bloodiest_day_of_St__Valentine_by_mariano7724

Part 6: Carnival of the Macabre

Previously (Pt. 5) Home Next (Pt. 7)

Home is where the haunt is.

Having recently escaped from the literal bowels of the earth, our three restless adventurers make their sad way back to Lady Guerre. What will she say, and what new home does she have in mind for them?


Real Date: May 10, 2014

Game Date: 3rd of November, a.r. 231, 10 bells (Day 3, continued)

Chapter 25: The Madame, Revisited

Taking advantage of the new day’s sunlight, which was now bright enough to help disguise them, the three spirits made their way up through the city’s back streets and back to Madame Guerre’s shop. Instead of entering through the front door as they had before, however, they took a detour through the alleyways behind, entering her abode through a makeshift kitchen and butcher’s slab, surrounded by chicken coops.

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The Madame was just completing one of her divination “consultations,” picking through the entrails of a recently-deceased chicken. Having apparently finished her hepatomancy, she looked up to see the three ghosts near her. Luckily, it was very difficult to see into her back area from any place but the alleyway.

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Madame Guerre: Hello again, brave souls. The signs have told me you bring ill news.

Joriah the elf: Er, yes. I’m sorry to say, ma’am, that we found Warrick’s body in the morgue of Wayward Prison. Apparently, there was an entire operation going on there where they’d kidnap or kill people, steal their belongings, and then get rid of their bodies secretly. They…they killed Warrick for his teeth.

Madame Guerre: (heavy sigh) The signs spoke of a sad fate for our Warrick, though they revealed no other details. I am saddened to hear this, but not entirely surprised. This would hardly be the first abuse of power by those in the Squalor, or in any other place.

Rina the dwarf: It didn’t seem to be the only operation going on, either. We overheard those in the prison saying they were glad a visiting captain never checked their morgue. He seemed to be commandeering living prisoners and taking them to some other location in the city, though we never found out why.

Madame Guerre: A “captain,” you said? Most likely from the Royal Quarter, or at least some well-to-do place in the Upper Commons. It’s usually lieutenants who get stuck on positions in the Squalor, or officers who run afoul of those with connections.

Here the Madame looked over at Tacitus, who had been listening quietly in the background as he inspected the Madame’s back porch. Here, dead birds were apparently gutted, plucked, and readied for eventual use in stews or dishes. There was no reason, after all, to let a good bird corpse go to waste.

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Madame Guerre: And what of your new friend here?

Joriah and Rina raised faintly-visible eyebrows at each other.

Joriah: We met him in hell.

Madame Guerre: Indeed?

Joriah: His own personal hell, it seemed, on the Shadow Realm. Once we had freed him, he was more than happy to travel with us.

Rina: We also found what may be some clues about where we came from and what happened to us! In the lieutenant’s journal, there was mention of a “dwarf” and an “elf” that were transferred to the captain and taken somewhere in the Royal Quarter.

Madame Guerre: If these poor souls were indeed your past lives, then it sounds as if the Royal Quarter is the next stop in your journeys. But be wary, travelers. Those spirits who’ve ventured into the Royal Quarter have never returned. The guards there know well how to deal with your kind. Ghosts are bad for the city’s image.

Here Joriah and Rina nodded and shivered, remembering the humming broadsword and the arm cannons of the captain’s party.

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Joriah: What do they do to spirits like us?

Madame Guerre: I don’t know, and frankly, I’d rather not know. I have enough troubles of my own, keeping my business open, without extra attention from the guards and constables. Living here on the border between two classes of society only alienates me to both. I’m thankful that there are still those in high society with secret superstitions, or I would not earn enough to live in the city at all.

Tacitus the human: Where could I find obituaries from the past several days? To find out about our past lives?

Madame Guerre smiled.

Madame Guerre: So the silent specter does speak. I would not know, my restless friend. Obituaries are written in papers whose languages I can not read. They would also be published in better districts of town than this one–not much of a demand for printed word, you might guess.

Here Joriah tried to lean close enough for only the Madame to hear his hoarse ghostly whispers (though without success).

Joriah: I think there’s something wrong with Tacitus. We haven’t needed to eat or drink a thing in all our time, but he’s been nothing but ravenous since we’ve met! Have you heard of anything like this happening to ghosts before?

Madame Guerre studied Tacitus for a few moments, noticing how desperately he tried to paw nearby food with his ethereal hands.

Madame Guerre: No…I have not heard of such a thing before. It is possible his is the departed spirit of a man who died of starvation–forced to relive his last moments for eternity. But, then again, there is much about the Shadow Realm I do not know, and I do not intend to get any closer to find out.

Joriah: Is there a place on the Shadow Realm where we could find food for him? At one point, he was so hungry, he ate a wax candle.

