Nathan Garney the Human Cleric of Everly, woke to find himself in strange surroundings. He vaguely recalled a blow to the back of the head as he was grabbed by suddenly animate skeletons through the walls of the OSSUARY OF THE MIDDLEBOROUGH INNOCENTS. Around the stone walled chamber stood a menagerie of strange creatures. A giraffe with ostrich legs. A cat with wings, horns and antlers. A goat attached to a fish. It was if a mad taxidermist had put these poor creatures together. Nathan was relieved to note that they did not appear to be animate.
Eventually, he became aware of a hooded and black-robed figure sitting on a throne made of bones. The figure cackled and pointed at him.
“Nathan Garney, you are known to us,” the figure intoned.
“Then you have the advantage of me, sir,” Nathan said.
“But I suspect you can guess.”
“No. I really have no idea.”
“None at all? You haven’t put the clues together?” he asked as he waved a gloved hand toward the examples of rogue taxidermy Nathan had earlier noted.
“Well, maybe this will help!” he cried as he tossed back his hood dramatically to reveal a face covered in a mask made of a deer skull. The right half of the skull was painted red while the left side was blue. The center of the skull’s forehead bore an image of a sheaf of wheat, symbolizing the dread Harvest of Thanatar, god of the undead. The general outfit reminded Nathan a little of Braucia Graeme, whom he’d had a vision of shortly before the skeletons had attacked.’Whomever his captor was, he was certainly a necromancer. “Now do you recognize me?” the necromancer asked.
“Thanatar?” Nathan ventured.
The necromancer scoffed. “I look like a god to you? Not that I don’t like where you’re going with your thinking…”
“I don’t know. I’ve seen so few gods.”
“No. I’m not a god. But I am… Joe Stufts!”
Nathan was unimpressed.
“You’ve seriously never heard of me? Joe Stufts, necromancer taxidermist? Are you new to town or something?”
“Yes,” Nathan said. “Yes, I am.”
“Fine. You want to play funny with me. That’s OK. Braucia Graeme. You know that name though, don’t you? The Kiss of Death. The necromancer who wants you dead.”
“Dead?” Nathan said. “What did I do?”
“Well, you recall going to this little town called SMUGGLER SPEAK, right? The place where you ruined the plans of the Cult of Nobody and destroyed their CHAMBER OF CORRUPTION? Well, that little science project was a joint venture by B.O.B. and Thanatar. Did you know that?”
“I did not know that.”
“How did you beat the CHAMBER OF CORRUPTION not knowing what you don’t know?
“Ignorance is bliss!” the cleric quipped. “I’m a happy man.”
“That’s really too bad,” Joe Stufts said, clucking his tongue. “See, I thought you were this big hero who could possibly help me, not this bumbling incompetent who can barely remember how to walk.”
Nathan Garney sniffed. “I remember how to walk.”
“Well, do you remember this creature?” He pointed toward the rib cage of some nameless creature, which served as a cage for a dwarf who had remained silent during their exchange.
“He looks familiar,” Nathan said. In truth, he recognized Odin Thunderhammer instantly.
“He should,” Joe said. “He was there with you in the CHAMBER OF CORRUPTION when some of the members of Heroes Inc decided to be, you know, heroes. Of course, none of them ever made it into the song. Do you know what I’m talking about? Have you heard the song?”
Nathan sighed. “I’ve heard the song. The song about Weddumlir, right?”
“Want those monsters dead? Send in the Wedd… Really inspiring stuff. OK, here’s the haggle. The Kiss of Death wants me to give you the kiss of death. She wants you very… very dead and I… I am kind of obligated to let that happen. “
“That’s because yer evil!” Odin thundered from his bone cage.
“I take it you need me for something?” Nathan said, ignoring the dwarf.
“Yes, I do. Do you want to know why I became a necromancer? I hate people. I don’t like any kind of people. I don’t like orcs, elves, or dwarves… humans. I don’t like people. People suck. I like animals. It’s no secret that I like to mix and match the bodies a little bit, but I like animals And I have a gift! People come from all over the Seven to see my everchanging menagerie.” He sighed. “This brings me to my problem. I don’t suppose you’ve at least heard of Obscurus, my happy friend? My brother? The animancer?”
“OK, it’s like this. Everybody used to come to my shop, JOE STUFTS MAGICAL TAXIDERMY & PET SHOPPE to see my wonderful creations. But then… Then my brother goes and designs a spell that creates lesser abominations. No need to jigsaw creatures and bring them to life with necromancy. You can have the whole deal without the artistry or the work or the… the… what the’s word?”
“The ick!” Odin shouted.
“He’s going to drive me out of business!” He took a moment to calm himself. “But I made a deal with Thanatar. And Shettebrek. And I made a deal with Moriarty. And that’s coming along just fine, but then I got to thinking: They say with all this power I’ll have, no one will ever remember the name Obscurus. But I was thinking that if that spell never saw the light of day, I’d never have to compete with his fame. So what I need you to do,” he said, raising his hand and snapping his fingers, ” is to break into his tower and steal that spell before he has a chance to publish it and get famous off it.”
