Iron Gods - Mike Korupp

Journal of Shadow Mal 13

Entry 156, Day 37, Evening.

The undead showed no coherency in their actions, only dedicated rage. I am not sure where the ‘gang’ moniker came from, but it was clearly misplaced. We entered the mist-shrouded zone and immediately I could feel the oppressive weight of necromancy and unquiet dead upon us. Visibility was poor, a persistent fog being part of the local taint, and we spent most of the day wandering up dead ends and losing our way in the trackless mess. Twice we were set upon by what I believe were poltergeists. They would appear quite suddenly as grisly disassembled bodies, shriek out a magical fear effect, and then reform as incorporeal (but more humanoid) apparitions. Each exposure to the mental assault incapacitated at least one of us, though Harkness’ constructed mind always proved immune to their emotional influence. More, I will not say, as several of our number take great pride in their fearlessness and will, though the way in which Flynn reacted to controlling his fear was quite…odd. Sex and violence are intertwined, I suppose, but it was still very strange when he started flirting with Arim.

Moving on, a battle outdoors and a long trudge through blind mists led us to a shattered and crushed “shuttle.” As is common with these alien ruins it required power to open the door normally, and as is common with broken things it no longer had power within it. Arim use his crowbar and the assistance of our more doughty companions to force the sliding door open enough for entry. We were set upon by more poltergeists which fell with equal aplomb. Fortunately the difficulty in damaging creatures made of fear and ethereal light was matched by their weakness to affect the physical world. Further inside we found rubble, collapsed subsections, MORE rubble, and 4 coffin-shaped containers not unlike the “bed” we rescued Khonnir from in the dungeons below Torch. Inside these coffins were dead bodies (shocking, I know) dressed in what appeared to be heavy, ceremonial armor.

I have since been informed that these coffins were “stasis pods” which can stop time within them, and the armor was neither ceremonial nor designed to protect from external attacks. It seems these “space suits” (are not all suits in, of, and taking up space?) are meant to keep things IN, specifically air and warmth in what I am told is the cold vacuum of space. The void between the stars is airless and cold, which I suppose makes sense, given what I have experienced when flying above the clouds. Once again the power of technology is fascinating, temporal stasis is powerful magic, yet they could produce great quantities of it.

But I digress, the corpses arose, animated by some restless spirits of the area, and were easily put back down, and after looting the ruins we crawled through a half-collapsed passage to what used to be the front of the vessel. We found a small antechamber and another stuck door which Susie believed would lead to the “cockpit” or control-center of the vessel. We forced open the door and found a lonely corpse, rotted away in a chair that faced transparent walls covered in rocks and debris. The body fell to dust, but the dust boiled upward and formed the incorporeal body of a powerful wraith. Once again I am glad that I spent so much money on alchemical supplies, as the best weapon I carried against such a deadly foe were my two bottles of bottled sunlight. The searing brightness of the stored daylight was uncomfortable in such a dark environment, but while I might have been dazzled the beast was rendered completely powerless. Both bottles and some traded blows later it was banished from the world of the living and I was burning my restoration scroll to patch the hole it had ripped in Flynn’s spiritual health. Arim is still suffering from the cold touch of the grave but I cannot heal his injury without supplies and help.

Harkness tried fleeing the wraith, strange considering his immunity to fear, but his motivations often seem odd to me. Any “punishment” for such cowardice was meted out immediately when he was assaulted by a will-o-wisp, alone, in the stasis coffin chamber. The aberration fed off of fear, it seems, and had somehow been enjoying the terror that the undead spirits had been feeling (and/or generating in others). It blamed us for killing its food source, though how the screaming dead were any safer than simply sucking on the fear and horror of everyone still living in this blighted anarchic pit of a town escapes me. Despite the wound in his soul, Arim used his natural resistance to soak most of its electrical attacks and repeatedly shoot it with his bow while the rest of us mostly flailed ineffectually at the flying monster. It was devilishly fast, but eventually its luck and speed ran out.

After all of this, I could sense a lightening of the burden of this area, while I have no doubt that haunts and horrors remain in the mists I believe that, for now at least, the dead have come to rest. We shall camp in the shuttle tonight, as the night fast approaches and those of us with spells are tapped out.

