The City of Lives

Treasure Hunters for Hire: The Fogs of Astoria Part 2

The hunters killed some Mist Moths and found a guy who doesn’t know who he is.

Treasure Hunters for Hire: The Fogs of Astoria Part 1

A dense, dark fog filled the barren landscape. Slowly stirring in the gloom, the hunters awakened—and realized they had no idea where they were or how they had gotten there. The last thing they remembered, they had been spending an evening off in the City. As they slowly rose, they tried to figure out where they were and how long they’d been out, but all they were able to learn was that their Journeymen had been activated recently and were still charging.

They discovered that Gemma wouldn’t wake up, and Yorgen tied her to his mount. As they tried to figure out what had happened, a strange creature darted out of the fog, a winged, vaguely insectoid monster. It slashed at Thalia, then dashed back into the fog, disappearing from view. Akina quickly identified it as a Mist Moth, an animal known to reside in the Realm of Astoria—a pack hunter that favors hit-and-run tactics, and with high-animal or low-sapience intelligence. The hunters started following the moth (and a second they soon realized was there) north, into a cramped canyon. They drove the moths into the end of the canyon, drowning one in a shallow pool.

Unfortunately, the hunters had been outflanked by the rest of the mist moths, who revealed themselves as having blocked the hunters into the canyon. The hunters began a pitched battle, trying to hold the moths in place through Force- and Wildshifting, then going in for the kill. Suddenly, a stone wall appeared at the end of the canyon, and it slowly began to move towards the hunters, threatening to crush them. Noticing he was surrounded by earth, Yorgen invoked his new Worldshaping magics, trying to destroy the wall, but only succeeded in injuring several of his comrades. Akina was repeatedly beaten upon by the moths, and Thalia responded by creating a ramp of force that reached over the wall, encouraging Akina to climb over and out.

Thalia ran up her ramp and leaped over the wall. She encountered some kind of mist moth leader, and immediately backpedaled. Meanwhile, Yorgen, confused about the fact that his earth-shaking had not affected the wall, tried to touch it—and poked right through it, revealing it as a Dreamsharing illusion. Thalia destroyed the leader with little trouble, as its power came from its pack members.

Finally, Gemma awakened, and her compatriots told her of the terrible mystery that surrounded the Fogs of Astoria

Treasure Hunters for Hire: Weighed, Measured, and Found Wanting Part 1

The hunters, after a time of rest, returned to Mr. Fix for their next job. They came in on him standing over his perfectly innocuous carpet, lifting one corner and looking underneath. Caught in the secret, he immediately stamped his foot on the rug and refused to discuss it. Mr. Fix told the hunters that their next job was related to a series of strange deaths over in Templedowns—he suspected that it had something to do with a relic, and if it did, they were to bring it back to him. “Leave me alone with my rug—I mean, go do your job,” he said. After trying and failing to see what Mr. Fix had hidden under the carpet, the hunters headed for Templedowns.

Thalia did some talking through the underclasses, while Moregar cornered a friendly merchant, and together discovered that there had been a rash of suicides, and that one of the earliest ones had been a mass suicide at a nearby church of the Blinding Light. Meanwhile, Gemma investigated the place where another suicide had taken place, finding blood spatter and the cobblestones stained with Pariah tears, implying it was a desperate and miserable act, not one well-considered and planned. She hypothesized that someone had forced the Pariah to commit suicide. After Moregar spent a little time hanging out with the prostitutes—"Hey baby, ever touched feathers before?"—and Yorgen stood around feeling perfectly satisfied in his non-action, they headed over to the church.

They soon arrived at the church, a small example of the classical Blinding Light style, complete with the stylized sun-and-lightning-bolt symbol, gargoyles of Sons of Light, and images of the Light coming down and speaking to Its people, along with Prometheus in chains. Gemma, Thalia, and Moregar all ventured inside one by one, while Yorgen stayed outside and watered his mount Ilsa at a decorative fountain. Moregar was struck as soon as he entered with the screams of his ancestor spirits, wailing at the tremendous pain that had occurred there, sending him back out in anguish. Thalia was struck by the feeling that the church was “empty and wrong,” not filled with life like the rest of the world. Gemma also felt uncomfortable, but focused on the foul stench of death, and saw that the churchgoers had all killed themselves in the pews, nearly a week ago, leaving behind bloodstains and odors.

Moregar came in and asked his ancestors what had happened. They revealed the following vision: The churchgoers had been in their pews, a glowing thread stretching up from their chests and through the roof into the sky. Abruptly, the threads were severed and went dark, and the parishioners began weeping and killing themselves. Moregar came to the conclusion that they had been cut off from their faith, and Gemma was struck at the strangeness of all of them losing their faith at the same moment. Yorgen entered then, finally realizing something was going on he could help with. His Nullcrafting senses went crazy as he came into the church, detecting the afterimage of intense and terrible magic centered around the pews, but the source was up on the stage (for religious plays).

