Friday, April 29, 2011

Zarkov Chapter 4

This entry in Zarkov’s adventures is from another of the introductory modules, Edge of Darkness. In our campaign, we continued from this into original material, and it proved a fantastic springboard for doing so. Enjoy now the second tale of Inquisitor Jonas’ Acolytes.

The briefing had begun to drag, and I leaned back in my chair as the medicae-interrogator’s voice droned on. My mind wandered from the lab and the lights, and the body on the cold metal slab.

Our journey out from Sepheris Secundus had been an absolute ordeal; it began with a week long session of debriefings, mind scans, and medicae probing to be certain we had truly come through the Shatters unscathed. We all passed, our hearts and bodies still pure and free of taint, even after exposure to what Inquisitor Jonas called a “warp stone”.

Now we found ourselves on the big gray marble known as Scintilla, the seat of government for the entire Calixis Sector. Hive Sibellus, Scintilla’s largest city, sprawls some eight thousand kilometers in width, hugging the coastline as it reaches some five kilometers into the sky at points. It’s one of the largest hive cities you will see in the sector, with billions of people toiling at any hour on the clock. It was here we had been sent.

We were in a high hive spire, sitting with a Senior Medicae-Interrogator as we received our mission brief. The medicae stood over the body of one Saul Arbest, who lay there with his insides open to the harsh lights. The medicae wore blue robes, and was attended by three servo-skulls. His shaved head gleamed, reflecting the bright lights of the lab. His white gloves sported various fluids as he gestured with them.

“This is what did him in”, the medicae continued, holding up a milky-white organ that obviously wasn’t a normal part of someone’s guts. “Judging by the damage to his vocal chords, he was not anesthetized for its introduction. Note how it lay against the spine, and the tendrils it inserted into the nervous system.” He pointed out the slimy tentacles with a wooden pointer.

I watched Venus as her face turned pale, and lay a hand on her shoulder to reassure her. She smiled thinly in thanks.

“So its function is control or influence”, stated Ignace.

“Just so.” The bald head bobbed once, a reward for an attentive student. “And more than that, it is heresy, at best. At worst, it is xenos in nature. This we have not ascertained.”

“So he was a heretic?” Barick asked. He leaned forward slightly as he asked, his black Arbites armor refusing to reflect the light.

The medicae-interrogator answered as if giving a lecture. “We do not know. He was a worker until some sixty days ago, when he was released from his indenture. As many have been in the Coscarla segment. The place is, in a word, run down. He has no prior arrest record, and was reported missing thirty-two days ago by his sister, Lili. She remains, to the best of our knowledge, in the same habstack she shared with her brother.”

“What’s our method”, I asked. I was still reclined in the chair, hands behind my head.

“This”, the interrogator responded, “is to be a shadow work. As you shall be seeking secrets in the lower hive, you shall have a cover identity that brings rather less attention than blazing guns and a Rosette of the Holy Ordos.” His lips twitched into a passable smile.

Sila ran a hand through her blonde hair absently. “So what are our objectives?”

The medicae placed the organ back on the slab, and walked to us, ticking off each objective on his fingers as he listed them. “First, find our heretic. We need to locate the source of this abomination. Second, retrieve samples if you can. Lastly, if possible, apprehend. If you find threads of a larger tapestry, then you are to report and await further instruction.”

“Let’s get to it, then” I said.

We were led to the next room, where some supplies had been set aside for us. Ignace took up an auspex, which we were told had been calibrated to detect the tissues of the organ. We were also given bulky overcoats and IDs that matched our cover as hammers for the Coblast Assay, along with a small stipend of throne gelt to use for bribes, payoffs, and the like. We gathered our gear, and set off for the Coscarla Segment an hour later.

Our ride downhive was only a few hours, as the rail system ran straight into the Coscarla. Once a busy manufacturing area, the Coscarla had fallen on hard times indeed when their house lord had fallen out of favor. Contracts had dried up, a set of riots and fires had occurred, and now the Segment was scraping by, trying to stave off complete failure like a grox beset by pack-hounds. It knows it doesn’t have many steps left before it goes down, but stubbornly, it takes the next one.