Also of note were the items left on the mortal remains of the pilot. The first was some sort of technological weapon that is believed to work against technological spirits. I confess it is mostly over my head. The second was a recording device that trapped the final words and testament of its owner. He spoke of his attempted escape from a Unity-controlled Divinity and their plan to try and destroy or disable Unity. Obviously this plan did not work, but we kept both devices in case they prove useful later.

Closing thoughts; as much as they hurt, I need to get more bottled sunlight, the price is clearly justifiable.

Entry 157, Day 38, Afternoon.

It is funny how quickly things can be turned on their head.

After a relatively quiet night we broke camp and began fumbling our way out of the dead mists. I finally badgered Flynn into sharing that letter he received 2 weeks ago when we were meeting his family and embarrassing him thoroughly. It was troubling news.

It began with word of an “elf witch of fiendish heritage” and went on about how “the elf bitch” (or presumably “I”) would betray him. It also warned him not to trust “the dreams,” and spoke of his order (of knights, presumably) that hunted and fought against evil fiends. He signed the letter “Sigfried,” a name whose meaning seems familiar, but I cannot place.

Ironically, since I have never discussed my past or the demon-dealing family that bore me or even my true gender, everyone else defaulted to the assumption that it was in reference to Susie. She is a female elf, she is a witch, her parents were killed by and later exhumed by unknown, fiendish entities. Indeed, it is possible that this “order” was referring to her, but even if these well-meaning zealots are not hunting me, I have little doubt they would find me while searching for her. Getting burned at the stake by a good guy who is confused is little better than being tortured to death by a bad guy, all-in-all.

I spent the morning filled with these and darker thoughts, and asking if both myself AND my friends would be better served by my graceful (and very public) exit so that the hunters would leave them along and my trail would be harder to find. As I brooded, we made our stumbling way back to the part of scrapwall we refer to as “civilization.” When we finally broke out into the open air we were greeted by Delora. She had given our last few romps a miss, preferring to stay behind and work on a ballad regarding our story, and was last staying with Redtooth’s raiders. She came to us because it seems that yesterday a trio of humanoids, possibly magically-disguised, came sniffing around for someone matching Flynn’s description. My heart sank, surely it was his knightly allies trying to rescue him and I would have to flee into the hills.

We had little time to discuss this, of course, before they made their appearance, and this is where all of my assumptions proved inaccurate.

The first thing I noticed was transmutation on their auras, NOT illusion, and though I did not realize it until later, the nostalgic tang of ozone on the air revealed promise of lightning in their demeanor. They hissed demands that “Sileet” be turned over to them, and that they would not kill the ones they were not hunting. Though I found later I was on their list, the fact that I did not even bear mentioning was also unexpected.

After negotiations (such as they were) broke down, the trio revealed themselves with a crack of thunder and a mighty roar. Three blue dragons, large but still in their first century, assaulted us. The battle was fierce, and their lightning blasts hurt when they found their mark, but we survived and they did not. Being typical of their race and pride, they carried no gear, but one of them had a crumpled letter that revealed their motivations.

I have translated the text as best I can, though the dialect of draconic and the script were difficult to decipher and some words and names just do not work without a forked tongue:

“Great Phiqaac the Mighty,

I have some news for you, oh great scaly one, I believe I have found the Electi (took some time to recall this one, the closest translation is ‘Chosen One’). It seems that it was hiding in a town called Hajoth Hakados, in the human providence (province?) of Numeria. From what I can tell, the Order had been obfuscating it from our vision. However, the Caelestia (ancient version of “celestial” but with broader meaning, probably includes paladins serving good gods) ones seem to have activated it. Since then my spies has (sic) uncovered its actions.

It is a human, surname Sileet or some such thing. I can never get the human ‘S’ sound right, The Order does seem to have contacted him, but they are keeping their distance. Despite those zealots hating us, as always their work will help our cause more than hinder. The fools.

That said, there is something of concern. It appears the female elf child of Zestixtromu appears to be one of his companions. She keeps the group they travel in ignorant of her true nature; plays at not even knowing anything at all about her more interesting history.

This may work to our advantage, as while Zex’s hand is obviously at work on the Electi, it is so subtle at this point that it could be easily disrupted. One wonders what certain noble elves might make of the knowledge that there is a last scion of House Maerret. I figure a few words in the right ears and this situation will quickly be resolved.

