Runequest Thursday #104 - To Tweak the Nose of the Red Goddess, Part 6!

Clint Staples

Here is chapter six in the ongoing saga of the Brightwaters' adventures in  the Clanking Ruin. You can find parts one, two and three, four, and five if you want to catch up, or refresh your memory. You can also check out the attached file for stats on the Reavers and Raiders.

 

In brief: The heroes of Brightwater (Zoe Brightblade, the Orlanthi aspirant; Wyrmhere Blackhand, the demon-ridden sorcerer, Sayyid, Grazelander servant of the White Moon - whatever that is; and Ughari Ghost Eyes, Praxian nomad shaman and outlaw, have traveled to the Clanking Ruin, the remnant of the Machine City that grew up around a cult devoted to incarnating their Machine God - Zistor. The Clanking Ruin is famed as a deadly region filled with enough elder age marvels to tempt the brave or reckless.

Since their arrival, the Brightwaters have manage to annoy the local Lunar administration, make friends with a small cult of Humakti death cultists, and encounter some of the local wild-life up close. Wyrmhere is here hoping to replace his demon arm with a mechanical appendage. And Ughari has come to keep his promise to a dwarf spirit ally that has unfinished business in the depths of the Ruin. Sayyid is here to score one or more artifacts or weapons to aid in her goddesses struggle against the dominance of the Red Moon. And Zoe, always happy to help sow disorder in the Lunar camp, has a plan to do just that. To aid them in their explorations, the Brightwaters have engaged the forge-knight Manfred as guide, guard and oarsman.

When we left our heroes, having exhausted the possibilities of the Ankeshel Archive and the Braner Manuforge. Disheartened and short some gold after paying off the archives extortionist "safety patrol", they venture further into the remains of the Machine City, only to encounter more of the Clanking Ruin's unique dangers - this time in the form of a portion of the city translocating itself - and them.

Of course, a big chunk of ruined city moving form one place to another is likely to attract attention - in this case a horde of mechanimagical monsters that Manfred called Devourers. After a running fight that turned into a headlong retreat, our heroes find themselves trapped in the their place of refuge . . .

 

Part Six

 

Wyrmhere, Manfred at his elbow, peered out over the jumbled ground between their current position, the mage-wall and the Tower of the Devourers. Beyond the transparent blue barrier, stood the black walls of the Legion of Purification, a massive fortress, holed and ruined in many places. It, and the secrets it possessed, called to him more insistently than the dull throbbing of his demon arm.

As Wyrmhere examined the area, the forge-knight, lapsing into its role as guide, had described to the sorcerer the original purpose of this building, which he called an “apartment” because it once housed hundreds of individuals in a single edifice, yet kept them apart in separate dwellings. Wyrmhere though back to his father’s long-hall and its row of shut-beds. These apartments appear to have been something similar, though on a grander scale.

Manfred had gone on to describe the interior of an apartment block in more detail. Wyrmhere’s attention was caught fully at his mention of the word “elevator”.

In Tradetalk the word referred to a  feature or negotiating tactic that raises the price of an item. Here, the word seemed out of place.

“This elevator lifts people?”

“Indeed,” the metal man replied.

The sorcerer queried, leaning forward as if to catch the answer to his next question so much the sooner, “And would it also lower them?”

“To be sure,” Manfred replied, “if it were functioning. Many are not. In any event, this block does not seem to be equipped with one.”

These words clearly disappointed Wyrmhere, but his enthusiasm did not entirely diminish. He began looking at the other nearby towers, apartments, nearby, with renewed interest.

As he looked, he asked, “Are these elevators inside the apartment?” Manfred said that they were. To the next question, as to their structure, Manfred explained that they were designed as a metal box that could hold a number of people.

Wyrmhere interrupted, “There!”

His pointing finger indicated a shorter ruin with a slender spire of stone projecting from its top, closer to the one on which he stood than the others, “What of that one? Could it have an elevator?”

The forge-knight came to look as others took note of their exchange. His answer was lost as Sayyid spoke from her place near the pit in the floor from which the previous attacks had emerged.

“Movement.”

Zoe took up Brightblade, looked at the object of Wyrmhere’s attention. It was too far to jump to, and lower enough that a fall would be ruinous. She dismissed it with a shake of her head and strode to stand behind and to the weapon side of the Grazelander, wishing that she had enough power to cast Bladesharp.

Ughari had not moved from his place since the last attack. His shoulders were slumped in defeat. He had barely enough energy to be aware of his fetch’s insistence. When Wyrmhere called his name, he hardly noticed.

“Ughari,” The sorcerer shouted, his bearded face suddenly in front of the shaman, “Can your spirit tell us if there is an elevator in that tower?”

“What, by all the souls, is an elevator?”

Wyrmhere stepped back, waving for Manfred, who supplied, “It is a vertical tunnel, through which a box moves up and down by the power of a machine.”

