The citizens of Northeast Dampbricks had spent the previous day restless and anxious over the latest in a string of related murders. The Abbey of Hector recruited both courageous citizens and young initiates from their own ranks, forming organized shifts of watchmen to patrol the streets and maintain posts in at-risk areas. This vigil may have deterred the murderer from striking, as the dark hours passed without incident.
Shortly after dawn on Millsday, two roguish figures passed through the streets, each tending to his own business. Petty Agent Wellington spent a few uninvited moments inside the ramshackle Hall of the Urchin Kings. Unimpressed by the vacant and dusty ground floor, he ascended the unstable stairway. Unconcerned with stealth or caution, Agent Wellington attracted the attention of one of the Urchin Kings, who curtly asked him who he was and what exactly in the hells he thought he was doing there. Unable to produce a satisfactory answer, the rookie agent was told in no uncertain terms to leave. As he descended the stairs, he felt at least one set of attentive eyes on his back.
A few blocks west, a cocky and underemployed private investigator by the name of Traudek Utgarde, of dwarvish lineage-complete with a background of years of enslavement which often haunts those of that stout race born within the borders of the Greater Gearmorgian Empire-posted himself on the fringes of a group gathered at the Community Market. Here he heard the rising of outraged voices proposing a plan to confront the suspicious herbalist Voz, proprietor of the Stinking Nightshade, a shop only a few doors down from Utgarde’s own office. Accusations of “cavorting with demons” and “witchery” were repeatedly shouted by this prototypical mob.
Around ten in the morning, crowds gathered outside the Temple of Nana. In the sacred grove, located in a courtyard protected by the walls and chambers of the temple, a pestilent rot had suddenly set into the largest of the apple trees. Several volunteers who had been clearing the ground of the diseased apples had been infected by small grubs, which oozed from the spoiled fruit and burrowed through their hands and forearms. These lay devotees were immediately taken to the infirmary inside the temple walls, where they were cared for by experienced healers. The word later in the day was that all were expected to make a full recovery.
Ichi, an eccentric and half-blind warrior priest of Hector, approached his superiors and was able to insinuate himself into a meeting between several of the Hectorians and a committee of the Nanan priestesses and priests in the late afternoon and early evening. At the meeting he learned more of the infected grove: the Nanan clergy would be conducting a protective and healing ceremony in the grove over the coming days, with the aim of healing the tree if possible, or at the very least of consecrating the grove against further plagues. The general consensus was that an unwholesome presence somewhere below the grove had tainted the soil and roots. The Nanans were eager to assemble an expedition to enter the sewers below the district in order to explore the problem. Tedrik, Chief Guard of the Abbey of Hector, had reached a similar conclusion earlier in the day, and was eager to send Ichi and a few other young initiates on this expedition.
During the commotion outside the Temple of Nana earlier in the morning, Traudek Utgarde had brashly confronted Agent Wellington. After overhearing the agent’s questioning of a local gnome recluse, Utgarde accused him of being a slaver and then threatened the young careerist with violence and dismemberment. This potentially deadly conflict was stopped by the intervention of several priestesses of Nana who were especially displeased with this bickering near the ground of their temple during an already stressful time. The scene between the two rogues also drew the attention of Chief Guard Tedrik, who called Agent Wellington over and lectured him on the authority of the Abbey of Hector in this part of Semnavoldt, as well as giving him a pointed tutorial in the unwritten law that the vigilante authority of Hector enforces in the area. He insisted that Wellington leave the area and return to his captain in Judes with the message that the investigative activities of the Department of Interior Information were not welcome beyond the Watchwalls which the Hectorians had erected as borders between the eastern and western parts of the city.
