The Wrathbreakers have secured the Eye of a Dead God, and now they have a list of artifacts that the deepcult is searching for. Though they do not know why the deepcult seeks these strange and disturbing items, they at least now know what they are seeking. They decided to take the Eye of the Dead God to the Reliquary in Alpon, on the assumption that once there it would be far from its original location, protected, and difficult for the deepfolk to locate. To further complicate the search, they decided to take it there by way of the dwarven region known as the Outriders, and to spend some time looking for the only other surviving member of the Ashentide, the dwarven stormcaller known as The Gull.

The Bones

Although the town they were staying in was small they were in luck, and after a few days were able to obtain passage on a ship called the Wanderer, that was visiting the largest seastead in the Outriders, a place called The Bones. The Wanderer was a small, tough, weathered looking dwarven Cog, with a mixed crew of dwarves, humans and elves. The captain was a middle-aged, extremely tall, extremely thin elf called Antazel, and the first mate was a Changeling called Stalker. Once they were out to sea Stalker transformed to his natural form, which was disturbing to a group of adventurers who were increasingly coming to view Changelings with fear and distrust. Nonetheless, despite his dour manner Stalker seemed much-loved by the crew of the Wanderer, who seemed to all intents and purposes like a tightly knit and warm group, with no secrets or enmities.

The Wanderer delivered them safely to the Bones. As they approached the seastead they came to a strange region of large, regular waves, breaking in the open ocean in a perfect arc pattern that stretched for kilometres to both sides of the boat. In the distance they could see small ships floating in the water near the waves, and dwarves surfing the waves on solid wooden longboards. Captain Antazel explained that the Bones was surrounded by a region of supernatural calm, induced by generations of stormcallers working constantly to protect the community from storms and extreme weather, and this zone of calm at its edge acted like a kind of reef. Here the waves from the deep ocean broke smoothly and regularly against the magical wards surrounding the Bones, and on clear, calm days they presented a perfect surf break. Young dwarves would come here and surf at the edges of their community, resting on wooden buoys that marked out the edges of the Bones’s calm zone in between breaks.

They passed close to one of these breaks, to watch the dwarves surfing, and then resumed their journey westward to the Bones. They arrived an hour later, sailing into the strangest community the Wrathbreakers had ever seen[1].

The Bones was a seastead built in the skeleton of a huge sea creature. A kilometre long and rising a hundred metres above the water, the skeleton’s fin-bones sank 200m deep below the waves, and the bones of its spine and a strange keel structure in its chest stabilized it beneath the water. Its largest veretbra was 100m across and 50m high, and its skull was 100m in diameter. Submerged beneath the water were two huge swim bladders, each 250m long and 50m deep, made of a strange transparent membrane that allowed light in, and which had been turned into huge parks. Wooden homes had been built on and between the vertebrae of the beast, and chambers and tunnels carved within them. The Wanderer docked on the partially submerged bones of the beast’s giant tail, and the Wrathbreakers disembarked into this strange dwarven floating city made of bone.

Antazel told them that the Wanderer would travel from here to the cape of Darepo, where it would deliver dwarven manufactured goods, before returning via the Bones to the Moran Kei Peninsula, carrying wheat or wood or buffalo meat. The Wanderer would leave in a few days and they would have to find their own onward transport, or wait months for its return.

This suited them fine – they had things to do. Once they had settled they asked around about the Gull, and were able to learn that she was now living in a place called the Lambent Cays, an island chain much further west from the Bones. They tried to investigate further, but it was made clear to them that humans were not allowed at the Lambent Cays, and they should stop asking questions if they wanted to remain welcome on the Bones.

The Stirge and the Crab

The Wrathbreakers were not so easily discouraged. They found an area of the Bones where gangsters and smugglers plied their trade, and asked around. Sure enough, after a day a dwarf called Krotos approached them with a deal: he had a ship that needed guards to perform a mission, and that ship would take them to the Cays “in an emergency” if they would do the mission for him.

Of course they agreed. The mission was simple: a ship of his called The Wages of Sin had gone missing, and he suspected foul play. It had been on a shady mission, and something might have gone wrong. They were to sail on a ship of his called the Stirge to find it, to kill anyone who had interfered with it, and to retrieve his cargo. Their orders were clear: kill the people they were told to kill, and don’t kill the people they were told not to kill.

Of course they agreed, and the next day found themselves shipping out on a grim, vicious little ship with a grim, vicious crew of little men, headed west south west. They traveled for a week before they entered a strange miasma, a weird area of rotten smells and stench. In the distance to the north they could see a disturbance in air and sea. Thinking it might be a floundering ship they headed north, and soon arrived at a strange, small island, perhaps a kilometre across, that was covered in rotting marine plants and surrounded by a fine film of scum in the water. A feeding frenzy of birds, fish, sharks and cetaceans was busy in the water, and the whole area stank of death. They rowed a ship to the island and walked up to its highest central point, about 40m above sea level. From here they could see all around, and ahead of them on the far side of the island they could see a small ship moored in a chain of tiny islands just offshore from the main island. This, the sailors told them, was The Wages of Sin.

They headed down to the bay and walked through the stinking water between the small islands, which formed a kind of causeway. As they approached the ship they turned to look back, and it became clear what had happened: the island was actually a giant crab, its shell a kilometre across, and the promonotry on which they stood was one of its extended claws. It must have died weeks ago and most of its rotting meat had been consumed, but the last dregs of its remaining rotting body parts were seeping into the water and being consumed. Under the shell they could see a huge cave in which surf boomed; this must once have been the face and soft parts of the crab, now rotted and gnawed away to reveal a huge, yawning chamber of dead meat and carapace.

They turned back to the moored ship. No one hailed them and there were no signs of life. The crew were either dead, lost or in hiding. They had found a ghost ship moored to the corpse of a gargantuan crab.

The Wrathbreakers shrugged, and prepared to board…


fn1: I have a schematic but it’s so embarrassingly bad I won’t put it on the web.

GM note

Square brackets are editorial additions to explain things that might not make sense to the players or the PCs, or to clarify details about the way that deepfolk write.

Ritualistic declarations of rage or honour are presented in round brackets. In the original letter these appear to have been written in a different colour, possibly due to having been carefully written using blood.


The letter

[Date]: 79th day of the year 1012

Wrathchild!

Vengeance until the sands of time lay waste to all of existence!

We have learnt that our kinfolk beneath the Great Island have made an obscene connection with the beasts who walk beneath the sun (may they be cursed to eternity). They have foolishly revealed the secrets of our magic to the beasts (may their soulless bodies be crushed in the depths of the ocean), and now work together on some fool’s errand.

No compact with the beasts (may their cities lie in ruin beneath our wrath) has ever been tried before, and I do not believe it can come to any good end. They are a jinx upon the earth and always have been, for all above and below the line of day [Deepfolk word for the surface of the earth].  We should not work with them; we should smash their bones and scatter them in the earth as we would our own heretics. Nonetheless, our kinfolk on the Great Island work with the beasts (may the marrow of their bones feed the vilest worms of the earth) to some secret end they do not share with us.

Though we cannot know their plan, word has reached us from spies (whose self-sacrifice was valiant and worthy!) that they seek seven ancient items for some purpose. These items:

  • Fragment of a fallen moon [the pictogram reads as a ball that circles the world we live on, but you can make no sense of it] (location unknown)
  • Rib of the first of the beasts (our kinfolk have this already)
  • Eye of a dead god
  • Fragments of a dragon egg (this must be on Kaen where the lizard rules!)
  • The ghost of the first beastchild (may all their foul progeny be born with open fists) (location unknown)
  • A fragment of death’s shadow (location unknown)
  • The embers of the beasts’ first fire (may they all perish in fire!) (it is rumoured they seek this in Gon)

Does not the third of these artifacts sound familiar to you? Is it not what our ancestors (may their souls rest forever in a world yet untainted by the beasts) uncovered and buried again in the Small Sea. If we have this thing then we can stand between our kinfolk on the Great Island and their plans! Our spies learnt that whatever this secret plan is, it hinges on a deadline connected to the circling of the stars, and in particular the Seven Children of Rage, and if they do not obtain the artifacts within the next year they will be forced to wait 1000 years for the next alignment of the Children of Rage. So it is that, should we obtain this artifact soon, they will be forced to reveal their plans to us, and welcome us into their conspiracy.

