It is almost two days before anyone becomes aware that Lia is missing from the SC, and that only happens because of the hair and hourglass. In truth, it is no one’s fault. The needs of the crew (now allowed some shore leave, given the possibility of a long stay at Auran’Dyre), the ship, and the party, mean that folks are coming and going constantly, so nobody worries when the Azraelite is missing for a day or two.
11/8/1472; 11:30 – 11:45: However, late on the morning of the 11th, a strange item arrives at the ship, Caleph bringing it in draped over the end of a long stick. He holds it at arms length, tilting his head away from it, a look of disgust and loathing on his face.
“This...thing...has been left for you sirs.” He mumbles through lips held almost together.
The "thing" – a folded piece of cloth – is dropped onto the floor, and the group crowd round, wondering what it is. Caleph backs off, wringing his hands.
“Be careful my Lords, it could be...”
“Contaminated.” Finished Grigori, noting the design that peeks out from the fold in the material – a skeletal finger.
The cloth (a standard) is opened, and soon the group are looking at a disturbing sigil – a human hand, the left side of which is skeletal, the other side of which is healthy. It is rendered on a field of lurid pink and pale green, and all know it as the standard of the Tattered Brotherhood – one of the six pirate clans that rule the Carrion Port. However, that is not all that is found, for several locks of dark hair – Lia’s hair – are bound in the middle of the design, along with her holy symbol, the hourglass of Azrael; bent and bloodied.
For a moment no one speaks, quietly processing what it could mean. Then Jaeger does, his voice incredulous.
“Are they insane? I mean, do they not know what we are capable of?”
Grigori, his eyes flaring with cold light leans over the standard, only too aware of the gravity of what it means, for the Tattered Brotherhood are contaminated by Leprosy, an illness that for reasons few truly know, is highly resistant to even the most powerful restorative spells and rituals. Indeed, so strong is this resistance, that many believe those afflicted with it to be cursed – not by any single power, but by all powers – and the stigma it carries is almost impossible to convey. Worse, he knows from his studies of disease and other infirmities, that the Brotherhood have somehow “improved” on the natural form, making it more contagious, faster growing and generally harder to cure. This has fuelled many rumours that the Brotherhood are in allegiance with the temple of Sarrax’Thag’Naestra.
“Give me some time, and I shall work a spell over the symbol, that will show me something of what brought it to this place in this state. Give me some room and quiet though, for it can be difficult piercing the mists of time.”
The group leave the room, and allow Grigori to work his ritual, each sensing the potent energies being called up by him, the air trembling with harnessed power as he chants and moans beyond the chamber’s heavy door.
Within Grigori opens his senses up to subtle levels of reality few are able to see, his mind drifting along strands and webs of time, bound to the personal energies of the symbol and all that have come into contact with it. His physical form continues to work the rites needed to allow this state, though he loses all sense of it as he is carried along the temporal currents surrounding the item.
Slowly, through the mists of time, images begin to emerge, telling a grim story...
Lia, walking along a mist shrouded street in Auran’Dyre, Aelnaerys large in the sky. She stops and seems to see something in the shadows of an alley....Next she leans close to a figure, sat on the cold stone floor of the alley, wrapped from head to foot in filthy bandages, their flesh swollen and pale. She’s talking to them, her face a mask of concern...behind her, something misshapen and monstrous looms....Next, she is being dragged down a flight of filthy, worn stone steps in the darkness, her head smashing off every step. Her face is bloodied and brutalised, her weapon missing...The thing dragging her is monstrous beyond description – some kind of flesh golem made from the tumorous limbs and cast offs of lepers; a lumbering mass of disease and madness that has her by her naked foot, and is dragging her down and down, deep into the belly of the world...
Grigori feels hot nausea rush through him, and snaps back to the real world, aware suddenly that his eye-teeth have fully extended, and that his form has shifted to become leaner and more streamlined. He gasps, and yells out for the others, who come tumbling in.
The priest relays the visions to the rest of the group, and at once, a grim question is asked by the assassin.
“Do we go look for Lia, or do we stick around and wait for this portal to open?”
This causes several members of the group to lose their tempers, Varracuda shocked that anyone would even consider leaving Lia, and Shnecke angry that a potential fight or ten is being ignored, especially when a member of the group is at stake. Grigori seems to at least mull the question over before voting to go after the Ardent, whilst Thatari remains oddly silent.