At this point two ogre sized skeletons stepped forward. Joe took a blowgun and a dart from them. “Now, here’s the deal. Hold very still.”
“I don’t want to hold very still.”
“It’s a part of the deal,” Joe said. Putting the blowgun to his lips, Joe sent a dart sailing across the room. It hit Nathan in the chest. “You’re now marked for assassination,” Joe said. “that’s what Braucia Graeme hired me to do. She wants you and your buddies all marked for assassination. We’ve hired the Red Circle to kill all of you. They’re really good at what they do. You won’t survive it. You’ve heard of the Red Circle at least, right?”
“Have you been living under a rock? Do I even have the right guy? Where have you been all this time?”
“Is the CHAMBER OF CORRUPTION under a rock?” Nathan asked, hiding a smirk.
“It’s inside a dagger actually. What’s that got to do with anything? Listen up. I’m going to delay the dart’s magic for 24 hours, enough time for you and your band of heroes to fetch me that spell. You bring it back to me, I’ll reverse it. Since you’re probably going to need help, I’m going to send this creature with you,” he said, thumbing towards Odin.
“I am not a creature!” Odin shouted. “I am a dwarf!”
“In fact, I would love it if you’d take him off my hands,” Joe said. “He’s been similarly marked with the Red Circle‘s blessing and should have adequate motivation to assist you. One last thing: Tell anyone about this deal and I’ll kill you myself. Do we have an accord?”
Nathan Garney and Odin Thunderhammer reluctantly agreed, upon which point the dwarf was released from his cage.
“Excellent. The first thing you two will need to do is get back to the surface, a trek which shall be much easier to accomplish with my help. He snapped his fingers. The two ogre skeletons stepped forward. Each caused its own rib cage to burst open and beckoned for the human and dwarf to climb inside these respective cages. Seeing Nathan’s reluctance to take the proffered ride, the dwarf shrugged and said, “It’s not as bad as you think.”
Meanwhile, Weddumlir Aleshield the Dwarf Fighter, Davroar Hollysword the Elf Cleric of Moriarty, Meldor Ironforge the Dwarf Wizard, Acindor the Human Fighter and Thril Wolfsbane the Elf Fighter continued their exploration of MIDDLEBOROUGH. Leaving CLERICAL ROW, they came to a small square where a gallows had recently been built. An angry mob dominated the scene. Several visible armbands and patches identified this crowd as being predominantly made up of Redforges, the group dedicated to eradicating magic and magic users from the Seven Worlds.
Skirting the edges of the crowd, they spotted a notice board papered with wanted papers. To his horror, Davroar spied his own face on the warrants; however, the name belonged to someone else. Apparently Davroar’s doppleganger, one Dudley Razorcape III, was wanted for seeding the magical plague amongst the populace, horse theft and for the “general defilement of dwarvenkind,” whatever that meant. The reward was posted at 200 gold. Another wanted poster showed the uncanny visage of Meldor Ironforge under another person’s name, charging him with the theft of “various turnips” in addition to the very charges “Dudley” was charged with. Acindor, Wedd and Thril all found their faces as well, all rendered with impossible accuracy under someone else’s name.
As they attempted to maintain a low profile and make their way along the outer edges of the mob, a guard posted in front of JOE STUFTS MAGICAL TAXIDERMY & PET SHOPPE took particular note of Davroar. “Hey there! Papers! Do you have your papers! You there! I need to see your papers.”
“You don’t need to see our papers.” Davroar said, waving his hand dramatically.
The guard frowned, waving another guard over to assist him. “Of course you do. Everybody is required to have their papers on them at all times. It’s the law. How did you even get into Farrago without papers? You can either produce your papers or you can spend the night in jail while we sort it out, funny guy.”
Davroar said a silent prayer to Moriarty and gazed upon the guards, willing them to fear him. One of the guards saw an image of his mother-in-law. The apparition scared him so badly that he ran into JOE STUFTS MAGICAL TAXIDERMY & PET SHOPPE to get away from it, in the process nearly bowling over Nathan Garney and Odin Thunderhammer who were exiting the shop. The other guard began screaming a warning as he ran, “Infected! They’re Infected! Run for your lives!”
The Redforge mob focused all of their hate and frenzied fear on the party, whom they presumed were now infected with the very magical plague which had sparked their entire movement. The adventurers began running as fast as they could, correctly reading their intent in the dread promise of the gallows behind them. The Redforges focused in particular upon the dwarves, whom they almost managed to grab. Weddumlir managed to keep out of their clutches but Odin and Meldor were forced to fight their way free for a moment.
