8th of Veil 1107p.t. (Post Tempest)
The group awoke to the familiar site of the inverted shrine to Paranor. The light coming through the thick web-patterned glass was faint. The diffuse light lent an almost surreal feel to the chamber that caused Nicodemus to give voice to his thoughts, mumbling that he must be dreaming that they were still in the fringe.
Veruna readily dispelled that notion and proceeded to ready her backpack for travel, changing back into her human form. As she finished, with the rest of the jobbers collecting their few belongings, she inquired if Brother Keeganfall was intending to say some words over the bodies of the slain Stone Keepers.
The Andari shadowpriest looked up from where he was contemplating his last few tanglevine smokes and the last couple of draughts of gloom that remained in his flask. The past couple of days had dwindled his supply of both vices substantially. He hoped that the group would be back into GreyMesa proper by the evening.
Still, the Malakar’s words reminded Jonathon that he was priest in the service of Umbriel and that he should be taking that duty more seriously. However, he could not but help to ask Veruna wryly if she intended to take the Stone Keeper’s bodies all the way to the Tombs in ChalkChain.
Veruna replied that she just felt like something should be done to help the boy’s spirit rest easy in whatever afterlife awaited him. Keeganfall was about to make another snide remark, then looked over at where Nicodemus’ runewraith stood waiting on her master. That sight, coupled with the memories of the group’s battle with the Fury and the possessed boy, caused the shadowpriest to instead say that he would do what he was able, but he did not know if it would be enough.
With the matter of last rites settled, Roxton volunteered to accompany Jonathon to where the jobbers had arrayed the bodies of the slain. The others proceeded on down to where the Night Stalker hunters and the prepared packs of statuary were waiting.
When Katryn, Nicodemus, Kay, and Veruna entered the Night Stalker’s camp within Colrac manor, the smell of roasted and smoked meat permeated the air. The smell reminded Katryn and Nicodemus that they had partaken of nothing more than the half rations Veruna had presented two nights before. The inventor and runecaster both held their grumbling appetites in check while settling in to wait on Roxton and Jonathon to join them.
Moments later, the jobbers were all reunited, with Keeganfall finishing the last pull of his tanglevine smoke to hold his appetite in check. Roxton, however, decided that marching out of Fallen with a pack weighing over a hundred pounds on an empty stomach was not all that desirable.
The retriever approached Kra, the Malakar leader, and asked after some of the Night Stalker’s slag rat jerky. Kra reached into his belt pouch and pulled forth an undercooked strip of reddish-grey meat. The retriever gladly accepted and made a show of consuming the offering with relish.
The Night Stalkers responded well to Sloan’s efforts and, with the mood lightened, the jobbers and Malakar hunters set off through the ruins of Fallen on their way back to Blackstone Church. There the jobbers hoped to be able to procure a wagon or cart to transport the statue pieces back into GreyMesa since the Night Stalkers offer of aid ended at the church.
Outside the red granite walls of Colrac Manor, the sky was the color of a deep bruise and flashes of heat lightning raced across the sky out towards the barrens followed by the low ominous rumble of thunder. Veruna remarked that maybe a runestorm was coming, to which Roxton sarcastically replied that a runestorm was just what the group needed.
Not rising to the bait, the Malakar wayfinder moved to the front of the marching order, took a compass bearing, and began leading the group through the area’s rubble strewn streets. Veruna concentrated on choosing a path that presented the easiest means of travel since each member of the group was severely weighed down with the makeshift packs.
The jobbers and their pack bearers made good time thanks to Veruna’s skill at choosing the path. However, the weight of the packs, coupled with the strain of the last couple of days, had the companions concentrating more on placing one foot in front of another and less on conversation. Only the sound of harsh breathing and the occasional sound of distant thunder marked the journey through the shattered terrain.
Almost three hours after leaving Colrac Manor, the group came to the outskirts of Blackstone Church’s plaza. Unlike before, no fringers occupied the areas near the converted metal barrel fires and nowhere were the half-feral children which had previously been seen running amok through the nearby alleyways.
An ominous feeling began to rise among the group until the sound of singing was heard coming through the one open door of the church. Realizing that some sort of service must be underway, Roxton suggested that Brother Keeganfall move forward to enter the church just to verify this and to get some idea how long the group would need to wait. As the Andari left his pack and moved forward, the remaining jobbers and Night Stalkers gratefully removed the packs from their sore shoulders as well.
