The Final Mourning

Skyfall, part 2: Decent into the Depths of the Earth

With a concussive blow that could easily be felt in your chest, the pair of five ton, fully metallic wyvern constructs touched down, crumpling part of the bows and upper hull of the stoutly built ship. Cowering below in the shadows, the party readies such defences that come to hand. Hailing us from above, the beast’s riders dismount: ‘we know you’re in there-come out now!’

‘I am the Lord of Blades, and my companion here is Metalbeard. These are my lands, my dominion. Slaves of New Cyre, you trespass here. Swiftly now, give your reason for coming or face the consequences. Step out and be judged.’

Our little metal friends Ginson and Sprox go to parlay-and as the story comes out it’s like some gathering of the toasters-beep boop crackle. Even after all these years it’s a little hard to take warforged seriously, however seriously that they may take themselves. Turns out this guy is some kind of guerrilla leader/freedom fighter/homesteader. A standard around which a tiny community of constructs has accreated, here in the haunted wastes. Metalbeard is his wife, or something? It’s all a little confusing.

We are politely and firmly invited to come to the base, which happens to be on the site of Princess Michon’s abduction. Funny that, but WTF, right?

The Lord of Blades: ‘we may have work for you…’

Imagine the raggedy post-apocalypse survivors defending the oil wells in the Road Warrior, with Mel Gibson. That’s these guys. Tattered plastic tarps stretched over battered aluminum poles are shelter. Dust and wind sweep past idle and forlorn figures clutching their improvised dart guns, feathers and bones adorning their figures. Standing out from all this desperation and squalor are several figures. The wyverns, which these lost souls actually built (!), half forged weirdos covered in poorly healed incisions, scabs and the blush of infection where construct uncleanly mates with flesh, and T2 herself: some kind of advanced model of fembot. All curves, inscrutable, flowing metal. Every man’s fantasy made real. She hangs back, discreet and aloof while we are interrogated.

The deal is that this is the in between time. The time of a new beginning, where the rule of flesh has been cast down, giving opportunity for a new order of life. A rational society, a utopia for the survivors, a place of refuge for former slaves, for the former Warforged of Cyre. Together we will rise up, YOU HAVE A PERSONAL FRIEND WITH JESUS! etc.

Well, except for this terrible rash on the balls of the new community: demons that attack with deadly regularity and effect. Some idiot put the parish right on top of a rift to Hel, evidently. Oh, and that’s YOUR JOB to go and fix. Oh and you need to leave right now, because the next attack comes like clockwork, just hours from now! Think of the children!

So, of course we go, right?

The Underhalls.

We have been here before. Years ago. She fell, right there. He took her. The abduction. The Elven warlock. He took her, then jumped. Down a bottomless chasm in the earth. That’s where we have to follow. A little late. Eighty years late.

We are introduced to the Culture below. Their representative, a scaly, weasley, stinking Kobold ushers us into the presence of their Queen, Beatrice.

‘Sister!’ Damocles cries out in Draconic…‘Finally something worth fighting for! I would spend my life to help your people-for the incursion troubles you here as well? With the assistance and guidance of the Dark Mother, the Devourer, Queen Tiamat, I pledge to personally ingest those that trouble your charming community!’

With kind words and a 3’-5" Kobold shaman named ‘Grrrsssst-Ahhhht’ we are lead to the elevator. Clever and with many machines the Kobolds are! We enter the cage of the lift.

‘Watch out for the spiders!’ the Queen calls out. Damocles suggests we pay them passage: meat, live meat? Sure enough, livestock are raised by these underdark folk, deep in the greasy turns of the earth-some kind of filthy disgusting maggot the size of a small terrestrial dog. Slopping and noisome the creatures writhe about our feet in the tiny conveyance as we are slowly lowered into the depths of the chasm.

Sure enough, we find webs and spiders in the deep places of the earth. The spiders are as big as Volkswagens and the webs wide enough to ride a horse on. The spiders teleport and hiss and chant during the transaction that buys our passage: Lal lal! The Black Goat with a thousand young! Atlath-Nacha! Lal lal! The Black Goat with a thousand young! Narlothetep! Shub-Niggurath!

The End of the Tether.

Somewhere below the bottom of the lift was our goal. Amid the sulfurous fume and devils glare of the earth’s angry molten stuff, we passed into Khyber’s realm. A fey land of trickery, fell magics, and corruption. Beyond hope, beyond the memory of light, life. A place of sudden death. Below we could just make out a portal in the endless chasm wall. We could just reach it, if we took care and roped up.

The decent was good. The cavern beyond smallish, full of odd cocoons and spider stuff. And a portal, a big one. Our objective? We get to work with the ritual. Our diminutive Koblod companion (who ends up saving the day) gets on with the task of sealing the portal, somehow coaxing the very stone of the walls over the demon’s point of egress.

Moments later, we are confronted by a familiar face, sort of. Well the face anyway. The body is a really big, shiny black spider, with the torso, arms and head of that Elven spellcaster! He is quite the boss monster, too. He deploys minions, spells and evasion, to no avail. He falls just like all the rest, and Damocles takes a bite out of his liver, as is her custom.

