The Free City

Trapped in the (trapped) closet

Even though none could read the book, the group decided to continue through this strange and dangerous basement to see what else they might possibly discover.  

As the stepped into the next room through a narrow hallway, they found themselves looking at two tables with a large arcane symbol etched on the floor between them.  On the outside corners of the tables stood 4 large posts, each topped with a crystal.  Pluefin reached up to grab one, and the instant his hand made contact, he leapt back like he'd just been bitten by a snake!   He described his head filling with the sounds of people screaming in pain, and advised that no one else should touch one.  They searched the room, eventually entering a (trapped) closet to find more arcane/alchemical gadgetry.  As they were inspecting it for items of value and/or interest, a few members' ears perked up to the sound of voices and footsteps heading towards the room!  

With little time to decide, they all piled into the closet, closed the door and waited quietly.  The sound of two casually chatting voices (whose words proved difficult to discern) suddenly changed their tone when they entered the room.  Immediately, a sense of urgency filled the voices of the new arrivals as they began searching for the source of their suspicions.  The room suddenly filled with the sound of arcane words and magical energy began to swirl…the gang readied themselves…

The door to the closet flew open (sending poor Hettle flying backwards), and in an instant, vines shot up out of the floor, attempting to entangle the group!  All but Pluefin managed to escape and the group leapt into battle.  Emerging from the room, they found themselves face to face with 2 foes: a human (dressed in robes of burgundy and white, his dark brown hair pulled into a tight ponytail near the top of his head), and a halfling (dressed in a fine doublet and shirt, and a mop of blonde hair).  Fierce fighting ensued as the group learned quickly of the strong magic possessed by the pair of enemies.  When the human fell to a well-placed crossbow bolt from Pluefin, the halfling suddenly filled the room with a dense fog…and escaped!

Searching the robes of the fallen human wizard revealed an unidentified spell scroll, and a small golden medallion.  This medallion was larger than a gold currency piece, about 2 inches in diameter.  Its edges shaped into a 9-sided polygon, the insignia stamped onto its surface was that of 2 crossed keys with 4 letters arranged in an arch over the top: S.O.A.K. 

None recognized the letters or the insignia, and despite their wounds, the group decided they needed more answers from this basement before they could leave.  Following their instincts to another room, the group entered what appeared to be a master bedroom (complete with California King bed).  Grimpem stomped a rat that went racing for the door, and 2 books: "The Anatomy of Humanoids by Murato Roka" and another mysterious book was found, which appeared to be written in the same language as the other book they had already discovered.  Finding little else of apparent worth, they decided they shouldn't linger as the escaped Halfling would probably alert someone to their presence.  Curiosity got the best of them, however, and as they stopped to search one last room near the main entrance (which was filled with alchemy equipment and various foul smelling decoctions), the sound of the trapdoor opening and gruff voices descending the ladder floated down to their ears.  

The gang decided to lay an ambush consisting of a hunting trap, a mage-hand-held vial of acid and some notched arrows/readied hammers.  Their door flung open and a relatively large human strode confidently into the room…only to have his leg completely SEVERED by the hunting trap!  Giving a sickly scream, the poor fool fell to the ground, and Grimpem met his whimpers with a mighty blow from his hammer.  Battle ensued as the party now stared down 2 more large ruffians, armed with swords and daggers.  These didn't seem like the powerful wizards they had encountered earlier, but more like hired muscle.  Arauka was the first to fall, but Grimpem leapt to his aid with a healing spell and put his Elven friend back in the fight!  Pluefin took to dueling with one of the thugs, and Grimpem surprised everyone by creating an illusory replica of himself (lovingly named "Grimpett") who dashed into the room and distracted the other mercenary.  Hettle, employing his mage hand to great effect by dropping vials of acid from overhead, attempted to save the life of the legless man whimpering on the ground in order to extract information, but his incompetence in the world of Medicine left him poking haplessly at the poor fellow's wound until he bled out and breathed his last.   

As the group gained the upper hand, it was clear the brutes had no intention of retreating, and they fought until the last brute was slain.  Rooting around for what valuables they could find (and stopping yet again to look behind ONE LAST DOOR which ended up being a closet full of clay/mud…), the gang finally retreated into the daylight and made their limping way back to The Stone Pony. 

Safe, sound, and well rested, the group resolved that they must first discover the meaning of the two books they found.  Grimpem, using his knowledge of Kaza's weakness for books of Poetry and Cooking, convinced Kaza to look over their books in exchange for a book on "Western Herbs and Spices", taken from the mysterious basement.  

