Tale of an Industrious Rogue, Part II
This is the second volume of the Tale of an Industrious Rogue, ranging from chapters XX through XL.
- 1 Onward With the Story
- 1.1 Chapter XX: We Might As Well Get Some Camels
- 1.2 Chapter XXI: Purple Gorilla, Why Not
- 1.3 Chapter XXII: Jack and Vorgok's Untimely Adventure
- 1.4 Chapter XXIII: To Keep Ruling a City
- 1.5 Chapter XXIV: Wizards!
- 1.6 Chapter XXV: Jack and Vorgok's Untimely Adventure, Part Deux
- 1.7 Chapter XXVI: Enter the Pactmasters
- 1.8 Chapter XXVII: So We Meet Again
- 1.9 Chapter XXVIII: A Princely Prize
- 1.10 Chapter XXIX: Stand Down and Die, STC!
- 1.11 Chapter XXX: Some Puns Take a While to Manifest
- 1.12 Chapter XXXI: A Matter of Water
- 1.13 Chapter XXXII: A Date Long Overdue
- 1.14 Chapter XXXIII: A Penny for your Thoughts
- 1.15 Chapter XXXIV: Afterlife Ventures
- 1.16 Chapter XXXVI: Pissing in Paradise
- 1.17 Chapter XXXVII: Artifacts of Amusing Nature
- 1.18 Chapter XXXVIII: Upping the Ante
- 1.19 Chapter XXXIX: Let's Just Screw Everyone Forever
- 1.20 Chapter XL: Off to the Skies!
Onward With the Story
Chapter XX: We Might As Well Get Some Camels
Due to the sheer size of the order, the STC got a 10% bulk price discount, but that still set them back by 6,75 million gold pieces, and the artisans demanded an upfront payment of half that amount, since they still recalled the cancelled order for the zeppelin. By then, the STC had an accumulated wealth of about 1,5 million gold pieces, so they had to request loans from the katapeshi lenders. Honest Abdul had become one of the richest men in the region thanks to his dealings with the STC, however, so he agreed to lend them the 2 million gp they requested, though for that he had to pretty much drain the coffers of almost every counting house and bank in the city (risking almost no actual cash himself, of course). However, the logistics of moving those amounts of money around created a whole new world of problems. Remember that 50gp=1lb, so the 50% payment to Alkenstar had a total weight of 67.500 pounds. Part of it was reduced to better forms of wealth transfer, such as jewels, but due to the sheer numbers not even a city like Katapesh was able to provide the vast amounts needed in such short notice, and Bin Fashar's company was simply not able to meed the demand without raising suspicions on his extradimensional dealings. In overall, I allowed them to reduce the total weight by about 30%; however, the process caused a massive market dump in Katapesh, devaluating the gold standard and making the prices of gems, spices and other traditional wealth commodities explode.
The Merchant Court was in utter chaos, as while some merchants saw their wallets grow fat, others were having severe issues meeting their quotas; luxury exports, the lifeblood of Katapesh, grinded to a halt, causing whole fleets to stand idle in the ports, which in turn flooded the city with angry drunken sailors with nothing to do and little cash to spend. With the captains refusing to sail with their holds empty, the sea trading lanes began to collapse, both because the piers were choked with moored vessels and because a big part of it depended on those same ships that exported the good returning with much needed things such as wood, food, and slaves. Soon the city would be gripped with problems, but for now it was just brewing. However, the Pactmasters were getting anxious, and rumours among the ruling circles spoke about how they would eventually intervene should it get too bad.
Meanwhile, to transport the payment, the STC had to assemble quite the caravan (teleportation would have been easy, but since Alkenstar is smack in the middle of a huge antimagic zone known as the Mana Wastes -reason why they developed such technological wonders-, it was impossible); though reduced by the valuables, the total weight of the payment was still 47.250lbs, and with camels being capable of carrying a maximum load of 300lbs, that meant gathering 158 camels only for the transporting of the payment itself. Since sending that amount of money across the 400 miles of desert and mana wastes that separated Katapesh from Alkenstar presented the wet dream of every highwayman in Garund, a host of 500 armed men had to be hired for protection, which in turn required a host of additional people to provide services such as food and medical treatment. When all was said and done, the Grand Golden Caravan counted over 300 camels and nearly 1.000 people between soldiers, camel drivers, scouts, medic, slavemasters, and what have you, and that's not even counting the hefty group of camp followers that gathered on its wake. Vorgok and Jack were sent to oversee the caravan, while Valanar and Hassan remained in Saltspit.
Chapter XXI: Purple Gorilla, Why Not
Now, it is important to consider that Rakhim's player had to leave us for a while as he traveled outside the country, so we had some leeway in keeping his character in the state he was. Everything was talked with him before doing anything, so it had his approval (hence why I allowed the whole capture situation in the first place. We're all very good friends, so we don't do that kind of stuff unless expressely permitted). He even told Valanar's player "Go ahead and surprise me. So long as I still have a character to play when I get back, you have a free ticket to do as you please".
So Valanar decided to turn him into a golem.
Yes, he already had ordered the construction of 50 golems and sents the region into economic meltdown in the process, but turning a party member into a golem had been a running joke of the party for years, ever since he made his first evil cleric about a decade ago. We had talked about constructs some time ago during pizza break, and he was captivated by one "Alchemical Golem" from a sourcebook I cannot remember at the moment, so his mind began working on that plan. He would need alchemists, apothecaries, a source of electricity and a long list of "nefarious devices" to finish the job.
The idea was to first create the body, which in this case was essentialy a big homunculus. He modeled the body after the intelligent gorillas of the Mwangi Expanses, but purple (since, well, he decided he would use purple chemicals). A lot of blood was needed, which was unintentionally "donated" by a bunch of gorilla slaves they had recently imported. Once the body was grown, he had to transfer Rakhim's soul from his current body to the alchemical vessel, which was done through a judicious use of Magic Jar, and left his human form as a mere carcass (though Hassan decided to call for a taxidermist and mount it as a statue in the STC HQ's meeting hall).
He still needed a sufficient amount of electricity to instill life into the body. They tried a hired magician casting Lightning Bolt, but it didn't work. They then tried 10 hired magicians casting Lightning Bolt, yet all it did was burn down a laboratory. After some research, they found out they needed actual, natural lightning, so Valanar was forced to assemble a caravan and take the golem vat westward towards the Shattered Range, the mountains dividing the dry Katapeshi lands from the lush Mwangi Jungles, where anvil-shaped stormclouds would provide the power needed. He took a lot of brass with him and some builders, in order to assemble the lightning-catchers.
Some previous scrying and teleportation handled the trip, and then spent a few days in the mountains as the builders worked on the lightning-catchers and he himself on the complicated wiring required to properly jolt the body.
Chapter XXII: Jack and Vorgok's Untimely Adventure
In the meanwhile, Vorgok and Jack were leading the Great Golden Caravan southward across the dunes. Though they had encountered a few packs of gnolls that attempted to attack the trail, the hired soldiers made quick work of them. However, the further south they went, the more they felt being watched. Scouts were sent on regular intervals, but since they all returned with nothing to report, things proceeded calmly.
That, until Vorgok claimed to have seen an army following their trails. No one else could see it, so Jack attempted to ease things down by explaining the madness that was gripping his steel-toothed friend. It was pointless, though, as Vorgok decided to charge rearwards, past the caravan and into the sands. Soldiers were unsure what to do, so they remained posted, all watching as the crazed barbarian rode into the distance and fought invisible foes.
It just so happened that they were actually invisible foes.
Vorgok's exposure to ethereal blasts from the between-worlds had made him all sorts of crazy; his own dreamscapes had mixed with those of other people (and other "things" that don't quite classify as people), so he kept seeing things that were in someone else's imagination. His own body had started to fade at times, becoming half immaterial for short periods of time. However, this also had some unexpected benefits, such as being able to gaze into both the material and ethereal planes simultaneously, which proved quite useful against a band of marauders that had chosen to travel under the guise of the Ethereal. Impacting with the force of a locomotive, Vorgok cut through the lines, breaking the spell and suddenly revealing a multitude well in the high hundreds.
Battle ensued and, while they fought bravely, the tide was against them. Whoever these men were, they had powerful support and were well-equiped. In contrast, the STC had hired mostly second-hand mercenaries to act as soldiers, and half of them fled or got killed ignomiously, the other half eventually realising they were gone and either surrendering, escaping or crawling into turtle formations that got quickly overwhelmed. Sure, Jack and Vorgok -mostly Vorgok- counted dozens of victims each, but they too got over their heads, eventually being brought down.
Now, one thing is for Vorgok to be brought down; another entirely is to capture him. Several soldiers lost their hands trying to catch him, as the ulfen giant chewed and masticated their extremities away when they got too close. At one point no one dared come close, deciding to instead build a makeshift cage around him; the cage itself was no match for Vorgok's otherwordly fury, but Jack managed to get some sense into him as the Bardwarriorwhatshisclass offered to surrender, seeing as innocent camp followers were being butchered and that the battle was lost in any case.
