Under the Steel Web

Who knew there were so many busses in Arad?
In which most of the party is metaphorically run over

With the mounting delays on entering Spider Central as the Archbishop and the Lord Mayor hammer out their issues, the Brothers Battle decide to suppress the troubles in Carbon City (with aid from the Countess Decados on choice of action). The Muster hang out in the vicinity, hoping to scavenge slaves, and see the Civic Police creeping in. Jabari alerts Victor, and then goes in; the Civic Police begin supressing the masses, and the Brothers Battle, led by Victor, come to deal with their share of the troubles. They surround and liquidate a recalcitrant building, which Victor presents as a warning to Jabari to not betray him. Victor gives an interview in which he does not mention that al Malik, who had their forces arrayed to assist the Civic Police. Shula forges a writ preventing the interview from going live; Seffia instead gives an interview in which she barely mentions the Decados or the Brothers Battle. The Church decides to go into Dark City to win more credit. Victor proposes that the Eskatonic brothers should go in first, preaching peace, either in Spider Central or in Dark City; he presents this to Father Sook as the only way to get back into the graces of the Church.

So: Sook thrown under the bus by Victor.
Victor thrown under the bus by Shula (but doesn’t know it).
Jabari thrown under the bus by Victor.
Victor thinks he’s been thrown under the bus by Jabari.
Valentine thrown under the bus by the Church.

That’s a lot of busses.

A cascade of duels
Time and Place for Everything

After Valentine kicks them all out of the lair because he needs to make it spider safe, they journey to their homes and think on what they have seen. In the morning, they rendezvous for food, although Valentine is not there, sending a message that he must secure his place. They discuss plans for what to do about the spider cult: meeting the girl Mari is certain, but what to do with her? And the others? Perhaps to take drawings of all the Found. Across the radio comes an announcement of riots in Spider Central, which change all plans, and everyone agrees to look into matters and confer again in the evening.
Outside the Hawkwoods race by, striking at passerby. Viktor draws and cuts a tire quite suddenly, and a Hawkwood tumbles. He rises, angry, and is confronted by a Li Halan who challenges him. It is Ishi, whose brother has been abandoned by the Hawkwood, who is being married into the al Malik. This has caused the tension between the Decados and the al Malik, for the Decados are concerned that the other house is moving closer to the main body of government. But before a duel can start, Viktor forbids it. The Hawkwood angrily challenges him to a fight, but Viktor again denies the duel: it is Church territory, and dueling is not tolerated there. But perhaps at the Soft Palace. Jabari has been fixing the slashed tire, but Viktor now shoots the bike’s engine, and the Hawkwood storms away.
A reporter closes on Viktor and interviews him briefly. He makes the news that night.
In the interval, much information is gathered about various alliances and disagreements, and about the old Eskatonic who is harboring strange visitors, perhaps the escapees from the Warrens, who are perhaps the murderers of the technicians who have died of late.
They get back together and share their information. Viktor has discovered he may have to go into Spider Central to back the Civic Police. Shula and Gray go to meet with Saffiya. She makes a call that she assures them will delay the entry into Spider Central. The Muster gather to scoop up slaves there. Sook meets with his Order, and the old man who was his mentor speaks disparagingly to him about coddling technology, and about the need to kill guild members, and then leaves without asking permission. The rest of the Order does not leave.
The bells to call the Brothers Battle to be ready start to ring…

A Time of Rumors
True, False, Other?

Rumors were rampant: the al Malik and the Decados are having a falling out; duels between the Li Halan and the Hawkwoods; strange dreams of aliens; dying Archbishops. Some were true. Some were false. And one was investigated, of a man who was looking for his missing sister. He did not use a real name (Mr. Jones, instead), he did not offer many details. He said she had been taken by the spiders to Spider Central, and that there she stayed. For a week. But he offered a large reward, and they were intrigued though they suspect he is lying, he is setting them up, he is an agent of evil powers. But still they agreed to scout out the matter and see what they could see. But what was scouting? In the end, it was Gray and Jabari and Shula skulking through the streets, and hearing strange conversations mutedly from hidden rooms, and seeing sketches of those labelled “The Missing” and seeing a figure, maybe a woman, in a heavy robe walk to one of the Anchors, meet a spider, and be carried aloft.

They retreated, regrouped, and decided if they were to continue, to do so with the missing Father Sook, because so many of the inhabitants of Central are Pancreator fanatics. And so it is.