Concealed nearby are several troubling objects: the dessicated corpse of Princess Michon, and some kind of horrible, pulsating sac…an egg sack?

An Unclean Birth.

Moments later, pus and liquid filth cascade from the leathery man-sized egg case glued to the column, splashing our clothes, boots and hair. Landing with a wet thud and streaming with the unclean waters of birth, a fully grown form weakly rises.

’I’m Kale, uhh…and welcome to my gestation chamber!’

We resolve to take them both to the surface.

Up top, we find the mists of the Mourning closing in fast as whatever was holding the Effect at bay collapses. In the distance and at speed, we see the Cyran air car shrinking in to collect us. In the nick of time, we jump aboard and dust off, leaving the half-forged half-wits to their certain doom.

Skyfall, part 1: Abducted!

Confronted by Prince Orlev, heir to the Cyran state, his lieutenant and flanked by enforcers with swords drawn in Ironport docks, the party is given the privilege of finally seeing the upper city. There we are encouraged to make a long and dangerous trip by air car to the site of Princess Michon’s abduction all those long years ago.

Later, we find this was but a ruse. Could Orlev himself have had an unwitting part in the undoing of New Cyre, the opening of a vast, new portal to hell, the the devastation of Skyhome itself? Surely we were but pawns in this foul conspiracy, and yet even so bear great shame for our small part in the tragedy that followed.

Skimming high over the shrouded lands, we travel by elemental air car to the East some hundreds of stadia. Little can be seen of the lost domains below the blanket of fog. The sun glints off the heavy mass, looking all the world like dirty snow.

Falling into an uneasy camaraderie with our captors, we learn this is the second attempt to penetrate the mystery: the first mission crashed upon crossing into the roughly circular region surrounding the site of Princess Michon’s last known location. The pilots will stay on station, and try and pick us up, should we survive.

The group has some difficulty simply making their way in the heavy mist of the Mourning. Damocles is swallowed and swiftly rejected by a greater purple worm. To the parties consternation, she relates her attempt to ‘…eat the beast from within-we each had a bite’. With some little luck and much blundering, we stumble past the penumbra and into the glare of a harsh desert afternoon. In the middle distance, the crashed air car in a vast plain of hard, beaten rock, course shifting sands and stunted vegetation.

For some miles Sprox guides us along the bosom of the trackless waste. “At least we are free of those Fascists” speaks Damocles. The land gradually opens, revealing a modest canyon system and a range of low hills. Avoiding the temptations of the comparatively lush greenery deep in the canyon-a watering hole-we reach the foothills without incident.

Scrabbling along the treacherous scree fields skirting the extremity of the canyon wall, something lets out a bone chilling howl. Magnified by the hardscape and echoing down the canyon, the terrifying call of rage, hunger and lust roots us momentarily in this most precarious cliff side. Surely this was a great lion, calling out in warning to it’s mate-or perhaps something far worse?

To our collective horror the shape that rises up-some horrible medley with vast wings but surely most lion like otherwise. A manticore, with minions. Grizzled and ripe with decay, humanoid forms lurch from a black gash at our feet. What followed would not be believed were the story told out at fireside, safe in some inn on the other side of this troubled world. Showing inhuman ferocity, the pair of clumsy, impetuous and heavily mailed soldiers Frederick and Damocles fling themselves bodily off the cliff side and onto the broad back of this monstrosity.

Plunging in their blades and splattered with life blood, the ungainly trio plunge to the unforgiving rocks below, casting the manticores ruin down on the mountainside. Amazingly, they live to tell the tale. After this, and seemingly in a dream of carnage that belongs more to some grim Norse epic, nothing can touch them. All fall at their feet-severed spines, punctured lungs, limbs hacked away. All that come before with intent are swept aside as if by the hand of the gods.

The cave houses a portal, the threshold a glimmering, stinking transition. Beyond the greasy membrane lies another world-Hel, the land of demons, stronghold of the Enemy. The rock is worked with runes of power, by some local hand favoring such things. Devilry. The defilement of Nature’s order. Hastily, we scratch it out, damage and disable the gate.

Emerging to the dimming of the day from this ichor splattered grotto, we pick a path up the treacherous rock field to the comparative safety of the nearby hills. Exhausted and stumbling we make camp. Within hours, we are attacked by a total of five Bulettes; vast land shark monstrosities. Fortunately, they are stupid and easily fooled. Even in the extremity of weariness, the small unit tactics and mutual support that was the party’s foundation in our period of service served us in this seemingly impossible situation. Like cattle they are dismembered. ‘Good hunting here, I like this place!’ id Damocles’ only comment.

Next day we make for the wreck. With a vast and powerful dust storm at our heels, we hurry to shelter inside the mostly intact vessel. We are not alone-several dessicated corpses lurch up, skeletal hands scrabble at our ankles from the deep amber sands that fill the modest cargo bay of the lower ship. At this point, literally nothing could faze us. Laid to rest, the dead finally grant us a moment of silence to reflect. We are too inurned to blood, the grate of splintering bone…Tuesday-just another fucking Tuesday. Fuck.

