Pathfinder: Iron Gods

The Mind of Casandalee
The search for Casandalee takes the Torchbearers into the Felldales.

With little other option, the Torchbearers made plans to make for the Felldales, where Casandalee supposedly hid her mind to escape the wrath of an entity she called Unity. Unity, she told them, was some kind of god that granted powers to those who worshiped them, much like Hellion from Scrapwall.

Upon returning to Torch, it was clear that the heroes were certainly not alone in their desire to free Numeria. The ranks of the Torchbearers organization had grown twice over, and soldiers with a symbol of a burning flame held in a sconce patrolled the streets and roads. While Meyanda took the reins in training the new troops, Khonnir Baine worked to keep the base of operations up and running.

The citizens of Torch were excited to hear more of the heroes’ exciting adventures, but the story-telling had to wait. As Unity surely grew in power, Casandalee was their best source of knowledge regarding the Silver Mount and its dangers. After some preparation, and a few goodbyes, the Torchbearers set out for the Scar of the Spider, one of the most notorious locales of the Numerian badlands.

The journey was made simple by the aid of Longdreamer, who happily transported the heroes without easy flight methods. Though she refused to join the heroes within the Scar itself, claiming she felt unnatural presences within. Taking the hint, the heroes stepped lightly.

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The first sign of trouble came when the heroes passed by a destroyed robot of immense size. Sporting four large spider-like limbs and a metal scorpion tail, this could have only been an annihilator robot, one of the most deadly known variants of automatons in Numeria. It had suffered extensive electrical and fire damage, and its core had to be made stable to avoid explosion, but the heroes became only more wary.

The canyon of the Scar was not strange upon entering. A chance encounter with a mad druid broke up the monotony. The druid, calling himself Mad Paeytr, spoke of creatures not of Golarion deeper in the Scar, calling them the Butchers. He told them that he had escaped their horrific tortures and their dark ally, the “flayer.” The druid’s ramblings continued as he shared fruit that had been grown in the strange influence of the Scar that poisoned as often as they provided aid both understandable and not.

He told the heroes of a small group who distrusted machines to the south, a dark man with the “stink of the rifts” on him, and a four-armed woman who hunted the Butchers. While he did not trust the dark man, he knew that the four-armed woman had blown up one of the annihilators and sent the other home to its Butcher masters injured. The heroes could do little for him at the moment, but resolved to heal his mind as well as his body one day. Paeytr remained in his cave as the heroes left, continuing his quest of purifying the Scar for good.

The machine-despising humanoids turned out to be a strange cult of technology-hating androids. Paradoxes themselves, they saw the dangers of technology as a kind of anathema to life, and sought only to remove tech from the world. While they made no small effort to destroy the technology held by the heroes, the Torchbearers talked down the zealous androids from fighting. Not pleased by the heroes, but unable to offer no respects of peaceful and friend folk in dark places, they left the heroes to their own devices. They offered what few supplies they could to remove the otherworldly influence in the Scar, but made little other effort to help the “blasphemous” heroes.

After cutting their way through a copse of trees that turned out to be aliens in horrid disguise, the heroes came across a cave system. Inside they found tunnels that lead to what appeared to be a garbage chamber filled with simple scrap and skymetal debris. The chamber lead to curiously precisely cut tunnels of more skymetal. After cutting down several small flying robot guardians, the heroes stepping into the worked tunnels. They had been sculpted with great care and skill, and were guarded by human-resembling machines. The master of the machine caves was a large reclamation robot named Binox. Binox spoke of an era of machine-like perfection, and all things would conform to Unity’s grand designs. Upon hearing Unity’s name, the heroes felt little sympathy as they attacked Binox. Binox was slain, and several technological treasures in Binox’s horde were collected.

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On their way out of the caves, the heroes encountered a strange woman. She had a tall skull and pale skin, two pairs of arms, an impressive suit of aurumvorax-pelt armor, and a fine Numerian rifle that spit cold bolts like a polar wind. She invited them to her small cavern to rest.

Her name was Isuma, and she had woken up in the Scar of the Spider only a month before. She had been pulled from slumber by the same Butchers who had experimented on Paeytr. Her and four allies had been found in capsules buried beneath the dirt, but she was a last one freed. Her four friends had been taken as body-slaves by hideous creatures that had scooped out their brain-matter to make room for themselves. As she escaped with a few recovered weapons, Isuma swore vengeance on the creatures that had taken the only remaining kin she had on an unfamiliar world, and pleaded that the heroes’ help her in this quest for justice. She found ready allies in the Torchbearers.

In the forests the heroes met a stranger with stranger features. A tiefling named Hyrsek Caio greeted the PCs with disarming civility. While he was difficult to read, he was eventually forced to admit his motives. He had come to the Scar of the Spider on a job from the Technic League. His job was to search for a member of the League named Therace, who had led an expedition into the Scar and hadn’t reported in some time. Hyrsek was tasked with finding the expedition, or what was left of it, and return to the League with whatever he could find. Seeing that the heroes were of a capable sort, he offered to help them on their own expedition if they would help him with his. Apprehensive, the Torchbearers agreed to take him along for a while.

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With Isuma and Hyrsek at their side, they discovered a sickening cave system that was not settled by the Butchers, but another faction that had followed them across the stars, the Mi-Go. The terrifying fungus-insects had dug in to fight the Butchers, but their presence was as welcome as the Butchers was. The heroes and Isuma performed two assaults on the caverns. They cut through simple mi-go soldiers, their towering gug allies, and their fell priest-commander. All their dark knowledge and power was not enough to stop the Torchbearers from lighting the caves.

At the back of the mi-go nest, the Torchbearers discovered a human brain placed inside a kind of life-support device. The brain could still speak to them, and told them he was Therace, a member of the League. His expedition was found by the mi-go before they could send any reports, and the rest of his team was likely long gone. Hyrsek received permission from the heroes to return Therace to the League, and took the brain with him.

As they journey deeper, the heroes found an undead gunslinger with a grudge, an alien color that infected the creatures and land it touched, and finally came upon the Butcher’s dropship. The “ship” was more of an organism, living tissue that propelled itself and its many strange guardians through space and landed on Golarion with a collection of Neh-Thalggu pilots and soldiers who had colonized the caverns beyond the ship.

The ship’s mind, calling itself “The-Stars-Whisper”, greeted the heroes and even armed them for the coming battle with the Domion of the Black’s agents. The-Stars-Whisper despised the Domion for constructing him only to have his ship-body rot around him when the voyage was over, and finally challenged the heroes in a fit of mad logic to test their ability to fight the Dominion.

After defeating and collecting Stars-Whisper (and transforming him into a petromin for safe-keeping) the Torchbearers finally approached the Dominion Hive alongside an anxious Isuma. The Hive quickly changed from rocky caverns to fleshy tunnels like the intestines of a large beast. The entrance was guarded by none other than the remaining annihilator robot, and it fell upon the heroes in a destructive surge of bullets and plasma.

Disgusted by the organic machines the Dominon seemed to grow rather than build, they eventually stumbled upon several kasatha, Isuma’s former comrades. The creatures residing in their skulls were ripped from the desecrated bodies and killed, and Isuma asked the heroes to stand vigil with her for one night over their graves, as per custom on Kasath.

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Cutting their way past Neh-Thalggu soldiers, jellyfish-like wall decorations, an outer dragon controlled by a potent intellect devourer, and the “flayer”, a cruel kyton in service to Zon-Kuthon, the Torchbearers and Isuma finally came upon a small square device that was guarded by a zealous and hideous abomination, “Dweller in Dark Places,” and his golem servant constructed from the countless bones of Dominion test subjects.

The creatures of the Domion were wiped out of the Scar, and Torchbearers finally claimed the strange device. Upon activation, the device displayed the face of an android woman. This was Casandalee, and while grateful for her rescue, she had many things to tell the heroes. She feared the coming of Unity, and saw in the heroes a chance to make things right and stop his rise to power.

With two new friends and strange new pet, the heroes reunited with Longdreamer to return to Torch.

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The Body of Casandalee
Many challenges stand between the Torchbearers and Casandalee.

Bidding a farewell to their allies in Torch, the Torchbearers departed for Iadenveigh, a large and self-sufficient town built by staunch worshipers of Erastil. The Torchbearers tookpains to hide their technology on their persons, as Iadenveigh was well-known as a town of technophobes. A scarecrow made from an eviscerated robot communicated as much at the gates of the city.