Using the packs as impromptu seating, the group watched as Jonathon lightly moved up the stairs of the church and gazed into the sanctuary. After a moment, all but Nicodemus saw the shadowpriest give the slightest of nods, turn, and begin moving back across the plaza.
Nicodemus rubbed at his eyes, his sight having been blurry since the group’s departure from the former Stone Keeper’s hold. At first he had attributed it to the lack of decent food and rest, now the runecaster began to fear that something else had occurred.
Katryn noticed the runecaster’s actions and inquired if all was well. When Nicodemus lowered his hand, the inventor saw that his eyes were heavily bloodshot despite his claim that he was fine. Katryn, concerned, recommended that Jonathon be asked to take a look at Nicodemus’ eyes to make sure he was all right. When the shadowpriest arrived back, stating that he had gotten Sister Roberts’ attention and that the service should be over shortly, Katryn did just that.
As Brother Keeganfall examined the runecaster’s eyes, he asked Nicodemus why he had not mentioned anything before now about his blurry vision and headaches. Nicodemus replied that he had not noticed anything different until the group had left the tower.
Jonathon, his examination finished, stated that as far as he could determine, the unexpected strain of Nicodemus’ manifesting of the runewraith had damaged his eyes. The shadowpriest went on to state that at this point the damage was completely beyond his ability to cure and that most likely Nicodemus would need to see a trained physician for spectacles.
Meanwhile, Veruna had been talking with Kra about the Night Stalker hunters staying to meet Sister Roberts rather than immediately setting back out for their tribe. The wayfinder, having been deeply affected by the health and plight of the Night Stalkers, wanted desperately for Kra to seek help for his people outside of his tribe. The young Malakar used every argument she could think of and eventually convinced Kra to stay.
Soon the services ended and the group saw the fringer congregation departing the church. Sister Roberts stood at the door shaking hands or saying a personal word with each member. As those members moved past the shadowpriestess heading back to their homes, the jobbers saw that the size of the sister’s flock was quite substantial.
Some of the men stopped when they saw the group camped at the edge of the plaza and Roxton rose in case any trouble was brewing. However, despite the presence of the Night Stalkers, the jobbers were recognized from their first visit. That recognition, along with a reassuring nod from Sister Roberts, prevented any unwanted confrontation.
As the group waited patiently for the shadowpriestess to become available, they noticed that the last person out of the church was obviously not a regular member. In fact, the man was completing some type of transaction with the Sister as the jobbers saw a pouch of coins exchanged for a small vial.
The man then proceeded down the steps until he noticed the companions at the plaza’s edge. Altering his course, the man crossed the open expanse obviously taking in the group’s ragged appearance and their makeshift packs.
As the man drew closer, the jobbers saw that he was late middle aged, with short cropped grey hair, weathered skin, and a long legged stride. He was dressed in a tattered long coat of dark brown LeatherJack, the hilt of a sword peeking above his right shoulder. At his waist was a holstered PitchPit pistol and about his neck hung a ragged scarf. Coming to a stop before the jobbers, the man extended his right hand covered in a fingerless glove, fixed them with blue eyes behind a perpetual squint, and introduced himself as Randal Shaw.
Roxton shook hands with the man, giving his name in return. As Shaw proceeded to greet each jobber in turn, several of them noticed the keen interest Shaw took in their gear and general well being. Once introductions were finished, Shaw proceeded to say that he was a sifter working the fringe and inquired if the group were the same.
Katryn answered that they were not, just that their latest job had been to retrieve some statuary remnants that were worthless except to the eccentric collector that had commissioned them. Roxton winced at Katryn’s attempt at nonchalance, but Shaw seemed to take the inventor’s comment in stride. Wishing the group a safe journey back into GreyMesa, the professed sifter turned and walked back across the plaza and into the fringe beyond.
Roxton noted the direction that Shaw took and was not reassured to see that the man was heading in the direction that the group intended to travel. Meanwhile, Veruna, Nicodemus with Kay, and Jonathon made their way over to where Sister Roberts awaited them at the top of the church steps dressed in her formal church garb of black and white robes. Once with the Sister, the runecaster told Kay to watch Shaw’s departure and the three jobbers entered the sanctuary.