The rail station at Coscarla was filthy, dregs of humanity wandering like rats in a maze to and fro, each with their faces down as they trundled along at a hurried gait. It was a scene I’d walked through before, as war starts to approach a folk, and fear begins to rise. Something had these people spooked, and it hit us like the wave of stink from burned habs and unwashed bodies.

There is only one hostel in the Coscarla Segment, so we made our way there straight away. Barick took care of getting us rooms, and we hauled our gear up the stairs to get settled in. I tend to pack light, and only had a single duffel to wrestle with. I helped Venus with her gear, then went to my room.

For a downhive hostel, the place wasn’t bad. The room was relatively clean, the bed acceptable, and each room had its own lavatory, which can be a luxury. The place even had data feeds, a reflection of a time only a few short years ago when this had been a more prominent Segment.

I opened the closet, stowing spare clothes and racking both my lasgun and shotgun above the door, after driving a set of hooks into the inside of the front wall. It’s my experience that people don’t walk into a small closet, and they never look straight up, always at the back. It’s an old trick, but one that leaves my weapons ready and relatively safe from discovery at the same time. You just have to be sure to clean up the dust from putting in the hooks. People always look at the floor.

I’d brought all my hardware for this mission. In addition to my normal arms, I had my laspistol in its holster on my hip, and places on my harness for a short monosword and the big revolver I’d picked up at the Shatters. I left the harness and my flak armour in the duffel for now.

A soft knock on the door interrupted me, and I opened it with a hand on the butt of my pistol. Sila’s pretty face greeted me.

“Ignace and I are going to start records searches, if you need us we’ll be in room 3”, she said.

“Chase it down, girl”, I replied. Between them, they could probably find any information we needed, provided there had ever been a record of it. For the rest, there was good old leg work.

“Barick and Venus are going to the Union Hall to begin their snooping”, she said. She almost managed to hide the note of disapproval in her voice. I smiled in response. “They wanted you for backup.”

“Tell them I’ll meet them there”, I replied. “I’d rather we not all show up as a group.” With that, I shrugged on the big black overcoat with the subdued Coblast logo on one sleeve, and headed out the door. I gave a friendly wink to Sila on my way by, and stepped into the hallway.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Lum, Chap 4

We rise in the first light of the day. Ivy glares at Kouki, a hatred in her eyes for the priest evident. I do not know what has passed between them, but it cannot be good.

Relowen and I are introduced to Zem, another of Eldrin’s men. He is a shaman, and carries himself with the same surety that Revikh does. As he eats, he wastes no movement, wastes no words. These are elders of a sort, and Eldrin their chieftain.

I wonder, for a time, at the power these men wield. They are shepherds, we are their sheep. I think on this. How many sheep wear pieces of crystal? We have met three more thus far, and both of these men, Revikh and Zem, have this “divinite” with them as well. There is some larger thing I am now a part of, some machine like those of the gnomes, and I am surprised to find I am but one of the gears.

My thoughts are interrupted as Revikh tells us he will depart for a time, taking Kouki, Yumi, and Chiyo with him for some “test.” I wonder if he will watch them fight trolls.

There is a flash as they teleport away, and the rest of us ride on.

I look to Drakha, seeing the half elf’s new scales. She has become closer to the dragons, I can see. Relowen speaks to her.

“Thanks for the rescue. I certainly think you’ve proven yourself in my eyes.”

I am angered, and I speak. “You should work to prove yourself in her eyes, elf.”

“Fair enough”, he says.

We travel on, the road long. We speak amongst ourselves, discussing the battle with the vampires. We have not yet spoken much of our selves, our histories. They likely have little meaning in the riddle.

I cannot ignore the hatred I saw in Ivy’s eyes, and so I walk beside her. I look at her, so young, so small.

“You look to the priest with hate in your eyes, Ivy. Why is this so?”