Iadenveigh was everything an Erastillian could hope for: farms and their crops covered most of the land inside its tall walls, people all relied upon one another for the various crafts and professions to keep the town running, the town was watched over by the Banner of the Stag (a more militant Ersatillian branch), and they welcomed those they deemed safe and considerate with open arms. For all the idyllic farmlands and kind neighbors, even Iadenveigh had uniquely Numerian problems. The Tochbearers learned as much when they visited the town’s council building, the High Home.

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Greeting the heroes first was a local hunter named Redfang. With his bright red teeth, he was a kinder precursor to the dangers that plagued Iadenveigh. A friendly but cautious ally, he inquired to the purpose of the heroes. The Torchbearers assured him that they meant no harm, and indeed were hoping to root out technology that the Technic League may come looking for. Redfang approved, but apologized that he could not realistically trust such claims at face value from a group of armed strangers. He asked that they help him with two problems around town.

The first problem was that the people of Iadenveigh had not heard from Jevik, an eccentric farmer. Upon investigation, it became clear that the man had been murdered by something large and strong. A large, mutated bear called a yaoguai in his orchard was put down soon after.

The second problem was that he suspected, along with Ealdorman Ivek Gunnett, that a Technic League spy was operating in Iadenveigh. They hadn’t made suspicions public so as to avoid alerting the spy or instigating a needlessly violent manhunt from the relatively prejudiced populace. They knew only a few things; first, a group of hunters shot a bird that they later found out was mechanical in nature and was carrying a message that spoke of technological ruins below Iadenveigh. Second, the mutations of Badwater were mentioned in the message to the League. finally they guessed that if their was a spy that they’d be a new arrival, and while most newcomers stayed at the High Home as guests, there was also a group of Varisians staying in a local lumberyard, owned by a kindly man who often rented out the space to travelers.

The family that ran the area of Badwater’s quarry assured the heroes that they had nothing to do with the water going foul, but the youngest boy then produced something he found while exploring: a finger cymbal, an instrument most commonly used by Varisian dancers.

The Varisians greeted the heroes with worry and suspicions, not wanting to simply oust one of their own as any kind of spy. In that moment, the real spy, Ilarris Zeleshi, attempted to sneak from the camp. She was quickly found by the perceptive Torch Bearers and captured before she could escape.

ilarris was brought before the authorities and Redfang, and the next morning she was hanged.

As promised, Redfang introduced the Torchbearers to the council. The aging but considerate council asked the Torchbearers to help them with recent problems. Their main water source, in specific places, had been poisoned. They understood it was a strange affliction called radiation, and it was causing mutations among the flora and fauna in the area, making mutant attacks more common. The council understands that a buried wreck from the stars may be under their home, but have taken pains to conceal its existence from the rest of the town. They explain that a man was torn apart by a cloud of light,and that they can follow this cloud into a well with a large keystone atop it. The Torchbearers accepted their request.

Beneath the well indeed was a cloud of light, seemingly constructed from hundreds if not thousands of tiny metal creatures working together. The crashed ship contained records of a man visiting before the heroes, but before the Torchbearers could go deeper, they were accosted by a horrifying sight. Androids with hunched backs, mismatched facial features, greasy green hair, and simplistic intelligence attacked the heroes from the dark of the ship. Grenades flew in large numbers, and from the deeper dark another, more sinister android assaulted the PCs with pistol of super-cooled energy blasts.

Radika met her end by the grenades of the androids, but the defective androids were pushed back and killed.

The ship seemed to house an android creche, where the androids were being crafted. The machine was broken down from its thousands of years of inaction, but seemed to have been reactivated and spitting out new androids in a deformed and imperfect state.

When the heroes recuperated outside the ship and payed their respects to their fallen comrade, they were approached by a member of the Banner of the Stag, Chase. He offered his services to the Torchbearers while they were working around Iadenveigh. They welcomed his help.

Near the back of the ship, the heroes came across a collection of unique gearsman who demanded that they give them the body of “the traitor Casandalee”. Unable to oblige, and not feeling particularly beholden to the robots, the Torchbearers simply attacked and destroyed the gearsman.

Beyond the gearsman was a control room where the Torchbearers restored power to the ship. Little else of interest was in the room, but the heroes were greeted by a voice in the room. The voice came from an invisible creature named Sahasho. He explained that a man named Furkas Xoud conjured him to serve him and came to the ship months before to investigate for technology. The man was apparently very excited to find the body of an android in this room, and told Sahasho to remain here until he returned. Sahasho had been waiting for quite some time and the wizard had not returned to collect him or anything from the ship. The Torchbearers promised the invisible stalker that they could get him home in exchange for the information.

Finally, the Torchbearers came across the root of the problem, a collection of vats that held toxic substances that were leaking above into the lake of Badwater. With a few keystrokes from Mattias the vats were cleared of toxins and the problem was solved. Badwater’s poisons cleared up and the mutations stopped.

The council thanked the Torchbearers heartily, and sent them on their way with gifts. The Torchbearers’ next clues took them to the Smokewood, a thick patch of forest known for a strange building known as the Choking Tower, the home of a strange wizard obsessed with smoke and gases. This tower, they hoped, would hold more clues to the whereabouts of Casandalee.

The Smokewood held its own challenges, with the first being a clever coven of hags attempting to lure the PCs into saving a lost maiden, who turned out to be a member of the coven as well. Giants also set up camp in their path, and had buried a large security robot in the earth. All these threats were cleared before the heroes found themselves at the foot of the Choking Tower. The colossal building stood among the tall trees and spewed dark smoke above the treeline. Built of metals bolted in exacting fashion, the structure was a prize of a wizard’s tower.

The main occupant still dwelt inside, but not in the form that was expected. Furkas Xoud still existed, but as a smokey ghost, with strange powers over gases and dangerous magic at his disposal. The Torchbearers clashed with him several times in their ascent of his tower. Inside they found level after level of abandoned and forgotten experiments from the wizard’s expired life. His living staff had left his tower, leaving behind only automatons or more animal-like creatures to take care of the tower. Robots capable of wielding magic, arumvoraxes, outsiders with smoke powers, and even an animated crane stood in the heroes’ way. The heroes even managed to saved a trio of azers who had been forced to continue working even though Xoud hadn’t checked in in a long time. They were sent back to Torch to tend the flame atop the Black Hill, seeing as the fires would bring them no harm. They found the work would be its own reward.

The basements of the tower proved no kinder, and even carried some surprises. A bound daemon, an enormous wind tunnel, and a shrine to Zyphus turned out to be the least of the worrying things found below the Tower however. A strange and dark creature called a worm that walks was found imprisoned by Xoud. The shifty man inside the worms asked to kindly be released, having no desire to remain while Xoud taunted him in his imprisonment. Leery of the creature, the Torchbearers still agreed to free him if he told them about the tower. He told them of a prized robot that Xoud held in his deepest sanctum, one that could supposedly take the thoughts from one’s brain. The worm, calling itself Nargin, thanked the heroes for their time, and left for the Worldwound, to find his past and meet it with force.

Behind an impressive door of alien technology and metalworking, the heroes finally found Xoud’s body, long ago burned into a crisp, with the body of an android woman lying on a table before him, her head sliced open.

The robot that Nargin mentioned still remained in the chamber, and found the heroes as tempting targets for its thought-harvesting. The robot was brought low, and the Torchbearers seemed at a lost as they looked on the body of who must have been Casandalee.

As luck would have it, Furkas Xoud has a conversation with her before his untimely demise from a swarm of aggressive nanites within the android’s bloodstream. In a small recording device, they found that Casandalee spoke of a threat to Numeria, and indeed to all of Golarion, within the Silver Mount. She spoke of an entity that she once worshipped as a god within a machine. She explained that this entity that called itself Unity, and that while it may have preached that it sought to unite all people, it truly desired to rule all with an egotistical fist. But this was no mere megalomaniac, this being had power, and the ability to back up its desires. If it was not stopped, all would bow to the Iron God Unity.

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Godslayers
In Scrapwall's depths hides the first of the Iron Gods.