Once they were inside, Veruna launched into her request that the Sister aid the Night Stalker tribe with whatever resources she could. The young wayfinder cited the poor conditions in which the Malakar lived along with the malnutrition that contributed to disease and sickness hoping to evoke the shadowpriestess’ compassion.
Once Veruna paused, Sister Roberts said that she would talk with the Night Stalkers, but that it would have to be the Night Stalkers’ desire to be aided otherwise there was not much she could do for them. In addition, the Night Stalkers would have to be willing to come to Blackstone Church to receive that aid as Sister Roberts’ duty was with her established congregation. Finally, the shadowpriestess said that such aid would not be without cost, to which Veruna replied that she was more than willing to make donations to facilitate that aid.
During this exchange, Nicodemus became exasperated and said that he was going to join his arcane companion on the church steps. Once outside, the runecaster rubbed at his eyes, muttering under his breath about the sudden altruistic streak Veruna was showing.
When Sister Roberts had finished her reply to Veruna’s impassioned plea, Brother Keeganfall mentioned that the group was also looking to acquire a handcart or wagon that they could use for their remaining trip into GreyMesa. Realizing that she had completely forgotten why the others had been seeking to stop at the church, Veruna silently chided herself and tried to keep a self-conscious blush from reaching her cheeks.
Sister Roberts said that a couple of families in her flock did indeed have handcarts or wagons, but she doubted if any would be comfortable with the idea of departing with the group and going all the way into the city at the top of the mesa. Jonathon said that was all right since the group would prefer to purchase the item outright so as not to have to worry with returning it.
The Sister nodded in understanding and said that she would speak with the families to see who might be interested, but that it would be up to the group to close any deal. Keeganfall said that was fine and stated that he and Veruna would rejoin their companions and make ready to negotiate for the cart or wagon as the case may be. With that, the Malakar and Andari collected the runecaster along with his runewraith and the four rejoined the others at the packs of statuary.
The jobbers talked over what their options were in terms of royals and trade goods to secure a conveyance for the statuary. When it became apparent that money alone was not going to be enough, several of them offered up equipment that they were willing to do without, depending on how the negotiations unfolded. The available funds and equipment settled, the jobbers decided that Veruna and Nicodemus would be the ones to handle the haggling for the group with the opening offer being in royals.
About the time the jobbers had finished their deliberations, they noticed that Sister Roberts was standing with an older human male across the plaza. The wayfinder and runecaster walked over, Nicodemus leaving Kay behind to keep from setting the fringer on edge.
The small man was dressed in clean, if thin-threaded, clothing, with wispy hair, light brown eyes, and a pale complexion. Sister Roberts introduced him as Owen and the man took each of the companions’ hands in turn with a feather light grip.
Owen said that he did have a cart that he would be willing to sell and led the Malakar and human over to a nearby building. There withered witchgrass poles covered an opening into the dilapidated structure and, when Owen removed them, revealed a weathered wooden handcart.
The handcart was overly long, with metal-rimmed wheels and a reinforced axle. The near petrified wood had a grayish cast to it and the long hand poles were polished smooth from years of use.
Once the pair had a chance to look the handcart over, Veruna began the negotiations by offering some of the group’s equipment, namely her short sword and Katryn’s spare FlintFlicker Fifty. Nicodemus seethed and quickly turned to look away as he fought to get his composure back. Owen, his eyes wide from the sight of the oiled firearm, explained that while the offer was generous, he did not think that he would be able to sell the FlintFlicker for anywhere near what it was worth.
Nicodemus turned back around and took charge of the negotiations at that point, smoothly transitioning from the offered weapons to actual royals. In the end, the runecaster’s efforts at gladhanding obtained the handcart for the jobbers at a cost of a hundred royals and Veruna’s short sword.
The runecaster let Veruna lift and pull the heavy handcart over to the others while he replaced the witchgrass poles. He then rejoined his companions, instructing Kay to assist Roxton, Keeganfall, and Katryn with the loading of the handcart.
