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Part 8: A Messy Affair

Previously (Pt. 7) Home Next (Pt. 9)

The spirit is willing.

If they hope to ever discover their pasts, our travelers will need to interact more directly with the physical world. But where would they learn these skills, in a city that seeks to eradicate them?


Real Date: June 8, 2014

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

Chapter 35: A New Lead

Completely unsettled by the nature of his discovery, Tacitus backed away from the covered horse. He used a nearby dust cloud to evade towards the edge of the Tin Street Carnival, and the path leading downwards.

On his way, however, he noticed the sound of a familiar voice. A ten-year-old elfin girl sat on a nearby stone wall, kicking her feet delightedly at the chaos and giggling in glee.

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Tacitus was a bit unnerved by this wanton display. Noticing him nearby, Ardin waved him over.

Ardin: (gesturing her arms about) Did you guys cause all this mess? Bloody brilliant, that’s what it is. I’m impressed.

Tacitus: Erm, yes, I suppose we were…partly responsible. Have you seen this sort of thing before? I mean, the dead horse inside the power suit?

Ardin gave him a long, hard look before changing the subject.

Ardin: Let me ask you a question instead. Where do you plan to go from here?

Tacitus: Well…I want to know what happened to me when I died. We all want to know what happened to us.

Ardin: And to do that, you’re going to need to be more than just farts in the wind. You’re going to need a flesh-and-blood body, to interact with a flesh and blood world.

Tacitus: Why? Do you know of a way to do that?

Ardin: (nodding) I think I just might. There’s a place down by the Squalor docks that…well, let’s get your whole group together before I explain more. I think you’ll all be interested.

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This one seems less welcoming, somehow.

The others did not need much convincing to leave the Carnival. All of the attractions had been closed for the duration, and a dark pallor had begun creeping over the estate. A tension was in the air (resonating from the terror in the physical realm), and even some of the clowns had begun holding knives.

Quinn reassured the party that the Carnival would indeed recover, but that it would take some time. As long as the real Tin Street Carnival represented nightmare and fear, those same emotions would spill over onto its Shadow equivalent. However, Quinn’s Carnival should be open about the same time it was open on the physical realm. The three spirits bade him the best of luck before stepping out.

Ardin again took them through back alleyways and spaces between buildings, but this time downhill towards the Lower Commons, rather than away. They passed where Ardin had met them at Madame Guerre’s. As they went, the buildings around them gradually decayed in appearance, becoming less city blocks of fitted stone and more ramshackle villages of wood and bamboo.

Eventually, Ardin led them to the end of an alley overlooking the bay. The throngs of humanity in this dead end of Lux Æterna had discovered space was at a premium. Luckily for them, the sea floor of the bay was shallow, level, and firm; and the residents of the Squalor had extended their shantytowns out on bamboo stilts into the bay.

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The docks are lovely this time of year.

Ardin pointed at a particular shantytown “block” a few hundred feet below them.

Ardin: Down there, in a building on the far side, is a pleasant little cult that calls itself the “Open Invitation.” Perhaps it’s an open invitation for disaster, for all I know. The entire block is known as haven for the downtrodden, superstitious, and those too worthless to go anywhere else. The cult in particular, however, is all about making contact with those on the other side. Lovers who’ve offed themselves, grandmothers who have kicked the bucket, you know the kind. One of their most famous seance rituals involves actually inviting the ghosts of the departed into their own bodies. Rather kinky.

Here the three spirits exchanged intrigued looks.

Joriah: How old is it?

Ardin: The cult, or the block? Well, this area of the city was only built in the last ten years, though I’m sure they’ll extend it further once their women squat out a few more babies. As for the cult…only about two months, I believe?

dog pooping

And the locals give a warm welcome.

Rina: Have you seen any ghosts or anything peculiar go in and out of that place?

Ardin: I apologize, your majesty, I confess I have not wasted my time watching a single building pointlessly simply for your convenience. I shall attempt to make amends in the future. (Here she began to take a bow, then changed it to a curtsy as an afterthought.)

Tacitus: Any last advice before we go in?

Ardin: (turning to go) Yeah, check your whores before you use them. You won’t believe some of the stuff that gets passed around these days…

With that, the elfin girl was off, and the ghosts were left to make their own plans.