We shelter out the storm. The crashed ship reveals little about what happened here. The black box must have been thrown somewhere beyond the wreck, a search of the debris field fails to find it. Later, someone spots two falcons in the distance-hold on they look wrong-those are brass. Oh shit, they aren’t falcons, they’re probably Wyverns, too giant metallic wyverns, with riders.

End of Part One
Two Dragons

decent into the depths at the bandit base
confronted by the lava wyrm; negotiations
return to woodhelm
meeting at the Sculpted Keep; warned by the wizard
escape from the minions at Woodhelm
party meets a stranger, a dwarf
undersea journey to Ironport
favored by a meeting with clan elders; an offer of assistance

return to the portal by sea; aberrations and a open gate to primeval chaos
cramped cavern; defeat of a hydra
the portal opens; a visit to Steelhearth
debriefing and advice: Blackhearth as a new objective

exploring Blackhearth with dwarven assisstance
discovery of a life spark machine, exosuit
confronted by a living symbol: a dragon defiled by a devil
the dragon released, the facility secured
a job offer from the dwarves of Ironport

Does this sequence look correct? Please edit it and we’ll write it up once we can agree on the details.

2015 04 20: Interrogating Davross

Edit: this took place after the 4/4/2015 session

I assume that Sprocket refrains from murdering Davross at least long enough for you all to interrogate him. Here’s what you learn:

He came from an enclave of people who are dedicated to the preservation of the Warforged race. To that end, they hunt down Warforged and try to murder them. If the target fights off the assailants and survives, then they are clearly capable and worthy to remain alive. If not, then the attackers earn the right to have the victim’s body parts grafted on as replacements to their own mortal flesh. Davross is capable of replacing limbs via field surgery, but to replace the head or torso, the reforged must return to the enclave where there is a working lifespark device that makes this procedure possible without killing the patient.

By this process, the warforged bodies are redistributed to those who prove themselves to be the strongest and most capable of survival. The enclave is lead by a personage that Davross refers to as “the Bright One.”

The Bright One had a vision of this abandoned stronghold, sent by Khyber, and Davross was dispatched to lead a group of reforged to seek out this place. Davross didn’t know what he would find here, but when he met the red wyrmling he knew that this was the impetus of the Bright One’s seeking. Davross knows enough Draconic to bargain with the wyrmling for shards of its egg, which he buys by providing food and treasure. Davross’s goal now is to convince the young dragon to return to the enclave and become an ally in the Bright One’s cause.

Davross claims that he doesn’t know how to return to the Bright One’s enclave by traveling overland. He traveled here in the labyrinth of Khyber’s body that lies deep below the surface of Eberron. He says that there’s no way he would be permitted to bring the PCs back to the enclave – all of their lives would be forfeit unless they proved strong enough to either keep or earn their warforged bodies.

Castle Quandary: Friend or Foe? Part I

At the head of a clutch of Woodhelm’s town guards, we are victorious. Our enemies are unconscious or dead, bested. Like some medieval lava lamp, blood and hydraulic fluid mingle and swirl in the dust. The encounter was risky; his spring sprung, dented Ginson has had his mettle sorely tested, now tempered, now annealed by combat. Our blood is up, or whatever passes for it-the temptation to spare them does not compute. Down the rutted furrows of his memory banks, racing through his logic centers, to issue nanoseconds later from his voder Ginson shouts:

(Ginson) “Don’t kill the leader, we must talk to him!”

(Damocles) “Hmm, who’s to say they didn’t leave one or two as rear guard to surveil from the forest’s edge? If so we are undone, and surprise later will be forfeit.”

Sure enough, we startle a dire wolf from nearby concealment, and like a zephyr it is away with Sprox hot on its heels. To race after quarry, this is the purpose for which he was built. He obeys his directive: no escape, no survivors. Put two in the head-it’s the only way to be 100% sure, and always take a trophy: ears are good, very good, now virtually traditional.

Agape, dwindling in numbers by the minute, the rest of us watch him go. Now we are three. No time to plan, no time to question, interrogate, prevaricate. We call for horses, horses! Every minute takes our companion away from us, into the arms of danger, quite alone. Sprox, the only one of us that knows the trail, and has seen the lair of these bizarre half-breed bandits gone, torn off, solo.

“Horses, horses and a groom, now!”

We lose one half hour, a delay that takes Sprox far afield. Frederick leads far too fast, horses and their use are now but a dim memory, we learn too quickly. The horses are surly, clearly unhappy and unwilling to enter such a place. Jostled, chafed, practically flung we mend our pace. Cautious now, we find the trail and enter the gloomy depths of the woods. A dreadful place, each step taking us away from light and air, into the heavy mist of the Mourning. Not a bird, not a sound. Calling out softly to companions, your voice drops at your feet; life, language, hope stifled by death, death, death.

Later, how long we do not know, the dark form of a vast cut in the earth looms up: the fortress? It is. Ginson moves up, so quietly. Who knew he possessed such craft, he is almost as silent as Friend Sprox. Where is he-there is no sign, we are now three. The man groom hurries back, out of the forest leading the beasts:

“God save you in this accursed place!”

