Flintlocks & Fireballs

Jan 12 498: The Bottom of the World

The party travel south with the Emperor and Bergholt in tow and reach a vast ice field, at the centre of which is their target, the ruined Praxian observatory.

As they explore the complex of crumbling buildings they encounter Somta, significantly warped from his heavy use of Etherite. He greets them and is irrationally distrustful of Faqual, claiming that the Etherite hates Devils. He claims to have been led here by dreams sent by Etherite, and that it has a great purpose for him.

Somta shows the party a basement in the ruins which is full of some sort of machinery; this is apparently powered by carved Etherite crystals, which are glowing blue (rather than the ugly purple of unrefined Etherite). At the far side are four cubicles, one of which contains an alien figure frozen in a block of ice: a slender, emaciated humanoid with chalky-grey skin and a beak like a beetle’s carapace for a mouth. The party realise that this matches the Praxians’ depictions of themselves in hieroglyphs.

Somta claims that the machinery will allow him to revive this Praxian, and tries to convince the party to help him. Papan is enthusiastic, and Blink seems like he might be convinced, but Jal, Faqual, Angela and Freddie are dubious, and fear that the released Praxian might be hostile. After a long argument, they bring Dr. Bergholt in to ask his opinion; he confirms that the machinery is indeed capable of restoring a person to life, and argues that yes, he can make it work, and yes, it’s a really good idea. As the argument rages back and forth, Angela decides to solve the problem by shooting Dr. Bergholt, blowing his head clear off his shoulders. Seeing this, Somta goes into a berserk rage and attacks, transforming into an Etherite horror.

During the battle Freddie is drawn away to deal with a number of Somta’s Blazer minions trying to flank the party, while the others deal with Somta. Jal takes the opportunity to sabotage the machinery during the battle, and as Somta draws the party away to an upstairs room Papan stays behind to try and fix it.

With Freddie and Papan occupied the fight goes badly, and only gets worse when Papan responds to the party’s shouts for help by turning on them. Faqual is eventually able to persuade her to finish Somta first; she does, and then takes Angela’s ear as a trophy. Papan is able to stabilise Angela and Jal, but by now Blink has bled to death. With the others still too badly wounded to intervene, she takes Blink’s body, places it into one of the empty booths in the machinery, and then jams her Etherite dagger into it to try and undo Jal’s sabotage. The machinery activates, and Blink’s body freezes into a block of ice like the Praxian’s. As an afterthought, she puts Bergholt’s severed head into the third booth, and then patches Jal and Angela up enough for them to walk. As she is leaving, Faqual, Jal and Angela quickly confer and decide to take her down; they do, easily, and place her into the fourth booth (Angela taking Papan’s ear as she does.)

Freddie returns from the battle, and the party look over the hieroglyphs in the Observatory. Faqual is able to identify the stars depicted in the hieroglyphs as pointing to a place and time. With no answers and no idea how to proceed, the party eventually decide to leave Papan and Blink in the ice and return to ask Zoe’s advice.

On the way out of Praxia, the party see Afareen’s troops crossing the border to attack her nearest rival undead lord, Lord Dread, led by the undead Emperor.

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Jan 11 498: Bergholt's Pass

The party reach the pass where Faqual’s team were previously attacked. The pass itself is occupied by two magitech undead like the ones the Knight of Putrescence commanded, as well as a man Freddie recognises as Dr. Bergholt. Her sharp eyes also pick out shapes hidden amongst the folds of the cliffs.

Rather than attacking, Dr. Bergholt begins to negotiate. He warns the party that the Observatory ruins are infested with Etherite monsters, and that if they fight each other here then neither side will be powerful enough to defeat them. He makes an offer to the party: he will let them pass, if they give him the head of the monsters’ leader (which resembles, apparently, a puma) when they return.

The party initially agree, and Bergholt stands his forces down, but when they come close Freddie leaps to attack. After a close fight they defeat Bergholt’s undead forces, take Bergholt himself captive, and continue on to the Observatory. Under interrogation Bergholt reveals that he believes that the Observatory contains the missing link he needs in his (heretical) research on ressurecting people using Magitech, and that he is only working with Festerbloat in order to achieve this goal.

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Jan 6 498: Queen of the Dead

The party navigate the arctic wastes to Afareen’s fortress, Arik’s influence preventing her troops from attacking them. The fortress is an imposing creation. It is patrolled by invisible undead which Arik calls Phantoms, visible only by their weapons and the masks they wear.

The party are brought to Afareen’s throne room. Queen Afareen appears as a normal Arakeshi woman, with no visible sign of her necromantic nature — except that there are a few moments, when her concentration lapses, during which her flesh becomes more translucent and the shape of the bones beneath is visible.

