Tanglestone

19 - Bravura
In which the visitors enjoy a second Act, a theatre-master's dream is slain, and the madness of a Locksmith is laid bare.

After the battle with both Ghost Players and wolf-goblins, there’s no sign of the Tragedian guide Peluma expected. The group decides to press on to Act II, and along the way discover the secret of the stages’ painted partitions. In the Cemetery stage, they draw the attention of the ghostly lamps, which prove to be genuine wraiths of some sort, drawn to the living. As the last of the dangerous spirits is sent to its final release, the Tragedian in the Avenger’s guise catches up with the group and explains his absence.

Led by the Avenger, the Trade Union passes through the access passages to Backstage, and derives some information from him regarding the resistance they’re likely to face (specifically, the playwright’s living nightmare). Once there, the Tragedian moves to block the halls and keep the dream-thrall Players away while the visitors attempt to free de Languissere. The troupe’s master, dressed in the part of the Ailing King and robed in purple and yellow, hangs above a private staging area filled with life-sized puppets, the upper stage housing the missing book (wreathed in arcane wards) and dominated by a blazing hellmouth.

As Peluma draws close, the nightmare eidolon manifests itself, and the struggle is joined. Peluma rides the ropes up to the catwalks above and feeds de Languissere an antidote to the Dreaming Draught, all the while fighting one of the puppets. Dewlian risks life and limb to move to the book, and Sym and Hinge keep themselves open to deal with problems as they arise. The eidolon tortures anyone nearby with psychic visions, and “buds” some of its component fears into entities that move to possess other puppets and drive them to attack. The fight sprawls over both levels of the stage, up into the catwalks and down through trapdoors to the underlevel, and the hellmouth proves a most dangerous trap. But gradually the eidolon is weakened by the awakening of de Languissere, and by the power of the Trade Union. Once a vicious nightmare attack from Peluma reveals that the eidolon’s fragmented psyche is a weak point, focused mystical power targeting its “mind” eventually slays it, dissipating the puppets’ animating force and ending the conflict.

Sym offers a nosegay to de Languissere, helping the troupe master quickly recover. They find that the strike has freed the Tragedians, and the troupe gratefully plays host to the Trade Union for the evening. Over a fine meal of fish, fruit, flatbread, spider caviar and peculiar wines, they learn much of the Tragedians’ ways and the unfortunate decision that led de Languissere into the trap of oneiromancy much-too-augmented by the Dreaming Draught.

The next day, a young Player leads them to an old organ suspiciously abandoned in the cellars. Once the Night Sweeper deduces how to bypass its trap and activate its locks, the organ moves underground to reveal a passage to the Locksmith’s workshop. This workshop is full of mortuary materials, and is connected to several galleries where the Architects’ apprentice has animated odd skeletal simulations of Tanglestone daily life. Most importantly, an old journal of his is discovered, which reveals much of the Locksmith’s obsession. Thus armed with further knowledge, the Trade Union rests, trains and prepares their next move.

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18 - Taking the Stage
In which another not-quite-Doctor warns of health hazards, a Tragedian tells his tale to a Comedian audience, and a pack of goblins attempt to upstage the Ghost Players.

As Peluma slips into the Weeping Wings, Hinge, Dewlian and Sym settle into a ticket booth in order to rest and wait. Several hours pass before Hinge hears someone approaching; a Comedian, dressed in theatrical approximation of a Doctor’s garb. The Comedian, Holophanes by name, attempts to warn the three of the dangers they face. The three glean some more information about the recent conflicts between comedy and tragedy, and partway through the conversation Peluma returns, frightening the hapless “Doctor” and delivering her news. The Trade Union resolves to meet with the Comedians, and to speak with their captive Tragedian Hambrecht if possible.

