5/7/1472 – 20:30 – Twelve days have passed since the battle in the marsh, and the party have moved steadily southwards, the terrain changing from marsh to domed, bamboo forested hills, and then to rocky, windswept grasslands. During this journey they have witnessed many strange and at times dangerous phenomena, as reality continues to writhe and shift in its torments. Strange vistas have opened before them, as often as not, vanishing in time. Alien entities, both beautiful and monstrous have manifested without warning, and even such fundamental things as light, gravity and distance have, at times, become warped and unreliable.
At night, they have taken to seeking the shelter of a cave, or if none can be found, a shallow ditch, in order to avoid the deadly strikes of falling moonstone that often come; blasting craters in the ground, and turning immediately to mist any living thing they hit. They have also learned that these impacts regularly spawn chaotic displays of unleashed magic, which as often as not are as deadly as the strike itself.
However, they have made good progress, and on this balmy evening, find themselves looking across a strange field – the bedrock in regular places having torn free of the ground, and taken to floating, gently turning, between 5' and 20' above the ground – staring at a thin line of glittering golden lights on the near horizon.
“Looks like a town.” Murmurs Jaeger. “I could go for some proper food, and a warm bath right now.”
“Fooooood.” Whispers Grigori, his voice a hollow whisper, his eyes particularly large and bright.
Everyone shifts a little uncomfortably, for whilst they have eaten fairly well during their journey, the assassin proving a knowledgeable wildsman, able to secure fresh meat and edible roots even in these foreign climes, he has not been able to give the two undead the one thing they need to sate their appetites – blood. They have sucked the blood from several large mammals, but have both complained that the soulless broth has lacked the certain essence needed to stop the gnawing hunger in their bellies, and the shivering ache in their bones. Worse, their bodies have begun to show increasing signs of their true, predatory nature. Grigori is particularly pale and gaunt, his eyes shining day and night with a bloody light, his eye-teeth extended as often as not. Shnecke has the colour of a drained corpse, his own features shrunken and gaunt. His eyes burn with a fevered, rotting light, and like the priest, he seems to struggle to keep his dagger-like fangs sheathed. Both have started to smell of madness and death, and Lia in particular has kept an eye on them, liking not the way they stare whenever anyone (save the assassin) cranes their neck in such as way as to make veins bulge.
“Okay, so let's push on a bit longer than normal, and make our way there. We're going to need a plan though if we are going to get in without any trouble.”
21:10 – 21:35 – The group arrive at the edge of a large camp that sprawls from the walls of the town (though it seems that many sections of the walls have been built from bedrock, and are now missing, floating mockingly above). The main bulk of those living In the camp seem to be ordinary folks, each accompanied by wagons or bags filled with their earthly possessions.
Whilst Grigori and Shnecke stay back in the darkness, the rest of the group move towards the flickering light of the camp, pulling their hoods up to hide their Yissen features. As they approach, they suddenly find themselves stomping on a hideous mass of fat, slime covered slugs, the ground literally heaving with the vile things.
“What the..?” Spits Varracuda, his disgust plain to see.
“By the gods, these things are every damn where.” replies the warlock.
“This isn't natural.” muses the assassin, lifting his boot up, and frowning at the mushed up invertebrates that slime there.
The group move on, and as the details of the camp become clearer, they can see that the slugs are absolutely everywhere; coiling in sticky, slimy masses in the shadows, hanging in sickening, writhing ropes from some surfaces. The people seem to consider them merely a nuisance; scraping them up from their tents sides and throwing them onto their fires, but the group are less accepting.
Moving as naturally as they can, the group heads towards the shattered walls of the town, spotting at once that there are three armed and armoured men guarding the nearest gap. Reaching them, they try to move past, but find themselves looking at the sharp end of three polearms.
*in tradespeak* “You cannot enter Wu Shang! Turn around refugee! Turn around now!”
The group are about to argue when shouting from behind them, back in the camp catches their attention...
