An Orphan’s Plea
It is past nine o’clock at night, late winter in the industrial capitol of Flint, and we find Ravissant Wolf cell at RHC headquarters, about to wrap up another long day of training exercises and tedious tasks. Before they all head home for the evening, the team are called into the office of their boss, Assistant Chief Inspector Stover Delft.
Delft, as usual, affects an “everyman” persona and a casual tone with his staff. He knows that Ravissant Wolf are chomping at the bit for their promotion from junior deputies to proper royal constables with full jurisdiction. Unfortunately, Delft says, the branch director, Margaret Saxby, has yet to approve them. He assures the Wolves that they are good men—with the possible exception of the paroled criminal, Severus Coil. Delft does offer the gearman that if the crown is giving Coil another chance, than he will too. The Chief Inspector vows to keep fighting for their promotions and find something meaningful for them to do.
A sudden commotion downstairs draws the Wolves to the lobby, where a grubby orphan boy named Rand Mouser is struggling in the grip of the burly building security guard, Adam Bentley. Seeing the deputies, Rand breaks free and runs toward them, tears streaming down his soot-smeared cheeks. The boy begs the Wolves to accompany him to the Nettles, where he says a local gang, the Brickboys, are digging up his father’s grave. After a brief debate about the duties befitting Royal Constables, the more upright Wolves—Raynor Archaelus and Ironwrought—manage to win over their less-than enthusiastic compatriots, Dr. Kincaid and Coil.
Potter’s Field Fracas
Rand leads the heroes past the Central District gates into Flint’s infamous slum of hills, dirt paths, and shanties. They quietly climb a steep, overgrown mound the Nettles-folk have been using as a cemetery. Soon enough, the Wolves come upon a group of pugnacious teenaged boys digging up a grave. However, they overhear one of the boys instructing the others to be mindful of the “cog array” and the “egoboard” and says something about “clunker’s guts.” The Brickboys are, in fact, digging up a gearman.
With a little prodding, Rand comes clean and confesses that he didn’t think he’d get any help if he said the grave belonged to a gearman, in this case, his recently murdered friend, Boilerplate. The orphan says the steamer was a factory worker who was killed by some drunken, jealous coworkers. The Wolves agree that no less a crime is being committed and step out of the shadows to confront the young toughs.
The junior deputies announce themselves and demand the youths’ surrender. The Brickboys hesitate for a moment before a shrill voice drones out from the treetops, “fight them, the spirits of the forest are with you!”
A meddlesome grig decides to help the Brickboys get rid of the “dirty uglies” in her hill and causes the roots and branches beneath the Wolves’ feet to ensnare them. Emboldened by the surprise supernatural aid, the young gang-members begin hurling rocks and masonry at the intruders. Dr. Kincaid deftly avoids the grasping flora and vaults up the hill toward the rock-lobbers. Archaelus warns the boys and their new fey friend to desist and is ignored. Dodging stones and struggling against the animated plants, the Major attempts to line up a shot with his musket, signaling to the others the okay to use lethal force. Coil manages to power out of the weeds, but the crippled oracle, Ironwrought, is nearly dragged down to his knees.
The grig flits to a tree between the onrushing alchemist and her youthful allies. Rubbing her cricket legs together, the fairy produces an enchanting song. But the Doctor shakes off the mental effect and quaffs a tincture of his own make that causes his muscles to swell preternaturally. The increase in strength allows him to sprint up the tree after the grig, though he fails to get his engorged clutches on the tiny creature. As Severus Coil emerges from the writhing roots, the leader of the Brickboys throws a molotov cocktail at him. The gearman lights up like a bonfire.
Archaelus and Ironwrought catch up with blazing Coil outside the ring of thrashing roots just as the Brickboys begin to surround the Doctor with their makeshift shivs. The surgeon fights back valiantly with a spring-loaded blade along with his free open hand, feet, and knees. Kincaid’s familiarity with pressure points allows him to neutralize one assailant while his natural nimbleness prevents any of the rest from landing a blow. With a Brickboy down, Archaelus tries to garner a surrender from the forces arrayed against them. The grig, who announces her name as P’sheeah, answers by causing the flames blackening Coil’s mechanical skin to flare up into a brilliant white light. Fortunately, none of the Wolves are blinded by the effect. Unfortunately, neither are the Brickboys.
