h4. Journal of Montadoro Gaspar De La Silva
Malleus 7, Cinten, 606 AR
Expedition Day 12
The Rusty Bucket, a river trawler, swung to her anchor without a flutter of the sails, and was at rest. The flood had made, the wind was nearly calm, and being bound down the river, the only thing for it was to come to and wait for the turn of the tide.
Our party had set out from Tarna on Vendarl 7, Cinten—the Shroudfall. A good omen, I’d hoped, for a journey down the Dragon’s Tongue River, reaching for Merin at the behest of my newfound employers. It had been nearly two weeks since I’d been called to Berck, sought by the Strangelight Workshop with plans for a mission into the south. By the Twins, I should have been more skeptical, but as ever my lust for adventure fills me, and I journey on.
For an expedition such as this, the fair team I am afforded is for the most part adequate, if principally unfamiliar to me. The Workshop has supplied me with an Alchemist (a Rhulic fellow of peculiar character), a Gunslinger (supposedly one of note in Five Fingers), and an Officer (apparently of Cygnaran rank and blood, brevetted to the Workshop for reasons unknown to me). By my own coin I have also employed a Guide (a familiar Farrow explorer, whose services I’ve retained in the past), and an able Mechanik (a Trollkin of Ordic city-stock, familiar to my Guide).
As the light of Artis was lastly extinguished, and Laris faded behind the dawn’s awakening, our trawler came to rest at the banks of a clearing, naught in sight but a weather road leading West. Aside our Guide and Officer I went ashore, spotting smoke in the distance as the road leads. Through spyglass we perceived a village, wrecked and aflame in the morning sun.
The rest of our party disembarked, leaving the trawler to its crew, and we commenced toward the village to investigate. Along with the Mechanik came his Laborjack, although appareled as it was one might mistake it for a Warjack. The Officer and Gunslinger scouted ahead, and upon their signal we entered the remains of the village, with its streets of burnt-out houses and charred corpses. As we entered, I made prayer to Menoth and Morrow alike that they shepherd these poor folk to the Cities beyond Caen.
All the while we searched the town, our Guide remained uneasy, his eyes set to something in the distance—a flock of fell rooks with unnatural eyes, which had shadowed our company since we departed our ship, and yet always withdrew upon our approach. Their like is unknown in this area, he assured us, and by his connection to Dhunia’s power he could feel some unholy sorcery upon them.
At a noise we hastened to a building, finding within a young village girl hidden inside a compartment beneath the fallen body of what I assume to be her mother. The Officer was harsh with her, as I have watched so many castellans with their “lessers”, but something about her pulled upon my heart and to my mind sprang the hymns to Rowan I’d learned as a youth. I have now taken the Child as my own ward, and she travels with my company. She related the tale of what she knew of those who’d destroyed her town, and their arrival from (and presumed departure by) the north road not long ago.
We hastened along to road, hoping to catch the villains responsible for the town’s sacking, as all the while the red-eyed birds preceded us. After a short distance we happened upon a man propped against a tree, his tattered vestments were that of the Crucible Guard, and the blood upon the ground was that of a man with little time left on Caen. By the Alchemist’s arts and the Dhunians’ aid we revived him long enough for us to realize we shared a common enemy, whose nature and plans he was able to inform us. But even had one of Solovin’s chosen been present, I doubt he could have been saved, and he expired as Artis’ first light began to shine in the evening sky. By their own rites, and by our Guide’s concerns for the fell arts, the Dhunians in our company (our Mechanik and Guide) laid the man to rest and set his body to the torch to become one with the world again.
Making camp in a small clearing just in the wood, we set down for the night with plans to take up the trail at dawn’s first light. Our Guide took first watch, and set to preparing a warding circle about our campsite, as was his way, while the rest of us bedded down near a great oak. Only the Gunslinger was wise enough to take rest high in the tree, fastening himself with rope to the thick base of a branch.
All was runes and gunsmoke as I awoke to a clamor, some arcane warning sounding in my mind as our Guide’s scattergun let fly into dark figures I could just see in the moons’ light. Our company roused quickly, reports echoing from around the camp and even in the trees. As our foes entered the warded site, their movements became slowed and clumsy, and they fell to gun and blade and, most disturbingly to the Child, to gouts of arcanic power.