They were eventually taken captive, after several poisoned darts managed to throw the barbarian insto slumber and chains brought Jack down. It was evident these guys were not only after the gold, since otherwise they would have killed them.
Chapter XXIII: To Keep Ruling a City
To the north, back in Saltspit, Hassan had his hands full. With Valanar doing some spooky mad scientist stuff in the mountains, Rakhim stuffed as a teddy bear, and Jack and Vorgok travelling to another country at camel speed, the Rogue was left to handle all the loose ends, which had started to pile up:
-The Plague: Remember when Whipmaster Konkaf, the cyclop in charge of the slaves at the salt mines, warned the party about a growing infection? Well, it turned out that breaking the slave's back didn't stop the disease from spreading, much to the one-eye's bewilderment, and the lack of foresight on the party's behalf only helped it get out of control (a properly-timed hiring of priests casting Cure Disease would have solved the matter right away). Over a hundred had already died covered in pustules, and a hundred more were showing signs of going the same way soon; no one even knew how many others were sick. The City Council had ordered an emergency burning of the bodies, but with more dead showing up across Saltspit every day, they had a timebomb in their hands. Unease gave way to fear, fear gave way to rage, and soon uprisings were taking place across the city, with stores being robbed and Brass Legionnaires hanged by the mob. Initially secluded in the party's palace, Hassan was forced into action when one of the merchants bathing at the site's oasis they had previously conjured inside the building -which they used as some sort of tourist attraction and garnered some extra cash- died in the middle of the courtyard. He contacted the Prince through the crystal ball and requested the immediate dispatch of priests and medicaments, offering to pay for all the teleportation spells required (which came at a hefty cost, since the commercial lockdown that sat upon Katapesh had all the richest merchants hoarding scrolls and spellcasters to try to move their goods outside the country).
-The Flesh Spawns: The process was slowly progressing, and while the by-products were indeed horrendous (some of which now crawled in the depths of the pits just outside the city), Apothecary Bin Sabaj -the guy they put in charge of overseeing the works- reported that they had reached a 10% success rate (which, although low, was much better than the previous 0%) and that two dozen elves had survived long enough to be carrying viable spawns. Hassan had all the discarded elven subjects (all of which had died during the miscarriages, either being eaten from the inside, fused with the spawn's own malleable flesh, and other horrible ways of going out. It was Alien 4 with spells and swords) be burned along with the plague subjects, so that at least covered those tracks. He was getting anxious, however, since the working spawns wouldn't be ready for at least 3 more months, and they had already been contacted by ten Denizens of Leng, some of which would be visiting Saltspit at an unknown, but probably premature, date. This led to the idea of speeding up the process by infusing the elves with raw positive energy, so he ordered wizards to be brought. Yet this led to another problem.
-Wizardly Shortage: Even though there is indeed magic in the world, the STC had been abusing the available supply to grotesque levels. Teleportation and scrying had become the standard means for travel and communication not just among the party, but among the many upper echelons of the company. More and more spellcasters were being employed to cover the increasingly more complicated and dangerous business ventures, and some of the industrial units were using them up to the point of collapse: Casters in the mines to handle the elementals and keep the rift stable; casters in the nightmare bunkhouses to keep Slimy from becoming madness incarnate, the hags from stealing the goods, and the "workers" from having their heads explode; casters in the golden fountain to stabilize the dreamscape, to keep the kid secure, to move the liquid gold, and to speed up the construction of the mints; casters in the fields surrounding the fountain, where dream leftovers and ethereal currents still caused all manners of problems; casters in the palace to keep the artificial oasis with water, in the substructure to power up the unusual air conditioning system and to guard the vaults. And the list went on and on. Sure, the current crisis starting in Katapesh had put a stop to most salt imports, but judging it just a temporary issue, the Directorate had decided to maintain operations (plus there were some contigency plans in the making in case the city didn't open up trade to the outside world).
Chapter XXIV: Wizards!
As you can imagine, there simply were not enough spellcasters to keep up with this rate, and that's not even considering those who died in mine accidents or went insane from merely thinking about Slimy. The STC had a dedicated body for spellcasting contracts, the Department of Arcane Services, which in turn was in charge of meeting the magical requirements of all the other departments, and its representatives had scoured the region looking for people to be hired. The wizardly covenants and academies in Katapesh, Nex and Osirion had already taken notice, and though they had been showered with gold, were starting to get anxious at such accumulation of power, as well as the influence the STC was achieving in "The Biz" (I wanted to use "The Art", but Hassan's player thought we were long past that). Concerns ran the gamut from millennial covenants being broken down as its members were convinced with wealth beyond their dreams to magical academies being emptied of students (as spellcasters became more and more scarce, the Department of Arcane Services was forced to start recruiting just about anyone that could light a match with its fingers to meet the quotas), including warnings regarding the excessive use of magic in unethical and uncontrolled ways and all the terrible things that could happen because of this.
Though Hassan was largely uninterested by these issues so long as the money kept flowing, he did have to go through a particularly tense Directorate Meeting where the issue was brought up: There were, simply put, no more spellcasters left in eastern Garund. All were either already hired by the STC, killed in an STC-related operation, taken -either by will or by force- by the members of the Merchant Court, forbidden by their orders/masters from participating or altogether hidden/runaway. It was a strange time to be a wizard (or even a cheap magician) in the lands of Katapesh.
Now, those who have read about Golarion, know that there are two wizardly nations right to the south of Katapesh: Nex and Geb, both founded in times immemorial by archwizards. Nex was a land of immensely powerful spellcasters, while Geb had turned to the arts of necromancy, and everything there ran on zombie power. Both nations depended on their magic users, on a cultural, strategic and pretty much existential level, so this whole thing with the STC attracting so much spell power had them pretty worried and upset. Problems had already started a while back when a Nexian Arclord had been convinced to participate in the company after being granted a 4% share of the stocks, since it was believed the STC could be in tandem with Nex's mortal enemies in Geb (both nations hold a very uneasy peace after centuries of conflict), so the current situation only helped to increase tensions.
To make matters even worse, the Department of Arcane Services reported the deeds of one Vernon Bundlebitter, Chief of Elemental Herding in the Saltspit-Katapesh route, who had been stirring trouble by going all bolshevik and was trying to form a union of spellcasters to demand better working conditions. If it had been random miners, it would have been just a matter of getting some gnolls and letting them loose on the protesters, but these guys were wizards, both dangerous if angry and a scarce resource necessary to the operation.
So the STC was forced to negotiate, granting several benefits to the Spellcasters Union, including such things as better pay, the creation of a schedule system to properly sort out working turns, and the always-treasured personal latrines. A library and laboratory would have to be constructed for spellcasters to have a chance to develop personal projects (although the STC would have priority rights for purchasing and owning potentially lucrative discoveries and inventions), and in general it gave the Union a lot of leeway and influence over the company. Words had been discussed about giving the organization access to some percentage of the shares, but Hassan managed to block that deal.
One good thing came out from the Spellcasters Union's formation, though, which was a more organized access to magic users, as well as an optimization on the use of those the STC already had under payroll. Though Bundlebitter tried to keep the relation tense and strained for political gain, a turban-wearing gnome sorcerer and member of the Union by the name of Babaganoosh opted for a more cooperative approach, and offered the Directorate to handle the acquisition of spellcasters from distant locales. This would give the Union control over who came in and cause future issues, but for now the STC was against the wall, and the board members were very anxious to get the deal going.
A few days later, Valanar arrived in company of a monstrous, dark-purple oversized gorilla with particularly clever eyes. Several workers had died during the process back in the Shattered Range, as the cleric was not in the mood for safety measures and electrocution from handling brass machinery during a thunderstorm took several out; Rakhim's own awakening also served to crush some spines, and they had to spend several hours looking for him when he escaped. Calm Emotions and a well-placed jolt of lightning took care of the burst of rage, though, and once the monk-sorcerer-gorilla (or Gorilonk, as we ended up calling him) had started to come to his senses, they headed back.
Since Rakhim's player was going to come back in about two weeks, we decided his character would be kept locked away in the dungeons for the remainder, with Valanar and some helpers doing regular visits to help him accommodate his new body. The cleric, however, did make sure to embed a control rune made out of brass into Rakhim's forehead, inscribed in a scroll that he would carry with him at all times and offer him control over his body (though not his mind nor soul).
Chapter XXV: Jack and Vorgok's Untimely Adventure, Part Deux
In the south, Jack and Vorgok were being held prisoners by the invisible marauders that struck their caravan and plundered their gold, and had been taken to a crumbling desert villa to the north-east. As it turned out, the bandits were under the command of a dreaded desert pirate by the name of Poirot Le Fei (a nemesis from Jack's own background story), so that part served to do some dramatic sword and cape adventure which ended with a sword fight while mounting a pegasus and a flying carpet among the exploding remains of a dune-sailing ship and many cheesy dialog lines. They also found some vials of mercurial water drawn from the endless sea spreading at the base of Mount Celestia, which later Jack found out was a legendary means for washing away sins and thus poured some on his head in order to "correct" his alignment. He kept more for himself, arguing that the STC "had a way to make people do really bad stuff and still feel good about it".
