- Alabastor Quan, a gnome rogue-turned-warlock and failed circus ringmaster; wielder of a cursed dagger and member of the Ravenswing Thieves’ Guild.
- Caulis, a homunculus warlock liberated from its master; has made a pact with certain Faerie Powers.
- Miri, trollblood wizard, plucked from Mount Shudder and raised amongst Hex’s arcane elites. A recent graduate of Fiend’s College.
- An ancient and enigmatic Lengian cleric of the Mother of Spiders, name unknown. She wears bulky ecclesiastical garments covering an uncertain number of limbs and goes by “Sister.”
- Yam, an eccentric gnome illusionist and local graduate student at Umbral University. Yam cares little for money. Yam is curious. Yam is Yam.
XP Awarded: 1000 XP
Yam had stopped by their apartment in Mooncross, checking in on the magical sheep Cosmo and the Book of Chaos, stolen from Delirium Castle and stowed there with the formidible caprine guardian. They discovered that the Book seemed to be altering their chambers, creating new doors and corridors within the building, undetectable from the outside: a room made entirely of candy and gingerbread, a walk-in closet filled with animated clothes, a tropical greenhouse, even a gallery filled with portraits – all of Yam.
“Like what I’ve done with the place?” The Anarchonomicon asked Yam.
“Uh… I mean, it’s cool and all, but uh… is there any way you could keep this from getting out of hand?”
“That’s not really in my nature, now is it?” The Book of Chaos responded, its pages flipping glibly.
Yam made a note to tell their companions about the tome, then hurried off to the docks to catch a ferry to Genial Jack – an invitation had arrived, from the party for a celebratory soiree in Jackburg.
The party was celebrating the recovery of their treasure from the Cuttlethieves, and the successful auction for many of said items in the Queen of Lost Souls. Flush with funds – most would be used to begin construction of a spacecraft, to travel amongst the spheres – the party headed to the Coils: a district at the bottom of Jack’s forestomach, named after the skeletal remains of a gigantic sea serpent that Jack swallowed many centuries ago, now colonized by Jackburg’s inhabitants and transformed into the city’s pleasure district. Fully legal brothels catering to all species and genders could be found here, along with drug dens, taverns, casinos, and other establishments dedicated to every indulgence. Famous establishments include the Fortunate Fangs (built within the serpent’s mouth), the Cage (within its ribs), and Jack’s Own Luck. The famous rival bordellos Cecaelia’s – featuring various merfolk performers and courtesans – and the Yaghotep’s Cathouse – run by a renegade cat from New Ulthar – could also be found in the Coils, as well as taverns such as the Drunken Louse, the Klabautermann’s Cap, Fata Morgana, and Aspidochelone.
The group settled in at the Fortunate Fangs; amidst the yellowed teeth of the sea serpent, the Casino was a crowded confusion of light, laughter, and beleaguered groans, principally staffed by humans, goblins, and ratfolk. The crowd was more diverse: polypoids and jellyfolk and glamorous octopoids, cambions and gnomes and trollbloods from Hex and even one or two mysterious figures who might be Fair Folk, dhampir and ophidians and stranger folk – slugkin, shimmering ghostbreed, orchid-women, glass golems, a talking bear. The bar flowed with exotic drink: wines from across the Blushing Sea, melon liqueurs, ectoplasmic cocktails, drinks served in floating, animated glasses that hovered beside their drinkers.
Shark Race. Illustration by Caulis’ player, Bronwyn McIvor.
Comet tried his hand at several cage-fights, winning several and surprising the crowd greatly; Sister won a round of Leper’s Dice, coming away with an extra pincered limb, won from a karkinoi gambler. The group then turned to the exciting shark-races, held in tubes of sea-water winding through the Coils. They placed bets on sharks like Gnasher, Beauty Queen, Mister Smush, Blue Lightning, Bloodlord, and Her Eminence – as well as a mysterious shark, “Carl,” entered by Yam, in fact a subtle illusion the mischievous gnome wizard was conjuring. Bets made, a tiny automated submersible was placed in the tube, leaking blood; the sharks, gnashing their teeth, were off. Yam’s illusory shark won the race handily, earning the gnome an impressive number of dubloons, Jackburg’s currency. The race-attendants began inspecting this mysterious new shark, but the party was saved by a sudden tremor, the “ground shaking,” glasses shattering, cards and chips flying from tables. It was as if all of Jack were quaking, an a monstrous groan was audible, the whale himself crying out in the night.
When the group had picked themselves up, Sister sought out Parthenia Quell, the Navigator who was celebrating with the Variegated Company, and daughter of Sister’s former lover, Adam Quell.