350px-Iron_Gods_logo.pngBy some miracle, Aysel remained alive from Birdfood’s relentless assault. A deep breath was shared by all. Birdfood’s supplies were ransacked and his head was mounted on Baqir’s pick as they sauntered back to report their success to Sevroth Slaid. Not a soul remained on the street for long when a they saw a smiler’s head carried by the new folks in town.

The Steel Hawks were impressed and pleased by the heroes’ prowess, and they promised their support in the future. They had a made a swift friend in Scrapwall, but they would not be the last.

Landing on a window frame at the Steel Hawk’s guardhouse was a curious device: a small, mechanical bird. It played back a scratchy sound of a woman’s voice, that asked them to come to the Clockwork Cathedral to the north. With few other leads to go on, and a need of allies in one of Numeria’s least hospitable locales, they decided to follow the bird’s message.

The Clockwork Cathedral was a noisy cave of turning gears. A large wall made of gears, as well as gear-shaped doors greeted the heroes. As they called for the resident of the Cathedral, a large golem in the shape of Brigh, but built from scrap metals and trash, attacked them. The golem was destroyed, and an annoyed half-elven woman approached from a workshop further in, grumbling.

The strange and straight-forward woman introduced herself as Dinvaya, a cleric of Brigh. She greeted the heroes and asked for/demanded their assistance. She offered her Cathedral as a place to rest between scrapes in Scrapwall, and offered what little healing services she could to keep the alive. She knew of Hellion, the being that ruled Scrapwall with the help of the Lords of Rust. She told them of the many current lords and ladys of Rust and what they may expect from them, and that they must exercise great caution in confronting any of them. Meyanda took a quiet liking to Brigh after the encounter, and remained at the Cathedral for some time, finding a new faith in a goddess who was also half-flesh and half-built.

Scrapwall was never the same when a day ended for the heroes.

On their next day of conquest, they approached the Smilers’ base and slew every member inside, including the gang’s leader, Marrow. During their battles with lobotomized members of the gang and strange technological undead hybrids, they also rescued a ratfolk named Whiskifiss, who thanked them to the point of prostrating. He assured them that his sister, Redtooth, the leader of the Redtooth Raiders gang, would reward them for his safe return. Eager to make more friends in Scrapwall, Whiskifiss was returned to his concerned sister. Redtooth quickly saw the value in new and strong friends in Scrapwall, and thanked the heroes for unintentionally taking the down the gang that had most harassed the Raiders in Scrapwall. She offered her den as a resting place and a few technological items as a reward. Redtooth also shared that they may be able to get into the Lords of Rust’s basemost easily if they are invited themselves. She suggests several ideas for gaining scrapworthiness, including slaying or driving off a mutant manticore that occasional would scoop of Scrapwall’s residents, investigating and possibly claiming treasure from a haunted canyon in the norther tip of Scrapwall, and helping the Raiders strike a blow against Hellion by destroying a large tower of theirs.

The next day, the heroes indeed drove off the manticore, mutated by radiation, and claimed its small horde. They visited the dish tower and found the remains of one of Scrapwall’s late gangs, the Thralls of Hellion. The gang of all choker worshippers of Hellion was long dead, and the tower seemed empty. The tower did contain one mysterious inhabitant, an elusive and strange creature from beyond the stars. It stalked the heroes throughout the tower and finally attacked them as they tried to leave. It managed to escape after a quick battle, and it rocketed into the sky, never to be seen again. The heroes coordinated with the Raiders to plant explosives and destroy the tower, knocking down Hellion’s chance of siphoning more power from far-off sites.

PZO9086-SkeletalPilot.jpgThe next day the heroes traveled to the haunted canyon, where they found a crashed starship through the necromantic fogs that clouded their vision and blocked the sun’s light int he canyon. The ship, surrounded by necromantic energies, held many long-dead occupants who did not sleep easy. Unquiet spirits, skeletal astronauts, and even a wraith in the form of the ship’s former pilot hungrily reached for the life the heroes held in them, and all were slain. A small device, containing the pilot’ final log, spoke of the ship’s final hours as it tumbled through Golarion’s clouds to meet its grim fate.

With friends beside them and the challenges of Scrapwall bested, they finally received a missive to visit the Scrapmaster’s Arena, the front door of the Lords of Rust’s home. The heroes accepted the challenge and found themselves before a crowd of Scrapwall ratfolk, humans, and orcs, cheering for their current champion, the master of the arena, and the face of the Lords of Rust, the ogre Helskarg. Her chariot pulled by ogre slaves rushed the heroes to the cheer of the crowds, but the heroes were quick and strong, and the mighty ogre was brought down to the dirt.

The base was all part of a large machine that had been buried beneath the earth for millennia, slowly being excavated by the Lords of Rust and their minions. Strange square panel lit up as the heroes entered, and their were greeted by a wrathful image of a strange fiend, and Hellion’s voice boomed through the panels. He mocked the heroes, but said eh would wait for them, and they would be brought to heel like all the other mortals he had met.

Hellion’s high priest, Nalakai, along with a group of acolytes were the first to fall, but the battle also proved that Hellion was no mere voice behind a screen. As the battle was fought, strange magic flew from a large projector that projected Hellion’s fearsome fiendish image. This being was something beyond a construct.

The second floor below the ground housed most of Hellion’s forces, who awaited the heroes’ attack. When the heroes found a large and strong door, their curiosity took over and they attempted to break it down. With a below, Hellion called all his forces down on the heroes. A troupe of orcs, ratfolk, darkfolk, and tiny robots fell upon the heroes as they broke down the door to the control room of the large machine-base. Surrounded on all sides, the heroes still held their own against the lesser foes.

PZO9086-LadyOfRust.jpgThen the sounds of a loud, grinding chain filled the air. The lackeys cheered as Hellion’s second-in-command, Kulgara, stomped into the cramped halls of the machine-base, followed by an ettin named Draigs. Grenades flew, blades clashed, acolytes fell, but Kulgara would have her day. Her mighty and alien weapon helped her cut down Baqir, who she finished off in a gorey display. With their front line broken, as well as the heart of a surprised Meyanda, the heroes retreated to the Clockwork Cathedral, Hellion mocking their every step.

As fortune would have it, Baqir’s loss would be covered by support from Torch, an Jadwiga man by the name of Radika. He accompanied the heroes on their second foray into the base, whereupon a second mighty battle was fought, Kulgara nearly claiming everyone’s life a second time with her chainsaw. A desperate fight turned victorious with a final blow from Baqir’s own pickaxe. The mighty Kulgara had fallen, and the heroes ventured even deeper, into the caves surrounding the machine.

It became clear while outside the machine that it was not only an enormous vehicle, but a machine for digging. Journals from Kulgara and Nalakai suggested a plan hatched by Hellion. Once the machine had been excavated from the earth, it would be powered and reactivated to drive past Starfall, and bore into the side of the Silver Mount itself, where Hellion claimed an even greater being like himself dwelt. He wished to claim its strength, and become a rightful ruler of all life on Golarion. The final Lord of Rust, Zagmaander, struck a deal with heroes. They had Meyanda release her from this plane and she would leave peaceably after slaying a number of the guards ahead of the heroes. The deal was held and Meyanda sent her home with her new cleric powers from Brigh.

Now nothing stood between the heroes and Hellion, the Lord of Rust.

PZO9270-ArachnidRobot.jpgAt the base of the digging apparatus, they finally found Hellion, in his robotic glory, inhabiting a large spider-like chassis. He cursed the heroes for wiping out his gang, and promised them that he would visit his retribution upon them for defying an Iron God.

The robot did seem blessed by something, laser weapons and claws were not Hellion’s only means of attack. Divine magic sprung forth from the construct, tearing at souls and constructing barriers, strengthening the chassis and even healing it. The battle was furious, and the heroes began to wonder if they truly faced a god. The chassis bent and broke, his magic eventually ran thin, but with exhausted heroes before him, he attempted an escape to plot revenge. In that moment the digging machine sprung to life. Lights switched on, engine began to hum, and the tools of the machine began to turn as if to dig further into the ground. The machine carried Hellion’s screaming chassis beneath the stone where it was crushed with the last ounce of the digging machine’s life. As Hellion’s screams faded, so to did that small amount of power Hellion had given the machine, and Meyanda’s hands fell from the controls.