Probing like some spook, Ginson lends his faithful companion, the odd metal bird Actuary his eyes: take these, see for me and go! Clutching them like precious eggs in its sharp little talons, it buzzes off into the night. Too small and too stealthy for easy detection the discreet quad rotor homunculus nibbles at the defenses here, there. Grinning, Friend Ginson’s empty sockets emit a faint glow: I can see your processor, Oedipus!

We learn the plan of the structure. Built into the hillside, it is low, stout, stone built. Formidable construction, with two half-forged guards standing on the parapet above the gaping entry. We settle on a diversion, a small noise to attract the guards. We resolve to climb, avoiding the best protected and probably trapped main entry. It works-gaining the low parapet, we rush the guards. Blows, one is down. A staircase rushed, into the lamplight of the main structure-it’s midnight, four guards down below-the kitchen-kick in the door! Close work, arrows shatter on the stone, glance off armor as Friend Frederick storms them. For a moment all is well, in control, like coming home: back to back, in battle.

Behind us, a door, look out! A giant thing, a metallic monster: their leader. Not plate armor, warforged. Some kind of mismatched surgical patchwork-a nightmare scarecrow come to life, fashioned of the limbs stolen from many, many warforged corpses. The voice a grating command:

“Kill them! Kill the intruders! Exterminate, x-ter-minate!”

His ‘men’ respond, rally. Then it’s bad, desperate. As big as a Volkswagen, laying on right and left with a flaming sword, it’s all we can do to keep our heads. A close shave later, with Ginson’s help, we put him down.

“What kept you?”
“Well there was an ocher jelly in here…”

Damocles thoughtfully touches his (it’s) bloodied forehead, gently. Still and apparently deceased one moment before, it draws a ragged mechanical breath: spared? To what purpose? He came within a hairsbreadth of taking her life, and yet she brought him back. Who knew she had it in her.

It awakens.

“What is your name? Your life is forfeit, bandit. Tell us and be swift about it.”

“I am self-styled Davross, aka ‘Unit MC Prime’ or ‘Primo’ if brevity isn’t your thing, brought low by your hand. I am amazed the town could muster anything of your caliber; I am at your mercy. Let me live and it will be to your advantage, my Lords. I am the author of many creations, my hand expert in forgotten and neglected arts. I single handedly conquer death and grant immortality! My stature as a surgeon matches my physical might in every way; like a God I was, my future limitless, the world my dominion, a visionary. I am at your feet. I answer your beck and call, like a humble chamber maid. Let me live, don’t shut out the light, the future!

Your petty employers will reward you poorly. The Capital-Hah! Corruption, self-service, lard! Lard I say! Here in the hinterlands there is true strength, grit, and potential. I can command riches in gold and in knowledge worthy of the oldern days, before the fall. Would you cast this all away? A diamond in the rough is still a diamond. Gesturing to his dead men, saying: I have greater allies and associates than these wretches. Look to my followers, such as they are. Once men they were, yet perfected by my hand; this hand. Extending that hand, would you cut it off and sever this cord of genius? Please think on it. Do not act precipitously. Listen to the good council of your hearts. I await your command eagerly and with trepidation. I tremble!”

(Frederick) “I have dealt with devils with less gilded tongues, he is a snake, and should be treated as such.”

(Damocles) “Perhaps Friend Ginson could rework it’s chassis, eliminating all but his head. We could place it in a jar. Horrible, but just, no?”

Good thing Friend Sprox isn’t here or he would be killed out of hand, if only for his limitless conceit and boundless ego. He is amusing, there is no doubt. We bound him securely, trussed like a hog and flung like a sack of laundry into a corner. We place little Actuary, the quad rotor homunculus to stand sentinel over him.

There is something of a throne room nearby: a magnificent and imposing carved chair of granite stone beyond a well-crafted rug; an ancient masterpiece of some forgotten and defunct court. His throne no doubt, Lord Davross. There is also a well barricaded portal, odd. Why would they barricade an internal door within their own fortress? They were no cowards, so it must have bad décor. We resolve to explore later. We rest, finding passable food in the nearby scullery. Restored, we examine the throne more closely. No traps below the large rug. All is quiet, we are alone?

Frederick lays a hand on the throne, ready to claim Kingship, perhaps too eagerly. This is no dumb rock, but a vile mimic, a cheat, a monster! The rug rears up as well, animate and bloodthirsty it attacks! To be killed by furniture after all we have been through seems a gross insult! Good thing we rested, it is a sore trial. Cord wood we render the impetuous side tables, fragments the decorative vases, we shatter the fine stem ware. Another close call: henceforth we shall trust no settee, day bed or lounge. Meanwhile our prisoner has attempted escape while we are occupied with this impromptu redecoration. Actuary tells his master: alert, alarm!