Thalia immediately jumped up on the stage and threw back the curtain, revealing a terrified Pariah. Through a series of good cop/bad cop interactions, he slowly grew to trust Thalia, but still tried to escape, only to be grabbed tight by Yorgen. The Pariah revealed his name as Benedykt, and told them the tale: his wife and son had recently died in a traffic accident, run down by horses, and the Church had done nothing for him. They told him to have faith, that the Light would provide, and refused to see that he had lost his faith. He wanted to show them what it was like, and purchased a creature called a “Faith-Eater” from a merchant in the Crux. He let the creature loose in the church, expecting it to make the parishioners feel as miserable as he did—but he didn’t expect them to lose all faith in everything and start committing suicide. Since then, he had been hiding in the church.

Gemma found the creature’s box, a mystical storage unit, and a trapdoor beneath it. While Yorgen examined the box and found a magical trail he could follow to the Faith-Eater, Thalia asked more about where it had come from: the Faith-Eater came from a Krakyn[maybe not] merchant, a squid-faced Outlander race that came from an underwater Realm, and who were famed for their rationalist society, eschewing gods entirely. Gemma followed the trapdoor, despite Benedykt’s protests, and found that he had been sleeping back there—and what’s more, he had piled all of the parishioners’ corpses into a storage room under the stage. They tied him up and headed out to track the Faith-Eater and lure it back to the church and the storage unit (which had been bolted to the wall as part of the summoning ritual).

Heading out into the streets, Yorgen took the hunters to the last place the Faith-Eater had been active, and they decided to try and bait it by believing really loudly. It worked, and the creature, a gigantic, wispy non-entity, appeared and began trying to feed from Yorgen. Yorgen then refused to follow the plan, staying stubborn and still, and the Faith-Eater split into many smaller wisps as well as its main form.

The hunters tried several different tactics to harm the creature, and initially none of them worked: Forceshifting couldn’t grab it, there was no Blood to Shift, a punch went right through it. Yorgen’s Nullcrafting seemed to harm it, but it was eroding at the hunters’ most cherished beliefs, making Yorgen believe that magic wasn’t so bad, making Thalia doubt her balance and art (“Maybe I Should Have Been a Lawyer”), making Moregar lose his faith in his ancestors (“Cut Off From His Spirits”), and making Gemma lose faith her own superiority and combat prowess (“Maybe I’m Not So Hot”).

The hunters began to realize that strong emotions could harm the Faith-Eater, and they started thinking at it, remembering happy times, lonely times, confusing times, even the terrible pain Thalia had felt from the Horns of Torment. Gemma got really creative, conjuring a miniature sun to make her compatriots feel warmth, sucker-punching Moregar to inflict his pain on the Faith-Eater, and finally tickling Thalia to give it the sense of happiness (“The Laughter, It Burns”).

The Faith-Eater eroded Moregar’s faith drastically, nearly taking him out completely and hurting him for a long time to come, and destroyed Yorgen’s belief in the evils of magic so much that Yorgen fell victim to his adolescent temptation of magic, releasing an entirely unprecedented Worldshaping that shook the earth and injured both himself and Thalia.

Finally, Yorgen struck the final blow with his Nullcrafting, destroying the purely magical Faith-Eater entirely. The hunters pondered if they had done the right thing, as they wouldn’t be able to sell the Faith-Eater to Mr. Fix, but they also knew it was too dangerous to sell to the highest bidder. Instead, they took down a wall in the church and removed the storage unit, then handed Benedykt over to the Thief-Binders for exile or execution for his crimes of mass manslaughter.

Mr. Fix wasn’t sure what to do with the storage unit, but he paid them a modicum of money and promised to pay them more if it turned out to really be worth something. Faith shaken, the hunters headed home.

A side note: The Droghan had once been great Worldshapers and Waveshapers, but a terrible war between those two elemental forces had demolished their world, and since then they have forced every child with the slightest modicum of Crafting talent to channel it into Nullcrafting, lest a new World- or Waveshaper arise. And now, with Yorgen, perhaps it has…

The Truth About St. Nicholas

[Because we were missing several players and the planned adventure required teamwork and the special skills of one of the missing PCs, we instead pulled together a non-canon Christmas-themed dark comedy, in which the players portrayed versions of themselves.]

December 24th, 9 pm, Eastern Standard Time: In the University Place Safeway in Fairbanks, AK, Mindy prepared for the end of her shift, when several of her friends (Jeremy and the visiting Anna and Bill, not to mention her sister Sara) came in last-minute shopping for a Christmas Eve party at Mindy and her husband Emlyn’s house. Recently, copies of local publication “The Truth About St. Nicholas” had filled the store as impulse-buy coffee table books. Abruptly, the lights went out, and the friends heard a strange high-pitched giggling, followed by a bloodcurdling scream. Through extremely hesitant investigation, the friends discovered a deformed little man dressed like one of Santa’s elves, standing over a shopper’s corpse with a bloody butcher knife.