Holophanes takes the four into the Laughing Wings, where they meet Backstage with the immense Master Bickerstaff. With the young comediennes Molion and Marlberry to vouch for them, Bickerstaff agrees to send for Hambrecht, and the Tragedian in Instigator’s clothes relays further what they know — that Master de Languissere of the Tragedians has fallen into a dream, under the sway of a mystic book, and that his dream is capturing others. The Trade Union agrees to do what they can to infiltrate and break the mystic wards surrounding the book. Thereafter, they prepare as best they can: Dewlian, Sym and Hinge return to the Library to research this book and Peluma goes to feed her pets and sleep. At the Library, the three find that de Languissere removed the rare volume The Midnight Labyrinth from the vaults, and further was given a small dose of the Dreaming Draught by a well-meaning Archivian. Dewlian and Sym do some further research into dreams, and send a recipe for a potential antidote to the Dreaming Draught to Peluma, who arranges for Milarcen to brew the philter. In the meantime, a Comedian messenger brings news that the Historians of the Echoing Wings are allegedly unaffected by the conflict, and would prefer to remain uninvolved.

Their business settled, the group presses into the Weeping Wings to meet their guide at the “Forest” stage. With Hambrecht’s advice, Peluma is able to disarm the Mourner’s Malaise traps and get her companions safely to the Forest. Things become rapidly unsafe there, however. The staged “Bandit’s Ambush” puts up a strong fight, becoming even worse when unexpected enemies attack from the rear — the “wolf goblins” described as having escaped the Gaol. Led by a monstrous barghest, the goblins hit the Trade Union from the flank. The city’s defenders barely pull through, taking full advantage of the Ghost Players’ penchant to treat both the goblins and the Trade Union equally as invaders. The goblins are vanquished, and shortly thereafter the last of the Ghost Players are sent to their final curtain… again.

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Interlude: Peluma's Soliloquy
In which a Night Sweeper attempts to follow the narrative thread of a tragedy.

Peluma moves quietly into the Weeping Wings alone. The main thoroughfare through the Wings has a number of side theatres and auditoriums, but the Night Sweeper tries first to discover some sort of access passageway that the Players might use. Any that might exist appear to be too well concealed for her, though, and in the process of searching she narrowly avoids being caught in a trap that exhaled the drug — or poison — called Mourner’s Malaise.

After discovering a similar floor trap, the Night Sweeper climbs up to the molding, and travels above the ground further in. She makes it to the first of the stages: an area seemingly larger than the Weeping Wings could contain, more full of trees than the Orchards themselves. A large statue depicting a number of Players (including an Assassin archetype) sits in a clearing, and its blazon reads “The Tragedy of The Yellow Emperor’s Shroud, Act I, The Forest.” Peluma notices several Tragedians in bandit-like costumes set up in blinds around the clearing, and avoids them as she passes on.

In this fashion she continues through the other acts of the grand tragedy, observing the tale hinted at by the large group statues of the “cast.” In Act II: The Cemetery, she notes odd lantern-like lights weaving through the mausoleums and headstones, and discovers a trapped shortcut in an open grave that apparently leads through catacomb-like passages to Act IV. She disdains the shortcut, however, daring to follow on to Act III. There, in The Cathedral, she notes pews filled with various figures, both monastic and seemingly Players of the cast, sitting quietly facing a grand altar with four coffins laid before it. A vantage point from on high reveals the four coffins are occupied with very familiar-seeming forms.

From there, Peluma slips away to Act IV: The Battlefield, where she suffers a very close call. Entranced by the statue — which appears to be foretelling the Assassin’s death at the hands of the Avenger — she accidentally steps on the hand of one of the fallen corpses littering the field, only to have it clutch at her. It takes a trick learned in Shadow to elude the living dead that arise. She then carefully slips away to Act V: The Castle, which appears to be entirely void of Players once the main hall is reached.

Peluma discovers a way Backstage from the setting of the final Act, and reaches the communal living area of the Tragedians. Many are present, going about their daily errands in an slow manner that implies drugs or entrancement. Peluma slips among them, and heads for Wardrobe. There the temptation to take an Assassin costume nearly sets her in a monstrous spider’s web, though again she is able to elude the beast.