Afareen tells the party that she is using the Ibis camps to create an army of undead and infiltrate Ramaslu, disguising her minions as Imperial Legionnaries. She eventually intends to conquer the North and reinstate herself as Queen of Arakesh, but is locked in a stalemate with her necromantic neighbour Lord Dread, who is trying a similar strategy. She considers Dread to be her main rival: Festerbloat is, in her words, nothing more than “a pawn who, for the moment, become a knight”.

Afareen holds a grudge against the bin Zahns for throwing her out of Arakesh in the first place, and so does not trust Freddie’s promise to restore her name on the Pillars.

Papan, at this point, shows Afareen the Emperor’s severed head. She is fascinated by this: apparently, it would take great effort to raise someone after a week’s death. She offers the party her assistance in breaking Festerbloat’s blockade in exchange for the head, and they accept.

Afareen works her magic, and the Empire is more thoroughly ressurected: his upper body is restored, and he regains his youth and much of his mental faculties, though he is also clearly — barely — under Afareen’s control. Recognising her as his murderer, he vows to kill Papan once he is free of his debt to Afareen.

Papan suggests that the Emperor be the siege weapon Afareen provides them; Afareen thinks this would be entertaining, and agrees. The Emperor accompanies them, flanked by two Phantoms.

The party leave Afareen’s territory. On the way, Faqual takes the time to speak with the Emperor. He learns that the Emperor has no confidence in his son’s ability to rule, and manages to persuade him that the North would welcome him if he returned to take the throne.

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Jan 6 498: The Ibis Connection

The inhabitants of the coach drive away as quickly as possible, as skeletal guards drop from the trees. Angela places a shot through one of the horses’ necks, and the drivers lose control of the coach, sending it over a short cliff and wrecking it.

Meanwhile the party battle the undead assailants, quickly finishing them off with the help of a Devil who has appeared as if from nowhere. The undead seem to be using ancient Arakeshi armour and weapons, and Fredi is able to identify the language spoken by their priest’s severed skull (which is still animate) as ancient Arakesh.

The party take the two humans driving the coach prisoner, and find that it was transporting a number of shackled slaves. The driver freely admits that she was working for IBIS, which is a front for the Praxian undead queen Afareen bin Zahn, and bringing these people (who were initially under the impression that they were going to an IBIS work camp) to be transformed into Afareen’s living dead minions. She argues that Afareen is the world’s best bet against the Empire, and believes that the lich-queen will restore Arakesh to its rightful position on the world stage. At this point, Blink lets slip that the party are carrying the Emperor’s head in a bag, and Angela shoots the two IBIS operatives.

The prisoners are freed. Jal makes a fire to get them warm, and cooks a stew from the dead horse. They pile into the wagon the party had been travelling in, and have a shot at making their way back to civilization.

Faqual, the Devil who had helped the party, tells them his story. He was part of a Hellfire Battalion squad who had been ordered to take copies of the hieroglyphs at the Observatory, but when they reached the pass they were routed by a force of rat-filled undead and buboe-hurling zombies. Faqual is convinced that the party as they stand will not be able to take the pass without backup.

Around this time, Angela realises that the Emperor’s head, which they have been carrying around with them, has come to life. It is mumbling incoherently about being under attack from rebels, and needing to be brought to safety.

After some discussion, the party decide to try to persuade Queen Afareen to lend them some firepower, reasoning that she will be glad to be rid of her rival Festerbloat, as well as having the skull of one of her minions returned to her (as well as the sweetener of being reinstated in the Arakesh Pillars of Genealogy that Armad mentioned). They take some time to persuade Arik, the undead priest they defeated, to bring them to Afareen.

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Jan 3 498: The Hungry Wastes

The Praxian wall is relatively intact here; BDMS make their way to the fort on the Ramaslu-Praxia border which they will need to pass, and discover that it is completely deserted. A lone figure is keeping the signal fire atop the fort (which signals to the adjacent forts that it still stands, and is in no need of assistance) fed and lit; the party discover that it is an animated skeleton, quickly dispatch it, and extinguish the signal fire, deciding that at this point the Empire is less of a worry than an undead invasion. They hurry through to Praxia before Imperial Legions arrive from the next forts to ask inconvenient questions.

The party begin their journey through the snow-laden woodlands of North Praxia, Freddie’s outdoorsmanship helping them overcome the limitations of their hastily-assembled equipment. They soon spot a plume of smoke, and investigating find a Devil, dying of a hideous disease, hunched over a cooking fire. The devil tells them that he was part of an Unspecified Services expedition who was routed by Festerbloat’s undead. Seeing Blink, he tries to warn him — in between coughing fits — that Zaszperezal knows about ‘the treasure’ and is trying to locate it. He is about to say more when he expires.

Continuing onwards, the party soon realise they are being followed. They abandon the cart to take cover, and realise their ‘pursuers’, in a black horse-drawn cart, have switched to a different, higher road. From their hiding place, Freddie hails them.

