Session 9. – Out of the frying pan, into the fire.
It had been 3 days since we’d returned from our adventures in the sewers beneath The Little Kingdom. The night of the 3rd day, we all awoke from vivid nightmares with a scream. We all awoke at the same time and we each had a thin sheen of cobwebs upon us. Jack leaned over from the top bunk and asked if I’d just awoken from a dream? Jack had been assigned as my bunkmate, despite his reservations and lack of lock on the door. His protest to Mary fell upon deaf ears. I wasn’t surprised, I was pretty sure that Mary had assigned him to my room to keep an eye on me when she wasn’t around. Despite Jack’s protestations, she refused to relent. In the end, she conceded to at least knock before entering. I informed Jack what a sock on the doorknob meant.
I didn’t understand the significance of my dream. I remember walking down the streets of a ghost town. Dust and tumbleweeds blew through the street. I turned upon hearing a noise behind me. There stood James. He was surrounded by a green glow, his eyes glowing bright green. The same green eldritch energy as had infused me! His eyes blazed with hate and he drew he saber as he stalked towards me. I had no weapons and was seized with a desire to run, but I could not. My legs had become as stone and wouldn’t move. I then awoke. Jack later said that I’d muttered to myself afterward. I spoke about James’s death being his own fault and how if he’d only shown better judgement, he’d still be alive.
The door flew open. Cid stood in the doorway. As the door opened, Jack had drawn a bead with lightning speed. It’s a good thing that he paused for a moment as he almost shot Cid like a dog before realizing who had come calling. Still, he reproached Cid. With not a little sarcasm, I invited Cid in. He had had a nightmare as well. Cid assumed that his nightmare was the result of me having another “episode”. I assured him as that was not the case. I gave a recounting of my nightmare. Jack and Cid did the same. They’d both dreamt of dead people they’d known. Cid dreamt of his father, Ron; while Jack had dreamt of a friend that he’d known. Jack speculated that perhaps on some level we’d all felt guilt for those deaths. That is definitely not the case, besides, James had no cause to hold me responsible for his death. I did acknowledge responsibility for leaving him for the buzzards. That was my call, however, I feel no guilt over that.
Cid called Xun in and asked about his dream. Xun would say little except that he’d dreamt about the veiled woman he’d helped escape Malifaux Station during our arrival. We sat up the remainder of the night contemplating. No one of which we knew had the power to invade our dreams? Jack told us of tales of which he’d heard about neverborn that could attack people through their dreams. What could it be?
The next morning, we were called to McKinney’s office. We had a new job. It seems that Kat was quite pleased with our performance during our last mission. She’d requested us for another assignment, some guard duty this time. We were to meet Kat later in the day. The only information that we were given was to come, “loaded for bear, this is going to be rough.” Great. So, on our way to the meet, we stopped at our usual weapons/armor shop. Unfortunately, my custom duster wouldn’t yet be ready for several weeks so I traded in the duster for an actual breastplate and some greaves. Some of the others did the same. More ammunition would be a good idea as well.
We met Kat at the rendezvous point. She led us back into the sewers. Damn it all! Not the cursed sewers again! Kat led us on a winding path through the sewers and into the QZ. Eventually, we entered into a network of rooms surrounding a large domed chamber. Within, she introduced us to her employer, Tara. Tara was a pale, raven haired beauty with a gaping hole punched through her chest! She explained our purpose. She revealed an odd box. Son of a…., this was the same damnable box that we’d nearly perished while trying to recover. Tara then told us that our task would be to guard her while she conducted a ritual to destroy the box and its contents. The moment that she began, the neverborn owner of the box would be able to key onto its location, and she would respond. We would be controlling teams of her minions and would coordinate a defense of the area while she completed the ritual. She then introduced us to our “soldiers”.
We drew lots for areas and teams. I drew the shortest. Xun, who won got first choice. He took the NE quadrant. His squad consisted of mechanically augmented undead. These creatures remind me of the “students” created by Prof. Von Shtook at his “University of Transmortis”. As such, they are completely mindless and need constant, specific direction in order to function. Without it, they simply stand by like lumps of dirt. Cid was stationed in the NW quadrant. He also commanded undead troops, a couple of which were some of the Guild guards that we’d provided to Kat! That’s good. I was actually worried that these corpses would be used for some nefarious purpose. His minions actually had some mental capacity and could act somewhat independently. Jack was in command of the SW quadrant. His command was made up of constructs and various flesh golems, clearly the heavy infantry of the lot. That left the SE sector for me to defend. My squad was made up of a couple undead hounds called Canine Remains and a large, nasty, patchwork abomination full of poison and dangerousness that she referred to as a Rogue Necromancy. They, like Xun’s warriors were also mindless automatons and needed constant direction.