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A simplified view of the shantytown block. The “Open Invitation” is based in the southern-most building.

img22560_robertgojevicKnowing that the cult was based in the south-most building of the complex, the group decided to investigate that area first. Rina voted for simply strolling into the area and asking for directions, but she was quickly voted down. For one, the three of them only had a single girl’s word that ghosts were welcomed openly in this area. For another, it would take only a single alarm for the Royal Guard to be called down on their heads. In the end, the three of them decided to play it safe, infiltrating the area and learning as much as they could first, before openly revealing themselves.

The three of them recalled that, as spirits, liquids behaved for them just like slippery solid surfaces. (They had learned this in the apartment of the three women in the Upper Commons, and later, outside Wayward Prison.) Therefore, the most direct means of approach appeared to be simply walking across the water towards their destination, hiding in the three feet of air between the sea and the bottom of the buildings.

To their good fortune, there were only errant children hiding from their parents underneath the docks. It was now about five bells in the afternoon, and most people were looking to the end of their work days.


Chapter 36: A Grisly Discovery

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Bleary-eyed men of the town.


When they reached the edge of the “canal” forming the border around the shantytown block, Tacitus paused for a moment. Hiding behind a wooden support driven down into the sandy sea bottom, he looked up to see what sort of people awaited them.

A few men stumbled by on the pier nearest them. They could have been dock workers returning from unloading a shipment of cargo, fishermen after a long day of catching or gutting fish, or even perhaps stall workers, selling wares on the sides of the buildings. What struck Tacitus, however, was that these men were a little bit skinnier, a little less alert, and a little more bleary-eyed than most. The two or three nearby bumped into each other in something of a vague daze, before entering the first-floor of the far-western building. Tacitus noted that was a pawn shop titled “Stuffed to the Gills” in faded painted letters–and that it fit every bit of its name.

Peeking quickly over the edge of the docks, the group could just see the building the cult called their home. It seemed to be decorated in bright paints, and the sound of music was faintly audible. Again reminding Rina not to simply jump atop and reveal herself, the group moved on underneath the wooden plankways towards the south. (While there was not a perfect level surface for the entire shantytown “square,” there were enough boards and strips of bamboo to make walking between buildings easy.)

blood8-Laos-Luang-Prabang-Bridge-SurfaceThe first indication of something amiss was a steady dripping sound coming from the nearest building overhead. Noting that it was emanating from an outhouse, the three at first made to move on. However, whatever was dripping from the commode was staining the water crimson red…along with an entire five-by-five section of bamboo floor over their heads.

The trio was perhaps a bit more excited about this discovery than they should have been.

 

Joriah: (excitedly) Someone’s died!

Rina: You know what this means, right?

Tacitus: Maybe a new restless spirit!

If this was the case, then the new face could prove invaluable in learning about the cult’s history and customs. If nothing more, it would still mean a new ally in their quest for their pasts.

Fotolia_17999349_M-copie-310x400Poking their heads above the edge of the dock, the troupe saw the commode had been an add-on to the original building structure. Its boards had been tacked up in a haphazard fashion, and there seemed to be a small opening where the outside wall met the middle of the second floor. Fortunately for them, few eyes were on that specific part of the docks, and the three of them scaled the uneven wooden wall unbothered. While the outhouse would have collapsed under the physical weight of even one of them, their mistform bodies flowed up easily over the rickety surface.

At the top, the adventurers struggled to see what awaited in the gloom. Only Rina could make out a dim, unmoving form–the latrine’s last sad occupant. Entering through the opening, the three heroes landed in the middle of a bloodbath.

Blood literally coated the walls from bottom to top, still trickling downwards despite the slow coagulation.  On the closed surface of the toilet’s seat, a mutilated body lay. Most of the torso and nearly all of the head were gone–pulled or ripped clear from the rest of the body. A quick look around the chamber failed to locate the missing body parts.

francisThe unfortunate man (whoever he was) was still dressed in the tattered clothes of a common dock worker–perhaps from a fishing company or ship unloader. Near his limp right hand, an empty glass vial lay on the floor. Though it was partly splashed with blood, a deep inky shine was still visible–a portal to the other side.

