For Johnah Hammer, one of the few benefits of being in the grand city of Qi was the opportunity to visit family. His mother and father were older now and the children gone, but those who visited the city were always welcome to stay.
Not for long though. It was after all, due to a shortage of resources that his parents had sent him to the Monastery to start with. He did not hold it against them. It had turned out well for everyone in the end. The skills that they taught Johnah allowed him to make a small living as a wilderness guide.
The Hammer pondered exploring the city. It was a city built upon city built upon city. The further one could descend down, the more ancient and archaic the city became.
His stay was not long though. A summons to temple by an Acolyte arrives. Summoned to a Clave where he would learn The Truth had been issued.
Johnah smirked. The Aeon Priests and their summons. Still, with the last caravan he had been a part of destroyed without him… Self sufficiency in the wilds did not transfer to the city so easily.
The temple would be enough to make even the non-believer give pause. He walked through long halls. Each step in front lit but ever step leaving darkness behind. The hall went on forever until they didn’t.
And when Johnah walked through the door, he was no longer alone.
Rather several of those he had recently worked with were entering the room from different entrances. If the Hammer was a suspicious man he’d have paused for a moment but given the size and scope of the priesthood, he doubted there was anything they wanted from him.
The Hammer looked at the chair. They were transparent and cool. When he sat, the chair began to turn to a faint red. As the others sat, theirs did too. Except for one… the man machine.
He sat alongside Dameris the White, the immortal Lady. Across from him was the man machine, Hugo Hall. The Hammer narrowed his eyes and examined Hugo closely. Was that monstrosity more machine now than before? Next to Hugo sat Drugah Voss. Drugah seemed both intrigued and repelled by Dameris. Their powers did not often mix well when the duo were in close proximity to one another.
An Aeon priests enters the room. “May the truth show you the light to all.” He intones. While they are not a popular group, they have brought up ‘the Truth’, the language that we all speak. A wise move, insuring that communication at least is nearly universal.
“The incident you recently resolved. It did not originate in this area.” He moves his hand and the wall behind him changes. It shows the youth uncorrupted. Until cables from the Hub emerge and inject into the lad. All of us here know what happened after that.
“We tracked the source. It comes from the undercity. The undercity is home to the machine people.”
The Hammer looks at Hugo.
“I am not one of the machine people!”
“indeed, Hugo is not a full automation.” The priest shows us his arm. Pistons and gears whirl and click. “Be at ease guide, not all who are of our nature are machine people.”
To be honest, I wasn’t worried. Members of this priesthood were known for only spreading “The Truth”. There were not interested in taking over the world or taking over minds and hearts. Rather spreading a universal language and a universal math. Theirs was a religion of tolerance.
Except for the abuse of Numenera. That they had no patience for.
“We will take you below and then…”
“Hold priest, what do you expect of us? You get ahead of yourself.”
The priest shows us videos of the undercity through a camera mounted on a flying platform; some type of drone. The bots are numerous and without any regular variety. The bots rip apart other bots, and use those components to enhance a massive hub. They seek to make the hub reach all the way to the city of Qi directly. From hub to tower, from tower to Qi? A port under Qi.
The drones make short work of the ports, but the creatures continue to make their hub reach further.
“We seek your assistance in destroying this hub.”
“My hammer is powerful, but I doubt it could destroy this.”
The priest smiles and pulls out a round acrylic chip.
A few of my comrades look at the chip. Hugo and Drugah in particular are fascinated by it. Drugah recognizes it from the gleam in his eyes.
“This chip must be inserted physically. It cannot be used wirelessly.”
The priest looks at Hugo. “You are the one who will need to insert the chip. You will have to have that program.”
“And if we fail?” The Hammer asks.
“It does not bode well. Our glorious Mayor” and the priest’s eyes actually roll, “Will set off explosive devices under the city. The support beams will collapse. Those in the dirigibles… they will remain unaffected.
“Well, my parents live in this city so I shall strive to take care of this issue for you.” The Hammer nods. The others agree.
“The bots are the most honest of us all. They have no use for politics. No use for deception. They are those who will make any sacrifice. We see you are a group somewhat similar, in terms of dedication to a cause.”
“And what of you Immortal?” The Hammer asks. “Will you be of use against these automations?”
“I am always useful.” She smiles.
“Not in that way. In a useful way.” The immortal frowns at Hammer’s words.
Another enters. The Immortal apparently has a cousin, well-groomed with white hair and a wooden katana. “Evening cousin. I have been sent by your mother to insure that you are taken care of. My name is Vexar. It’s an honor to be traveling with you.”
