Broken Lands

Prelude
The Taxman Cometh

New Carlston, one of the few old world cities not buried under sand, was left abandoned until a little less than thirty years ago. Its resettling has been almost entirely due to the force of will and personality of one Morgan Blain.

Torkk had been here for some time. Long enough to establish himself as something of a numbers savant. He’d always reported directly to Mr. Blaine but had never felt as if he were a part of his inner circle. For the better part of a decade Torkk had been his tax assessor and had focused on working the towns of the southern desert. A tough lot who take pride in their freedom, his success had been mixed. In the early years, when he focused on the nearer towns, he had many wins. The further south he moved though, the tougher it became.

Corsica. It’s something of a phenomena as far as southern towns go. There’s a Marshal there, Marshal Raith, who’s managed to build up something of a militia which has helped grow the town over the years. They’ve never agreed to pay any taxes despite Torkk’s best efforts and the Marshal’s reasoning has always seemed sound. They’re just too far. There’s no way New Carlston could actually provide help if they ever needed. And transporting resources that distance to help with infrastructure… not likely. Despite the refusals Torkk had always been treated as a welcome guest.

As important as Corsica is to Torkk’s job, it stood out in his mind for an entirely different reason. Two men, one woman, and a small folk. They all have it. They all share the strange mark that covers a good part of Torkk’s torso and arm. He couldn’t help but chuckle as he thought about the time when the Halfing, Leo, showed him his.

“Hey I got one of those too! Look!” as he turned around, bent over, and promptly dropped his trousers.

Torkk had gotten to know them all, to varying degrees. Athen, Erik, Layla, and Leo. As he thought it over he realized that he might even consider some of them friends. Huh…

Torkk sat in his bosses office and just knew that he was about to tell him to go to Corsica. Which would be weird since he was usually left to his own devices in deciding where the job will take him. Mr. Blaine handed him a glass of whiskey that he’d just poured. It was a real glass. An actual, delicate, glass. As Torkk took it he had a brief imagining of the journey to Corsica he knew was coming. A shadowy pall spreads across the image.

The image lasted only an instant. Morgan Blaine was talking and it’s hard to not pay attention to this man. Morgan Blain is a big man with a bigger beard in a three piece suit and bowler hat. He talks big, is all smiles, and has an uncanny ability to deliver a threat while being perfectly polite and friendly. He is a man of power and all around him know it.

What Torkk knew already was confirmed. He was to go to Corsica and convince them to pay taxes.

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Chapter 1
The Raid

He travelled south through the city towards the Garage. The Garage was an old intersection complete with an entry to a largely intact underground parking space, an old gas station long dry of fuel, and an old machine shop. It also began the first road one could get to that had a clear path out of the city to the south.

Typically Torkk made these trips alone. This time though he had a driver. He was armed and didn’t seem too friendly. A show of force perhaps? Someone to keep tabs on him? Or maybe just someone to keep him safe and get him there as quick as possible? The driver told Torkk they were already fueled up and got in the car. As Torkk approached he realized that the group of men at the southeast corner weren’t the usual grease monkeys he typically saw at the Garage. In fact, they look like raiders.

Funny thing is, they weren’t raiding. They were loitering around as if they owned the place. As he wondered at their presence he caught a few bits of their conversation.

“… but are you sure boss? Ain’t ne’er been worth it before…”
“… damn Marshals a tough sounbitch…”
“… trust me boys it’s worth it this time.”
“… don’t we just get on with it then…. not gonna agree…”
“… sposed to give that tax man a chance. Either way we get paid so shut yer trap and sit tight.”

Needing time to process, he got into the car and the journey began.

The journey south felt strangely familiar. He wondered why until he remembered his imagining from earlier in the day. The only thing missing was the pall. The sun seemed just as bright, hot, and brutal as ever. Before long Torkk and his driver left the desert highlands and entered the desert proper. He realized they were making better time than usual as the driver seems focused on making the trip as speedy as possible.


Hours later they arrived.

Having had time to think on the situation Torkk was unsettled. He left his driver in the car and took a circuitous route to the Marshal’s office in the hopes of finding one or more of his “friends”. He did find Erik and Leo. The former was deeply engrossed in examining the latter’s latest crossbow modifications while the latter was deeply engrossed in telling the former absolutely nothing in as many words as possible.

Despite Erik’s protests at being disturbed, the two joined Torkk as he made his way to Marshal Raith’s office. Another of those he sought, Athen, was already there.

All present listened to Torkk but in the end, predictably, the Corsicans said no. Having a sense that this time there would be repercussions, Torkk warned those present of the potential danger and left.

Torkk returned to the driver who questioned the outcome. The taxman tried to bully his way against answering but the driver seemed far more worried about Mr. Blaine than about him. Their boss was radioed and the report was given. They left Corsica to return to New Carlson.

Back in Corsica, it wasn’t long before word of the raid reached those gathered in the marshal’s office. They took off to the eastern edge of town, the Marshal telling Athen and company to head directly to the sight of attack while he would cut them off at a location they’d likely go to next.