“What in the name of the Mother of Spiders was that?” she asked.
“Another of the nightmares,” Parthenia replied, her tone sombre. “Damn! I thought they had passed for good. For the past few weeks, he’s been suffering from them. We Navigators… we can reach into Jack’s mind, communicate with him in a fashion. But nothing we’ve been able to do can banish them. We thought they’d stopped but now…” Her face pales. “Outside, I am sure there will be significant damage. Possibly deaths. We will have much work to do, to convince Jack he is not responsible. But if we can’t find a way to quiet Jack’s mind, we will have to leave Hex earlier than anticipated.”
Sister pondered. “My group has had some experience with dreams,” she said, thinking back to their sojourn to the Egregor Vaults and Caverns of Fear beneath the Dreamer’s Quarter in Hex. “And I am a Lengian, a creature of the Dreamlands, after all. Perhaps we could be of some assistance.”
Parthenia nodded. “Hmm… you have communed with Jack before, on his last visit here… I will speak to my fellow High Navigators. Come to Melonward tomorrow, the the Inner Sanctum of the Cathedral.”
“We’ll be there,” Sister replied.
The party spent the rest of the night perusing the Borborygmus Bazaar. The group was delighted a gnome woman with mismatched eyes, one red and one sapphire blue, advertising a menagerie of automaton animals, including a wind-up ostrich, a gear-driven hellhound puppy that spat real fire, and a clockwork sphinx that flew around while reciting curious riddles. A polypoid merchant watered bonsai trees each with their own miniature dryad. The dryads didn’t mind if the trees were sold but pruned the trees themselves into elaborate shapes (animals, fanciful cities, monsters, faces, etc); Armand made sure to purchase one, though the sorcerer confessed a weariness from the day’s events and planned to rest the next day. A man from Teratopolis – marked as such by his mask, his twisted left arm, and his slug-like lower body, mutations caused by the alchemical poisons Hex introduced to the water of that city during one of its many wars – sold a variety of salves and oils, including medicinal tinctures; Yam purchased some “salve of sentience,” which animated any object it was rubbed upon, like furniture polish.
Octopoid Tattoist. Illustration by Caulis’ player, Bronwyn McIvor.
The party spent the night at the Fata Morgana in silk hammocks, the traditional bedding of Inner Jackburg. When dawn came, they made a brief sojourn back into Hex, stopping at the Bird & Key City Bank to retrieve the carefully protected tome known as the Oneironomicon or “Book of Dreams,” procured at great risk from the Egregor Vaults deep beneath Hex, at a place in the Old City where the borders between waking and dreaming grew thin. While in Hex they observed some of the damage last night’s events had caused: waves from Jack’s thrashing had destroyed some of the docklands and damaged several ancient dagonian buildings in Croakmarsh, and reputedly the Hexad Council was highly alarmed, entreating the Whaleguard and the High Navigators to move Jack from the harbour lest further devastation occur. Sister studied the Book of Dreams carefully and purchased a few key spell components before the party made haste back to Jack, heading this time to Outer Jackburg and the Cathedral.
Deep within the Cathedral of Melonward, in the heart of the glittering edifice of glass and steel, the High Navigators convened at the Inner Sanctum, a circular chamber beneath a glass dome. The floor here was bare, composed not of stone or metal or wood but of Jack’s own flesh. Parethenia greeted the group with a look of deep concern.
They discussed possible causes for the nightmares, including the presence of certain parasites in Jack’s intestines, but Sister assured Parthenia that she could deduce the cause. “We need to enter one of Jack’s dreams outselves,” the Lengian priestess explained. “There is a ritual here that I can use; it will not harm Jack, but it will let my companions and I slip into his mind.”
Parthenia spoke to the other High Navigators at length; after much discussion, they agreed to try the ritual.
“Anything to stop these nightmares,” said High Navigator Netch Vicissitude, an elderly ratfolk woman.
“Do you have any idea what we might expect?” Armand asked.
“It is difficult to say. Jack does not remember everything in the dreams. We’ve received only flashes – images of pain and death. Some seem to be from his past, from disasters or struggles that Jackburg went through – the storming of the Flukefort, the Doppelganger Plague of 1492, the drownings during the Rising Tide when the undines rose up to demand their freedom.”
