Cast of Characters
Andy - Dalroc, a Clever Jack who Fights with Panache
Steve - Rhodes, a Swift Jack who Exists Partially Out of Phase
Dan - Daylen, a Learned Jack who Wears a Sheen of Ice
Clint - Reminal, a Graceful Nano who Talks to Machines
Chuck - Strom, a Rugged Glaive who Fuses Flesh with Steel
Ethan - Dezra, a Mechanical Nano who Rides the Lightning
Across the Sere Marica there is a place of riches and magnificence, a town where the lowest of the low can gain the greatest wealth imaginable. All that is necessary is for those of low class and poor circumstances to show some initiative, cross the salty sea, and sign a two-year work-to-live contract with the city of Queslin, where the salt runs free. It was this carrot of hope that called out to young Eisen and Berelle of Nihliesh, twin children of a well-to-do merchant-prince, causing them to flee home and city-state to make the dangerous journey on their own. For members of the Broken Mask, a bounty-hunter’s guild located within and operating out of Nihliesh, a pair of missing noble children meant shins in the pocket. Dalroc, Rhodes, Daylen, Reminal, Strom, and Dezra made the long trek, tracking the children from Matheunis to Seshar and finally across the Sere Marica.
On a wave cutting dagger named the Brinefisher the six bounty-hunters crossed the briny sea. Their vessel was commanded by Waylen, a copper skinned man whose flesh barely hung to his bones. The only other passengers on the water-craft were two stoic gentlemen that sat relatively still across from the characters. As the vessel approached the Queslin docks, Reminal started to put his focus to work. He connected with the force projection sails that propelled the ship across the waves. Judging by how often the sails were used, and the manner in which they were unfurled, Reminal was able to use his extreme intellect to work out that the Brinefisher had been making this particular journey regularly for about eighteen months. Gaining the assistance of Dalroc and Rhodes, Reminal was able to benefit from a hedge-magic induced distraction to scan the two other passengers. These two were soldiers or guards of some kind, outfitted nearly identically. They were either guarding something, or getting ready to guard something.
When the Brinefisher docked, immediately the two on board began assisting two similarly dressed individuals in loading jar after jar onto the craft, each weighing in at 25-30lbs. Rather than crack one open and gain the ill-desired attention of the guards, Daylen used his x-ray vision cypher to see the contents of these jars. Large clay jars full of leeches. With each jar being loaded the party could see that Waylen was becoming more and more visibly upset. Something about these jars was off-putting to the sailor, something “more” than them just containing leeches. As the characters disembarked from the craft they were quickly approached by a rotund merchant-looking fellow. He swiftly approached Strom and started to ask question after question, probing the characters in their intent and guiding them towards setting their eyes on Queslin itself, a city that existed south of the docks, just over a large sandy hill. Well the bounty-hunters had ideas of their own. Ignoring the requests of Omaru, the characters fanned out a bit to probe the area surrounding the dock. Rhodes had ignored the large dignitary almost immediately, entering the small building that Omaru had emerged from initially. There was little in the building, but the jack did find some contract forms, so he quickly crumpled one and pocketed it for later. Omaru continued to try and convince the characters to sign on to Queslin’s “work-to-live”, and was becoming visually frustrated that no one was buying in. The ambassador clicked some kind of device in is pocket, and some of the aneen-mounted guards from the camp’s periphery began moving closer to the docks.
Realizing that they were only going to find out what happened to Eisen and Berelle if they visited Queslin, the party agreed to follow Omaru to the great city of which he spoke. Most of the bounty-hunters did as directed and walked on the perfectly straight path that connected the port to the city, and with each step they became more and more interested in the prospect of Queslin’s work-to-live program. Something in the salty trail was interacting with their minds. Figuring that something like this was possible, Reminal would have nothing of the path itself. Carefully he walked along the edge of the path, not allowing his feet to step on the brighter colored sand. He of course was not affected by the mind-altering trail. As they approached the walls of Queslin, the bounty-hunters were pleased by a welcoming sight. The city, surrounded in walls, was comprised of a large, “J” shaped district covered in a shimmering glow emanating from a large obelisk. In the north-west corner there was a walled fortification, surrounded by a moat made of purple liquid. Omaru was careful to warn the party to stay away from the edge of the trail as they entered, for slurges, trash eating dire snails, were known to spit their acidic mucous at those fell towards the liquid below.