So! I command you to dig up this Eye that has been buried, being cautious of its powers and risks, and bring it back to me. Take a small but powerful force to guard the camp, lest any beasts (may their soulless bodies never find ease) stumble upon you. Our lives here have been secret from the beasts for generations (may they know no more generations after this, filthy wretches!), and though this mission is pressing, I do not wish our presence under this land to become known to them, so be merciless in your defense of our secrets.

Make haste, and secure this thing before our kinfolk and their beast allies (rot in the earth, oh filth!) learn of its location.

Do not fail me, Wrathchild!

[Marked with a seal in blood, the icon of the Poison Eye clan]

The Wrathbreakers have crushed a deepfolk raiding party and scattered its remnants across the lands south of the Fanurae Inland Sea. Now they rest in the ruins of the deepfolk camp, and investigate its mission in this area.

Securing the site

The Wrathbreakers were badly injured, exhausted and running low on supplies and luck. They did not have the energy or the time to chase down every escaped deepfolk worker and kill them before they could return to their lair and raise the alarm, but they guessed it would take days for the deepfolk to receive the message that the camp had been destroyed, gather a sufficient force and return. They first decided to secure the area, using a combination of their nature lore, magic and skullduggery.

They searched the area and found a dry creek near the dig site itself, where once beavers had made a dam. The beavers were long gone and the lodge empty, but for some reason now the creek and dam itself were dry, the water long drained away and the base of the streambed overgrown with bushes and small trees. They used the abandoned dam as the base for their own camp, setting a fire in the base of the dam and piling cut brush outside the dam for extra cover. Here, hidden from view from all around, they could sleep and recover in relative safety. While the rest of the team worked on this, Itzel moved around the destroyed camp site, setting alarm spells to warn them if any deepfolk should try to sneak towards them. Then, having secured the area, they rested a little, and prepared to dig.

Sending for help

The deepfolk had established a worksite here, with some dozens of deepfolk labourers working in some kind of dig or construction near the shore. The Wrathbreakers wanted to uncover this site but guessed they would need workers, and it would take at least two weeks to travel back to Kei, gather workers, and return. So instead Itzel used her teleportation magic to travel instantly back to Kei on the same day that they completed the defenses of the camp site. She returned some hours later, carrying a supply of potions of healing and with the news that a gang of workers with some guards would travel north and could be expected to reach them in seven days.

In the meantime they would have to stay here, searching for food in the surrounding forest and trying to uncover the dig site themselves. They did not know if the work gang and reinforcements would arrive before the deepfolk attempted to recover the site, so they decided to set to work themselves, using magic and sheer brute force, to try to complete the work at the dig site.

The Poison Eye Clan

Having secured the campsite and set up a basic plan, the Wrathbreakers began searching the loot from the battle for clues about the deepfolk they had killed and their plans for the site. Mostly they found trash and useless deepfolk trinkets, but amongst the dead goblin shaman’s belongings they found a letter, which seemed to indicate the squad’s mission. Of course it was written in the deepfolk language, but by now Itzel and Ella had begun to develop some familiarity with this tongue, and so over the next few days, in between working at the dig site, they slowly decoded it. From this letter they learnt that:

  • The deepfolk clan they had been fighting was called the Poison Eye clan, and it had been hiding beneath the western isles for hundreds of years, having given humans the impression it had been driven extinct
  • The Poison Eye clan’s leader had learnt that deepfolk clans on the main island of Hadun had begun working with humans, and that this information was being kept secret from the Poison Eye clan
  • The Poison Eye clan leader did not believe working with humans was a good idea, and wanted to either undermine the actions of its mainland brethren, or find some way to be invited into their conspiracy
  • The mainland deepfolk were looking for 7 powerful artifacts, for some purpose. Spies had provided the Poison Eye clan leader with a list, and one of the items was obviously an item that the Poison Eye clan knew about on Fanurae, a thing called “The Eye of a Dead God”
  • These items needed to be gathered within a certain timeframe, as they needed to be in the deepfolk’s possession before the alignment of a constellation the deepfolk call the “Seven Children of Rage”; if not obtained by this time, the deepfolk would have to wait another 1000 years to achieve whatever their purpose was
  • The Poison Eye clan leader wanted to obtain this eye before the mainland deepfolk learnt where it was, so that it could be used as leverage to get in on the mainland deepfolk’s plan

The letter also held some clues about the location of the other seven artifacts, and suggested very strongly that the white object that the Wrathbreakers had found in the Valley of Gon was something called the “fragment of a fallen moon” (though none of them could understand what a moon might be, even though the pictogram describing it suggested what it might be).

They kept the letter, and hastened to dig up the worksite.

The Eye of a Dead God

Over the next five days they alternated between resting, attempting to dig out the worksite, scouring the land around for food, and decoding the letter. They were able to recover some wounds and heal some of their wounds, and although they had to rely on their dwindling supplies on some days they were also able to gather local foods to supplement their rations on others.

The worksite was a hole dug into the ground, protected from the elements by a covering of rough-hewn wood and secured from the sea by wooden hoardings. The deepfolk had attempted to destroy it with explosives before they fled, and for the first two days the Wrathbreakers had to dig out the collapsed parts of the site, combining Bao Tap’s earth magic with Xu’s muscle. Now that the month of Rain had begun the site was constantly inundated with the first downpourings of the season, which seeped into the mud and made the work difficult and unpleasant. They also suspected that the inland sea would begin to rise – despite its name it was simply a very large freshwater lake, and the constant rain was likely to swell the rivers feeding into it over the next weeks – so they had to do some work shoring up the defenses against flood from the seaward side. Nonetheless, by the fifth day they had managed to uncover a large box, perhaps 3m long and 2m in width and height. With the combination of Xu’s strength, Bao Tap’s earth magic and Itzel’s levitation magic they were able to drag the box forth and bring it onto dry land.

They opened it immediately, of course, and after dragging away a covering of rotted straw and mud they uncovered the box’s contents: a huge, unblinking eye, squeezed into the box and packed around with mud. It had a slightly rotten smell but it had not rotted, and although they thought it must be dead there was something in its unblinking stare that suggested it was not fully gone. It also exuded an intense aura of the new magic that Itzel had discovered on the scrolls in Anyara’s bedroom, and which had corrupted the Beast of the Bones. Truly, they suspected, this thing must be the eye of an enormous, long-dead cephalopod deity of some kind.

After they had cleared the box Bao Tap tried to touch the eye. He was immediately drawn into a nightmare of darkness, chaos, blood and vast powers urgently seeking him from some other dimension. He tried to maintain his grip on the eye, to plunge in and learn its secrets, but he lacked the courage, and pulled his hands away before he could learn anything of its terrible secrets. Nonetheless, in its death it maintained some baleful outward-looking rage, and its power was even then too much for mortals, after untold time buried dead in the earth.

By now they had been here five days, and they began to fear that the deepfolk would return for them soon. With the work done early, before the workers from Kei could reach them, they decided to decamp and retreat back towards Kei. They would meet the expedition on the way, and gain some safety in numbers. Itzel established a levitation spell on the box to lighten the load and they set off, dragging the box over the dry ground of the land south of the Fanurae Inland sea, heading back to Kei. What unseemly horror did they drag back to civilization? And what could they do with this thing, now that it was in their possession?

And what were the deepfolk trying to do? What ghastly ritual did they have planned with the Eye of a Dead God, when the Seven Children of Rage came into alignment? What evil would be unleashed on the world if the Wrathbreakers failed to guard this monstrous scraping of a god’s flesh?