Before Le Fei's climatic defeat and the mandatory "You have not seen the last of me!" prior to being engulfed by an explosion, however, they did manage to discover they had been sent there by none other than Prince Osman Bin Hassir, their most trusted associate and one of the major stockholders within the Saltspit Trading Company. To what purpose, it was yet unknown, but clearly the gold was a factor, as Le Fei's men had brought a dozen desertic oliphants to carry the treasure back to Katapesh.
They decided to leave Vorgok in charge of recovering the treasure (with the help of the handful of their own men who had been kept alive by the bandits for precisely the same task), while Jack would take the flying carpet they stole from Le Fei's personal belongings to quickly return to Saltspit and give the heads-up to the rest of the party.
In theory, at least, it was a good idea. Just that neither of them properly factored Vorgok into the equation.
So Jack gets back to Saltspit within a day, giving the news to Hassan and Valanar. Jack wanted to confront the Prince via crystal ball, but Valanar advised prudence, reminding everyone that the Prince still held valuable assets belonging to the company back in Katapesh, and that it would be best to pay him a personal visit. With the assurance that Vorgok was in control of the treasure, they took some days to tie up the aforementioned issues (including the arrival of a Denizen of Leng, which had to be convinced to remain within the accommodations of their palace. Valanar did make sure to put the Department of Arcane Services on notice and request some extra spellcasting support around the building, just in case), before taking a portal to Katapesh.
And as it turned out, though, Vorgok had decided to take the initiative by mounting an attack on the Prince's palace with an oliphant stampede.
The logistics of getting the oliphants to Katapesh were not that hard, considering the creatures were trained to go back and forth between the city and the spice farms of Selsasham to the south (the creatures belonged to a vudrani spice-trading company). The problem was getting them through the city gates (they usually unloaded in the markets surrounding the walls), an issue which Vorgok solved by tying them together in a two-per-row formation with enormously thick ropes taken from the nearby piers, and going apeshit behind them until they panicked and began charging forward, steamrolling through the city streets. The barbarian himself traveled inside a boat he tied to the last row of oliphants yelling "NOW STOMPER, NOW CRUSHER, NOW SMASHER AND CRUNCH! ON SPLATTER, ON BREAKER, ON SPLITTER AND CRUMBLER! LET'S MEET UP THIS PRINCELING AND BEAT DOWN HIS GATE! FOR TREASON COMMITTED HIS NECK WE WILL GET" (as always, words adapted to make sense in English, as we play in Castilian). So it was an oliphant sleigh.
By the time the rest of the party had arrived, Vorgok's elephantine assault was already cutting through the city, across Golden Peacock's Square and into the Prince's well-guarded yet not oliphant-resistant courtyard. A massive, ground-shaking stomp which seemed to almost crumble the towering palace down brought everyone to their knees, as twelve ridiculously oversized pachyderms loaded with gold (half of which was now scattered across the streets, suddenly making a lot of people very rich) smashed against the gates, crushed most of the palace's guard and broke everything there was that could be broken, and then some.
While everyone had to commend Vorgok for his hands-on approach, the whole thing really cut down the options regarding finding a solution. In a rather impulsive move, the party decided to kidnap the Prince while the barbarian pretty much disintegrated the abode and everyone in it and head back to Saltspit.
Impulsive, I say, because amidst all the trouble, screaming, and rumble, they completely forgot that they left behind millions of gold pieces. Sure, the fountain could give them back in a week once the thing was fully operational, but that was still two-and-a-half months away. And after all that happened, it seemed they would be needing that golem army rather soon.
On the sidelines, dumping all that gold back into Katapesh was the last strain on its already troubled economy. Last time, they spent ludicrous amounts of money, causing severe financial stress in the city as prices went bananas in all directions and clogging the trade networks, but in a way the effect was constrained by the fact most of the money ended up in a rather small circle of merchants, and given time it would have fixed itself. This time, however, over three million pieces of gold (enough to buy around 170 million chicken) had been laid out all across the city, falling into the hands of anyone who happened to be there and managed not to get crushed by the tidal wave of oliphants. This meant the gold would strike pretty much on all levels of the economy as the people ran to spend the money on just about anything.
Within a matter of days, the price of most basic goods skyrocketed, both because of the inflated currency mass and because the buyers themselves started gobbling products in order to sell them later, as they started perceiving the continuous price increases. This created a widespread speculative bubble on almost every imaginable product, from hand baskets to real estate, which in the ill-regulated city of Katapesh could burst at any moment. Not to mention people were getting furious as their newly found riches suddenly devaluated by a factor of 100.
If there was any time the Pactmasters would be moved to intervene, that time was now.
Chapter XXVI: Enter the Pactmasters
Yet things were not that simple. As it turns out, the Pactmasters were Denizens of Leng themselves, and unknowingly the party had contacted some of them for the whole fleshspawn business. So as tempted to act as they were, they had the conflicting issue of facing the STC and potentially missing on the deal to have a permanent and stable body for themselves.
That is why three Pactmasters presented themselves to the party with a deal: They would not take any action against them (though they would have to intervene to fix the Katapeshi economy), in exchange for not just the bodies, but the compromise that no other Denizen within Golarion would be granted such a treatment (they secretly planned to deal with the foreign Denizen that had already arrived once the issue was sorted out. The Pactmasters each had an Emerald of Power that gave them control over the hundreds of Aluum -special types of brass golems- that guarded the palaces, vaults and markets of Katapesh, dozens of which they had left hidden outside Saltspit should push come to shove, so it shouldn't be too problematic now that they knew who he was). As much as they were kinsmen, they were all too aware that having any other Denizen achieve such a feat would be problematic for their own plans, and if anything, holding such treasure in their power would grant them unimaginable influence far beyond the reaches of Katapesh. The idea was simply too tempting.
Of the whole party, Valanar was the only one who had a reasonable measure of just how powerful the Denizens were, and to him the deal seemed reasonable given the current circumstances. Hassan, however, was not; he knew they were powerful and influential, but he just wasn't going to hand over their only bargaining chip. So after sending the Prince into comfy incarceration and dispatching the Denizens to their respective rooms while they discussed the situation, he devised a plan. Once he talked it out with the party, it was time to set it in motion.
At sunset, Vorgok came to pick up the Denizens and guide them through the underground passages to the laboratories. There, a group of apothecaries awaited next to the vats where some previously selected fleshspawns had been placed. In silence, the Denizens inspected the vessels, doing all sorts of nefarious and inscrutable planning within their alien minds.
Suddenly, one of the Denizens -the one who wasn't a Pactmaster- makes an advance to try and get a hold of one of the spawns. These creatures have an unusual connection to each other that dates back to the times before their own multiverse collapsed, and they were all keenly aware of the constant telepathic prodding they were each trying to use on the rest in order to know what they were thinking. However, after thousands of years of depredating on each other, it didn't take a psion to know what was going to happen, and this particular Denizen understood full well the disadvantage at which he was against the Pactmasters.
This led to a pretty heated battle between the Denizens, during which the apothecaries got killed and most of the laboratory trashed. At one point, the Denizens abandoned their facades and went full-on abomination, fleshy tentacles and anemone mouths flashing all over the place. Vorgok just allowed them to fight, waiting for the perfect moment to call on Hassan.
And that moment came when the Pactmasters attempted in panic to switch into the fleshspawns after the lone Denizen managed to take a hold of their minds during the short pause they had to make to activate their Emeralds of Power and call upon the dozens of aluum they had left parked in the desert outside Saltspit. The barbarian ran back, shut tight the heavy metal doors -trapping himself inside, mind you-, and yelled at Hassan through the crystal ball he had brought with him.
Above ground things were nasty. Hassan had ordered some workers to open the discharge canals they used to clean Slimy's pool, in order to have the water current push the insane aboleth through the aqueduct, which also connected to the flesh labs. Valanar had gathered all the spellcasters he could that had even the slightest capabilities to fend off insanity, and they all rushed to the operation.
Problem was that Slimy didn't fit, so they had to start demolishing the whole thing, which was taking too long, until one of the workers had the genius idea to use an explosive discharge on the base of the aqueduct. This would have been great, if not for the fact it ended with Slimy on his back splattered on the sand, with the lab still a good way ahead. Despite Valanar's spellcasting squad's best efforts, workers were already bleeding through their ears and trying to pull their own heads off with a shovel. Slimy wasn't going anywhere.
"Portals, we need to use portals!" Shouted Hassan to no one in particular.