Kaza took the book, and as he began to peruse its pages, his face darkened.  Confused, he looked back at Grimpem, and inquire in a deadly serious voice, "Where did you find this?"  

He explained to Grimpem that the content of this book was most dark indeed, and he didn't feel like he should be reading it out loud in the Common room where a few customers still lingered.  He agreed to come to their room after closing time to go through it in detail.  A couple hours later, Kaza was in their room and reading from this first mysterious book.  

"Its appears to be the results and lab notes from some sort of scientific study related to…well…lots of bizarre things.  There's a whole section here about trying to crossbreed humans and ogres in an attempt to create a new species of Half-Ogre:

Experiment 1004A Section 5

The male human/female half ogre coupling  produces offspring  extremely rarely and can not be depended on for significant numbers. The female human/male half ogre experiments fare much better, but with one hundred percent loss of host.

Experiment 1008.5CE Section 2

Our rate of experimentation has increased, with the new influx of the female subjects from the lower part of society. These new hosts can not be relied upon to go to term, being in such poor health, suffering from common ailments those living in this manner are subject to. A healthier source of subject would help immensely, as I have some new surgical ideas I would like to implement, but the subjects I have to work with would not hold up under the knife.

Experiment 1015E Section 1

The new surgical techniques we are applying have reduced the numbers of fatalities by removing the unborn before term. The hosts seem to be viable for three "harvests" before their bodies fail…

Kaza stopped reading, looked up at the group, clear distress on his face.   He flipped to the back of the book and asked, "have any of you heard of this…Keith?"  Assuming it to be the blonde halfling wizard who vanished into the fog, the group explained briefly who they thought he was.  "I don't have the heart to continue," Kaza said gravely, handing the book back to Grimpem.

 Pluefin reached into his bag and pulled out the second book and delicately asked, "What can you tell us about this one?"

Reluctantly, Kaza took it and skimmed its pages.  "Well, its written in the same hand and language as the other, but this one has a more…personal tone.  More of a journal, less of a scientific document.  But these are still the ravings of a mad man.." 

"Where does undeath begin?  Suppose we remove organs, one by one, replacing them with a magical re-animative equivalent, and then batter the subject with a variety of Turn Undead spells. Those spells do not have effects on living beings, but eventually the subject will cease being alive and the spells will act on them.  We could end the scourge of undead before they even begin if we can pinpoint the exact moment where UNdeath occurs.”

Swallowing hard, Kaza flipped to another page.

"Some of my less dedicated colleagues have had to be "dismissed", as they were expressing doubts about our new female hosts in the Half Ogre work. I have no such compunctions. Once they are here, they are a number to me and nothing more. Advancement would never occur if the weak willed were to have their say."

Kaza closed the book and handed it back to Pluefin, silently.  "I must retire for the night.  Be careful, you lot.  You seem to be stepping into some seriously dangerous territory."  He nodded solemnly and left the group to ponder their next move.  

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  * 

The plan was: brunch, shopping, information, Lady Kyoko, Patrol for Monsters.

BRUNCH: by Pluefin's recommendation, Grimpem, Arauka and Hettle headed to Ninny's Breakfast for their famous Blue Eggs and Pan Crudles. 

SHOPPING: Once their appetite was sated, the trio headed to The Iron Drake to peruse for some new gear.  Grimpem admired (but then passed on) a giant 2-handed maul for some new handaxes, and Arauka purchased a fine round shield.  

INFORMATION: Pluefin met with his criminal contact to see if anyone had heard anything about these insane experiments, the halfling Keith or the disappearances of the forge workers/children.  The contact returned a short while later saying that the rumors among the underground is that the Shadow Hands have pulled back on their normal activity for some reason, and that the arrival of this new group (S.O.A.K, presumably) might have something to do with it.  They suspect the Shadow Hands are assisting them somehow, but also that someone in High Town must be in on the operation, as no self-respecting low/middle class worker would de-value the lives of working people like this writer of the journal seems to.  The contact recommended seeking out the High Town connection to this whole bizarre situation.  

Hettle went to visit Doli Cotton, the halfling at the Hearthfire General Goods shop.  The gloriously sideburned and golden throated halfling wasn't terribly eager to interact with the gnome again, but in the end was convinced to sell him some loaded dice.  On his way out, Hettle turned and asked Doli if he had hever heard the name Tobit before.  The halfling said there was a gnome by that name in town, but it was several years prior, "perhaps 5 or 6."