The Wrathbreakers were attacked by a large force of deepfolk as they approached what they thought was a human camp and worksite by the Farunae Inland Sea. Itzel and Bao Tap were captured during the battle and Xu and Ella forced to flee. Now Itzel and Bao Tap need to escape from the camp before they become breakfast.

The Goblin’s conversation

Itzel and Bao Tap woke after several hours of unconsciousness. They were completely naked, all their magic items and weapons gone, their hands bound behind their backs, legs tied, and gagged so they could not speak. They lay their for a while recovering their wits, and then heard people approaching their tent. Outside, they heard one deepfolk giving another orders.

Fortunately Itzel had spent time studying and now understood a little deepfolk. She was able to eavesdrop a little, and so learnt that they were not to be eaten, but to be “used” in a few days. She also learnt that the camp’s forces had been badly depleted in the battle. They also learnt that the deepfolk had looted their magic items and had determined that the strange white ceramic-like plate they had picked up in the Valley of Gon was of great value and had to be returned soon to the deepfolk’s underground kingdom. They decided to wait a little, recover some of their fatigue, and see what happened in the camp. They assumed that the deepfolk knew they were magic users, and had bound and gagged them to prevent them using magic. However, it was unlikely that the deepfolk knew that both Itzel and Bao Tap had been given regenerated arms by the healer Aragan in Kei, and these arms granted them the special talent of needing no free hands to cast magic. So any time they wanted they could use magic, but without their items and heavily exhausted by the battle, they thought it might be wise to wait and see what happened. As they lay there waiting a goblin captain strolled into the room, yelled abuse at them, and sat calmly on a chair on the far side of the room, axe in hand, to act as their guard. Truly their situation was desperate.

Xu and Ella return

While they waited Ella and Xu had retreated to the edge of the forest, where they spent an hour recovering their strength and taking the last of their healing potions. Xu was injured but not seriously, and Ella was relatively unharmed but exhausted and stressed. Even though night had fallen by the time they finished resting they decided not to risk waiting longer, in case their friends were scheduled to be on the evening’s menu, and headed back towards the camp.

They moved carefully and quietly, but with Xu in his armour and the deepfolk operating at night they soon stumbled onto a group of scouts. They emerged into a dimly lit stretch of open ground to find the goblin shaman they had fought earlier, accompanied by a squad of strange, lizardlike humanoids they had never seen before, and the reanimated corpses of some of their earlier deepfolk casualties. Ella hid in a sniper position as Xu rushed forward to engage. He was immediately struck with a storm of spit by the lizardlike creatures, which penetrated his armour and staggered him so that he could not attack. Reeling from the acidic blast of the poison dripping in his eyes, all he could do was defend himself as the zombies attacked him, clubbing him slowly into insensibility.

As Xu collapsed under a horde of slow and inexorable attackers Ella opened fire on the goblin shaman, killing him with a single shot. She then took her sole invisibility potion, and slipped away to the deepfolk camp, leaving Xu to fight the lizard creatures and zombies.

Reunited

Ella slipped invisible into the camp and searched quickly until she found the tent where Itzel and Bao Tap were hiding. Near this tent there was a small open pavilion in which the surviving Grigg scouts – just 8 – were settling down to rest. She slipped into the prison tent, drifting in in such a way as to make it seem like the tent flap had simply stirred with the wind. Then, without much pause to think, she shot the goblin with her crossbow. The bolt hit him in the shoulder, shattering his arm and pinning him to the chair. Suddenly revealed, Ella began working to free Itzel and Bao Tap. The battle began.

The goblin’s screaming woke everyone and drew the remaining forces in the camp. From a nearby tent the Ogre champion emerged to fight, along with two goblin captains. The Grigg scouts roused from their rest, but following the goblin captain’s orders they moved to the edge of the camp to stop anyone else coming in. The Ogre champion charged to the tent and ripped it out of the ground, revealing a naked but free Itzel and Bao Tap, and Ella trying to put distance between herself and her enemies. Bao Tap summoned another nature’s champion. More of the lizardlike creatures joined the battle, and things were looking dangerous for a few seconds until Xu emerged from the forest, having successfully defeated the lizard creatures and zombies, and joined the battle. With Xu there to turn the tide they were able to escape, and fled into the forest.

Cleaning up

They rested for the remainder of the night and in the morning, when Itzel flew into the air with a telescope to spy on the camp, they saw that the remaining deepfolk forces were breaking camp and preparing to leave. No doubt with their leaders dead and a single goblin champion remaining, they had decided it was best to flee the scene before their attackers returned. The Wrathbreakers decided to ambush them, and moved quickly to a stream to the west of the camp. They set up an ambush, Bao Tap using his magic to dig a channel in the stream and Xu and Ella positioning themselves for battle. Itzel hovered above the scene, and they prepared.

The ambush was savage and effective. Bao Tap’s nature’s champion attacked the goblin champion when it slid into the trap they had dug in the stream, and while it was occupied they killed the remaining deepfolk fighters quickly and without mercy. The large group of non-combatant deepfolk broke and fled, abandoning all the camp gear and scattering into the forest.

The Wrathbreakers gathered up what they could and returned to the abandoned campsite. They were badly hurt, exhausted and at the end of their strength, but they had prevailed. Now they simply needed to try to understand why they had been forced to this battle – what were deepfolk doing here, and what dark secrets had they been searching for in that worksite?

The Wrathbreakers have killed a huge swamp beast in the swamps north of Kei, and during the battle discovered the beast had been corrupted by the same dark magic that was embedded in the scrolls they stole from a deep cult leader in the Valley of Gon. They decide to track the beast back along its path, until they can find where it originated and see if there is any information there about the nature of the magic.

They tracked the beast easily, following the mixed signs of destruction, corrupted land, and slaughter. The beast had killed indiscriminately as it traveled south, and had also stopped to rest at certain points in its journey, spending perhaps days at a time submerged in the mud in places that soon became corrupted and noticeably foul in its presence. They soon realized that the beast had followed a straight line directly away from the source of its corruption, and tracking it became even easier and faster as they no longer needed to search frequently for traces of it. Although tracking the beast was easy, the journey itself was tough. They had only three days’ supply of food, so had to gather food as they traveled, although they had some dwarven way biscuits that they could rely on if they were desperate. They also had to avoid mud-traps, wild animals and the seeping cold and damp of the swamp. After five days of walking through swamp the land began to dry a little and rise, with the mangroves and thick, lush foliage of creepers and moss changing slowly to rainforest and then to more sparsely scattered trees as they slowly ascended away from the fens.

On the 8th day they heard a strange sound ahead of them, like a distant storm making trees rustle, or the sound of many sticks being rubbed together. Then suddenly a horde of animals large and small fled past them, suddenly rushing to avoid some threat in the forest. Rabbits, rats, flightless birds, lizards, snakes and antelope all clattered, slithered, hopped and ran past them, and then the forest was still of all bird calls and animal sounds. The rustling sound grew to a clattering and then a roar, and then they saw the source ahead of them: a wave of ants, each the size of their fist, moving through the forest tearing up everything in their path. Small saplings were torn down and shredded, undergrowth cut down and mashed, and any animal that had not been fast enough to escape was torn apart or dragged along by the huge insects. They saw a rabbit being dragged along, struggling and screaming, as the ants tore it apart without breaking their march. They saw dismembered pieces of a goat being held aloft by a swarm of giant worker ants – and they realized they were next. They broke and ran. Itzel levitated into the air, Bao Tap made a magical shelter for himself, Ella climbed a tree, and Xu dived into a nearby stream. They waited as the swarm of ants passed them, Ella hoping they would not climb the tree after her and Xu watching in horror as the ants formed a bridge over the river by piecing together animal bones and pieces of harvested wood, glued together with some mixture of blood and fat and ant-spit. As Itzel hung in the air watching the swarm beneath her she heard screams and hoots in the distance. A troop of monkeys had been surprised by the ants, fighting back at first and then running, then being caught and dying, and their calls and screams of fear and pain echoed through the forest as their circumstances shifted from surprise to angry conflict to fear and then to horrible death.