She looks at me as if I have grown an extra head. “He is the reason for every bad thing in my life. He’s why my parents are gone!”

This makes no sense to me, but I am not smart. I nod once, to let her know I have heard her. But I am silent for a time as I think on what she has said. It comes to me, then, that what she says cannot be so, unless the priest hurled the great rock into the city and commanded dragons. As I know this to be Shayan’s work, I know that it is not the priest’s work.

“But, Ivy”, I begin. “That cannot be!” Drakha catches my eye then, and shakes her head. They have had this conversation already. Drakha tells me that this is a side effect of the torture Ivy and Kouki endured when they were captured, while Relowen and I were in the vampire’s keep.


The Speaker once told me that a small thing may lead to something large, a pebble makes a wave that reaches all edges of a pond. So it was this day, as we met a young lady on the road. Her clothes wore the dirt of the fields, and she looked distressed to us. We greet her.

“Are you all right?” Drakha asks.

The lady nearly cries, telling us that her escort has become lost to her. “He has gone to ask questions of a druid he knows, and has not returned. We were headed for Sumter to see my parents.” The words spill out of her, like a cup tipped over.

“Do you know where this druid is?” Relowen asks her.

“No”, she replies. “He said he would return in two hours, though. So it must be close.”

Ivy looks around at us. “Well, go with us, I guess.”

Relowen offers his hand to the lady. “Ride my horse, I am light. It will be no burden.”

“Truly”, I say. “His horse doesn’t know it’s being ridden.” She favors me with a grin.

We ride on, and arrive at her village of Sumter. She offers us silver, but we decline, even Ivy. We need no reward. Zem, the shaman, nods his head in approval.

We go to the village’s inn, and Zem takes his leave from us to meditate. He tells us that there is a wrongness about the place, and he must look within for an answer. Relowen leaves us as well, to speak with others in the town. I order ale and dinner, sitting with Ivy and Drakha.

It is not long before Relowen returns to us, telling us he thinks the druid has gone missing, and that the area has an odd feel to him as well. A ranger and a shaman both, then. I loosen my axe a bit in the straps on my pack.

“We should check on this druid.” Relowen says, a pleading in his eyes. I look to Drakha, and she assures him that we will, when morning’s light shines. It is then that Zem descends the stair, a serious look upon his face. He pulls a chair to our table, and waves the serving wench over.

“Something is very wrong here. Be ready for a fight. One hangs near us like a spring storm.” Zem looks at each of us in turn, perhaps judging our readiness. I meet his gaze with hard eyes, I am no stranger to a fight.

As we talk and plan, the night settles in. In time, we each seek rest.


Dawn breaks to the sound of screams in the road. Relowen and I have slept in the common room, and we burst through the door quickly. On the road, we see what seem to be humanoid plants, and Zem facing them in the road, calling down lightning. Some villagers lie broken in the road, dead. Relowen and I share a glance, we are not sure how the shaman made it past us without our waking.

The plants are many. We charge, and I cut one down with my axe; it is a plant-mantis-needled thing that bleeds sap as I hack it in two. Drakha joins the fight moments later, and her fiery breath is deadly indeed, making one a pyre in the street.

I dodge and weave, twisting to avoid needled branches. I do not call the rage, nor do I call the beast within. These are not a challenge for us, but a morning exercise. I cut another down, clearing some space for Zem to work his magicks. We water the plants with a rain of strikes, arrows, and lightning, and finish them in short time.

I turn to see Ivy trotting up to us. “I couldn’t get my boots on”, she says in a huff.

“I will guard the dead villagers until they are taken to their final resting place”, Relowen says. I look at him for a time.

“You do that”, I say. “I will have breakfast.”

I leave Relowen and Zem to examine the plant creatures, and return to the inn to fill my stomach for the long day ahead. Ivy joins me, as does Drakha. Eventually, Zem and Relowen do as well.

Relowen tells us the basis of the creatures are natural, but have been twisted. He says that he will track them. I speak, a tone of humor in my voice.