"I have a few at hand. But I cannot teleport anything with safety unless I'm well aware where I'm aiming!" Answered Valanar. He asked me if he could try a teleport to the lab, but since he had not been there in a while, I couldn't ensure him high chances of success. Plus he remembered the angry Denizens inside, and quickly decided the option was not in his best interests.
That's when Vorgok's voice came through the crystal ball "Hey! Priest! What about you stop making excuses and use the damned glass thing!" He sounded like he was wrestling monsters down there. Which he pretty much was.
Valanar and Hassan exhanged looks for a moment, during which a tiny hint of guilt was breifly perceived, before the priest broke out a scroll and asked one of the surviving arcane spellcasters to use it on Slimy and aim through the crystal ball to get a precise destination.
And with a puff of mystical energies, the aboleth was gone.
The screaming, the voices and, worse yet, the images that came through the crystal ball were so horrible that the mage dropped it and shattered it in a thousand pieces. But he did manage to see Slimy appearing next to Vorgok and insanity becoming almost palpable down there.
In the labs, Vorgok entered rage in order to fend off insanity, while the Denizens, still locked in battle and fighting to get into the last remaining fleshspawns, went bananas. It is true that, back in the day, the party had managed to survive a long trip next to Slimy. However, quite a while had passed since then, allowing Slimy's ravaged mind to coalesce into the stuff of pure horror, feeding off the madness that turned the minds of the bunkhouse prisoners into vanilla pudding. Also, when you are an interdimensional being of countless years, you have truly prime crafting material for nightmares in your head.
Eventually, the Denizens got themselves trapped in the fleshspawns, shaking in mental agony as Vorgok finished recreating Wrestlemania on their original bodies. His rage rounds were running out (in Pathfinder, rather than having a specific number of uses for rage, the barbarian class gets a certain number of rounds he can spend enraged each day), so the ulfen hurried up, took the spawns off their vats and put them inside a metal box and ran away from the lab before Slimy could do his thing on him.
Weak and unfinished as the spawns were, the Denizens had managed to get themselves locked in pretty much useless bodies, while the nightmare fits made sure their mental capacity was occupied elsewhere. Vorgok ran to the deepest pits of the tunnel network (which connected with the original dungeon that used to stand there), making his way around the place until he found the leftovers of an old trap-puzzle they had encountered the first time they visited the place oh-so-many sessions ago (which consisted of some stone sarcophagi with hidden pits, magical darkness and guarded by mummies), went to one of the coffins with the hidden pits while dancing around the now much less menacing local undead, hurled the box to the bottom along with all the mummies he could find in the place, and shut it close with several stone slabs, just before collapsing the room's pillars and running away.
Things eventually calmed down. Most of the workers and spellcasters Valanar and Hassan brought with them had gone mad, but a quick call to the Night Hags solved that problem and at the same time increased the available nightmare pots (some unlucky NPCs who hadn't gone mad were taken too). Vorgok refused to explain where he had sent the spawns arguing everyone's safety, but insisted they were securely trapped. Besides some deep cuts, tentacle marks and a broken arm, he was in good shape.
The next few days were mostly devoted to taking Slimy out of the labs and sending him back to his pool. With the facility trashed and all those involved in the works dead, the party decided to close up the business venture; the surviving elves were sold to Al'Sherengen after Vorgok had his way with them and everything else torched and the place collapsed. The whole deal was proving to be far too risky and problematic, particularly now that they had better and more reliable sources of profit.
Chapter XXVII: So We Meet Again
When they were taking out the elves, however, Jack stumbled upon the Emeralds of Power originally carried by the Denizens, and decided to include them into his bling repertoire.
Hassan took them from him about 10 minutes later. He had recognized them as quickly as he saw them (the party had dealt with one in the second or third session of the campaign, back when they were still slaves), and he had already heard the report regarding the considerable amount of aluum that were waiting amidst the sands just a few miles out of town, probably brought there by the Pactmasters who, seemingly, planned on getting their request fulfilled whether the STC wanted it or not.
After leaving some trusted advisers in charge of finishing up and organizing the reconstruction of the aqueducts, the party travelled to the outskirts of Saltspit, using the flying carpet to get a better view. Initially they were hard to find, brass against scalding sands and all that, but after some inspection, they found themselves floating above a legion of aluum. A quick count put the number around 60.
Valanar was speechless, "Instant golem army" was all he could muster.
Rakhim's player arrived that same session. He had been working on his character sheet to include the recent changes he had gone through (he was actually quite thrilled to play a mutant gorilla monk, truth be told), and now that things calmed down we took the time to bring him back into the game.
The party returned to the STC HQs. Hassan and Jack went to meet up with the Prince to shake him up and have him reveal how to properly use the Emeralds of Power; Vorgok went to the Pit of Prostitutes to check on the new wench incorporations to Saltspit; and Valanar headed down into the dungeons to check on Rakhim.
And he found him reading a treatise on woodcarving. "Ah, we meet again, Valanar".
The priest was a bit startled by the image: A hulking purple-haired gorilla with clever eyes, sporting a pair of minuscule glasses and instructing himself in the art of carving wood. He seemed both immensely peaceful and thoughtful.
Rakhim made a gesture to stand, and still nervous, Valanar attempted to control him through the brass rune. The monk made a short pause and then proceeded, tapping his forehead "I know what you did to me, Valanar, and what you can do. But as long as I keep my mind clear enough, I can fight it"
Valanar regarded him with distrust "Then why are you not tearing down these walls and choking me to death?"'
"Because I already tried that, and look were it got me" He regarded the priest with a bright gorilla smile "I betrayed my vows and gave in to wild emotion. I forgot all I was taught and the punishment for that was... this" He scratched his head "Perhaps it is a good opportunity to start it over"
"What about Falballa? She is dead, you know. It was horrible, bloody. The spawn -your son- ate her from the inside out"
Rakhim tensed for a bit, then relaxed -after some appropriate Will rolls, of course- "Terrible, indeed. But I have to put it behind shall I ever get back in the way of self-improvement. Do not think of it as me forgiving you -I could never do such a thing. Think of it as me taking back control over myself" He leaned closer to the bars "Now, the door, if you would?"
I was pretty happy by how Rakhim's player handed the whole situation, as it gave me a route with which to get the party working together again, something I was having problems figuring out considering all that happened. So I allowed him to resist Valanar's control as long as he managed to maintain his mind clear and emotions out of the way, as his character was ought to do from the start according to his own background.
Noticeably shaking, Valanar took a while to take the step and open Rakhim's cage. The gorilla would have had no problems opening it himself, anyway.
Chapter XXVIII: A Princely Prize
Getting the information out of the Prince proved far easier than expected. He mounted his whole pedant non-cooperative set up at first, but he broke down quickly after Hassan threatened to bury him alive in salt. As it turned out, each emerald had a word of activation inscribed inside, which could be read if put under light at the correct angle. Once pronounced, the wearer would gain full control of the aluum bound to the gems through a telepathic link.
Ignoring the Prince's demands for better wine, Hassan and Jack walked out and took the flying carpet to check on the aluum again. Jack took an emerald and Hassan the other two, and after some careful inspection managed to get the words, which they uttered as they flew above the brass golems.
One by one they came to life, as the whole brass battalion pointed their glowing emerald eyes up in their directions. It was decidedly unsettling. A nearby traveler hurried away on his camel.
Hassan was awestruck with their newfound power "Imagine all we can do with this. We could bring Katapesh to its knees!"
"Indeed" Said Jack, pensive "But what if..." He closed his eyes for a moment, thinking, and then a third of the aluum began dancing the Thriller.
After the appropriate slapping, we spent part of that session setting things straight: I told the party that their contacts in Katapesh informed them that the remaining Pactmasters had enough of their jibba-jabba and were about to mount an attack on Saltspit, so they gathered to plan a defense.
Having 60 aluum would indeed prove useful, but considering the Pactmasters probably had a lot more in their service, plus a myriad of other means ranging from angry katapeshi nobles to nefarious devices no one knew about, five dozen brass golems just weren't going to cut it.
They tried to get the Night Hags to chip in, but as expected they refused to do anything outside their contract, particularly since all the trouble they had stirred in Katapesh had ended up affecting Bin Fashar's business and, in turn, were causing issues on the extraplanar nightmares-to-souls-to-gems deal.
The Brass Legion just took some extra cash to prepare, but the party knew they wouldn't add much more than a barely loyal meat shield. Al'Sherengen got some of his own men involved, and through militia recruitment they managed to get a few hundred highly unreliable hands.
The forges were put to work double time to make enough equipment for the Saltspit Defense Force -SDF-, and the markets were depleted of all swords, hammers, helmets, butter knives, and peeing pots. Babaganoosh of the Spellcaster's Union was convinced to get his magic users organized into an arcane militia in exchange for a sizable payment bonus; the Slavemaster's Clique also got its own bonus after negotiating the involvement of its members in the SDF -after all, some of the meanest inhabitants in Saltspit worked there-. The slaves tried to organize themselves into the Brotherhood of Involuntary Workers and get a deal out of the whole matter, but a pack of angry gnolls was set loose in their quarters to sort things out. Speaking of gnolls, some of the marauding tribes the company used to hire for muscle jobs were brought in as well.
