- Echo. (Iris) An Akorosian Whisper. Opium.
- Needles. (Matthew) An Iruvian Cutter. Familial obligation to maintain a hidden shrine to the Forsaken Legion, by burning objects of power.
- Pledge. (Elizabeth) An Akorosizan Slide. Theater and related luxuries.
- Zero. (Simon) An Iruvian Hound. Exotic tobacco laced with other drugs.
It was pouring rain as the Grinders came for the crew. Still, even in the foul weather, there were at least double the normal number of bluecoats on duty; Zero used his nascent lookout crew of children to up the crime rate in the days leading up to the meet, so the bluecoats responded with a higher presence (also capturing some of the short thieves, setting back the project of building a gang by a segment.)
They faced Hutton, the leader, and his right hand man Derret. A dozen or so Skovlanders showed up to the meet in the local marketplace (because they didn’t know where the crew was based) and if the crew didn’t meet them, well, their hunting ground would suffer. What the crew did not expect was that the Skovlanders brought a massive hull, with shields strapped around its torso and longboat prows rising from its shoulders.
Hutton demanded the “gift” from the crew, and Echo handed over the sword (which she had bound a ghost to, so it would seem magical. Nyrx introduced her to Nibbler, a ghost who liked to live in teeth, and for days Echo had been forcing Nibbler to stay in the sword at least until the exchange.) The Grinders had their adept verify that the sword was magical, and their adept lacked the fine talent to determine it was just temporarily ghost-ridden. Satisfied, the Grinders reluctantly left (as more and more bluecoats were gathering in case it turned all confrontational.)
Zero was not at the meet with Pledge, Echo, and Needles. He had previously dealt with Grimshaw the Adept Bomber, and gotten a fake goat with a barrel of plasmic explosive for a torso and a painted goat skull for a head, plus legs and so on. As the Skovlanders were crossing the bridge back to the docks, Zero called out “Zephram, Go!” and the goat exploded, shattering the bridge, probably wrecking the hull, and tossing the Skovlanders into the canal (where they were snatched at by what lives in there) or to all sides. Zero withdrew from the chaos with no one the wiser. The sword the Grinders took from the crew was lost in the canal.
The next day they went to meet with the representative of the Dimmer Sisters; the invite was delivered to their contact, a small bottle that said “drink me” and had within it the ephemeral last memory of a person who walked to the meeting point then died there, and all but the memory was excised before it was put in the bottle. Echo led the way.
They went to an expensive greenhouse behind a restaurant, where the arched ceiling was covered with a writhing mass of radiant plants, their glow feeding the vegetables that grew up towards the unwholesome light.
There they met Marcy, the agent of the Dimmer Sisters, who took the sword and arranged for 10 Coin to be delivered to the crew for their trouble. They parted ways amicably enough. The crew received a delivery at the dock of their choice, and it was a number of chests haphazardly filled with a wide variety of currency.
To Be War, Or Not To Be War
A pack of brutal Skovlanders set fire to several blocks of the crew’s hunting grounds, all half naked and berserking and painted in woad. Back channel negotiation discovered that was Ulf Ironborn declaring war on the crew.
They weighed the odds, and decided they had better things to do than go to war with Ulf. So, they gave up a level of hold, letting him strut and sneer, withdrawing their protection from an area.
Zero finished training up his gang of lookouts, the Aughts, a bunch of urchins led by Hodgepodge (Hodge to his friends and boss.)
Echo also finished stuffing her mirrorcat, putting it back by her bunk where its silver eyes shine out into the main living space like the totally distressing creepy thing it is.
The Rat Temple
They started digging into the treasure hunter’s notes about finding Limptwitch’s Grotto. The ghost door connected to the Rat Temple, through the Ossuary Altar. Valeris, the spy, told them it was a holy site for the spies of the city (even though she was annoyed because she was on a date at the time and some people have NO CLUE about such things and interrupt with their stupid questions etc.)
To align the ghost door, they needed something tied to the Rowan family. They managed to get some costume jewelry, but that wasn’t good enough; they got a signet ring that had been lost in the sewers for decades, and was corroded, but probably close enough for a whisper with Echo’s power.
They found the street entry to the sewer nearest where they figured the Rat Temple was, and there was a pie seller being hit on by an obnoxious bluecoat. They concocted a lie about communist union organizers forcing pamphlets on people, and that got the bluecoat to go investigate. They paid the food cart to clear off, and they went to work on the door, getting into the sewer.