Joriah and Rina instantly began hypothesizing how this death may have occurred. Perhaps this man was part of a cult that used ritual murder? Perhaps his killers had dumped his body here to get rid of it? However, Tacitus quickly pointed that the outhouse door was still bolted from the inside. There was no window, the body was sitting on the closed toilet seat, and the crack above was too narrow for anything but a ghost to get through. The murder had happened inside a locked room.

empty vialWhile the others brainstormed, Tacitus began following his own line of reasoning. A locked room mystery suggested suicide. Still, something about the scene simply struck him as off. It was as he inspected the bloody residue on the walls that he realized why. With an exploded body like this, the walls should have been covered in gore–fat, teeth, tissues, etc. But they weren’t. Instead, there was only a slick of blood. Which left a very interesting question: Where was the rest of the body?

The three ghosts had never touted themselves as amateur sleuths, but this was certainly an interesting mystery. Finding no other clues on this side of the veil, the three of them exited through the breach to the other side.


Chapter 37: The Shadow Shantytown

Instantly, the party was shrouded in darkness–an experience they had not had since the septic swamp outside the prison. Their most recent Shadowy adventures had been indoors, where visibility was increased. Outside again, the darkness drastically limited their sight; even Rina’s darkvision was halved at 30 feet.

Fog-ManWisely, Tacitus (who had no form of darkvision) cast Light, doubling everyone’s range.

amphitheaterdepression_thumbThe group found themselves standing on a single ledge of many, stretching away on both sides into the darkness. Judging from the shallow curve visible in Tacitus’s light, they seemed to form a rough arc of steps or wide seats, perhaps of a giant amphitheater. There were no other objects visible, save a broken statue directly where they had appeared.

The stone statue appeared to be of a human form, bound in a kneeling or praying position. Truthfully, it was difficult to determine the statue’s original shape, as all but the legs and hands had been shattered. Immediately next to the statue was another glass vial, the other side of the portal they’d used to travel here.

A few small chunks and pebbles lay nearby, but, again, there was nowhere near enough to form an entire statue. Like the body in the toilet, where the rest had gone was a complete mystery.

Rina, Joriah, and Tacitus had not realized how engrossed they’d become in the mystery until they looked up to see a fourth figure, standing with them midst the shadows.

 *          *          *

The orc could remember nothing but wandering in a dark, barren wasteland. He might have been here only ten minutes; he might have been here ten years. It was hard to say when there was no night or day, no one else around, and nothing but a foggy memory in his head.

The orc dimly remembered picking up an ax here, a discarded piece of armor there, as he meandered in the darkness. Then, as if awakening from a daze, he remembered hearing voices. The words they spoke were not of the orcish tongue, but they were a welcome relief to the eternal silence.

Listening carefully, the orc slowly made his way towards the noise. By the sounds of it, there were three people talking…

*          *          *

IkkathThe human, the dwarf, and the elf all stood in silence as the orc moved into view. He held a rusty meat cleaver in one hand, and a thick iron door like a shield in the other. Though half a head taller than even Joriah the elf, he seemed gaunt and emaciated. Whereas Tacitus was simply hungry all the time, it seemed this newcomer might have actually starved to death either in this afterlife, or the one before.

Looking back and forth between his new acquaintances, the orc belted out one word.

“Ikkath!”

Rina, Joriah, and Tacitus exchanged confused glances.

“Me Ikkath!”

The confusion abruptly vanished. The three adventurers began exchanging words with their newest party member (as an extra sword was always appreciated). They learned he had much the same experience as all new restless spirits–no memory of his past life, much why he was doomed to wander the Shadow Plane. He was a curt orc who used merely the number of words required [DM: INT score of 5], but the party sensed he could still be a valuable ally. If they recalled correctly, orcs usually lived on savannas, where they hunted large game like mammoths and mastodons. While not “book smart,” they could still be very clever and excellent tacticians.

Wolf spider stare

Phase Spider (CR 5), with Spring Attack replacing Ethereal Jaunt

Their hopes were abruptly put to the test. A faint skittering noise sounded almost at the edge of hearing. Rina, whose Darkvision (combined with the new Light spell) allowed her to see the farthest, noticed the approaching monster first. It resembled a large version of a garden hunting spider–that is, if the spider grew to ten feet on a side. Rina shouted a warning and placed herself between her friends and the monster.

Though Tacitus’ frail human eyes could not see the approaching danger, he could certainly hear its eight giant legs. A quickly-muttered spell and a outstretched arm later, and Tacitus had enlarged Rina to match the spider’s size.