LADY KYOKO/PATROLLING FOR MONSTERS: The group decided their next step was to take the information they have to Lady Kyoko (perhaps leaving out some of the details) so she would feel like they were being useful, then return to Low Town and patrol the streets looking for more signs of these horrible experiments.

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Trio becomes a Quartet

"My book!"

The group turned around to look at Grimpem, who was furiously patting down all his pockets.  "It's gone!  We have to go back."

"Back to that…thing?" Hettle asked, nervously.  

"We have to go back," Grimpem repeated, urgently.  As the trio gathered their things and headed for the door, they were stopped by a voice.  
"Is this what you're looking for?"

Turning, they saw a young male elf holding Grimpem's book out to him.  The young lad introduced himself as Pluefin, and told them he had seen their battle with the strange creature and when they left, he went to inspect it himself and found Grimpem's book.  A short conversation later revealed Pluefin's interest in their presence in town, and his willingness to trade some knowledge for the chance to hang with them for his own protection.  

Hettle's not-too-subtle reference to the Shadow Hands brought lots of unwarranted attention, and the group decided to retreat to Grimpem's room to finish the conversation.  It was there Pluefin told them of the reclusive leader of the Shadow Hands, a fellow that few have seen called Asano The Fence.  He mentioned that they have many safe houses around the city and continent and are not to be trifled with due to their brutality.  

The group decided that the first thing they should do is figure out where the strange wolf-man creature came from, and they decided to first talk to Mei to see where she first encountered the thing.  The next morning, they headed up to the forge to which the workers had taken her.  She described the alley that she was attacked in, and Pluefin was able to identify it.  Chatting quickly with the forge worker, she told them of the disappearance of a few of her co-workers, and that normally a brothel girl's disappearance could be chalked up to fleeing in search of a better living situation…but the ladies in question had settled in quite happily to their life at the forge, and it struck the worker they spoke with as odd that these particular ladies would leave.  They noted the information and decided to continue pursuing the source of the wolf-ish monster.

Arriving at the alley, it was Arauka who, using his extreme skills of tracking and observation, was able to very quickly determine the exact roof that he believed the monster had jumped down from.  Seeing an opportunity to demonstrate his nimbleness, Pluefin pulled out some climbing pitons and began his ascent up the side of the building (not as gracefully as hoped).  He lowered a rope and the remaining crew joined him on the roof.  They followed the tracks several rooftops away to a locked trap door, which Arauka once again handled with great aplomb (and thieves tools).  Under the trap door was a ladder leading down a narrow chute that, to everyone's best dark-vision assisted assessment, went down underground before ending on a dirt floor.  A little encouragement to a cautious Pluefin (and a decent ultimatum from Grimpem: "you either come with us or stay on the roof to be found by whoever uses this door…"), the group descended (some head first…) down the ladder and emerged from the bottom in what appeared to be a small holding room in a dark basement.  

The snuck through the door and found themselves in a room illuminated by reddish alchemical/magical lamps, and in the room were 2 tables, one with a skeleton strapped to it.  The gang tried to find any magical source (and Hettle harvesting a Tibia for a flute) but to no avail.  Continuing on into the next room, a room with 2 glowing kilns and a few work tables,  Aruaka wandered in only to be ambushed from behind by some giant 10-foot tall faceless humanoid creature!  A fierce battle ensued as the group rushed into the room to help their friend!  Burning coals were used, some strategic pinning of the giant creature (later discovered to be a Clay Golem) to the floor, and well-placed magical bolt to the skull finally toppled the creature.  From inside the creature's skull, the group harvested a glowing crystal which seemed to have given the golem its animation, and in another part of the room they found a book written in a language no one in the group recognized.  

What was in the rest of this basement?  What manner of work was being done here?  What clues would they find in this mysterious book?

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Getting Bearings in The Free City

As the party got to know each other, it was Lionel (the old man on the cart) who really got the conversation going by answering some questions about the current state of Jiyutoshi, the rumors and troubles of the city, and questions of its benevolent leader, Lady Kyoko.  But as the crew got acquainted, the elf Arauka seemed to sense something strange out in the woods, and headed out in front of the caravan.  Moments later, a thunderous CRRRAAASH and an otherworldly bellow erupted from the dense trees, as a roiling mass of black flames and tentacles burst forth and attacked Arauka.  