The people of Scrapwall rejoiced as the heroes left the machine base, the reign of terror had ended, and now only the Redtooth Raiders and the Steel Hawks remained. They thanked the heroes and sent them on their way, with Meyanda and Dinvaya in tow. Sevroth and Redtooth began plans to merge the gangs to make Scrapwall a place worth living in.

The crusaders were overjoyed to hear that Scrapwall would give travelers less trouble, and they too wished safe travels to the heroes.

Torch’s council, likewise, was excited to hear that the threat posed by Hellion and his Lords of Rust was finally ended, and people in Torch could return to relative safety. The heroes had earned the nickname “Torchbearers,” a name that Khonnir encouraged as a symbol of hope in Numeria. He and Dolga agreed that they would be great boons to this country that was sorely in need of heroes.

A final entry in Kulgara’s journal, however, brought something new to the Torchbearers’ minds. In it, she mentioned that Hellion spoke of a “sister” of sorts. Not a second Iron God, but a fellow who knew of the threats within Silver Mount, one who also came away from the being hidden within, Unity. Calling her a “prophet of Unity”, he’d hoped to track her down and find something that she had stolen from Unity: a device known as a neurocam. It could record memories and even minds, and Hellion thought that it may contain information about Unity’s defenses within the Mount and, more importantly, it’s weaknesses.

Hellion had tracked Casandalee to a place called Iadenveigh, a town of Erastil worshipers, and was planning an investigation with Kulgara. It seemed that the Torchbearers had a new destination, i they hoped to deal with this threat from within one of Golarion’s most mysterious sites, and perhaps its most mysterious enemy.

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Friends from Enemies
Friends are made, and new directions are found.

While taking a breather in Torch, the heroes caught onto a lead from Sanvil Trett, who hinted that Garmen Ulreth may have had more to do with Torch’s troubles than he hoped to let on. The heroes had already had their suspicions, but this was the tip they needed. Sanvil pointed to a warehouse on the north side of town that Garmen owned and occasionally visited; apparently, Ropefist thugs would come and go from the warehouse at odd intervals. The heroes quickly found themselves heading in the direction of the warehouse.

The warehouse looked abandoned. The doors and windows all appeared boarded shut from the outside, and the building was in poor repair with grimy windows, a slightly sagging roof, and no tracks coming or going from the main doors on the floor. After a brief search, the heroes found that the doors leading to a catwalk inside the warehouse had boards placed over the door to create the illusion of the door being barred.

The interior of the warehouse echoed with a powerful but nearly silent thrum and buzz that shook the heroes to their teeth. A number of Ropefist thugs attempted to turn the heroes away, many meeting their end in the inevitable scuffle. Garmen himself was present at the warehouse during the engagement, and while he put up a good and clever fight, he was eventually subdued.

The warehouse continued to hum after the encounter ended, giving Baqir headaches that were similar to the headaches people about Torch had been complaining about. The source turned out to be a large and curious artifact of technological origin. A large box with several bright panels and displays of color and sound amazed and confused Baqir and Aysel, but Alabaster and Mattias, with their backgrounds in tech-study, discerned that this item was taking an energy source and directing it somewhere else. They copied the panel’s map before shutting off the device. The humming stopped, as did Baqir’s headache, and the room felt lighter.

Upon further investigation of Garmen’s activities, his extortion of local businesses and possible involvement in a plot to sabotage Crowfather Palace (a facility built by Khonnir Baine that purified the water of Crowfather Lake) were exposed. He and his Ropefist thugs were placed behind bars.

The heroes brought the strange device back to Khonnir for study. Khonnir shared his maps and expertise, and they managed to deduce that some kind of energy was being taken from below Black Hill and being sent to somewhere a hundred miles from Torch. Comparing maps, they pinpointed the closest location as Scrapwall to the northwest. Whatever was being taken from Black Hill, the Torch itself, or something else, was being sent to Scrapwall by this odd device.

Unable to worry about Scrapwall and the cause of these troubles beyond Torch, the heroes decided to deal with the current problem of the Torch being out. They descended below Black Hill once again.

With the reforged coupling, they were able to fix a large cylindrical room that lifted them to another floor of the complex. This floor seemed to be heavily damaged, with lights flickering, panels torn from the walls, and colorful wires hanging out of the walls and floors like limp vines. A handful of guard animals were found first, followed by groups of fanatical orcs and ratfolk who repeated the name “Hellion” as some kind of deific being. The heroes, dismissing this worship as blasphemy, subdued the fanatics.

The fanatics all bore a strange symbol on their armor: an image of a claw reaching to the sky.

This claw was then found in the form of a statue nearby, with several offerings to this “Hellion” heaped next to it, which seemed to include a large stone statue of Hellion. This statue turned out to be fanatical too, as it was a gargoyle dedicated to Hellion’s worship as well, and attacked the heroes.

A robot production facility and a strange machine that seemed to fabricate tools of varying complexity were found, and their robot guardians were defeated. A white access card was found behind a now-beaten gearsman that could be used to access the final room.

The room was opened to reveal a strange sight: an enormous machine of wide cylinders, consoles, and switches. Standing nearby was a woman with purple hair, who stroked the machine like a close friend or lover. They demanded she answer for her crimes.

She called herself Meyanda, and she claimed the position of cleric of Hellion. When the heroes scoffed at her fictional god’s name, she demonstrated that Hellion did in fact grant her power. She could cast divine spells, and received his protection and power. He was a real deity, and perhaps a new deity.

Meyanda was steadfast in her belief in Hellion’s cause, but the heroes could tell that something did bother her. Before raising their weapons, they spoke to her, pleaded with her to stop this from hurting more people. If Hellion was truly a good thing for her and Golarion, he wouldn’t be causing some much suffering and danger for those around him. There were other ways, other people to serve, even serving yourself was a choice one could make.

Even though Meyanda raised her strange pistol-like weapon to the heroes, she seemed shaken in her faith.

Meyanda was beaten after a dangerous encounter, her powers proving terribly real and great. As she fell out of consciousness, the large machine behind her began to give off warnings and blare sirens. Mattias and Baqir leapt to the foreign controls and did what they could as pipes broke and the room filled with a strange presence of destruction and sickness.

The reactor was placed into a venting state, and the strange energies that would have burst from the machine in all directions, destroying the heroes and Black Hill together, instead were blasted straight upwards, out of Black Hill, and into the heavens, more brilliant and bright than ever before.

The people of Torch let out a cheer. Dolga looked out from the council’s hall nodded with a smile. Sanvil Trett saw the light leaking in through his barred windows and grinned. Khonnir and Val watched the hill erupt from their tavern, holding each other closer. Joram looked up from his work and let out a cheer. Garmen shrugged and scoffed when he heard the news, preferring to go back to sleep. Garrit Burwaddle fell from his perch atop a pile of garbage and rolled down before finding his junkyard washed in purple light from the Black Hill.

Torch was saved.

The heroes revived Meyanda and promised not to hurt her if she did them or anyone else no harm. Almost eerily silent, Meyanda complied as they gave her a helmet to protect her identity, guided her from the water-choked caverns, and out into Torch. Khonnir found them first and offered congratulations and thanks for their grand deeds. Torch would be on its feet again soon, and they had the heroes to thank.

Khonnir guided the heroes back to the council’s hall, through waves of crowds cheering and thanking the heroes for saving their town and the livelihood of most inhabitants. They then heard their new name: the Torch Bearers.

This name would soon be heard across Numeria as a beacon of hope.

The council thanked the heroes again for their help, but felt that whoever presented this threat to Torch likely would not stop simply because the Power Relay was shut off, and the devices beneath were returned to their original state. They humbly requested the heroes help a second time, offering them a greater reward of 8,000 gold pieces if they could perform this task for them. The Torch Bearers heartily agreed with this.

Sanvil promised, in exchange for his life, that he could provide the heroes with information on contacts he knows while they traveled, along with information directly about the Technic League. He assured them that they would be no match for the League if they simply assaulted them; they would need greater weapons and tools than they had. Sanvil’s life was spared for now.

Meyanda was kept behind a broken helmet the heroes had found, and her identity was not confirmed by others around Torch. Her secret kept safe, she eventually decided that she would accompany the Torch Bearers to Scrapwall. She confessed that she had some questions for Hellion. Her exposure to the heroes seemed to be leaving a good impression on her.