All in all, the SDF managed to become a rather respectable army, counting around 1,500 footmen, 60 golems, about 90 spellcasters (though just about a third of them could be said to be actually dangerous), 300 gnolls, a few dozen hyenadons, a handful of trained harpies, 5 hill giants, and a bunch of resourceful PCs.
Yet when the Pactmasters arrived in the company of every single aluum in Katapesh -some 300-, including a couple of giant ones that everyone always thought were just statues standing in front of the Pactmaster's minarets, as well as a battalion of mercenary baatezu led by a fallen angel, it somehow felt small.
Chapter XXIX: Stand Down and Die, STC!
Besides Vorgok, who was hardly stopped from charging alone, the party wanted to negotiate a way out. However, there was no room for niceties. Though the Pactmasters were unaware of what exactly had happened, they had managed to receive warning signals from their associates before being trapped in the fleshspawns. Worse yet, they believed the STC to be in league with other Denizens of Leng, which made the whole thing crystal clear: They had been trying to undermine Katapesh from the very begging in order to strip them of their power (as the Pactmasters count themselves among the most powerful Denizens in Golarion). So the STC had to be wiped out.
Jack and Rakhim volunteered to approach the Pactmasters on the flying carpet to attempt a deal, getting ambushed by devils when they got too close. After getting sight of that, Vorgok charged away and, after some hesitation, Hassan gave the order to attack. I remember Valanar's player rather troubled, saying that they were going to lose all they'd worked so hard for.
So yes, the table was rather grim that session. We ended it in a cliffhanger as it was getting late and the battle would surely take long.
One of the reasons I like to stop sessions in cliffhangers sometimes is to both give everyone a sense of tension and make them eagerly await the next meeting, and give them time to think. So I tend to do it mostly when I know they are in big trouble. This case was no exception.
The next session, Hassan and Jack asked me about fallen angels, and we talked about how they end up like that after betraying their calling and being compelled by the burden of sin to act as they do. Next, Jack used some bardic lore regarding mercurial waters and whether they could cleanse really ugly sins, to which I said yes. From that point, their plan was rather evident.
On a seemingly unrelated topic, prior to starting the session Hassan also asked about what happened at the conjunction of the Quasielemental Plane of Vacuum and the Negative Energy Plane. I recalled about how that place was supposedly known as the point where "Death and Nothingness" meet, how the Doomguard -Planescape faction- had erected their most fearsome fortress precisely in the last point before that place where something could exist, and how it effectively meant absolute and utter oblivion.
When we finished that conversation I had the nagging feeling he didn't just ask me that out of pure curiosity (Hassan's player tends to dislike the whole Inner Plane stuff, probably because I used to torture the group a lot with puzzles related to it and he never managed to solve them), but that plan wasn't so obvious to me.
So, Jack and Rakhim spend the first part of the session fighting through progressively more horrible devils on their flying carpet. The monk had become considerably stronger after his gorillification, and he was smashing skulls left and right while Jack made use of the skill points spent in Fly to get the carpet moving swiftly among spiky chains and horned monstrosities.
Eventually, they made their way to the baatezu's leader, an appropriately edgy fallen angel with excessive use of eyeliner. With Jack orbiting him as fast as he could to avoid his spells, Rakhim took the mercurial water and used his hugely powerful gorilla legs and absurdly high Acrobatics roll to propel himself through the sky and land a choking grip on the fallen angel, smashing the vials on his head and letting the water take sins away.
Lots of hissing, screaming, and falling took place in a short period of time, but eventually light broke through the menacing clouds and rimmel evacuated the fallen angel's face, who got a hold of himself just enough to avoid having both smashed against the desert ground.
After some emotively cheesy speech, the redeemed angel took onto his army of devils and gave his life to sever the link that held them in this plane, sealing the wobbles between dimensions and instantly dissipating the entire baatezu force.
While the aluum kept fighting -and, in truth, they were winning with or without the devils-, the sudden dimensional blockade left the Pactmasters wavering, to which Jack quickly reacted and shot the carpet in their direction. Slish, slash, some gorilla fist to the face and their emeralds were all taken, sending the whole aluum army into a sudden halt.
It took some seriously lucky saves and Fly rolls for them to avoid -most- of the spells furiously thrown their way by the Pactmasters, but once they managed to get behind their lines, a flurry of fireballs and magic missiles coming from the spellcasting battalion covered their asses.
Without waiting any longer, they checked for the words carved into the gems and began calling them out, rapidly gaining control of the Pactmaster's aluum army and sending them in their direction. One of the colossal aluum got a hold of one of them and squished it against the ground, only to be repeatedly stomped by hundreds of brass feet afterward, while the rest managed to escape inside a tornado of sandy wind (as all forms of teleportation had been blocked by the angel's final actions).
An eerie silence swept over the battlefield, as in a matter of minutes all enemies had disappeared. Some drunken Brass Legion mercenaries were fighting between themselves, but otherwise everyone felt rather out of place. After gathering his thoughts, Hassan just waved a hand and told Whipmaster Konkaff to sound the horn and send everyone back home.
"Payment will be handled at the House of Public Services tomorrow morning! Order all the taverns and wenching houses in the city to make their products freely available for the night, at expense of the Saltspit Trading Company! Latrines will also openly service anyone in need! The Saltspit Defense Force is dismissed!" Valanar announced shouting his lungs out, which drew a multitude of cheers and happy chants from the army.
Chapter XXX: Some Puns Take a While to Manifest
After some celebration, the party went straight into planning their next move. Sure, they had beaten the Pactmasters in open combat, and while they managed to kill one of them and held three more locked away somewhere deep beneath Saltspit, there were still 6 more of them alive, and most likely plotting a new way to get back at them.
Both Hassan and Valanar argued that the most reasonable step was for the Pactmasters to use Katapesh's resources to undermine them somehow. Another direct attack was very unlikely, considering the STC was now in control of every single aluum the city ever had, and that besides the City and Zephyr Guards, the trade nation had no proper standing army to speak of. Vorgok deemed it a logical outcome and proposed to lay siege on the city and force the Merchan Court to submit and remove their support to the Pactmasters.
Hassan also argued that it was possible for them to once more attempt to hire the help of devils, which after all they defeated through a very circumstantial and unlikely to work again strategy.
So they decided to prepare for both scenarios and began planning.
The first thing they focused on was the eventuality of the devil mercenaries comming back, since it seemed both the quickest and most dangerous way in which the remaning Pactmasters could react to their defeat. Having seen what a few vials of mercurial water could do, Hassan figured out that a lot more of the same could effectively stop any army made out of evil outsiders.
To that end, they moved their contacts and informants in order to hook up with someone who could make a pathway into the Seven Mounting Heavens of Celestia, from where the water in question originated. One such individual was found in Absalom, the City at the Centre of the World, to whom they offered ridiculous amounts of money in exchange for the magical mirror he had that could be used to walk back and forth between the lowest level of Celestia, Lunia.
It so happens that all portals leading into Celestia do so precisely on the shores of the Silver Sea, the endless expanse of quicksilver waters that surrounds the base of the mountain. Hassan's plan was to use the mirror in order to pour a contious stream of mercurial waters into Golarion, into a massive cistern they had ordered built using one of the old tunnels of the salt mines.
However, since the portal opens specifically on the edge, water doesn't just flow in. So they decided to hire some craftment from Alkenstar to get them a pump system that could do the job. As previously mentioned, teleportation doesn't work in Alkenstar due to the city being in the middle of the Mana Wastes, a huge expanse of anti-magic territory between Nex and Geb, resulting from an ancient war between those two nations. However, having the flying carpet made travel considerably easier, and within less than two days they were in the City of Invention.
First thing was to revisit the golem purchase.
"You know I love golems, but don't we already have almost four hundred of those back home?" Asked Valanar.
"Yes, but those are brass golems. I need iron golems, like we ordered" Answered Hassan.
Valanar gave him an intrigued look "Why?"
"Because I need to put them in orbit" Hassan dramatically removed his eyepatch, revealing his golden eye "We will rule Katapesh, nay, the world, from the sky!"
I don't know if he had been planning it all along or not; I mean, yes, a lot of sessions had passed between Hassan getting his eye replaced by a gold replica and the one where he revealed his orbital golem plan, but these guys tend to play like that. I guess it is the benefit of knowing our campaigns tend to last for years, so even the most far-fetched scheemes can be brought into fruition eventually with enough patience.
So after a good ten-minute laugh, we went along with the game.
As it turns out, the craftmen in Alkenstar had already gathered all the materials needed to build the golems when they heard news the payment was underway, but stopped production as soon as they were informed of the assault on the Golden Caravan. Hassan ordered the works to start at once, which wasn't hard once some good Intimidation rolls and some sacks of gold were thrown in the face of the head craftmen.