Our zones consisted of 2 levels. The lower being sewer tunnels and chambers. The upper was catwalks and ledges which gave a limited view of the floor below. All of which surrounded the domed room which also had an upper ledge running around the perimeter. Below was a large pit in which a fire was to be set. Tara would stand on a ledge where she would perform the ritual. Kat took up guard just behind her and Tara’s personal guard; 3 incorporeal beings, 2 bug-like creatures (Void Wretches) and a large multi-armed, tentacled creature (a nothing beast) were posted around the pit. We positioned our troops and ourselves and Tara began.
Tara was casting for 10 minutes before we began to notice movement at our perimeters. I readied my carbine. Soon, all manner of creatures began to filter in. Once they’d massed, they moved in to attack! Some of them I recognized, others that I didn’t (Tara and Kat later filled in some gaps). We would face, Sorrows, Insidious Madness’s, Ghosts, Poltergeists, Stitched Together’s, Nephelim (3 Terror Tots and 1 Mature), and a Blood Shaman. The remaining creatures that we’d not faced were Teddy’s (huge teddy bears with claws and sharp teeth), alps (minor demons that feed on the drams of mortals), living dolls (child sized dolls armed with long needles), the veiled woman from the train station (although she was now sans veil and we could see that her face was that of a spider! (She was called a Widow Weaver), a baby with a teddy bear and a butcher knife?, and lastly but certainly not least, a red haired vixen whom Kat and Tara called Pandora! Not THE Pandora? It couldn’t be? But it was fitting as it was her box being destroyed. I remember her from a Guild wanted poster. She has a 30,000 scrip reward out for her. She is known as the “Bringer of Sorrow and Despair”, not someone with whom to cross.
The attack had begun. Pandora moved first. She spoke words of despair to Xun than compelled him to pull his pistol and shoot himself. Luckily he only hit himself in the leg. The knife wielding baby waddled up and stroked his teddy bear and swapped places with one of the Teddy’s. 3 of those accursed Insidious Madness’s, similar to the one from the warehouse from our first mission, flew through the walls and made straight for Tara! The Widow Weaver cast a spell and webbed some of Xun’s undead. Those webs looked a lot like the ones that had covered us the other night. Tara’s Void Wretch’s then flew up to our balcony. They cast a charm of quickness upon Jack and myself, I felt the rest of the world slow down, this should be useful. I sent one of the hounds down to the first level to try and delay the Insidious Madness that moved our way, my Rogue Necromancy I sent after a Teddy. It gave the Teddy a nice blast of acid breathe through the slits in a nearby wall. After seeing that attack, I’m glad that we are on the same side.
As they advanced, I saw some of the wounds inflicted upon the Teddy’s begin to close. Damn! Some of Cid’s undead were able to bring down an Insidious Madness. Then the mature nephelim flew up onto the catwalk near Cid! Fortunately, Tara sent her Nothing Beast up to engage it. Meanwhile, a Terror Tot, a Sorrow and the Blood Shaman all moved toward one of my catwalks! I had a hound guarding the other, but I directed it to the threatened area. Before it arrived though, I killed a Terror Tot and wounded a Sorrow with my carbine. To the north, Xun and one of his troops began attacking a Sorrow. The Insidious Madness paralyzed one of my hounds while the baby stoked his bear and jumped forward. The Widow Weaver also advanced.
My Void Wretch quickened me, then moved to attack the Insidious Madness that was below me. It had been quickened by the other Void Wretch and seemed more vulnerable to the Void Wretch attacks. The mature nephelim knocked the Nothing Beast back with a massive blow. Fortunately, Cid was able to kill it with one of his freezing blasts. It’s a good thing too for Xun’s line of defense was being overrun. His undead on the lower level were holding, but his forces on the catwalk were beginning to buckle. It didn’t help when a Terror Tot attacking his line killed one of Xun’s undead and morphed into a young nephelim! This is unexpected! I’d hypothesized that it was the act of feeding upon the life energy of those that they killed that enabled a nephelim to evolve. I may have to revise my theory. Or perhaps it isn’t necessarily life energy that they need. Perhaps any energy, even necromantic will suffice?