Finally the ants passed and the Wrathbreakers could emerge from their hiding places into a new landscape, stripped and denuded by the army of ants, suddenly easier to walk in and transformed from light jungle to open savannah. They gathered themselves and continued their journey.

The Deepfolk ambush

The following day they reached a waypoint on their destination. The forest thinned and they emerged from the scattered trees onto a saddle of land, from which they could get a wider view of the landscape around them. The crest of this hill looked over another stretch of forest that swept downward to a huge lake, so large that they could not see the far side. This must be the inland sea north of Kei, and they guessed the swamp beast must have come from the shore of that sea. From where they stood on the hilltop the sea was perhaps an hour or two walk down the gentle slope, and they would likely be able to reach it by nightfall. They could see a small camp at the shore of the sea, and near the camp a worksite of some kind.

They discussed the best way to approach the camp. They were hungry, tired and dirty, and knew nothing about the area, and they really wanted to get down to the camp. They considered waiting until late night and walking through the forest at night, to emerge at the camp at dawn, but this seemed reckless and dangerous, so they decided to set off immediately with the goal of arriving by nightfall.

They had walked perhaps halfway to the camp, and were deep in the light scrub and forest leading down to the water, when they were ambushed. A flight of arrows emerged from the forest, hitting several of them, and they scattered to take cover where they could. More arrows emerged from the forest, finding their targets again, but they could not easily identify where the arrows came from. Then several squads of goblins rushed from the trees, grenades flying out of the forest ahead of them, and the Wrathbreakers realized that they had walked into a large and very well organized ambush.

The goblins were followed by an enormous ogre, and some heavily armoured goblin warriors with huge two-handed axes. The numbers were overwhelming but they put in a big fight, wiping out the archers and the fusiliers throwing hand grenades, and killing several of the goblin champions. Then, however, two spell users – a goblin witch doctor and a grigg shaman – arrived at the scene, and although they killed one the other one took control of Ella’s mind, forcing her to fire her crossbow at her own party. She was not completely dominated, but any time the witch doctor chose to it could make her fire on her friends. At the same time the goblin champions knocked Bao Tap and Itzel unconscious, and Xu and Ella realized that if they stayed in the battle they would be dead or captured too. They both fled, Ella running as fast as she could to clear the area before the witch doctor could command her again, and Xu casting a final look over his shoulder to see the goblin champion and some goblin raiders dragging Itzel, Bao Tap and Calim off into the woods, down towards the camp.

What they had thought was a human worksite must be some kind of deepfolk outpost. They had believed the western isles free of deepfolk but they were wrong, and they had paid for their lack of caution with a hard-fought defeat. Now Xu and Ella needed to regroup, and find a way to save their friends’ lives … or die trying …

The Wrathbreakers have settled matters in the marsh town of Yula, and now must head north to find the healer, Aragan, who can repair Itzel’s wrecked arm and Bao Tap’s ruined hand. It is 10 days’ travel in the marshes to reach the town of Kei where the healer lives, so they set out as soon as they can after their business in Yula is done.

They took a gondola along the shifting waterways of the marshlands, heading north to Kei. Every two days they stopped at a small swamp village, where they slept comfortably in simple beds behind mosquito nets, on dry decking raised above the mire and murk of the swamp; but every other day their gondolier had to lead them away from the main channels of the journey to find dry land to place a camp. On these nights they learnt quickly that the landscape of the marshlands is treacherous, the channels always moving and the position of individual safe camping areas always difficult to find in the morphing, shifting landscape of small streams, mud patches and pools of the swamps. Once a mound of dry land had been found they needed to string out crocodile- and insect-repellent marshstones, set up nets for fish, and lay out reed mats to protect their camp from the soft, damp earth. The following day these dampened mats would be exchanged for dry ones at the next village, and so the journey would continue.

Despite the threatening gloom, constant mists and strange sounds of the swamp, they reached Kei unmolested. Kei was built on a long island rising from a sluggish river, its southern side a kind of ox-bow lake and its northern side the main river, moving from a lake in the west to the sea in the east. The northern side of the island was festooned with water wheels, and the town’s piers and working structures were set up on its more placid southern side. Anti-crocodile nets three layers thick protected the town on its southern side from the ever-present beasts, while on the northern side fences picketed between water wheels ensured the island was safe from incursion. The group’s gondolier arrived at one of the piers on the south bank and they headed inland to a small and comfortable hostel called the Hungry Frog. That evening they met with Aragan, and set about negotiations for their arm.

Aragan was a tall, severe-looking man with dark skin and red hair, a little past middle age but still thin and lean. One of his eyes was milky from some past damage or uncured illness, and he often fidgeted with an enchanted monocle that enabled him to see through it. He spoke in short, terse sentences, but had a warm manner regardless. He inspected Itzel and Bao Tap’s injuries and told them that not only could he repair them, he would be able to offer them some magical enhancements for the right price. However, before they finalized their agreement, he told them that he might be able to offer them a discount if they did him a favour. A delegation of swamp folk had come to Kei, and he suspected they would need help of the kind the Wrathbreakers could provide; if so, then he would give them a discount. They agreed, and retired to wait for the meeting with the swamp folk.

The Swamp Folk

The next morning the Wrathbreakers were woken at dawn and taken to a meeting area on the southern side of town. This was a large, open platform, surrounded by mosquito nets, that protruded over the water. As the sun broke over the mists to the east the swamp folk returned from their nightly wanderings, pulling up in small coracles that they tied expertly to the legs of the building and springing into the light. They were short – no more than perhaps a metre tall – with strangely scaly, lizard-like grey skin and inhuman, lizard-like orange eyes. Their bodies were hairless and thickly muscled, so that they must be much stronger than a human of the same weight. They wore simple clothes of a kind of poorly-woven flax, and each of them had at their waist a small, ceremonial curved dagger. They spoke to each other in a language of hisses and whistles. They greeted Aragan with obvious warmth and respect, and he spoke to them a little in a rough approximation of their language, though they had obvious difficulty interpreting his weak human accent. Then one of them spoke in the language of humans, similarly heavily accented, using few and simple words. The essence of it was:

“The beast of the Bones is back. Your kind helped us with it generations ago. The time has come to help again. We will refresh our bonds, if you help.”

The beast of the bones was a creature of unknown form that had marauded the swamp folk homes in this area many years ago. No one knew exactly when, because the swamp folk simply said it was “generations ago” and the humans had not bothered to keep records. When the swamp folk came for help the humans had sent some marines, who had all been destroyed by the beast, but had somehow killed it in the process, leaving no survivors to report on its form. The swamps had quickly reclaimed the beast’s body, leaving only bones, and so by the time the humans had negotiated with the swamp folk to return to the scene they could not say exactly what the beast had looked like. Thus it was called “the beast of the bones.” In return for the humans’ help the swamp folk had begun trading in marshstone, and so this region’s wealth had been assured. This had all happened outside of living memory, and whether it was 100 or 400 years ago was hard to say. Part of Aragan’s mission here in Kei had been to try and uncover more of the truth about the past relationship of humans and swamp folk, their origins, and who the swamp folk were; but the facts of this event had eluded him for some years.

In any case, another beast of the bones had returned, the swamp folk needed the humans’ help, and the Wrathbreakers were nominated to give it. They left at dawn.

The beast of the bones

They left the town of Kei that night. Swamp folk were nocturnal folk, so they traveled through the mists and murk of the swamp under the light of the stars, with only Itzel’s mild werelight to guide them. It was hard, muddy work moving along secret, narrow ways that were ideally sized for swamp folk and badly designed for humans. At times they used coracles that they could barely sit in, and at other times they walked or slogged through mud. After three days of this they arrived at a swamp folk settlement, an amazing place built out of the trees themselves, which had been warped and twisted to grow around comfortable nests of reeds and dry flax where the Wrathbreakers could sleep and relax. They ate raw snake meat, boiled eggs and fish grilled on open fires, and a strange liqueur made from some flowers from the swamp. During this travel and day of rest Itzel realized that the entire swamp folk way of life – the way they found their way through the swamps, the tools they used, the twisted and modified trees – was based on a faint, subtle fey magic. The swamp folk were, or had been, fey. Once again, they were helping the fey.