Layla lived on the eastern outskirts of town. Just north of the Morgan’s, one of the few families that didn’t treat her like crap. They weren’t exactly friendly to her, but they didn’t treat her like an alien and were there for her when she needed help.

So it was that when she heard a commotion from their place, she went out to investigate. When commotion became screams she ran towards her neighbors house. They were, after all, one of the few she’d stick her neck out for.


Layla approached from the North as Athen, Erik, and Leo came from the west. They arrived at nearly the same time and found wreckage. What little machinery the cactus farmers had was all smashed up. In the house were bodies. All but the eldest daughter were accounted for. A quick search and they found her on the southern edge of the property, nearly dead. She told them she heard the wells to the south were the next target.

A townie was found and recruited to bring the girl to the doctor while the group took off in pursuit of the raiders.

They found them at the well house, having already begun their destructive work. Having the numbers advantage, the raider’s turned to make quick work of the four would be heroes. While they did have many more bodies, they didn’t have enough. It was here and now that the would be heroes realized they were something special, that they were an exceedingly capable lot. That they really could be heroes if such was their choice.

The raiders didn’t stand a chance.

Marshal Raith, it turned out, had gone one more property to the south and had found another group of raiders. He’d dispatched them though had taken great injury as he was alone.

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Chapter 2
Aftermath

The townsfolk were nervous. The militia needed to be raised. Most importantly, with the main well damaged the town was going to be short on water. It might not be deadly, but it could be. Barry Swanson, a local geologist/botanist, had intel on a likely water source a day out. Luckily, a tanker truck was among the things available to Corsica.

All this trouble… fucking raiders.

And so those chosen by the strange mark set about dealing with the raid’s aftermath. Erik made sure that repairs of the well were under way while the rest worked to get the militia organized.

Then Torkk showed up again. He ignored the dirty looks and sought out those with whom he shared a mark. Stern looks and heated words were exchanged but in the end Torkk’s offer off help was accepted and it was decided that he would travel with the group to seek out the potential source of water. They would leave in the morning.

Morning came and indeed, they left. The journey was slow going but uneventful and soon enough they arrived at the indicated rock formation. There were tracks everywhere. Human? Animal? The heroes couldn’t be sure. Fearlessly they followed the tracks up a winding trail and came to a cave entrance. It was dark. Very dark. And from within came a challenging, roar-like scream. Still the group went forward.

It stank the stank of unwashed bodies and rotten meat. Still the group went forward.

A ways into the cave the light from the flashlight reflected off a surface they were hoping to find… water. Then another roar-scream came. Followed by another, and then more. From three sides the group was charged by things out of nightmares. Or in the Broken Lands, things out of the past.

The fighting was fierce, and the Marked did not go unscathed. It looked as if they would be victorious when another group approached from down another tunnel beyond the water. This one included what must have been some sort of alpha for it was larger, stronger, and tougher.

It was a tough ordeal but in the end none of our heroes were down and all of the… things… were. One of them had in its possession a rod of some unknown alloy. Erik happily looted this.

With the immediate threat dealt with, Athen set up an alarm wire while Layla tested the water. It seemed fine to her and so the pumping operation began. It completed without incident and the group made their way back to Corsica where they found that the townsfolk had been riled up.

Folks were agitated and wanted revenge. There was to be a rally this night where undoubtedly the mob would whip itself into a frenzy. Athen and Leo made sure to attend, while Torkk made sure he was present while not involved, and while the Erik and Layla stayed as far away as possible.

Sure enough that evening saw a gathering of a significant portion of the town. Athen made the rounds trying to gauge the crowds intent. Suddenly, he was called out. “It’s him! It was his fault! He’s supposed to protect us.!” And thus it became clear that this mob had an instigator. In fact, it had four. Tyson Mayweather led the crew while Dirk, Brand, and Mags helped. Athen tried his hardest to counteract the instigators efforts but he seemed to be fighting a losing battle. Torkk saw that he couldn’t remain apart and so called down to the crowd from his room overlooking the gathering. His attempts at explanation didn’t help but his uncanny sense of what was going to be said ended up providing much needed help to Athen. Leo went around taking out some of the main instigators assistants by delivering well timed low blows.

Together, and with a bit of luck, the crowd was calmed and eventually dispersed.

And thus, the aftermath of the raid seemed to be dealt with.

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Chapter 3 - Part 1
A Prophet's Visions

The days passed and the recent excitement had tapered off. The Marshall was on the mend and Torkk had sent off an excuse explaining his delay. Life began to normalize but still the marked could not pretend that something hadn’t changed.

The group, together with the Marshal tried to figure out their next steps. All Marshall Raith had to offer was that it would be nice if they could find an old military base left undisturbed so that Corsica could better arm itself. There was some discussion about bringing Morgan Blaine in on the water source find but in the end the idea was discarded, or at least shelved.

Given the strange alloy found by the water source, it was thought that perhaps the tunnel beyond the water deserved more exploration. Perhaps the unknown metal was military design and perhaps there was more below. Eventually, it was agreed on that it was worth exploring and so our heroes set off to do just that.