We need Sprox, a forth to keep the captive secure while the party plumbs the depths. In the early predawn light we find Sprox, safe and sound. Where has he been? He is mute; perhaps ashamed? He gives us no indication, and little explanation. We swiftly return, and place Unit MC Prime/Lord Davross in his keeping. If an expressionless and generally taciturn robotic killer could melodramatically glower threateningly over a helpless captive, this would be the time.

“Don’t murder him while we proceed? Please!”

Arrival at Woodhelm

ACTION LOG by ARTIFICER 2nd Class Ginson, formerly of Cannith East

DATES: March 7-21, year 80 AKR (After Khyber’s Rise)

Since there is some indication that House Cannith may exist still, I have elected to restart the process of recording a log; however since it is inconceivable that any other members of the Sprocket project remain, I will no longer focus as extensively on Sprocket.

During the course of this period our group travelled to Woodhelm (discussing our motivations along the way), met with Sir Arturo, and decided to address a local issue – “half-forged” bandits extorting the town.

Following the gnoll attack on the logging outpost, we took part in the general evacuation of the outpost, joining Marcus for a 2 week ride back to Woodhelm. Marcus turned out to be relatively educated – he both spoke Cyrean and was literate in both New Brellish and Cyrean.

I took advantage of the time to engage my companions in a discussion of motivation. It’s clear to me that all of our previous sources of authority are dismantled and we need to find our own path in the world. Some of the members were resistant to talking too much but I was able to learn at least this much:
- Damocles primarily wants to grow a lizardman colony. I was surprised to learn that Damocles is female. It’s unclear to me if she can lay fertile eggs without a male.

- Sprocket is very committed to finding others of his kind and preserving the remaining Warforged – ideally even finding a Lifespark Machine and creating new Warforged.

- Frederick didn’t give any clear goals aside from learning more of the world and helping where feasible.

- For myself I would ideally join up House Cannith again; however I have no idea whether this remains in Sharn in a form that I would recognize, and in any case I never had any connection to Cannith South, so I consider this unlikely. Failing that I would like to master this apparent mist-repulsion technology and establish our own outpost or society.

We also discussed what to do in Woodhelm in light of our goals and situation. We agreed that we didn’t necessarily want to join up with Sharn per se, but we want to gain the city’s favor, so we saw addressing the bandits as a means to that end; furthermore Sprocket had strong feelings about their habit of killing Warforged and taking their parts. We also agreed that we should meet with Sir Arturo directly, since it’s impossible that he wouldn’t learn of us. Finally we agreed we would be forthcoming about our situation, concealing only the particulars about Steelhearth.

So we arrived in Woodhelm. A brief description is in order. It’s a town of about 500. The town is surrounded by a wooden palisade, with wooden guard walks at least at the gate. The guards, except for some leaders, are local men trained to serve; even to my non-martial eye they were unimpressive. The leaders are from Sharn and were defined as: Sir Arturo, his bodyguard, the captain of the watch, and 4 guards.

Walking through town I saw no sign of House Cannith manufacturing; all the metal goods (weapons, armor, horseshoes, wagon parts, etc) appeared to be built by competent local blacksmiths.

In the center of town is a second wooden palisade, and behind that was the keep; which presented two surprises. First the keep itself was obviously built through arcane means – it is smooth stone with no joints or mortars; this would take a practitioner at least 2 orders higher than me. The keep itself was not overwhelming – a square base 30′×30′, approximately 20’ high.

Second the first guard we encountered was very surprising. His name was Dog and he was just that – a large (200 lb), walking, intelligent dog dressed in full armor. Marcus, who was guiding us, referred to 3 others: Owl, Lizard, and 1 other.

We were shown into see Sir Arturo. I was surprised that he was in fact an arcane magician; he was surprised by our situation. We had a long discussion, where he was remarkably forthcoming about certain topics but was completely reticent on others. Damocles was extremely rude in the conversation, even I recognized that; luckily Arturo didn’t seem to find my questions as rude.

Some key results of the conversation:
- Arturo is a ‘baron’; he studied at the University in Sharn, among other things he is able to repel the mists. Similar ‘barons’ run the other outposts. Other graduates produce the beast men such as Dog.
- Arturo keeps the mist repelled to 5 miles distance. He can’t move locations easily. (We presume there’s a device or enchantment that is necessary).
- The power structure in Sharn is remarkably secretive; Arturo shared that he knows there is a leader but doesn’t know the gender.
- Elves are unknown in Sharn.
- The half-forged raiders appeared 5 weeks ago. They initially raided the outlying farms and houses, and then demanded payment. Two payments have been made, a 3rd is due in 3 days; Woodhelm won’t be able to afford a 4th. They know where their base is – 1 day’s walk away, inside the mists. They usually send 5 people to collect the payment, and leave pulling a sledge.
- He has no idea why the bandits ask for coins; and he doesn’t know who they’d spend the coin with.

After some discussion we decided on a course of action:
- Sprocket will scout the bandit base, and monitor the extortion group leaving, and then follow them back.
- The rest of us will prepare an ambush, with the goal of forcing the group to surrender; and then we’ll interrogate.
- At that point we have 2 days to get back to the bandit camp (since pulling the sledge it would normally take them 2 days to get back).