Payment would be secured this time by using alkenstari flying ships, and the STC would pay a 10% bonus to cover for the distress caused by the last incidents. They were allowed to purchase 3 iron golems already built which were meant to guard a vault in Druma, much to the complaints of the dwarf representative from said distant nation.
Then came the matter of the mercurial pump system, which hydromechanics from Alkenstar could easily solve if they were handed direct access to the Silver Sea. The engineers made some quick schematics and calculated that, if the celestial liquid behaved similar to actual water and taking the size of the mirror into consideration, they could guarantee a flow of 2 cubic metres per second (that's about 530 gallons).
So the party rented a skyship, loaded the iron golems, the engineers, a working crew, and some ingots of antimagic metal just in case, and headed back to Saltspit.
I told them things would be calm for the next two months, so we fast forwarded the events.
Chapter XXXI: A Matter of Water
Construction of the mercurial pump went along nicely. Though there had been some issues at first due to the constraints of sending the materials through the mirror, the engineers eventually figured out how to cut them down and rearrange them on the other side. A redundant pumping station was built on the shores of the Silver Sea along with the pipework necessary to carry the water (though it was left disconnected in order to leave as much of the portal unobstructed for now. Once completed, only a single person would be able to pass through the remaining portal surface at the same time, the rest being used by the pipes). Tests showed that mercurial water was lighter than regular water, so the pumps would be able to increase the flow by almost 30%. Some dredging had to be done to clear the area, disturbing some of the local wildlife, but besides some curious lantern archons and some adorable celestial bunnies (which were promptly caught and sold back in Saltspit as either exotic pets or rare delicacies), the works carried on without interruptions.
On the other side, the cisterns had been completed, and Hassan had another one built just in case. It would be able to hold 27,000 cubic meters, and another pump station was built in order for mercurial waters to be injected into a special pipe network that connected to spray towers placed in strategic locations around the city. The idea was that, should any kind of evil entity happen to pass by, the water cannons on these towers would be able to rain goodness all around.
Rakhim advised testing in advance, so they paid off some mercenaries to capture evil harpies and salamanders from the Brazen Peaks, as well as a mummy they dug up from the temple underneath. After showering them with mercurial water, they either turned good and started hugging everyone, or hissed in pain and melted down. In any case, it did exactly as advertised.
Chapter XXXII: A Date Long Overdue
In the meanwhile, Vorgok gathered a group of the toughest Brass Legion men he could muster and headed on an expedition into the Screaming Jungle in eastern Sargava. He still remembered the Horrible and Enormous Shapeless Thing Covered in Teeth That Spat Other Shapeless Things Covered in Teeth he had discovered during his time as the Pain Fairy, and he had all the intention of building a battle arena with that thing. Or at least throw it on the Pactmasters should they come back.
Teleportation could only get him so far, as casting powerful spells in Mwangi territory could anger the wrong guys, so he took the skyship and spent the next three weeks flying above or cutting through jungle, tigers, talking apes, and juju monsters. Eventually, though, they made it through and using the last bits of Terror Dust managed to track the aberration, which was hidden at the bottom of a temple dedicated to a forgotten blood god.
After literally wrestling the horror down, Vorgok cut it into manageable pieces, locked them inside steel boxes and loaded as many of them as he could into the ship (the barbarian had noticed the creature reformed whenever he or his men cut it down, so he figured it would be able to patch itself up once they unloaded it back home).
Back in Saltspit, workers had been turning the deepest slave pit into a battle arena -the poor sods that had "lived" there had been sent to the pit next door, which was so crowded now people died in their sleep from being suffocated, and the slavemasters had so many problems moving them through, they ended up building a ramp and throwing the slaves inside, then picking them up with a series of cranes and nets. Human Resources at its finest-, so when Vorgok returned, they hauled the boxes inside.
The arena itself was not finished, but they had already converted some of the tunnels into holding pens, deep enough that Vorgok hoped to be able to contain the monster. So one by one, he stood on the edge of the holding pen, opened the boxes with a hammer and quickly tossed the gargling monstrosities inside, which began fusing with each other as they piled up.
Rakhim showed up, and asked Vorgok if it wouldn't be safer to keep the parts separated rather than recreating the massive monster right in the middle of the city. The barbarian thought it a capital idea, so he jumped into the holding pen and wrestled the thing into submission once again, chopped it down and boxed it back. After the workers had finished preparing some more pens, he divided the boxes in five groups and left the content evenly split. Five large horrible abominations were easier to contain than one enormous one, after all.
Once it became operational, the arena became a centerpiece of Saltspit, gathering huge crowds to witness the always bloody and spectacular encounters. Hassan pressed for the income generated from bets to be destined to the Department of Public Works, which among other things devised primitive sewage system for the city that drained directly into the horror's pit, as they found out the thing consumed pretty much anything thrown at it, and as long as they kept burning it partially once a week, they could avoid it growing out of control. Eventually, a garbage and rubble disposal facility was erected next to the arena, with everything from broken tools to dead bodies being handed over to Monsieur Mangetout, as they eventually named the thing (Vorgok supposedly could differentiate between all five versions of Mangetout, but I wasn't quite convinced).
This led to the creation of a garbage collection crew, which had both the task of cleaning up the city and regularly setting Mangetout on fire, which substantially increased Saltspit's lifequality and rate of disappearing bodies. With the city swelling at a continuously faster rate ever since Katapesh went into economic crisis and immigration exploded, even the generally careless STC saw it necessary to start giving the place some kind of infrastructure.
Chapter XXXIII: A Penny for your Thoughts
The Department of Public Works was given a budget of 400,000 gold pieces per month. Assuming at least half of it would be stolen somewhere in the chain of corruption, 200,000 gps seemed enough to get the place running smoothly and then some. Streets were getting paved, a public hospital was built and put in the charge of the Church of Desna, the Brass Legion got a permanent headquarter made of actual stone with more latrines than anyone could ever need, and there was a brief experiment about using the noxious fumes from the sewers to empower a gaslight system, but after setting an entire neighbourhood on fire, it was determined that simply hiring torchbearers to light up heavy lamps during nighttime was more effective.
By this time, the Coinworks managed to reach full capacity, with the equivalent of 800,000 gp per day being processed. Due to the logistical complications of minting so many coins, most of it was poured into molds and set into 10-foot tall blocks of solid gold, which was then transported to the vaults beneath the palace. At 16,000 pounds of gold per day, though, even the most enthusiastic estimations grew short. There was simply too much money being produced, and increasingly less room to keep it.
I remember asking the group if they really cared about keeping it all safe, considering they had a virtually infinite supply. The looks they gave me clearly indicated the scale of their greed. So plans to build a monumental vault system were laid out almost immediatelly, including a flooded section for gondola trips.
As wondrous as the vault plans were, they would still need some serious protection. Valanar had the idea of binding outsiders to act as guards. The first attempt was a disaster, accidentally letting lose a demon with too many G and Z on its name to be pronounceable, which they managed to stop by showering it with a bucket of mercurial water. The demon melted down into a humanoid form that, among tears, could not stop thanking the party for washing away its sins, and pledged its life to their service should they choose.
The "cha-ching" thoughts in Hassan's head were almost audible. "We're so monetizing this right now".
Chapter XXXIV: Afterlife Ventures
The idea didn't take long to convince the rest of the party: They would use the mercurial waters pumped out from Celestia in order to wash away the sins of petitioners turned into devils and demons, and then take advantage of the renewed remains to see what they could get out of them. Hassan had originally intended to charge them, but it was soon evident they would probably have nothing to pay with, and it was unlikely that devils and demons would willingly pay in advance to be reduced into joyous leftovers. Instead, Valanar noted, they would have to aim at something else, such as the pledge offered by the one they washed earlier. Who knows, maybe they got lucky and found a long-lost archmage or someting.
Rakhim guessed that the waters would probably not work on particularly powerful ones, harming them rather than saving them, given that not all evil entities were originally good, some arising from evil itself, so they would have to keep their clientele on the lower tiers, which made the whole affair seem less interesting.
"We're not in the business of saving souls" Said Hassan "We're in the business of making business"
But just when he was about to scrap the idea, Valanar lighted up "But there might be some willing to pay precisely for that"
Valanar's plan was to get in contact with someone of power in the Upper Planes that would be willing to offer recompense in exchange of them saving tormented souls from the Lower Planes. They would create a demon-hunting brigade, snatch the wretches into Golarion, throw them into a pool of mercurial water and hope that they don't explode or turn into goo. Of course, they most likely would have to pose as johnny-do-gooders in order to convince the guys upstairs, but that could be taken care of easily. Jack sort of forcibly volunteered, as no one else in the party wanted to get alignment-changed due to fears about what that could eventually cause given their actions, and was designated as the STC's Heavenly Ambassador.