Veruna meanwhile made introductions between Kra and Sister Roberts. As the Night Stalker leader and the shadowpriestess talked, the wayfinder stood by, nodding encouragingly to Kra as he listened to what Sister Roberts had to say. By the time the handcart was loaded, the Night Stalker had agreed to bring his people by periodically to see the Sister.
The arrangement made between the Sister and the Night Stalkers, the jobbers made ready to depart with Veruna impulsively hugging Kra and his hunters goodbye. When the farewells were finished, the jobbers divided themselves about the cart.
Jonathon and Katryn were paired on one pole; Veruna and Nicodemus were paired on the other pole, with Roxton and Kay pushing the handcart from the back. With a slow steady pull and push, the handcart began to roll slowly forward and soon the jobbers were once more underway back to GreyMesa.
Over an hour had passed as the jobbers made their steady way through the streets smelling of ammonia-tinged coal smoke. The group guided the handcart across broken rubble and over deeply pockmarked intersections. Only the sound of the group’s labored breathing interspersed with the occasional yowling of hunting cats echoing off of the decrepit structures kept them company during the march from Blackstone Church.
It was the sudden silence of the hunting cats that brought Roxton out of his thoughts at the back of the wagon while at the same moment Nicodemus, looking up from his feet to stretch his tightening back, caught the reflection of light from the third story of a ruined building. However, those slight warnings were not enough for the pair to alert their companions as the report of a heavy rifle and the sharp crack of a pistol heralded the arrival of a reaper ambush.
The rifle round shattered the ground behind the rune wraith while a second later Jonathon was clipped across his ribs by the pistol shooter. From the nearby alleyways several men closed on the wagon. The four that charged the back of the handcart were armored in ChainJack coats, with reinforced shields of metal-rimmed witchgrass and swinging morning stars. The other two attacking the front of the cart appeared to be hired grubs from the Fringe, metal pipes serving as clubs.
Nicodemus dodged the metal pipe swung at him and deftly sketched a rune of power, sending a ruby bolt scorching into the darkened window from which the rifle shot had originated. When no cry of pain came forth, the runecaster knew that his damaged eyesight had caused him to miss.
At the wagon, Roxton whipped out his rapier and lunged forcefully at one of the ChainJack-armored foes. The blade skittered off of the metal rings instead of parting them and only the retriever’s forward step spared him a brutal hit to his ribs.
Now that the moment of surprise had passed, the jobbers surged into the fray. Nicodemus dodged another shot of the rifle, the bullet clipping the near petrified pole at his side. The runecaster sent another stream of ruby light into the sniper position to keep the assailant concerned for his own hide while Nicodemus yelled that he had paid for the cart.
Veruna meanwhile unsheathed her fighting talons and the grub coming at her barely managed to skip backwards to avoid the Malakar’s swing. The grub's own return stroke was batted away and the pair faced off in the ruined street.
At the cart’s back, Kay swung wildly with her runic claws, smashing through the top of a reaper’s shield and scoring him across the chest. As the foe fell back, his partner unleashed an overhead swing that the rune wraith barely felt.
Roxton parried and dodged the two assailants pressing him into the rune wraith’s back. Setting his heels, the retriever surged forward trying to open up some space to work his blade. The move worked and a moment later Roxton’s rapier passed over a too low shield and through a reaper’s neck.
Brother Keeganfall had managed to shake off the momentary shock of being shot and with a flourish of his cloak drew his rapier, running it through the grub threatening Katryn. The inventor ducked a whistling round from the pistol sniper and drew forth her own unique firearm to aim up at the shadowy silhouette that threatened her.
More rounds peppered the handcart and ground as the reaper snipers sent another volley down at the jobbers. Nicodemus barely saw that the rifleman had fallen back from the third story window and yelled that to the group.
The runecaster’s cry was eclipsed moments later as one of the reapers yelled out in anguish and smashed his morning star into Roxton’s shoulder. The pain sucked the breath out of the retriever and Sloan knew that his shoulder had popped out of its socket.
Before the reaper could press his attack, Katryn made a snap decision. The young inventor sent a single shard of white flame from her L.A.S.E.R. at the pistol sniper, spun and shot two more shards from the hip at Roxton’s assailant. The first bolt of magnesium compound sent the silhouette of the pistol sniper backwards, and the other two scored Roxton’s ChainJack-armored reaper through the side, forcing him to stagger.