The ritual was complex. First, the party waited for Jack to drowse. Each member of the Variegated Company present consumed a quantity of Dreamdew, a soporific drug Sister had purchsed in Cobweb Cliffs. Sister than performed a series of incantations and drew a sigil upon the forehead of each individual, marking them with an Archetype, giving them form within the Dream. Alabastor would be the Shadow, the repository of the fearful, repressed, irrational, and unconscious, able to reveal what is hidden; Miri would be the Sage, representing wisdom, conscience, memory, and knowledge, capable of unraveling memories within the dream; Yam would be the Demiurge, representiong creative instincts, imagination, energy, and willpower, capable of reshaping the reality of the dream; Caulis would be the Innocent, representing idealism, courage, vulnerability, and youth, capable of purifying the dream of nightmares; and Sister herself would take the form of the Trickster, a mischievous figure representing self-destructive and transgressive instincts, a rule-breaker and a manipulator who also stands for freedom and self-realization.
These archetypes decided, each member of the group then whispered their greatest desire to the person on their right, and their greatest regret to the person on their left. Sister spoke a final incantation as the sleeping-drugs took hold, and touched the bare flesh of Jack, inscribing a final sigil upon his skin to mark the Dreamer whose dream they would enter.
They slipped into unconsciousness…
…and appeared in Jack’s dream, in a version of the Main Stomach, a fire blazing. The Gutgardens burned, pools of stomach acid boiling, cilia waving frantically. The Borborygmus Bazaar had kindled, the stalls and shops billowing with smoke, crimson flame lapping at the foundations of the structures above. Smoke was rapidly filling the stomach. The folk of Jackburg scrambled to try and put the fire out, dousing it with water pumped from emergency valves, but it was spreading faster than they could douse the conflagration. Burning bodies raced through the streets, screams filling the air.
The party surveyed their new forms, shapes determined by the Archetypes in the ritual. Alabastor flexed limbs stuffed with straw, button eyes swivelling in a scarecrow face; Sister flapped raven wings.
Archetypes. Illustration by Caulis’ player, Bronwyn McIvor.
Miri, the Sage, recognized the memory instantly – the Great Fire of Inner Jackburg, a conflagration caused by the release of a clutch of wyrmlings, accidentally hatched in the marketplace. The wyrmlings were eventually charmed by a group of visiting enchanters from Tetractys, but the death toll was in the hundreds. She quickly explained this to the party, even as swooping shapes flitted through the fire and smoke – the wyrmlings, recreated in Jack’s dream, spreading fire everywhere.
“There are the enchanters,” Alabastor indicated, pointing to a group of robed figures high above, in Queens’ Corners. As they watched, however, a crossbow bolt whizzed through the air and struck one of the enchanters; he toppled from the boat he was on, falling hundreds of feet to the blazing Gutgardens below.
Wyrmling. Illustration by Caulis’ player, Bronwyn McIvor.
The party leapt into action, Sister flapping her wings and taking to the air in search of the assassin firing at the enchanters. The wyrmlings hurled fire, scorching Miri, who counterattacked with magic missiles. Yam, as the Demiurge, manifested a chain around one of the wyrmlings as it swept by, andmanaged to subdue it; Caulis cast a spell to charm one of the beasts, while Alabastor used a phantasmal force to subdue another.
The assassin, meanwhile, picked off another enchanter. Sister caught sight of him – a Lengian with several arms, swathed in a dark cloak and perched on a high bridge near the top of the Main Stomach. She swooped towards him on raven wings, but he hissed and rolled aside, firing a bolt that struck home. Poison began working its way into Sister’s oneiric body, and she woozily flapped her wings before plummeting to the ground.
Sister’s Fall. Illustration by Caulis’ player, Bronwyn McIvor.
The party rushed over to help Sister; their disguises were slipping, as the Trickster’s magic was what let them sustain the image of their Archetypal forms. Yam, meanwhile, leaped atop the charmed wyrmling.
“I’m calling you Flipper,” the gnome declared. “Now, up!”
The dream-wyrmling complied, flyng through the smoke with Yam on its back, and they chased after the Lengian assassin. He opened a door down a seemingly random alleyway within the dream, revealing a strange vista beyond: Mawtown stood abandoned, Jack’s mouth open. The air on the other side of the door was frigid; beyond stretched not the ocean but a cold, rocky beach, partially covered with snow, with ice beyond. The chateaus dangling from the roof of Jack’s mouth looked derelict, and several had crashed to the floor, chains rusted through. The wharves and jetties to either side of Jack’s tongue wee rotten and shattered, warehouses broken and looted.
It seemed a nightmare not of things past, but of those Jack feared might yet come – of Jack, beached and forlorn, unable to return to the ocean. In the distance, Yam could see ominous figures of immense size crossing the beach towards Jack, massive harpoons in hand.
