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Part 7: Carousel of Death

Previously (Pt. 6) Home Next (Pt. 8)

Who doesn’t like clowns?

A grotesque carnival managed by an enigmatic jester is the most welcoming place our heroes have yet encountered. But even their new home has its own brand of dangers…

(DM’s note: Parts 6 and 7 were actually all run in the same session, but later split for readability.)


Real Date: May 10, 2014 (continued)

Game Date: 4th of November, a.r. 231, 1 bell, afternoon (Day 4, continued)

Chapter 29: The Street Performers

The party was accosted next by a group of street performers. First, a sad clown timidly offered balloons, reacting in mock shyness whenever one was accepted.

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The adventurers each took a balloon of their favorite color and applauded the sad clown to make him (her? it?) feel better. Assuming that was possible. Most interestingly, each of their balloons (and, in fact, all balloons around the carnival) held dim images within their forms.

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Though the images were grainy and stuttered (not unlike a prototype moving picture), the trio could just make out the shapes of another carnival in a familiar city. There, street actors too performed juggling tricks and amused the young while carnival workers distributed food or managed attractions.

“Tin Street Carnival,” Tacitus remarked, remembering the phrase that Lady Guerre had used. There was the physical location that cast the shadow of the Carnival Macabre.

The next street performer was a sword swallower, eager to display his act.

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However, when the man withdrew the sword again from his esophagus, he found it had turned into a vicious scorpion.

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He tossed it in surprise away from him, towards the party. Taken off guard, the three heroes hastily drew their weapons, making sure to keep their balloons safely out of reach. Rina in particular begrudgingly tossed her stick of bulgogi beef aside before drawing her ax.

As the scorpion was not particularly large, the battle was over almost as quickly as it had begun. While Rina and Joriah swung their weapons at the dancing form, Tacitus made a few careful hand gestures. Tearing a piece of his soul with it as it left him, a Scorching Ray lanced out from Tacitus and literally incinerated the arachnid.

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The creature was unidentifiable afterwards. Nearby, the sword swallower had little to say on the matter.

carnival_of_fear_by_make_up_magick-d4g4kzoWhoopsie!

A little farther away, a juggler was practicing his art. However, instead of something safe like axes, knives, or lit torches, the man was juggling with large, living tarantulas.

P1050618Yeah, chicks dig me.

Despite his welcoming grin, the party decided it was best to leave the spider-slinging clown to himself.


Chapter 30: The Games

Next on the party’s tour through the Carnival were the games, of which there were plenty. Each attraction held a single prize to be won; and each time they approached a stand, three more coins would appear in their purse. The coins did not have names on them, and the three were free to divvy them up as they saw fit.

Dart-and-Balloons (ranged attacks)

First up were the darts, where participants would need to hit the center of a target ringed by balloons.

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However, instead of darts, the three quickly found themselves holding small and eager hedgehogs.

balled hedgehodDon’t worry; I’m a professional.

Joriah stepped up to the task, flinging furry mammals with abandon. His first two shots popped balloons right and left of the bulls-eye, but his third and final struck home. A carny handed him his prize using a face that was just as excited as when they’d begun.

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“Well, this should be interesting,” Joriah commented, studying his trophy. He was lost as to how he’d use it (or even whom he’d use it on), but perhaps an idea would occur to him later.

Rope-and-Bell (climb checks)

Next was a long, hanging rope with a bell at the top end. Though the rope was knotted at intervals, a faint sheen was visible on the surface towards the top.

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Rina tried first, making it all the way up to the slicked section. Here, however, her palms became too greasy to hold on, and she slid slowly back down to where she began.

“Here, let me try,” Joriah said, stepping up. On his first attempt, he bolted most of the way up the rope almost without using his feet (nat. 20). However, he lost his momentum on the last section and was finally forced to descend again.

Unwilling to give up without one more try, Joriah used their last token to again scale the rope. Unfortunately, this time his already-slick hands completely lost their grip on the last section (nat. 1), and he fell thirty feet onto the ground. Favoring his now-aching back, Joriah hobbled over to where the food stands would refresh his strength.

As they left, the carny threw him something between a grin and a shrug. As Quinn had said before, perhaps next time.

images (1)I smirk at you!

Jacob’s Ladder (balance checks)

On this attraction, Tacitus again gave up his token to the others. He was no good at balancing, and there was only one prize to be won per attraction anyway.