Jonathon rushed the reaper, hoping to capitalize on Katryn’s hits, but the reaper managed to bring his shield up. The shield block caused the shadowpriest’s rapier to bend dangerously from the force of the Andari’s thrust and Jonathon spun away to relieve the strained steel.
Finishing his spin, the Andari thrust again and the reaper fell forward dead into the street. At Roxton’s back, the rune wraith continued to occupy her assailants with wide sweeping swings of her elongated claws. However for each time she successfully drove one back, the other pressed the attack.
Meanwhile, Nicodemus sent a runic bolt burning through the grub battling Veruna. As the fringer fell, the runecaster yelled for the wayfinder to get the rifleman before he could get away and moved to help his rune wraith.
Veruna turned on the ball of her foot and shot away like a crossbow bolt to the building entrance from which the rifleman had been shooting. As she rushed the door, the Malakar caught a flash of metal and then pain blossomed in her chest.
Another ChainJack-armored reaper stood ready at the building’s entrance and his morning star had connected solidly into Veruna’s chest. The excruciating pain, coupled with the shock of the surprise, caused the passer’s concentration to fail and with the sound of tearing clothing Veruna reverted to her true form.
Moments later another battle cry sounded at the wayfinder’s back as a grub rushed from across the street and swung his steel pipe into Veruna’s kidneys. Gasping and reeling in pain, her vision swimming, the wayfinder cried for help.
Roxton shook his head clear, trying to force the throbbing of his shoulder from his thoughts. At that moment, Veruna’s anguished cry echoed from the street ahead. The cry aided Sloan’s concentration and the retriever rushed forward, his steps sure on the uneven pavement.
Katryn had been looking to see if she could spot the rifleman when Veruna’s cry reached her ears. The inventor turned from her survey of the nearby alley way, sighted, and sent three white burning shards streaming at Veruna’s foes.
The grub in the street saw the blazing white rounds and dodged away. However, the armored foe could not see out of the doorway past Veruna’s true form and as he caught the flash of white, he inadvertently turned to see what it was and the shard blasted into his face.
As the reaper fell backward, blood shooting upward from the force of his fall, Veruna used one hand and pushed herself upright. Glaring menacingly, the Malakar raised her fighting talons, and turned to face the pipe-wielding fringer.
At the handcart, Nicodemus caught one of Kay’s foes in the back of the neck with a full force swing of his sword cane. With a sickening crack the man’s head lolled sideways and he fell dead at the rune wraith’s feet. The other reaper, seeing the odds had turned so quickly against him, dropped his morning star and shield, asking for quarter.
Keeganfall placed the tip of his sword to the man’s neck and snarled for him to sit on his hands. With a pale face, the man dropped to the ground to comply and Jonathon jerked his head to where the fighting was still going on. With a nod, Nicodemus, along with Kay, raced off.
Before the building entrance, Katryn reached down to her odd belt and flipped a switch, beaming an activation signal to the small box on Veruna’s belt. With a shimmer like that of a heat mirage, the K.E.V.L.A.R. field enveloped the Malakar. Katryn then raised her L.A.S.E.R and sent another couple of burning shards to keep the grub off balance.
Veruna, now cloaked in the K.E.V.L.A.R. field, swung in hard at the grub, but the pain in her chest caused her to unconsciously check her swing and the grub maneuvered towards the open door and the escape it offered.
Seeing that Veruna and Katryn appeared to have matters in hand, Roxton changed the direction of his run so that he entered the nearby alleyway next to the rifleman’s building. The retriever’s sharp eyes caught the sight of a fleeing shadow on the street beyond and he moved swiftly after.
As Roxton gained the corner of the building he slowed and took a quick peek, not wanting to catch a bullet. The move afforded Roxton a clear glimpse of the jobbers’ assailant and as he set back off the others heard Roxton’s yell for Shaw echoing off of the weathered and scarred buildings.
Roxton’s cry made up Nicodemus’ mind concerning helping the Malakar or getting the sniper. Leaving Katryn and Veruna to handle their remaining opponent, the runecaster and his rune wraith sped along the parallel street hoping to head Shaw off to prevent the sifter’s escape. With each stride the former cloudbreather’s lungs burned and as the ruins hurtled by the runecaster’s anger rose. In moments Kay reflected her master’s emotional state, her runic corona blazing crimson as she rushed behind.