Moving Books
Getting Bernard out turns out to be trouble, sort of

After the retreat of the double of Sister Steal, they continue to sort and pack books, but it grows obvious they have done all they can. They suggest that perhaps a second trip would be well, taking out books but coming back for more quickly. So they load up, creep forth, and hear from above, from Zulema’s tribe, various calls and hoots which suggest that perhaps a second trip is unlikely. Perhaps it will not happen. So they come to the plug, and creep out, and Jabari takes the lead. He cuts open the papier mache barrier and there is a gun in his face; the civic police has arrived. He blusters, he shows his marks of favor, and he is marched off to speak with the Commandant. Three guards remain behind; the rest of the group had been listening, and now Victor comes forth. He blusters, he notes his rank, and he lies about how many of the group remain, and he is led off to meet he Commandant as well, taking with him all the police. So the rest of the group migrate their books out, taking some trips because there are two strong men gone, and then gather up the slaves who are to port the books. Grey and Valentine speak to their watcher, Simon, and bribe him solidly to continue to help and keep a lookout. And then the tech trio head out to Al Malik lands while Father Sook returns to the Cathedral. The other two speak with the Commandant and settle affairs quickly, and then head to their respective homes. The books and Bernard are turned over to the Al Malik, and their value is to be assessed; Victor makes a good impression on the Seamstresses; and a meeting is meant to be had of all of them, to assess what is next to occur, and to figure out the value of what they have done.

A Rush To Trade
Things are given, things are gotten

As they enter, Zulema’s people have a thing for them. A very valuable thing. It is a laser rifle, long and nearly perfect, but not working. Valentine trades for it, giving up all their spears and food in exchange for the massive thing. After, they head to Bernard’s chambers rapidly, and they find him cranky and ill prepared for that they are very early indeed. He insists they help him, a few to sort books, and Shula to use the think machine she has borrowed to scan those pages of books not intrinsically valuable enough to carry. Victor says he will hurry to make trades with the Huli Hulis, who he has gathered things for; and to the Steel Priests, who he alone is still eager to trade with. So off he goes, and comes to the Huli Hulis who are willing enough still to trade, for darts, and give him three vials of different toxins, each made of strange and uncertain fungi. And then he comes to the gates of the Steel Priests’ enclave, and enters, and is taken to Sister Steel. But it is obvious, quickly, that she does not care for the trading; she is seeking something from Victor, and perhaps using psychic powers to get it. And there is no real trade, and Victor is dismissed. While he is trading, there is a knock at Bernard’s door, and there is Sister Steel, perhaps, with some of her guards, and there is a fight, a terrible wounding fight for some of them, but she is driven off with a few of her followers, and then Victor returns, and then they realize they must soon leave, or there will be more trouble soon.

Out again, and planning back in
They love the Warrens, don't they?

While there is uncertainty about who will trade, and how, they still must leave and return in any case because there are many deals with many folk, not just the Steel Priests. So they must leave, and they do; they must gather up supplies, and they do. There are foodstuffs gathered, and clothes; darts and spears; a great many things of all sorts. And then after much preparation they at last reenter, having done careful dances with the Hazat to figure out good times to do so; having hired slave labor to carry things for them; having consulted with the Al Malik about librarians and the interest in the same which the house might possess; having spoken to the Turk, even, who loathes all humans, or perhaps only claims to? So at last they come back in, after only a handful of days instead of the two weeks they meant to give them, and they are forced to reenter the Warrens. But by now one must think they’re fond of the place, with how often they come in. A building outside has been collapsed to provide cover for the slaves; someone has come and gone in the interval but is departed already; and someone else has crept out, perhaps of the tribe called the Pilgrims? But that is in the past already, and they must enter, so they do. There is no body in the entry chamber now.

This is Cursed, Those are Wasted, This is Bad
The Warrens continue to reveal their awfulness

Jabiri and Victor climb up the hatch, and then see something in the darkness of the shaft far above them: a spider? Jabiri shoots at it, and it is indeed a spider, which drops terribly fast almost crushing the Muster before he dodges. The two fight it, while all the other calculate the chances that the spider can get to them, and assess it as not possible. The elevator lurches slightly down more than once as the fight progresses. Victor proves able to injure the spider: his ferocious dueling style is dangerous even to whatever alien things they are. But Jabiri is hurt, reasonably badly, and retreats; Victor is injured as well, and retreats, and the spider returns to its haven. All agree that the place is just as cursed as recommended.
They return to Zulema’s tribe, who have no patience for them. Passing back to the entry hall, they head the other way, toward the tattooed man, who they soon in fact encounter. He is a fanatic psychic who is against technology with fervancy. His tribe do not use it, and will not trade for it, but he will let the characters take any they find. He tells them of the Steel Priests beyond him, and of the Huli Hulis just inward of them, and they decide to pass through his territory to that of the Huli Hulis, who grow much fungus. On a hill of rubble in the black-coated territory of that tribe, they encounter a rather distracted young man, lean and covered in black smears that turn out to be fungal growths. His tribe produces many kinds of fungus, and are constantly afflicted by various mental fugues, it seems. But they agree in theory to trade darts for their blowguns for various poisons and drugs. From the Huli Huli territory the characters push back out to the gates of the Steel Priests, where they are welcomed with some hesitation, and taken to meet with Brother Blessing, spiritual head of the group (their martial head is called Sister Steel). Brother Blessing rests in a fancy bed in a chamber above a guard room and a room filled with large wooden lockers. He speaks gently, and is friendly, and offers even to heal the injured ones, as he is of the Sanctuary Aeon. But his belief is admittedly heretical: the Steel Priests are bound together by wounding and healing. Brother Blessing injures them all, and heals all the injured. He himself is not much more than a torso with a right arm, needed for his rites. He tells them that unless they “join” by being healed, which requires them to be wounded, there will be no trade for the valuable goods that Sister Steel secures. But he can freely give healing to the two injured men, who accept it; then Allen Sook accepts the burning ritual and the healing which follows; but all three of the tech contingent refuse for different reasons, and the impasse of whether and how to trade remain.