That night they set out for the area where the beast of the bones had been marauding. They passed into increasingly quiet, bad-smelling boggy land until they reached an expanse of mangrove where no animal stirred. Here the beast ambushed them, emerging from the mud right next to them in a wave of stinking mud, broken roots and swinging tentacles. It was a massive beast, easily the size of a house, with multiple long, thick tentacles that it used to attack and grab all around it. Some of those tentacles were thronged with spines the size of swords, while others were covered in suckers like an octopus. One such tentacle hit Bao Tap and began dragging him towards its mouth, but Xu rushed in and stabbed at it until it released him; but moments later another tentacle grabbed Xu, and Bao Tap had to work to free him. Bao Tap summoned a nature’s champion, this time an enormous crocodile that waddled out of the shadows of the mangrove trees to join the fray, and Itzel granted everyone a magical shield of acid that would damage the beast’s thick hide every time it struck them. Soon they had hacked, stabbed, burnt and bitten the thing so much that it could not move, and so then they staggered backwards in the mud, firing on it with bows, crossbows and magic strikes until it died in the mud.

As it lay dying Itzel approached it, sensing something was wrong. The thing had been too crazed, and the area around it was too despoilt, for its actions to be entirely natural. She and Bao Tap investigated it, and she soon discovered the cause of its aggressive predatory behavior: the beast was subtly corrupted with the same strange, unknown magic that she had identified in the scrolls they stole from the deep cult in the Valley of Gon. The beast had been somehow affected by this unknown magic, and driven by the evil of that magic had come to this area to attack the swamp folk.

Their next steps were obvious. They would need to head deeper into the swamp, and find the cause of this beast’s corruption – before it found them.

The Wrathbreakers have saved Estona from a deepfolk attack and uncovered a sinister cult of humans who use deep magic and have some dangerous purpose. Now they have secured Estona they aim to investigate this cult in more detail, learn what it is trying to achieve, and perhaps uncover some dark secrets about the land that humans live in but do not fully understand. This will involve returning to the Valley of Gon to investigate some sites that the cult was interested in, returning to the Middlemarch to join the human expedition against deepfolk there, and then traveling to Leminog to investigate what they think may be the cult’s headquarters. First, however, they need to travel to the western islands to find healing, because two of their number are injured, with crippled limbs. They also need to do some basic research before they leave. The cast for this first session of Chapter 3 is:

  • Bao Tap, human stormcaller
  • Itzel, elven Astrologer
  • Ella, spume dwarf scoundrel
  • Xu, human weaponmaster from Ariaka

Before leaving Estona though, the Wrathbreakers decided to do some research.

A deepfolk scroll

Strange magic and old secrets

They spent a month in Estona, relaxing and recovering and researching some of the materials they had stolen from Anyara’s deep cult cell in Gon. In particular, Itzel spent the month studying the three strange scrolls they had uncovered there, and also studying the textbook on Golems that Anyara had used to deceive Eliabak. While she did this Bao Tap spent time in the storm cellars digging through old lore on Changelings; Ella spent the month in the reliquary, slowly learning what she could about the deepfolk, and Xu put aside his halberd for a few hours a day to study the fey, guided by Itzel’s new apprentice Sara. By the end of the month they knew more about the world they would be adventuring in, sufficient perhaps even to be able to communicate with deepfolk and fey if they needed to, and to have some chance of identifying Changelings when they were in their transformed guise.

Itzel determined that the three scrolls were very very old, and that they were magical scrolls, written in the deepfolk language. She learnt that, with the correct preparation and with careful reading, the scrolls would transfer their magic to the reader, enabling the reader to cast the spells embedded therein. The material written on the scrolls did not give any information about the contents of the scrolls, however: it was just a series of sounds that had to be read carefully with exactly correct pronunciation in order to transfer the magic. Only once the magic was imbued in the reader would they learn what the spells could do. Itzel investigated the magic in the scrolls as deeply as she could to try to determine what these spells were, but she could not. Worse still, in her investigations she determined only one fact: that this magic was not deep magic, nor was it of salt, sun or storm. It was an entirely different magic to those known to any of the peoples of the Archipelago.

Itzel considered reading the scrolls and gaining the magic, so she could learn what they contained, but she was fearful of doing this because to the best of everyone’s understanding of how magic in the Archipelago worked, no one could use more than one kind. There were stories of people who changed their allegiance, from Sun to Storm or Storm to Salt, and lost all their abilities in the magic they had been familiar with as soon as they learnt their first charm in the new one. It was not known whether all humans had equal talent for all forms of magic, or whether this talent came from training; but it was well established that no one could learn more than one. Itzel assumed this was also true for deep magic, and thus she assumed that to learn these spells from this strange, unknown system would cause her to lose everything she already knew. After reading these scrolls she would likely discover she had gained three evil spells from an ancient and evil tradition, and lost everything she knew. She decided against this, but kept the scrolls anyway, transcribed onto new paper so that they would not decay. What were they?

Discussing these strange scrolls with her fellows, Itzel was reminded of another small detail they had discovered at Anyara’s study in Gon. She had a calendar on her wall that was marked with the dates on which certain stars would be in alignment with a pattern last seen about 1000 years ago. The first of these was marked with the note “Alignment 1”, and just a few days later there was a note to “Begin study”. Had these scrolls been the purpose of her study? Was there some connection between the magic in these scrolls and the alignment of that constellation of seven stars that the deep cult seemed to be interested in? Were the deep cult planning to unleash a new magic in the Archipelago, by digging up and studying ancient scrolls…?

Near the end of their time in Estona they visited the Town Council again, and were given disturbing news. The Rimewardens in the Reliquary had decided to destroy all the more powerful items in the Reliquary to ensure that they could not be regained by the deepfolk or the deep cult through violence or treachery. This operation had been completed but a single powerful item had been impossible to destroy. No amount of violence done to it, whether by fire or physical force, could damage it even slightly. They told the Wrathbreakers that the item in question was an ancient shroud of fine silk, which glowed slightly under candlelight or starlight. The wrathbreakers recognized it from the list of items that the deep cult had been searching for in Gon. It was the First Ghost, which was described thus:

The first ever ghost of a child who died of neglect. The ghost is said to be stored in a gossamer-thin phylactery, which is likely a mirror, shroud, fine drapery, or other form of ephemeral physical material. Whatever it is, it must be of reasonable size, since it holds a ghost, but must also be very finely wrought and delicate, since it holds a ghost. The magic to imprison such a thing is said to be deep magic, but some argue it must be an older and more fundamental magic than that. Deepfolk magic is not so subtle. But given the age of the thing, who knows? It is said to be non-descript (aside from the quality of craftwork) in its normal form, that it shows a faint luminescence or special glow when illuminated only by starlight or candle light, but that its full beauty is only understood when viewed in candlelight while in a state of privation (hunger, thirst, cold or such-like).

The Wrathbreakers had read about this artifact in the ancient tomes of the Collector, an Astrologer in Gon. The First Ghost was said to enable great necromantic magic, perhaps sufficient to raise an army of dead or to raise an undead of enormous power. It was obviously something that could not be allowed to fall into the hands of their sinister enemies, but could not be destroyed. What to do? The Wrathbreakers were planning to travel to the remote town of Yula on the first stage of their voyage to the western isles, and they offered to transport the First Ghost with them, and hide it in the Reliquary at Yula. No one would know it had been taken out of the Reliquary at Estona, and the western isles were famous for having very few deepfolk. Even if the deep cult learnt about the move, it would take them years to infiltrate Yula as they had done Estona, and their presence in the small town could be watched for. Hopefully by then the Wrathbreakers would have learnt what the deep cult was trying to do, and would know what should be done with it. Once they were sure they would not need the First Ghost, they could take it to the deep sea and throw it in, to be lost forever; but they needed to be sure they would not need to get it back before they did that.

