After our tricky infiltration of those nasty Shivs’ headquarters which hopefully one of my pals has elucidated already, the four of us stood around discussing at great length how we might get past the great fiery beastie which blocked our path.
How did we get past it, in the end? Well as ye will see, this chapter of our tale ends with such horror that I’ve damn near drowned myself in liquor for the last few days just to forget what I’ve seen, so truth be told I don’t remember. But it was something pretty clever, of that ye can be sure.
The challenge met and exceeded, we made our way through a corridor of stone, toward where we would hopefully find the abducted Charnel Maids. Eventually we reached a large room, guarded by a single man who stood at a table polishing his weapons. At the centre of the room was a large artifice which, as we understood it, would block the effects of magic.
We formed a plan, attacking from outside the range of the artifice and taking the man by surprise, and quickly dealt with him. I helped Ash destroy the artifice, and we found the captives we sought, in a hole in the ground. The room contained other such holes with other captives, all of whom were quickly freed. Among them were Ash’s acquaintances, Rohan and Julie.
Now we faced the problem of how to escape. Getting in with just the four of us was hard enough, and we were highly trained. How to get this assortment of downtrodden folk out? We headed back the way we came, and Rohan and Julie were able to spot a panel on the wall which led to a duct. Our escape route! A couple of us hammered away at the panel, and with some work managed to remove it. It would have been a pretty loud affair, but luckily my good pal Bric-a-Brac had recently gave me this brilliant candle which casts silence over an area, and all I have to do is bleed on it. We used it to disguise the sound while we worked. Celeste got up to some shenanigans with the hellhound to distract some Shivs who had appeared at an inconvenient time. Among the Shivs, we discovered, were our not-so-good-friends Jed and Ox. Traitors!
We herded the ex-prisoners into the shaft, then jumped in ourselves, pulling the panel back into place behind us. The lot of us scrambled through the poky, dark ducts in silence. After some time, we reached the surface. Freedom!
We directed the prisoners back to our hideout, then headed back to the Wardens’ headquarters. There, we met with Hubert. The others talked to him while I was distracted by a beard hair which had somehow worked its way under my eyelid.
No sooner had I freed the errant hair than a lad burst into the room, with the message my comrades and I were to attend a meeting which was currently taking place. Hubert told him that we couldn’t come, but the boy was insistent. We looked to our old friend, who made it clear that compliance with the order would be a gravely bad idea. With Felix gone, were we to be sold out to the Templars? The smart money was on: yes.
We had very little interest in being given to those bastards, so Ash used his rapture power on the lad and we escaped.
On the way out we glimpsed a bloke who looked suspiciously like an angel, but we didn’t have time to enquire further. I was also filled in that we had a clue about the whereabouts of Ash’s mum. Millie had done a reading of her scarf, and had a vision of a gaudy, red room. Not much to go on, but it was better than nothing.
Later in the evening Ash stated (after an oddly long bladder-emptying stop) that he had received a tip-off from some mysterious “source”, about where Millibeth, his mum, was being kept. A mansion in the rich quarter of the city. Not the ideal place for a collection of slum-dwellers like us to try to move about unnoticed, but better than some alternatives.
We headed straight there, and Celeste used her high-born charm to get us past the gatekeepers. Walking past rows and rows of sprawling mansions, I eyed the assortment of rich jerks and servants going about their business, oblivious to the problems going on outside their safe little bubble.
At last, Ash pointed to one of the huge homes and told us that was where we were going: Vladaam Estate. It was a sinister-looking place, nestled at the base of a huge brown stone spire which thrust up into the sky. We went through the gate, approached the front door, and knocked.
A man soon answered, took one look at us, and told us to clear off. Celeste took charge and insisted that we were here looking for Millibeth. At the mention of her name, the man’s demeanour suddenly changed, and he invited us in.
He led us into the house and through a garden, where some kind of debaucherous party was taking place, and ushered us into a large room divided by a huge curtain which we thought was part of the party. But alas, it was a trap! As soon as we entered the room, the doors slammed shut behind us. The curtain was an artifice, creating the illusion of a party. A look through to the other side revealed that we were in a dusty old empty room.
Quickly after that, a number of rats started entering the room. Far above, near the ludicrously high ceiling, a glass window looked onto the room. Behind the window – a bunch of bastards hoping to watch us die.
As ye may suspect by now, we made short work of the rats. We also managed to set the curtain on fire, which was pretty funny.
When the fight was over, some kind of giant frog materialised and started being snooty at us. I wasn’t paying much attention, as I was trying to devise a way of climbing up to the window and teaching those rich gits a lesson with my warhammer. The frog then brought out two more people, an extremely tall man and a woman, both of whom were covered in impressive artifice. After what was no doubt some world-class witty repartee with the three of them, Ash managed to convince them to bring out his imprisoned mum.