* * *
...Meanwhile, out in the darkness, the two undead pace like caged tigers, their hunger almost drowning out their resolve. To them, the smells and sounds of the camp are those of a meal being served, and their empty, hungering shells ache to be able to run amongst the people, to rip, tear and drink of their warmth. Then they hear the distant sounds of angry shouting, and screams of pain, and unable to hold back their curiosity, the two begin to lope towards the source of the sound, stomach's lurching with hunger, an animal mewling escaping their mouths.
In the camp, everyone's attention is focused on something taking place near the walls, and at once the two know their allies are the source of the commotion. They lope towards the scene, their hunger growing with every step, their features twisting into a bestial expression of it. People are running away from the epicentre of the disturbance, their faces alive with terror. Pushing past them, the pair find a scene of carnage.
Five Kai'Yassanians lie dead, each punctured by a cluster of smoking, shadowy bolts. Three still stand; one a grizzled warrior dressed in leather armour and bearing a finely crafted Jian, the other two wearing white silk kimonos and wielding daggers. All of the men wear white headbands, which bear the same line of text, which Varracuda – who, along with the rest of the group stands in the middle of the massacre, untouched – knows says “ Wai Ninja'Gau”, White Soul Gang. Blood covers everything, thickly jetting from the bodies of the slain, and pouring from several bolts embedded in the armoured warrior. To the undead, the air is thick with its intoxicating, coppery tang, and it unleashes the coiled monster inside them, their hunger erupting in a terrible, unstoppable frenzy.
One of the men is literally torn apart by Shnecke as he tries to run from the massacre. The barbarian, faster than the eye grabbing him by the throat and lifting him off his feet. The warrior, his face turning blue, kicks and tries to claw free from the undead Ulnyrr's ferocious grip, but stops when Shnecke grabs hold of his arm, and with casual strength, tugs it free from his body in a burst of gore, holding the sputtering, fat dripping stump to his mouth, and noisily drinking the gore that bursts forth.
The other kimono wearing man manages to escape as the rest of the party fall upon the sword wielder – the dhampir ending his life with a savage bite to the carotid artery that removes almost all the muscle and tissue on the left side of his neck, before clamping his mouth over the torn vessel and drinking deeply of his ebbing lifeblood.
For what seems to be an eternity the entire party – and indeed, the horror struck guards – simply stare at the two feeding monsters, unable to move. The other people in the camp are reduced to blurry, muffled, slow motion in the background, the two undead seeming to shine with an unholy light as the observers brains focus on the most immediate source of danger...
...And then the spell is broken. Shnecke drops the drained corpse to the ground, and Grigori pulls free, his face crimson with gore.
“W-we need to get out of here now!” Hisses Jaeger as the guards begin to run into the town, screaming for backup. Everyone agrees, though Varracuda seems dazed with horror, his angular features dark, highlighted by small sparks of lightning.
2136 – 03:00 (6/7/1472) – After several hours of headlong flight from the town, the group find a natural defile and stop to rest. Anger and disbelief mingle with extreme weariness, and no one speaks in the atmosphere of quiet rage.
One thing they soon notice from their hiding place, is the distant glittering of lights to the south – another town, possibly, the port they have been looking for.
08:40 – 08:45 - The party, having slept a little, and taken a some food, arrive at the impressive northern gate of Wu Gung; a port town torn literally in half by the sundering, as its northern most districts followed the bulk of the land into the skies, leaving the southern districts and port districts behind at ground level. They pass easily through the gates, and are soon walking along the crowded, orderly streets towards the port, unaware at this time that the actual port lies far below their current level.
The group manage to pass by unchallenged until they reach the southern most edge of the town. Here they find that the buildings have mostly collapsed; the rubble piled high, smoke still rising from the fires that started almost a month ago when the land shattered. Hundreds of men labour here, apparently working to gather materials for some epic construction being erected along the middle of the new “port”; hanging over the sheer drop that yawns beyond the cracked and splintered streets, 300' of misty open air hanging dark with the lands shadow beyond, the rest of the town a crescent of glittering lights far below. Beyond the lower town, a huge greenish ocean stretches away – the Nawa'Sikei or “Mother Ocean” - its emerald waters almost hidden by low-hanging clouds and flocks of wheeling white birds.