Katryn heard Roxton’s yell and the swift strides of Nicodemus along with Kay rushing by. However, her eyes never left the fringer as he attempted to position himself so that Veruna screened him from the inventor’s deadly gadget. With a slight exhale of breath, Katryn stroked the trigger and two shards burned past Veruna’s shoulder to punch out the grub’s eyes.
Her foe accounted for, Veruna rushed back to where Keeganfall watched over the handcart of statuary and the remaining reaper. Seeing how badly she was wounded, the Andari admonished Veruna to go easy. He then proceeded to recite the prayers of healing over her wounds, shadowy light flowing from his hands.
The retriever’s stride ate up the trash-strewn road until Sloan came to yet another corner. A quick look, his PitchPit leading, and Roxton squeezed off a hurried shot where he saw Shaw crouched at the far corner, rifle at the ready.
The PitchPit’s round gouged the old stone, peppering Shaw in a cloud of masonry powder. With a hearty cry of “All’s fair in the Fringe!” the sifter fired his BleakStone rifle, showering Roxton in turn with masonry chips where he had ducked back for cover.
“I’ll put it on your tombstone!” thundered Roxton in reply, followed by a yell to his fellow jobbers that Shaw was once again running.
Katryn, hearing the gunfire, moved off to try to catch up with the retriever while Nicodemus and Kay continued to vector in to head off Shaw’s line of retreat. At the handcart, Veruna screamed obscenities in the direction of the ongoing fight. As she paused for breath, Jonathon commented dryly on the Malakar’s piety and continued into another prayer of healing.
Several blocks away Shaw’s flight was about to be put to an end. Nicodemus and Kay had gained the advantage with their sprint while the sifter’s flight had been hampered by Roxton’s dogged pursuit. As the sifter raced to put distance between himself and the retriever, he failed to notice the crimson glow racing at him from a nearby alley.
Nicodemus, his lungs afire, saw the older man running into view and bellowed “Shaw! Learn what happens when you cross a Bloodrune and make him run!”
As Shaw turned at his cry, Nicodemus, with Kay mirroring his actions, sketched three runes of power into the air. Six ruby lances of runic energy burned forth and despite Shaw’s desperate twisting roll, two burned deeply into his body. Moments later, Roxton’s pistol thundered from down the street and the reeling sifter spun at the bullet’s impact.
Amazingly enough Shaw still stood, but the runecaster’s ire was up and vengeance consumed his mind. Kay moved past her master, her runic claws punching into the sifter’s LeatherJack.
Blood flowed in heavy rivulets at the sifter’s feet as he weaved drunkenly, his body dying but his mind still fighting. Roxton shook his head in disgusted pity and then put the PitchPit to Shaw’s head, ending the sifter’s misery.
“Why didn’t you just kill him clean?” asked the retriever as he lowered his smoking pistol.
“I save that luxury for my friends” was the runecaster’s terse reply. Nicodemus then ordered Kay to strip Shaw’s body of everything of worth.
Roxton turned slowly away to head back when he saw Katryn, and behind her Veruna, rushing towards them. Moving past them, the retriever said he was going to rejoin Keeganfall to have his shoulder tended, leaving the four to handle looting the sifter’s remains.
Roxton was soon at the handcart and, after Jonathon set his shoulder back into joint, the pair questioned their captive.
The reaper looked to be in his late teens, with careless blond hair and light blue eyes. His ChainJack was rent from the rune wraith’s claws and his narrow features sported a couple of days’ worth of beard beneath a layer of sweat and grime. A dagger rested at the small of his back and a small purse hung at the front, near the buckle.
The reaper identified himself as Fredrick Scott and said that he was one of Shaw’s sellswords. The crew had been plying the sifter sites in ScarFall and CringePick until Shaw had decided to try his luck in GreyMesa’s fringe, hoping to turn a quick profit. Unfortunately, the reaper crew had found slim pickings and some misfortune. As a result, Shaw and his crew had been ready to cut their losses, resupply, and venture back into the barrens. That was until the reaper leader had seen the jobbers and their bulging packs.