She conversed with them that night as they collected their things and purchases from town for the journey. They conversed about “family”, and what exactly it meant. She knew what the word meant, but her understanding seemed to be changing as the days went on. She originally hoped to consider Hellion family, but now she was beginning to see the Torch Bearers as family. The word “knuckleheads” blurted from her mouth. She wholeheartedly denied saying it.

Preparations for the journey complete, the Torch Bearers collapsed on their beds after a long week.

Their gauntlets began to blink as they slept.

Baqir, Aysel, Mattias, and Alabaster all shared a strange dream. They found themselves in a florescent white room filled with steel lockers. Their forms had changed too: all but Alabaster had strange, multicolored hair and irisis, while Alabaster’s hair and eyes were a soft but uniform brown. Even their skin colors slightly matched their hair and eyes, with their skins changing color slightly every few seconds.

Aysel was a human woman with slightly different proportions and significantly shorter hair. Baqir was a towering human with a tumor on the back of his neck. Mattias was a human with an artificial arm and eyeball. Alabaster was now a full-blooded human.

Not only did they look different, they found themselves experiencing feelings that weren’t theirs. Aysel found a small moving painting made of plastic in her locker. The painting depicted another human-like being that she seemed to miss for some reason. Baqir found a collection of injections in his locker that seemed to fill him a with a bit of exasperation. Mattias listened to the “countdown to simulation” that occasionally boomed from the room, feeling ready to show the world who the real freaks were. Finally, Alabaster seemed to feel that his color was a point of pride and controversy.

Their lockers each contained a matching pistol and rifle of technological origin and excellent repair, and their own bodies were wrapped in suits of comfortable and lightly plated armor that seemed to change color as their eyes moved about the suit.

As if the scene couldn’t get stranger, Meyanda herself walked into the room, sporting an uncharacteristic smile on her face and a concerned but snarky personality. Her consolations to her comrades (the people who’s bodies the PCs happened to be in) did little to calm the Torch Bearers as the countdown that boomed throughout the room continued to reach zero.

Meyanda guided the worried heroes to their lift and waved them off as the lift carried them up. They grabbed their weapons and held them tight, but as they finally stepped out onto what appeared to be an arena, they were all washed over by a feeling that their time and talents were being wasted.

They found that the stands of this stadium were packed with human-like people and androids. The androids clustered together away from the human-like species, but the humans were clustered together in a peculiar fashion: by color. People with brown hair, eyes, and skin sat in the far back, followed by people colored black, white, gray, green, red, blue, and orange,with orange sitting closest to the arena. A few box seats right next to the action seated several people with multicolored hair, skin, and eyes. The style of dress and apparent cleanlieness seemed to correspond to their colors, with browns being dirtier and wearing simpler clothing to the spotless and affluent appearances of the prismatic spectators. They all clapped and shouted as a female human with long green hair and slightly suggestive clothing was lowered by a platform of metal from the ceiling to the center of the ring.

This green speaker announced into a small device that amplified her voice for all to hear, claiming that this would be the 182nd weekly Prism Strikers’ Exhibition Match. The heroes found themselves grunting involuntarily, just in time to hear words of encouragement from Meyanda while she waved from the android seats.

A poll had been placed to the people of the stadium, and their votes for the type of foe the Prism Strikers would face had been counted by a disembodied voice called “Unity”, who displayed the results on an incomprehensibly large monitor. The announcer made special note that this would be the first match to include a lethal option for the entertainment of the crowds. Wasting no time, the images on the flat monitor began to animate, counting the votes for the week’s target options.

Surprising no one, the lethal option won by a landslide, and a collection of armored gearsman with spears marched from the opposite side of the arena. Their grip electrified the spears, and their eyes glowed a menacing red.

The heroes gripped their pistols and rifles tightly, and as the buzzer demanded the action that thousands had gathered to see, the Torch Bearers woke up.

Meyanda commented that “you knuckleheads” were clearly delirious.

The following morning, before they could leave for Scrapwall, the heroes were intercepted by Joram Kyte and Khonnir Baine. The Torch Bearers quietly put their long night behind them and inquired their business. Khonnir insisted that Joram give his request first, and the madman explained cheerfully about a harsh past experience when he was adventuring in Numeria. He and a few comrades, namely a comrade named Dinvaya, once adventured in the villages, cities, and hinterlands of Numeria, until one day they ran afoul of the Technic League while trying to plunder an undiscovered ship for tech treasures. A bloody battle ensued, which ended with someone puncturing a large tank filled with strange fluids that washed over the League members and Joram and Dinvaya. Joram and Dinvaya were the only ones to escape the encounter with the League. While Joram had gotten over it and directed his wonderful madness to creation and building, Dinvaya held onto a mad hate for the League and actively worked against them for a time. She was forced to run and hide several times as the League struck back, and Joram had come to the conclusion that she was holed up in Scrapwall.

Joram’s request was simple: to find out if Dinvaya was alive and, if she was, to tell her that the League’s interest in her had passed, and that there was a place for her in Torch if she desired to move on.

As the cackling Joram exited, Khonnir confided in the Torch Bearers that last night Val Baine glowed in her sleep, quietly murmuring to herself some strange set of instructions that Khonnir couldn’t make out. He resolved to keep an eye on her while the heroes left for Scrapwall, but wanted them to know. The heroes suggested investigating the device that Sanvil used to manipulate her condition to see if it would provide clues.

As the heroes were finally leaving Torch, Khonnir suggested that they stop at Aldronard’s Grave, a small fortress across the river from Scrapwall that was usually manned by Sarenrae. While the fort would have few comforts, it was definitely safer than Scrapwall, and at the least they could speak to the Sarenites about the current situation in Scrapwall.

When the heroes found the fort after three days of travel, they found thick, black, smoke billowing from the fort. Soldiers with helmets and strange speech asked the heroes to kindly move on to avoid the “plague” that was going around the fort. The Torch Bearers insisted that they could help, and the soldiers eventually gave in and allowed them entry.

It was just as much of a trap as the PCs suspected. The portcullis fell between the heroes, blocking their entrance and cutting Baqir and Alabaster off from Aysel and Mattias. The “soldiers” took off their helmets to reveal several men with their lips and cheeks cut away to reveal their teeth, their scar tissue drawing a wicked and disturbing grin on their faces that mimicked a fresh wound. They pulled out pistols and daggers before calling their allies to attack, including one mutilated man with a hatchet attached to a stump of an arm.

The disturbing men were subdued, and though they found no survivors immediately, the Torch Bearers did find their remains; they were butchered for meat and being smoked over a fire. The remaining Sarenites and their paladin captain were discovered tied up in a watchtower and were given their clothes and hope back quickly.

The leader of the scarred men, who claimed to be part of a gang called the Smilers, was from Scrapwall, and he had come to take Aldronard’s Grave as a gift for the Lords of Rust.

The Sarenites explained that a new gang in town, called the Lords of Rust, had risen to the highest power in Scrapwall and had managed to bring the Smilers, the Steel Hawks, and Redtooth’s Raiders to heel. They stood at the top of Scrapwall, lead by several powerful figures and a mysterious god-like persona called Hellion.

When asked what to do with the Smilers, the half-elf paladin wasted no time running the hatchet-handed Smiler through with his scimitar and slicing open the necks of the remaining live Smilers. He had to be restrained and calmed down.

During the heroes’ search, they came across the dusty chapel to Sarenrae. They could tell that an unquiet spirit wept in the chapel. The Sarenites confirmed that it was the spirit of Aldronard, a long-dead paladin of Sarenrae who committed suicide after coming home from the crusades in the north only to find that his love had died while he was gone, and that her father had blamed him. The Sarenites knew that, on some nights, they could see the ghostly visage of a broken knight wandering the grounds or hiding and weeping in the chapel. They suspected that he sought forgiveness from his lost love Justina or her father Eredian, but with the events that caused his death happening decades ago, Eredian was likely long-dead, as well.

That’s when it hit the captain that Aysel resembled Justina somewhat; she could pass as Justina with the appropriate disguise. Finding this a bit too deceptive, they found a middle ground wherein Aysel would impersonate a descendant of Justina, and convince Aldronard that he was never blamed by her. Alabaster, Baqir, and Mattias scrounged together materials and colors for an Andoran dress and they brought Aysel to the chapel.