This roughly went according to plan. Sprocket found the base, saw the group leave, and followed them back. We prepared the ambush and surprised them. However they didn’t surrender; as a result 4 of the 6 were killed; I was able to stop Damocles from killing the leader and we were able to capture 2 others. I personally performed miserably: I was surprised by a wolf and 1 raider, and in my surprise I forgot to use my shield, resulting in almost deadly wounds; luckily Frederick rushed to my rescue.

More on the interrogation next time.

En route to Woodhelm

The barge brings letters from Woodhelm to the people working in the logging camp. Marchus and a few others read the letters to their intended recipients. It’s mostly mundane correspondence between friends and family members.

However, Marchus does share some news that he received from Arturo. Woodhelm has been paying tribute to a group of bandits who have set up shop in an abandoned stronghold built into the side of a cliff face not far from the village. The bandits are half-forged: humanoids who hunt down warforged and incorporate their victims’ body parts into their own bodies using surgery and magic. This particular group is lead by a full warforged who claims to have once been human, but has since replaced his entire body with parts taken from his victims.

The tribute has been manageable, but about a week ago, the band started demanding poultry and livestock, as well as gold, gems, jewelry, fine weapons and armor, and other valuable goods. Woodhelm is hard pressed to provide these offerings, but the bandits have hinted that they may start abducting children and youths if the villagers can’t meet their demands.

Marchus explains that the party can earn the gratitude and hospitality of Woodhaven, and by extension New Sharn, if they help deal with the half-forged bandits.

Return to the Planet of the Apes

Without warning we materialize in midair, some distance above a neglected plaza, littered with drifts of sodden fall leaves, shattered chunks of masonry, and moss. Falling, we land with little grace, in a heap. Weak afternoon light filters down past monumental pine trunks and through countless needles and branches.

Fragments of a low wall describe the plan of a ruined building. Fallen arches and broken ceramic roof tiles make mounds about the site. The foundations are cracked and filled with wet silt, sand and debris. All is quiet, unnaturally so. Not a bird, only the chilly autumal breeze, the clink and grind of small stones and grit under our boots.

Some of the group reflexively fall to their knees; kiss the ground at their feet. We thought that we’d not make it back, ever. We are delivered, returned, given another chance at life, a future. Only then do we notice: Zero, our Bard, ententainer and conscience is missing! A stab of loss, like losing your right hand, a brother. There is nothing we can do, no way of contacting Steelhearth, nothing…

Taking stock, we notice the mist in the distance, a wiff of industrial stench, of death, of the Mourning. It’s all about us, but different; wispy, dilute, full of open spots. The prevailing feeling of doom is lighter, the light stronger. Things have changed since our day. We notice the trees, huge trees, undergrowth, even flowers, a game trail? How can this be?

We stalk from the ruin and into the dew dripped bower of the forest. Then in the distance, the unmistakable sound of someone felling a tree. Thwack, thwack!

“Timber!” BOOM!

We are not alone. Long neglected weapons are readied, we advance. Sprox disappears into the branches, not to be seen by friend or foe for several days, a wraith, a shadow.

Frederick leads, and soon hails a group of lumberjacks, humans dressed in rough homespun garments. They are dumbfounded, never having seen a paladin in shining full plate armor. They offer no offence, and promptly lead us to their camp.

The camp is humble, containing several low log built hovels, and ringed by an unimpressive wooden wall. An archer stands guard, jumping to at our arrivial.

“Welcome, friends. I am Marchus, senior here. I am a manager by trade, and a scholar by inclination. May I ask who you are, and from where did you hail?

Please take your ease, you are safe enough behind these walls. Accept whatever hospitality we can offer, and without delay tell me your tale, if you will."

Information is shared, our explanation coming out in stages, but in time the truth, for what have we to lose by it? They are incredulous, but eventually convinced upon studying the considerable record of our astronomical and geographic observations, by Frederick, and by others. The orbital vantage point is impossible to explain, but the globe shape of the planet confirms the scholar’s long held suspicions.

“This matter is too fantastic, too important, to far above my pay grade. I ask that you travel to the city, Woodhelm and meet with Arturo. He is both wise and powerful. As a representative of the central government, he has the power and dignity to treat with anomolies like yourselves: men from the stars!”

The afternoon is filled with the simple pleasures of a forgotten age: a simple meal, wine, and the novelty of conversation with someone besides long time cellmates. Tasting, savoring every mouth full, gradually animation seeps back into the group. Something is awakened in each of us, something ravenous and primitive in Damocles who, shedding her armor, shaking off her things, and discarding her sword stalked off for the nearby shoreline.

Submerged like some ancient crocodile, wallowing in the soft mud, sinuous and impossibly graceful she swims and hunts, beautiful, alive! She returns after sunset, gorged with fish. Reluctant to leave the waters, she emerges only after her friends plead from the shoreline.

We are shown lodgings. Sleep! Real sleep, the gradual physical surrender, abdication. Damocles intones a prayer of some sort, of thanksgiving, in Draconic. She speaks thanks for all of us, for once emotive, inclusive, smoldering. Eye contact is made.