While still in hiding, she is able to eavesdrop on a conversation between two Tragedians seemingly free from the trance, one the Avenger from the statues, the other a dark-veiled Bride. She learns some interesting tidbits of the trouble that has bewitched the master of the troupe, and how the help these free Tragedians have sent for has not yet returned. She follows the Avenger back out, and slips him a note offering a Night Sweeper’s help. The two covertly meet, and the Player explains more of the spell that Master de Languissere has fallen under. Peluma offers the help of the Trade Union, and agrees to meet the Avenger on the stage of Act I, where he can guide them through the labyrinth. That agreement made, she slips back the way she came to rejoin her comrades.

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17 - Opening Act
In which the clockwork Battleman argues unsuccessfully for diplomacy, a troupe is revealed to be under siege by someone other than critics, and a Night Sweeper agonizes about whether she is on the proper side.

With the threat in the Gaol vanquished, the Trade Union wraps up some of the outstanding business. Hinge, concerned about the origin of the smaller clockwork guards, collects several parts to take to Fireboss Bellowsmelt for appraisal. Dewlian spends some time talking with Tarrus, and considers recruiting the young Gaoler for the Trade Union. The leader of the “wolf goblins” is discovered missing from the Oublia, and no sign can be found of their tracks. (Hinge investigates the principal waste sluice as a possible exit, to little good.)

Refusing to let much time pass, the group spends the bare minimum time necessary to recuperate, and then begins to stake out the Theatre. Peluma’s initial reconnaissance indicates that the west section, presumably devoted to comedy, has been recently reinforced against potential entry. Inside she discovers the traces of a skirmish, and that the western wings have been barricaded even on the inside. The news energizes her compatriots, who after a brief argument about how to proceed, enter the vast, echoing lobby-building and begin to investigate.

Peluma takes them to the site of the skirmish, where Hinge is able to determine from scraps of silk and the lack of blood that apparently one side was fighting to subdue — and not doing any bleeding. He then hears the approach of footsteps. Two masked comediennes — one an adolescent girl in a “shepherd” persona, another a young woman in an “ingenue” persona — are observing them from afar. When noticed, they warn the group that they are in danger from the Tragedians.

An initial attempt at diplomacy is going fairly well (with Dewlian reciting lines from the “The Ivy of Reduction” script found in Tattergloom Hall as an ice-breaker), when soft footfalls announce the approach of Tragedians. The dark-cloaked raiders move silently into battle, fighting with muffled maces, murderous juggling implements and — in the case of a skull-masked jester — eldritch laughter that stirs supernatural fear. The fear is sufficiently compelling that Peluma is deeply conflicted, unwilling at first to fight against such apparent kindred spirits. But midway through the fight, the assassin knocks the soldier mask of a Tragedian away, revealing naked bone beneath. The Trade Union finishes the battle with the unliving actors, and notes that the comediennes are safe nearby. Hinge argues for diplomacy with the Comedians, but is voted down, and the group prepares to venture into the east wings.

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16 - The Gaol
In which a Chain-Warden offers tea and sympathy, blood flows in the Rebukes, and an oubliette contains far less solitude than advertised.

For several days, the Trade Union plans their next investigation, of the potential workshop beneath the Gaol. Sym researches necromantic rituals but is stymied when several of the most promising register as having been checked out to one M. d. L___. Hinge and Peluma search for potential alternate exits into the Gaol, but can locate only the principal waste sluice and (though Peluma does not share the information) the Night Sweepers’ secret passage inside. Dewlian interrogates the dwarf prisoner more, hearing much of the Grinding Depths, the Thornmaze, the Sawgreave Legion and the peculiar named gods of these outsiders.

Finally, the group travels to the Gaol to deliver the dwarf prisoner and negotiate for a tour of the facilities. Peluma, in shadow form, sneaks past the rank-and-file guards but is eventually detected by the clockwork Locksman Hasp. After a discussion with the peculiarly affable Chainwarden Paling, the Trade Union is taken on a loose tour of the Gaol.

However, when the tour reaches the Rebukes, trouble has broken out; several Gaolers are dead or missing, and a variety of prisoners are loose. With the assistance of Locksmen Hasp and Tarrus, the four quell a small mob of loose prisoners, as well as four veteran criminals who had apparently regained all their gear from the impound. (Honoring the wishes of the Gaolers, they mostly subdue the prisoners, save for a former Night Sweeper who pushes Dewlian past reason.) Investigating further, they find another corpse in the impound (killed by the same sort of bolt that slew Inendo pax) and signs that several prisoners’ gear has been taken, including that of a near-dozen “wolf goblins” that are also missing from the Rebukes.