Here the Madame ran her hand carefully over a pile of bones that were collecting on her butcher’s block.

Madame Guerre: When a soul dies, it passes first through the Shadow Realm in its journey to…wherever. As it does so, it leaves behind a memory of its life. The Shadow Realm is just that–a shadow of the waking world and what we experience here.

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Rina: So I could find your kitchen there?

Madame Guerre: The longer a certain place has existed in the physical world, the clearer the memory of it will be in the Shadow Realm. I doubt you would find my little shop, or any of these shops in particular, on the other side. But perhaps some of the institutions that have been here since the founding of the city…Wayward Fort, for example–

The three ghosts immediately shivered at their recent memories.

Madame Guerre: (continuing) …the King’s palace, the Church of Science…or even, perhaps, one place in particular I already have in mind. (Here the Madame clapped her hands.) And now it is time for me to uphold my end of the bargain. You provided me with the knowledge I sought; now it is time I do the same for you. And the sooner I can spirit you on your way, the better for us all, I think.

Here the Madame gathered a few scraps of bread and broiled chicken before banging a spoon against a hanging pan. Hearing the ruckus, a few dirty urchin faces poked out from hiding spots along the alleyway. The Madame tossed food their way until she spotted a particular elfish face. She quickly waved the young child over, who seemed a girl of perhaps only six or so.

Madame Guerre: Friends, this is Ardin. There are a number of street children who’ve aided me in the past, and Ardin has been one of the most helpful.

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Ardin did not react in any special way on seeing the three ghosts. She simply stood quietly, apparently sizing them up (however one would do that).

Madame Guerre: Ardin, please show these spirits to Tin Street Carnival.

The little girl nodded immediately. In seconds she was already halfway down the alleyway to the nearest bend.

Madame Guerre: (laughing) I’d hurry if I were you. Ardin can be light on her feet.

The three spirits quickly set after Ardin, following the small elfish form up, around, and under obstacles of every form. Instead of following the main cobbled streets, Ardin used a complicated highway of alleyways, spaces between buildings, shed roofs, and crawl spaces to find her way. If the ghosts had not been incorporeal, they might not have been able to keep up through the labyrinth.

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Their path took them gradually higher and higher up the slope of the island that Lux Æterna was built upon and away from the edge of the Lower Commons slums. Even the alleys between the buildings grew wider and cleaner, and Ardin soon took to dashing across streets and open spaces when there was no other choice.

Finally, having made her way into a street set a story below the ground level around them, she stopped and pointed to a side alley.

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High on the breeze above them, the three could hear the murmurings of perhaps several hundred people. A few colorful balloons also floated gently over the roofs, held up by the intermittent notes of a band or musical machine.

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Ardin: The place you want is directly down this alley. You’d best go yourselves; I’m not too friendly with the locals.

And then she was off again, and the spirits had only a moment’s view of her before she’d disappeared.

Shrugging to each other, they quickly reached the end of the dead-end alleyway. On their left was a leatherworker, on their right a noodle restaurant. Directly in front of them, however, was a glassblower’s shop. All three places seemed to be currently closed.

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A quick glance through the windows of the glassblower showed he specialized in unusual glass pieces–storm barometers, decanters, or even over-sized vases. Most encouragingly, several pieces of glassware were shining a familiar inky blackness.

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A trip through the keyhole later, and the party had crossed back over into the void.


Chapter 26: Welcome to the Carnival

Surprisingly, the Shadow side did not mirror either the store or the alleyway behind them at all. Instead, the party found their physical bodies standing at the end of a small thirty-foot cave, with the opening in front of them.

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Wooden boards had been nailed over the cave entrance to form a crude entrance way; and crates and boxes lined the walls around them. From outside, they could hear off-key notes of a brass band and calliope. A quick search of the crates nearest them revealed coils of rope, tent canvases, and old clown outfits.

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The cave seemed to be a sort of storage room for a shadow carnival. (Although glass bottles beneath their feet, the shards of which they’d passed through, also suggested this room also doubled as a garbage room.)

Before they got much further in their searches, Rina opted to search the backpack of items they’d recovered from the shadow stomach of Wayward Prison. They had some hope it would hold valuables; after all, it seemed to represent what the mortuary staff had gathered from their victims.

All together, the three of them counted the following:

1 light chain shirt (the metal was particularly shiny and studded
with runes)
1 thick cloak (just like the Cloaks of Resistances that Joriah and
Rina sported)
1 cloak brooch in the shape of a shield
7 unidentified potions of various blue hues
1 backpack (with a surprising amount of space and that never grew
heavier)

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A quick Detect Magic by Tacitus revealed that all items were magical…to include the backpack itself. However, they could divine no more than this. As Tacitus had survived their past encounters with no equipment to speak of, he was granted the chain shirt and cloak. Rina took the backpack and brooch, and the potions were split among the group.