Once in town, Omaru handed the party off to Nilia. Unlike Omaru’s hard sell, Nilia had a softer tactic. She explained to the party that the work-to-live program was a difficult two years of toil in which those that signed up were indentured servants to the city. She would not explain what the work itself consisted of. When questioned about Eisen and Berelle Nilia was very open with the bounty-hunters. Both children had signed on with the work-to-live program, and were already bound to the city. Because of the nature of their contracts, Nilia could not allow anyone from the party to speak with the two youths. When it appeared obvious that the party-members weren’t going to join the program, Nilia explained that they had until nightfall to purchase anything they needed at the merchant’s stall, but then they needed to leave the town. While most of the bounty-hunters were speaking with the administrator, Rhodes took a peek at the operations, specifically those related to the leeches. In the east of the small fortification, there were tubes connecting to the larger portion of the city, and from these tubes every three or four minutes a pot of these leeches popped out to be stacked and ready for delivery to... somewhere. Where these leeches were coming from no one was letting on, nor their importance.
The merchant’s stall was less informative, but it gave Rhodes a chance to tell the rest of the party about his discoveries, and show them the contract. After deflecting the merchant’s request to “sign them in” to the work-to-live program himself (it seemed like everyone was in on this deal), Rhodes turned his back to the merchant and uncrumpled the contract. The words were clear, they bound the signer to a two year program where the city itself owned them. But it would be the filaments sticking out of the paper that were the most interesting. When brought back to the nano’s of the party, they deduced that each contract was a cypher, and if activated, it connected to the neural network within the mind of the user, rendering him or her incredibly susceptible to mind control while allowing them to remain fully aware of their surroundings. Some kind of device would be necessary to activate the cypher, and the party further figured that the “pen” that was used to sign was most likely this artifact.
To further reconnoiter the walled-fortification adjacent to the town, Strom decided to climb the large tower along the edge and see what he could see on the inside. With a remote viewing cypher affixed to his noggin, the cyborg stealthily ascended the side of the tower until a window was within view. Inside was Overseer Brandle, and he was discussing the party with Omaru. The Overseer did not seem happy that the bounty-hunters had not signed on to the program yet, and was commanding Omaru to have them murdered as soon as they left town, most likely by the aneen-riders and their lances. At the center of the overseer’s command station were multiple view screens that must have controlled most of the town. These would become the main target of the upcoming operation. Strom left part of the remote viewer behind, and quickly scaled back down the side of the tower, pulling the party together. Within a few minutes a plan was put together to infiltrate the Overseer’s command station.
The six bounty-hunters entered Nilia’s welcome station and said that they were ready to sign on to the agreement. Each was placed in a special chair (which was designed to keep the signer propped up after using the cypher-paper), and given a pen to sign the contract. Reminal remotely de-activated the pen before it could be used, and as each bounty-hunter started to sign the paper they acted as if they fell unconscious. Once all six were pretending to be out cold, Nilia called for two guards to bring two sets of triple-bunk gurneys. One by one the party-members were loaded onto the gurneys. When the guards reached Dezra, however, the mechanical nano reached out and gave a terrific shocking grasp to poor soul, cooking him from the inside out immediately as electricity coursed through his brain. Strom struck another with his metal fists, but the guard was still standing, despite being in a lot of pain. While Nilia looked on in horror, Dalroc stood up and tossed his corrosive gas bomb at her, causing her to dissolve into a puddle, all while screaming and gasping for air. The second guard was quickly dispatched while the party awaited more guards to pour into the welcome chamber. But the guards never came. There seemed to be some kind of sound dampening in this room, the reason of which the party wasn’t sure of.
Still motivated to move quickly forward in their plan Rhodes went out of phase and climbed the stairwell towards the Overseer’s chamber. Sticking his head through the door, Rhodes saw that Brandle’s back was to him, and took the opportunity to charge into the room and backstab the Overseer. Groaning the Overseer turned and tried to touch his sleep inducing ring to the clever jack, but Rhodes was too fast and he grabbed the hand that held the ring. Alone and knowing that the rest of the party probably couldn’t hear the scuffle, Rhodes took his sword and stuck it straight in the belly of the Overseer, causing him to slump to his death. The jack put the Overseer’s body on the floor, moved downstairs, and called for the nanos to come up and help explore the chambers.
Once upstairs the bounty-hunters shifted gears and started loot-grabbing. The Overseer still had his sleep inducing ring, and a vicious saber strapped to his back that was both extremely easy to use as well as being extremely deadly. The control panels could’ve easily been raided for cyphers but Reminal and Dezra had other plans. Dezra started manipulating the panels to gain access to the rest of the facility’s controls while Reminal connected his mind directly to the controls. The shock to Reminal’s mind was rather painful, but due to an unexpectedly incredible success, the graceful nano managed to completely bypass any kind of firewall that existed within the obelisk itself. Reminal had full control of the facility’s electronic systems. This also meant that Reminal started to understand the big picture of what this facility truly was.