Each member of ourh6. party made a good accounting of himself in combat, but as we laid low these shambling corpses, my alarm turned to horror upon the realization that these were not simply random risen. No! These were the animated bodies of the townsfolk we had passed earlier, slain as they were in their homes now set about to stalk the night and hunt the living. To ensure they would not rise again, we gathered the remains and the Mechanik burnt them to ash.
After this confrontation, I did not sleep well the rest of the night.
h4. Donard 1, Cinten, 606 AR
Expedition Day 13
At dawn our party set off in pursuit of our quarry, traveling most of the morning until we spied a small farmstead in the distance and heard the sound of battle. The Officer, Alchemist, and Gunslinger reconnoitered the scene, and sent back word that a brawl had commenced between our prey, who by our estimation were of Khadoran origin, and a large warjack clutching a body. Although the Machine escaped into the forest, we set upon the remaining bandits, thinning their numbers and besieging the rest in a barn. Their leader, looking every part the Greylord, demanded we depart, and held hostages against our entry.
Devising a scheme, the Alchemist tossed within the building one of his grenades to stun the perpetrators, while the Gunslinger entered through a side passage and dispatched the remaining brigands. What little we could learn from the last rogue, whom we captured and bound and forced to speak, was that they went into the village chasing an Arcanist, Bowden Haightly, a worker of magic and arcane student, who carried with him a copy of the Librum Mekanecrus—a book containing multitude arcane secrets to do with the melding of mechanika with Orgoth sorcery. Indeed, it was this man we saw carried away by the Machine, although the book we found within the barn, hidden amongst a tool bench.
The words of the page were none that I could read with familiarity, but the Guide and Alchemist seemed to be able to discern some information from its page, mostly to do with arcane formulae and a great secret that the Arcanist had set about unlocking. From what we could devise, however, his works had been interrupted, stalled, and somehow gone awry.
h6. If this dark magic now, somehow, propelled the Machine we observed fleeing prior, then the destruction it might have wrought was enough for us to resolve to pursue it, seeking is capture or destruction. Abandoning the Greylord to the justice of his former captives, we made haste to the tree-line where the warjack had crashed through the foliage, a trail of snapped branches and deep footprints in its wake.
In a clearing, the light of the high sun casting brightly into the dark forest, we came upon our quarry, holding still the body, but now with spear raised in aggression. A sound like screaming, nay, speaking came from the Machine’s boiler, and in the noon light we could see the body the Machine held was as lifeless as any we had come across before. Although it bore the vestments of Haightly’s order, the skin’s pallor and decay were sign enough of its passing. We held back from the Machine, devising a plan to slay it, and again its voice screamed out in the steam, and words came into our minds—a plea for help.
At last it dawned unto us all that the body, lying there still and without breath, was in fact Haightly, but he had not died. By some dark magic, some secret of the Librum Mekanecrus, his mind, his soul had been set into the Machine itself. Haightly was the warjack, and the warjack was Haightly.
In haste we attempted reason with Haightly, promising to help him if only he could subdue the madness that had driven him hence to such a place. In this, our Mechanic proved an unexpected diplomat, allaying the Machine’s fears, withstanding its grip, and promising help if it were wanted. With the skills of a priest he calmed Haightly, and with the skills of a surgeon he removed the cortex, all in haste, mind you, as our Guide had become uneasy in the clearing, spying more of the unearthly crows, no longer pulling away from us but now menacingly circling overhead.
The first shot rang out, sharp and vicious, just as the Mechanic detached the final cortex locks. A large number of some unknown enemy now hurried towards our position from the northeast, firing at extreme range but drawing ever closer. We ran back towards the farmstead as quickly as we were able, leaving the hulk of the Machine far behind and at last reaching the road, little worse for wear. We waited at the tree-line, but our foes did not reveal themselves, and after a time spent in readiness we departed for our vessel, which we reached that very night.
Moored to the docks we stayed until the morning, the watch doubled out of caution, but we were not disturbed that night. Despite the peril, I slept soundly, once again in my bunk upon our vessel, waiting to begin our mission.