Tanglestone

31 - Studious Endeavors

In which a turtle is righted, Scholars delight in academic conversation, and a machine built for the city's defense fulfills its purpose with some prodding.

With the Remnants dead, the group decides to avoid the golem’s moving parts as best as they can, checking through the belongings of their enemies and discovering some items of note.

With Hinge’s assistance, Peluma works at clearing away one of the many blocked sewer entrances, and then slips down into the Armorback Ward under-tunnels in search of whatever it is the Remnants feared. The entrance itself turns out to have been rigged with chimes if it were to be opened. The opening of the grate seems also to have disturbed several of the two-foot salamanders down below, which pulse with variegated bioluminescence.

Investigating one of the larger channels, Peluma discovers a body strung up between a pair of gargoyle spouts. It appears to be the remains of an orcish Remnant, now much-gnawed and those parts that remain soft enough that the salamanders can feed on them. The Night Sweeper then notices a ripple moving against the stream, and attempts to conceal herself among the spouts. However, the ripple adjusts to follow her movements, and a thick humanoid covered in a bizarre, slick hide garment clambers out of the water. The figure wears a glass-lensed breathing mask, and unhooks an odd weapon something like the tip of a Sewerjack dredge-staff attached to a long chain.

From hiding, Peluma asks “Are you a Sewerjack?”

The figure, seemingly confused, begins to cast about for the speaker. The cat-sized salamander sitting on his shoulder begins to glow with a radiance like torchlight, though the light doesn’t seem to reveal Peluma to the stranger. After a pause, he states “Our enemies don’t need to know that.”

“If you’re a Sewerjack, we aren’t enemies.”

“What should I say, Reeks?”

“Dolt!” comes a voice from behind Peluma — a second of these figures, with an odd hand crossbow that looks Crafter-altered as well as the same dredge-chain. Though clearly vexed, this newcomer proves willing to parley with the Night Sweeper (on the condition that she show herself). When Peluma drops the name of Memorabilia Jest and names her guild-clan, the taller and clearly quicker-witted of the two seems to recognize both. The two admit to being Sewerjacks (by name, Valdery Reeks and Dunk). They are somewhat skeptical of Peluma’s claim of having eliminated the Remnants from the ward, and seem faintly dismissive of “skyback” concerns, but are willing to let the Night Sweeper know that Jest did come through of late. The Sewerjack northerner headed southwest from Armorback Ward to assist the local Scourer, Quaver Marrowphage. The two Scourers have apparently been gone for some time, and there are rumors of troubles that apparently have brewed from under the Arena, a trouble spot more to the southwest of that, or perhaps some combination of both. Peluma politely takes her leave of the two Sewerjacks, who plan to inform their fellows of the carnage above, and returns to the surface.

While Peluma is below, the other three debate returning the stargems to the dragon turtle golem. Hinge and Dewlian are clearly for it, but Sym insists on performing a ritual of communion with the city first, just in case. The schizophrenic city’s omen manifests as a number of immense crows, 15 of which snatch up burning brands from Sym’s fire and begin to circle overhead. They disperse, some feigning injury before they fly away, and four form a second circle to the southwest. One drops its brand atop the golem’s head before it flies off.

Although Sym is not very reassured by the vagueness of this omen, the other two are equally unswayed. Hinge’s view is clearly stated: “Put the gems in the turtle.” When they do so, it finishes the job of freeing itself. Dewlian attempts to negotiate it, but the golem is lacking in communication skills. They follow it to the Moat, where it drinks deeply for a moment. Then it begins to head southwest, and most of the group clambers onto its back for the trip without provoking attack (though Dewlian comes close after nearly tumbling under one of its feet).

The ride takes them past the block of civilian Tradeless near the Hospital; around the barricaded ward where the Remnants are strongest; between the Arena’s parkland and the Colonnade, where a few Gutterherd dare to attack them and receive a lethal blast of steam in response; past the Nobles’ Apartments near the Palace; and near the Seraglio Ward, where a pair of manticores with curled manes and golden chains snarl at them. As the dragon turtle golem moves into the central plaza outside the Scholarium, they note that a number of Tradeless are watching excitedly from across the way. More pressingly, they see two more zodiac golems: the Bear stands watch outside the main entrance, and the Owl circles overhead.

The dragon turtle golem advances on a mosaic circle set into the plaza stones, and presses down on the portion marked with the sigil of Archelos. The front doors open, and many Scholars emerge from the structure. They are an excited lot, delighted to see the golem, very inquisitive about Hinge, and full of other questions. Dewlian speaks with one of the higher-ranking, a man called Indisept. A few Battlemen also emerge from the Scholarium; Hinge speaks with one, Ardicy Voulge, and learns that they’ve been cut off from the Gate and Armory for about 20 years.

The Trade Union is invited to a late (if not exactly lavish) dinner, where they continue the conversation. Although the High Professors are deep in study and not attending, the group gets particular information from Voulge and Professor Thucitas, a very tall Scholar who is initially disinterested in Sym’s inevitable flirtations. The topics of conversation include:

  • The disposition and probable locations of many of the Zodiac Golems
  • The strange and sinister permutations of the Seraglio
  • The disappearance and potential corruption of “the Guardian,” apparently some form of sphinx that looks over Central Tanglestone
  • The role of the nobility and royalty of the city (which Dewlian finds unfortunately similar to the role of the Trade Union)
  • The possible threats to the south

The Trade Union spends an additional two days in the Scholarium; Dewlian does quite a bit of research, while Sym alternates between inscribing new information in his tome and attempting to further his way into Professor Thucitas’ skirts. They formulate a plan to head up the western Wall, investigating if the waterfall is passable. During that time, Hinge patrols and finds that the tower built into the Wall closest to the Seraglio is somewhat… sticky on the inside.

When the Trade Union departs, they choose that tower for their ascent. Their suspicions of denizens are validated by the presence of immense, bizarre spiders and, more gruesomely, people that seem to have been altered to become more spiderlike themselves. The creatures ambush them in a watch-floor near a clockwork ballista. Dewlian suffers from a silken garrote, and the giant spiders’ venom causes dancelike convulsions. Strength and the power of the city win out at the end (as well as Peluma’s clever manipulations of the ballista and a bit of luck), and the sole surviving spider-person leaps from the balcony, using its silk to balloon safely down toward the roof of the Seraglio.

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