Holding their weapons around the corner, Baqir, Mattias, and Alabaster waited in case the worst happened, and Aysel entered the chapel as the moon rose. The broken form of a man descended from the sundered Sarenrae idol, his shattered arms and legs still rubbing ghostly bones against each other as he wandered for eternity, ghostly tears streaming from his eyes.

He called out to Aysel, believing she was Justina, but she denied the name. Before the man’s tears became rage, she explained that Justina never blamed him, and he slowly stopped his tears. He listened closely, waiting on every word, and Aysel told him that he was forgiven long ago, and that his love awaited him in the afterlife. The tears became tears of joy, and Aldronard raised his hands to the sky, asking for forgiveness from Sarenrae, who he had wrongly blamed for what had happened.

As it turned out, Sarenrae forgave him too. A streak of sunlight arced across from the horizon where the sun had just set and found a hole in the ceiling, bathing the fallen paladin ghost in sunlight and carrying him off to his judgment in the Boneyard. Mattias made a point to fix the sundered Sarenrae idol.

Sarenrae thanked the Torch Bearers for not only saving one of her servants but fixing her temple as well, and she granted them a blessing to ensure their safety in the future. The Sarenites called them blessed by the sun itself and offered the fort as a place to rest outside of Scrapwall.

The next morning, the Sarenite paladin captain took them across the Sellen River to the opposite bank, where they could reach the 3-mile long junkyard turned settlement. The impressive junk-walls made of broken crates, hulls, girders, and other support beams climbed precariously into the sky as a make-shift wall that surrounded filthy dirt and garbage streets. A large metal dish with a long antenna stood slightly lopsided, reaching even above the walls of garbage and refuse. The only way to safely enter Scrapwall was a break in the junk wall, filled in by a large gate of bolted and lashed metal sheets.

Keeping Meyanda under disguise, the Torch Bearers approached the gate.

Guarding the wall was a collection of members of the Steel Hawks. They drilled the Torch Bearers on their business in Scrapwall until a woman named Sevroth Slaid approached them. After a few more questions, she suddenly allowed them in, asking if they would hear out a “singular opportunity to benefit us all”. They agreed tenuously and followed her into the guardhouse common room. She got to the point as soon as they sat down; she wanted someone dead. After the Lords of Rust had taken over, they assigned a Smiler who had turned from the Steel Hawks once before to become the new gang leader when the Lord of Rust Kulgara messily murdered their original leader at the Junkmaster’s Arena, the supposed headquarters of the Lords of Rust. They appointed this man, who called himself “Birdfood”, to be master over the Steel Hawks. Sevroth chafed under his leadership, and promised the Torch Bearers that if they did this, she would be able to get them information on the other gang leaders, including the Lords of Rust.

Seeing no problem with ridding the world of more Smilers, the heroes marched through Scrapwall to the north end of Steel Hawk territory, handing a goo tube or two out to starving children or beggars in the garbage-laden streets. They found Hawk Palace, the seat of Steel Hawk strength, and casually walked past a very distressed orc guard. The poor guard watched in shock as the Torch Bearers gassed his orc allies at rest inside. The orcs put up little fight, but when Aysel found Birdfood waiting for them, she was struck down by several well-placed arrows.

Birdfood was quickly cornered and overwhelmed by the rest of the Torch Bearers, and he was executed along with his three hawk companions.

Aysel lay on the floor, arrows in her body and her blood on the floor, the rest of her allies resolute they would bring her back.

View
Black Hill Handfuls
Black Hill's trials came from within and without.

Khonnir’s captors included another white construct, the canister on its back sloshing with thick blue liquids, and a new robot. It floated above the ground with quieting and rhythmic whooshing sounds, and its long arms ended in thick, four-fingered claws. The two robots turned to the heroes and abandoned their current project to deal with new “patients”. The white medical robot droned in Androffan, urging the heroes that the doctor would be with them shortly, while the flying robot, in a deep monotone, muttered about collecting new specimens for experimentation.

Considering Khonnir’s entrapment nearby, the heroes could only imagine what either of these robots might do to them.

Springing to action, the heroes found Baqir’s blessings quite useful in smashing the flying robot apart, with it’s thick armor plating deflecting most blows. Both robots were dismantled before the heroes pried Khonnir’s pod open. Several needles had been inserted into his skull and both his legs were crippled from the “experimentation” of the robots. Pulling out Baqir’s shield like a stretcher, the Mattias and Alabaster carefully removed the needles and lowered him to the shield.

Khonnir was barely sane, able to string words to a sentence, but to Mattias’ long history in Torch and relation to Khonnir, he was a broken man. They knew he needed medical attention, so they hoisted him up and prepared to retrace their steps through the skymetal corridors.

Their plan was cut short when they heard a scream.

The scream was not from an enraged construct, nor did it come from anything made of metal or plant, but from a young woman. Baqir and Alabaster let down Khonnir while Aysel rushed ahead to investigate. Opening the door to the geology lab, she found Sanvil Trett standing over Val Baine, who was rubbing her face as if she had been struck. Sanvil looked up and sighed, knowing his cover had been blown but shrugged and flashed a grin.

Alabaster, Mattias, and Baqir rushed to the scene. Sanvil hinted that he may know more than he originally let on. At that moment he produced a small gray box-shaped device with a large black dial. He turned the dial slowly, and the heroes’ gazes were turned to Val on the floor who began to glow. Her skin began to form blue and white veins in strangely geometrical shapes, and her eyes began to turn a glossy purple. Sanvil turned the dial the other direction and Val’s symptoms disappeared as quickly as they came. She flattened on the floor, exhausted, and Sanvil pocketed the device and turned to the heroes, grinning at their worried faces.

The heroes demanded what he had done, and Sanvil promised he had done nothing. He knew who did, and he also knew that if he killed the heroes and brought this place to “their” attention, the Technic League would be immensely impressed with him. He would finally be part of their formal ranks.

That was all the heroes needed to hear.

Aysel had her sword drawn quick, and was joined by Baqir. Sanvil held them off with sword and spell in deadly combinations. Aysel, possessing particular hatred for the Techni League, scored a mighty blow that nearly knocked the magus to the floor. Sanvil responded with increasing amounts of lethal force, and he nearly slew Baqir and Aysel. The Technic League member nearly proved too much for the heroes. As Baqir and Aysel clutched their wounds, Sanvil moved towards the less fortified Alabaster and Mattias, and was repelled by an extra volley of magic from the injured Khonnir Baine, who had found his wand of magic missile. When Sanvil saw the battle turning against him he attempted to escape, but the locked door between him and freedom was all the time Mattias’ bombs needed.

Sanvil was captured and Val was examined. Nothing seemed to be wrong with her. Val immediately ran to her father, showers of tears forming at her father’s crippled body. The heroes assured her that he would be fine, but asked her not to follow them around anymore. Val confessed her concern for her father moved her to follow them, but this adventure through strange hallways covered in blood and steel had been more than enough to keep her from making this a habit.

After resting for a night, the heroes brought a snarking Sanvil, a quiet Val, and an injured Khonnir back to Torch to great celebrations from Dolga. As promised, she rewarded them with four-thousand gold pieces and a scroll of resurrection. She prodded Joram Kyte to provide the healing Khonnir needed, and his legs and mind were mended after a day. Dolga was unsure of what to do with Sanvil, knowing he was a member of the Technic League. She was seemed satisfied with Sanvil’s ready renouncing of his League associations, complaining that he was being ignored by them anyway. He “generously” offered his expertise on the Technic League and any knowledge of technology in exchange for his life. Dolga placed him in the dungeon as a precaution.

Khonnir, while eternally grateful, still seemed to suffer from an affliction. Splitting headaches and sparkling blood drops from the wounds on his head told the heroes his troubles were not over. Something was still attacking him. Begrudgingly, they asked Sanvil for his expertise. Sanvil claimed that Khonnir’s affliction was not a disease so much as an intelligent attack. He suffered from a nanite infestation that was attacking his brain. Joram Kyte’s attempts with magic met little success, so Sanvil reminded them “kindly” that technology is best fought with technology in many cases. One of the injections that Sanvil planned on selling to Torch residents managed to do the trick, expelling the nanites from Khonnir’s brain.