Well, it turns out that she was no captive – if anything, when she appeared she seemed well looked after. I always knew she was a canny lass, and probably had more going on than just the running of a house of ill repute. But Dweorg be cursed if I ever thought she’d be swanning about the rich quarter with a giant frog!
After Millibeth managed to convince Ash that she was OK, and that there was nothing he could do to assist her, they let us go and we headed back for the slums to get some sleep.
The next day we met up again. We stopped by the Fiery Harlot, and were shocked to find that the bordello, traditionally neutral ground between the clans, had been ransacked. Dead bodies were strung up, and anything of value gone.
“Bastards!” I yelled at nobody in particular. “Do what ye like to us, but leave the whores out of it!”
Our next stop was the orphanage. Luckily it was in better shape than the Fiery Harlot.
After that, we headed to Celeste’s place. Celeste had decided that her only option was to come clean to her parents about her magical ways. Apparently the night before, one of those nasty Templars had shown up and made veiled threats against Celeste and her family and they were all in grave danger unless Celeste turned herself in to the Templars. Well, obviously she wasn’t about to do that, so the only other option was to run. Her mum was shocked, to say the least, but in the end she stood by her daughter. Her dad arrived home soon enough, and when Celeste gave him the news he stoically threw his lot in with Celeste as well. We took them to the hideout.
The next order of business was to meet up with Hubert. He was holed up at the Wasps’ Nest inn. Hubert told us all about Atreus’ visit to the Wardens’ headquarters, and Felix’s miraculous recovery. The heads of the clan had held a meeting in which Jed’s magic-hating uncle Yorak had been voted in as the new leader. As Yorak began to address the crowd, the door burst open and a newly revived Felix strode into the room. Felix walked straight up to the leader-elect, slit the man’s throat, and asserted to the startled onlookers that he, and only he, was the leader of the Wardens. He then leaned out the window and told the waiting Templars outside to take a hike.
We listened to this story with glee, but before much else could be said, there was a noise at the door. The Shivs! The bastards had broken in, and were storming up the stairs. I assisted Cat in skewering one of them as they came up, but several more made it to our level and fighting broke out. We dispatched the intruders, and decided to return to the Wardens’ headquarters to see how things were going with Felix.
We looked out the door of the inn, down the length of the ancient aqueduct that formed the walkway outside. At the corner, where this aqueduct intersected the one which led straight to the headquarters, there stood a crowd of what were obviously Shivs. They were just milling around, as if waiting for something. It was a decently sized crowd, probably more than we could take on ourselves.
The Wasps’ Nest inn is at the end of a broken aqueduct. The only way away from it, other than a fatal drop to the slums far below, is via that intersection.
We were in a pickle.
At this point, Fat Lily told us that there are service tunnels below the main part of the aqueduct. They would provide a safe path to the headquarters, passing directly under the loitering Shivs. We went outside and carefully climbed down the side of the aqueduct, swinging through a small gap and into the tunnels.
As quietly as we could, we made our way toward the intersection. We turned, hearing the excited voices of the assembled mob through the stone above us as we passed. We kept going, a straight path now to the headquarters.
When we were nearly there, we were stopped by a man dressed all in black, who appeared seemingly out of nowhere to block our path.
“You shall not enter,” the man said, looking straight at Cat. With those words, a wall of flame appeared behind him, blocking off the entire tunnel to the headquarters.
The man was a skilled fighter, but as he quickly found out, no match for the four of us. When it looked like he was close to defeat, he retreated the way we had come and disappeared into the shadows. His wall of flame died down, and eventually flickered out.
We were about to start forward, when suddenly a noise like thunder boomed from somewhere below us and knocked us off our feet. The entire aqueduct shuddered. Then, the tower ahead of us started to shift downward and the floor under our feet began to tilt forward.
The four of us scrambled back, away from the crumbling section of aqueduct ahead of us as the whole thing drooped forward, still attached to the intersection we’d just passed through but being pulled down by the falling Wardens’ headquarters. We grabbed what we could to avoid sliding down the walkway and out into the open air to our deaths.
With a crack, the aqueduct separated from the tower. We looked out, and we could see that the other three aqueducts which formed the junction around the headquarters had been similarly broken off. Far below, the base of the tower was rubble. The immensely tall tower that was home to our clan stood like a pencil balanced on one end, with nothing to support it.
Then, slowly, the great tower began to move.
We heard the distant sound of more stone at its base cracking and crumbling. We looked on helplessly as the building started to fall to the side. It seemed to fall impossibly slowly, as if the sheer horror of what we were seeing had slowed down time itself. A great shadow loomed on the slums below. Finally it hit the ground. Its width and length covered several blocks of smaller buildings, all turned to dust and rubble in an instant. A cloud of debris swept up into the air in a great cloud.
The full devastation only became apparent when the cloud dispersed a minute or two later. The four of us stared wordlessly, processing what we had just witnessed. The scale of devastation was beyond anything we had ever seen. How many people had been in the headquarters, and in the buildings below? Hundreds? Thousands?
I needed a drink.