The party’s attention then turned to leaving the shelter of the cave. As Tacitus had noticed the shadow of a man standing silently outside the door since their arrival, they wondered how best to reveal their presence.

“Hey,” Rina suggested suddenly, “we could disguise ourselves as clowns!”

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Joriah and Tacitus snorted at first, until they saw Rina rummaging for a clown costume her size. As this was not technically the worst plan they could think of, they eventually joined her.

Once dressed in something suitable, Rina picked up a few nearby beanbags and surprised herself by keeping three in the air.

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“You know what they say you should do if you’re ever attacked by a group of clowns,” Joriah noted. “Go for the juggler.” He then tried to test his acrobatic skills but somersaulted into the side of a nearby crate.

After deciding that Tacitus would probably do best as a sword swallower (or pie eater), the three adventurers made their way for the exit. If they could not concoct a believable cover story, they could at least offer themselves as useful additions to the shadow carnival.

The man who awaited them, however, was not quite what they were expecting.

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Waiting patiently outside was a man dressed in a jester’s outfit of blacks and reds. His face was painted white, and his eyeless sockets were sewn shut. Although his teeth appeared ordinary, his grin stretched far too wide for any ordinary human.

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With an exaggerated flourish, the jester figure bowed to the group and introduced himself.

Quinn: Greetings! We’ve been expecting you. I am your ever-willing servant, Quinn. Prepare yourself for the dazzling and the death-defying, the fantastic and grotesque, the amazing and the appalling!  Welcome to…the Carnival of the Macabre!

Their host Quinn seemed to be the only speaking member of the dark carnival. Attractions nearby were staffed by silent forms, rigidly awaiting their next customer. Yet our three heroes were the only patrons of the entire attraction, insofar as they could see.

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Quinn: So what can we interest you three in first? Games? Clowns? Balloons? Perhaps a spine-tingling jaunt through our spook house?

Rina: (massaging her still-aching temple) Actually, would it be all right if we just took a nap first? We’ve had some rather taxing adventures of late, and I have a killer headache.

Quinn: Why, er–certainly, of course! I’ll see to it that some mattresses are brought immediately. After all, our carnival certainly isn’t going anywhere!

Though surprised by their odd request, Quinn was as accommodating as he could be. The three decided to sleep in their little storage cave, eager to finally sharpen their senses after their ill-fated encounters in Shadow Solitary.

Completely drained by their previous trials, the three of them slept soundly for nearly twenty-four hours.  Because, after all, who wouldn’t sleep peacefully with clowns watching over them?

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Game Date: 4th of November, a.r. 231, 8 bells

Chapter 27: The Food Stalls

Joriah and Rina had been up for a short time already, discussing what parts of Lux they could actually remember, when Tacitus burst back into the cave. He held a hot dog in one hand and a large breaded pretzel in the other.

“Come quickly!” he exclaimed. “You won’t believe what they’re giving away for free out there!”

Having fully awakened and prepared themselves for a new day, Joriah and Rina followed him out into the peculiar light. Quinn was again waiting immediately outside and (as far as anyone could tell) had been standing there the whole night. He welcomed them again to the “Carnival of the Macabre,” reciting his previous speech nearly verbatim.

The Carnival was singular in one amazing aspect. This was the first time that any of the spirits had seen any form of color on the Shadow Realm.

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Not surprisingly perhaps, the colors were washed-out versions of their physical hues. The adventurers might have likened the effect to a “colorized photograph,” had they ever seen such a thing. As it was, they might have described the phenomenon as housing paint that had been faded by sunlight.

They could also see a good deal further than any other time they’d been outdoors on the Shadow Realm. Generally, visibility outdoors was ten feet for an unassisted human, and only thirty for those with darkvision. Here, in the carnival however, all three could clearly see from one end of the lot to the other–perhaps two to three hundred feet. The same was true for the space above them, and rose-tinted clouds formed almost a perfect dome over the affair.

Near the edge of the carnival, where the light finally gave way, iron bars and masked figures stood resolutely. They faced not inwards but outwards, towards the darkness beyond.

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Curious about this (and the history of the carnival in general), the three spirits approached Quinn nearby.

Quinn: We are the image of a very real carnival, mirrored here on the Shadow Realm. Every wide-eyed child’s first experience of the fantastic and the bizarre is remembered here.  Every vibrant color and note, every first mouthful of candied apple, every breathless trip through the spook house, every thrilling yet terrifying painted face–every new and fantastic experience has its eternal place here. The blank figures you see before you are the nameless carnies that come and go, but I am the living and undying spirit of the festival.