Bill [at this time controlled by his wife Anna] immediately hucked a can of cranberry sauce at the elf’s head, crushing its skull. Shortly, a second elf approached Mindy, Jeremy, and Sara, where they were at Mindy’s floral counter, and it attacked the rack of “Truth About St. Nicholas” books. Mindy and Sara, both terrified by the elf, as it preyed on both of their primal fears, started near-panicking: Mindy fled into her kiosk, while Sara managed to keep it together enough to call 911. Meanwhile, another elf approached Anna, and she appealed to its childlike demeanor to convince it to hand over its bloodstained knife.

Jeremy held it together quite well, and was insistent on leaving immediately out the store’s back door. However, Sara and Bill both wanted to help the other shoppers, and Mindy hadn’t pulled it together well enough to act rationally. The elf took a slash at Sara before running off, and Jeremy tore off his shirt and turned it into a makeshift tourniquet, following Sara’s instructions on how to perform first aid. Sara examined the book the elf had attacked, and found a few facts (or perhaps paranoid ramblings) about “the Truth”:

  • Santa Claus was a cruel taskmaster, having conscripted elves as indentured servants.
  • Santa had an army of killer penguins.
  • Santa was allied with the fierce barbarian clown tribes of northern Europe.
  • Santa had many military contracts, using his flying reindeer and manufacturing weapons.

Jeremy tried to research as well, but the book he picked up had been too far destroyed by the elf to discern anything useful. Mindy overcame her fear and both supplied her friends with makeshift weapons from the floral station and bandaged Sara “properly,” [as Mindy Knows Best and is a Perfectionist]. Bill and Anna approached the rest of their friends, and Bill revealed he knew about the Santa conspiracy, that much of the government money meant to go to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan actually going to Santa, and that the Army and Air Force regularly airlifted fine French cuisine to the elves (that’s all they eat).

At this time, the friends spotted several terrifying creatures smashing their way into the Safeway at the main doors: an undoubtedly evil clown, and a killer penguin (complete with gnashy teeth and a large blood-stained axe). Bill and Anna made an announcement on the PA system, Bill telling the shoppers to stay calm and make their way to the exits, and Anna appealing to the elves’ childlike nature to convince them that they had nothing to fear and no reason to commit violence on the friends. However, not everyone was convinced, and the clown hurled a cream pie into Sara’s face, and she reacted to the acidic, poisoned cream by jumping to the floral counter’s sink and flooding her eyes: “Dilution is the Solution to Pollution.” As the clown approached, he tried to seltzer Bill in the face, only for Bill’s glasses to protect him. Jeremy finally convinced his friends to make their way towards the back door, and they all started that direction. Anna made one final announcement, telling the penguin where it could find the seafood section (and it immediately waddled off in that direction).

Sara collected nuts from the nut bar, collecting them in her shirt and then dumping them all over the ground, as the clown and elf followed her. The clown blinded Anna and Bill with seltzer, but then slipped and fell, his giant floppy feet giving him no purchase on the dumped nuts. Meanwhile, Jeremy, slightly ahead, saw that while one of the elves had completely ransacked the pharmacy, it had distinctly left a basket of candy canes alone. He grabbed a few, hoping that the elves were allergic or reverent towards them.

Sara guided Anna and Bill away from the clown and into the candy aisle, where Anna used her “big-ass purse” to procure tissues to wipe away the seltzer. They were assaulted by the elf, but Jeremy hurled candy canes at it, and it erupted in boils and died of severe anaphylactic shock from the peppermint. The friends made it to the rear of the store, led by Mindy, who knew the store’s layout well. There they spotted a fearsome fat man with a whip, the Jolly Old Elf himself, approaching from the back door, and Mindy ducked into the bathroom. Thinking desperately, she remembered flipping through the “Truth” book and that Santa’s weaknesses were peppermint and flattery.

Santa strode from the back room like an angry colossus, insistent that anyone who had seen the book had to die, attacking Jeremy with his whip (which the nimble weather scientist easily dodged). Coming from the bathroom, Mindy used her long history with Jeremy to communicate silently that he should stab Santa with a candy cane. Sara used her smart phone to photograph Santa and his violence, posting his terrible secret on Facebook. Jeremy utilized his juggling skill to attempt to do so, but failed, and suddenly the killer penguin, stuffed to the gills with king crab, approached and attacked Anna. Bill, driven mad with rage, used his pocket Leatherman to undo an electrical socket and shocked the penguin to death with the electrical wires. Jeremy took a strike from Santa’s whip, but managed to slice him slightly with the candy cane, and Santa began hysterically hacking at his own arm, trying to remove the poisoned appendage. Finally, Bill hurled the penguin’s charred corpse at St. Nick, and the fat man fell to the floor, incapacitated between the waterfowl and the peppermint allergy, and the friends fled out the back door.