With Khonnir back on his feet, he was happy to lend his expertise to the heroes for the rest of their expedition into Black Hill. While the councilman was saved, the torch was still out. Without the torch, much of Torch’s income would be missing, and they still couldn’t pay the tithes to the Technic League. The first questions they had for Khonnir, however, were about his adopted daughter, Val. They explained to him what had happened in the corridors and Khonnir knew that secrets would be shared.

Khonnir explained that he was a former member of the Technic League, himself. He had spent much of his life in Starfall but fled with Val when their cruelty had become too much for him. He had tried to fake his death in a fiery explosion in one of their labs, along with attempting to kill one of the other members, an alchemist named Ghartone. Him and Val lived on the run for some time, before finally finding Torch as a home.

The heroes and Khonnir agreed, if the heroes did not share his past with the League, Khonnir would not speak of the strange gauntlets on the heroes’ left hands.

The heroes then made their fourth expedition into Black Hill’s caves. Passing the skulk’s caves, the desert, and reaching the steel halls again, they further explored the floor, finding a tribe of vegepygmys who had sprung from the corpses of one of the earlier expeditions. The tribe’s leader parlayed with the heroes when it became obvious the heroes could wipe out the tribe single-handedly. They cautiously escorted the speaking vegepygmy chief and his remaining subjects to the hole the skulks had left behind, where they climbed down to find a new home. The chief gave Mattias the Brigh hammer he had found as a gift for sparing them.

A dark room with a glowing panel on the wall hinted that other floors might exist under Black Hill. The machinery was damaged, but not beyond repair. A small metal coupling was collected to be fixed back in Torch.

Unable to move forward just yet, the heroes retired once again to Torch.

View
Sands, Stars, and Science
Many are the dangers below Black Hill.

The skeletons were many and swift. Half a dozen of the creatures sprinted across the starless desert, drawn to the PCs as if they had alerted each other with thought alone. Occasionally, a single skeleton’s eye sockets would become alight with green motes that seemed to scan the heroes as they fought.

Slowly backing into the caves, funneling the skeletons, the heroes managed to avoid a bloodbath. The claws and bones of the skeletons littered the ground as more of them launched themselves at the heroes, eager to bring them down to their level. And while the funneling strategy managed to soften the blow, several of them had to stop to nurse their wounds as the skeletons continued to press them back. With doors sealed behind them, the four heroes fought cornered, bloody but not broken.

At the last, the final skeleton was slain, their bleached bones lying in a heap upon the sands of the caverns leading to the desert. Fearing possible reinforcements, the heroes decided to nurse their wounds through the night, and sealed the doors to the desert in front of them. Breathing deeply, they managed to set camp in this strange square room.

As the night went on, Mattias Styrbjorn was woken by sounds of scraping and clanging against the sealed door. A blade thrust between the doors, and a soft green glow emanated and painted the dark room in an eerie green. Mattias prepared for the worst, but as the intruder tried it could not open the door. The sword slid back to the other side, and Mattias heard the intruder collecting the bones of the skeletons, and carrying them off. The glow subsided, and the heroes went back to sleep, safe for now.

The next morning came and the four pulled themselves up to continue their expedition, wary of the intruder from last night. The desert was still dark and starless, but the trail from the intruder could be followed. They tracked them across the desert to a strange wall that gave off light but had no source. Poking it with his pick, Baqir found the wall was fake, projected from a device on the ceiling of the cave beyond it, and they proceeded.

The caves that followed became square and smooth like others they had found, but the ceilings held rectangles that gave off a strange and empty light that lit the halls in a sterile white. A malfunctioning device began to spin rapidly as the heroes entered the room, but Mattias quickly cut its power and it went silent.

Beyond this room was a collection of doors. Two with brown panels and one with a black panel. Choosing the far door, the heroes found a room holding a large window that looked out over the dark desert. Looking through this window into the desert was an alien, four-armed, creature. It’s eyes glowed green as it turned its attention to the party entering its domain. It seemed to have a similar bone structure as the four-armed skeletons from the night before, but green and taut flesh was still on its bones. It barked at the heroes in a tongue that no one understood. Responding in Common, the heroes asked it questions, to which the creature responded improperly with what must have been insults and threats. Baqir had lost his patience with the creature long before Aysel and Alabasterhad given up on diplomacy, and the creature was happy to oblige their challenge. The creature’s blades and claws moved in a blur. It leaped across the room with ease and engaged the heroes fearlessly in melee. Unfortunately for the heroes, they were unprepared for the undead’s unique defenses and potent offense. The situation began to grow grim when three of the four heroes were bleeding on the ground while Mattias backed towards the door alone. The creature continued to share its insults in its own tongue, while Momig rose out of Aysel’s pack. He extended his legs and arms, unfolding his gliding skins. The creature hesitated, recognizing Momig’s species as something from long ago. It quickly lost any sense of sentiment, just in time for Mattias to receive a command:

“Get close.”

Mattias did so cautiously, and just as the undead alien leaped into the air to deliver a killing blow, Momig sprouted large butterfly wings and enveloped the party. A moment later, the alien slammed his weapons against the empty floor, and the heroes were gone.

The heroes found themselves in Val’s tavern a second later. A surprised and confused Val could only inquire what they wanted to drink. Val was happy to supply.

As the heroes bandaged themselves up, they received four invitations, one for each hero. They were all invited by a man named Garmen Ulreth, the proprietor of the local gambling hall of Torch, Silverdisk Hall. The invitations also included a hundred gold pieces in vouchers for gambling at the hall. Raising their eyebrows, but needing a quick break from Black Hill, they took him up on the offer.

The gambling hall was large and crowded, with the sounds of dice and grumbling loss echoing above the strange music coming from a large block of steel in the room. Garmen greeted the party personally with a smile and a handshake. Inviting them to enjoy themselves with card games and games of chance to test their skill and luck. Asuring them that they could not simply take the voucher’s gold value and leave, he traded them 100gp worth of chips, which were in fact silverdisks without power. Garme had the voucher-redeemed disks marked with an X, keeping his establishment safe from handing out money to those who could be playing.

The card games drew party members who had confidence in their ability to read others, while the games of chance (with their higher payouts) drew their attention on occasion. Fortunes climbed and dropped, the voucher disks slowly being replaced with unmarked disks that could be redeemed for money.

To most everyone’s surprise, even his own, Baqir’s luck and skill quadrupled his betting money, and he was asked to “leave some luck for the rest of us.”

Before he left, Baqir and Alabaster had a moment to speak with Garmen himself about the recent happenings around town. They inquired about the Torch goning out, and asked him if he had heard anything about a woman with purple hair. Garmen denied ever knowing her, but Alabaster and Baqir remained suspicious. Garmen promised them that if he did know her, he knew that crossing her may be a bad mistake.

Mattias and Aysel sought out another who could aid the heroes in their expeditions; a traveling merchant named Sanvil Trett. Sanvil was known to travel a circuit about Numeria , but paid special attention to Torch, staying for months at a time to share his wares and his alleged knowledge of Numerian technological treasures. Mattias had collected several parts of the techno-beasts they had encountered and shared them with Sanvil. Sanvil was happy to sell his own wares to the pair, paying extra compliments to Aysel. He offered his expertise in identifying anything that the heroes might dig up from Black Hill, with a trademark smile and wink.

The heroes, with their resources replenished and their courage restored, returned to Black Hill’s caverns. Instead of going for the undead alien’s chambers, they took a detour into another room, and discovered a blinking golden panel. Touching the panel caused the room to light up with activity. A large table displayed the desert in a transparent blue projection. The heroes found that they had reactivated something. A pair of red suns shone through grey clouds in the previously dark skies. The air had become breezy, dry, and hot like a real desert. The desert had suddenly sprung to life.

Pressing on from this room, the undead alien’s chambers were now washed in red from the window’s view of the now red desert. He seemed somewhat torn, but still did not hesitate to attack the heroes. More prepared for the encounter, the heroes eventually overpowered the alien. With his last moments, he looked to the red sky outside the window, and seemed at peace.

Taking a black access card from the room, Alabaster came across writings on the wall. Written in the alien’s language, he cast a spell that made them known to his eyes. The writings referenced Zyphus, and seemed to paint him as one who was respected and hated. Zyphus may have been the cause of the undead here in the underground desert, but now they were free…

Beyond the door with the black panel they found a hall leading to another wing of the caves. The walls continued to be smooth, covered in a layer of dust and cobwebs, quiet and sterile light still illuminating their passage. The rooms seemed to be slowly progressing to more of what the heroes had hoped to find among Numerian ruins.

