13th Voyage

35 - The Necromancer's Crematorium

The tale of the ashen golem and the burglary of souls.

The first target, the venturers decide, is the crematorium. If they know Nehedza is likely to be in her tower by eleven, then it seems safer to break into her workplace then. Kismet takes Aya with her to go find a source among the City of Thieves, who would be most likely to collect information useful to an aspiring burglar. She asks a likely barber, who sends her to a humble beggar, who passes her on to a seamstress’s shop. Before they go in, Aya tells Ramjat to “stand watch” during the interview, not mentioning that she doesn’t particularly trust him not to speak up during one of his talkative phases.

The seamstress in question is a girl possibly still in her teens, who politely says that locally she is known by the name of “Needles.” She mentions that she grew up not far from the Twinemaker’s Row, a tell Kismet recognizes as an acknowledgement of her status as a dealer in information and connections.

“When I visit,” replies Kismet, “I stay in Ivory Tail Square.”

The young tailor offers them refreshments, and they settle in to talk business over tea and dates. Kismet proposes the challenge of breaking into a crematorium, and Needles says that they must know who they’re dealing with. Kismet inquires what the charge would be for information. “If you’re inconveniencing her, my information is free of charge,” the girl replies, “though of course gratuities are appreciated.”

The seamstress “Needles” tells the two that there are two levels to the crematorium and kiln: one at ground level, and one below. She hazards that the structure is almost certainly magically warded at its entrances. The safest way in might be vents used to bring fresh air into the lower level; the volcanic island of Izir has some sea caves, which are often used to ventilate subterranean chambers. The vents aren’t very large, though, so they might be difficult going for a bulky or claustrophobic burglar. The girl also tells the two that Nehedza usually visits the crematorium after lunch, and stays until 10, with a social hour before dinner. Her apprentice, the halfling dustbinder Yud nir-Momul ka-Hothaz, typically arrives at 11 and departs around midnight; the kiln workers keep normal hours.

Kismet thanks the seamstress, and she and Aya leave, mulling over the opening stages of a plan. They nominate sending a shapeshifted Attsu through the vents to open up the corpse dock. The others can pose as a funeral group to infiltrate the outer corpse dock. Kismet pauses, then runs back into the fabric shop to purchase a winding sheet, tipping Needles handsomely in the process.

They meet with Attsu and Khosa to enlist them for the crematorium heist. Kismet insists on Khosa coming with them; she plans to pose as the corpse, and he is strong enough to carry her there without having to rent a cart. The Constrictor agrees readily, though he insists on finding some clothing to conceal his identity. It would be very poor for his reputation to be recognized carrying a corpse through the streets at midnight, especially the corpse of a shapely lady. “He thinks I’m shapely,” Kismet murmurs to Aya.

The group waits and drinks at the Burning Belly until midnight, and Wind-of-Embers has not yet arrived. Attsu shifts into his small feline scouting form, and slips away to infiltrate via the vents.
Khosa and Aya and Abd dress in dark veils that would be suitable for mourning, and they wrap Kismet in the winding sheet. Once it seems that Attsu has had enough time, they set out.

But as they enter the streets, Attsu appears in an alley near them. He tells the group that he managed to enter the lower level, but there were no stairs, only a mechanical lift. He could not activate the lift and get up to the upper level — a golem animated and began to pursue him. He was forced to fall back to the vents, and it seems likely they will have to break through the corpse dock the hard way.

Along the way to the crematorium, a small group of city guards stops the band of “mourners.” Abd does not mitigate the guards’ suspicion, as his idea of a misleading untruth is a grim-faced “There is no problem.” With the venturers’ most skilled silver tongue wrapped in a winding sheet, the situation becomes rather tense until Aya breaks into false tears and wails that her grandmother had a weak heart. Between the intimidating presence of Abd and the sobs of a lovely young woman, the guards relent. They helpfully escort the venturers to the crematorium, and then leave them for a few final moments to say goodbye to the deceased.

With the outer doors of the corpse dock closed, the venturers are free to examine the door into the crematorium proper. Once the others have freed her from her shroud, Kismet recognizes the necromantic ward protecting the entry, a sigil to summon unbound spirits. She takes from her pouch a small bit of lead taken from the lining of a coffin and expertly grounds out the ward. The lock is easily defeated, and they enter the crematorium.

The corpse dock leads into the building’s main room, with three ovens that seem to be powered by beds of never-cooling lava and runes to magnify the fire’s power. The group finds the mechanical lift and quickly deduce how to operate it. They descend to the lower level, where a single, more powerful primal furnace and a large work table speak to more magical use. Before they have time to investigate more carefully, though, the golem Attsu warned them about lumbers toward them. The construct stands taller than Attsu, a ceramic statue with an imposing hippopotamus head and a round belly. As it draws near, they feel heat radiating from the thing, and its belly begins to grow red.

Abd, Attsu, and Kismet all fearlessly engage the crematory golem, though none manage to land a telling blow on it. The hippo-headed golem’s immense mouth opens, revealing a glow in its throat, and it breathes a cone of burning cremation ash on Attsu. Seeing this, Aya casts a spell to protect Khosa the Constrictor from fire, and anoints his hands with an enchanted oil. The wrestler then leaps forward and valiantly attempts to place the immense ceramic construct in an armlock.

As the battle heats up, so does the golem. Its fists become searingly hot, forcing the venturers to go on the defensive. Aya sends a chilling blast at the construct’s belly to harden and weaken it, and Khosa follows up with a vicious elbow strike that fractures the golem’s stomach — and the belly explodes, sending ceramic shards and heated ash among the group, leaving them cut, scorched, and choking.

Kismet pulls her scarf around her face and carves into the broken gap in the construct’s torso, cutting away a larger chunk. Attsu and Abd rain blows on it as well, Abd still coughing. A brutal, heated fist knocks Attsu sprawling, and Abd moves to heal him.

Finally Aya sends another howling arctic wind into the golem’s cavity, scattering the ashes and breaking out the back half of its torso. The hippo head and heavy shoulders fall forward and smash against the stone floor, leaving the now-immobile legs frozen in place, the bowl of the lower torso still cooling.

With the golem destroyed and Attsu on his feet again, the venturers begin searching the outer lab. A workbench features a broken Kheran ushabti, apparently in the process of being mended with molten gold, and Kismet rakes the gold bars of raw materials into her sack. Another door leads into the inner laboratory, where they find more worktables and a peculiar sarcophagus-like structure. On one of the tables lies a clay figure in the process of being sculpted to resemble Abd, and Aya theorizes the sarcophagus is meant to be filled with fluids that could convert the animated clay to a semblance of flesh. Abd vandalizes the incomplete simulacrum just in case, then turns his attention to the shelves featuring a number of small jars labeled with names.

Kismet safely opens the warded storage room, and finds a number of materials and operating funds within. Sadly, the Dysian implements are not present. The venturers decide it would be convenient to make the break-in look like a traditional robbery, and that it would be best to take anything that a thief would find valuable and easily fenced. She pushes the coffer of coins into her bag, as well as a tiara with an obsidian eye as its forepiece, a pristine set of Jalisan clerical robes, a chunk of elemental basalt (that Aya says she has no use for, but doesn’t care to let Nehedza have, either), and oddly enough, a set of Northern silverware.

With the valuables secured, the others go to collect Abd and make their escape. They find the Jalisan paladin still by the shelves of named jars — holding a small urn with his own name upon it.

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