There they were met by the US Army, who promised them protection and financial assistance, if they would help maintain the cover-up about the Army’s association with the evil Santa. Bill refused, as his honor as a Marine wouldn’t let him…

Join the friends next time for New Year’s in Guantanamo Bay!

For those interested in the truth about St. Nicholas, please peruse the original work on the subject, “The Secret History of the North Pole” by the inimitable Chris Butler:

Treasure Hunters for Hire: The Hangman's Noose, Part 2

The hunters, armed with the map to the Hangman’s compound that Akina “found” (or rather, created after secretly pulling the knowledge from a thug’s head), headed towards the outskirts of the City and the Hangman’s lair. As they left, Moregar decided to stay behind and interview the prostitutes more intently, looking for more evidence to take the Hangman down, and Lopov mysteriously vanished to pursue his criminal activities after passing off the Horns of Torment to his sister.

Nearing the compound, in the woods, they began to encounter signs of the Hangman: nearly every tree had a rotting corpse hanging from its branches, and a thick scent of decay filled the air. Heading in, Thalia began running ahead, as is her wont, and disturbed a sentry, who began sprinting towards the Hangman’s cabin nearby. Yorgen followed quickly, riding Ilsa, while Akina slowly brought up the rear. As she neared the cabin, Akina spread out her mind, scanning for nearby people. She found a second sentry hiding in the woods, as well as nearly a dozen thugs inside. Thalia tackled the sentry she had found and knocked him senseless.

Meanwhile, Mr. Fix had heard back from Moregar and decided the team needed another helper, so called upon another of his freelance employees, the Outlander and possible Daughter of Light descendant Gemma, a brawler of no mean skill. Gemma came upon the scene just in time to see the second sentry slip into the house, and headed over to help. She approached the door and addressed one of the thugs inside, who rebuffed her, saying they didn’t want any visitors [non-canon detail: “We don’t want any Girl Scout cookies” in a bad German accent]. She refused to be dissuaded, and while the sentry headed into the house, alerting the rest of the Hangman’s crew, the thugs at the door began to fight back.

Gemma and Yorgen focused their attentions on a pair of thugs, one well-armed and armored and another lighter and more mobile, with a lariat for pulling opponents to his partner. Meanwhile, Akina slipped past them into the house, and Thalia used her newly-acquired Boots of Leaping to easily jump onto the roof and down through the ceiling, surprising several more thugs inside. A second battle commenced inside, and Akina, wishing to conserve her mental energies for the confrontation with the Hangman, began to try and use her tiny bits of martial prowess, but was quickly disarmed by her opponent. Thalia found herself trying to protect Akina as much as possible, interposing herself between the weaker loremaster and the thugs.

By the time Yorgen and Gemma were finished outside, the sentry had made it down to the basement and warned the Hangman, who immediately came up to get rid of these interlopers. He began his assault by choking Thalia with his mystical Noose, causing a ghostly rope to appear around her neck. Yorgen immediately responded by nullifying the magic before Thalia could take much damage, and Thalia managed to rip the Noose from the Hangman’s fingers. The Hangman responded by bringing out a secondary weapon, a terrifying man-catcher with a massive mace on one end and a loop of razor wire on the other. Luckily, Thalia only took one strike from the mace before Yorgen stepped in between them and began fighting the Hangman.

Akina, mentally exhausted but knowing she was ineffective in physical conflict, revealed her Horns of Torment and started throwing intense pain at the Hangman. Over the next few minutes, Yorgen held the Hangman off while Thalia used the Noose and Akina used the Horns to attack him, as the remaining thugs fought Gemma and tried to take the Noose back. The Hangman threw Yorgen into the fireplace with his man-catcher, then headed to kill Thalia. However, before he could do so, Thalia used the Noose to throttle the Hangman to death.

Finishing up, the team discovered a victim hanging up in the basement and rescued her, Yorgen snatched the Horns from Akina, then returned to Mr. Fix. Yorgen revealed Akina and Lopov’s treachery, and Mr. Fix went berserk, telling them that Lopov would have to crawl back to him on his hands and knees if he wanted a chance at being forgiven. He took the Horns without paying the team, calling it his payment for their deceit. However, he complimented them on their work with the Noose and paid them a fair price for it.