The City Council agreed, and a few days later the Wrathbreakers took ship on the Dwarf-made Cog the Sea Dragon, heading to Yula in the southern tip of the Western Isles.

The Swamp lands

It took two weeks to sail to Yula from Estona, following a curve along the coast to avoid the Dragon of Kaen and stopping at the towns of Yuwald and Wotingen on the way. Yuwald is on the coast of Ariaka west of the forest of Ostoya, famous for its eels. The eels live in the river from the Ostoya forest and are used to make a kind of fermented eel dish which smells strong and is unpleasant to those unused to it, but something of a delicacy in Ariaka. This eel has a byproduct of fermentation called Eel Koji which can be put on wounds to draw out poison, and some of which the Wrathbreakers picked up during their stay. Wotingen is on the coast west of Jurga, on the southern end of the Bay of Jurga. It is the last fully secure town in Ariaka before the Cape of Darepo, which is nominally part of Ariakan lands but is somewhat lawless and a home of pirates and independent-minded lordlings. Wotingen is famous for a rare and treasured wood from the forests west of the town, which can be harvested for both its wood and for a sweet, slightly bitter extract from its sap, something like tamarind, which can be used for both food and as a magical and apothecar’s reagent. As a result the town is a popular resting place for mercenaries, who guard the forests and do free-booting work hunting pirates and bandits in the Cape. Here the Wrathbreakers made friends with a band of mercenaries called the Wild Meerkats, who gave them details of a contact in Alpon who could supply them with mercenaries if they needed support in their raid on the Spider God (should it ever happen).

From Wotingen they traveled south and then crossed the Sahakan narrows to the peninsula of Moran-Kei, where the Sea Dragon had to navigate the long, narrow bays up to the port of Yula. Here they saw cliffs of pumice-like stone, low-lying stretches of swampy land and scrappy forests on the higher ground, interspersed with sandy beaches and occasional higher reaches of land, on which inevitably small villages or hamlets could be seen. The water was shallow and clear, and they could pass the time watching fish in the water, or manatees in nearby inlets. The weather was cool but much warmer than what they had left behind in Estona. They arrived at the Port of Yula on the morning of the 4th of Birthing, and after a few hours spent disembarking took a canal ship up a straight, broad canal through dense mangrove forests to Yula, an hour or so upriver from its port.

Yula was a radically different town to Estona. It was perhaps only a third of the size, and where Estona sat on the banks of a wide river under the constant, looming shadow of enormous, staggeringly tall cliffs Yula sprawled across a stretch of dry land that rose above the surrounding swamp, so that from anywhere in the town one had a view across wide, misty vistas of forest, swamp and mangrove. Where Estona had narrow, cobbled streets between tall buildings made of black stone and wood, Yula had homes of bright marble and pale wood laid out in simple, clear lines along dry land between wide curving canals, that formed concentric rings from the centre of the town outward. Wide canals cut cross-ways through these circular waterways, drawing water out to the sea. They were lined with water wheels, and in the middle of every island a windmill stood proud, spinning gently in the constant sea breeze. They arrived in late afternoon to find the town lit up with strings of lights, and although the canals were thick with insects there were few in the built-up areas, which were also festooned with small magical lights. Down where the islands met the water of the canals were a complex system of nets and guards, to prevent crocodiles entering, and their canal boat had to pass through multiple layers of crocodile nets to enter the town. From the canal boat they walked across a brightly-lit bridge to the central island of the town, to take lodgings in a smart marble and wood inn called the Basking Crocodile. They later discovered that these lights and the insect repellant, and even cooling and heating devices in the buildings, were powered by magic which was generated in a rare local stone, called Marshstone, by the motion of those water wheels and windmills. Yula’s wealth arose from digging up those stones and trading them to the north, and the few Astrologers who lived in Yula put their apprentices to work for years spinning the magical devices that these stones powered. Itzel, fascinated, hoped to learn a little of this technique, but she had little time: the very next day they headed to the local salt shrine and Reliquary, to find the location of their healer and to deposit the First Ghost.

The main shrine of Salt was just outside of Yula itself, a short trip by gondola. They arrived before midday and walked through a quiet, complex network of wooden boardwalks and small shrines that stood on stilts over a lake of lilies. The chief Rimewarden here told them that their healer was no longer at the Shrine of Yula; he had moved north to Kei, and could be found there working with the Swamp People. The Swamp People, they learned, were a strange race of primitive creatures, about 1m tall, humanoid with scaly skin, who had some strange relationship with crocodiles that protected them from harm and who knew the ways and secrets of the swamps of the peninsula. Agreements with the swamp people were the source of the marshstone and Yula’s wealth: the swamp people did not use magic, and were happy to find marshstone and trade it with humans for help with healing, magic and weapons. Their healer, Aragan, had a long and close relationship with them and had retired to Kei in hopes of using that relationship to help them more. The Wrathbreakers would have to travel north to see him, a journey of perhaps 10 days through the complex swamps of the hinterlands.

They thanked the chief Rimewarden and left the shrine, taking a gondola north to the Reliquary, which was a tunnel complex dug into a small hill a little distance from the town. Here they deposited the First Ghost, and returned to the city. Their idyll would end tomorrow; they needed to head north to Kei to arrange their healing, and perhaps to obtain some marshstone for their own ends. Then, they would be ready to return to their mission against the deep cult.

It was a pleasure to be here in the wilds, so far from the concerns and troubles of war and ancient mysteries. They could almost feel they had left the troubles of the world behind, and could relax at last. A journey through the swamps to a quiet town, troubled by nothing more than crocodiles, would be a perfect balm for their troubles after months of combat and grim death. Here in the mist they could finally enjoy peace and calm, which would surely last until they took ship to Gon …


Image note: the swamp town is by HideTheInsanity on deviantart.

The battle for Estona has been won, and the Wrathbreakers have sealed a major victory over the deepfolk, as well as rooting out and destroying a deep magic cult in the city. In the aftermath they were finally able to get some rest and healing, butt here remains one significant task for them to attend to: Eliabak’s final reckoning with the Selkie, who he organized to kill and harvest for magic reagents to power his ill-fated golem experiment. The roster for this session:

  • Bao Tap, human stormcaller
  • Itzel, elven Astrologer
  • Ella, spume dwarf scoundrel
  • Xu, human weaponmaster from Ariaka

After day of rest the Wrathbreakers visited the Iron Hand’s lair, a small villa outside the Estona city walls. Having slain them at the beginning of the battle for Estona, they took some time to loot the building and glean some reward for all their hard work. They then returned to Estona to meet with the leadership council, where they explained the situation as best they understood it, were given due reward for their hard work, and extracted a promise to hand over Eliabak for punishment. They learnt that Eliabak’s rival, Boric, had been commissioned to try and repair and recover the golem, to correct its corrupted parts, and press it into use as a potent defender of the city; to this end messages had been sent to Elizabeth the 4th in the Valley of Gon, requesting access to the books she had taken on the construction of golems from the deep cult sorceress there.