Shaw had rushed back to the reaper’s camp and hurriedly explained the ambush he had in mind. He had mistakenly presumed that the jobbers would be weighed down with those packs, but had hired some fringer grubs to help absorb the brunt of any of the fighting. Obviously, things had not turned out that way.
Fredrick went out of his way to be helpful and accommodating. The sell sword answered any questions put to him and often expounded on his answers if he thought it would be of interest or of use to the companions.
Once the group had returned to the handcart, Fredrick led Roxton and Brother Keeganfall to the reapers’ nearby camp. The pair gathered what foodstuffs or items of value they could find or Fredrick volunteered, including Shaw’s hidden strongbox. Roxton, satisfied at Fredrick’s cooperation, told the sell sword to gather his pack and strike out, his freedom assured. Fredrick thanked Roxton and said that if he ever would have need of his services in ScarFall or CringePick, the retriever had but to ask.
Once the sell sword was on his way, Roxton asked Keeganfall if he had ever heard of the name Bloodrune. The Andari thought a moment as he lit one of the tanglevine cigarettes from the packs of smokes he had recovered in the reapers’ stores.
Jonathon said that he thought that the name may have been in the papers a few weeks back, but wasn’t certain. When the shadowpriest asked why the retriever was interested in the name, Roxton said that it was not anything important and the matter was dropped.
When the group was once more reunited, they gathered the spoils of war they had won, distributed what gear was desired or needed, and concealed the rest in the handcart hoping to avoid paying taxes on what could be considered trade goods. In Shaw’s customized LeatherJack, the jobbers found the strongbox’s key and divided what royals were contained therein. Afterwards, the companions ate a hearty lunch from the recovered supplies, with even Nicodemus savoring the canned meat as it quieted his hunger pains. Sated, the group resumed their positions about the handcart and set back off.
Approximately another hour later the group entered the tunnels at the mesa’s floor for the long trek back to the district above. As before, dark lamps set in burnished copper alcoves lighted the lower levels of the mesa tunnels. Whitecloaks patrolled the tunnels, taking note of the filth-covered jobbers, but not hindering their slow, steady progress. Occasionally other traders were seen, including a group of Malakar leading a massive skirr, laden with customized packing harnesses.
When the group reached the levels containing the lifts, they learned that, unlike on Free-day, there was a fee of twenty-five royals to move the handcart and themselves. Beyond those lifts, the jobbers toiled their way ever upwards until they reached the base of the massive incline that led to the massive steel gates of GreyMesa.
The area was awash in the brilliant arc lights that chased all the shadows away from the intimidating edifice that was the gate. In addition, the gleaming lights revealed a tax collecting station had been set up at the base of the incline near the massive steam-powered slab that acted as a perpendicular lift.
A squad of young whitecloaks, along with a city bureaucrat dressed in a finely tailored suit of dark blue, the phoenix symbol of ScatterPoint emblazoned on his lapel, manned the station. As the group brought the handcart forward, the whitecloaks moved in a crescent formation to watch over the bureaucrat as he came forward to inspect the handcart and assess the fees he would charge the would-be traders.
The bureaucrat was a small man, with thinning brown hair, a sharply angled nose, and dark eyes. That nose crinkled up as he approached and the jobbers saw a grimace of disgust as the small man caught the smell emanating off of them.
The official’s name was Edgar Trafford and he seemed to take great pleasure in the small power he wielded in the city district’s name. In addition, Nicodemus could tell, after just a few moments of interaction with the petty bureaucrat, that he was a follower of the society pages and knew the gossip that surrounded his family’s name.
After several of Official Trafford’s snide remarks, Nicodemus patience was severely strained and the runecaster made a mental note to pay Edgar a visit at another date to remind the man of his station. Still, the Bloodrune scion knew that he was not the only one fed up with the weaselly man, as several of the whitecloaks rolled their eyes behind the man’s back and seemed to take great joy from making the official’s life more complicated with seeming innocence obscuring deliberate thought.
The ordeal of the assessed tax and lift fees settled, with the jobbers’ coin purses almost depleted, the companions processed through the main gates. The whitecloaks recorded their names, finding the previous journal entries of their departure and amending the record to show that Kay was now among them.