In the night, gnolls assault the camp. They are savage, quick, disgusting things, intent on the kill. Wonderfully groggy, we arise to the slaughter. Damocles roars, hugely, boomingly loud in the night: to kill again! The interlopers are slaughtered. The humans suffer casualties, deaths. It is wonderful!

In the dim morning, hasty burials, comrades committed to their rest. It is agreed to break camp, to return at once to the city. We tag along, happily adrift, free. We travel by barge, cumbersome and slow vessels designed to portage giant timbers. The smooth waters roll by, countless channels, sandbars, forested atolls. There is adequate time to soak it all in: the sun on your face, fresh scented air, cool waters, eels and fish snared and eaten raw, alive. Joy!

Sojourn on the Space Egg, Part II
Part II

Sojourn on the Space Egg, Part II

Years pass. Decades. Each of us find something to keep us busy, something besides astronomy and scrabble that is.
With the long years, our interactions are increasingly abstracted, a dance. We are the movable furniture of the Station-our shuffling slow, geriatric, our activities increasingly cryptic and meaningless. No food, no sleep. Decades pass. Steelhearth seems amused by our individual withdraws, the mortal minds retreat from the infinity that confronts us daily on the other side of the glass: space. We become quiet, passive, conform to the cards we’ve been dealt.

“Coping, somehow. Keep it together, right? Did I say that out loud? Echo, echo, echo…”

At some point, some 83 years later, our host (keeper, captor, muse) Steelhearth notifies us that the ley lines that regulate, orient and enable reliable teleportation within the House Cannith network “…appear to be realigning”.

This is hopeful-don’t get your hopes up-keep it together, right? Echo, echo, echo…

Another decade passes. Ginson celebrates another launch, to no avail, as the capsule burns up upon re-entry, always burns up on re-entry. If only there was popcorn. Echo, echo, echo. Zero preforms his magnum opus, the Music of the Spheres. In many ways Zero is the only one of us to retain a living connection to the planet and our past, and the only vibrant spark of spirit remaining.

Then one day, everything changes. The ley lines have settled down, and we may leave. Transport is reliable, but there is no way of knowing just what one will find on the other side. Furthermore, it’s likely to be a one way trip. We resolve to go, but like an ape that has been imprisoned too long in a cage we have forgotten the feeling of freedom, of future, of the world beyond our cage. In fact, it takes us some months to set a date, to commit to the idea of a return to the surface.

We assemble, stepping into our old clothes, and some of us into our old bodies for the first time in nearly a century. Emptiness, meatsack, gurgle goes the tummy. Although fully thawed, piloting the bodies proves difficult; motor control is poor, balance issues, the bathroom…The more subtle nuances escape us; facial expressions are particularly comical for a time. A program of retraining is undertaken. To touch again-the sense of touch, odd. For some of us it is too strange. Friend Ginson can’t take it and retreats back to his polished steel chassis.

Uggh, the flesh!

The whole experience is anachronism, weird, freaky. Some stain of our time here is indelible-we are marked for having walked with the angels and tripped through the star ways. We have lived a second existence, just as long in years and as rich in experience as our time before, on the planet.

Someone: “Father Steelhearth, bless us before we go. We will always love you. Look down on our endeavors, watch over us!”

Then with a crackle, we are gone.

Sojourn on the Space Egg
Part I

Sojourn on the Space Egg

Arriving with a crackle, the party (Zero, Damocles, Sprox, Ginson and Frederick) step out of the portal’s pentagram. The hum of ventilation and soft clunk of pumps and valves are all that confronts the band. Outre’ decor is the order here: flawless and impossibly clean curving glass, elegant instrument consoles, gently heated deck plating. Small discreet warforged automatons scuttle about dusting and polishing this reef sunk Titanic-to what end?

The impossible lies just beyond the continuous expanse of floor to ceiling window: the cold harsh vista of the afterlife-or is it simply space? The Sun rises, and the terminator races across troubled Eberron. The iron hand of vertigo shakes several of us as the impossible height of 70 miles sinks in. We are insects-the stars! We are insects-eternity!

Caught by the fierce glare of the new Sun, the party is forced to turn momentarily away from the spectacle below.

Shhhh-kerchunk! Squinting, tears running down our faces- trembling hands-a noise behind us, something rising up in the dark.

“Welcome-I am Steelhearth. This is the Facility, and you are now safe. You are most fortunate, I calculate your odds of survival to be 1.375×10 to the power of negative 5 if you had remained in former Cyre. Please observe the coming of the End of Times, as it were. Notice the Dragon-there he is.”

The vast ball of the planet is streaked with cumulous clouds, laced with titanic currents of moisture like icing on a cake. A glance reveals icy continents at the planet’s poles-vast seas-the equatorial continents themselves, and there just where you expect it to be-the Mourning. But where we had recently been-former Cyre, now all is fire.

“Observe, I think you will find this interesting. He emerged some 10 hours ago, and I calculate he and his minions have already devastated some 170,000,000 hectares. An amazing instrument of destruction-some might say of Judgement? But we are not so sentimental or pious to jump to such conclusions. Let’s just say he is tilling the soil anew, like a simple farmer might in preparation for the of sowing a crop.”