So, with the group deciding that they are going to return Lia, they have to work out how. Shnecke is all for stamping over to the Mouldering Hold (the Brotherhood’s stronghold), kicking in the front doors, and laying waste to the entire operation. However, Jaeger suggest that they seek the wisdom of the Swaervite...
13:00 – 13:30: The old priest’s laughter echoes through the vaulted ceiling of the temple, causing the mobiles of polished shell and coral to lightly tap together.
“It seems that you over estimate the esteem that these pirates hold our God.”
“But, Swaervar’Tritul is the God of sailors, Lord of the depths, master of the seas? Why wouldn’t they worship him?”
Rodag chuckles. “They worship all kinds of odd powers, though all are smart enough to pay their respects to Grandfather Wave. However, that doesn’t grant we servants any real measure of authority over them. Oh, they’ll listen, but unless it benefits them directly, they’ll do their own thing!”
The group are momentarily crestfallen, their plan to have the Swaervite speak to the pirates on their behalf, a no go.
“Why would they do something like this?” Asks Varracuda.
Once more, Rodag gives a knowing chuckle.
“Their residuum mines, rumour has it, dried up long ago, and with them, the Brotherhood’s fortunes. Indeed, I have heard tell that the Brotherhood had taken to ‘accidentally’ breaking into the mines of the Shai’Gau and Meridianese, to steal away as much Residuum as possible before being driven out.
“Of course things changed when the maelstrom appeared, for although supposedly deadly, the mines in their current dimensionally unstable form do bring in rare materials and resources that can be sold for a great profit if recovered. They also refill regularly, and so, are a reliable, if hazardous source of income. It could be that the brotherhood have heard that you intend to close the portal, and fear that your actions could result in the mines becoming mundane once more, something that would surely impact on their possible future wealth.”
Shnecke stamps his feet with an angry snort. “So the bastards want us to run into some kind of ambush do they? Think they can lure us to our deaths?”
“As men and women shunned even by the Gods, the Brotherhood are not liked by any of the other clans. Of them, those who suffered theft at their hands have the most cause to wish them harm.”
Jaeger smiles darkly, as Grigori nods.
“So, we approach the Shai’Gau...”
“I’d recommend the Meridianese, as the Shai’Gau lost almost everything when the maelstrom appeared”
“Okay, the Meridianese.” corrects the priest, “We make them aware that the Brotherhood have wronged us, and seek to stop us closing the portal, an act that could restore their own fortunes. We ask that they let us access the mines and with hope...”
“Break into their mines and enter their stronghold undetected” finishes the assassin, nodding.
A moment of pleased silence.
“So,” Growls the Ulnyrr, “Who do we need to talk to, and how do we get an audience?”
There is some further discussion of what the group will do if their plan to infiltrate the Mouldering Hold through the mines fails. They decide that an attack on the two Brotherhood ships currently docked in the port (The Fly Blown and the Adipocere)would be an effective way of bringing them out, and the Ulnyrr is none to silent about his hopes that they are “forced” into such a course of action, the idea of taking on the ships' crews a delight to him.
However, before they do that, they seek an audience with Krangen “Skulls Grin”; Leader of the Meridianese Pirates in the Carrion Port.
15:20: - 16:10: The “Red Star” is a rough inn that serves as home for a crude fighting pit, where wagers are made by drunken, roaring pirates and mercenaries, and lives snuffed out for a few silvers. It is also run by the Meridianese, and so, is a perfect place to find someone who can tell the group how to get an audience with their leader.
The sign above the door depicts a tattered vessel, riding low in the waters of a stormy sea, sailing towards a lowering star of blood red, and from within the animalistic howls of men ride out into the streets on beery waves of moist, stinking air.
Inside is little more than a smoky, smelly space, crowded with men and women in various states of intoxication. In the middle of the chamber is a 15' diameter area that has been cleared to serve as a crude arena. A low fence of tied together driftwood delineates the boundaries of this area, and the group notice that the floor within is filthy with scummy layers of dried blood, piss and clots of old sawdust. A small pile of barrels stands in one corner, a grinning pirate serving some kind of grog from them with a rusting ladle – the closest thing this place has to bar.