Vorgok commented over a cigar, a bottle of taldan brandy, and three women doing their best to massage the ulfen giant, why hadn't the angels done that themselves given they had a whole sea of the stuff, but with no one there to listen and the barbarian's mind going in a different direction, that slight inconsistency was left in the wind.
Valanar and Hassan took a leave of absence and teleported into Absalom, the greatest city in Golarion, to find people suitable to work in the demon-hunting brigade, deemed the Tactical Forgiveness Unit, but later nicknamed as the Piety Punchers.
Absalom has a very particular characteristic that makes it suitable to find that sort of labour: At its centre rises a massive cathedral which holds a relic known as the Starstone, a meteorite that fell to Golarion -supposedly summoned by aboleths in order to destroy the human race- said to be able to turn mere mortals into gods. Hundreds of heroes travel to this place from all over the world in order to enter the cathedral and go through the mysterious Trial of the Starstone, which if completed would ensure godhood. Despite the highpoints of heroes such as Iomedae and Cayden Cailean (who succeeded at the Trial by accident while drunk, becoming the god of ale and adventurers), most never accomplish their goal, and end up as depressed swords-for-hire filling Absalom's taverns and wenching houses.
It took them both a week, but eventually they gathered a crowd of 20 men valiant enough to dare venture into the Lower Planes to capture demons, dumb enough to ask no questions, and greedy enough to do it all for bags of gold. They brought the men back with them to Saltspit, and after a few days of preparation, sent them on their first mission: To capture a dozen lemures from Avernus, the upper layer of the Nine Hells.
Things escalated rather quickly. Though they suffered some casualties, the Piety Punchers proved to be quite effective, and soon Hassan decided to expand the operation by creating two additional brigades, the Godly Gobsmackers and the Saintly Stompers. Valanar had figured out that, if they were going to get any endorsement from celestial beings, the whole thing would have to seem honest, so they would have to carry on with some pro-bono sin cleansing for a while before trying to contact someone, in order to have something to show.
In two weeks of work, they got nearly 300 creatures cleansed, between minor devils, demons, and some things without clear classification they found in Pandemonium, before deciding to send Jack to get someone feathery on their side. There were some tense moments when a demonic commander got involved after the brigades apparently kidnapped some of its soldiers, but nothing that a band of 60 disgruntled heroes armed with liquid goodness couldn't handle.
On the side, the workers at the pumps had been reporting a marked increase in archon sightings.
Before travelling to Celestia in the company of almost 300 renewed souls, Jack had taken not one, but three dives in his personal mercurial bathtub before embarking through the mirror to try and contact someone that would hear their "pleas to help the tortured". Jack had become sort of addicted to using the liquid, washing himself with it every time he did even the slightest thing that could be deemed bad. He kept a pristine Lawful-Good alignment in the same way a hypochondriac keeps his hands germ-free by scalding them with boiling water and tears off his skin with industrial-grade cleaner. It was unsettling, to say the least.
He roamed the lovely puffy fields of Lunia for two days before being met by an angelic emissary of Cordelia, the Lady of Charity, which took him in for an audience with her mistress. Cordelia ruled from a monumental house of hospitality, where wounded angels from the Blood Wars were tended by the kindest of petitioners, whose hands could wash away all weariness, pain, and disease.
Or at least that's how it used to be.
Chapter XXXVI: Pissing in Paradise
What Jack was confronted with was more in line with what you could expect in a leprosy house out in Jerusalem after the Crusades: Dank, stinky air filled with the smell of putrefaction and disease, with wounded angels festering in their sores and covered in pustules. The petitioners themselves seemed weary and sick, and the whole place had an overwhelming aura of death and defeat.
Jack was confronted by a particularly angry Lady of Charity, whose blackened hair was dropping in dry tatters, eyes yellow with rheumatism. She gazed at the legion of bright-eyed saved ones with a mixture of disgust, remorse, pity, and anger, before calming down a notch and giving Jack a tour through the facilities. She stopped in front of a big marble fountain, from which thick, greenish water flowed.
"So it has been you who has poisoned our waters" She told Jack, trying to remain as calm as possible, evidently struggling "Filled our waters with sin and corruption"
All Jack could do was point at her with both hands, smile and say "Yeah, about that...."
Jack managed to get himself kicked out of the healing house by a mob of angry petitioners, and eventually made his way back into Saltspit.
After hearing what happened, the party decided on two things:
-First, they would considerably step up security around the pumps, fearing some sort of retaliation, now that they understood why archos where so keen on watching their actions. They thought for a moment about getting evil-infused rock from Avernus, but eventually came to their senses and remembered that the whole point was to seem like they were doing it for good. Instead, Hassan had the idea of sending elderly people from Saltspit into "healing groves" devised around the pumps (the elderly were selected through a lottery, which was sold at 1cp per ticket. it eventually became quite a success). The idea was to put so many frail people in the area that no good-aligned being would dare to mount an attack.
-Second, Valanar decided to take the negotiations on his own. Through their contacts in the Church of Desna, they managed to secure a priest in Oppara who would put them in contact with a powerful entity from Celestia. They offered a substantial donation to the church in exchange for the priest visiting them in Saltspit, and carried out the ritual, meeting with Aboras, one of the many servants of Desna.
Though Aboras had a disfavourable reaction at first (after all, Valanar does not exactly beam out with goodness), Valanar managed to convince him that the very reason they were doing this was to atone for their sins. His massively overpowered Bluff roll coupled with a Will saving throw to avoid having his mind read that passed by the skin of his teeth helped smooth things through, and eventually Aboras had to recognize that the party was indeed saving tortured souls from damnation. When one of the saved ones showed up to be a fallen former paladin of Desna (I gave them a 20% chance for it to happen, and they got lucky), it all clicked and Aboras decided to help the players.
After they explained them the issue with Cordelia, Aboras offered to act as an intermediary to calm off the Lady of Charity. Since the pumps were not attacked, the party assumed it worked, even though the waters had indeed started to turn thick, pestilent and slightly acid to the touch as their saving continued.
Valanar kept contact with Aboras, and together they worked on the organization of a better financed force. The angel offered the party access to substantial wealth, but the priest noted that they had enough money themselves. Instead, he asked for assistance in more meaningful, hard-to-attain ways.
Three weeks later, Aboras returned with a pack of old scrolls from Celestia's library, detailing three magnificent treasures that would be able to assist them.
Chapter XXXVII: Artifacts of Amusing Nature
The first was an item known as The Gatecrasher. This relic, apparently, was able to open portals across the planes by simply swinging it and smashing a surface, once employed by a great hero to save his people from destruction.
The Gatecrasher was hidden in Carceri, which gave me the chance to do some actual adventuring, adding a good measure of monsters from Greek mythology. So after spending some days fighting cyclops, chimaeras, and running away from an hecatonchire, they got their hands on a rather crude wood-and-cloth hammer, similar to those used to bang gongs. It was extremely heavy, so Vorgok was tasked with using it after Valanar had conducted some research. The scroll suggested that the person bearing the Gatecrasher would have to call out one of the ancient names for the planes it listed, strike a surface and then a portal would open. They tried out with "Icchabar", the ancient name of Golarion, and Vorgok smashed a wall open, sending everyone else flying in a blinding explosion of light and opening a 60-foot wide rift into Golarion.
The party arrived at a nondescript location in Varisia. Valanar was out of teleports, so they took the flying carpet and returned home after some days. On they way back home, they studied the other two scrolls:
-The Wellspring of Wellbeing: A mystical cauldron said to allow anyone within its vicinity to survive in even the direst of environments, thought to have been abandoned by its last owner in the Worldwound, and later recovered by a traveler who now posed as a prophet of the gods and used the Wellspring to perform miracles.
-The Quill of Carlovac: Made from a golden feather plucked from a sphinx, the Quill was supposedly employed by several powerful magicians throughout history to trap spells within scrolls and grimoires. It was currently kept as a relic in the headquarters of the Pathfinder society.
Chapter XXXVIII: Upping the Ante
The party spent a week in Saltspit coordinating and managing the city, and finally decided to head out to get those two other relics, except for Hassan, who wanted to stay back to work on his orbital golem plan.
This time he finally detailed what he wanted to accomplish, which made me understand his previous questions about the planes: He wanted to get multiple iron golems in geosynchronous orbit above the most important cities of the Inner Sea, filled with all manners of contingency spells ready to open a portal to the null region between the Negative Energy Plane and the Quasielemental Plane of Vacuum, releasing the nothingness there and obliterating everything around the impact area. He thought that, since iron golems heal 3 HP per point of fire damage and any excess gets turned into temporary HPs, they would amass so many temporary HPs due to the heat caused by atmospheric friction during planetary entry, that they would be able to survive the crash and release the spells on the impact zone. The crater caused by the crash proper would be icing on the cake.
Aluums didn't work because, unlike their brass golem cousins, they do not heal with fire, but rather from negative energy. So that explained his insistence on getting iron golems.