Treasure Hunters for Hire: The Hangman's Noose, Part 1

The hunters went in to Mr. Fix’s house, ready for their next job. Mr. Fix informed them that Master Ruin has discovered that a relic has been being used in a series of murders, and that their job is to stop the murders and retrieve the relic for destruction. With little to go on, the team headed over to the most recent crime scene. There they found several pieces of evidence: Some rope fibers were found next to where the body had been been found; some discarded money implied that the murder was not a robbery, but may have interrupted a mugging, prostitution, or illegal transaction; and Moregar went off to interview the local prostitutes to see if they knew anything. Through some detective work, smooth talking, and magical tracing, they found a bum who had seen something: a large man had stood on the rooftop, watching a man (a “Marcus” in the parlance of the City) negotiate with a prostitute. He had done something with a piece of rope in his hands, and the Marcus began to choke. The doxy ran, and the killer escaped to the NE.

Thalia, excited by the lead, started off after the killer’s trail… and ran right into a gang of Kipman thugs, who began to beat on her mercilessly. One by one, the rest of the hunters heard the commotion and went to help. Several of the thugs went after Yorgen, but couldn’t cut through his armor or successfully throw him off the bridge they were fighting on. Others trapped Thalia up a tree, where she used her newly-acquired boomerang to fight them off, only for one of the enemies to catch it. Angered, she jumped down and reclaimed her boomerang, and delivered some thumping for good measure.

Eventually, between Akina’s mindsharing and some old-fashioned interrogation, they discovered that the thugs worked for a Kipman they knew as the Hangman, who employed them to find him victims. They were all frightened of his madness, but revealed the location of his hideout.

Ready to take on the Hangman and his magical noose, the team headed out.

Treasure Hunters for Hire: Flight Across the Fields, Part 2 & 3

The following morning, the hunters awakened, ravenous, and, after scarfing down some breakfast, saw that Mr. Fix had sent another hunter to help them: the Kipman shaman Moregar Darkclaw, well-known to certain members of the group. The villagers also introduced the hunters to their guide, an Outlander that looked like nothing less than a giant cockroach, whose name was “unpronounceable without mandibles and scent glands,” but told them to call him “Thoroughgood.” Thoroughgood proved to be both reliable on one hand and a bit of a coward on the other, as he hesitantly led the hunters towards Cariosus territory to the southeast, where Dirka the thief had reportedly headed.

A brief time into their trek, the hunters encountered a terrible danger: once human, it had mutilated itself by implanting metal plates into its skin and knives into its flesh. Oozing pus and vomiting acid at the hunters, the creature, known as an Exolesco attacked viciously. While most of the hunters fought against the Exolesco, Lopov figured they had things under control and walked on, exploring further ahead. Shortly, he encountered a misshapen giant known as a Putesco, and immediately retreated, calling to his psychic sister. She reluctantly removed herself from the combat and headed over to the Putesco. With a combination of Akina’s Mindsharing and Lopov’s supply of food, the two managed to bribe the giant into leaving them alone and retreating… by which point, the rest of the hunters had managed to take down the Exolesco.

Continuing to venture south, the hunters found themselves at a cave entrance. Guarding the entrance was a single Cariosus—who, like the Exolesco, appeared to be a misshapen human who had mutilated himself but who could not die. Akina drew upon her Mindsharing again, and bent the guard to her will, convincing him to show them around the Cariosus stronghold, and eventually he showed them to Dirka’s cell. Dirka was not enthralled to see the hunters, and said she was selling the Horns of Torment to the Cariosi, and finally going to get the proper payday that Mr. Fix had always denied her. Some canny negotiating later, the team had managed to convince Dirka that the Cariosi were sure to kill her instead of pay her (an educated guess), and that they knew someone willing to pay her price for the Horns (a blatant lie). Scared and greedy, Dirka agreed to help them retrieve the Horns.

It turned out that the Horns were in the “Pleasure Chamber,” being tested. After much discussion on whether the Pleasure Chamber was a euphemistic torture chamber, or whether the Cariosi were masochists and genuinely enjoyed their torment, Akina reached out with her mind and determined that it was in fact a pure torture chamber, complete with poor captives from the nearby village. A massive debate commenced, as to how to gain access to the Horns. Lopov suggested he sneak in and replace the Horns with a forgery, while the others caused a distraction by assaulting the Cariosus leader. This was dismissed as suicidal, but Lopov did create a striking facsimile of the Horns, drawing on the images in Dirka’s head (through Akina).

Thalia, true Epicurean that she is, convinced the guard that she genuinely wanted to experience the torment that the Horns could provide, and was so charming that he agreed to let her take a turn both receiving and dishing out pain. She strode into the chamber, intending to simply take the Horns and use her Journeyman to Realmshift out… but the prisoners caught her eye and pleaded with her to kill them. She protested that nobody can die in the Decaying Fields of Forever, but they told her that this was not an inherent quality, but one created by a relic held by the Cariosus leader, called the Perpetuum. Thalia immediately felt for the prisoners, and reached out with her mind, Forceshifting the guard and his lackey into bindings. She informed the others of the new information, and decided to test out the Horns of Torment, in case it could be helpful.

