The trip into The Cogs is not a pleasant one. The weight of the city lingers over you as you descend into a honeycomb of caverns and tunnels and crevasses, and one must marvel at the fact that the whole peninsula hasn’t just collapsed in on itself, borne down into rubble by the weight of miles upon miles of towering, undermined stonework. It’s already dark at the bottom of the city as our heroes accompany Zanne’s mule and its preciously mysterious cargo along the road out of Cogsgate and into the Blackbone Cogs. The road slopes gently downwards, winding gradually, spiraling through the rock as it makes its serpentine descent beneath the city. It gets hotter. The air takes on a weight all its own, hot and heavy and laced with the fog of industry. After a long stretch of lonely descent the road straightens and levels off, and the travelers find themselves back in the city. or, the Undercity. The roof takes a sharp turn upwards, the tunnel opens into a cavern, and within a few metres they find themselves in a bustling main street illuminated in the everburning light of the lanterns installed in the cavern ceiling far above.
They never were given any indication of where they were meant to take the package, only that it was going “Into Ashblack, somewhere.” Helpful, right? As they pause to take in their surroundings, crowds of bustling Dwarves and Warforged, and a commotion in front of some shop down the street that appears to involve a cart full of exotic rutabagas and a Goliath in lace bloomers, a small, bright voice at their back says, “Hello!” It’s an Elf. She has twigs in her hair, dirt smudged into her clothes, and smells somewhere between a robust compost heap and the open sea. She is immensely pleased to see them, and makes it plain that she’d really just like someone to talk to, and maybe walk with for a bit, and do they know where she could get a decent bath, and where are they going, and what’s all that on the mule? Brasshead and Manekatari roll their telepathically linked eyes at each other. The Elf says her name is Tabitha, and she’s trying to find her way into Ashblack…just because. Do they know where that is? And what’s going on down the street?
Meanwhile, outside the game, perception checks are made to figure out where the hell they are, where they should be going, and whether or not anyone in the immediate vicinity is going to try to kill them. The checks come up short on assassins but instead reveal a Dwarf in the shadows of a nearby alley, deep in the embrace of alcoholic slumber and mumbling the word “Aaaashblack…Ash…b-lack….” repeating under his breath. “What should we do with him?”, asks Tabitha. “Should we take him with us? He’s talking about Ashblack, and that’s where I’m going!” At which point she makes an honest attempt at shaking the Dwarf awake. The bearded boozer’s snores maintain perfect rhythm. The frustrated Elf stands up, hauls off, and boots the Dwarf in the gut, and is rewarded by a startled grunt and a heavily armoured gloved hand that shoots out and smacks hard into her kneecap. She jumps back, howling in pain.
Violence in this small group of wanderers will not be tolerated, unless it’s against a monster, in which case we will enthusiastically encourage it. Brasshead steps in and hoists the Dwarf off the ground by his armpits and pins him against the wall. The Dwarf looks at him beerily and grunts. “My name hic is Orrek Shalehammer. Put hic me down.”
The Dwarf is replaced on the ground, and the group looks around at each other. There’s really only one thing to do in a situation like this. Find a tavern. The activity down the street seems a likely place to start, so they leave the alley behind and head down the main street towards what looks like a busier, livelier part of town with a higher likelihood of having a bar.
They find one, pretty readily. The sign out on the street declares that this is “The Red Hammer”. A second sign inside the courtyard states that only Warforged are permitted past the doors of the establishment, but that they can get a room and a bath (cue Elfish excitement) in the inn just to their right and order drinks on the patio outside. The party disperses gradually forthwith. The Elf makes a beeline for the baths, the Dwarf flags down a Gnomish bar-wench and orders an ale, and the Warforged heads inside looking for information.
The scene inside the tavern is, well, unique. There aren’t any other Warforged-only bars in Khorvaire; the cogs are the only place where the ‘forged are their own people, given purpose again in the industrial forges of House Cannith and set to work in environments that would kill off a lot of human labourers very quickly and generate much unneeded paperwork. The crowd in The Red Hammer is eclectic. There is an overwhelming sense of what might be best described as swords-into-plowshares, of mighty military forces beaten and molded into tools of industry. The crowd is blunted. They’ve lost their edge, been dragged down from soldiers to grunts, and it makes Brasshead a little sad. He makes his way towards the bar, where a blue Warforged who appears to be running the place is leaning on her elbows and gazing around the room. She’s a beautifully crafted machination, sleek and clean and deadly, not a frontline soldier but an operative, a striker. As Brasshead approaches she looks up, and straightens. “Ah” she says, “another Golden Boy. Been enough of you through here already. What do you want?”
If ever there was a moment when Brasshead was confused, this was it. Another? But, he was the only…"What do you mean, another? ", he demands, pointing to his brazen scalp. "You’ve seen others who look like this? When? " Blue shrugs. “Every couple weeks. They wander in, looking for directions, always trying to get to Ashblack for some reason or another. Never any repeat customers, though. And they all think they’re the only one. Go figure. So…what are you after, Golden Boy?” Brasshead starts asking all the questions he can think of, practically babbling: the orb that puts Wargorged to sleep, the Brass heads, the Coghunters, all of it. Blue cocks her head to one side, troubled. “That’s bad business, that, the Coghunters. Been leaving our kind strewn all over the city. Used to be nobody would mess with us, machines of war and all that. Now look at us” She nods her head at the crowded tavern. “We don’t even drink, don’t eat, don’t sleep. Yet we feel the need to come in here and drown our sorrows in whatever we can, same as the rest of this city. Maybe we deserve to be hunted.” She shrugs, and then gives Brasshead a coy look."Looks of you, though, doesn’t look like you’ll lie down and become prey anytime soon. " He turns, slowly, all curves and blue enameled steel. Brasshead grins. “So, hey, what time do you get off work…” There’s a blur of blued steel and the tip of an armblade is resting on his nose. She taps it playfully with a soft tink . “Too late for you, Golden Boy. Now off with you. And… good hunting .”
Back outside, Brasshead rejoins the party on the patio. Shalehammer has finished his ale and stowed the collectible yak-horn mug in his pack. The Elf has returned from the bathhouse, looking clean and prim and significantly more civilized than before, but still sticking out like a sunflower growing out of a scrap heap. As Brasshead lowers himself into a chair, there’s a shout from the courtyard, a military shout, almost a bark. “You, there!” Brasshead instinctively snaps to attention before even realizing that he’s being shouted at , more than to . Turning to look, he scowls at the figure standing in the courtyard. Built like a longsword, she’s fully armoured and in no mood for games. The blazon on her breastplate depicts an iron bull with fiery eyes: Cannith. At her heels slinks a steel beast, the result you’d achieve if you built a warforged Doberman. She continues, “I’ve been waiting for you bums for long enough. Took your sweet time getting here. Let’s move, shall we? Or are you ladies still waiting on pre-Ashblack cocktails?” Then she turns, and without a backwards glance walks off towards the street.
There is a stunned silence, followed some rapid, meta-game decision making which we will attribute to our heroes’ group mindlink. Then they all get up and rush after the strange soldier, having determined that following her seems like a good way to figure out what’s going on, and why Cannith has sent them a guide to take them to a place that Cannith shouldn’t know they were already going to. Brasshead shoulders the crate of Zanne’s goods, and a slap on the mule’s rump sends it running back the way they came. The party turns and heads off down the street, leaving The Red Hammer and its Gnomish bar wenches behind them and setting the road to Ashblack before their feet.