Next to Rina, Joriah and Ikkath took up flanking positions. Though they could not yet see the creature, they would be ready for the attack.

Eyeing the giant dwarf, the spider crept up to within 15 feet of Rina. Flexing its mandibles hungrily, it launched itself through the air in a giant spider-sized Spring Attack. Its perfect arc carried it down on top of its delicious-looking target.

spider jump

Unfortunately for the spider, Rina had already braced herself and readied her sword. As the spider fell on top of her, she thrust upwards with her tin claymore, piercing the spider in the middle of its wriggling legs. The spider squealed in pain and surprise, and its inky blood splashed on Rina’s face. However, it still managed a solid bite on Rina’s neck before kicking off again to land 25 feet in the distance.

Rina rubbed the throbbing bite on her neck. It felt tingly and numb; fortunately, whatever venom had been in the spider’s fangs had not taken hold.

scorching ray

Scorching Ray, that is.

Having seen the giant spider leap out of and back into the darkness, Tacitus had a better idea of what he was facing. Taking a step at a time until he could see the monster in the gloom, he rubbed his hands together and let loose with his new trademark spell. Tacitus was becoming more accustomed to how his spells interacted with his life force; the resulting blast of fire roasted the remainder of the monster, setting it ablaze.

Charging up, Rina then speared the twitching behemoth with her tin sword, nailing it to the stonework. The spider convulsed and lay still.

tumblr_lukp29e55W1r5kgr2o1_400No sooner than the spider had stopped moving than Rina was upon it, cutting into it with whatever tools she had handy. She had already collected a number of random items, including a random key, a music box full of bones, and promising life-draining horse rib; and she was interested in seeing what she could pull from the spider’s corpse. She was not without luck, and she had soon removed one of the spider’s fangs, complete with venom sack. (Also, a quick check of the spider’s stomach showed the missing statue parts had not ended up there.)

If the party had intended on making a more complete search of their environment, these hopes were quickly dashed. More  skittering sounds emanated from all around them. Their previous commotion had attracted more opportunistic predators.

The only thing scarier than a spider…is more spiders.

One spider had been a simple matter; the four they could hear would likely be a challenge. And although no one loved a good brawl more than Ikkath (particularly against large monsters), he sensed a stiff battle along untested allies was unwise. “Come,” he said, “we must find some place we can defend.” He turned to lead them off back into the darkness.

“Wait!” Joriah the elf called, gesturing to the stonework. “There’s another way! We can just go back through that glass vial on the ground!”

Ikkath cast a confused look at the cylinder of glass on the stone nearby. True, there was a strange colorful glimmer to it, but he couldn’t understand how it’d help. ” ‘Through’ the vial?” he repeated.

“Yes!” Joriah said more quickly. The sounds of the spiders were louder now, and he could just make out the nearest. Near him, the others held up weapons against their own assailants. “I don’t really have time to explain now; just put your finger through it!”

holding vialIkkath considered the strange glinting tube again, shrugged to himself, and picked it up off the floor. He tried fitting his thick index finger into the narrow opening, but nothing happened.

Next to him, Joriah yelled half in frustration and half in pain, as the nearest spider sprang to sink fangs into his leg. “No! It has to be in the same place in both planes! Put it back!”

The spider leaped backwards into the darkness, and Joriah hobbled over to help Ikkath. Gathering that Ikkath had never passed through a portal before, Joriah fumbled with the glass vial, trying to line it up on the same exact spot. It was tricky work, made no less easy by the things that were trying to eat them.

hatch door tower shield

Hey, works in a pinch.

At one point, another giant spider flew from the gloom at Joriah’s head. Ikkath simply held up the large metal door he’d been carrying like a tower shield. There was a loud clang, and the spider fell back into the fog.

Finally, Joriah’s jittery fingers succeeded, and the colorful light appeared in the vial again. “Quick, everybody, get through!” he yelled.

Tacitus was the first to pass across. Ikkath’s eyes widened in amazement as he saw the human’s form waver and evaporate into the glass. Now with a better understanding of what Joriah had meant, he put his own finger to the side of the glass. There was a momentary sense of being pulled into a fast-moving river, and then everything around him changed.