Dewlian convinces the Locksmen that they must investigate the Oublia, where the Locksmith’s lair is most likely situated. The Oublia seem largely undisturbed, but a loose grate is detected on a particular well that turns out to contain a secret passage. Dewlian explains the full impact of the situation to the disbelieving Locksmen, and Tarrus accompanies them through the passage into what appears to be a lock-works and surgical laboratory for the Locksmith. It is guarded — by clockwork sentries, a pair of surgically altered deep-ogres, and a partially mechanical human with a crossbow in his arm and an alarming weapon in his midsection. This individual is taken prisoner, and upon interrogation, steadfastly claims to be the Locksmith — but his weapons are inconsistent, and the trepanning plate in his skull hints at s different explanation for his claim.

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15 - Cannibals in the Library
In which a prisoner speaks ill of Trust, collars promote a dubious form of loyalty, and books recently saved from water succumb to fire.

Some time passes as the Trade Union investigates Tattergloom Hall, taking account of its many, many traps and myriad oddments. The umbrals left behind two cloaks woven of pure shadow, which Peluma and Sym gladly claim. Dewlian spends time with the captive dwarf from Outside, persuading him by small degrees to reveal more about the reasons behind his presence here. The dwarf seems to trust nobody, not even his now-deceased comrades, but gradually reveals more and more about his situation: his band came through the mines under the Forges, he comes from a settlement he calls the Grinding Depths, and he knows little enough about the “man with the mechanical arm.”

Sym and Dewlian devote a portion of their time to researching rituals. Dewlian restores the plants in the Tattergloom conservatory with ritual magic, and Sym sets the first of several potential alarms with the focus of one of the small caged animal skeletons that previously hung in the solarium.

Peluma investigates the bolt that murdered Inendo Pax. Collaboration with Amercier leads the both to believe it was fired from a mechanism in the Locksmith’s mechanical arm. She also sneaks quietly into the Fortress to stalk Tallyblack, and takes particular note of the Battleman Karinrae that he seems to spend some time with.

Several days later, Gollicker catches up to Hinge while the Battleman is on patrol. She informs him, just short of a panic, that some Sewerjacks seeing to flood damage repairs spotted a band of Underlevel cannibals entering the lower portion of the Library. Hinge sends Gollicker to warn the chapterhouse and sets out.

The others discover more directly. Dewlian and Sym are present in the Library working more on their rituals, and Peluma has quietly stolen into a section of adult literature, reading the latest volume of the Guide to Guild-Clan Courtship and Marriage Ritual (updated every 100 years), browsing the color-coded anthologies of nobles’ erotica (The Crimson Boudoir, The Alabaster Boudoir, etc.), and glancing through the surreal Dreams of Entwinement. All three hear the cries of “Murder! Murder in the Library!”

The crier is the young page Philo, who is pursued by one of the cannibals’ scouts. Peluma quickly murders the cannibal with a noose of shadow, and Philo reveals that more have entered the Scriptorium. The three proceed there at once, where they discover three more lean and ragged cannibals sampling the body of a Dreaming Scribe. It does not seem to their taste, and they attack the newcomers with gusto. Even so, they are summarily dispatched. All are wearing peculiar mechanical collars with spring-loaded blades set to stab into the neck after a timer winds down. They also have the marks of former captivity about them. Hinge catches up to his comrades at that point (even as Dewlian is explaining to Sym about how his brother received the call to Dream).

The four track down and dispatch a second scout group, and discover the leaders of the expedition holed up within the stacks. Peluma silences one sentry, but the other warns the group. The Union confronts some of the most dangerous and hardened hunters yet, one of whom wears both a flame-throwing mechanism (which ignites a portion of the stacks) and some form of “music box”. After their victory, they activate the box, which emits a rasping voice: “You must desist! If the gates are closed, the population cannot enter. Do you want the city to remain empty? Desist, you madmen!”