Once the whitecloaks finished, Brother Keeganfall moved off to the tunnel wall and entered the aptly named Hole in the Wall. The Andari ordered a full tumbler of gloom and slated his thirst with one long swallow. He then rejoined his companions and the weary jobbers proceeded up the last long spiral into GreyMesa proper.
Emerging from the last lift the group found themselves once more in the near claustrophobic bustle of the city district. The smells of the nearby flywheels competed against the smells of the nearby rail factories overlaid with the subtle nuances of massed humanity. Additionally, the sounds of the city settled about the jobbers as a steady drone of conversation, shuffling feet, and low humming power, interspersed with the distant shrill of shift whistles and the clacking racket of trains thundering over metal trestles. The shadowed alleys and tinted amber arc lights were a telling contrast to the last days spent where the ScatterPoint sky was not eclipsed by soaring structures and tiered roadways.
The jobbers heaved their battle-worn handcart into a nearby alleyway, their battered appearance and obvious weapons warning away any curious cotters or grubs. The group knew that they had gained the city district just minutes before the workday’s end when a steady stream of work weary cotters would flood the streets. In their exhausted state the mere thought of maneuvering the long, heavily laden, handcart was more than the group wanted to tackle. Still, they needed a place to store the cart and reassemble the statue for presentation to Lady Kaelys Tela.
The group decided that Roxton and Katryn would head out to find and rent some nearby short-term public storage space. The others would stay with the handcart and once storage was obtained, the group would brave the cotter filled streets for the last push of the day.
Roxton and Katryn made good time despite the crowds and as the pair passed one of the countless alleyways, she noticed a pair of Ferren Bluecoats leaning on their sword canes. The Ferren took note of the inventor’s passing and Katryn felt certain that she had been recognized despite the grime that caked her.
Roxton sensed the change in Katryn’s demeanor and asked what was wrong. The inventor put her arm through the retriever’s and leaned her head on his shoulder. Then, playing the affectionate couple, Katryn related the events that had led the jobbers to Lady Winterwood’s service. Roxton took the revelation in stride, the warmth of the inventor’s lean body next to his dispelling any disquiet he felt at knowing he might be involved with a crime syndicate’s vendetta.
Soon after, the pair found the public storage service Katryn remembered her father using when she was an apprentice. As they made their way into the office, both Katryn and Roxton noted that the Bluecoats had trailed them but seemed content just to watch the jobbers.
The fees for a ten by ten storage area were reasonable and after the exchange of money and signed papers, the pair were handed the keys to a sheet metal shed. Katryn asked for the rental contract and Roxton’s eyes went up as he saw her joy at what she dubbed her first workshop. Muttering happily to herself, the day’s fatigue seemingly banished, Katryn stowed the paperwork, snaked her arm back through Roxton’s, and led the retriever back to their friends.
Reunited, the group made their arrangements for the night’s watch of the statue. Jonathon said that he was already overdue back at the church and would not be able to help guard the statue overnight. Rather, he would pen a letter to Lady Kaelys Tela and request an audience for the group. In addition, since he could not guarantee his availability on the morrow, the shadowpriest asked that someone swing by the church to either meet him or, at the least, to find out the lady’s reply.
Nicodemus said that he wanted a couple of hours to get cleaned up and then he, along with Kay, would guard the statue overnight. Veruna volunteered to watch the statue until Nicodemus returned and Jonathon said he could linger a couple of more hours so no one would be left alone.
The arrangements settled, the group maneuvered the handcart to the storage facility. Veruna and Jonathon were locked in, Nicodemus and Kay went to get cleaned up, and Roxton escorted Katryn to her lodgings. Later, Nicodemus relieved the Andari and the Malakar to take the watch with his rune wraith bodyguard. The night passed without incident, other than Nicodemus and Kay emptying the cart to reassemble the statue therein.
Towards the end, Nicodemus removed a portion of the statue’s ruined feathered wings to keep for himself. He could not bring himself to allow something that might be of the Talus to be so callously handed over without taking some sort of action that could serve as a contingency against a possibly darker design. Hoping that the small bit of pilfering would be enough, Nicodemus collapsed in the bedroll Veruna left behind to slumber in dreamless sleep.
Second watch. Roll for surprise.