The name is known. He is a wandering swordsmaster who serves a blind swordsman who is out in the world making his mark. Only after years of training with his wooden blade will he upgrade to a more dangerous weapon.
The Hammer and Vexar trade war stories in terms of melee and distance attacks. When the Hammer extends a big beefy hand to Vexar, the Hammer is surprised by the strength in the grip.
The Immortal and Vexar trade some barbs about their various origins. The males, on Vexar side, are mainly glaives. Those on the Immortal, are from female to female and are often nano’s or jacks.
The Aeon Priest, finally decides to introduce himself as Timerius. “Any questions?”
The Hammer pipes up. “How do we get there.’
Timerius shows us a massive drone. “This will take you down, and return you to the surface.”
“Uh… which of us flies this?”
Timerius smiles. “Professionals. Not one of your people. You will have two days. Failure will result in bombing.
“Now there is also a secondary objective. If you wish to perform it, this is up to you.”
Drugah speaks up. “This objective will provide us with some funds? Some extras?”
The priest speaks again, ignoring the TK specialist. “Not too far from where we’ll be dropping you off, is a ‘meatbag’ area where humans life. We wish to make contact with them. They are masters of bio-modification with machinery and Numenera. They have mastered it beyond what knowledge is up here. We have tried to send emissaries before but they have no returned.”
The discussion of the ‘meatbag city’ reveals that it is a city on the move. One that doesn’t necessarily stay in one place all the time.
The group takes something called the Lifter down. Objects built as copies of how the machine people use them.
The Hammer speaks about the different roles that each will take. The Immortal avoids the subject for the most part, making references to having some healing ability and a razor ring that she uses to defend herself. No wonder Vexar has been sent to watch over her.
The group follows the Aeon priest. With each step, the light illuminates us. For everyone in the group save Hugo, it’s a red light. For Hugo, it’s a blue light. When The Immortal and Vexar touch the floor though, the panels become a bright red, almost to the point of yellow, and unlike when we leave, the panels remain glowing for several minutes.
The group gets into chairs. Bands surround the chairs keeping us from moving. The globe moves through ha series of tubes. Numerous globes containing other Aeon priests with other adventurers move through these areas.
It ends at a landing pad with the ship that we were shown earlier. Around us are various sized dirigibles. From them depart nobles. They have an immense satisfaction of not caring about them. Their outfits and uniforms are not suitable for the wilderness. One of them looks to have a hat that stands some odd ten feet tall with globes dancing around it.
Vexar fits in. His own uniform being a high-tech device despite its appearance.
Dirigibles come and go and the group continues to move through the crowds.
The lifter the group is brought to is heavily armored and pock marked with numerous different types of injuries. Even as we approach, it is being worked on.
Timerius assures us, “While your pilot is very experienced, he requests silence. He is a little touched from the numerous individuals he has sent down that have not returned. This is a dangerous mission, but we feel we have chosen well here.”
Much like the globe, we are strapped in. The pilot and co-pilot come in from another entrance. They are safe and secured behind additional armor plating.
Timerius smiles. “Good luck and may the Truth be with you.”
Things grow dark. Air is pumped into the chamber. The vehicle is sealed from the outside world. Vexar smiles. “I’m claustrophobic.” He reveals.
And then the pressure of take off hits. It’s like being smashed by hundreds of fists evenly across the body. But at the same time, its exhilarating.
Flight halts. Red lights blare. Rattling shakes the entire ship.
Hugo looks about. Something in the man-machine’s eyes indicates that he knows something is wrong. He looks at a HUD “Nano-Cloud detected.”
The metal, the heavily armored plane? It begins to disintegrate. The group hears from the front, “Williams! Williams!” And at that point, know that the front has broken off.
The group can see numerous buildings through the holes in the ship. The Hammer looks at Hugo. “Well man-machine? Can you control this heap?”
Hugo doesn’t reply but instead jacks into the ship and begins the effort of controlling the ship. He has some success. He can’t stop the ship. He can’t cease our descent. But he can angle it. He can control the direction we move in.
Drugagh uses his own power, that of his TK mastery, to bounce the ship. This takes some of the fall and impact that we might otherwise have taken all at once.
The heroes leapt from the ship. The Hammer, long used to such physical activity, uses his body and the knowledge gained long ago in the monastery, ignores the effect. The others have various degrees of success.
The Immortal and Hugo don’t land that well comparatively. Hugo smashes through a few floors while the Immortal smashes firmly into a wall and leaves quite a bit of blood stains.