The Nothing Beast relocated to the ledge in Xun’s quadrant. It was a good thing too as one of the Teddy’s had made it to the central chamber. Xun got in a couple punches against the same Teddy, then he backed off, probably a wise move. While all this was happening, Pandora had moved up close enough to get a line of sight on Tara. She hit her with some type of magical attack. It didn’t seem to damage her, though. Kat was able to shoot and kill the Insidious Madness below me, she attacked the 3rd Insidious Madness, but not before it reached Tara. It whispered something to her. Whatever it did rattled her enough to interrupt her casting.
The baby left its Teddy’s and moved up onto the catwalk, approaching Jack’s position. The Widow Weaver blew a kiss to Xun? It then dropped another web on his troops. As the baby waddled closer to Jack, he fired a shot from his pistol. It struck the baby and blasted it backwards off of the catwalk to the floor below with a clap of thunder! My Rogue Necromancy attacked the Teddy with which it was engaged. The Teddy then responded with a devastating attack that rocked the RN back on its feet. My hound had killed the Sorrow that it was fighting. Cid’s undead were able to kill a Sorrow and wound another of the Teddy’s.
A pair of Living Dolls and Alps charged Jack and myself. I’d managed to wound one, but then the Alp cut itself and its blood flowed into the dolls wounds, closing them. Damn it! Behind me, Tara, her casting interrupted, headed upstairs. I glanced back and saw her draw a very nasty looking sword. A sword made from Soulstones! My god, that thing would be worth a fortune! From the pit below, the flames had begun to die off and a cloud of steam had begun to rise from the box?
Pandora began to move off. As she walked away she yelled, “Go bring me my box!” Xun killed one of the Stitched and in its death throws it lashed out and wounded him. Good to know, kill them from a distance. He then shot and killed another Sorrow. Then the Widow Weaver walked up to Xun and said something to him? I wonder what?
The baby did his teleporting trick and appeared next to a Teddy. Jack then shot the Living Doll that was coming for him. This one was also blasted off of the catwalk. He then shot and killed the Alp that accompanied it. My Rogue Necromancy seemed to be enraged by the Teddy’s attack. It responded with a devastating claw attack that shredded the Teddy where it stood. I backed off a step and put a round into the head of the doll that had attacked me, dropping it.
Tara’s Void Wretch’s moved to engage the young nephelim, who had moved up to stand by the Teddy. One of them attacks it. I’m still not sure of what I saw, but it seemed like the VW’s mouth enlarged, like a snakes jaw unhinging. It opened its mouth and swallowed the nephelim whole! It was like it was pulled into nothingness! Below a Teddy killed one of Jack’s golems. The VW that had swallowed the young nephelim was unfortunately slain by a Teddy, which resulted in the nephelim being expelled from wherever it had been. The other Void Wretch was then killed by the Teddy’s 2nd attack. Sigh.
Cid was faring rather well in his quadrant. His undead Guild guards had taken out another Stitch. This was good as it freed up Cid to save my hide when the young nephelim jumped across the gap to land right in front of me. I was luckily able to dodge its attacks, but for how long? It didn’t matter as Cid was able to kill it with one of his cold blasts.
A Stitch attempted some kind of attack on another of Cid’s undead. Whatever it tried to do failed and it ended up wounding and killing itself. Back in Xun’s quadrant, the Blood Shaman had chosen to bypass the kill zone I’d established on my catwalk. It had been fighting with some of Xun’s troops. It finally succeeded in killing the last one and despite being wounded, pressed ahead toward the inner chamber.
My Rogue Necromancy killed the Living Doll that had landed nearby via Jack’s attack. Per my orders it then continued to stalk the nearest Teddy, bringing one of the hounds along with it. Tara charged and killed the Teddy that had killed her Void Wretches. Below, in the pit, the last of the flames flickered and died. The cloud that had been rising from the pit, flowed over Jack’s head and had begun swirling, like a hurricane.
An alp had made it to the pit and attacked Kat. Instead of trying to disengage and shoot it, she attempted to punch it with no effect at all. The Widow Weaver moved around back and targeted a pile of scrap with some spell. It rose up again as a new Living Doll! Jack moved to a firing position on a nearby catwalk and hit the remaining Teddy with one of his thunder blasts. My Rogue Necromancy then hit it with an acid breath attack. The knife wielding baby was standing nearby and caught some of the splash from the acid, it wasn’t much, but it was enough to kill it. The Teddy then attacked and killed one of Jack’s constructs before moving away.