“You are going to track plants through a forest? You will have my respect elf.”

We do not wait long, and set out quickly. Between the two of us, Relowen and I manage to find a trail, following dropped needles and bruised undergrowth. It is perhaps only an hour before we notice another plant creature in the path.

“Is this what we fought?” Ivy asks. I make an after-you flourish and say to her “Be my guest.” Relowen kills it with a single arrow, and before Ivy and I can glare at him, we realize that there are many now, and they have ambushed us quite well. Ivy destroys one with a line of power, and I charge into another, rending it into mulch.


I see three standing together, and hold my arms wide. “Come feel the bite of my axe!” I scream to them, and they oblige, rushing me. I focus on them, dodging their strikes and cutting when I can.

Behind me, I hear Drakha’s fiery breath, and Ivy yelp in surprise. One of my foes is shattered by lightning, and I take advantage of the opening to cut another down. A purple bolt of power strikes the last, and I finish it with a quick backhand.

I turn back to the group, a wide grin on my face. I see plant bodies lying about, like new-mown hay. We are fast becoming like a hunting party, able to work together well.

Relowen and I look to the spoor, and realize that there is no way to discern a path, there are needles all about. We decide to continue in the same direction for a time, leaving marks here to return to and strike new direction if needed.

We are only minutes away from the battle site when I stop. My nose tells me that there is rotten meat nearby. I have not stopped quickly enough, though, as the ground trembles and a great plant rises above us, a massive maw and long vines ready to assault us. There is no meat, it is a hunting plant. I smile. This will be a true fight!

I begin to advance, wary of it. My axe is ready. I am not as ready; it moves with the speed of lightning, and the vines grab me before I can move. Such speed! I struggle against the vines, but still the plant holds me. The others strike it, yet still it holds me.

The maw of the thing looms large, and I surge against it with all my strength, but it is for naught. Suddenly, I can no longer feel my limbs. It has used some sort of venom on me, and I can only watch as the world becomes dark and disgustingly wet as the great maw closes around me.

I can only guess at how long I am in the darkness, how close I come to drawing my last breath. Suddenly, there is light, and Drakha pulls me from my slimy prison. She touches me, her hands aglow, and suddenly I can move and feel.

“It will be many days before I eat a salad”, I say. The others laugh, and I join them with a grin as I roll in the dust to remove what acid remains on my clothing and skin. Relowen makes some joke about a dog, and Drakha smacks the back of his head.


We search from that point out, and hours later come to a clearing. Within this clearing, there is a shrine, and a body lays upon it, likely the druid. Relowen runs blindly into the clearing, foolishly. The largest, most vile plant I’ve ever seen rises above us, breaking earth and ripping trees in its fury to punish us for our trespass.

I call the beast to me, and the rage takes me as well. Ivy leads my charge with a bolt of power, but it is not affected in the slightest. One great vine swats at me as if I were a bug, and it is the hardest I have ever been hit before. I feel ribs snap and I stagger, punch drunk. It hits me a second time, and I see stars in the middle of the day.

I scream out in pain and rage, calling out to my ancestors, and I crash my axe into the body of the beast with all of my might, and perhaps some of theirs as well. I am dimly aware of the battle around me, of magicks striking the thing, but all I can be sure of is my axe as I drive it again into the thing. Suddenly, it falls to the ground, though I cannot be sure what has finished it. The forest spins around me, and suddenly the canopy above me fills my vision. I am on my back, fighting to draw breath.

Zem and Drakha work for a time over me, and I feel the warmth of their power flowing into me. I think that Relowen may have buried the druid. Zem tells us that we had found the root of the evil here; that the wind already blew cleaner. I am glad of this, as my body needs rest. We make our weary way back to the village, and share the news with the people there.

This night, I will sleep long and hard, and trust to the others to wake me if I am needed. I am sore, and need the rest. It will be a long path to Wroat.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Lum, Chap 3

A flash awakens me in the night. I roll to my feet, morningstar in hand, ready to do battle. I need not have bothered, as I see Revikh standing before us. His eyes are dark in the firelight; he looks as if he has not slept since we met. Standing with him are a priest, a monk, and a small girl in dark clothes…a rogue, perhaps?