“Like the Lift.” Sorcerer and Shaman added simultaneously. Brightwater had a simpler version of what Manfred had described, designed by their Lhankor Mhy mentor, Theudulf the Learned. A net and heavy rope, suspended from a pulley and attached to a harnessed aurochs or pair of zebra. The settlement built it to raise fish caught in the river below, but it was useful in other ways, including the ferrying of people up or down from the settlement’s height.

The Shaman stood, loosing Aka as he strode to the edge of their tower. His spirit sight showed the fetch dive downward and across the span to disappear into the interior of the shorter tower. Mentally, Ughari was questioning Aneel, who he knew to have been among the attackers on the Machine City during his lifetime, about the area.

Sayyid paying no attention to her companions, kneed a chunk of stone down upon a troupe of the smaller machines as they climbed. She saw it bounce from the shoulder of an inert climber downed in a previous attack, then strike one as it moved. The receding cacophony of its saw-blade mouth bouncing from walls and floors, echoed up through the hole.

The remaining attackers did not slow their climb. She looked at her store of projectiles. Having already pulled free, and thrown, every possible piece of masonry, they had two left.  She could see at least three more attackers.

The fetch, visible only to his master, floated up through the floor of their tower, imparting all it knew to the Shaman in an instant. Ughari loosed Aneel to reconnoitre the tower as he related, “There is a central shaft that runs from the top of the tower to the bottom and below. Aka could not tell if there was any machine there, nor a box in which to ride . . .”

He was interrupted by another chunk of masonry crashing down the hole, and more roaring from below. Zoe shoved the final stone into position as Sayyid kept watch. Wyrmhere ignored them all. As he leapt to the tower’s edge, judged the distance and called the lightning.

Arcs of blue-white fire wreathed his good arm, spread to the demon limb as he brought his had together with the alien talon. Sighting at the base of the spire on top of the shorter tower, he breathed an invocation to the Storm Tiger and cast the bolt.

His aim was true. The bolts crackled across the gap to strike the spire, sending shards of stone flying outward.

He waited.

The spire held. But the attention of some of the prowling devourers below had been drawn. He and Manfred could see several looking skyward, others moving closer.

The final boulder toppled along with Zoe’s curse, both of which were swallowed by approaching roars from the pit.

Zoe thrust with Brightblade, shoving the lead attacker into those behind, as Sayyid clove its thrashing talon. The bipedal machine fell backward, shook one of its brethren loose as they collided. Both fell, saw-teeth buzzing, to be replaced by another. More devourers crowded below, eager to reach and rend. The top-most drove its mouth blade at the Grazelander’s shield, catching the edging and wrenching it up and out. Sayyid struggled to retain her grasp, and her balance, as she teetered on the brink of the precipice until Zoe hauled her back. But another blademouth thrust under the shield, tearing into the exposed leg behind. Sayyid screamed and dropped to one knee. Her falling shield came loose of her attackers grip and she struck with her axe again, but the crescent head rebounded from the shiny metal, leaving only a dent in its wake.

Zoe pulled Sayyid back with one hand and warded off a clumsy head-thrust with the other.

“Manfred,” She cried! Taking up Brightblade once more in both hands, she bright the sword down across the spine of her opponent. The magically hardened bronze clove the plates, and was almost carried away as the thing fought to maintain its footing and lost. Then it was only Sayyid who kept Zoe from a fall. Shoving her shield into the toppling mercenary’s shoulder bounced her off of the half-wall beside her. Zoe braced herself against the wall and held on to her trapped weapon with all her strength. The weight of the machine tore it loose and it fell.

As Manfred appeared beside her, Zoe levered herself upright from the half-wall, and felt it shift under her.

“How Many?” She yelled.

Sayyid did not turn from her post, but struggled to standing as she cast her last trickle of power into healing her bleeding leg. “Plenty,” She replied.

Zoe saw Wyrmhere cast a second bolt as she braced Brightblade against the half-wall and shoved along its length, felt the structure give. Another shove, and Manfred lent his strength, resulted in another shift, but no fall of stone to punish the climbers. Sayyid cursed as another one crested the lip of the hole. She struck from above, her axe bending the saw-blade head, silencing the grinding roar of its moving teeth.

“Any time,” she bellowed as her arm rose again, and fell.

Together Zoe and the forge-knight heaved at the half-wall, as another flare of lightning bathed the tower top in white light. The half-blood groaned with the strain.

Another shift.

Another lightning bolt!

Without warning, several square yards of wall gave way behind Zoe and Manfred. They leapt away, followed by Sayyid, as the pit erupted in a plume of crashing and rock dust.

Zoe ran for Wyrmhere and the tower’s edge, fearing that the entire roof was about to collapse.

“We should go!”

Wyrmhere paid her no heed. The spire on the other tower, pummelled by a series of lightning bolts that had depleted his magical reserves, had not fallen.