Now on their own in the Shadow Realm, Joriah and Rina exchanged glances. The four spiders were still circling about them, watching for openings in their guards. With all their eyes, the monsters had been able to keep away from attacks of opportunity; the only way Joriah and Rina had been able to land hits was when they were planted and readied.

“Better hurry through,” Joriah advised, as he pressed his own hand into the vial. “Sounds like something big’s coming.” Then he too vanished.

Alone, Rina held her sword warily against the encroaching monsters. She would have to both keep her sword readied against any sudden attacks, while simultaneously reaching down for the exit out. And Joriah had been right; something very different was coming from the south. The resounding impacts reminded her of spider footfalls, but there was a sharp metallic ring to each.

Rina did not have to wait long.

sphinxJones_Male_Torso_16__94427.1362017022.1280.1280Dwarven_Spider 2The “Sphinx”

maskThe monstrosity burst from the shadows near one of the huge spiders. It was a bizarre amalgamation of a faceless priest in an extravagant stone headdress, above an armless torso attached to a mechanical spider-like base. Nearly twice the true arachnids’ size, the contraption speared the closest to the stone floor with one of its brass legs. The real spider screamed in fear and agony, and the other three immediately fled into the shadows.

Suddenly quivering in fear, Rina kept her eyes on the spectacle while she reached for the vial. Her trembling fingers bumped it back and forth across the stone floor.

Keeping its prey pinned underfoot, the featureless white mask of the monstrosity split open down the middle. Instead of a face, there was only a writhing mass of tentacles surrounding a gaping maw. In a single quick motion, the beast seized the spider in its jaws and swallowed the struggling arachnid whole.

“Come on,” pleaded Rina out-loud, as she fumbled again with the glass vial, causing it to spin in place. [DM’s note: 5 failed attempts on portal set at 66% transparency!]

Finally, as the creature was turning its gaping mouth towards Rina, she felt a familiar rush, and the world around her vanished.

She reappeared back inside the messy outhouse, now filled with four cramped and restless spirits.

“Hello again,” Ikkath welcomed. Then, finally taking his first good look at his new surroundings, “What the hell?”


Chapter 38: The Cult of the Open Invitation

Still shaking from her recent escape, Rina blurted out what she had seen. “Oh my god there was this thing and it was huge and looked like a giant mechanical spider and had this face that opened with these tentacles–“

However, just then, a loud banging was heard on the barred door into their outhouse.

Voice: (slurred) Hey, hurry up in there, dude! You’ve been in there for, like, hours! Some of us actually need to go!”

Rina: (winking at the others) Help me, I’ve died and I can’t open the door!

Voice: (pausing briefly) Har har, dude, good one. You almost got me there. Come on, man, you’re not the only one that needs to use the s***ter.

Rina: No, seriously, I can’t get out. The door’s jammed. Help me get it open.

While the man outside began pushing against the door, trying to find a way to unjam it, the four ghosts clambered their way back up to the top of the commode. Hanging by misty fingers onto the edge of the opening, they awaited the entrance of the bystander.

mage handouthouse hookSurprisingly, it turned out that the orc wielded more skills than just those with a rusty blade. As he gestured his ghostly hand, the lock on the outhouse door slowly shifted and lifted.

Tacitus raised an eyebrow; the realm of telekinesis was generally reserved for wizards and sorcerers. It seemed becoming a restless spirit rewrote a few of the rules commonly assumed.

As soon as the lock unfastened, the door swung in, and the man outside nearly slipped onto the remains of his friend. His reaction was instantaneous.

“Oh god, man, what happened to you? You’re all over the walls, and the ceiling, and–how’d you open the door? Oh god, I’m not ready for this, man, this is not right at all…” He fell back outside, relieved the contents of his stomach into the bay, and stumbled back to wherever he had come from.

While the practical joke had been successful, the adventurers couldn’t help feeling a little guilty over pranking the man so cruelly. They descended again to the surface of the bay, planning their next move under the scaffolding. Tacitus suggested continuing on to the cult headquarters. Rina’s description of the mechanical monstrosity on the Shadow Realm had unnerved him, and when she’d mentioned it’d come from the south, he muttered, “Oh. That south.”

 

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Click here to remind yourself of the layout.

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Sunset on the poorest part of Lux Æterna.