Sure enough, down there on the surface something wicked this way came. Even from this impossible height the black form of the great Serpent can be discerned. Rendered senseless, some of the party slump down where they stand, others shake, tears running down their faces: mourning all that they have even known. Some time later, we witness it’s grim progress across the scarred surface of home. It’s fast-very fast. The deadly veil of the Mourning effect marches in step, advancing to smother the Dragon’s new conquests. The end of all life. If this is Death, where does that leave us? What unfinished task leaves us here on the grim shores of Lethe?

“You will not be able to return the way you came. In fact, there are relatively few viable portals to which you might travel. Hmm, Xen’Drik, Sharn Blackhearth, and that’s it. It’s up to you, but I counsel delay-it will be pretty dangerous down there in a day or so-the Dragon you see. He is set to consume the entire continent in approximately 4 days and 17.5 hours. You are safe enough here-for a time anyway. This Facility was never designed for continuous habitation-by biologicals anyway. There a couple of options-but we can discuss that later, we have all the time in the world at our disposal!”

Trapped. No future. No context furnished by the party’s collective pasts fits the shattered remnants of the present. Ranting. Fits of pointless rage. Tears. Pacing out each meter of deck plate in our 100 meter prison. Again. The view out the window, always the triumph of death, the unraveling of all our hopes and efforts. Time passes. (someone) “Is there anything to drink around here? I could really use a drink right now! Anything besides this recycled urine-can you ferment urine? Anyone?”

“Despite, ahem, the unfortunate circumstances on the planet’s surface, I can’t help feeling somewhat optimistic about our immediate future. I am excellent company and an excellent host. I can converse in 127 languages, including several consisting solely of higher mathematics. We have, as you pointed out, all the recycled, and may I point out perfectly potable liquid you might require. I have books memorized-I can read to you, why a whole library of learning at your disposal. There is the small problem of food: the larder is bare. Of course, you could elect to leave your fleshy bodies-I have the means for the Transfer just over there…scrabble anyone?”

(Fredrick) “We must return and save them, how can we save them?”
(Damocles) “We should return and assist the Dragon with it’s work-this is a new day and a great opportunity that should not be missed! Hiss!”
(Ginson) “We should converse with Steelhearth. He may be able to help us discover our options.”

“I do have the portal combinations for teleport circles in several secret Cannith labs throughout Cyre: Whitehearth, Redhearth, Grayhearth, etc. Those are obviously not good places to travel to. After the Mourning, House Cannith established Blackhearth in the Sharn undercity.

In their folly, house Cannith abandoned me and this Facility, and don’t presume to ask me why-it’s still too painful. My consciousness is bound within the lab; I can’t communicate with our people on the surface unless they travel up here. I do have ways of getting information from Khorvaire, which is how I was able to get the teleport key to Blackhearth. I have also acquired the portal combination to a Cannith facility in Stormreach on the continent of Xen’drik. I can send you down to Blackhearth, but anyone at the site will be surprised and probably not happy to meet you.

This Facility was designed for a task, one that might serve your present needs. You are, as you have said, trapped here. The repeater beacons are winking out, one by one, each corresponds to a portal. Options are few, and there is little food. I can place your bodies in stasis, and you might ‘sleep’, but wouldn’t it be finer to inhabit a nice, shiny warforged body for a time? Think on it, consider the advantages! The situation down below might resolve favorably to the flesh yet, in time. To lead another life, in another body.”

Discussion. Argument. Resolve. We shall abandon our bodies for a time, and wait things out. The dust may settle. One by one the transfer is effected. Our bodies reside each in a crystal sleeve, packed in gel and wreathed by ice. The novelty of mechanical shells lasts awhile, no one is really keeping track of time any more. Sprox spends more and more time outside, clinging to the shell of the Facility, listening to the music of the spheres. Steelhearth warns him of the dangers: outside the shielded hull, the hard radiation of space could eventually erode his subroutines. Sprox doesn’t seem to care.

Years pass. Decades. Each of us find something to keep us busy, something besides astronomy and scrabble that is. Frederik faithfully records the new Mourning, other changes to the once familiar contours of the lands below. Damocles takes out her rage at this confinement at the anvil, learning the blacksmith trade and fashioning a suit of armor. Ginson’s pursuits are the oddest, building and launching capsules designed to fall back to Eberron. Even with Steelhearth’s assistance, each launch ends in the fiery spectacle of reentry.

Regarding the Mourning itself, you know that life can’t grow where it spreads. Vegetation dies off and food and water spoil and become poisonous. People and animals have to leave or they will die of thirst or starvation. It also gives rise to monsters and other dangers that no one’s been able to study or explain.

Steelhearth also explains that the thing that’s emerged from beneath the Mournland is an avatar of Khyber, not actually the god itself. It’s still an immensely powerful creature, but there might be a way to banish it, seal it, or otherwise put a stop to its rampage. The first Mourning stopped at the borders of Cyre, so this second Mourning may well only extend to the edges of Khorvaire.


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