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His generosity proved to be a moot point in the end. Neither Joriah nor Rina could make it past three-quarters of the length, invariably tipping over and falling to the floor. Well, no matter; contests were no fun if everyone could win them, and there would always be time to try again tomorrow.

Creepy carny applauds your attempts.

The Gauntlet (spot OR tumble checks)

Their fourth challenge proved to be a gauntlet run, with large blocks swinging periodically across the path.

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Rina grumbled as soon as she saw it. “Why do all of these games involve skills I’m no good at?” she bemoaned. Still, since she could either time her way or try to tumble past them, she at least had a few options.

To her credit, the stocky dwarf nearly made it along the entire course to the end, only mistiming the last jump. For a moment, it seemed she might push past the weighted pendulum out of sheer force of will, but she eventually stumbled and fell off the track. Her second attempt was no more successful; but at least it was more entertaining, as the last pendulum caught her square in the ribs and sent her into a nearby cart of pretzels (nat. 1).

Joriah also had a go, but his attempt was neither successful enough nor entertaining enough to warrant comment.

I, too, derive amusement from your misfortune.

Bell and Hammer (strength check)

“Ah, finally!” Rina grinned, as soon as she saw the unmistakable form of the next challenge. “Something I’m good at!”

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True to her word, her first swing rung the bell at the top of the tower, though it was only a light ding. Still, the carny awarded her the prize–a small tin sword.

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Rina giggled in delight as she handled the flimsy toy. She then used it to playfully prod nearby Tacitus.

Instead of bouncing off of Tacitus’s armor, the sword slid effortlessly into his shoulder. The sword had seemed to literally part the mithril chain shirt he wore.

To his credit, Tacitus merely glared at Rina as he bled profusely. Then he staggered off to the hot dog stands to regain both his health and his composure. Rina seemed to blush profusely (a look that was very uncommon for a dwarf) as she quickly found a safer place for the “toy” sword.

During this entire exchange, the silent carny nearby was less than helpful.

sandraugaHow unfortunate!

Bobbing for Apples (grapple check)

Having won only two out of their five games so far, the trio were looking to improve their luck. Up next were the bobbing-for-apples stands.

“This shouldn’t be so hard,” Rina explained, walked up to the first pail. “You just have to suck the water in as you bite.”

However, as Rina bent over to try, she noticed that the “apples” were instead tiny shrunken heads.

shrunken headsActually, on second thought…

For a moment, Rina wondered if the heads would still taste like apples, or if they would bite back. Then she closed her eyes, gritted her teeth, and plunged her head into the water. Moments later, she had emerged with a tiny head held firmly in her jaws.

46appleUm, ew.

Still, she had won that attraction’s prize, which proved to be a small wooden flute.

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None of them knew how to coax more than a distempered wheeze from it, and Tacitus eventually pocketed it to practice on in his own spare time.

Thirsty Clowns (ranged)

Despite her prowness with the bobbing-for-apples, Rina had apparently never seen the “Thirsty Clown” game in her previous life, and Joriah had to explain the concept. As he did so, the entire row of ceramic clown heads all gradually rotated to face him.

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On Joriah’s first go at the game, he couldn’t resist instead leveling his water gun at Rina and playfully squirting her until she thumped him (nat. 1). On his second attempt, the balloon was nearly at the point of bursting when his water pistol ran out.  Luckily, he was more careful on his last try, and the balloon successfully broke, splattering them all with what looked like blood.

The prize for this attraction was a pair of cheaply-made children’s goggles.

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However, once he had donned them, Joriah noticed the edges of all nearby surfaces stood out in sharp relief against each other, suggesting these goggles might help him find secret doors or hidden items.

Whack-a-Mole (3 out of 4 reflex saves)

The last game involved giving tiny mammals lasting headaches.

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True to the spirit of the Carnival of the Macabre, their version used what looked like actual living animals.

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Would you? Could you?

That fact seemed to deter Rina little, and she set to the task with reckless abandon.

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Although she only hit half of the furry animals that showed their heads, she remarked that the process had been quite cathartic. Tacitus did not do much better. Luckily, Joriah managed to elicit just the bare minimum of pained squeaks to win the game’s prize.

Comedy Disguise

Joriah tried on the fake glasses and nose that the attraction’s carny handed him. For the briefest of moments, his friend didn’t recognize the man standing next to them. Tacitus happily accepted the prize when offered, as he had already practiced a little disguise in his spare time.