They saw all the cant graffiti, but deciphered the proper direction, and soon found their way to the Rat Temple. It was a keyhole shaped crypt with an iron grating sealing it off from the underground; on one side of the corridor in was a bar with a lazy bartender, the other side had small tables and chairs, like an outdoor cafe. At the end of the bar, a wizened man administered tattoos in the old tradition. (Spies carry codes and messages on their skins.)
The end of the keyhole was a round room where the walls were covered with rat skulls, many with tufts of parchment sticking out of eye sockets. Spies leave secrets here as offerings. Also, there was an altar made of bone in the center, a mass of rat bones.
The patrons looked at them, and the crew moved in ignoring them. Echo lined up her ghost key with the signet ring. She realized that all the rat deaths in the city were drawn to this point, this was the drain their rodent lives circled. The pinhole of passing death was therefore propped open, and there were dozens of ghost door corridors aligned here, waiting for the right attunement frequency to open to all kinds of places.
Theirs opened a ghost doorway to inside the catacombs under the Rowan House, and they stepped through.
They came out in another ossuary shrine, but this one was made up of servants who were killed to serve their masters in death. The altar was made of the bones that belonged to the skulls of the young, healthy, or old that died for this place that lined the walls. With a shiver, they headed out into the catacombs.
They sensed the presence of something powerful here, a ghost that had absorbed many other ghosts to become horrifyingly powerful. It was only dimly aware of them, and they didn’t poke it.
They found a dead treasure hunter, and checked over the decades-old body, finding a map that got down into these areas before getting hopelessly lost. They followed the map sort of back up to the main air, light, and energy exchange of the vast catacombs under the Rowan House.
A seated statue of a man and woman faced each other, the statues guarding the corpses in the tombs beneath them. There were runes set in the floor to evoke the ghosts bound to the guards whose corpses were interred in the structure, so the crew made sure to avoid getting too close to those. There was also a slope down to the center of the room, where there was a shaft; dead intruders would slide down the floor and fall in the hole.
Yeah. Of course we’re going in the hole. And there are even rungs cut into the shaft. As they headed down, Echo felt the predator spectre getting closer.
Once they got down into the domed room under the shaft, they saw a dozen or so corpses in the middle of the room, but out of sight from above, an easy chair, some boxes of supplies, a ladder, and a chalk outline of a door on the wall (as well as a grating over a way out into the catacombs.)
Canny, Echo realized the archway was a trap. Attuning to it would trigger something unpleasant. The actual ghost door that led to the Grotto was the pile of tomb robber corpses. She attuned to it and opened the door, and they all stepped onto the pile of corpses, their feet landing somewhere else.
They did it. Limptwitch’s stash, the Grotto, theirs for the looting. They landed in front of a pale-skinned tree that responded to their breath and life, glowing; it had faint radiance, and its roots and limbs ended in rock.
They surveyed the area, noting how meticulously he kept the genealogies and signet rings of various noble families, where he tumbled the weapons and gold in various corners. They loaded up with books of whisper rituals, gems that were easier to carry (if easier to trace), sets of dueling blades, and scrolls with noble genealogies dating back centuries, predating some of the modern apologist records.
Needles was especially attracted to a pair of dueling blades with green-tinted metal and panels of jade, and a hidden trigger in the handle to switch so metal needles connected to a venom reservoir would not pinch into the holder’s finger.
Echo found a leather harness that had the mark of the Outsider invisibly stitched through it in the ghost field, that might make it possible to move in and out of the ghost field, with some practice and experimentation.
Echo tried to attune to the dimensional signature of the place; pocket dimension? Real place under the earth? What? However, she touched on the demon, nearby, in the ghost field, searing her senses. There was a demon in a mirror, behind a curtain, nearby. She shook it off, but they also noticed there was an area dedicated to leviathan parts, including a massive undying eyeball in a tank that slowly focused on them–they pulled the curtain over that one too.
The shadows started curling a bit, moving strangely, so they figured it was time to go.
Loaded up with what they wanted most, but wary of being too burdened, they aligned with the ghost door and returned to the disposal chamber. They climbed back up into the tomb, but now everyone who had some skill at attuning could feel the thing that was rushing towards them from the lower levels.
They reached the servant ossuary at a run, attuning rapidly as a group and springing through the ghost door, feeling it snap shut behind them. Shrugging and looking cool as they looked around the spies at the Rat Temple, they swaggered out.
They sold the gems and coins, and studied how to turn the genealogy scrolls into coin.
Meanwhile Zero invested time and effort into setting up a secondary base, a safe house in case their location was compromised. They had a boathouse, raised up above where the waterline is now, only accessible through the goat pasture on a narrow strip of elevated land, run by Old Shelby.
Armed with fresh wealth and security, they were ready for whatever the future held.