As they approached the bridge to the next island, they spotted a red-robed wizard, who beckoned them to cross quickly. “Hurry, friends! Across the bridge!” There did not appear to be guards at the bridge and the buildings were larger and more luxurious.
For one dark moment, Davroar considered whether the bridge might not be a mimic, a reasonable concern in light of recent adventures.. The wizard urged them to duck into the first house on the left after they crossed. “You need to get out sight while you can!”
Nathan cast detect magic and noted that the door appeared to be magical, but the adventurers didn’t see where they had any choice but to follow the wizard’s advice. When they emerged on the other side, they were in a back alley, which was odd since they’d entered the front door of the building and never once saw the interior. The wizard immediately locked and warded the door.
“OK,” he said. “We should be safe for now, but you have to be more careful in the future. The Redforges do not care whether your power comes from the gods or the arcane. They want nothing less than the glory returned, by which they mean the end of all magic and its practitioners.”
“Tell us your name that we may thank you properly,” Davroar said.
“I have taken the name Fizzle,” he said. Seeing their expressions, he said, “I see the name is familiar to you. I took the upon the mantle of Fizzle upon meeting your friend. Fizzle the First spoke highly of you and of your deeds in the Temple of Wanjo. Twas the Fizzle Prime who saved me from a lynch mob when this Redforge nonsense first began. Were it not for him, I’d be feeding crows from the gallows. I am technically Fizzle the Fifth.”
“Is Fizzle still in town?” Acindor asked.
“Last I heard, he’d departed for the Green World of VIRIDI. That’s where he is now, provided he survived the passage through the ELDERWYLD.”
“Well, we appreciate your help,” Davroar said. “Where are we now?”
“You passed through a doorway from PENVENSIE ISLAND to CLAW ISLAND. This distresses you?” Fizzle the Fifth asked, noting their looks of aggravation and despair.
“We’re trying to reach the Market,” Acindor said.
“Oh. Well, you might try the ROSE COLISEUM. There is passage beneath which teleports vendors and their goods back and forth between the MARKET. You could also go back through the door here,” he said, “but I wouldn’t do that immediately. The guards will be looking for you.” He wrinkled up his nose. “one more thing: I would recommend that you check into a nearby inn and take a bath. You reek of the sewers. Any guard worth his salt knows about the shadow bridges and knows that anyone using those roads is probably up to no good. You need to keep a low profile.”
As they bid him adieu, he recommended a nearby establishment, the EXCELSIOR, but warned them against staring at the innkeep for too long.
Arriving at the EXCELSIOR, they were immediately struck by the fact that the establishment appeared to have been built from the shell of an old galleon. Entering the establishment, by the amber light of oil lanterns they saw that most of the clientele consisted of sailors and pirates. This includes a centaur pirate captain and a goblin cannoneer. The goblin was not Puddles. Two large minotaur played a game of checkers. One bore a wide grin while the other accused his comrade of cheating, loudly and often. A trio of highborn elves sat by themselves at a table, looking uncomfortable at their surroundings. A pair of feet stuck out from under a table. The other end snored loudly. Most of the others appeared to be locals, the sort who were there more out of habit than anything else.
They sat down at a table in the center of the room at the invitation of one of the barmaids. They could smell the smoke of pipe tobacco, the fire place and whatever tantalizing dishes were being prepared in the kitchen. Overall, it was lively but cozy nonetheless.
The centaur pirate captain was already arguing with the innkeep, who was hidden from view by his equine posterior. After ordering a round of drinks, they inquired about a room and a bath. As she left to get their tankards, Nathan spotted a coin on the floor. When he attempted to pick it up, but the coin sprouted teeth and attempted to bite his finger.
At this point, the snoring fellow beneath the table nearby woke up and said, “Sparky? Anybody seen my pet coin?” the Cuervos asked. Nathan grumpily pointed the avian toward his offensive pet.
As the barmaid brought the tankards back, they noticed that she had a bundle of tentacles in lieu of hands. They glanced at their drinks warily while she kept up a light banter, plying them for food and news from their journeys.
At last, the centaur left with an angry outburst. The two checker players leaped to their feet at his shouting. The pirates had the sense to calm down and leave without incident but the party heard the centaur grumble about the need to teach the innkeep a lesson in keeping his promises.
Otuk the Innkeep was a strange creature! Otuk seemed to be a toss between man-shaped coral and a bunch of tentacles. The reason for Fizzle the Fifth’s warning not to stare became immediately evident! He stroked his tentacle beard as he considered them. After a bit of haggling, they secured a room at a discount… with a catch that they must rid the room of a troll a previous tenant had brought into the establishment without telling him. The troll had murdered its master at some point in the middle of the night and Otuk was unable to rent it out until they could be rid of both the troll and its stench. Unfortunately, the troll was confidently entrenched and, as a result, Otuk had been forced to cancel the centaur pirate captain’s reservation, amongst others.
The party made quick work of the troll and settled down for the night.