All in all, the party’s jaunt through the games area had proved rather fruitful, and they were eager to see what awaited them next.


Chapter 31: The Freak Show

The three spirits guffawed when they saw the posters for the next attraction: the Freak Show.

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“I wonder what they’d consider ‘freakish’ in this sort of carnival?” mused Rina, as they each handed in the tokens the purse had spawned. “The beardless lady? The man with two legs?”

Even so, the spirits were not to be disappointed. They passed first by the pen of a chained “strong man,” who wore a face that wasn’t his own…

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…watched a pair of languid ladies wearing obvious “fat suits”…

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…nodded at a bearded lady that Rina found most impressive…

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…pondered at the “Snake Man”…

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…gawked at a mermaid that bathed only in blood…

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…shivered at the half-machine woman…

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…and mused over a set of conjoined twins that, while not entirely convincing, were no less unsettling.

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The Fortune Teller

One last attraction awaited them before they left the Freak Show: the Fortune Teller. The lights in a glass cubicle flickered on as they neared, and the automaton inside sprang to life.

Rina the dwarf walked up first to receive her fortune, noticing there were no buttons or levers for her to pull. Instead, the automaton mimed cryptic gestures over its fake crystal ball and deck of cards before issuing a typed phrase on a strip of ticker tape:

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The dwarf gave a puzzled expression and flipped the paper over a few times. “That’s all it says,” she complained.

Tacitus was the next to be “read” by the machine.

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“I think,” quoted Tacitus, effortlessly translating the Latin. He had an idea of how that particular phrase was supposed to end.

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“Well,” said Joriah after a moment’s pause, “it would hardly be a quality fortune teller if its fortunes weren’t vague and cryptic.”

Seeing that the mechanical diviner had ceased its motions and snuffed its lights, the three travelers pocketed their fortunes and turned to the “Egress.”


Chapter 32: The Maze of Mirrors

Both Rina and Joriah begged off on passing through the “Maze of Mirrors” advertised after the Freak Show.

“It just sounds like a bad idea,” Joriah commented. “A regular maze is one thing…but a maze that could accidentally draw you into the physical plane at any misstep? I think I’ll save that one for later.”

Despite his friends’ misgivings, Tacitus decided to go alone by himself.

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The “maze,” it turned out, was far less challenging than Tacitus expected. For one, all the “mirrors” were simply sheets of brushed steel.

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This made the path from the beginning to the end very easy to find, and Tacitus began a leisurely stroll down the metal-lined corridors.

Blurs of action out of the corner of his eye slowed his movements. He noticed that every so often, some mirrors would spontaneously clear for a few moments, showing an picture of somewhere on physical Iqador.

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Though the images were not vivid enough to suggest an actual portal, Tacitus noticed a wide variety of vistas. Among others, he noticed views of:

  • The Royal Quarter from several hundred feet in the air.
  • Underneath a Lower Commons bar from under a table (from which a dog could be seen eating from a plate).
  • A potted plant next to an adobe wall.
  • A street descending into a crowded neighborhood in the Upper Commons
  • Looking out from a bookshelf into a decently-furbished living room.
  • Complete darkness (perhaps from inside a chest or a solid object).
  • Hay in an upper barn loft, with two pairs of naked legs just visible.

Other than this curiosity, the Maze of Mirrors held no other surprises. Tacitus relayed his experience to the others on his return. They mused over what this could mean. While the mirrors could have been showing memories, the time of day in each seemed appropriate for the present, suggesting they’d been “real-time” views.


Chapter 33: The Carousel

Eventually, the three decided they’d had a good run of the day, and it was time to turn in and try some of the games again tomorrow. As they passed back towards the storage cave, one final attraction caught their eye–an empty carousel, running eerily empty on the outskirts of the Carnival. No carnies nor building stood near it.

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Beside it, a horse woven from bone, steel, and nightmares trotted on a separate wooden disc. A pulley system fed the motion to the carousel, in effect creating a horse-driven treadmill.

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For the first time any could remember, Quinn suddenly ceased being his typical merry self.

Quinn: (plucking at their elbows) This area of the carnival is off-limits. The carousel is…broken.

Joriah: Really? (Here he squinted from their vantage point fifty feet away). But…it seems to be running fine.

Quinn: Nevertheless, it’s best if we move on.