The four slunk underneath the elevated village until they arrived at the space between the western and southern buildings. Again, they were fortunate and not spotted by residents; it was now about six bells in the evening, and the sun was passing the horizon in a show of melted color. What fishermen still remained in boats were drawing them in for the night, or preparing for some night fishing. (On their way, they overheard a recognizable voice recounting the horrors of the bloodied outhouse to others. They couldn’t pick out every frantic word, but they did catch something about “new drug” and “Marcellus.”)

There were certainly more light and sounds in the southern-most building, and the four took a quick scan of the plaza before committing themselves. The eastern and northeastern buildings seemed to house a fishing company, where workers were splashing down floors and tables. Above them, figures moved in cramped homes; a young girl, for example, went to help her mother hang up laundry from a window.

stock-footage-bamboo-wind-chimesembroideryThe meeting house for the “Open Invitation” cult itself was not unlike a makeshift temple. The seaward side sported a dozen handmade wind charms that jangled or whistled in the evening breeze, and the front was covered in colorful tapestries and embroideries. Someone had certainly poured their time and effort into making the meeting house a place of personal meaning.

There were perhaps fifteen or more people already in the common room that spanned the entire first floor, with others coming alone or in pairs every few minutes. Candles were being lit, and it seemed that people were congregating for an upcoming social event. Deciding their best bet was to perform a little eavesdropping from beneath the floorboards, the four spirits set themselves up at the four corners of the structure. They would reconvene later with what they’d learned.

Heirlooms_Spiers

TempleFestival3Bali_CM

Standing nearest the altar itself (and under it), Rina heard a few mutterings by the supplicants. However, instead of standard prayers, the words sounded more like one-sided conversations with departed loved ones.

Older Woman: “…and your niece and your nephew-in-law had their first girl today…I know you would have loved to see her, she’s got such large eyes, I keep telling everyone that she’s got your eyes but no one else really remembers what you looked like as clearly as I do…”

e1724cd187Ikkath, at the western corner of the building, had trouble hearing the conversations over the low droning sounds of machinery.

Male Voice 1: Why does Lucian even keep all this crap? It’s taking up space, and I can barely think over the noise.

Male Voice 2: It’s technology. Technology attracts spirits…or, at least, that’s what Lucian thinks.

Male Voice 1: Ah yes, the old adage. Lux Æterna: “City of Ghosts.” Still prefer “Brass and Glass” myself.

Male Voice 2: Well, no matter how you cut it, Lux has more sightings of ghosts than anywhere else in Veritan. And Lucian thinks all the tech is responsible. So he’s put up a little lamp of his own for the moths, if you will.

random gearsAt the north corner of the building, Joriah listened to several talking about the evening ahead.

Male Voice: I heard there’s going to be another ritual later tonight?

Female Voice: Why yes, there is! Lucian is going to lead us all in another “Open Invitation” ceremony. We’d had such wonderful successes with the last few, I can’t wait to see what tonight holds in store for us.

Male Voice: Well, that sounds great, then. I think I’ll stick around.

Finally Tacitus, at the east corner, was privy to the entrance of Lucian himself to the night’s events.

Lucian

Lucian, leader of the Open Invitation

Although Tacitus could see little beyond the man’s shoes and bottom of his cloak, the voice sounded like that of a young male in his mid-twenties. He spoke with enthusiasm and warmly greeted each and every person, one-on-one, as he walked through the meeting room. He made certain to ask each about their days, their family members, and what new spiritual experiences they’d had. The spirits exchanged knowing glances; these were tell-tale signs of a charismatic cult leader.

After about a half hour (long enough for him to greet everyone individually), Lucian took a spot in the center of the room and called everyone’s attention, inviting them to take part in their mainstay ritual. The congregation then in turn knelt in front of the altar dedicated to their lost loved ones, murmuring private prayers. Throughout this, Lucian acted like a director, chanting and praying loudly to maintain everyone’s attention.

woman_on_floor_small.6fxdn1kn0z48socw400w0o004.6ylu316ao144c8c4woosog48w.thAs they watched the ritual, the incorporeal heroes discussed matters among themselves. Rina was cautious, wondering if the machinery was somehow tied to the monstrosity she had seen on the Shadow Plane, and if it would capture or destroy them. Joriah wondered if Ikkath had died somewhere in the vicinity, and if they’d stumble over his body. Ikkath, on the other hand, favored something more than eavesdropping; he was an orc favoring direct action.