Ironwrought and Coil work together to smother the flames consuming the gearman. The divine machinist lays hands his steam-powered charge, repairing much of the damage wreaked by the fire. Finding his pistols spared the effects of the firebomb, the gearman takes aim and puts two slugs into one of the toughs threatening Dr. Kincaid. The second bullet severs an artery in the boy’s neck, dropping him.
P’sheeah causes the forest floor to rise up once again around Coil, Archaelus, and Ironwrought; but fails to ensnare them. However, Coil is less successful in shaking off the effects of her rhythmic drone and begins uncontrollably shuffling about on his feet! As the heroes make their way into the clearing toward Kincaid, the three standing Brickboys decide to hightail it despite the cheerleading of their fey ally. She vows to take the intruders on by herself. While the Wolves consider how to hurt the boastful fairy without cold iron weapons, the Doctor shuts her up with a well-placed firebomb. Her charred but breathing body drops out of the tree.
Dr. Kincaid manages to save the dying fairy’s life. Meanwhile, the remains of two other exhumed gearman are found among the Brickboys’ bags. Rand Mouser begins to forlornly rebury his old pal Boilerplate. However, it occurs to the deputies that the gearmen buried here should probably have been sent to King Clockwork‘s domain in Danor, as is proper protocol. Archaelus has a touching heart-to-heart with the orphan, and manages to make him understand the necessity of taking Boilerplate’s remains out of the Nettles’ cemetery.
The Wolves use the signaling wand issued by the Constabulary but it’s not the local police who arrive on the scene moments later. A crowd of Nettles-folk, awakened by the gunfire, converge upon the potter’s field. They are immediately taken aback by the dead body of one of the Brickboys, who was named Anton. Though Kincaid is uninterested in explaining their actions to the locals and Coil is more than happy to make threats, Archaelus and Ironwrought make an earnest attempt at peacemaking. The self-appointed speaker of the Nettles dwellers takes umbrage with the deputies’ use of lethal force against wayward kids with improvised weapons. The crowd is initially unwilling to disperse, nor keen on letting the Wolves arrest the injured Brickboy named Carlos. Just before Coil threatens to speed up negotiations with a hail of lead, Archaelus and Ironwrought manage to convince the Nettles-folk to stand down.
Good Cop, Good Cop, Bad Cop, Very Bad Cop
The Wolves bring the unconscious Brickboy and the fricasseed fairy back to headquarters. P’sheeah’s barely living body is tossed in an anti-magic cell while the Wolves set about interrogating Carlos. After sending the morally conscientious Ironwrought to get some water, the deputies learn that the Brickboys’ leader is named Darius. It was his idea to dig up the gearmen in order to sell their parts to a local artificer named Blag Doring, whom Darius is apprenticed to. The fairy had never made her physical presence known before tonight, but locals knew her as “The Voice of the Trees.” The deputies conclude that P’sheeah probably aligned with the gang simply out of a distaste for gearmen. Carlos, who tries to cajole a release, agrees to take the Wolves to Darius.
The Wolves give their report to a very late-working Stover Delft. The Assistant Chief Inspector is not at all pleased with the killing of the Nettles boy, or the manhandling of a denizen of the Dreaming. Concerning the former, Delft warns the deputies to be more careful about the use of lethal force. While the Nettles-folk are too poor to take action against the Constabulary, the killing will still reflect poorly on the department. Archaelus nobly says he’ll take responsibility for the kid’s death and Delft tells the Major he may have to, though he understands that tough decisions have to be made under fire. Realizing this sounds a little cold, he does not condone Anton’s killing and hopes the Wolves use greater discretion in the future.
As far as P’sheeah goes, the complex relationship Risur has with the Dreaming may complicate things. She’ll likely be released to a representative of the Unseen Court. Depending on the grig’s status in the alternate plane, that release may include apologies and tributes. The Wolves are less than happy to hear that, but Delft shrugs and says that’s politics in Risur.
