Servants

[An adventure log for Lodestar, my tabletop campaign. All you nerds out there recognize this sort of thing — a recap of the adventure told journal-style, from the perspective of one of the characters. Part of my experiment with putting longer content up here on the blog. This was written fresh today, so I’m sure there’s some pesky typos and such — but let me know what you think about the readability and content.]

19th of Handspan, 1179.

Better do something to keep myself awake — and you’re always saying that I should write more in my journal, so here goes. I really think you just make me write in here to give yourself some humorous reading on the toilet. Or maybe to just give you more opportunity to roll your eyes, and look disappointed?

Almost finished with work on the Crucible — just have to wait on the truesilver to cool. I’ll have those two un-cursed and de-porcupined by dawn, as long as I don’t fall face first on the anvil and start snoring. I mean, that’s weird right? I’ve seen people transformed into strange things before – frogs, statues, a loaf of Piccan cheesebread — but two guys morphed into a two-headed porcupine? You see something new every day, I guess. No stranger than the 200 foot metal colossus outside, fueled by captured souls and dark magics from a forgotten age.

Wait — I’m getting ahead of myself. I know you hate when I do that. Sorry.

So, I’ve been working in Pennytown for a couple of months, working off my debt from that thing in Meraldspire. It’s a quite a  town, I’ve really enjoyed just relaxing – doing simple and clean work at the forge. Horseshoes, gates, a whole batch of nails — ooh, I fixed the copper wiring in a busted clock about a week ago. Yup, just good, clean work and then early to bed for your favorite cleric.

Yesterday, travellers came to town. There were a bunch of them, but one of them is this amazing gunslinger — redhead, loooooong legs and an amazing — wait, I can see your eyes rolling. Sorry.

Anyway, they had gotten cursed and banged up on their way into town, so I patched them up as best I could — but then they were a little hesitant about plunking down the cash for the Crucible. The Master Trader was gouging them — but what were they going to do, just leave their friends as a two-headed porcupine? Drover gave them a deal — me and the two of them that were fit for travel would run an errand for him, then he’d give them a discount. Check in on his brother’s store at a nearby village, his weekly delivery was late. The beautiful gunslinger, Mara and a duelist named Quintus agreed to the deal.

I strapped on the armor you helped me craft, and we headed up the New Road to Hemmerfell.

I’ve been to Hemmerfell a few times, I’m the best healer in the area. I had to deliver a baby there the week after I arrived, and it turned out to be triplets! It’s a dirt-poor mining town, but the people there are good folk — quick with a joke, or a round of ale.

They weren’t joking when we got there. Most of the old folk and children were just standing in the middle of the street, and staring into space.  We called to them, shook them by the shoulders – but they barely reacted, like they were drugged or sleeping. But their eyes were wide open — I looked through the windows of their eyes, and there was no soul inside. They were empty husks, breathing out of habit — less alive than daffodils. It scared me, Nomus. Shook me right to the core — that a soul could be plucked out of a man’s body easier than removing the core from an apple.

Oh, I perfected a new type of apple corer — remind me to show you the next time I see you.

We moved quickly through the streets of Hemmerfell, past more and more of the poor, empty townsfolk. There were signs of a battle, broken weapons, gouges in the earth, and more than a little blood spilled in the dirt. And then we found a dark marvel.

A cube — thirty feet on each side, made from dozens of different metals hammered and wrought. Endlessly intricate, but also strangely organic — it reminded me of the iron sculptures we saw in Bard’s Gate that time, how the dwarves shaped each piece with their hands, allowing their instincts to override geometric design. But this thing wasn’t beautiful — it was terrifying, Master. The way that a cage is terrifying. I whispered a prayer to you, and continued on with my companions.

As we approached the store, we found more and more of the townsfolk clustered around it. I approached the front door, and they swarmed close — uttering almost in unison a guttural “No.” A few faces were familiar, but empty — I pushed through the blank-eyed gauntlet. Clearly what had caused this horrible effect was somewhere inside the store.

Inside we were found the store empty — except for a rusty suit of armor, out of place and quiet. It turned out to be a sort of shield guardian, like that one we made for King Flaubert. I tried to inspect it, but it pushed me away. Some rudeness in the design there. It was powered by some green energy — something I’d never encountered before, it made me feel a little pukey just to be near it.

Just then, Bostwick came down the stairs. He’s sort of a friend, I’ve -drank- talked to him a few times since I’ve moved here — he’s the courier that runs between Hemmerfell and Pennytown.

But something had changed him. He talked about changing the world, about how the people of Hemmerfell were the first step, tools for his master and fuel for his grand device. I knew right away he was talking about the cube. The swordsman, Quintus — oh, I didn’t describe him,  you’d like him Nomus, quick with his blade and quicker with his mind — asked Bostwick some penetrating questions about his purpose and who his master was. I missed some of it, because Mara happened to do that hair-flippy thing that girls do right in the corner of my vision.

What? It was distracting!

To make the world one. He said. The power of life, the control of a living being’s essence.—Vitaemancy.

Something was controlling Bostwick, or had changed him. I couldn’t get him to listen — and he commanded the guardian to attack — it surged to life, moving with the grace and skill of a knight of old. The construct answered to the name of Rülf, and summoned more constructs to face us. These new constructs were clearly much newer than Rülf, formed from adamantine and steel. I recognized the maker’s hand at once — whoever had built the cube had also made these soldier-constructs.

The fight was short and brutal. Quintus’ blades pierced and punctured, shining with a holy fire. Mara’s rifle blazed, cutting through the constructs and decimating the shambling horde of townsfolk that had me…temporarily pinned. I was impressed that she took the care to use non-lethal ammunition against the poor husks.

