop him from cracking his head on the cave floor. It was all too much, you see? And to imagine that those Bats could see it too, all at once…”
-Testimony of Alphonso Pausimer, First Ambassador to the Chiropteran people

Though they call themselves the Chiropterans, they could be called Great Bats, in their physical similarities to Great Wolves and Great Spiders. They are five to six feet tall bats, of the flying fox variety. They are intelligent, verbal and polite creatures, with a great interest in sound and music.

Chiropterans have mainly received a cold reception in Ponte Luka. The religious art of the old world depicts daemons as being similar creatures, usually possessing giant bat wings and the same black eyes. However, though the Chiropterans live in an entirely different world from that of Men, those who get to know them often find a kinship they might not have expected.

The presence of such a large number of Chiropterans below Ponte Luka is really pure luck. A little less than a mile below the city streets is an air pocket that amounts to a naturally-formed grand opera chamber. The Below Roden discovered this cave early on in the settlement of Ponte Luka, and in a negotiation that lasted a full month, sold the cave to the Chiropteran Nobles, in exchange for their knowledge of every tunnel in the White Mountain. As Chiropterans have no maps or written language, it is not unusual to see a few Roden traveling with a single Chiropteran guide.


The Trolls

“Looks like a Troll in Summer”
-A sculptor’s saying, describing quick, ugly work

Massive, ape-like creatures covered in scales, horns and fur, who turn to stone under the sun’s gaze. Because they seem to be inherently frustrated creatures, and unable to understand even the simplest agreement, they are not equals in Ponte Luka. Inside the city, they are labor slaves and tend to work underground. Outside of the city they are simply solitary, greedy and mean.



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