My mind is slow this night, and we talk little. Introductions, names, not much else are shared. Revikh points out that they are like us, and asks us…nearly begs us…to travel together. We do not waste many words when we realize that they also bear the riddle of crystal. We travel, to Wroat.

We split up when we reach the town, and Relowen joins me to talk amongst the warriors and such in taverns, seeking news. We hear of strange things, gnolls perhaps, in the forest nearby. We travel, the seven of us, to seek and learn. We should have waited to the next morning.

We do, in fact, find gnolls. And we wage war with them. But something, some swift and terrible thing, some winged thing takes Ivy. Away, into the night. I run after her, and the priest flies with magicks, and Relowen runs with me. It is not long before we lose sight of her, but we run on, hoping to catch up with the wings in the darkness. It is not the wisest choice this warrior has ever made, but the Rage clouds my mind, and I wish only to crush whatever has taken one of my companions.

We run long into the night, until we must rest. My eyes must have closed for a time, as I am awakened by something moving closeby. I stand, ready to fight, the ivory Morningstar in my hand. I see the deathly pale visages of our foes, 8 by my count. They are wan, thin, but powerful. They smile to reveal fangs. I smile to answer them, and call the Beast within.

The vampires begin to slash at us, their claws cutting deep furrows into the flesh of my arms. I crush, I smash, and realize that I have put down two of them, and left more aflame by the magick of my weapon. I hear a cry, and look to my right to see Relowen fall under the weight of his foes, but I am too hard pressed to help him. I double my efforts, fighting as hard as I ever have, beyond pain, beyond reason. But they are many, as are my wounds. I smash another, but feel a dull impact on the side of my head.

All goes dark, and I feel as light as air for a moment. Then I know nothing more.

I do not know how much time has gone by when my eyes open. I can tell it has been long, as my throat and lips are dry. I feel weak, drained. My wounds are bandaged, but not otherwise treated. I am in pain.

I look over at Relowen, seeing that he is chained to the wall, as am I. He looks worse than I feel, his hair plastered to his head by dried blood, his face bruised. I twist against the wall and feel a sharp prick in my thigh…I look down to see the crystal knife, my riddle, sitting at my hip as if it were sheathed there…but the sheath, the belt, is gone. Its magick holds it there, another question in the riddle.

“Elf” I say.

“Mmmmf” he replies. He raises his head, opens his eyes, slowly.

“Are you alright?”

“Not even remotely”, he says.

I tug at the chains, and Relowen notices. “What are you doing?” he asks.

I glare at him, the answer obvious. He pulls at his chains, but has no more success than I. My heart catches in my throat then, my eyes wide, as I feel the crystal pulse, sending a wave of power into me.

“What is wrong?” Relowen asks, worry on his face. I answer him by ripping the chains apart, lengths still dangling from my wrists. I then break Relowen free, pulling his chains asunder as if they were made of sticks.

I feel stronger than I ever have, and for me, that is saying something. I grasp the door of our cell, and give a mighty heave. It resists me for only a moment, and I toss it against the wall of our cell. Relowen raises an eyebrow, but I have no answers. I merely pat the dagger at my hip, and motion to the hallway. Relowen leads on, and we travel the dark hallway to a staircase.

Another pulse swells within me, and I kick the door asunder. We are met by two vampires, and I call the Beast. My fingernails become claws, wicked and sharp. I long for vengeance against my captors, and I move to attack the nearest vampire. I leave a deep set of furrows across its throat, but it staggers away from my next strike.

Before I can close the distance, the door across the room comes crashing in, and two lines of black power envelop the vampires we face. They become man-sized clouds of ash, and I am shocked to find Revikh standing before us, bleeding from a dozen wounds.

