In Chapter 62, Dabwick sat in an alley in Thrushmoor and meditated for their spells while recalling a formative experience back in Cassomir:
Dabwick tries to recall, for a moment, one of Cassomir’s numerous alleyways, but something about the fight in the Fort Hailcourse the day before is weighing on them, and they think instead of Corgunbier, the city of insane Derro that lurks directly under Cassomir. Madness and violence and they don’t want to think about it, but this is where the town of Thrushmoor is guiding their Understanding this evening, and they must follow this memory until the Connection is made Clear.
So when they hear the voice of Eirost Coldfury surface from their past, they remember his lumpy face and bushy eyebrows and a shuddering sigh breaks from their chest. Dabwick hugs themself tight, and makes out the phrase, “I godda handit toya, Dabs…”
Dabwick’s memories during meditation are particularly vivid, and they can see the scene perfectly:
Eirost is tapping out his pipe against the stone archway bordering the Admiral's Fen district while rolling out a new pinch of tobacco in the other hand. He’s always multitasking. For such an unassuming man, in such a tattered coat, he’s always got something going on with his hands.
“I godda handit toya, Dabbs. Your instincts are always on the level.”
“Watch for odd groupings of crows and rats — you were right. I found the right path.”
Inspector Eirost Coldfury was a PI in Admiral’s Fen. Dabwick and Eirost became acquainted when Inspector Coldfury opened their public office – Dabwick performed the final inspection. In the years since, Eirost grew to recognize and respect Dabwick’s unique talents, even if it meant enduring their eccentric personality: Eirost didn’t dislike Dabwick, but he did find them irritating. This afternoon however, he seemed eager to engage Dabwick and share his exciting news.
“There’s an entrance to Corgunbier right near where you suspected — ”
“In the shadows between the Fountain Gate and Old Gatsby’s?”
“Yes!” He coughed, laughing and blowing out smoke, biting his pipe in his teeth, waving out a match with one hand and fiddling with something in his coat pocket with the other. “I believe it’s the route Altheel and his cronies are using to access the surface. I gotta ask you though – I get why the rats are attracted to the area, the smell coming up the shaft is wretched, but what’s with the crows? What’s the deal there?”
“Oh! See, I suspected the derro aren’t interested in keeping track of their victim’s personal trinkets and things, and crows are terrific scavengers – they will return to a place where they can regularly collect pretty things. If all those poor souls are all being taken through the same path, there must be a collection of shiny buttons and pins and buckles in the crow’s nests nearby, methinks. Did we crack the case, Inspector Coldfury? What will you do next?”
“Well, I was figurin I’d have to investigate further if’n I have any hope of making headway in this missing persons case, and Dabwick, I don’t mind telling you, I don’t want to go in alone. If’n you were interested, I could ask you to come with me. You’d be paid well — and we’d be in the rescue business, which I know you like. Are you interested?”
The invitation was incredibly exciting — go WITH the Inspector! Like a Sidekick!
Dabwick considered the undercity too dangerous to venture into alone, but with someone as experienced and powerful as the Inspector? The prospect wasn’t interesting, it was thrilling!
And Inspector Coldfury needed the help. Reports of kidnappings in the area had been festering for years and Coldfury had two open missing persons cases that he had been able to trace back to a derro alchemist named Twain, a three-armed woman with a reputation for gruesome experiments. Twain had a ring of kidnappers working for her, run by a snakey little derro called Altheel, a mesmerist. The Inspector decided he wasn’t only going to finish his contracts, he wanted to try to stop Altheel’s ring altogether, and Dabs agreed to join.
That night, entering the tunnel, Dabwick drank their darkvision potion and followed Coldfury closely. The Inspector wore magic goggles that gave him the ability to see in the dark and they passed into the deep without attracting attention. Coldfury had to duck to adjust to the height of the passage, not an issue for Dabwick, and they snuck their way forward and down like this for about a quarter of a mile before they came to a series of networked tunnels.