“Not so fast,” Yam said, directing the wyrmling to snatch the assassin before he could escape into another dreamscale. Claws closed round the Lengian, and the wyrmling flew the captive assassin back to the party, where Sister was reviving. Yam conjured more chains to keep the assassin subdued. He was garbed in diaphanous garments of spidersilk and carried a crossbow and short blades; a cloth was placed over his mouth, and intricate tattoos snaked over his exposed flesh. Alabastor yanked down the Lengian’s mouth-cloth while Sister conjured a zone of truth. Miri, looming over the Lengian, started asking the questions.
“You’re not going anywhere,” the trollblood wizard said. “So. Let’s start with a name.”
“Dolus,” the assassin snarled.
“And who are you? Are you part of this dream?”
“No.” The Lengian struggled against the effects of the truth-magic. “I’m an intruder here, like you.”
“What are you doing here?”
The Lengian remained silent.
“We can leave you trapped here,” Alabastor said, scarecrow visage thrust at the Lengian’s face. “Trapped in Jack’s mind, while your body rots.”
The Lengian ignored Alabastor, holding back words. Sister examined his tattoos, hissed.
“He’s a member of the Order of Icelus,” she whispered. She drew the other party members aside, described Icelus to her companions – a dark, primordial god, forbidden to Lengians, and said to be older even than the Mother of Spiders. Ancient and sinister scriptures, restricted from common view, held that he dwelt in the void of night before the Many-Limbed Mother spun out the great web of the dream-world. “They’re said to be dreamwalkers – can slip from mind to mind. That could explain how he’s here.”
“Hmm, I have an idea,” said Alabastor. Summoning the power of the Shadow archetype, he manifested a dark, terrifyng worm, all wings and tendrils of tenebrous energy.
“I AM YOUR GOD, ICELUS, LORD OF THE DARKNESS,” he said, looming before the assassin. “ANSWER MY QUESTIONS, OR PAY THE PRICE.”
The Shadow’s powers worked; the assassin’s eyes went wide, irrational fear seizing him.
“I was hired by someone. I don’t know who… a shadowy figure, concealed by magic. She called herself ‘S.’ I say ‘she’ – the voice sounded feminine, but her stature was great.”
“Icelus.” Illustration by Caulis’ player, Bronwyn McIvor.
“Can you make this stop?” Sister gestured to the conflagration.
Dolus looked to “Icelus.”
“Destroy this form, and the dream will cease,” Dolus said.
“WHERE IS YOUR WAKING FORM?” Aabastor asked.
“Cobweb Cliffs,” he admitted. “13 Chelicerae Street. At the back of a sword shop.”
“I think we have everything we need,” Miri said. “Yes?”
With the party’s assent, she dispatched the assassin. The dream shifted, the fires dissipating, buildings repairing themselves; burned bodies revivied, their wounds healing; the scene of horror and pain was replaced by one of celebration, a happy dream of contentment and revelry. And with that, they woke.
Back in the Inner Sanctum, awake once more, the party rushed to explain the situation.
“We can lend you an airship,” Parthenia Quell said. “It can take you to Cobweb Cliffs! Hurry!”
The party rushed out to Melonward, where the High Navigators hastily prepared a dirigible. They hurried aboard, the vessel hastening for Cobweb Cliffs, the web-swathed Lengian district in western Hex.
They touched down on Chelicerae street and hurried to door 13; Alabastor picked the lock, then ducked a poisoned crossbow-bolt rigged to hit whoever opened the door.
They found Dolus’s chambers at the back of the empty shop: a spare, simple room with a small bed and a huge host of alchemical concoctions on one wall. Tehse proved to be variants of sleeping-draughts for different times and intensities; the party helped themselves to the collection. There wasalso a tiny shrine to Icelus, represented as a dark, winged figure with tentacles emerging from beneath a robe, face shrouded by a hood.
There was no sign of Dolus himself; thorough search, however, turned up a note:
Continue tormenting Jack while he remains in the city. Aim for maximum distress but do not use lethal force unless directed. Only terminate the target on my signal.
“‘S'”? Alabastor asked.
“Wait…” Caulis said. “The note! Back in Troll Country. Someone who used the letter ‘S’ as an identifier was corresponding with the Griefbringer. The homunculus took out the older note, snatched from a messenger-raven many months ago:
All goes according to plan here in the City. The people clamour for bread, for fuel, for heat. Soon they will die by the thousands and our forces will take what remains of Hex. Our agents still search the Catacombs for the Pneuomanomicon, but even if they fail in their search, necromancers shall raise those fallen from famine and overrun the gates. It will be your job to direct the Harrowgast to take down the Citadel of the Perpetual Storm. Should your timing be compromised, contact me using the usual channels.
Could this be the same “S” behind the fell winter that had brought the city nearly to its knees?