Millennia ago Queslin was probably some advanced salt mining facility, although based on the layout it could’ve been set up to mine any other kind of material that existed below the ground. But now it was something... different. The obelisk was a masking device, a camouflage generator that projected the image of a bustling city, but in reality was covering a large production area and living quarters for the “slavers” that ruled here. There was a single mine shaft that stretched into the ground below, and it was at the bottom of this mineshaft that the truth of Queslin came out. At the base of the shaft was a large chamber. A honeycombed structure held roughly 4,000 bound living humans, their mouths stuffed with black tubes that led to a massive feeding machine. Great mechanical beetles mined the salt below Queslin, bringing it to the machine, where the salt was mixed with water, some basic fats, and an oat powder. This “saltfeed” was then force-fed to the trussed slaves. On the other side of the honeycomb a worker took small leeches, buckets of them, and distributed them throughout the honeycomb. These leeches were covering each bound member of the “work to live” program, feeding off of their bodies, and becoming salty and plump in the process. Most of the party didn’t know why this would be a business at all... who could be profiting from salt filled leeches? But when Rhodes put the facts together he retched into his mouth. The clever jack had been part of a well-to-do family, and remembered in his past eating tasty little “escargot” type salted creatures. Perfectly brined, perfectly tasty, these exotic morsels were extremely hard to come by. Because they could only be found in Queslin. And there were precious few who survived the work-to-live program apparently, their boat-captain Waylen being only one of six on record in the Overseer’s office.
Realizing that they only had a little while until someone would come inside the tower and realize that both Nilia and the Overseer were dead the bounty-hunters quickly concocted a plan and started to move with a near-military style precision. Rhodes and Daylen put on the guard uniforms and Dezra, Dalroc, and Strom hid themselves on a triple-decker gurney. Since he was still hacked into the system Reminal stayed in the command station so that he could control the elevator, lighting, and even the Obelisk itself if the need arose. Rhodes and Daylen talked their way past the initial guards, got in the elevator shaft, and descended into hell.
At the bottom of the mineshaft a fishy smell washed over the team, nearly causing them to gag. Swiftly Rhodes and Daylen pushed the gurney to the honeycombed structure, right up to one of the workers who was holding a remote control. The worker had given Rhodes a number corresponding to the row and column in which to place the three “salteaters” that were to be placed inside the machine. Once they got close to the worker however he started to realize that they weren’t slavers themselves. So Daylen tipped the gurney causing a significant distraction, and also giving the rest of the party time to get ready for a fight and subsequent flight. Quickly Rhodes put the worker to sleep, and the team started unloading the two twins (their names had been found in the records earlier) from the honeycomb. Strom was placing the twins on the gurney when one of the other workers approached, questioning why there was a salteater discharge that day. In an epic “taste of your own medicine” scene, Strom took one of the leeches off of Eisen and shoved it in the worker’s mouth, causing him to fall to his knees gagging. Most likely he would’ve died from the leech, as he was unable to retrieve it from his mouth, but then Dalroc, sickened by the amount of pain and suffering that was going on around him, pulled a dagger and started stabbing the worker repeatedly until he was dead. To cause a distraction for the rest of the workers in the mine, Reminal at this time started flashing the lights in the cave, which allowed the team to get back to the mineshaft. Once at ground level Reminal turned the lights out in the lower level and shut off the mineshaft. Those that were down there would remain, entombed with the poor souls stuck in the salt-feeder machine. The graceful nano cranked the salt-feed mechanism as well, drowning the nearly 4,000 salteaters within moments. A brutal death, but a kindness in the Ninth World for those who could not be saved.
At the top of the mineshaft the doors opened and the A-team sprang into action. Rhodes flashbombed the one aneen riding guard, nearly killing both animal and rider but blinding both for several minutes. Strom placed a monofilament blade on his finger and cut down another guard while Dalroc hacked away at another. Reminal manipulated the production line for the leeches remotely, causing a blackflow and spillage that sickened some of the workers. Although a few workers tried lobbing daggers at the party, they were basically unsuccessful in injuring Strom, who’s metal body repulsed light weapons entirely. Those that were not cut down fled the scene. Strom threw the twins on top of the aneen and the party started riding out into the night. But before the team could leave Queslin, there was one lone figure blocking their way. A sniveling and whining Omaru stood before them, nearly crying with fear. Despite a last minute attempt to be witty and charming to the Broken Mask bounty-hunters Rhodes simply pulled out his crank crossbow and shot the man. While he fell to his knees clutching the bolt, Daylen pulled his bow and started firing as well. Queslin was dead, the salt... and leeches... never to flow again.