The group made their way down, at first spiraling into the depths but eventually heading westward. After a long journey it became clear that the cave walls had started to offer their own low bioluminescent light source. A bit further and the tunnel opened up into a massive cavern. Below, the ruins of a city. Within the city, hundreds if not thousands of things moved about. Humans? Not likely. The occasion scream-roar make it clear what they were. Beyond the city, an inky blackness where no cave fungus offered light.

Proceeding into that warren seemed unwise so the group wasted no time exploring and made a hasty retreat.

More days passed…

A man stumbled into town. He was wrapped head to toe in cloth as well as clothed and cloaked. Both the man and his attire looked well worn and travelled. Dark rust colored spots suggested blood beneath the wraps. Amazingly, he asked to speak to the marked.

He was Vericus Thain, Prophet of Rhiathasia, and he had a story to tell. But first he sought to make an impression. Unwrapping a bit of his body he displayed markings similar to those worn by the group though redder, angrier, and sometimes bloodied. He told them he, like those before him would soon die from his markings. Then he began his tale.

He told of the time of magic, long forgotten even to the histories of the old world. A time when Elves, Dwarves, and other races lived along side the humans and small folk. He told of the destruction of magic and how it remains but in a tattered state. He told of the old world, of its corporations, of the Changed, and of the exodus. He told of the world trying to heal itself and of the Prophets of Rhiathasia being the world’s first attempt that he was aware of. He told of how he believed that the groups markings, and how they differed from his own suggested that the world was trying something different. He told of his order being murdered by unknown assailants. He told of his orders leader, Lady Rhiathasia, absence from the monastery at the time of the attack. He told of her identity… an Elf. He told of his visions of them finding crystalised shards of the world’s soul, which he called soul shards. He told of the clearest of these visions and described a location they had recently found. The city beneath the sands. Beyond that city he told, waited soul shards that they must find.

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Chapter 3 - Part 2

The marked took Vericus Thain at his word. They seem to have given that word some weight for they decided that it was time to delve below once again. This time they would have to figure out a way past the city, and would have to confront… Elves, if the prophet was to be believed. All to get their hands on crystals that were supposedly remnants of the world’s soul.

Why would world’s soul would be crystalised? Why the Elves from old world fantasies be near that city, or how could they even exist, hidden for so many millenia? And why should they care? Why should they want these crystals? To help the world heal itself according to Vericus.

Was it heroism that sent the group of marked friends to the depths once again? Curiosity? Boredom? Suicidal tendencies perhaps? Whatever their motivations, they decided it was time to depart. For a third time in as many weeks they made the day long journey to the newfound water source. This time the cave was once again occupied.

In the last few weeks the group had learned something of these twisted adversaries. They’d learned of their drive to devour and they sought to exploit it. Makeshift mines, barbequed lizard, and suckling meat sounds was all it took. The creatures number was halved before they even engaged. The remainder were easily dispatched and down into the depths they went.

They were supplied for a long journey and so took their time. Every so often Layla would examine a side tunnel to try to determine if it might help them bypass the sunken city. Only a few near their destination showed any promise and they took the time to explore them. The two to the left brought them around to city level but put them out still before the city. The third tunnel, heading off to the right, seemed to be going the right away but stretched on beyond the limits of what they were willing to explore. And so eventually the group took their chances heading through the city.

While the others had been exploring Torkk had been watching… counting… determining that the southern end of the city seemed less congested with the Changed. He had the observed the cities flow and made his mental notes. Based on Torkk’s observations they entered through the south. It wasn’t long before they were found and the chase was on. It was a grueling couple of hours but in the end they made it through to the other side.

The blackness beyond the city turned out to be an underground lake. They circled around the southern side and found the elves they sought. Parley was attempted but the only response was magma to the face. The elves were sorcerers. One of magma, one of force, and one of light. Their attacks were potent but our champions were not without skill. Metal, fist, bolt, and zoid flew while Torkk sought to understand the foes patterns and aid his allies. The encounter left them injured but they prevailed. One of the sorcerer’s was dead, another unconscious, and the last… well the last had dove down a hole to what sounded like his demise. A quick glance down the hole confirmed this a changed bear could be seen having a feast.

The group caught their breath, searched the chamber, and executed the remaining elf while they waited for the bear to finish its feast. Eventually the bear did and moved off out of sight. Layla went down first to try and calm the beast but the beast would not be calmed. So soon after the last fight another was to be had. This one would likely have gone smoothly were it not for the repeated, deafening, rifle shots from poor zoidless Athen.

Even still they group made short work of this latest adversary. They searched the half eaten elf and found what they sought. Five shards of crystal. Each felt drawn to the shards and so each took one. After a few seconds in their hands the crystals disintegrated into a fine powder which swirled around their hands as if it were a snake about to squeeze the life from its prey. Instead of squeezing however powder lashed out at the hollow part of their palms, painlessly penetrating their skin and merging with them.

After many moments of stunned silence, the group knew it was time to go. There’d be time enough to figure out what the hell just happened once they reached the surface. And so they made their way back through this city, this time managing to avoid pursuit until almost all the way through. Throwing caution to the wind they left in an all out flight and found their way back to the surface. With sunlight in their faces they felt better but had no interest in lingering. Back to Corsica they went.

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