Thalia placed the mask of the Horns on her face and felt a small tickle in her mind. She directed the “tickle” at herself, and was suddenly wracked with the greatest pain of her life. Yorgen, already wary of the magical relic, tore it from her face and immediately started to try and Dismantle the Horns. Akina, knowing they needed the Horns to get paid, tried to take them from Yorgen, but the Droghan kept a fierce hold. He felt the horns’ magic begin to give way, but before he could finish, Lopov used his quick hands to snatch the mask from Yorgen’s grasp and threw it to the ground, smashing it beneath his feet.

Now that their initial goal was destroyed, the hunters decided they had no choice but to take the Perpetuum from the Cariosus leader and sell it to Mr. Fix instead. However, they stopped by the weapon depot, a nearby room, first. They easily dispatched the guard, then searched the room. After some testing and trading, they ended up with the following magical relics and non-magical devices:
Yorgen claimed the ultralight Wendigmail, chain armor that, through entirely mundane means, allowed him full mobility.
Lopov took a clockwork compound bow with increased accuracy and improved range, as well as a pair of Softshoes that muffled his steps to pure silence.
Akina initially wanted the mail, but after finding it was too large for her, she settled for a protective cloak enchanted to work as armor.
Thalia was ecstatic to find a pair of boots that allowed her to leap many times her normal jumping distance.
Moregar grabbed a focus stone that would improve nearly all parts of his Crafting.

This finished, they quietly moved over to the leader’s chamber, where they found him flagellating himself with a nasty cat-o-nine-tails. They pushed their way into the room and began beating the monstrosity soundly. The hunters attacked from a distance and then closed in, Thalia and Moregar holding the leader in place with Forceshifting and Wildshifting. They soon discovered that the creature had gigantic claws and massive muscles to back them up, and hit with the force of an anvil—but with teamwork, they managed to bring him down as he tried to escape their clutches. The Perpetuum, some kind of enchanted opal, popped out of its place implanted in his chest, and the hunters watched in amazement as the leader actually, properly died—and heard the screams of many others dying as well.

Surmising that all of the Cariosi, and probably most if not all of the villagers, had just died now that their wounds caught up with them, the hunters decided to leave, and returned to Mr. Fix. There, Fix was incredibly pissed off that they had “lost” the very item they had been sent to retrieve, but once Thalia told him they had something even better (but very dangerous), he reluctantly agreed to sign a contract that stated he would not sell it to the warmonger Master Clutch. Thalia presented Fix with the Perpetuum, and he reluctantly handed over a large bounty (for him) to each hunter. The hunters headed home, money in hand and prepared for their next adventure.

Lopov secretly switched out the real Horns for his forgery just before he smashed them, passing the genuine article to Akina for safekeeping. His motivation for keeping the Horns and deceiving the rest of the group has not yet been revealed.

Treasure Hunters for Hire: Flight Across the Fields, Part 1

The hunters, fresh from their last assignment, took some time on their own.

  • Rezilio examined the samples he had taken from the Toxinox and other creatures they had encountered, hoping to write a paper about them, and perhaps distill their essences into something useful. For one, he extracted some of the Toxinox poison and took it with him, ready to coat a weapon with it.
  • Akina and Lopov examined the Journeyman they’d taken from the other hunters, examining its maker’s mark and previous visits [yes, I realize I’d previously stated it was one-use. Perhaps their was a special way of recharging it]. The maker’s mark belong to a man named Kyronis, who worked for the Free Association of Merchants and Businesspeoples—and the Journeyman had recently visited the City, Taluna, The Decaying Fields of Forever, and a place called Touchstone, which they were unable to find any more information on.
  • Thalia went on a shopping trip for a weapon, purchasing a boomerang so she would have a non-magical weapon at range.
  • Yorgen [did something].

Afterwards, the hunters reported back to Mr. Fix. He was in the midst of a noon breakfast, and told them that a thief working for the Consortium, a Grate-Scratcher named Dirka, had run off with the Relic she had been assigned to steal—the Horns of Torment [or ‘orns of to’ment, which confused the less accent-savvy]. He didn’t know where she was headed, but he did know the first stop on her trip: the Decaying Fields of Forever.

Akina, utilizing her vast book learning, expounded the following on the Fields:

  • the forces of decay and entropy work much, much faster there, making wounds refuse to heal, buildings fall apart, and food lack nourishment.
  • dangerous creatures roam the landscape
  • nobody stays there by choice, and so Dirka was almost certainly on her way somewhere else.

The team immediately went shopping, finding in one way or another enough high-density food to sustain themselves in the Fields (Yorgen, for example, bought food suitable for his mount, not caring about the taste for himself).