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Unfortunately for Quinn, the three spirits would not let the matter rest. While Rina asked if there was any way in which they could help fix the ride, Tacitus borrowed the special goggles they’d won at the thirsty clowns game. There was something held inside the treadmill horse’s rib cage that he could not quite make out. He stepped in for a closer look.

However, as Tacitus neared the workhorse, it flinched and snorted at his approach. It leaped up and down, pulling against its restraints in either fear or fury. Leather straps began snapping from the force.

Quinn saw this immediately and tried to push the others behind him. An emerald light began blazing from Joriah’s eyes, however, and he took long strides to catch up with the sorcerer. He would not abandon his friends when they needed him most, regardless of the dangers (CG alignment).

As Rina too moved to assist, drawing her tin sword in the process, a deep sense of fear began to grow in the pit of her stomach. While the armored shadow horse bucked and heaved on the Shadow Plane, a similar scenario played itself out in the balloons over their heads. Somewhere else, an armor horse powering a carousel of children was lurching against its handlers.

The inevitable finally happened. The armored shadow horse tore free from its moorings and stood stamping in the carnival dirt. There was a brief moment of paralyzed terror, as the creature and the four sized each other up silently.

Then the horse charged.

Quinn: (yelling at a nearby wagon) Hey, you clowns, get out here!

Quinn too lowered his scepter and aimed it at the oncoming monster, but the horse ran full-speed into Joriah before he could act. Caught under the huge creature’s mighty hooves, Joriah was trampled underfoot. He beat against its leg with his weapon, but could feel each strike bouncing easily off its thick armor. Ribs snapped in his chest, and the knowledge they were only ethereal did nothing to ease the pain.

As the horse pounded him into the stones, he finally caught a clear glimpse of what had been inside the horse’s rib cage this entire time: scores of blank-eyed ceramic baby dolls. It was an image he knew he’d seen before.

The horse placed one mighty hoof on Joriah’s chest, pinning him to the ground. Gazing into the horse’s eyes was like gazing through familiar windows to a different world. Through his pain, Joriah could see golden light shining through red and blue balloons overhead. “How odd,” he mused, “that this monster could hold such beauty in its eyes.”

Then the horse inhaled deeply, and Joriah arched in agony. From his mouth and wounds, strands of a fine blue mist coursed into the horse’s flared nostrils. When Joriah finally hit the pavement again, he felt as if a part of his soul had been ripped away.

(In game terms, Joriah took 18 points of damage from the charge, failed his opposed grapple check, and then lost another 2 points of Constitution to Blood Drain. He now had only 11 hit points left. Ouch.)

While Joriah struggled, his companions raced to save him. As Rina sprinted past Tacitus, she held out her hand. In turn, he slapped a spell into her waiting palm, doubling her in size and strength. “I’ve just made myself a giant dwarf,” he mused, as Rina thundered off.

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The clowns that Quinn had summoned stormed out of their wagon. These were obviously more than your average breed of entertainer. Lassos in hand and fists at the ready, these clowns seemed ready for a piece of action.

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Unfortunately, they had little experience in fighting a stampeding armored horse. Both of their lassos flew wide. Luckily, as the second sailed past the beast’s head, an intangible hand of force suddenly appeared. With a deft motion, it redirected the lasso back onto the horse’s neck.

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Mage Hand,” Tacitus smirked, guiding the spell with his fingers. “You don’t need to do damage to help in a fight.”

Still, the beast’s heavy weight bore down on Joriah’s limp form. Luckily, Quinn completed casting his spell, and chains of light drew themselves taught around the horse’s form. Seeing the monster above him suddenly held fast, Joriah pushed and shoved until he was able to free himself.

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Though a small victory had been won, the battle was far from over. One of their friends clutched his chest and coughed up ethereal blood, while they hadn’t drawn blood yet from the ferocious beast.

The giant horse strained and broke from from Quinn’s magical bindings through sheer force of will. Feeling itself still restrained by the one lasso, the nightmarish horse turned from Joriah and charged towards the defenseless clown. Standing next to that clown, Tacitus felt his eyes widen in fear.

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Unfortunately for the horse, its charge took it directly past a very large and very angry dwarf. Timing her strike perfectly, Rina spun clockwise, sinking to a knee and bringing her enlarged tin sword directly into the path of the beast.

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Fortune was on her side that day. The unexpected motion cleanly cut both of the horse’s front legs off at the knees. It immediately stumbled and crashed face-first into the ground.