Coldfury’s level of skill was shocking — stealth and agility that belied his daily personae in the light of day — a small arsenal of concealed weapons and traps and tools. That night, Dabwick discovered there was a leveled Vigilante living in Admiral’s Fen, and they vowed secretly to themselves that they would honor Eirost’s trust and keep his secret, even if they were practically giddy to realize the truth.
Together they made their way — taking out unsuspecting derro guards, avoiding groups and gatherings, listening for cues and looking for clues — until they circled their way to the Altheel’s holding cells. The plan was to crack the locks any way they could and lead the people out the way they came in. Coldfury had left recognizable markers at each turn to help make the journey back easier to navigate. Everything was going according to plan and they were going to do it! They were going to rescue people from this horrible situation! They were going to be HEROES!
It was reasonable to assume the prisoners would be in bad shape. They had prepared themselves to leave those people whose bodies were too broken to survive. What they hadn’t really understood was the mental torture the prisoners would have been forced to endure. So much so that in most cases the prisoner might be physically able to escape and live the rest of their natural lives, but their minds would never be the same. When Dabwick and Coldfury finally rounded the corner, unnoticed, they came upon a menagerie of twitching, drooling, screaming, laughing inmates in an abattoir asylum.
A great cavern was lined with iron cages. The cages were packed with humanoids, but not all the beings in them were alive. And of those alive, barely any of them had a look of anything resembling self awareness in their eyes. They were hairless or shaved, and they had red, angry scars drawn on their scalps, some of them weeping blood through scabby stitches. They scratched at their scabs and stared into the distance, shitting themselves, or laughing until they vomited, gibbering aimlessly into the darkness, some even cannibalizing their dead cellmates.
Dabwick’s heart fell. Coldfury snapped into action and called out in common “Who here can understand the sound of my voice? Come to the front of your cell if you can understand me.” He began heading to the first cell producing movement and Dabwick came out of their shock to join him.
“Here! We’re here! Help us! Please!”
“We’re here Citizen. I’m going to open the cage and I want you to run through that tunnel there. Look for this mark at each intersection to tell you which way to go. Do not stop, do not look back until you breathe clean air again, no matter what, do you understand me?”
“Coldfury? Is that you? Yes, sir. Yes, sir, we can do that. C’mon! You go first, I’ll follow!”
“WHOO THE FUCK ARE YOOOO?!” Altheel had climbed into the room unnoticed from a tunnel hidden behind a rock that blended into the walls of the cavern. Coldfury was just popping the rusty padlock on the cage when Altheel shot him with a bolt from his small crossbow. The Inspector’s strength was sapped immediately and he cried out in pain as Altheel loaded another bolt. He glared at Dabwick, locking them in their mesmerist stare, allowing Dabwick to know what’s happening to them as Dabwick felt their Will drain out beneath them.
Three of the prisoners had enough awareness of what was happening to take the opportunity to run. Coldfury staggered to a fighting position and threw a tanglefoot bag, but they couldn’t fight off the poison, and their aim was compromised. Frightened, Dabwick summoned a floating rock to protect themself from being targeted and began to retreat after the prisoners.
But before they could leave, Dabwick saw Altheel advance on Coldfury, shooting him a second time with his crossbow and hitting, again, with his poisoned-tipped bolts. Coldfury called out in pain, and Dabwick couldn’t run. They dropped the rock shield and summoned a wall of water that shoved the derro to the ground, knocking his crossbow from his hand.
The combat that followed was brutal. Dabs nearly killed Altheel, but the fucker escaped. And when they finally had a moment to come to Coldfury’s side, it was too late. He had succumbed to his wounds and the derro’s poison. Dabwick hadn’t had his back, and Eirost Coldfury was lost, a huge blow for the whole City.
On their way back to the surface, Dabs found out that the prisoners were reeling from some sort of magical memory loss caused by Altheel’s techniques. Dabwick had to find ways to comfort and care for them until their minds unclouded and they could return to their lives, all the while wrestling with Coldfury’s death, and Altheel’s escape, and all that they might have done differently if they were more powerful or more experienced.
First Reference: Chapter 62
Other Notable References: —