I ruled it made sense (Rakhim's player calculated the golem's terminal velocity and approximate heat generated by planetary entry, and from that determined the number of temporary HPs, but I don't have it in my notes. I do remember it being more than enough to survive the impact, even if I considered that the limit of 20d6 falling damage didn't really apply for such a scenario), though I still wondered how he planned on getting the golems up there, but Hassan's player was quick to remind me of the "Interplanetary Teleportation" spell from Ultimate Magic (I had allowed all material from the official rulebooks published for Pathfinder by Paizo, after all). He had originally intended to use a pack of resistance spells to survive the placing, but the Wellspring suggested a much less problematic solution.
So he remained in Saltspit planning the whole thing with Babaganoosh from the Caster's Union (the gnome had shown to be very easy to buy off, in the end, and as Hassan said "I trust people you can buy, so long as no one else can match my price. And who can? I have a fountain of gold. You figure it out"), while the party did some fun adventuring retrieving the relics, exposing the owner of the Wellspring as a fake (and stealing the cauldron afterwards). The Quill involved a lot of planning at first, trying to decide how to assault the Pathfinder Society's HQ, but they eventually found out that throwing Vorgok at things really was a more elegant solution.
Chapter XXXIX: Let's Just Screw Everyone Forever
Once everyone got back together, the party got a visit from Aboras. He had been tracking the party, and had found out about Hassan's plans. Worse yet, he had been running background checks and realized he had been far too trusting. So after an appropriate trumpeting arrival in the company of flaming archons, the angel gave a furious warning to the characters, heralding rains of stones and divine justice and all that. He carried a ridiculously long scroll with all the sins committed by the party, and proceeded to read them out loud in a correspondingly dramatic manner.
"Shit" Said Hassan "How do we get out of this one? The water will probably make these guys stronger, if anything. Plus we've lost a business venture. I don't like losing business ventures"
"Well, it is polluted with sin. Maybe it will harm them" Noted Rakhim "Though then again, he is an herald of Desna, and support will probably come quickly, even if we manage to bring him down"
Jack just washed himself histerically with mercurial water, while Vorgok debated himself between charging to chew the archon on the left or charging to chew the archon on the right.
Caught in the absurd bureaucracy of Heaven, Valanar guessed Aboras would not be able to carry actions against them until all their sins had been made evident, so he took Vorgok and whispered to him "Take the Gatecrasher, run through the mirror, then..." He shook his head " Scratch that. I need you to fail your next save"
The priest figured out it would be easy to just take control of Vorgok's mind than explain the whole thing, and the barbarian agreed.
So suddenly, Vorgok sprinted out of the scene, grabbed the Gatecrasher, jumped through the mirror into Celestia, ran across the pumping station, made a grotesquely high Acrobatics roll to dive into the Silver Sea, swam as deep as he could and, once in the bottom, called the name "Athabadak" and smashed the ground, opening a 60-foot wide rift into Avernus, the First Layer of Hell.
It took a lot of Swim rolls to be able to go up rather than into the rift -losing the Gatecrasher in the process. Valanar's player was pretty upset about that-, but Vorgok finally got out.
Behind him, the Silver Sea began pouring into Avernus, like a gigantic toilet being flushed, mixing the holy waters from Celestia with the corrupted earth of Baator. Flames erupted from the eye of the ever-enlarging whirlpool, and a shock of blackness began overtaking the waters, rising foul winds and withering everything on it touched.
Things weren't much better on the other side, as a tidal wave of mercurial water washed away sins in what pretty much was Sin Central, breaking the earth in explosions of white light and causing widespread destruction, pulling petitioners out from their tortures just to drown them in the current afterward or smash them against a rock.
Aboras panicked the moment the rift opened and connected Heaven with Hell, disappearing instantly and dropping the scroll, which Hassan promptly burned.
"No idea if it does anything, but just in case they don't have a backup" He said while sort of dancing on the remains, and then turned to Vorgok "Now what on earth did you just do?"
The barbarian shook his head "No idea. Ask the priest"
Valanar panted from the effort "Drove the angel's attention away from us. Their precious sea is now draining into Hell"
The party remained silent for a moment, until Hassan spoke "And what will happen?"
"Worst case scenario, they close it up and come back for us twice as angry; there is also the chance devils get angry at us too, and come to get us as well" Valanar responded "Best case, Celestia gets poisoned to its core and doesn't bother us anymore. There's also good chance that we have just created a new battlefront for the Blood Wars, and both sides will spend their time fighting around the rift, which won't close until someone finds the Gatecrasher, which considering how it fell into Avernus, seems unlikely for now"
"So, uhm, shouldn't we close the mirror?" Jack pointed out "It's kind of a disaster zone"
The party had been gazing through the mirror for a while, as Lunia quickly turned black from corruption seeping into its waters. Devils clawed out through the poisoned waves and began engaging the bands of angels, archons, and other holy beings gathering above the rift, and the whole thing just seemed right out from a medieval canvas.
"Good idea" Said Hassan, and uttered the words to close it. Some elders and workers had managed to get out, but several dozens were left behind. He covered the mirror and had some assistants take it to the palace "Perhaps it'll come of use later. If there really is a new battlefront, someone will have to provide them the weapons"
Chapter XL: Off to the Skies!
Those plans would have to wait, though, as right now the pressing matter was to get those golems in orbit. Alkenstar had been sending packs of 5 golems per trip, and with everything else covered, it was time to get working.
The party had been fearing for a while a retaliation from the remaining Pactmasters, but so far things had been quiet. That meant that either they had been properly scared and decided to stay out of their way, or were preparing for a bigger offensive. Both cases made orbital golems fundamental, noted Hassan.
A considerable amount of money was poured into the project, as as it went through they encountered a couple of issues:
The first one was that Babaganoosh's people, save for one, were unable to muster the level of arcane magic required to cast contingency portals into the Null Zone (as we ended up dubbing the area between the two planes). Help had to be brought from distant corners of the land, and the gnome was given the task of gathering it. The members of the Tactical Forgiveness Unit, now that good deeds were no longer profitable, were reorganized into the Business Enhancement Division, and their first mission was to assist Babaganoosh into getting what they needed, even if it needed some steel-glove slapping. Or perhaps specially if it needed some steel-glove slapping.
The second was setting up the whole issue regarding orbital coordinates and golem trajectories. Hassan wanted to set up golems on top of the most important cities, namely Oppara (Taldor's capital), Egorian (Cheliax's), Sothis (Osirion's), Almas (Andoran's), Katheer (Qadira's), Absalom (city-state, but perhaps the most important city of all), and, of course, Katapesh. He also figured out putting some on top of Alkenstar, Geb, and Mechitar would help in case the states directly to the south wanted to get frisky with the STC. So 50 golems spread across 10 cities meant 5 golems per target, more than enough to reduce all of them to nothingness (in his thought, of course, as he didn't exactly know how powerful would the strikes actually be. As per my own interpretation, they were a lot more powerful than what even Hassan thought they'd be, but of course I kept that to myself).
This problem forced the party to start hunting down for mathematicians, natural philosophers, and just about any kind of NPC that could help them with the dense level of calculations needed to get it right. A huge, NASA-like operation was set up next to the STC palace, with the alchemists from Arcane Services working on all manners of homunculi to serve as assistants and abbacus-handlers. Number crunching soared when they started casting Owl's Intellect en-masse, and more when Valanar got a hold of some gnomish Smartwater, though those who were given the liquid at first died from cranial explosions due to grotesquely swollen brains (some more died until they figured out the right doses).
We fast-forwarded to the point that the operations started taking shape. There were some minor incidents during that period, the only one of notice being something involving what the party suspected to be spies from someone in Katapesh (wasn't clear whether it was the Pactmasters or someone else from the Merchant Court. The party did still have the Prince in seclusion, after all, and the guy had some powerful allies. Then again, Rakhim assumed they were probably fighting over the scraps left by the former Grand Vizier, rather than worried about getting him free).
The 50 iron golems had been delivered (though the party did have to send a huge number of "hired" workforce to Alkenstar to hurry up the deliveries after the spy situation) and had been set up with the null charges and contingency spells. A landing platform (more for the style than anything practical) had been erected near the palace, on top of one of the old dirt piles left from the mine digging, on top of which the golems had been set up. All manners of working crews, magical analysts, structural inspectors, and whathaveyou skittered around them, magically-enhanced voices echoing through the place just to give it the right feel.
Standing on a balcony, Hassan rose a glass of wine to the rest of the party (except Vorgok, who had been sent to keep an eye on the Wellspring) "Gentlemen, I think words are in excess here. Let us simply bask in the glory of what is to come" After they toasted and drank, he turned around "Mister Babaganoosh, bring them up"
One by one, arcane crews, assisted by the Wellspring and reasonably scared into efficiency by Vorgok's presence began teleporting away with the golems, setting them up in orbit. One of them had a mishap and almost sent one of the golems intended to menace Oppara crashing down, but the barbarian prevented it by punching it back into place and using an Action Point to conveniently ignore the wonky physics involved.