When asked about the figures guarding the outskirts of the carnival:

Quinn: The Shadow Realm is not a nice place. It remembers dreams far less often than nightmares. And as long as I am the guardian of the Carnival, I will see to it that it is protected. 

Which, the three adventurers noted, probably explained why the only entrance to the Carnival seemed to be via the dead-end cave link from the physical world. It was certainly one way to be sure your only guests were ghosts.

As they moved on, the spirits remarked quietly among themselves about Quinn. Besides being the first denizen of the Shadow Realm who could actually speak, Quinn seemed very coherent and self-aware for someone who wasn’t really “real.”

Nearby were the attractions that Tacitus had summoned them to see. Carnival food of every make and flavor arranged themselves in booths, served by grinning and blank-eyed attendants.

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The incredible nature of the food was readily apparent. Upon biting into a sausage served on a stick, Rina felt her aches and pains immediately leave her body, as if instantly cured [hit points restored]. A bottle of lemonade finally alleviated Joriah’s lingering headache [ability damage restored], and he made sure to point this out to Rina. Tacitus noticed upon eating a breaded pretzel that, not only did he feel re-energized and lively [fatigue and exhaustion removed] but that his supernatural hunger was temporarily abated.

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There were plenty of other treats at the carnival as well. Though the spirits made sure to sample them all, they could not divine the effects of all the other foods. Still, with what they had discovered thus far, they were as rejuvenated as if they’d spent a month at a resort.

(The three learned later from Quinn that while the food itself would not work outside the Carnival, its effects would remain. Quinn hovered never more than a hop, skip, or jump away, leaping between wagon tops or simply hanging by his knees from a tightrope.)

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Chapter 28: The Spook House

As the adventurers wandered away from the food stalls, Tacitus jingled a new coin purse in his hand. “Who feels like some fun?”

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Quinn had handed the purse to Tacitus earlier that morning, commenting that the bag would give them just the right number of coins they’d need for each day. Nearing a large building draped in cryptic gargoyles, Tacitus felt the forms of three coins suddenly appear inside the purse.

Quinn: (jumping down to land in front of them) Welcome to the abode of aberrations and eldritch horrors! Dare you face the terrors that lie inside, the abominations that beckon you with clawed talons? A special reward awaits anyone with sufficient resolve!

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Some might have found the carnival unsettling. Others might have felt the silent, painted forms lurking nearby too unnerving for their tastes.

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For Joriah, Rina, and Tacitus on the other hand, who had weathered far worse demons in the past few days, the carnival seemed almost welcoming in comparison. For once, the apparitions around them were not actively trying to eat them.

Handing their three tokens over to the waiting carny, the adventurers laughingly entered through the front door together. They found themselves in a completely unlit room of roughly thirty feet on a side. Joriah and Rina’s ability to see in low-light circumstances allowed them to make out the form of spooky decorations, strung haphazardly around them. They giggled and held hands in the dark.

Suddenly, a strobing pink light flashed above them, and a hollow voice boomed out a bellowing laugh. While rubber spiders danced on strings, a sheeted ghost swung past their faces on a pulley system.

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The effect was not exactly–shall we say–frightening. Joriah and Tacitus rolled their eyes somewhat at each other. But Rina, having built her excitement up so much in the last few minutes, screamed in frantic excitement and rushed back out the front door [nat. 1 on will save]. (She would later laughingly pass off the episode as a desire to get a balloon. After all, spook houses were no fun if you couldn’t get spooked.)

Eventually, dim lights glowed, and a door leading further in opened. “Please proceed to the next room…if you dare!” a voice taunted.

In the second chamber, a large oil portrait took of the far end of the wall.

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It was understandably disconcerting, and a little girl that stared at it (with their back to Joriah and Tacitus) held a tiny teddy bear close in her arms. As the two adventurers approached her, however, she spun around.

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Both Joriah and Tacitus started backwards in surprise, then regained their composure. Like all the other figures in the carnival, this “girl” was simply part of the attraction. They laughed at each other’s reaction to the jump-scare and waited for the next door to open.

In the third room, three chairs were set at corners. Once the door behind them had closed, however, each of the pieces of furniture began moving slowly on their own.

A chair on the far end began oozing slowly towards them on a trail of slime.

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Another towards their left began spontaneously disintegrating. However, instead of springs and cloth, the chair revealed a mess of fat, meat, and intestines within.

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As the two spirits began backing away from these disconcerting apparitions, cold bony fingers began brushing the backs of their legs, attempting to gain a grip.

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Their nerves finally broken, Joriah and Tacitus ran for the nearby “Exit” sign, quickly rejoining with Rina on the street outside. They laughed together in nervous excitement and shared their experiences.

Quinn: (somehow again next to them) Aw, too bad. Another time, perhaps?

 

Previously (Pt. 5) Home Next (Pt. 7)

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