Agent Wellington nodded and agreed to the Chief Guard’s terms, then left the immediate area with no intention of acting on Tedrik’s injunction. During the early evening meeting between the two community temples, Agent Wellington continued to explore the Dampbricks area in pursuit of his own mission. He visited the Ratter’s neighborhood, where he targeted a young, bombastic gnome by the name of Lucky Silvers, who was entertaining a sizable group of local thugs with jokes and physical humor. Agent Wellington waited until the crowd dispersed, then fell in beside Silvers, attempting to hire his services for some silver. This plan backfired, and Agent Wellington found himself surrounded by hostile thugs in an alley. Quickly, he scrambled up an apartment wall to safety. Lucky Silvers half-heartedly pursued him, giving up the chase with drunken good humor and falling back into the alley with the grace of an acrobat.
At dusk, a young acolyte, Eleusis, emerged from within the chthonic stone walls of the Oracle of Cambrisia. Earlier in the day, Eleusis had received instructions from the high priestess of her order to act on a vision received during the latest Ami-Ami ceremony. El located a few local street kids and promised them a few coppers if they would send the leader of the Urchin Kings her way. After about an hour, a young Urchin King named Rasha showed up to inquire about what the acolyte needed. Slightly disappointed that no higher-ranking king had responded to her summons, Eleusis nonetheless explained her vision to Rasha, who was entranced by the story and interested in assisting Eleusis in finding the five people in her vision: “two warriors, a laughing elf, a shadowy man, and a gnome woman.” Eleusis, however, was reluctant to leave the temple; with some cajoling, Rasha eventually persuaded Eleusis to leave the sanctuary of the Oracle in order to fulfill her duties.
After a brief stop at the Stinking Nightshade to purchase cafune from Voz and inquire about the misty, other-planar humanoid called “Thusselwesset” that Voz had introduced Eleusis to the night before, Eleusis and Rasha paid a visit to the nearby office of Traudek Utgarde. While Eleusis tried unsuccessfully to get more information from Voz about Thusselwesset, Rasha was sent over to Utgarde’s. After knocking on the door, Rasha was at a loss of what to tell the dour dwarf aside from, “My friend Eleusis wants to talk to you. She’ll be here in a minute.” Utgarde was put out by the seemingly pointless intrusion, and as is his way, antagonized her in hopes of making her want to leave. Unfortunately for him, the buoyant, carefree young Urchin King, although irritated by his hostility, told him to relax and wait for the priestess.
When Eleusis arrived at Utgarde’s office, the two engaged in a tense conversation about her vision and the nature of reality and religion. On the one hand, the acolyte was determined to convince this dwarf of ill disposition and manners that his services were essential to the well-being of the community. For his part, Utgarde remained unconvinced of the veracity of her vision or the importance of her mission. Only when she agreed to bankroll him at a monthly fee of ten gold drachmas did he drop his reservations and join the common cause.
From there, this motley group of three proceeded towards the Abbey of Hector, in search of the enigmatic warrior-priest Ichi. To their surprise, Utgarde’s earlier adversary, the highly unpopular Agent Wellington, was spotted nearby. Eleusis mediated between the two rogues and eventually convinced them of the need to put aside hostilities; rather, she seemed to persuade Wellington, and reminded Utgarde that he was now working for her. Revealingly, Utgarde set his own moral code aside when reminded of the sum of ten drachmas he would be receiving as a monthly wage.
Moments later, Ichi approached, part of a group of half a dozen Hectorians. His own goodwill and interest in serving the community combined with a reverence for Eleusis’ visionary powers led him to agree to join the fledgling party as they sought the two women of the vision: the laughing elf and unknown gnome. They headed to the Joyous Slaker, where Ichi had met Alena, the elf from the acolyte’s vision, just the night before.