In the arena are two men; one a bald fighter with the heavy set physique of a manual labourer, who speaks with a sharp Vaesuurian accent, the other, a young Kai'Yassanian. The bald man bears a skull and crossed bones tattoo on his left shoulder – the standard of the Meridianese, whilst the Kai'Yassanian bears the coin and dracane sigil of the Shai'Gau.
The battle is brief but brutal. The Shai'Gau displays some impressive, balletic moves, that would probably see most of those watching quickly defeated. However, the heavier, larger pirate pretty much ignores his leaping and feinting, and takes numerous blows as he waits for the right moment, his suntanned skin turning dark with bruises under the assault. The crowd, thinking that he is not trying get ugly, hurling insults and flagons, but still the larger man bides his time.
Then, the Shai'Gau gives a kick that is just a little too slow, weariness stealing his strength and focus, and the Meridianese pounces, grabbing the limb, locking it flat, and then slamming to the ground, his elbow ploughing into the kneecap, bursting it and sending the martial artists into a fit of screams.
The crowd go insane, coins and trinkets changing hands as bets are re-made in face of this development, and the fight is soon over, as the bald man nonchalantly lets go of the disabled leg, moves round to the writhing man, and punches him unconscious with several awful thumps.
Shnecke grins, his eyes shining with a cold light in the gloom of this place, and before anyone can stop him, pushes to the front of the arena and shouts at the victor.
“Oi! Baldie! My syphilitic whore of a grandmother was a better fighter than you! Try taking on someone old enough to grow a beard instead of indulging your fantasies about bearing women and children!”
The Vaesuurian looks over his shoulder at the Ulnyrr, and for a second it looks like he may not be willing to take on such a monster of a man. However, with the crowd feeding off this insult, and bets already changing hands, he gives growl and a kick to the ribs of the unconscious Kai'Yassanian.
“Come zen norden mannz. Come and see vat I do to kinder zat cannot keep zere mouth's shut in ze presence of zere betters.”
“I'll give you a hundred gold on the Ulnyrr” mouths Jaeger to a drunked Dohr'Khustan.
* * *
The Vaesuurian doesn't manage to land a single blow on Shnecke, and even the hardened murderers and psychopaths that make up the crowd are a little shocked at the brutality and suddenness of the beating Shnecke deals to him. Within less than half a minute, the bald man lies on the floor, bubbles of blood frothing from his broken face, his bladder emptying to stain the floor in his agony.
Roaring with joy, the Ulnyrr turns to face the baying crowds, wishing once more that he had been given a chance to fight in the Irin arena – a dream he is coming to accept he shall never realise. As he turns, he notices a figure almost as huge as he barrelling through the crowd towards the area; an armoured giant of a man with hair and a wild beard the colour of copper, braided into long plaits. He has the same flat, squared features as Shnecke, and wears the fur of ice wolves and polar bears over his heavy plate. His armour is festooned with charms and amulets, intended the Ulnyrr knows to ward off daemons and madness, for he recognises this one as a Son of the High Peaks, a barbarian of the Tokara'Tai (or Cold Fire Mountains) – a Thornyrr.
Shnecke grins, his tribal animosity towards the insane Highlanders coming to the fore, for the Ulnyrr regard their cousins as fools – madmen that eat their dead and wander the madness irradiated fields of the highest peaks, bathed in the unnatural glow of the Aurora Arcana; places of raw magic that mutate, change and destroy sanity – or, as the Thornyrr have it, bless them. The Thornyrr is one of three, the other two staying towards the back of the crowd, their cold eyes watching Shnecke with hungry hatred. The crowd part like grasses before a wind to let him through, and with a growl, the massive man enters the arena, drawing his weapon – a rune covered axe, forged from sooty steel and bathed in baked blood.
Now he is closer, Shnecke notes that the man bears a symbol on a length of sinew about his neck – A pile of skulls mounded around a jagged, double-bladed axe; the symbol of Votan – one of Banturn'Vortax's aspects. He also notes that this man is actually even more massive than he, his body seemingly almost too big to be held within his heavy plate, his strength no doubt augmented by the distant energies of his cold, dark homeland. He looks into his face, which is almost hidden by his flowing beard (which is full of bones, fetishes and amulets), and meets his eyes – vividly green, with almost cat-like pupils. At the same time, the Thornyrr speaks, his voice thickly accented as he uses the native tongue of the Cryarian's – Shnecke's native tongue.