The swordsman’s final foe was the guardian, Rülf. The construct surrendered with nobility, and Quintus accepted, whispering a few words to the metal knight. Bostwick joined the fray as well, bolts of lightning at his beck and call. He was no wizard, master — I have no explanation for how he could do these things — my mind went slantways trying to put the pieces together. Sadly, Bostwick was felled by a carefully placed shot by the gunslinger — and I only had time to say a quick prayer for his soul.

I don’t know if I’ve ever asked before — how do you gods feel about that? I don’t know who Bostwick worshipped, or even IF he worshipped — but would it anger them to have one of your clerics give a benediction? If you get some grief about it, please let the appropriate deity know that I’m sorry.

We rushed upstairs, and through a shattered window saw that the grand cube had dissappeared — a summoning glyph still smoking in the earth. A gray-haired man smiled knowingly, and vanished before our eyes. Could this be the one who had brought this strange magic – the one that Rülf and Bostwick had called Mancer?

Yup, it was. And we had a serious problem. Mara pulled me away from the window — I  noticed she paints her nails, a lovely shade of purple.

“All of the able-bodied men are gone, this Mancer must be controlling them — the tracks that we found heading out of town, we should follow them now.” she said.

She’s smart, too!

We moved quickly in pursuit — leaving the poor people of Hemmerfell for the moment. As the miles and hours passed, the sun went down. And so did my hopes — the trail lead us back south down the Old Road – right back to Pennytown.

——Whoops! Nodded off for a second, and the truesilver almost spilled. I still say we should use a cauldron with a higher lip. Stop furrowing your brow — I know that your holy specifications are very exact, but you shouldn’t shut out innovation. Look, just consider it — think it over in the shower a few times, that’s all I’m asking.

Pennytown was madness. The simple traders and workers were doing their best to fend off the attacks of the Vitaemancer and his machines. Most horrible of which, the cube had reshaped itselft into a colossus, gleaming with soul-light and crushing everything in its path, while its smaller soldier-brothers savaged the populace. All the while, Mancer watched over all with a look of confidence on his face. While I watched he — I’m not sure you’ll believe me — he pulled the soul right out of one of the warehouse foremen. Green light flowing from the poor man’s body into Mancer’s hands — then reshaped into another soldier — using the material from my forge!

I know you often caution me against impulsive acts — or giving into the whirlwind of anger. I’ve prayed to you about it many times. But when I saw your forge being desecrated, to build a machine of pain and death. Well, I lost it, Master. I brought your power down to protect the people of Pennytown, and I turned my hands to smiting this soul thief.

I was amazed watching Mara and Quintus fight their way to the Gargantuan. (Oh– we found out later that the Mancer called it that.) On the road, the two of them bantered and quibbled like two old matrons at tea — but on the battlefield? Whoa.

Silent and smooth, well-oiled and vicious — never looking to check on the other’s work, each knowing that their companion would be bringing confident obliteration to their foes. I used your blessings to give their feet wings — but they scarcely needed it. My main job was just to keep up, and repair their wounds as quickly as I could.

The Mancer barred our way with an iron wall, and threw his constructs at us — but for the Ghosts their metal was paper.

Quintus tore through the metal soldiers seeking their master. The gunslinger’s rifle stunned the Vitaemancer with a vicious strike to his face, leaving him helpless. Before I barely had time to surmount the wall — Mancer lay dead in the grass. His constructs mounted a feeble defense that was soon quelled, and the Gargantuan stood still as a stone.

Now, this part is embarrassing. The giant thing was still brimful of hundreds of people’s soul energy — and — well, it started to TICK. So, doing the sensible thing ….we ran through the streets screaming “GET OUT, GET OUT, IT’S GONNA BLOW!!!!!”

An hour or so later, surrounded by the grateful (but hungry and grumpy) populace of Pennytown, we decided that perhaps we had overreacted. We made our way gingerly back to the collosus’ side, and soon discovered a hatch in the things right foot. Up a spiral staircase surrounded by gears and pistons, every surface lit by bizarre cylinders burning with the green fire of souls. Any admiration I could feel for the craft displayed was throttled by my total revulsion for the purpose of this device. A cage for souls! Could there be anything more horrible?

At the top of the stairs we found a control room of sorts — but the technology, and even language used was far beyond my experience or comprehension. Clearly this room controlled the Gargantuan, but we were at a loss to understand the smallest part of its operation. The best we could do was find the source of the ticking — a display showing characters in an unknown language, that seems to be counting down. I did some estimation, and I’m fairly sure that the countdown will end in four or five days. Whether the thing will explode then, or release all of the souls inside – I have no idea. I pray to you that once the soul energy is released, it will naturally find its way back to the proper vessel – the people of Hemmerfell, and the few townsfolk here that were afflicted.

I won’t lie — I’m afraid, Master. That a man’s soul can be ripped from under his heart, and forced to serve in a cage of magic and steel. I didn’t know such things were possible — did you?

Okay — I guess that’s about it. The truesilver is sufficiently purified, and I can finish what I need to complete my work. To complete your work, that is. I’ll write more later if I get a chance — you were right (you usually are), it did help to lay everything out, like tools on the bench before you set to the anvil. I know you can read these words even as a write them, so I would be most grateful for any guidance you could send — I’ll check the mail on the next STC ship that stops, it should be here in a couple of days.

Blessed Nomus, thank you for bringing me through these trials — I pray that I will continue to be a worthy tool in Your hands — the better to build and the better to learn more of your Infinite Order. Please forgive the imperfections in my mettle, as I continue to purify in the crucible of your forge.

And as always I pray, that the days will be short before I am at your side again. Ooh — next time, I learned this fabulous bread recipe from — someone — it’ll go great with the mutton and beer.
Kelvin Mason
Servant of Nomus

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