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(Game terms: Rina confirmed critical damage with what was now essentially an adamantine claymore, dealing 30 points to a 42-hit point creature. On its attack immediately following, the horse rolled a nat. 1. Rather fitting, actually.)

A sudden sense of dread also seized Tacitus’s heart. In a balloon next to his head, he could see a frenzied horse in a carnival somewhere as it stumbled mysteriously. It fell, thrashing, crushing the crowd beneath it.

Seizing the afforded opportunity, Rina lost no time in moving directly to the horse. A well-placed strike by her giant sword into the neck of the beast, and the battle was over.

In that moment, however, there was a sudden flash of light seen in every carnival balloon, and all spontaneously burst.

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Silence once again reigned in the Carnival.  The haunting carousel slowly ground to a halt. Joriah picked his misting form off from the ground and hobbled towards the food stands. Nearby, Quinn seemed both grateful and worried.

Quinn: I’m afraid, dear friends, that we will be forced to close the Carnival for the foreseeable future.

Rina: What? Why? We were having so much fun!

Quinn: Things have changed in more than just one world, I’m afraid. I’ll need some time to look over the Carnival and make sure everything and everyone is okay.

The heroes were disappointed, but in the end they understood Quinn’s priorities. Before he left, they did manage to get him to identify the rest of their equipment.  Thanks to his aid, they learned they now had:

One +1 mithril light chain shirt
One +1 Cloak of Resistance
One Brooch of Shielding (absorbs Magic Missiles)
Four (4) Potions of Cure Moderate Wounds
Three (3) Potions of Lesser Restoration
One Handy Haversack
One Love Potion
One adamantine bastard sword
One Pipes of Sounding
One Goggles of Minute Seeing
One Hat Disguise

As Joriah and Rina prepared to help Quinn manage the Carnival, Tacitus abruptly begged off. He had his own explorations he wished to conduct on the “nearby” physical plane.

“Well, you see, I would like to find out something about myself as well,” he explained. “You at least have some idea of where you were and what happened to you when you died. All I have is a name.”

Again, Joriah and Rina had a hard time arguing with this reasoning. While the two stayed behind to help Quinn close the Carnival, Tacitus went his own way–out through the storage cave and into the streets.


Chapter 34: Mayhem in Tin Street Carnival

Tacitus noticed immediately upon entry that the entire atmosphere of the real-world had changed. Instead of distant music and laughter from the Carnival, there were only the sounds of running and the occasional scream. He decided to get a closer look.

Infiltrating the real “Tin Street Carnival” was easier than he expected. Along with the direct sunlight, there were now billowing plumes of dust, shrouding him from the townsfolk fleeing around him.

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In a few minutes, he had made it up to the street level above the glassblower’s shop, where the Tin Street Carnival would normally be held. He could see booths for food and candy, and stages where inventive tinkerers could entertain the masses.

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This day, however, the scene was much different. There were few people who’d stayed behind in the carnival square. Stalls were tossed on their sides, and several human bodies laying bleeding and motionless. The city guard was already moving to restore order, but the dust, debris, and confusion made it difficult.

The carousel, roughly in the same spot as on the Shadow Plane, had taken the brunt of the damage. It looked as if a giant’s hand had crumpled it into a ball of paper. Thankfully, Tacitus couldn’t see if any patrons had been crushed underneath it.

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Near the collapsed carousel, the body of an armored horse splayed itself across the stones. The word “Steam Mare” popped into Tacitus’s mind, and he began to recall basic details about the industrial workhorse. However, Steam Mares were horses completely encased in a  technological power suit. It looked as this one had had a good chunk of the suit blown clear off of it, probably causing the surrounding destruction. 

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As he neared the horse, using the confusion to disguise his movements, he saw a few mechanics emerge from a nearby barn. Likely the caretakers of this particular Steam Mare, they hurriedly shooed away any guards near the dead creature, before spreading a large tarp over its form. They then remained nearby to guard it while the City Watch continued to restore order.

However, the mechanics had not been quite quick enough for Tacitus. For underneath the twisted metal plating, he had caught a clear glimpse of the true creature inside. Not simply a dead horse–but a horse that had already been dead for quite some time.

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As a result of this session, the following sourcebooks and info pages were unlocked or updated:

New:
A Brief Overview of Iqador
Magic, Religion, and Science in Iqador
DM-Created Monsters

 

Previously (Pt. 6) Home Next (Pt. 8)

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