The following day they took Eliabak from his prison cell onto a ship called the Grey Fox, and set off for the place where they met the Selkie queen. They traveled for two days under steel grey skies, and arrived at the windswept rocky outcrop where they had last found the Selkie queen in the early afternoon of the second day. A small deatchment of marines rowed them ashore, drawing the ship’s boat up the sandy beach under the watchful gaze of five seals. The marines stayed at the ship’s boat, warily eyeing the seals where they lazily splashed in the surf, and the Wrathbreakers dragged their protesting prisoner up the beach to the strange cave on the promontory. This time they knew the way, and dragged him straight down the slick steps to the lower cavern, where they had confronted the selkie and met the queen. The pool of water at the foot of the steps was still and dark, almost indistinguishable from the black stone of the cave floor. They stopped at the pool’s edge and waited, and shortly the queen herself emerged from the far side of the pool, walking out of the darkness of the cave beyond, which they had never entered. She was just as they remembered, the pale grey skin, the trident and the tall, imperious presence unchanged from when they first met. However, this time she was alone, and behind her in the cavern they could sense a dark, brooding magical presence, something older and more powerful even than her. A faint light flickered inside the cave, like a single tiny glowing dot in the deep sea, and they all felt a a faint compulsion to move towards it and reach for it – though they also felt that were they to do so, something huge and terrible would emerge from the darkness and swallow them whole. They stood their ground, and presented Eliabak to the queen.

As soon as they pushed him forward a huge sea lion emerged from the dark pool, heaving its huge upper body out of the water and pushing its flippers on the ledge so that it leaned close to the prisoner, who fell on his knees before it. The rest of them staggered back in shock, thinking it would grab him in its huge jaws and drag him into the pool, but it did not. Instead, it sniffed at him and seemed to stare deep into his eyes with its own saucer-like, limpid orbs. Then it slid back into the water and slipped out of sight in the darkness, leaving the barest ripple in the surface of the water. As the water fell still again the queen spoke.

“Yes, it his him. Push him in.”

There was no question of disobeying. Xu kicked Eliabak in the back and he fell into the water, still trying to protest his innocence through his tight gag. He kicked and thrashed in the water, trying to stay afloat with just his legs, and the Wrathbreakers waited for the lampreys to gather and begin eating him. They did not, though. Instead they saw many tiny dots of coloured light emerging from the depths of the pool and a swarm of huge jellyfish floated to the surface. They were large, translucent balls strung through with pulsating light, long faintly luminescent tentacles hanging beneath them. As they rose up from the depths they filled the pool like gelid bubbles, and the ones beneath Eliabak seemed to support him, lifting him up a little in the water so he floated on his back, his nose and mouth out of the water. Others swarmed in and began wrapping tentacles around his arms and legs and across his stomach. He began to scream in pain, thrashing the water desperately as the stingers began to sink into his limbs. Then the kicking began to become weaker and subside, and with it the horrible screaming dropped to growls and grunts, then to gasping, and then stopped. Eliabak floated in the water, buoyed up by the jellyfish, his eyes wide and terrified, breathing in short, small gasps, as more tentacles wrapped around his feet, hands and neck.

“He is paralyzed,” the Queen told them. “He will float there now, helpless, while the jellyfish digest him. It should take weeks, assuming his heart withstands the pain, which has not stopped.” She gestured to them. “Come forward. I must speak with you.”

They looked at each other nervously, and then walked around the pool, carefully avoiding putting their feet in the stinger-infested waters. Eliabak’s eyes followed them, but he could barely move his head. He managed to move it weakly a little, and as soon as his left ear fully submerged in the water a loop of gently pulsating blue and green lights wrapped around it, a jellyfish tentacle grabbing onto the exposed flesh. They moved around until they stood in front of the Queen.

Behind the Queen the darkness seemed to throb and pulse with bristling menace. Darkness so deep it felt like it should be a liquid filled the room, and vaguely through it they saw that pulsing lure. They drew back from it with the physical effort of resisting its pull, and then the Queen told them that this darkness was the lord of the ocean, and it wished to communicate with one of them. Who would it be?

They discussed it briefly. It seemed natural that the correct supplicant should be Bao Tap, as the storm caller, but they were not sure if the lord of the ocean could communicate in any language except elvish. Until now Itzel had been responsible for all the communication with the Queen. What would happen if someone went into that darkness who could not communicate with the thing in the centre? Would they be treated as an animal? So, it was decided: Itzel must go in. She gathered her courage as best she could and stepped through the arched entrance into the darkness.

Inside she found herself floating, as if she were at the edge of the continental shelf looking down into the vast deeps of the sea, or perhaps somewhere deeper and peering down into unfathomable depths of inky, crushing water. Vast shapes and powers drifted by her, out of all proportion to the scale of the room. Images flowed in her head: it communicated with her by sense and impression, not in words. She felt a vast and overwhelming power, and realized that somehow she was in the presence of the closest thing the Archipelago had to a god. She stood for a moment in that darkness, simultaneously in the depths of the ocean, communing with this ancient god, and then it was gone, the lure blinked out, the darkness faded, and she stood in the sudden stunning brightness of a phosphorescent cave that smelt of brine and stale air. It was gone.

She returned through the arch to her friends and told them what she had seen.

“The Lord of the Ocean grants us one favour,” she explained, “and says to use it wisely.”

Behind them, Eliabak floated helplessly on his bed of jellyfish, slowly dying. The queen turned away and walked into the cave where he Lord of the Ocean had been. As she passed she stopped briefly to touch Itzel on her shoulder with one strangely cold, delicate hand, and then she too was gone.

They stepped carefully back around the pool, not stopping to look back at Eliabak’s floating grave. Perhaps he managed to choke out a whispered plea to them as they entered the tunnel that led to the surface, or perhaps it was the wind blowing through the caverns. In any case, they did not pay it heed. They trudged slowly to the surface and emerged from the cave mouth into the biting cold of the wind, standing free under a grey sky of scudding clouds, frozen rain and salt spray hitting their faces as the weather slowly turned worse. Down on the beach the marines saw them and waved hurriedly, began preparing the boat. They picked their way down to the shore and walked past the seals, which watched them with the same expressionless black eyes. The marines pushed the boat into the waves and sculled them hurriedly back to the Grey Fox, where they climbed aboard and set off hurriedly. They returned to their cabins, wishing more than ever before that these small boats might have space aboard for a decent bath, to wash away the sins of a month spent soaked in blood and pain.

The Grey Fox headed back to Estona, and they prepared themselves for the next stage of their campaign: to uncover the truth about the deep cult, and maybe, finally, break the deep folk for once and for all.

The ocean heaved with ancient uncaring power beneath them, and behind them a man slowly died, alone and in pain, in a cold dark watery grave of his own making.

The Wrathbreakers have uncovered a plan to launch a combined deepfolk and deep cult raid on Estona, and now find themselves caught up in the last stage of that plan: the midnight attack by deepfolk. They were at the docks, expecting to raid a ship that had come to collect one of the deep cult’s spies, but instead found themselves in desperate battle against a deepfolk naval force that they had not been expecting. The roster for today’s session:

  • Bao Tap, human stormcaller
  • Itzel, elven Astrologer
  • Ella, spume dwarf scoundrel
  • Xu, human weaponmaster from Ariaka

The battle began with Xu and Bao Tap standing at the shoreward end of a pier to which the deepfolk boat had docked, Itzel hanging in the air above it, and Ella carefully hidden behind bales of rope and crates on the dock itself. The ogre charged down the pier, carrying a huge spiked club and screaming in rage. It was huge, probably 3m tall, wearing mismatched armour of some kind of lizard’s hide, with a blank, almost featureless face, grey skin and a belt festooned with the shrunken heads of past foes. Xu stepped forward to meet it and they crashed together near the base of the pier, the diminutive weapon master dwarfed by the huge beast. Behind them Bao Tap worked his magic to try and clear the mist that blocked their view of the ships, while Ella fired supporting crossbow bolts from the shadows at the ogre, and Itzel dropped huge balls of fire onto the ship to try and disperse gangs of griggs that were gathering at the gunwale and firing arrows into the battle.

Bao Tap cleared the mist by calling a ferocious onshore wind that howled and raged across the docks and the river, pushing against the griggs’ arrows and making the ship rock and sway at its moorings. With the mist gone, Itzel could clearly see the decks of the ship and, in the light of its burning sails, a little further upstream. The rowing benches were stocked with human figures, all dead, and the ship was clearly a human ship. There were five more ships behind it, the rhythmic sweep of their oars trying to drag them past it and into shore to dock on other piers. Itzel realized that the deepfolk must have very recently raided a port upriver, killed everyone there, and then used their dark magic to animate the corpses for use as rowing machines – all six ships were propelled by zombies! This explained also Ella’s observation that the oars were being swept too well for a human crew. It was a crew of perfectly synchronized undead. The sack-like things hanging off the gunwales of all the ships were dead humans, hung there as decoration or as part of some grim ritual to propel the reanimation magic.