As well as the men on the ground, there are about twenty or so skyships – ranging from hulking spelljammers to smaller, artifice engined craft – flying about, many of which disgorge clouds of black smoke or glittering arcane gasses as they work. These it seems are being used to haul materials, or to hold men as they work on the hanging portions of the nascent structure.
“Our way off this rock and back home.” Notes Grigori staring at them. “I'm sure we can find someone who's greed outstrips their desire to help.”
Suddenly, the group spot several angry looking guards, dressed in Ashigaru armour, approaching them, each a waving silver-plumed polearm, and angrily shouting at them in tradespeak that they have no right to be in the “danger zone”. When the group ask what the problem is, they are told “Goblin Spiders. Now go!”
08:46 – 09:30 – The group leave the shattered edge district, and head into the main town. Once there, they spend a little time asking around about the “Goblin Spiders”, and soon learn that the tearing of the land exposed some deep tunnels, within which live malevolent shape-shifting spiders. These monsters have, apparently, been fighting to stop the people of Wu Gung from completing the “Great Sky Bridge” - a massive elevator that will connect the lower town to the upper town.
Seeing an opportunity to help, Varracuda asks if anyone is hiring mercenaries to hunt and eradicate the monsters. “Sure, sure. Find Captain Tosho Ugaroshi. He'll probably take you on.”
The genasai grins, eager to do at least some good whilst in this strange land. The rest of the group grin also, glad to have a way into the shattered area, and hopefully, access to someone who might be able to help them escape.
09:50 – 21:30 – Getting a licence as “monster hunters”, and subsequently, access to the danger zone is surprisingly easy; Tosho proving more than a little desperate to be rid of the Spider Goblin problem. However, both he and Varracuda are soon to be disappointed, as the party instead spend their time watching the comings and goings around the building site of the “Great Sky Bridge”, and chatting to the workers about who is who – and more importantly, who seems to be less than happy with their situation. During this time one name comes up several times, often accompanied by such words as “bastard” “drunk” “unhelpful” and “ass” - Takeshi Akam – Captain of the Moon of Fury, a small skyship junk.
Learning that the captain is fond of drinking sake and bemoaning his fate at an inn called the Drunken Bakemono, the group head there, and await their quarry.
He arrives as dusk is drawing in, the main taproom of the inn already filled with loudly talking and laughing men and women from the construction site. As he arrives, the group notice the ripple of disapproval that sweeps through the gathered people; eyes hastily moving away so as to avoid his gaze, conversation briefly lowering to an angry whisper. Apparently oblivious to the general negativity of those around him, Takeshi, a squat, rotund man with narrow eyes, thinning black hair, several impressive facial moles, and a down turned, angry mouth, shoves his way to the bar, and orders six cups of warmed sake.
Grigori allows the captain to finish half his cups (which he does in mere moments), before he moves over to address him with an offer.
“Excuse me sir, Takeshi is it?”
The captain turns to glare at the priest out of the corner of his eye, his fourth cup raised halfway to his lips.
*Tradespeak* “Piss off, I'm drinking.”
Bristling inside, the dhampyr fights down the urge to rip the sweaty little man's throat out, and instead nods his head, and continues.
“My friends and I are looking for passage out of Kai'Yassan, and we have heard that you may be open to employment other than that offered by the township.”
Takeshi knocks back his drink, and turns to face Grigori, his eyes widening as he takes in his dishevelled and gaunt form.
“Yissen!” he spits, “I am employed and honour bound to serve, the good people of Wu Gung, and cannot possibly break this contract. If I did, word would spread, and I would...”
Grigori drops a heavy pouch filled with several choice gems onto the bar, open enough to allow the captain a glimpse of the treasures within. Takeshi stops talking, and just stares a moment at the glinting treasures.