The Book Man
A man with books, and a woman with information

They travel into the Warrens, cautiously, and hide when a light comes from one passage. A tattooed man and another with rebar knives appear, but do not see the hidden characters. They comment on the body and leave. Down the other passage, and they encounter another gang/tribe, who have offered to trade with the other explorers, and are willing to do some trading with the group as well, only they have very little of any value. But a little later, the group finds, or is found by, an old man named Bernard who has a secure chamber full of books; he is a scholar, and has valuable things that they can certainly trade for, though mainly he is interested in bullets. Or in getting out, which is what they really offer him. They are to return in two weeks by which time he will have selected the best and most important books. They leave and speak to the gang which lives above and about him, headed by a woman called Zulema: she says there is an old stronghold, yes, an old lair, but it is long abandoned. But they can take a guide, a boy called Scabs who can show them where it is. They go with Scabs and come eventually to a sealed elevator, which Jabiri and Victor pry open. Inside are two long dead bodies, and an open maintenance hatch.

Listening to Rumors, and Acting on Them
A man in the window turns out to be of some use

Days pass. Rumors swirl in the city that something is happening in the Warrens: has loot come out of the place? has a coffin been removed from it? are the Hazat going to crack down? In any case, inquiring folk seek to find out what has happened. Our heroes already know. But the Inquisition is sniffing about, and that’s trouble. They are deflected, for now, but Brother Marcus may be trouble later still. Our heroes gather and discuss reentering the Warrens, but not, perhaps, by the gates. Shula has stories of an old dig in one of the walls of the Warrens, not far from Foul Lakes, which might have gone deep enough to allow entry. So Shula and Gray and Valentine cut through the Lakes, menaced by a mutant who Gray disposes of promptly, and then they come to the Warrenwall. There is something there, that’s certain, something that’s been plastered open, a shaft like a mine’s. An eye peeks out from behind a curtain, and Valentine issues a bribe to not notice the three of them. The curtains close. But then another group comes along; Gray and Shula hide; Valentine does not, and is shooed off. But he watches from afar, and the others from nearby, as the other group cuts open the plastered door to the shaft, and then enter, and then one of them stays behind and seals the way. The man at the window asks if this should not be noticed, but it should, says Valentine. Our heroes meet up and share this news, and as they talk, one of the party who entered shows up at the Tendril and buys a round for all. Victor chats him up, and learns enough to know that they made a big score of some sort, and ingratiates himself enough that he’ll be contacted if they seek to enter again. But there is a window of opportunity, and so the group decides to attempt the plastered entry themselves: they bring a manservant, who seals up after them, and they crawl through a narrow passage, and open a hatch, and are in the Warrens, in a dark place with a dead man, they know not where.

In Which Our Heroes Escape with Loot
They can get it, but can they keep it?

As they pause outside the vault, spider locked within, they realize another is coming, and they move on rapidly. Victor and Jabari carry the generator as the six make their way back to the Ashfaces. But in the clearing there, the Ashfaces are threatened by a mob, who seek the outsiders. There is a struggle, and the mob is battered and beaten and flee. The surviving Ashfaces are offered the freedom of slavery if they accompany the six, but misunderstand: they think only one will be allowed. One of them emerges victorious: Garrett Cinder, who slays the others and then takes the six with him toward the Stumptown Gate. On the way, they encounter the Skulls, who are a tribe of savages who gather skull. Cinder has told them that they can send a champion to fight the Skull champion: Victor volunteers. If he wins, they can pass freely. If he loses, they must pay a tithe and go back the way they came. The fight is long and tough, but Victor, although injured, wins. They push on toward the gate, and when the sun ends, they leave, paying a tithe to the watchmen; Allen Sook having converted and comforted a few others.

Outside in the city they make their way to Dark City, where Valentine has his lair. His partner Solomon and the rest discuss what to do with their goods: Allen Sook will take the scrolls of the church; Valentine will keep the generator but all the group will share the benefits; the jewels will be sold and the profits split. And the next day, they all gather to discuss matters, and determine that they will work in some degree of partnership to gather and scavenge loot from the Warrens, where they suspect much more remains to be found.


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