“Weakling lowlander. You claim to be strong, and yet, you choose a battle far beneath you. I call you coward, and in Votan's name, as one of his blessed sons, I shall punish you for your arrogance and weakness”.
The Vaesuurian is dragged out (for he lives despite his injuries), and Shnecke draws his own axe, its grip reassuring as it sits in his hands, ready to kill at his request. Suddenly, with a speed that most would think impossible for one of his size and bulk, the northerner sweeps his runeaxe out towards the Ulnyrr, its edge hissing as if alive as it passes within a hairsbreadth of his face. Shnecke responds with a huge chop, which crunches into the Thornyrr's forearm, biting hard, but apparently not piercing his flesh.
Grunting the Thornyrr unleashes another blow with his hungering blade, though this time Shnecke is ready for it, leaping back and then hacking forwards. Alas, this blow too is expected, and the bloody axe of the Thornyrr sweeps up in a blur to smash it aside, the sound of the impact painful in the closeness of the room. Once more the Thornyrr tries to smash his blade into Shnecke's face, his blow missing and decapitating a spectator, the man's body crashing, twitching and spurting into the horrified crowd. An appalled silence falls over the room as the two juggernauts leap in at each other, landing blows that would kill almost anyone in the chamber, neither tiring or showing signs of pain.
First blood is to Shnecke, as his axe, which has bitten several times into the huge northerner with little effect, finally manages to tear through his armour and finds his stony flesh beneath. Bellowing like a bear, the Thornyrr rips his own blade out across the Ulnyrr's guts, the unpleasantly warm blade slicing easily through his muscular stomach, to tug at his entrails in a burst of white hot pain.
Shnecke however has given in to his fury, and draws on his pain to give him strength. The Thornyrr it seems is weakening, and with a howl of joyous hatred, Shnecke brings his blade down again and again against his flesh, chopping at him as if he is a tree. Gore sprays out of the wound, chunks of tissue flying with each backward arc of the barbarian's axe, and suddenly, with a gurgling scream of horror, the Thornyrr dies, folded over backwards, his eyes suddenly unfocused, his axe, soaked in his own gore, clanging to the floor.
The crowd go wild! Screams of amazed joy at the cruel battle shake the air, and money changes hands so fast that the crowd seems wreathed in a blur. Suddenly the two remaining Thornyrr surge towards the arena, and excitement turns to bowel loosening dread as the crowd expect death to suddenly find them. They vault into the arena, filling it with their bulk, and Shnecke drops into a ready stance, more than willing to take them on. However, whilst one of them retrieves their fallen comrades body, the other reaches into a pouch of cured flesh he wears at his belt. From within he produces a small ring of crude metal, covered in spikes. He meets Shnecke's gaze, and nods, before throwing the ring to him. Then, he turns to help his ally, and both of them drag the fallen Thornyrr from the taproom, and out into the streets.
The crowd return to their rowdy cheers, battering Shnecke with back slaps and mugs of grog, and realising that this is probably a good time to ask to act, the Ulnyrr throws back his head, and roars “I SEEK AN AUDIENCE WITH THE SKULLS GRIN! WHO WILL TAKE ME TO HIM?”
17:00 – 17:15: The audience hall in which Krangen sits upon a throne of bound driftwood, over which grins a human skull atop a pair of crossed flintlocks, is a crudely carved thing (as is the clan house for the Meridianese), lit by hundreds of pitch torches hung on the sides of the curiously warped pillars that hold aloft the arched roof of this place. About thirty pirates, all bearing variations of the skull and crossed bones on their flesh are gathered here, curious as to what the “Butcher Wolf” has to say.
The group have been escorted to the halls by a lithe, dark-skinned and muscular woman named Zasha Velan; Krangen's lieutenant. She had seen the barbarian's fearsome battle, and decided that maybe, keeping him sweet might be a good idea.
Krangen seems largely disinterested by the tales of the Butcher Wolf and his deadly skills, but quickly agrees to allow the party to enter their mines if it will see pain brought to the Tattered Brotherhood.
“Know this though,” he says in pirate's cant, Zasha translating for him, “the mines are alive with wild sorcery, and strange things happen constantly down there. I will not be held responsible should any of your troupe be slain or worse. I have warned you, and will tolerate no animosity. Am I clear?”
The group state they accept his words.
“Then show them the way Zasha. Let them enter the Shift Mines below...”