“You were saying?” smiles Grigori.
“I was...saying...that I might be open to alternate job opportunities, assuming they paid enough.”
Takeshi's finger's stray towards the open bag, but are pulled rapidly back when the priests slams his hand with blurring speed down upon it.
“Two Thousand Imperial Seals” He snarls.
“Fine,” replies the priest, “though you pay for any fuel, and also cover any losses we sustain whilst passengers on your vessel. You also pay for all food and drink.”
The captain looks at Grigori as if he has just grown a second head.
“Ah, I see now. You're a simpleton.” He snarls, “I'm sorry, I did not realise. I'm afraid I don't have the time or the patience to deal with the likes of you right now, so take your pretty stones and your ridiculous ideas and piss off. I'm drinking now, and don't have time for this stupidity.”
And with that he finishes his final cup of sake, stands up, and spitting at Grigori's feet, moves to another part of the bar.
For a moment red rage coils within the priest, and he has to exert some serious effort to keep his eye-teeth from emerging. However, he swallows it down, and with a curse, returns to the party.
“You really are a fucking idiot Grigori, you know that don't you?” Snarls Jaeger, “Do you appreciate the sheer magnitude of the journey we are asking him to make? Have you actually stopped and thought about the chance of arriving, all spick and span at Irin, with the ship intact?
“Of course he won't do it for such a tiny sum, especially when you take into account the stigma these guys seem to have about breaking their word once given, and the sheer danger that travelling too far in this insane new world involves. Honestly Grigori, try thinking for once.”
No one else speaks, Lia and Varracuda brooding over the darkness that seems to have crept into their company since the bloodbath at the walls of Wu Shang, the priest too angry to do so without losing control of his unholy rage, the barbarian and warlock simply disinterested in the argument.
“I'll approach him tomorrow,” continues the assassin, not caring that Grigori is clearly enraged by his words,”and with any luck, and with the offer of more money, he'll change his mind. Otherwise genius, you can think of another way to cross many thousands of miles in a world being slowly consumed by madness.”
7/7/1472 – 23:00 – The Moon of Fury – slips silently from its berth, its lights off as it tries to avoid being detected. On board, the party are getting to grips with the cramped and furnace like lower decks of the vessel, the assassin having made Takeshi an offer even he couldn't refuse; 4,000 Imperial Seals in fine gems, 1,000 of which is given as a down payment.
Also on board is a young and quite beautiful girl in her early twenties named Akemi Yu. It is quickly apparent that she sees Takeshi as a father, and he sees her a daughter, and it is equally clear that she is strictly off limits to any advances from the party. Sharp eyed, slender as a willow, and possessed of an easygoing, happy demeanour, she is a polar opposite of the grumpy and aggressive captain, her hair long and dark, her eyes the colour of finely polished wood. She greets the party with barely restrained excitement, though even her sunny disposition is dulled somewhat as she regards the pale skinned barbarian, the gaunt, blood-eyed priest and the shadowy, hooded assassin.
“We need to stop at Cran'Aurym”, explains Takeshi to the assassin in a low voice, as he steers the rumbling vessel away from its aerial berth and backs it towards open sky, “to purchase some ingots for the engine.”
Takeshi smiles. “I don't know what they are made of, or where the particular alchemist I get them from obtains them, but they are the only fuel this old girl's engines can use. The current one is close to disintegration, and without a replacement, we aint getting far at all.”
“I see.” muses Jaeger, peering into the night, which is alive with strange, aurora like distortions of purple and pink, “Cran'Aurym, the City of Golden Skulls.”
“Indeed.” replies Takeshi, gently pushing several levers by the helm, “Though it's not as glamorous as it sounds. Trust me on that.”
Above them the skies roil and dance with otherwordly lights, and oddly distorted peals of thunder whisper and sing into the night. Turning northwest, the Moon engages its engines, and with a coughing growl of artifice, and a plume of faintly glittering exhaust, it begins to fly towards the distant and ancient City of Golden Skulls.