Lastly, I send you this information as a courtesy. Our agreements still hold. But if at all possible, try to hide this information from your brood. Some of your spawn to not impress me with their wisdom and may try something foolish if they had this knowledge.

I will speak with you at the next conclave.

M.”

After reading this aloud, Arim said that it was quite a lot of proper nouns which held no meaning to him whatsoever. My trained paranoia fought tooth and nail with my loyalty to my friends, and ultimately lost. I explained who and what my father was, the ignominious and monstrous (and very dead) family his spirited me away from, and what words like “electi” and “caelestia” mean. After over a month, almost all of my secrets were lost in a few moments.

After this series of revelations, Flynn had one of his own. A dream came to him some months ago, presumably the same sort of dream Sigfried warned against, wherein a male voice and a female voice, making clear their positions as speaking for Apsu and Tiamat, held a panel discussion on ethics and his future, and what choices he might make or should make. I offered my congratulations, my condolences, and my support. History and legend state rather clearly that being The Chosen One is rarely a fun job, but we can only soldier on.

I do not feel unburdened per se, but the weight has shifted. All this time I was concerned I would bring trouble down upon the heads of my allies, but it seems my allies (except perhaps Vidon) have just as many targets on their own backs. Moreover I am concerned for my father. It seems unlikely he intended for this outcome, he has his gambits but he does not play Xanatos Roulette. More to the point all the players revealed in the letter are extremely circumspect about this whole business. Still, ‘Apsu guides and effort provides,’ as the saying goes…

After the fight and the reading, Susie and Vidon decided to “harvest” the bodies of our enemies. On the one hand life consumes life, power is power, and a body is just a body. Rationally and religiously there is no fault in their actions, but cutting up a dead dragon just feels wrong, like selling my own father into slavery or eating a dead elf. I excused myself from the flensing and try to avoid looking at it.

Another reading of Flynn’s letter gives me pause. Twice over it mentions “her true father.” If I am the “elf bitch” surely my “true father” is dead. If it refers to Susie why is she being targeted by an Order involved in the dealings of dragons? Always more questions, always more dangers.

And yet, I am certain I am right where I am supposed to be.

In any event, after getting smacked around by dragons we decided to retire for the day, and will assault the receiver array tomorrow morning.

Entry 158, Day 39, noon.

The Dominion is here, at least if Harkness’ old journals an be trusted.

We arrived at the receiver array to find horror. The untouched and decaying corpses of chokers were bad, but you come to expect such things when adventuring and we did know they had been slaughtered by their “god” when Meyanda’s plot failed. But there was something else, a dark weight on the soul, an oppressive sense of ancient and alien evil seemed to radiate from the building. We approached with caution, stabbing the occasional corpse to check for undead. When we reached the first door the mental attacks began. Whatever it was could strike while nearly impossible to see, and it alternately poked and probed at our thoughts and struck us down with hallucinations and mental images of horror and death. Trying to erode our sanity while constantly moving and being nearly impossible to see, let alone chase.

On reflection, I wonder how many of the dead chokers were killed by this beast, or each other, after it whipped them into a frenzy and ripped their own ability to reason from them.

After several minutes of cautious advance and weathering a hit-and-run mental assault, Harkness spotted the beast, charged it with full speed and shot it several times with his laser. He also got one good look at it. Like an inky-black flumph with a single enormous green eyeball in the middle of its body, it lashed weakly with its waving tentacles before flying away again. I can only assume it had some brand of magical invisibility, but we seemed to drive it away after that. The oppressive sense of doom and evil left, at least, and we saw no more of it or its mental assaults. According to the oldest entries of Harkness’ journal it, or creatures like it, came aboard the Divinity during their cataclysmic battle with the Dominion of the Black, a blasphemous force of insane aliens serving ruinous and impossible ends, deep within the Dark Tapestry beyond the stars.

In spite of these battles and mishaps, we are in good shape. Arim and Harkness spent some time fiddling with and arguing about placement of the cylex, and once they finish playing around with the detona-

My goodness, that was quite an explosion. The receiver array and most of the structure that housed it have joined the trackless rubble that surrounded them. Since we are in good health and better spirits, we are off to pick a fight with the mad servants of a self-styled god. If we are lucky, most of their mooks and minions will be checking out the explosion instead of forming ranks and standing in our way.

Or we may be running away from a large and angry army, hard to say.

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shilkund

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