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Dec 25 497: The Fall of an Emperor

Dhurkut is thick with storms of red dust from the Ramaslu stripmines, and heavy with people starving on the streets: with food supplies from Arakesh dwindling and rationing poorly-implemented, many people are going without food. Between Angela’s and Freddie’s contacts, BDMS learn that work camps are being set up to grow rice at short notice, but that two of the companies allegedly organising these — the Freeman Work Cooperative and the Ibis Labour Company — have no work camps that their contacts can find; they’re just transporting people out of Dhurkut to no visible end.

Zoe’s zombie wounds are turning nasty, and she stays with the Rebel contact, Armad bin Zahn. Armad provides BDMS with two replacement rebel agents while Zoe recovers: Gasparo Anglioni, a Mistwalker, and Papin Tippani, a Senescite worshipper of the Moctarim cat-gods. While Angela and Freddie talk to Armad about the situation in Dhurkut, Papin persuades Blink — to Anglioni’s horror — to go with her and murder some Imperial Guard. Anglioni reports back to Freddie and Angela with this, and the three of them hurry to try and find Blink and Papin before they get themselves arrested.

They find Blink and Papin brawling in an alley behind a coaching inn with two Imperial Guardsmen. All of a sudden inside the inn they hear the WHAUMM of a powerful magitech device being activated. Two heavily-armed bodyguards hurry out the front of the inn with a third, cloaked figure (the source of the sound), who has an aura resembling huge flaming wings and bundle into a waiting cart. The party now start taking pot-shots at the cart, but are unable to make much progress against the bodyguards’ highly advanced magitech weapons and armour. The cart races across the street and is immediately fired upon from a third group hidden in a building, knocking a wheel out. A Mistwalker smokebomb goes off as the bodyguards and the assassins get into a massive firefight. Gasparo intercepts the third figure as he stumbles out of the cloud of smoke to discover that his aura of flame has run down, and that he is the Emperor Leder, cadaverous and weakened by age, Bindwort withdrawl, and the aftereffects of the magitech device.

Gasparo persuades the Emperor that he is an additional bodyguard, here for his protection, and bundles his away with the rest of the party to the Rebel safehouse. Armad is understandably horrified to have the Emperor delivered to his doorstep; they decide that they don’t have time to properly interrogate him, but persuade him to part with the device so that it can be recharged then kill him, taking his head and fleeing Dhurkut with the bare bones of their cold weather equipment as soldiers pour into the streets. As they escape, Armad confides in them that if they are heading into Praxia, one of the local undead lords is an ancestor of the bin Zahns, and if they truly require her assistance, he’s willing to restore her place on the Arakesh Pillars of History (though he notes that doing so would darken the name of the bin Zahn family, so warns Freddie not to offer this lightly.) Zoe is left behind and relocated to a rebel bolthole, where two rebel agents keep an eye on her as often as they can spare it in the mayhem that swiftly envelops Dhurkut.

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Dec 1 497: The Dead of Ramaslu

To reach Praxia BDMS must pass through Ramaslu; in particular, they stop off at the town of Dhurkut on the border to pick up cold-weather gear. The train to Dhurkut, however, stops as it’s going through a Ramaslu mountain pass and the party hear the crew call for any surgeons. The party head forwards to find that the tracks ahead have been blocked by a landslide and a train ahead has been derailed, with most of the inhabitants dead or missing. The derailed train looks like a military vehicle, with a gun emplacement and troops in Dourmoor livery, all wounded or dead. As BDMS investigate further, a call from up the mountain goes out: “By my command, rise!” and the dead get to their feet and attack, assisted by two magitech-powered zombies which turn out to be mere sacks of skin sewn up and filled with hungry rats, and led by a figure in blackened, decaying armour who spits poisonous bile at them and calls himself the Knight of Putrescence. Zoe is swarmed by zombies and badly wounded in the fight, but the undead are eventually defeated. The Knight mocks and threatens them as they interrogate him, Blink cunningly playing on his vanity and egotism to learn that he is a servant of an undead warlord in Praxia named Festerbloat who believes in the superiority of disease and rot. The undead are burned, and (the captain and several crew having been slain by the undead) BDMS take charge of organising the passengers on the train into clearing the rubble, and have made some progress when a train from a company called the Freeman’s Work Cooperative arrives in the other direction (past the rubble), laden with mercenaries and engineers. When the FWC learn that there was an undead attack they spring into action, bringing the passengers to safety and setting up a perimeter; their train takes BDMS and the passengers to Dhurkut, with a request to report into the FWC’s offices there to debrief them.