Before they could enter this tavern, which advertised itself as “a house of pleasures”, the dark brick of the avenue before them exploded upward. An enormous worm, dripping with grease and pungent ichor, burrowed up from below. As this horror rose like a column into the early evening air, Agent Wellington, quick of reflex, sped forward with drawn broadsword and dealt it a punishing gash. The acolyte, half-blind warrior-priest, and jaded dwarf were less successful in their attacks. Rocked by its sudden injury, the worm opened its great maw and unleashed an unfathomable scream, an agonizing bass shriek, which was accompanied by a radial expulsion of repulsive excrement and grease. Shockwaves of ichor and rumbling assaulted all within thirty feet. Overcome with fear, Eleusis and Wellington, along with Ichi’s dog, Pretty, abandoned the area as quickly as they could. Seeing her friend traumatized in this way, Rasha finally unsheathed her longsword and plunged it deeply into the worm’s putrid flesh. With a convulsion, the creature fell, dying, onto the street. Bricks broke and were tossed into the air like dust as the thing impacted the ground.
Fascinated with this grotesque giant, Utgarde approached the creature’s mouth, curious about the sharpness of its teeth. Perhaps he could pull one from its rubbery maw and fashion a crude but effective blade? Not so; the teeth were blunter than he would have liked. Yet he did notice a fascinating occurrence: the spongy gums dripped with an acrid green substance. When drops of this slime fell onto the soft limestone sections of road, it fizzed and created pock-marks. Taking one of his daggers in hand, Utgarde slid the blade across the gums, touching the metal to the weird substance. The metal held; the corrosive liquid did not effect it. Intrigued at the possibility of coating his blade with this corrosive poison, Utgarde plunged his sword into the worm’s gullet, then withdrew. He watched the dripping substance harden on the blade after only a moment. It expanded to form a thick crust which made the blade unwieldy. Grunting, the dwarf slammed the encrusted blade against the road several times, and the encasement shattered into chunks and bits. These he gathered into his backpack, suddenly inspired to take them to the alchemist Voz at the Stinking Nightshade; surely he would be familiar with this stuff.
But Voz, though clearly fascinated by the crusted corrosive, claimed ignorance. “This is the best news I’ve had all day!” enthused the herbalist when Utgarde told him of the worm. The dwarf pressed the unwashed wizard for answers, refusing to believe that this arcane professional had no knowledge of the worm that had so recently broken through to the surface. Remembering the mob from earlier in the day, Utgarde insisted that if Voz did not tell him what he knew of the worm and the recent murders, “they”
-the mob-would be coming for him. Voz, disliking the dwarf’s issuing of such threats within the walls of his own shop, told Utgarde to leave. The dwarf refused. The alchemist-wizard gave a display of his power: from a distance, he caused the door on a tall, multi-leveled iron cage to open, releasing a hoard of some forty giant rats. These moved as if under the wizard’s command, stopping just short of Voz’s impertinent visitor. Still, Utgarde blustered and bluffed, insisting that the wizard tell him more. Voz had had enough. The rats lunged to consume the short demi-human. It was then that Utgarde fled quickly. As he ran away, he heard the door slam and lock behind him.
Back at the Slaker, Alena had joined the group after the battle with the worm. From inside the tavern, while they all ate dinner, James Wellington spotted, from the window at his side, the gnome woman he had met earlier in the day, now snooping curiously around the wormhole. In half a moment, the dinner party had her surrounded and were imploring her in all sorts of ways to join them. The gnome basically told them all to screw off.
Only after Utgarde had returned, fuming from his encounter with Voz and suggesting that they all go burn his shop down, did this gnome, Serenio, become interested in the goings-on in Dampbricks. But it took Rasha’s sudden comment of, “Um… Traudek… I don’t think you’re going to need to set fire to the Stinking Nightshade…” to hook Serenio into the activities in her district. And they could all see it from where they stood: some quarter-mile to the southeast, the Stinking Nightshade had been torched and was burning, casting a feverish haze of red flame and fire in far-reaching columns. The angry mob that Utgarde had heard earlier and threatened the alchemist with had indeed struck. The flames consumed the wood front of the Nightshade, but did not stop there; they leaped across the alley and razed Utgarde’s own office, as well as two other wooden buildings on the block. Only when Hiraevun decided it was time, and sent a torrent of night rains, did the flames die. Yet in the ruins of the Nightshade, a smoldering stone structure remained.