That Guy Still Talks Funny
Leaving the Mal Lands posthaste (although Amaranthe stops to drink some rain, which turns her vision green temporarily), the group notices that the environment is less colorful and animated, both literally and figuratively. There are no incidents between there and Seth’s camp, where the rebel leader is ecstatic to receive the jars. He pays everyone and gives them a note that recommends them to his friend King John. The party decides to trade the boat they have for a ride from their favorite Cajun fisherperson back to the Mal Lands. Skirting through as little of the fading Mal Lands as possible, upon entering the Land of the John Guard, the landscape shifts to a more verdant forest. With weird stuff sticking out of the ground.
Welcome To The John Guard
The party is almost immediately set upon by a group of patrolling soldiers, who demand that they identify themselves. The group convinces the soldiers – who say they’re members of the John Guard – that they’re supposed to be there and that they have a note for King John himself. They transfer custody of the group to a Captain Stark in the nearby city of Smear.
Stark escorts them to the town of Gelatin, and on to the city of Glass, where they’re transferred to a Captain Aims after a quick dalliance in the city, including Chert’s most flirty interaction with someone who may or may not have been a woman. It’s hard to tell, because all the John Guard are covered head to toe in piecemeal, patchwork armor. Come to think of it, the cities and buildings are generally constructed in much the same way. This is explained by having witnessed a “landshift,” in which a portion of the ground underfoot sloughs away to reveal scraps of material underneath, sometimes including artifacts that seem to be pre-Disaster.
The group travels to Dane, then to Richmond.
Yes, that Richmond. Remember the first ever adventure that brought everyone together, where a rich woman’s purse was retrieved and she rewarded the heroes by hiring them to fight alongside some other gladiators she’d contracted? This is her home, named after her (apparently) expansive and wealthy family, who basically rules over her paler neighbors. She displays great hospitality to the group that made her famous, which sets out the next morning for King John’s Palace.
The giant, gilded box looks impressive till you get close enough to see that the filigree is flaking and cracked and thin. Inside are several layers, getting fancier till the central ring, where the proper palace is. There a giant (obese) man eating fried meat out of a bucket, carried by a dozen or more slaves on a chaise made out of some pre-Disaster scrap, which is sumptuously decorated and outfitted. He’s very chatty, offering some background information about the country and the Etern War, which transferred him from ruling the formerly pastoral Mal Lands to his current territory. He also revealed that the enigmatic High King has two brothers – Pane and Godric.
He is willing to hire the Richmond Numbers based on the recommendation of Seth, and proposes that they carry a ball of gold wire to the Distant Father in the Distant City, and he’ll pay extravagantly for this dry run to test the group’s skills. In an aside, Ash Stillward reveals that she knows the Distant City to be a giant, country-sized prison that’s entirely walled, and that its ruler is a sadistic monster. She won’t be going inside.
After some deliberation, sumptuous meals, and a steamy night with a goliath, the group decides to skip out on this quest. No hard feelings. Just hard squeezings, from that goliath paramour and a bunch of the John Guard, who bash the party in the head till they all black out.
Minimizing the Distance
Everyone awakens bound to the point of immobilization, dragged behind a battalion of the John Guard, along the Crucial Highway, on the way to the Distant City. This plan not to go really didn’t work out. There, custody is handed over to Haircut Sally, a really tall woman who drugs the group to paralyze them, shaves their heads, strips them naked, and tattoos numbers on their heads (all except Chert, who can’t be tattooed, so she carves holes in his carapace). Looks like the Richmond Numbers are finally living up to their name.
During this whole booking process, two major revelations happen: Ash is, in fact, the legendary single person to have escaped from the Distant City, as she already has a tattoo; and Amaranthe is, in fact, not a female tiefling at all. He’s a he. Strange things are afoot at the Distant City.