Battle erupted as the trio sprang into action.  As they fought the enormous beast, they discovered to their horror, that this beast was actually a giant boar covered in some manner of demonic material.  The trio dispatched the demon pig, harvested one of the giant tusks and continued on to the free city of Jiyutoshi.  Lionel pointed the group on to the Stone Pony as a place to stay, and to talk to Kaza, the innkeeper, who was a former apprentice of his.  

Upon arrival, Grimpem's priority was to sell the giant tusk he was carrying around and scrape together some coin.  Eventually, they found their way to Hearthfire, a local pawn/sundry/general goods store. Behind the counter was Doli Cotton, a halfling with the most glorious sideburns that the world has ever seen.  They haggled for a bit, Grimpem got over zealous with his bluffing and quickly earned the ire of the smooth-talking proprietor.  They did manage to glean the name of another potential buyer, Christoph Hoyle, the alchemist down at Mystical Cookery along the riverfront.  

When the trio entered the dark shop, they were greeted by a tidal wave of strange smells, and one of the oddest individuals they had ever met, the be-goggled alchemist Christoph Hoyle.  Between outbursts of hysterical laughter, dancing and singing like a maniac and snorting some boar tusk scratchings, Christoph agreed to purchase the tooth in exchange for a bit of gold and 3 potions which could be collected in 10 days time.  Satisfied with the transaction (but sufficiently creeped out), the group decided to follow Lionel's suggestion and find The Stone Pony tavern.  

As they rounded a corner into an open square, they spotted the stone statue of a horse rearing up in front of the building: their destination, The Stone Pony.  The district of Low Town that the Tavern occupied was a lively one at night, many street performers and street workers were out, and there was a lively energy in the air as the citizenry went about their debauchery.  As they haggled with Kaza for a good 10-day rate for 2 rooms (they were eventually landed in rooms "C" and "D" with Hettle/Grimpem in "D" and Arauk in "C"), one of the group noticed that there was abnormally large number of brothel girls in this tavern.  The gang watched as a drunken man approached one of these girls, propositioned, was rejected and got aggressive.  As the trio rose to intervene on the lady's behalf, they quickly discovered their assistance was not needed as a score of brothel girls erupted into a violent storm of resistance and beat the ever-living shit out of the poor fellow.  They learned from Kaza that these particular brothel girls had their contracts bought out by Lady Kyoko who then in turn hired them to work the bellows in the mighty forge at the top of the city.  

At that moment, one of  Kyoko's silent guards entered the tavern, spotted them from across the room, and identified him/herself as one of the guards on the caravan when they were attacked by the demon boar with a silently raised solidarity fist.  He/She strode over and handed them a written invitation to see Lady Kyoko the following morning, but with little other details included.  

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The next morning, they made their way to the Iron Palace, called Tetsu-jo in the native tounge.  After mistaking a high profile and blustery councilor for Lady Kyoko, the Mistress of Jiyutoshi presented herself to them, humbly dressed and even-tempered.  She beckoned them into her personal wing of the palace, taking them through finely manicured zen gardens, meticulously cultivated courtyards, and finally, to a separate wing on the far end of one of her courtyards.  There, the trio found themselves in the presence of dozens of men, elves, halflings and many other goodly races…but who were all 9c5533c10013592db4fa548f6b40ce7b.jpgbandaged and deformed.  These folk were suffering from something akin to leprosy, and the trio learned that they had all been outcasts until Lady Kyoko took them in.  She gave them care and purpose, by having them work as accountants for the city, helping Lady Kyoko with the tremendous feats of organization the city and economy needed to keep going.  

The Mistress of The Free City requested assistance from them in 2 ways, as her own forces were stretched to the breaking point.  First, her mining/scouting expeditions that had struck out into the Wildlands in search of their next iron ore mine have been disappearing…as have the search parties sent out to find them.  She fears the worst but needs to know if there are any survivors and, just as importantly, what is causing these disappearances.  The second task was a domestic one, in the form of a newly arrived and particularly brutal organization of thieves and murderers, calling themselves the Shadow Hands.  The criminal underworld of Jiyutoshi had been, since her rule began, relatively benign…petty thievery, burglarly, pick-pocketing, money laundering scams and the like.  But her city guard didn't have the resources to deal with this new savagery, and she requested the trio's assistance in any way they could: any information about the group to aid in their expelling from Jiyutoshi, or any progress in eliminating them.  She promised they would not go unrewarded for their services, and allowed the group to spend the afternoon partaking in some hospitality…a meal, some time in the palace baths and such.  