The one thing they all agreed upon was that none of them trusted Lucian or his motives.

Abruptly, one of the ladies fell to the floor, convulsing and flailing her limbs. She moved erratically, but she did not grimace or beat her head against the floor, leading the adventures to believe it was not an actual seizure. In fact, she was able to speak haltingly during the episode. “It’s William!” she panted at one point. “I can feel him! He’s here with me!”

“Oh, how wonderful!” Lucian declared, clapping his hands together in delight. “Praise the spirits! She is being visited by her dearly departed loved one!” The other members nodded and murmured in approval.

The ghosts had had enough of this charade; they were fairly confident that no actual spirits were involved in the proceedings. Joriah, Tacitus, and Ikkath each moved under the floor to different sections of the room (while Rina cautiously waiting outside for a few extra minutes).  Then, like specters rising from the grave itself, each of the three lifted themselves into full view of the proceedings–Tacitus through the front door, Ikkath through a window, and Joriah through the floorboards in front of the altar itself.

monsters_smoke_demons_fantasy_art_1920x1080_14636

Everyone gasped at the sudden manifestation. Holding their collective breaths, they slowly turned to gauge Lucian’s reaction. However, a sudden appearance of real spirits was beyond even his experience, and he too froze for several long moments.

Lucian: (eventually) Friends! We are most blessed and honored tonight. The spirits have come to grace us with physical form! Tell us, oh favored ones, what words of wisdom do you have for us this evening?

Tacitus: (from the doorway) Do you have any food?

Lucian: (again pausing in awkward confusion) Er, we can certainly find food for you, esteemed spirit. What do you desire?

Quickly cutting Tacitus off before he derailed the entire conversation, Joriah introduced himself and his friends. Although the four of them had previously discussed commandeering the cult to their own bidding, the elf spirit decided to be open and honest. In front of awed onlookers, he introduced himself and his three friends, pointing out that amnesia handicapped them all.

Lucian: So, honored spirits, are the four of you departed loved ones from our village?

Joriah: We could be; we honestly don’t know. Why don’t you tell us more about yourself; what is this “Open Invitation” that you lead?

Lucian: (responding with obvious pride) The “Open Invitation”–and really, our entire village–is a haven for those who believe in something more. Those in power refuse to acknowledge what we all know–that there is something beyond the pale of death, and that we all go somewhere when we die. Your simply being here is proof enough of that. However, such views are not popular with those in authority, and we are forced to commune here–a village with an open invitation to anyone who believes as we do.

Joriah: And an “open invitation” to the spirits?

Lucian: Yes, and that too. Before your arrival tonight, we had very few ways to commune with those we’ve lost.

throngSensing an opportunity to garner public support, Rina raised her hands to gather everyone’s attention.

Rina: I will allow each of you to tell me one sentence to pass along to your loved ones on the other side.

The reaction was instantaneous; if Rina had been physical, she might have been crushed under the wave of people that immediately rushed her. There were only thirty-five or so people in the room, but no one wanted to give up on their chance of finally contacting their lost friends and family. Joriah offered to help, and Lucian aided by arranging his congregation into two orderly (if eager) queues.

While those matters were addressed, Tacitus conversed with Lucian. Having become more and more convinced that the technology here was somehow related to the mechanical monstrosity, he requested that Lucian turn off the machinery in the building. Lucian was confused when Joriah explained that spirits were drawn more to reflections than tech. Still, he switched off each machine one-by-one. (It was impossible to tell if they’d been effective. There were no portals to the spirit realm before Lucian did so, and there were none after.)

The RitualWith the emphasis on only one sentence from each person, Joriah and Rina were able to collect messages in about twenty minutes. Afterwards, the spirits decided to ask Lucian for a quick run-down of the different buildings around the village square. Lucian began with the buildings to the east of the compound. As the spirits had guessed, a fishery was based there, with workers hauling catch from both right there and the surroundings waters. (Rina grimaced at the thought; she had seen first-hand what was dumped into the water from toilets and overflow from the city.)

The buildings were not home to only businesses, however. Second and third-story levels often held small rooms used for housing. A well-known member of the community who lived in this way was Ivellios, an older elf who made his habitat on the top of the northern structure. Lucian did not mention much about him, except that he was reclusive but respected, and that he followed his own private rituals, separate from the Open Invitation. Apparently, he had had his own form of success as well.

