Iron Gods - Mike Korupp

Journal of Shadow Mal 14

The self-styled god reveals himself.

Entry 159, Day 39, still noon

Shortly after the explosion came the blaring horn of a call to Scrapmaster’s Arena. The majority of Scrapwall’s denizens began flowing in that direction, lured with the promise of public news and bloody entertainment. The call and the meaning of it were obvious, a showdown was being called. The lords of rust can no longer afford to ignore us, and are issuing a challenge. This makes it more difficult for us to divide, distract, and destroy but it also makes it more difficult for them to flood us with every last loyal minion and slave-soldier to their name.

Delora and Susie were still uncertain, so they asked random people walking towards the arena for confirmation. We determined that the troll woman who currently rules the arena prefers to fight from a chariot, using a grapnel launcher to harpoon individual enemies and drag them behind her as she rides and battles around the arena floor. A lot of betting and discussion is taking place, it seems the odds favor us, though we did not get to see any large-scale book-making before entering the arena proper and being met with the roar of the crowd.

You could feel the energy of the crowd pouring forth from the stands. Harkness seemed to take particular fascination in the power that one can have when a bloodthirsty crowd is focused solely on you. He seemed to enjoy experimenting with how his actions caused reactions within the screaming mob. For my own part, I finally understand what an old acquaintance of mine meant about the intoxicating nature of the faith and belief of others. “Be it enraptured admirers, obedient soldiers, or duped worshippers; people put as much value on fame as on any pile of precious goods you care to name,” he once said to me, “and be wary of its addictive avarice.”

Moving on, once the roar had died down enough that her bellowing could be heard, Helskarg greeted us and gave a fairly familiar speech about being impressive and joining her team if we could prove our worth and various predictable pleasantries I cannot be bothered to recall. Basically, “fight me and then join us.” She then hopped on her chariot (which looked like it had been decorated by a very aggressive magpie), whistled a command to the two ogres in spiky fetish gear that were pulling it, and started a loop around the arena to work up the crowd.

We are not performers, so we simply pulled out our ranged weapons and opened fire, killing all three of them rather quickly. The crowd was forgiving of our lack of showmanship, I suspect because the Lords of Rust are quite widely hated. During the battle I gave Harkness a chance to fly magically and inadvertently made him a target for her harpoon gun, but we cut the cable before it could do more than injure him.

I mended the device for future use and Flynn seemed to take a shine to it, something about “sweet hookshot.” These technological toys may be a bit off-putting, the way they act like magic but do not LOOK like magic, but I cannot deny their usefulness. I prefer to stick with the magic I know, but to paraphrase the words of Gunnarrex the auric sage, “Know your strengths and your limits, but do not forget to test both.”

But I digress, as we looted her smoking corpse there was a booming laugh from a dias that invited us to enter the sanctum of the Lords of Rust and discuss joining them (or something like that). We trooped in the door and came face-to-projected face with Hellion. From a pair of flat panels the cruelly grinning face of some unique brand of fiend shouted the usual “worship me” speech while I loaded my crossbow. The projection was like a moving painting, two-dimensional, and clearly some brand of technology. I shot one of the images, the panel was too sturdy for my bow to break it, but it got the message across that we were not interested in serving him. He responded by casting a blight spell through his image (impressive) before my compatriots destroyed them. This underground dungeon is well-kept and fully-powered, as its “light panels” and “telescreens” are functioning properly.

According to our techsperts, the telescreens are like two-way portals which only allow sight and sound through. This, combined with the lack of further spellcasting leads me to believe Hellion cannot see us if we are not within sight of the screens. More interesting, however, is his ability to hurl magic through these devices. Line-of-effect through windows and portals is a complicated situation. More to the point it was magic, not some technological trick that simply seemed like magic, I could see the lines of divine energy take shape.

We advanced, going down a winding stairwell and entering a room where the new high priest, his temple guard of 16, and more of Hellion’s own projections stood ready to fight. Harkness opened up with a toxic gas grenade that left most of the faithful doubled over and retching instead of fighting, and once I was able to push my way in I silenced Hellion’s magic-hurling screens. The battle was a long slog and I found myself wishing we had an evoker in our midst, but we still won the day as Hellion silently raged over his unexpected impotence. Curious that silencing his projections silence his spells. If our intel is correct, Hellion’s magical support is now exhausted beyond whatever powers he can bring to his servants’ aid.

We continued on, being attacked by a gray ooze in what I presume was a waste pit before slamming it behind a door and locking it in. We are continuing to smash screens as we go, and when we entered this last room Arim impishly told the beast that we worked for the technic league (flashing Sanvil Trett’s membership pin, the one we appropriated several weeks ago) which angered him. Further, Arim stated that if Hellion would simply serve Unity, he would not be having these problems with us. With this, Hellion showed a look of shock and (I suspect) fear. Interesting…

We discovered the quarters of Nalakai (the priest) which were filthy, and we discovered his journal, which was poorly-written and stupid. Harkness has been flipping through it for the past 20 minutes or so, trying to find relevant information about Hellion, I should read it later.

Ah, he has just finished, Hellion was born of a greater power in Silver Mount similar to himself, and that he rejected service to it, and that he seeks to destroy this power and replace it, taking its resources and powers for himself. The technological nature of Silver Mount and the inhuman nature of Hellion suggest that he is a machine spirit, like Unity or Task. The child of a machine spirit (properly called “artificial intelligence” or “AI”) and I am told a normal machine spirit needs a body (or more accurately, some form of technological brain) to exist at all times. Of course, that conventional wisdom ALSO states that such an AI cannot work magic, so it is hard to say. But if anyone knows of a robot or machine that came to Scrapwall from Silver Mount, that might have been Hellion.

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shilkund

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