The available Battlemen from the northern chapterhouse arrive, and the Librarians douse the fire in the stacks before it can consume more books. However, the Trade Union remains on high alert.

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14 - Housecleaning
In which jars contain preserves of unorthodox fashion, a windstorm bearing cutlery is nearly fatal, and death comes to the solarium.

Weary but not beaten, the Trade Union members deem themselves ready to press on, and next investigate the kitchen. It seems not to be stocked for many, and the contents have been disused for some time. Upon moving to the back hall where the servants’ quarters lie, the group discovers a number of ceramic jars set out where they hadn’t been before. Peluma guesses that the jars are vibration-sensitive, and Sym prods at them with a minor cantrip.

It is, of course, a trap. The jars shatter, releasing four minor elementals — a burly creature of packed clay and stone, a wave of corrosive brine, a spiral of powerful wind and a murderous entity of fire. The summoned things are explosively belligerent, and an intense battle ensues. Things almost go very poorly for the adventurers, when the fire-spirit bathes the group in flame and the dust devil kicks up a whirlwind in the kitchen that buries a cleaver in Dewlian. The librarian nearly bleeds to death before the elementals are snuffed out and Sym is able to render what medical assistance an “almost Doctor” may.

The four cautiously explore upstairs, noting an extensive upper gallery with a pair of solidly locked vaults and an orrery that launches a small lightning bolt at the unexpecting Sym. Peluma is able to find the concealed controls for the trap, and Sym’s arcane knowledge (if not his somewhat distracting manner) helps her master them. As they examine the rest of the story, the Night Sweeper spots some movement near the upper story of the solarium. Knowing that two umbrals and two hounds at least remain, the group braces themselves before Hinge pushes through the doors.

The waiting ambush is almost too much. Hinge is nearly disabled from the initial onslaught of one of the massive umbral warriors and two of the shadow-hounds. While the three front-line warriors block the three narrow paths that wind around the upper solarium, a dark sniper fires bolts at the group and the apparent leader — an umbral pyromancer who seems to be wearing the patched-together remnants of many different shadows — throws bolt after bolt of colorless flame. Already worn down from their many skirmishes, the group uses every trick they can think of to win, even swinging from the dead or dying trees in the solarium and leaping atop fleeing umbrals from fifteen feet above. Hinge is struck down at the end, but his unique clockwork physiology keeps him alive where a mortal would have bled to death. The victory is a hard-earned one.

At last, the Trade Union finds the body of Inendo Pax in a looted study, dead some three weeks — seemingly murdered by a foot-long metal bolt. Much of the study’s contents have been looted. One question answered but many more remaining, the four take their dwarven captive and leave, ready for a long rest.

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13 - Tattergloom Hall
In which a Collector's paranoia is indeed hazardous, the gloom of a hall proves more than poetics, and there are unexpected guests to dinner.

The Trade Union continues to muse over the potential places that the Locksmith might be engaged. Though some discussion of investigating the Gaol is raised, ultimately the emphasis returns to the potentially deceased Collector Inendo Pax, and the whys and wherefores of how a centerpiece of her collection may have wound up in the Underlevels. Research reveals a few interesting notes:

- Inendo Pax was formerly of House Magenta, but left their ranks to become a Collector some 40ish years back for unknown reasons

- She contracted Savatine Fell, a trapsmith of some repute, to provide security for Tattergloom Hall

- Fell himself vanished 4 years ago, along with the hired Battleman Barhook, on an errand to explore the Clock Tower

- Fell’s daughter apparently continues her father’s trade.

With this information in hand, the Union goes to call on Inendo Pax in Tattergloom Hall. The outer fence has been hung with black cloths here and there, and the courtyard gardens are much in neglect. Hinge notices the signs of the first of Fell’s traps on the front porch, which Peluma is able to bypass. Nobody answers the door, so they proceed in.

In the foyer, several shadowy figures ambush the group: more of the umbral entities that had also been hunting Norkin. The group slays several, but a sniper escapes through one hall and fetches reinforcements. The running battle takes them through almost half of the ground floor, each side doing their best to use the architecture to their advantage. Triumphant at last, the Union discovers that the umbrals have been camping in the Tattergloom solarium, and there are signs of other shadow-entities as yet unmet.