As agreed, Carlos takes the deputies back into the Nettles to find Darius. At Darius’s family’s shack, they receive a less-than-warm welcome and no cooperation from the boy’s alcoholic mother. The gang leader isn’t at any of the Brickboys’ hang-outs or haunts. Out of options, Carlos takes the Wolves to Darius’s girlfriend Arienne ‘s shanty. There, the Doctor silently sneaks inside and finds the teenaged girl awake, and Darius asleep. He points a pistol at her and warns her to keep quiet, but Arienne screams loud enough to wake the neighborhood. An angry Dr. Kincaid pistol-whips the girl and knocks her out cold. Darius begins yelling threats but doesn’t put up a fight, as Archaelus and Coil join the Doctor inside the shack.
Ironwrought is left with the task of placating another gathering crowd of angry Nettles-folk. The head man is the same as the one from the potter’s field, who now doesn’t bother to hide his hatred for “pinkers” (a derogatory term for royal constables). The machine oracle gallantly stands firm against the mob, but some manage to part the tarp on the shack window just in time to see Severus Coil holding an unconscious Arienne aloft by the throat. Before the gearman throttles the teenaged girl, Darius agrees to go quietly. The crowd are disgusted by the deputies’ actions, but disperse, vowing that they won’t let these improprieties stand. Carlos is allowed to go free.
Back at headquarters, Darius has little more to say than the other Brickboy. He says that his boss, Blag Doring, did not order them to dig up dead gearmen and probably wouldn’t condone it, either. The deputies turn the gang leader over to the local police and agree to pay a visit to the artificer in the morning.
The Innocent Artificer
The Wolves arrive at Blag’s Surplus and Repairs in Alchemist’s Row at the start of business hours. A sign in the window reads “Steamer Clinician” indicating a gearman repair shop. They find the proprietor good-natured, but nervous about being caught up in anything untoward. They lean on him hard at first, but quickly decide that Darius was telling the truth about his master not condoning the Brickboys’ graverobbing. Blag says that he considers Darius’s apprenticeship terminated.
However, there is in fact a shortage of gearman parts that has the artificer concerned. Like a few technologists, Blag has a license and special dispensation from King Clockwork to deal in gearman parts salvaged in old battlefields abroad in order to affect repairs for living gearmen. Over a week ago, he sold his entire supply to a licensed technologist named Sam Edison who appeared in his shop with two “louts.” The artificer did not realize at the time that he would immediately run into problems replenishing his stock. When the deputies ask to see the copy of Edison’s license, Blag works himself into a cold sweat trying to find it. All he remembers about Mr. Edison is that the man was a smooth-talker with fast hands, who wore flashy rings. One of the rings was a silver animal head.
Edison was also interested in his files, which contains the equivalent of medical records for all Flint’s gearmen, everything Blag has been able to collect. There is even a file on Severus Coil! The artificer defends himself by saying the records help his work—he never knows when a new patient might land on his doorstep. A cursory examination indicates that there are files missing, in addition to the copy of Edison’s license. The missing files belong to the oldest gearmen in Flint, those whose components are least complex but contain the most information.
The Wolves realize that these old steamers might be in grave danger.
The Iron Sage
The heroes proceed to Holismith Square in the Parity Lake district known as Steamside. These few square blocks are best known as a gearman-centric neighborhood surrounding a condemned church to Torag, god of the forge. The last priest of the church is Tinrivets, according to Doring, Flint’s eldest gearman. After the city condemned his church, the law-abiding Tinrivets placed himself in the square and has remained ever since. He awakes from depletion torpor just long enough to dispense “wisdom” whenever a bit of coke is donated to his boiler. The Wolves find the rusted steamer, unfortunately, unable to be moved without falling to pieces.
Ironwrought awakens Tinrivets only to be insulted (along with his mother)—the gearman obviously suffers from advanced senility. However, the oracle takes it in stride. Severus Coil determines that he likes the crazy old steamer after Tinrivets gives some sage advice concerning the amount of blood contained in a typical “softbody” (a slur for organic humanoids). After putting up with a bit more of the priest’s nonsense, Tinrivets finally grows lucid enough to warn against moving him, that his purpose is being fulfilled here in the square. He also tells Coil “your greatest fortune is the companions you have. They will prove the foundation of your success.” This gives the ex-villain pause.
The Wolves arrange for a gearman police officer named Nickelflanks to watch Tinrivets for a while as they consider their next move.