He twists the gem on one of his rings, then touches himself, and I watch his wounds close. He repeats this with Relowen and I, and my thirst dissipates as my body is healed by powerful magicks. It is painful at first, then strangely soothing. We gather our captured gear, and prepare to attempt our escape.

“Revikh.” I say. He looks to me. I say nothing more, extending my hand to him. He grasps it.

“Thank you for acting with honor.” He nods, and then I feel magicks stir again. We suddenly stand in the great hall of a keep, which I guess is the same building we have been kept in.

A rich, deep voice speaks from behind us. “Leaving so soon?”

“Your hospitality is less than perfect” I reply. I turn slowly to see a vampire in regal robes, with perhaps 20 of his underlings nearby. This is not going to go well, and my hand grips the handle of my morningstar. If I am to die, I will make my death a good one.

“How long have you continued to live?” I ask.

“That is a rude question” he replies. I begin to reply, stalling for time, but Relowen interrupts.

“What are you, a woman?” The elf grins at his quip, but he has tipped the vampire too far. It raises one hand, and signals its minions to attack.

I will not die here, now. I am filled with rage, as the vampires charge Relowen and I. Revikh disappears, then reappears near the Vampire King, and they strike at each other with powerful magicks. As I stand ground, and begin to swat vampire claws away from me, I hear the great keep door being blasted by something powerful. This day is not the best day, but it may be the last day of my song.

The door falls, and I am ready for the worst. But surprise is mine, as it is Drakha and our companions who have broken the great keep door! The priest, Kouki, moves into the room and calls upon his god to turn undead. I see smoke rise from some of the vampires, but their king is unaffected, and moves with amazing quickness to strike the priest down. He falls like a puppet with its strings cut.

Revikh intercepts the vampire king, and they are hidden from view by the powers of their magicks as they strike at each other furiously. I watch for a moment as the monk grabs Kouki, pulling him away. He appears to be dead. I crush another vampire in front of me, ending its unnatural life, and spin to strike the one behind me.

It sidesteps my strike, and tears into my arm. I feel the pain, and I am driven to strike harder in my rage. Kouki and the monk return to the fight, surprising me. I would have sworn the priest’s death song had come. Relowen flees to the other side of the room, leaving me pinned on the wrong side of a wall of vampires. I will have words with him if I survive, and let him know he is a girl.

Drakha shouts to me to help Revikh, and I see that the vampire king has dragged him nearly out of the room. I cannot move to him, though, as 2 vampires are busy tearing into my flesh. Suddenly, Kouki is beside me. I hear Revikh scream, and this frightens me more than any vampire can. Whatever can make a power like his scream, is nothing I want to experience. I smash one of the vampires into oblivion, and Ivy casts her deathly magicks at the king.

The world goes dark, and I feel myself fall, the weight of my wounds pulling me down into darkness. I feel a light in that darkness, spreading within me. It washes away my pain, and I can rise again. My rage has left me, but Kouki’s touch has healed the worst of my wounds. I waste no time, unleashing all my hate in a vicious backhand, smashing the last vampire that had hurt me, crushing its head between morning star and bricks. I leave its black blood splattered on the wall like a halo.

Revikh and a man I do not know fight the vampire king, and I move to join as well, though it may cost my life. My strikes bounce off the vampire, and it ignores me as a seal ignores the cold. I can do no more than distract it, but I do so with all my might. A thousand thousand biting flies may bring down an aurochs.

The next minute goes by me in a blur of flame and magick, as we fight to bring the vampire low. Just when I allow myself to hope we will defeat it, it disappears and a flock of bats is there, flying away from us, mocking us in its retreat. The keep begins to quake and rumble, and we have only time for shocked and frightened glances at each other as we all sprint to escape, dodging falling stone and erupting flame. Rather than die with honor, this evil creature sacrifices its home in a final attempt to destroy us as it flees into the night in a hundred directions.

We escape, but only just. Some of us are wounded terribly, and healing magicks are cast. It has been a horrible day, but we all still draw breath, while most of our foes do not…and that makes the day good in my eyes.