Carcasses of mechanical men lay in heaps in the halls next to splatters of blood and gore. Evidence of a struggle from mere days ago, the heroes quickened their pace. Following the blood stains into a room filled with rock and dirt samples held in displays while collections of data remained on monitors long abandoned, the blood trail stopped abruptly. It had been cleaned.

In this same room, the heroes found a small plant-like creature that they could feel was poking their very thoughts for clues. It bombarded them with endless questions about the world. It asked them about the things they thought. It asked them about colors and smells, about the sky and the earth. The questions became strange as it explained that creatures who were “like you” and metal things who were “not like you” had passed through here, leaving red food on the floor. The conversation became violent as it asked if they would give it more red food.

After the fungus had been dealt with, Mattias and Alabaster pieced together that the rocks, dirt, and data were compiled records of the geology of a far-off world of deserts called “Kasath”. This crashed ship had been there, and those skeletons likely came from that world.

Following where the bloodstains should have gone, the heroes found a strange room with large tables that could hold an adult human comfortably. Whirring mechanical claws, cutters, blades, and beams of light spun and clanged about these tables with no seeming purpose. These tables were not alone in the room; a guardian made of white steel with one blue eye and a tank of blue chemicals assured the heroes in its alien language that the doctor would be with them soon.

Destroying the guardian, and the tables, the heroes found no clues in the room and pressed on. The very next room held many answers at a glance, as well as many mechanical guardians. Another medical drone, and a floating clawed robot stood guard around a cylindrical pod awash with blue light. The pod contained an older human man, what was left of Khonnir Baine

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Subterranean Surprises
Treasures and dangers beneath the earth

A small white light pierced the dark of night one evening outside of the skymetal smithing town of Torch. Rhythmic and regular, it could not have been magical or even supernatural, and in Numeria, It could only be that which this nation alone offers: mysteries from beyond the stars.

Four fated adventurers, drawn to Torch and each other for their own reasons, investigated this strange and eerie light just outside of town. Matthias was a local of Torch, serving Brigh in her large temple in town. Baqir was a traveler from Osirion, interested in Torch’s iconic Black Hill, the purple flames that burst from it, and the skymetals that could be smelted within the flame. Aysel, a fugitive from the White Scar tribe (and by extension the Technic League), fled with her companion Momig, whom the League would be very interested in acquiring and “studying”. Alabaster, who fled his Shoanti clan to escape his immediate death, now delves the lost ruins of Numeria in search of secrets from the heavens. Coming together for companionship, safety, or business, they became allies.

The light originated from a spherical orb that stood on a metal rod jutting from the displaced earth beneath it. The adventurers decided to uproot it like a weed. Baqir took hold and unearthed two feet of the rod before uncovering a larger sphere; it was worn and old, but still bore a glowing hand symbol on its face. Cautiously, Matthias pressed his open palm to match the symbol; wth a loud and long grind, the sphere’s casing slid open to reveal a case inside. Upon removing the case, the locks on the case broke open and four metal rods sat in a padded mold, holding them in place. On closer examination, the rods were almost prismatic in color, changing their hue as they rotated. Strange gold filaments spread up and down the rods like blood veins with regular shapes and angles.

Before the group could take the rods back to town for study, they began to shake, shine, and then melt in their hands. They slowly took the form of plated gauntlets covered in runes representing numbers, and tiny needles bored into the flesh of the left arm and melded with the nervous system of each hero. They became a part of them.

With their new treasures concealed from the townsfolk, the heroes returned to Torch. Two days passed, and the town’s namesake suddenly went out. The violet flames that spewed from atop Black Hill had ceased, and after 8 days, five expeditions had explored the recently discovered caverns beneath Black Hill. Two of those expeditions included Khonnir Baine, a locally loved wizard and councilman of Torch. He never returned from his second visit, and two days later, the town council offered a 4,000 gp reward to any group who could recover his body, even promising to throw in a scroll of resurrection if they could bring him in alive.

The heroes took up the council on this offer and left with the blessings of Dolga Freddert and Joram Kyte, the oldest council member and the local priest of Brigh, respectively.

The fledgling adventurers decided to investigate the missing council member’s home for clues as to what they may fight. Upon arriving at his home, which stood close to his foundry and tavern, the heroes heard a scream. They rushed to the rescue of Khonnir’s adopted daughter, Val Baine. The culprit of the attack was a broken-down drone built for repairs that had been reactivated somehow and begun to “repair” the surrounding building, threatening to bring it down on top of Val and everyone else. The robot was destroyed quickly, and Val was unharmed. As thanks, she offered them the tavern to sleep in and its food to eat for free while they searched the Black Hill for her father.

Her father’s note confirmed most of what Dolga told the heroes about Khonnir’s report, and added details about a dark metal wall in the caves that seemed to lead somewhere.

The first foray by the heroes into the caverns beneath Black Hill had them face giant beetles, a blindheim, and a dangerous patch of brown mold. During their exploration, they found the bodies of two Torch locals and had their bodies returned above ground, much to their respective families’ happiness. During this first delve, the heroes found seven silverdisks among some tech rubble. Curious that they seemed large enough to fit snugly into a round slot on the bracers that had been clasped onto them a week before, Baqir decided to try placing one into his own device.

The device finally sprung to life as it drained the silverdisk of power, causing one of the numbers on the hexagonal plate to light up. Six disks later, seven numbers were lit up in sequential order. The mystery deepened.

A second delve introduced the heroes to a small community of skulks who had ventured to the caves from a large pit that lead to the Darklands, their original home. They parlayed with the heroes, demanding that they drop their weapons and speak to their current chief. The heroes agreed to have half of their number drop their weapons, and they all agreed to speak to the chief.

The current chief was a skulk named Sef. She explained that they could pass by unmolested and with a reward if they promised two things: they would not hurt the remaining skulks (who would have been perfectly happy to gut the heroes but valued their lives more than a few baubles), and the heroes would clear out the jinkin gremlins in the nearby caves. The heroes cautiously agreed, but Baqir assured the chief that their actions would speak for them more than words; Sef agreed.

Sef shared that she had been visited by a woman with purple hair and several human, orc, and ratfolk allies of the strange woman. They offered large payment in return for the skulks attacking everyone who came in after them. The heroes had heard of a woman with purple hair in town who disappeared near the time the Torch went out. The skulks served well as the guards of the caves, but their reduced numbers were indication enough that their loyalties had been exhausted. She handed the heroes silverdisks and strange brown-stripped card-like objects. She remarked that the strange woman wanted any cards that they had, which originally convinced her they were valuable. She had not had her convictions confirmed thus far, however.

Stepping out of sight of the skulks and not too far into jinkin territory, the heroes resolved that they would try to fully charge Baqir’s bracer. When all ten numbers lit up, Baqir attempted to activate them. He could feel as though he was reaching out to someone, but nothing came back. Inquisitive Alabaster then placed ten silverdisks into his bracer, and they began to experiment. When the two spoke into the plate, they could hear the words their comrade spoke in their heads. When two or more of them pressed the same button, they felt a strange sense of unity, and could anticipate each other’s action to a degree. The buttons each seemed to be a single use before they required more power.

With this in mind, Aysel and Matthias powered their own bracers to full charge. The heroes now felt they had a strange new weapon on their hands.

While the jinkins gave the heroes a bit of trouble and several headaches, they were eventually put down, leader and all. As thanks, Sef granted the heroes the loot from previous expeditions that they had fought.

At the end of the caverns stood a large, dark metal wall with a single open door that led into a corridor of shattered steel, broken ancient bones, lost technology, and darkness. A single, fully functioning, repair drone stood between the heroes and other doors in the corridor. The drone fought fiercely, droning in a deep monotone that the heroes needed “repairs”. The drone was put down after some hero blood was lost.

A few more deserted rooms and strange devices later, the heroes halted at a sight they would not soon forget: an entire, starless, dark desert yawning before them, hundreds of feet under the earth.

As they stepped onto the sand, skeletons clicked to life, and red eyes watched them from the cliffs…

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