Finally, above the “Stuffed to the Gills” pawn shop to the west, there were two floors owned by an apothecary named Marcellus.

apothecary

As the name “Marcellus” left Lucian’s lips, the atmosphere in the meeting room changed noticeably. Several of the cult members turned and flashed a seething glare in Lucian’s direction; others made sure to look nowhere in particular, with thin lips pressed tightly together.

Tacitus: …and who is Marcellus?

Lucian: (folding his hands together) Marcellus is another…member of our community. We all seek for truth and hope in our own ways, and Marcellus…seeks it in his. He is known to offer a form of comfort to those to come to him–

Tacitus: You mean he’s a drug dealer.

Lucian: (grimacing at the bluntness) Some would say so, yes. We are all looking for a peace to our pain, Master Joriah. He has his own way; we have ours.

shamus

Shamus

Coincidentally, the door to the common room burst open just then, and a familiar face poked itself in. 

“Yo! Did you guys hear about Francis? He got some new drug or something from Marcellus and went into a s***ter and just exploded–“

At this, the man finally seemed to realize what was occurring within the meeting room.

“Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t know you all were…busy.”

Recognizing him as the unlucky man who’d opened the outhouse door, the four spirits quickly invited him in. So far, this man seemed their best lead into what had happened in the commode.

Voice in the crowd: Francis? He’s dead? I knew he wasn’t with us today, but I had no idea–

Ikkath: Is Francis the guy we saw all blown up and s***?

Shamus: Yeah, man, he was like…everywhere. You know, that’s just not something…not something I need to see right now. I got my boss at work breathing down my neck cause we’re not catching enough fishies…I mean, they’re just fishies, they never hurt anyone, you know? Why’s he got to be all up in their business…

Joriah: (interrupting) And what happened to Francis?

Shamus: Oh, well, you know, he just needed some space, you know we all do. So he says to me, “Shamus, I got this new stuff from my man Marcellus, I’m gonna go hit it up in the outhouse, I’ll be back later.” And, you know, I said okay, I didn’t think much of it, and next thing I know he’s telling me he’s stuck in the outhouse and when I open it he’s all over the walls and I’m like dude, how did you even open the door–

Joriah: Oh, that was us.

Shamus: That was you all over the walls?

Joriah: No, that was us pretending to be Francis when he was dead.

kuits-advises-ironveld-plc-on-mercury-recycling-limited-sale-artShamus: (puzzled, vacant stare)

Joriah: Er, it seemed like a funny idea at the time.

Rina: (also quickly interjecting) Could you tell us more about this new drug that Francis got from Marcellus? What did it look like?

Shamus: Well, man, it was like nothing I’d seen before. It was all shiny like metal but it moved like water and when it held it up, it moved back and forth like this and that and this and that–

Tacitus: Like “quicksilver”?

Shamus: Yeah, that exactly! Or, that sounds right, anyway.

After brief discussion, the adventurers agreed a visit to Marcellus was in short order. Lucian was not averse to a trip to the apothecary, as he seemed to hold the four spirits and their opinions in high regard. And as long as the spirits were present, the rest of the crowd certainly would be as well. In fact, the heroes requested that no word of their existence be spread just yet, despite Lucian’s beliefs that anyone living there would be comfortable with ghosts.

exhale smokeBefore the group of them turned to leave, however, Tacitus approached Shamus.

Tacitus: Could you…smoke me?

Shamus: I dunno, dude…the last guy that asked me that–

Tacitus: No, no, I mean…could you try actually inhaling me into your lungs?

Despite initial misgivings, Shamus humored Tacitus. As it turns out, the width of a person’s nostrils are roughly equivalent to that of a keyhole, and Tacitus felt his arm actually drawn into something he could only describe as a “wet, confined space.” Shamus eventually coughed Tacitus’s arm out again.

Shamus: I dunno, man, that’s just not…my thing. I mean, it was okay and all, but it just wasn’t…my thing, you know?

Tacitus nodded. He had felt some tingling on the edge of his senses, but nothing more. Whatever process was needed to physically possess someone would need more time and research to discover.

 


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

New:
NPC Roster
Malevolence
Retraining Your Skills and Feats

Updated:
Meet Our Adventurers!

 

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