Cid’s undead Guild guard killed the newest Living Doll. By this time, the Blood Shaman had entered the inner chamber. Tara pulled her peacebringer and shoots dead both the shaman and the alp that was attacking Kat. Tara then spoke some words of necromancy and raised up 3 of the nearby corpses as zombies.
The cloud over Jack’s head had begun to rain! Xun who had teleported next to the box, picked it up and teleported away? Kat called to him to bring it back it was now safe. From my positon on the catwalk, I saw him appear in the next room over. What is he doing, the inner chamber is secure? Everything that had breached the perimeter is dead and there are active threats outside? Then from across the complex, we all heard the Widow Weaver shriek, “TRAITOR!” Was she screaming at Xun? He’d gone off alone with her after he’d helped her escape that night at the train station, had they made a deal of some kind? From the scream of rage Tara made, I hope that he didn’t plan of fleeing as she is not someone we want as an enemy.
The Widow Weaver created another Living Doll from the ruins of the 1st. Jack drew a bead on the last Teddy and blew it to hell! Cid was able to hit the Widow Weaver with one of his frost attacks, slowing her actions. Above Jack’s head, within the cloud the forms and features of spirits began to take shape! The Widow Weaver shrugged off Cid’s frost and screamed “stealing is a sin!” She must be referring to Xun? I’d been moving along the catwalk toward Xun yelling at him to take the box back. I told Jack that if he tried to run with it, we had to stop him. Across the complex in Cid’s sector, I saw Pandora returning to the field! I know Xun saw her too! Fortunately if he’d had any notion of trying to abscond with the box he thought better of it. He teleported back to the pit and tossed the box within. Now it was Pandora’s turn to curse him as a traitor. Tara had come back down to the lower floor and the flames once again came to life.
Pandora moved up onto Cid’s catwalk. She cast a spell upon him that compelled him to draw his knife? The Widow Weaver then moved onto his catwalk. Cid was not in a good place. He was penned in between the WW and a Living Doll with Pandora behind the doll! I moved up along the catwalk and put a round into the Widow Weaver. I must have hit something vulnerable for she seemed dazed. Some of Cid’s crew attempted to attack the Widow Weaver too, unfortunately, 2 of them hit Cid. Cid was still able to freeze the Widow again.
The cloud above Jack had become a full-fledged storm and was rumbling with thunder. Kara had once again began the ritual but it looked as if she’d need to begin again from the beginning. I hope that she can complete it in time. Xun climbed up to the catwalk and took a shot at the Widow Weaver, killing her. Pandora then hits Cid with an aura of despair. She must have then seen me moving into firing positon as she jumped down to the lower level and began to attack Cid’s troops.
Meanwhile, Jack holstered his pistols and drew a knife. He then ran for the ledge above the pit and jumped! He did a flip in mid-air and whilst doing so, he made a cut on his hand and splashed some of his blood onto the box. I used a corpse near to my Rogue Necromancy to heal it and then order it after Pandora. I don’t expect it to do too much against her, but it might distract her.
Pandora was in melee with Cid’s remaining undead, trying to move forward. Jack had landed next to the pit and his blood seemed to have invigorated the flames. Suddenly, lightning began to flash from the storm cloud over his head. One bolt struck him, another struck the box on the site where his blood had spilt. The reaction was instantaneous. The box exploded in a shower of sparks and the cloud above Jack dissipated. Pandora shrieked in rage like a banshee, turned and sped off screaming that it would take her months to complete another one of those.
I can’t believe it. We won! For a time, I very much questioned our survival. Once the fighting was done, Tara approached Xun and offered him any type of armor and weapons that he could wish. I recommended he go with a set of Dukes, you can’t get much better protection than that and still stay light. I made sure to harvest the nephelim heads as well, a bounty is a bounty after all.
Later, Kat led us all out of the sewers and back to the IZ. We stopped and cashed in our nephelim heads then made our way back to the MSEC compound for some rest. The next day a package arrived from Tara for Xun. Within were 3 suits of Dukes of York! Not a bad payday. Later, as I sat at a table with Cid, speculating on the events of the past couple days, he told me something interesting. The spirits within the storm cloud above Jack had been contained within the box. By destroying it, they had been released. Had we not destroyed it, they would have manifested as Sorrows, Insidious Madnesses, and who knows what else. There would have been hundreds of them. Gods, what someone like Pandora could’ve done with an army such as that at her command? Let’s hope that it will take her awhile to rebuild her box, and even longer to re-fill it.