Once prepared, the hunters Realmshifted their way to the Decaying Fields of Forever, where they were greeted with a blasted landscape filled with trees that were dying but not quite dead. They explored carefully for a short time, only to be ambushed by a terrifying, decaying wolf-creature called a Caries. The hunters struggled against the Caries for some time, Thalia employing the admirably insane tactic of riding it, until they finally drove it, dying, into the nearby swamp.

At about this time, a decayed man who was probably once a Pariah, known as Elzbito, arrived and announced his peaceful nature. He invited the hunters back to his village, a settlement of those who had, with one accident or another, become trapped in the Decaying Fields. Lopov, feeling unethical, promised Elzbito the Journeyman (not mentioning it was out of energy and, thus, useless) in exchange for a guide to take the hunters to find Dirka. Elzbito leapt at the chance, and said there would surely be someone in the village willing to help them, even though Dirka had last been seen going into the tremendously dangerous Cariosus territory to the east.

As they headed to the village to bunk down for the night, Akina handed over half her food to Elzbito, a selfless gesture that hopefully won’t come back to haunt her…

Treasure Hunters for Hire: The Ruins of Taluna, Part 4

After the rival treasure hunters vanished, the team examined what they had left behind: a huge Journeyman that, they discovered, was a single-use device capable of transporting multiple people at once. Now that the Euphorica was in Mr. Fix’s hands, the hunters knew they simply needed to return to the City—but they decided to first check in on the villagers, who were certainly suffering terribly from the withdrawal effects of the Euphorica, and perhaps explore the rest of the ruins.

They then returned to the villagers they had bound up earlier, counseling them and directing them towards the exit. They then continued to explore: in one area, they discovered a Fleshtearer, a fierce creature the hunters put down with fairly little effort. At that point, they decided to leave, but knew the Toxinox was blocking their exit. They tried to sneak past, but the Toxinox was far more wary now that it was no longer euphoric, and heard them coming.

A tremendous battle commenced, the hunters focusing their efforts on getting the Toxinox to pierce itself with its stinger, knowing it was vulnerable to its own poison. Rezilio’s Skyshaping and Thalia’s Forceshifting combined to force the creature to stab itself repeatedly, while Lopov sniped from afar and Yorgen bashed it with his mace.

Once the creature was dead, the hunters examined its living area, finding a history of the Euphorica written along the walls in numerous languages. Akina, using her knowledge of languages, translated the history: the Talunans had worshiped happiness, the peaceful contentment of the ox in the field, with the scorpion always threatening that stability. They created a powerful relic, the Euphorica, to give all of their populace the happiness they worshiped. However, the people became docile and languid, refusing to do anything but enjoy the effects of the Euphorica, until their civilization collapsed.

The last few Talunans finally recognized the danger of their device, and sealed the Euphorica away, filling its resting places with Bloodshifted monsters: most notably, the Toxinox—a blend of ox and scorpion signifying that sometimes the scorpion is necessary to avoid complacency. The hunters surmised that Philius and his brother, exploring the ruins for the settlers, encountered the Euphorica and inadvertently activated it, causing the terrible effects they had witnessed.

Returning to the village, Yorgen plied his medical knowledge to help the villagers survive their withdrawal, and once the hunters were convinced the settlers would be safe, they returned to Mr. Fix. There, they confronted him about the rival hunters, accusing him of sending them. Mr. Fix seemed genuinely confused, saying he had no idea if those rivals were the Consortium’s previous group—and if so, why they had tried to purloin the Euphorica.

The hunters tried to persuade Mr. Fix to destroy the Euphorica, citing its tremendous danger, but he said it would depend entirely on which of his clients had the biggest checkbook. With a grin, he told his employees to take the night off and report back in the morning.

Treasure Hunters for Hire: The Ruins of Taluna, Parts 2 & 3

Beyond the axe, they found another (quickly dispatched), and then jaunted to the northeast, finding a small room filled with rubble (and a chest, which Lopov surreptitiously looted of a golden ox). Shortly, however, the unsubtle hunters found themselves disturbing a terrible monster known as a Sss’ch’kinsa, a lizard/insect hybrid that pins its victims to the floor with terrible claws and deposits eggs in its victims’ stomach with an ovipositor (or “rape tongue”).

Once the hunters finished off the Sss’ch’kinsa, they moved on, only to encounter a Whiptree, a strange bush with an unusually pliable—and murderous—root system. They took some damage, but once they backed off out of the roots’ range, the whiptree went down fairly easily.

Fresh off their whiptree kill, the hunters tried to determine which way to go next. There was a corridor to the south and one to the west, but Yorgen’s “Discern” spell irritatingly spelled out directly southwest, leaving it obscure as to which was the route. They tried the southern corridor first, disabling another swinging axe trap. Meanwhile, Thalia darted ahead, swinging past another axe trap like Tarzan, and Rezilio came up behind and disabled the axe, keeping it still.

