The capital is clean and beautiful. Money flows in the markets, and comfortable housing lines the streets. It is a good place for a respectable person to be seen! Official palace statistics report that the poor are well-provided for, and numbers of homeless people living on the streets are lower than they have ever been. Many noble-sponsored charitable organisations exist to help the needy, with fanciful names such as The Guild of the Golden Cup, The Great Hand of Plenty, and The Porcelain Heart.
One of the homeless people in the city is David, who is known to one of the characters’ contacts. He has been visiting The Silvered Cloud‘s charitable hostel lately to get somewhere to sleep at night, in exchange for which he does some simple manual labour. The organisation’s leader is a well-known industrialist with a large canned food business, who makes weekly visits to the hostel in the Harbour Quarter to give encouraging speeches.
Nobody has seen David for the past week; the hostel state that he has “graduated from the programme”, but otherwise offer no information. Those who live on the lowest rungs of society can relate other stories of homeless people going missing, stretching back over several months. Shortly after the characters’ contact enlists their help in trying to locate David, the contact succumbs to a sudden and mysterious death in their own bedroom, having apparently just finished a dinner of canned sausage. The body is shrivelled and desiccated, the jaw is dislocated, and the vocal cords severed.
The Anchor Canned Goods factory in the Merchants’ Quarter is a busy place, with a complicated production line and a huge shipping department packing tins for distribution to all parts of the kingdom. Somehow the production line doesn’t seem quite big enough to produce cans at the rate they are shipped out. Their canned food is quite popular and the characters will have encountered it on shopping expeditions: especially the popular canned beans, beef, sausages, tomatoes, sardines, and strawberries.
A number of people, from all walks of life, have fallen prey to the same mysterious death that affected the character’s contact, but it is being kept under wraps by the authorities for fear of panic. In each case the condition of the body is the same, but there is rarely much sign of a struggle. Some of the victims died in locked rooms with nobody else present. Observation of the scenes will reveal that each had recently had a meal of delicious canned food.
In the hostel’s main office there towers a huge ornate glass clock, whose shimmering dial tracks some rhythm of unearthly origin. The ticking sound of the clock echoes strangely. A glass door on the front of the clock (which is an Arcanum) opens to reveal a passage to a spectral world adjoining the mundane one. Time flows differently here: a day in the spectral world passes in only an hour’s worth of mundane time. In the sandy ground of the spectral world, missing homeless people labour to dig new tunnels in the nest of the native phase insects; the tunnels are lined with multi-coloured glass by the insects themselves.
Also in the spectral world is an extension of the Baroness’ canning industry. Taking advantage of the different rates of temporal flow, she compels the homeless slaves to labour hard at the canning production line when they aren’t tending to the needs of the flitting phase insects, or catching a scant few hours’ sleep. The factory’s machinery is steel, of human make, but the structure itself is mostly the glittering glass excreted by the insects.
The phase insects themselves are two feet long and of beautiful aspect, with shimmering dragonfly wings and iridescent bodies. Their eyes sparkle with entrancing rainbow hues, and a faintly metallic scent accompanies them. They are habitually airborne, landing only to rest or lay eggs, and their wings emit a harmonious droning hum which is hypnotically pleasant to listen to. They prefer to congregate in large numbers and dislike being alone.
Slaves who dissent or become too weak to work are chained down and implanted with a phase insect egg. This egg grows to maturity very rapidly, draining the vitality and mass from the host’s body to leave a shrivelled ruin. At length, the juvenile insect forces its way up through the host’s throat, tearing the vocal cords and cracking open the jaw.
As part of her business arrangement with the phase insects, the Baroness has arranged for a certain number of eggs to be introduced into cans of food. Most of the insects which hatch in the normal world instinctively make their way to the glass clock to return to the nest, although some may seek out new nesting sites in the normal world. Mostly the deadly cans are included randomly in regular shipments, although the Baroness isn’t above ensuring that specific enemies receive such a “special” can.
The immediate area around the factory and the nest is a sandy place filled only with the glass sculptures of the phase insects. Should the characters decide to explore further afield in the spectral world, feel free to get creative!
The Baroness has a safe place to hole up in the spectral world, a comfortable office in the slaves’ factory. Her secret records and anything else incriminating are kept here, along with a stash of other paperwork she would prefer to keep out of others’ reach. The spectral world office is in the same relative location as her office in the normal world’s factory, and hence her glass bangle allows her to move between them. Included in the document safe is a scroll case holding the sixth page of the Cadian document.