The gang left the Palace many hours later, having spent the majority of the afternoon in comfort.  They crossed the vast city back towards the Stone Pony in Low Town…but sometime after sundown as they were crossing through one of the more seedier slums, a shrill scream pierced the night air, and around the corner came running a young girl, of about 10 years.  Plowing straight into the group, the young girls babbled incoherently for a few moments about "somethingsomethingitsaftermesomethingsomethingMONSTER"

Not more than a few seconds later, there was a low menacing growl, and from around the corner in pursuit of the young girl, came leaping a monstrosity the likes of which had never been seen by any of the 3 adventurers.  Built on the frame of a man, various wolf parts seemed to have been grafted on…a Chimera of wolf and man: The torso and hips of a man, but the legs, forearms/claws, tail and combination head of a wolf/man!  A more vile hybrid they had never seen.

A savage battle ensued, and the horrific nightmare beast was defeated.  Finding little of interest on the beast itself (save for a few extracted teeth, courtesy of Hettle), the trio brought the young girl, who's name they learned to be Mei, back to the Stone Pony where she would feel more safe around a crowd of humanoids.  It is there, they began planning their next move when Grimpem noticed something was missing from its usual place in his coat pocket…

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Jiyutoshi
The Story Begins

Stonehaven.jpg

For years, this isolated settlement on the edge of the savage Wildlands has called to those with a rogue streak of independence, entrepreneurship, a taste for adventure or any/all of the above. Even though Jiyutoshi owes its allegiance to the capital city of Mah’Puana, its geographical distance from the capital has allowed it to function as a near sovereign state for many years. Governed by Lady Kyoko, a charismatic and much-beloved leader by its citizens, Jiyutoshi has solidified itself as an economic powerhouse and urban bastion from the Wildlands, against which the city is dangerously nestled.

What once was merely a glorified outpost for explorers of the frontier, the discovery of massive iron ore deposits in the surrounding lands caused both an economic and population boom in Jiyutoshi. The city’s footprint began to expand rapidly and the burgeoning metropolis existed in a near lawless state for many years as the city was flooded with all manners of people wishing to gain control of the new found wealth. Crime was rampant, rival gangs battled openly in the streets as they each sought to establish themselves as the dominant force in the city. But it was Lady Kyoko and her mysterious contingent of elite soldiers who eventually gained control. Not only did Lady Kyoko crack down on violent crime by establishing a strong and persistent City Guard (captained by her personal elite warriors), she also organized the mining industry into a single united workforce, commissioned the massive forge in the center of the city and negotiated strong and lasting economic relationships with many wealthy merchants in the larger cities on the continent. In doing all these things, she created the stability that the city so desperately needed and for this, her people adore her with a ferocity not seen in any other city on the continent.

But recently, the exports from Jiyutoshi have begun to decline in volume. Messengers are not arriving either at or from the Free City with the regularity they used to. Rumors and stories have begun to circulate of caravans traveling to and from the city being attacked by strange beasts, with some caravans disappearing entirely. These rumors, disregarded by most as the ravings of mad men or sowers of discontent, have caused a migration of two types of people to Jiyutoshi: ambitious individuals who seek to capitalize on the sudden and strange instability, and those who would seek to help Jiyutoshi stabilize itself (and maybe make some coin in the process).

It is on one of these caravans that you find yourselves, bound for Jiyutoshi. Each traveler has their own reasons for making the difficult journey, but tensions run high as the convoy begins to make its way through the outskirts of the Wildlands, still a full day’s ride to Jiyutoshi. Many of those traveling with the caravan (totaling 15 individuals including yourselves: 3 of which are on their own horses, 2 horse-drawn carts upon which yourselves and those other travelers without horses ride, and including 3 armed guards from Jiyutoshi) begin to make nervous small talk as the dense and savagely lush forest presses in closer around you, cutting off almost all the natural light from the sun with its soaring, thick canopy. The air grows humid and stagnant as the smell of wet leaves and decaying plant life creeps into your nostrils. Moss-covered trees grow larger and thicker here than most have ever seen, and the sounds of fauna one might expect in such a wilderness are conspicuously absent.

An elderly human man of about 60 years sits on one of these carts. He wears the black and red tunic of an employee of the Free City, and his perpetually soot-stained fingers reveal him as a worker of the great forge. His nerves are shown clearly on his face, and his remarkably thick and well-worn hands run hastily through the thinning wisps of white hair on his head as he swallows loudly, lets out a tense chuckle and asks to nobody in particular,
“(gulp) hehe…what brings you to the Free City?”

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