It leaned in the direction of the tower on which they were trapped, which had been part of the sorcerer’s plan. Now he stood, exhausted and leaning on the tower’s edge, as the spire defied him. He summoned up all of his remaining magical strength and it was not enough. He began to tear at the bindings on his arm, ready to loose the demon to access its power.

But his hand stilled as he considered another way. Since his earliest days with Master Valok, the wizard had instructed him to never free it, never listen to its wheedling or cursing, or its offers of power. Wyrmhere, ever mindful of the day he acquired the demon arm, of the demise of his first master Runewulf in his fruitless attempt to bind the monster, obeyed the words of Valok. But now, when Scilliax should be filling his head with temptations, it was silent.

Wyrmhere felt a tremor in the stone beneath his feet – the fall of the stones, or the coming collapse of the tower? He had to do something.

Wyrmhere closed his eyes, forced his will upon the bindings, working along the lines of them, seeking access through eldritch warding that was aimed, not toward him, but inward – against Scilliax. In a moment that seemed an eternity, his mind prised away at a weakness, exposed a presence he had hoped never to glimpse.

Power, malevolent and dire, true. But Power.

He drew into himself some of that power, felt it coursing along his limbs, then shut the magica opening he had created. He opened his eyes to find that his entire body was wreathed in lightning. He cried out, exulting, and hurled the massive bolt of energy at the defiant spire.

His aim was perfect. The weakened stone of the spire glowed red, pouring honey-slow to the surface of the tower roof below. The spire leaned further, then swiftly toppled, gouging into their own tower several yards below their position.

Small-seeming at a distance, its size and weight rocked the entire structure, casting Sayyid, still unsteady from the wound in her leg, down again on one knee. A fresh plume of dust pour up from the pit, as more clouded the air outside, whipped up in a rising font of wind. Wyrmhere, nearest the other tower, could just make out the spire as a slanting beam from one tower to the next.

“ROPE,’ he yelled, over the groan of the settling stone, the roars of devourers very interested in the activity overhead. Sayyid, standing, grabbed her pack and threw it forward, where it was rifled through by the sorcerer, whose hand came up with a coil of line. About to tie it inexpertly around an outcrop of the tower’s broken edge, Zoe stepped forward, and took over. Wyrmhere, having seen her rope-work on board River Maiden, gave way.

The ex-mercenary quickly made the line fast, and fashioned an adjustable loop in the other end. Unbuckling her belt, she knotted it around Brightblade’s grip, then rebuckled the belt loosely around her neck, such that the greatsword hung down her back. She judged the distance to the beam of stone and fit the toe of her boot into the loop, took up Brightblade from where she had set it, clambered over the edge and spoke as she perched there.

“I am heaviest beside’s Manfred. I’m first. When I am down, haul the rope up and get someone else moving. If I can I’ll help. If not . . .” she grinned with a shrug, . . . hurry.”

Hand over hand, Brightblade, scabbarded and slapping against her back and legs, she let her self down. If it was not exactly descending from the mast height, it was not entirely different. In a few rapid heartbeats that she could scarcely hear over the roaring from below, she was touching the stone of the spire, a small distance to one side, with her free foot. Her toe caught against it and she dragged herself over, her sword clattering against the walkway Wyrmhere had made. Sitting, she freed her toe, tugged on the rope in case they were unable to see her through the dust that still clouded the area, and watched it rise away from her.

She rose, standing on the narrow end of the downed spire, several feet from where it pierced the tower on which they had taken refuge. The beam was a little over a yard wide at this point, on its slightly canted surface. Looking downward along its length to the lower tower, she saw that it widened to about double at its truncated base.

Zoe turned back at a tremor that went through the spire. Eyes locked on the jagged opening that the spire had torn, she lifted the belt from around her neck, took the scabbarded Brightblade in hand as a nightmare that she had only seen at a distance stalked from the dust and shadows.

First to appear was a lethal talon, chalky with rock-dust, but the rivets, cables and hinges betrayed its mechanical nature. The claws touched down lightly, were followed by another set as it took another step down the length of the spire. A spade-shaped head, eyeless, as dusty as the talon, seemed to materialize in the darkened portal. Triangular teeth lined a gaping maw, the whole reminiscent to Zoe of both sharks and daggerfangs. A neck thick with cable and steel plate ended in a set of powerful armored shoulders hunched and ready to propel the machine forward.

There was no time to wait for her companions, no room on the spire to sidestep, as the machine stalked, catlike, toward her. The tail that Manfred had warned them all about hovered like a serpent’s head over its shoulders, a single eye burning orange at the tip.

Zoe back-stepped. At her motion, the mechanical horror leapt.

 

End of Part Six

NOTE: If you want copies of the reavers or raiders to stage your own 28mm massacres, check out my store at armorcast.com.

Go to Part Seven!