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Nov 10th 497: The Beast of Dourmoor

Thorni beats the others to Bierstadt and is suddenly confronted by Andrew Alderton, who has managed to identify him as a member of BDMS and identify BDMS as being Bierstadt-based. Alderton is furious with him, in the belief that Thorni was responsible for Rini’s death, and calls upon him to answer to the Rose for his crimes. Thorni refuses to repent or offer any explanation to Alderton, believing Alderton to have fallen from the path of the Rose; he and his vassals battle Alderton and his Rose Knight associate, Nazrin bin Tariq, in the city square. It’s a close call, but Thorni narrowly defeats Alderton and bin Tariq; he leaves them alive and gets out of Bierstadt as quickly as possible.

The party arrive in Bierstadt to find Alderton being kept captive in the BDMS safehouse by their operatives. Angela is able to fast-talk Alderton into believing that they attacked and murdered Rini under the psychic influence of the Eyebeast, and convinces Alderton that BDMS are Unspec agents investigating the corruption of Lord Volpe. Alderton forgives the party their actions, and, horrified of the allegations against Volpe, agrees to help. They have Alderton and Wayhew conceal themselves while Volpe visits the Pearl, and they both witness Volpe asking to watch a young woman being murdered by a Blazer for his entertainment. They burst in; Volpe realises the game’s up, and while Alderton and wayhew are away writing down a witness statement Volpe makes a bargain with BDMS: if they allow him to go free, he’ll turn in the rest of his circle and obey Rebel instructions, including withdrawing Dourmoor military forces from Arakesh. The party agree to this, half of the Dourmoor forces returning to Dourmoor and the other half going south to reenforce the Praxian borders. They assign a personal assistant to Volpe loyal to the rebels named Stinking Jack, who will spy on Volpe and ensure he keeps his side of the deal.

The party take some time to rest and recover in Bierstadt before heading south to Praxia, hoping to catch up with Somta and bring him back into the fold before he goes on an Etherite-inspired killing spree and needs to be put down. Meanwhile, the news reports that Dourmoor forces have withdrawn from Arakesh, and Lord Volpe has heroically uncovered a ring of torturers and brought them to justice.

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Oct 25th 497: Sins of the Fathers

The party travel ahead of the Elfholm delivery and scout out the facility. They fight their way into the compound and find basic guard posts with an elevator down to a subterranean complex. They sneak down and meet a tough fight with a number of enhanced Blazer soldiers, and a Blazerified scientist whose crystals have significantly enlarged and elongated. He and Blink recognise each other, with some shock: this man, Blink suddenly remembers, is his father, Jacob Neumann.

They defeat Neumann and interrogate him. Neumann has been progressing Blazer research in the hopes of being able to resurrect Blink’s dead brother; he’d previously been investigating magitech-powered necromancy alongside a man called Dr. Bergholt (a name Zoe and Freddie both seem to recognise) before he realised that Bergholt’s research was going nowhere, and managed to get Bergholt exiled from Elfholm.

Neumann believes that the Blazer treatment doesn’t just make you stronger: it stops you aging; as he fills in elements of Blink’s past (including the incident involving Blink’s accidental murder of his brother, redirection of funds to the rebels, and affair with a Devil named Charity, which led to Blink ending up on the slab to be Blazerified; also including Blink’s real name, Isaac) he tells Blink that he is over eighty years old, and Neumann over a hundred. Neumann offers to work for the Rebels, transforming those of their soldiers they choose into his enhanced super-Blazers, in exchange for his life. BDMS discuss this, and eventually agree. Jal also considers Blazerification, but eventually declines.

On return to Whitendon, Thorni leaves the party, leaving a note behind stating his dissatisfaction with BDMS’ lack of respect for his dwarven heritage. He heads north to try and find Netherfael single-handed. Meanwhile, BDMS receive a note telling them to return to Bierstadt immediately: Lord Volpe intends to attend the Pearl for his ‘usual service’.

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Oct 20th 497: On a Rail from Elfholm

On returning to Whitendon the party make preparations to catch the Blazer shipment as it comes into the station. They see six man-sized metal crates being unloaded from the train and moved into a warehouse. The party sneak into the warehouse through the sewers to find the six crates placed throughout the warehouse; one of them is making a banging noise, as if something — or someone — inside were trying to get out. They open another, non-banging crate to find that it contains a recently-converted Blazer, beside himself with fear. He tells them that his name is Wendell Fraser, that he hadn’t volunteered for the procedure; that he’d been about to reveal incriminating evidence that a Blazer expert called Dr. Neumann had been dabbling in necromancy when he was attacked, knocked unconscious, and placed in with the subjects for Blazerification. He knows the location of the facility where the Blazers are being transported: at this station they’re switched onto a horse-drawn cart and driven out to a secret location in the Elfholm alkali flats. He promises that he can draw the party a map there; the party free him, and Blink volunteers to take his place in the crate so that the switch isn’t discovered.

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