The Hammer extends his own hand down to Hugo. While the naturalist isn’t a fan of the man-machine, he finds himself admiring the willingness of Hugo to put himself into danger over and over again.
Vexar makes the rest of the group look foolish in terms of how quickly skillfully he lands.
Looking down, the group realizes that they are still some odd twenty stories into the air. The stairs are in various stages of degeneration but enough remains that descending doesn’t provide that troubling.
Vexar and the Immortal make more banter. The Immortal is not impressed by Vexar’s ability to take care of her.
The Hammer activates his own Numenera, the Sheen. The Hammer’s skin becomes coated in liquid metal. The metal is cool to the touch. “One encounters many a thing when travelling between the cities.” The Hammer smirks.
On the bottom level, there is a rain of greenish black oil. Clouds of it. The air is so tainted that everyone save for Hugo begins coughing. The Sheen surrounding the Hammer minimizes the coughing.
All around the sound of machinery pounds.
The ground is slick and covered.
Eventually the oil and cloud and noise die down.
“Hugo, can you determine where we’re at as opposed to where we need to be?”
“Roughly five hours. Two hours to the town.”
The group begins moving towards the town. Vexar and the Hammer take to the streets walking directly while the Immortal brings up the back and the Hugo and Drugah take to the sides in order to stay out of the way of what else is out here.
Who knows what the machines have sent out here? Who knows if there are drones or hunters.
There is a sudden realization on the Hammer’s side that his ride has been destroyed. The others assure the Hammer that there are more ships that can be sent.
The Hammer pauses. All about him, he senses eyes. Shadowy things that are hunters. The Hammer signals them. Perhaps the allies he was sent to find in the ‘meat city’?
No. They pull forth steel and approach.
Combat is joined! Vexar proves his mettle as does the Hammer. These metal creatures, when injured, prove to have human components to them. This reveals them as the former agents sent down. The meat on these creatures long dead.
After the initial attack, more of the machine men take to the streets, but these are armed with some sort of lasers and are heavily armored. They too prove no match for the group.
After the battle, the Immortal speaks to one of the skulls. It’s weeping is piteous. It reveals that it is indeed another agent of the priesthood and that it doesn’t understand what happened to it until it starts shrieking at which point the Immortal lets it rest.
The travels take us to the city where we are warmly greeted. Cleaning off is a priority. The dwellers of the city are appreciative of not only our presence, but the offered exchange of knowledge with those above.
Even better, they have need of our talents. They wish to be away from the Hub least it activate and do more damage to them.
Like the priests above though, they have lost many soldiers. We agree to scout out the region in order to provide a cleaning.
This will allow their city, which has folding components and is able to move through some type of hoover technology, to safety navigate.
We are given a guide. He is old and knows his way about. He shows the group the under city ecology of how the different bits of machinery react to the different intrusions about it. During the scouting, the group comes under attack by yet more automations. The guide wisely chooses to hide and allow the professionals to do what they’re best at.
In thanks the group is given jet backs. The chip Hugo has is not going to be kind to the Hub and to make a hasty escape the jet packs are a vital necessity. Would have been nice if the Aeon priest have provided such but…
More important than the jet packs however, is knowledge of how to get into the machine city without being spotted. This proves more useful as it allows the group to converse their powers.
In the main fight, a robed full-fledged machine, one that is apparently self aware enough to call itself “Legate Terrminus”, with a red flaring cloak sends out two mechanical lions and two giant man-machines to duel the group.
Drugah gains the enmity of the red robed robot who launches a bolt of energy from its sword and severs his arm.
Hugo manages to move into the red-robed machine man’s path and insert the chip. The two lock horns over it for several seconds. Hugo somehow loses a mechanical leg in the melee.
One of the man-machines shorts out the Hammer’s back pack.
Somewhere in it all, the Immortal uses her unique powers to take some of the other dead servants sent down by the surface, who aren’t completely decayed, into fighting the mechanical lions.
As the machine ruler goes down, Vexar gives Drugah something that sprouts him a new blue arm. In exchange, Drugah works on the Hammer’s destroyed back pack.
They use these back packs to escape from the city. The Hammer’s backpack lasts most of the way and when it gives out, he’s not surprised, only surprised to survive the fall itself thanks to his Sheen.
The machines however, have not given up the chase and follow. Taking a last stand, the group fights back to back until exhaustion threatens to overwhelm them. Armor and clothes stripped and ripped. Bolts and energy expended. Chain armor torn.
And then the sound of the pick up ship unleashing new levels of death that the machines can only retreat from.
Safety at last.