Determined to root out the last of these darkness-creepers, the group investigates the other wing of the first floor. In the capacious dining room, an entirely unexpected group waits: four dwarves from Outside, who have clearly been camping here and are no friends of the city. A short bit of strained diplomacy reveals only that these outsiders are but an advance group, and that their people have been promised the Forges by their Tanglestone contact (deemed to be almost certainly the Locksmith), before tempers fray too far and battle is joined. The dwarves are unequal to the task, though, and their spike-armored leader becomes the Union’s captive. All too aware that there are enemies still unaccounted for, the group binds their wounds in the dining room before they press on.

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12 - Baths of Blood and Venom
In which antivenom becomes the drink of choice, much is made of the use of snakes' blood, and a prisoner is freed to some concern.

The group prepares for a quick return to face the snakes led by Hessalich. Peluma is particularly active, both undergoing poison treatments at Milarcen’s hands to purge herself of her fever, and making inquiries about rats and snakes among the Night Sweepers, Sewerjacks and Battlemen. The rats are revealed to be a recurring but usually contained problem, while the serpents are a notably new threat. Dewlian and Sym consult the Book of Yellow, Red and Black to learn something of the rituals potentially at play.

When the union members make their descent, they are accompanied by the wretched Flump, who has been dispatched by Mickletart to guide them. He shows them the route to steam furnaces where water is heated to supply the Manses. The first skirmish against snake-man sentries is a particularly bloody one.

The trail leads to what appears to be an old subterranean bathhouse, possibly for the use of the nobles. A room full of many soaking tubs proves to have been converted to a room of amniotic vats, wherein new recruits are undergoing the alchemical conversion to snake-bloods. The group slays another group of sentries here.

A portal reveals the lair of Hessalich, a grotesquely mutated snake-blood alchemist. In his lair he keeps a captive as well, the drakaina Ketaspa who has apparently donated the blood for these transformations. Once Hessalich and his loyalists are dispatched, Peluma moves quickly to free Ketaspa despite the concerns of her companions. Ketaspa proves to be peaceful, if not precisely friendly, and offers some information to the Union: she was captured by their enemy the Locksmith, and she knows his goals. The Locksmith, indeed an apprentice to the Architects, is driven by a desire to see Tanglestone fully populated. He would see its buildings filled by anything and everything that could serve as a populace: boggarts, goblins, a plague of wererats, and all manner of things from Outside. The group ruminates on these issues even as they loot the lair.

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11 - Driving the Snakes Out
In which a missing Detritus woman is sought for and found, a war beneath the streets is discovered, and something is learned about a snake's elbow.

With the information gained from Garbid, the group readies themselves for wererats. Dewlian attains silver quarrels from the Forges, and Peluma tracks Essaline into the Underlevels.

A number of rats, ranging from badger-sized to pony-sized, attack the group. Two turn out to be wererats, one of whom runs when the fight turns sour, the other of whom is captured. The group interrogates their captive and learns that the rats are at war with “snakes”. The recent recruiting drive was to bolster the colony’s numbers in the wake of snake attacks.

They have their captive bring them to the court of King Mickletart, where they propose a potential deal: they will assist the wererats in fighting the snakes, in exchange for Essaline being returned to the above levels. Mickletart explains what the rats know of the snake-men (who are apparently more man than snake) and of their leader Hessalich, described as “a young-eater.”

As they return to the surface with Essaline, they are ambushed at the site of their previous battle by a small band of the apparent “snakes.” Most appear largely human, but two seemingly can envenom their blades with their spittle, one possesses peculiar venom and charm powers, and one has a largely serpentine form. The fight is bloody. Examination of the corpses at the end reveals an interesting tattoo on the venom-charmer, of a snake with a lion’s head and bat or dragon wings — an image reminiscent both of House Crimson and House Ochre. The group is sufficiently battered that they retreat to rest above before pursuing Hessalich in his lair, though even the skills of Doctor Aconitia are insufficient to fully cleanse Peluma and Dewlian of their mild fever.

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