Thalia examined the door just past the axe, while Lopov walked under the disabled axe… only to fall into a concealed pit that Thalia and Rezilio had gone right past without noticing (swinging and flying, respectively). He caught himself before falling onto the spikes at the bottom, and slowly pulled himself up and out.

Suddenly, the door smashed open, and Thalia found herself face to face with a gaggle of giggling maniacs, armed with makeshift weaponry seemingly created from farming and hunting equipment. She managed to nimbly dodge the attacks for a time, as her fellow hunters started rushing to her assistance. Rezilio began to pull lightning from the air, burning the maniacs to death, while Lopov started launching arrows at them. Yorgen took some time to get there, but once he did, he began knocking the “twisted euphorics”’s ribs in with his great mace.

Akina, unable to push into the crowded corridor, reached out with her mind to find those of the euphorics. She determined that they were settlers from the village, who had wandered in while hunting and gone quickly mad with happiness, neglecting to eat or take care of their wounds as they just sat and enjoyed the joy of the ruins. Unwilling to reveal her great secret, her ability to Mindshare, Akina just shouted out that there were people missing from the village.

Unfortunately, Yorgen, the only one other than Lopov who knew of Akina’s talents, didn’t put two and two together, and continued beating the crazed villagers to death. Thalia took out another with her acrobatic fisticuffs, and Lopov finished off an additional one with a well-placed arrow. Akina managed to turn one of the euphorics, convincing him that the hunters were friends—and seeing this peacefulness, Thalia decided to leave the last one alive, merely knocking him unconscious with a strong uppercut.

Thalia began speaking with the friendly euphoric, who, still quite mad, was incapable of proper speech—but was generous with the hugs. A bit of guesswork and pantomime later, she got the basic history of the villagers, as well as that the source of their happiness came from the west.

The hunters headed to the west, only to find nothing but a small chapel, with five spaces for prayer, each set up with an altar using the same iconography of a serene, happy ox in the field. Additionally, they noticed additional iconography, of a scorpion, seeming to act as a disruptive, Satanic force, until it is crushed by the ox.

Finding no sign of the source of the happiness (and seeing it was still further west), they turned around and went down the other hallway, where they encountered another axe (handily dispatched)—and Yorgen, in front for once, accidentally stepped into another pit trap, falling painfully to the spikes below. Thalia created an invisible bridge of force, but Yorgen refused to use it. Lopov hooked some rope he had on a hook on the ceiling (which, he figured [used a Minor Declaration] was for moving the axe traps around the building, and had Akina swing across. She failed to make it across, finding herself swinging helplessly in the center, but she stood on Yorgen’s shoulders and he helped her out before climbing out himself. Finally, Lopov crossed the force bridge and they continued on to where Rezilio—having flown ahead—was examining gouts of flame pouring from the walls.

Rezilio and Akina determined the flames were controlled by a gas-fed mechanism and pilot light, and decided it must be fed by tanks of gas not far away. Backtracking to the pit, Thalia discovered the tanks and turned off the gas, disabling the trap. The hunters moved on, Thalia and Rezilio again outpacing the rest.

Thalia found herself at a locked door, so quickly decided to break it down. As she did so, she found herself faced with an ornate box sitting in the center of the room, open and spilling out overwhelming color and light. It struck her with extreme joy, but she managed to block it out… only for Rezilio to come in and become blinded with euphoria. As the rest of the hunters came up the rear, Akina shielded herself and her brother from the euphoric effects, and Yorgen set up a Nullcrafting shield for herself.

As Thalia headed for the box and slammed it shut, two things happened at once: Everyone’s happiness turned to sorrow, Rezilio even feeling suicidal; and six other people, dressed in explorers’ leathers and looking for all the world like other treasure hunters, Realmshifted into the room, tossing aside a rod as they did so. The leader sarcastically thanked Thalia and Rezilio for finding the “Euphorica” for him, and snatched it up.

Thalia and Rezilio began to fight, throwing punches and bolts of lightning, but they were easily outmatched by the more experienced hunters. A powerful smoke bomb damaged both of their lungs, and they were almost taken out before Yorgen came up from the rear and dampened the magical effect of the Euphorica, curing Thalia of her sadness and turning Rezilio from suicidal to merely depressed. After taking another pounding from the enemy hunters, Thalia pulled out a Flare and snapped it shut around the Euphorica, nearly taking the leader’s fingers off. As the Flare vanished, winging its way back to Mr. Fix, the rivals decided to retreat, and Realmshifted out as one (using some kind of device like a Journeyman, but larger and seemingly capable of transporting all six of them).

And on that note, the team rested for a moment before moving on…


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