Of course they had no time to interfere with those rituals now, but even the supernatural coordination and strength of zombies met its match against the howling storm Bao Tap had conjured, and the ships looked likely to miss the pier if they were delayed just a little more. As Xu and the ogre battled behind him, and arrows flew all around him in the raging wind, Bao Tap cast his nature’s champion spell and called forth a kraken, lured from the depths of the sea to Estona’s estuary to attack the ship closest to the pier. It emerged from the inky waters of the river to wrap huge tentacles around the bow of the ship, smaller tentacles reaching to pluck deepfolk archers into the river, and a frenzied battle began on the water as desperate deepfolk from all five ships fired arrows and magical bolts into the thing to try and kill it. It tore one ship apart, and the other four had to divert deeper into the channel to get around it, definitively missing their chance to dock with the nearest piers. They would need to drift on to the sea docks to make landing, but at that end of the port the Wrathbreakers knew a single marine ship was patrolling, waiting for any deepfolk ships.

By now Itzel had destroyed the remaining griggs on the docked ship, and Xu and Ella between them had defeated the Ogre, though Xu was injured and Bao Tap exhausted. The four ships managed to kill the kraken, and were drifting away from the pier, and Itzel did not believe that a single marine ship would be able to battle all four attackers. In a desperate act she drifted out over the river and cast her most powerful spell, conjuring a ball of fire so huge and so intense that it exploded across all four ships at once, killing their wizards and most of their archers and warriors, immolating the rowing zombies, and leaving them helpless, scorched and badly injured in the centre of the river. When the marine ship came in for the kill it found an easy target, and the remaining few deepfolks were killed easily on their uncontrolled, burning craft.

Itzel drifted to ground at the docks and they all sat, exhausted and pummeled, watching the remains of the deepfolk ships disappear into the darkness. They could hear bells ringing and general alarms rising in the city as the deepfolk attack on the walls raged, and the batriders dropping into the city began to cause trouble within its walls. They had no idea how many deepfolk were attacking the city, but they decided after a brief rest to go and help with the battle.

After a short pause they left the docks and walked the short distance to the reliquary, hoping to see if any help was needed there. The dock side of the town was quiet, and they reached the reliquary without incident. Here they found a few dead batriders and a small squad of guards ready to defend the shrine, but no trouble. They decided to seek out the leaders of the deepfolk attack and see if they could end the battle early by killing the leadership.

This took them 30 minutes of wandering through the south-western side of the city, following clues to the location of the leadership. They stumbled upon a couple of conflicts where they could help – a group of humans captured by a small force of deepfolk, who they freed with extreme violence, and a squad of soldiers who had been pinned down by a force of goblins accompanied by their own deep sorcerer. They killed these goblins and moved on, bringing some of the guards with them.

Soon after they found the leadership, set up on a raised platform they had commandeered in a square near the westgate. Perhaps the platform had been set up for some ceremony or festival a few days ago, but abandoned during the assault, for it was definitely not deepfolk work. Two squads of goblin raiders stood guard under the platform, and a flight of rickety wooden steps led up to the platform itself, on which stood an orc champion, a goblin leader and a goblin witch doctor stood, watching a distant battle and flanked by a squad of grigg archers.

They gave Ella a little time to sneak closer and take cover behind a stall on the edge of the square, and then attacked. Xu and Bao Tap ran forward as Itzel floated into the air above the square, lobbing bolts of fire across the distance to the platform. The goblin raiders charged out to engage Xu and the city guards from under the platform, and soon Xu started slaughtering them. Ella sniped at the witch doctor while the grigg archers fired at Itzel, and the orc leaped down to join the fight agianst Xu.

Briefly it looked bad: the griggs’ arrows took down Itzel, who had to fly away to find healing further back in the city, while Xu sank under the storm of goblin and orc attacks, but somehow they turned it around. Xu disarmed the orc and Bao Tap engaged the witch doctor, while Xu dealt with the goblin captain. By the time Itzel returned, barely healed, to the fray, the battle was over, and the deepfolk leadership had been slaughtered. They took the goblin leader’s head and paraded it down the street to the front lines, killing as they went, and within the hour the word had spread among the deepfolk that their captains were down and help was not coming from the river. By dawn the grim job of clean up had begun: those deepfolk who had not fled the city were trapped in alleys or surrounded in squares, and brutally slaughtered, shown all the mercy they would have shown the humans of Estona.

The battle for Estona was finished, the deep cult cell broken, their plan to raid the reliquary foiled, and Estona saved. The Wrathbreakers returned exhausted to the stronghold at the centre of the city to rest, and with the first flush of dawn the city was able to wake to victory and relief. The wrathbreakers had triumphed over a deepfolk force at last.


Image credit: the ogre is by Alex Alexandrov, on deviant art.

The Wrathbreakers have discovered that there is a deep cult outpost in Estona, and that it had some secret plan connected with Eliabak’s misbegotten golem. In a vicious battle at the Academy the Wrathbreakers defeated Eliabak and stopped him from activating his golem, but during the battle they felt a pulse of dark magic from the docks, and they know what whatever plan the deep cult have stretches beyond Eliabak’s golem. They need to raid the deep cult and stop whatever plan they are about to set in motion. The cast for this session:

  • Bao Tap, human stormcaller
  • Itzel, elven Astrologer
  • Ella, spume dwarf scoundrel
  • Xu, human weaponmaster from Ariaka

Having interrogated Eliabak’s changeling assistant, they now rushed to the docks to attack the deep cult in its warehouse lair.

Breaking the deep cult

It was early evening when they reached the warehouse, a small square building a block back from the sea wharf. It was a typical small Estona warehouse, a simple high-ceilinged building with a single small office room attached to one side, and a wagon parking and unloading area in front of that small extension. The building had a small second story on top of the main warehouse, which could be reached by stairs from the extension office building. It was quiet, but there were lights on inside the office building, barely visible through drawn blinds. Ella investigated the area around the warehouse but found no back entrance. There were only two doors: a main set of double doors for entering the warehouse space and a small, locked door on the office extension. She returned to the shadows opposite the main entrance and they prepared for battle.

They used the standard strategy: Bao Tap summoned his nature’s champion, and they followed it into battle. This time, being near the Estona docks, there was little wildlife to call upon, but Bao Tap was aware that the docks were home to a large, slimy, centipede-like sea creature that scavenged dead things and hunted small rodents and other creatures near the docks. His spell, suitably adjusted, called forth a giant one of these dragging it from some dark shadowy part of the river docks to come slinking, stinking and horrific, through the shadows of the dock’s streets to the warehouse doors. It smashed through, and they charged in after it.

Unfortunately the deep cult had heard Ella sneaking around, and they were ready. A ball of dark magic engulfed them as they entered, doing serious damage to Bao Tap and Xu. Inside the room were 20 deep cult fighters, an Astrologer and a Deep Sorcerer. The fighters rushed in to attack the giant centipede thing, some rushed to attack Xu, and the astrologer and sorcerer stood back to cast spells. Itzel cast a magic barrier on Xu, Bao Tap and the giant centipede thing, and every time the fighters hit it two of them died in explosions of acid. Ella sniped at the sorcerer and Itzel fired magic bolts at the Astrologer.

Half the fighters were dead from acid or Xu’s halberd within seconds, but four more emerged from the side room, along with two champions wearing full plate armour. Seeing the real threat was Itzel’s magic barrier, they poured crossbow fire into her before Xu or Bao Tap could intervene. She fell quickly, and Bao Tap also fell, but not before he and Ella had killed both the Astrologer and the Sorcerer. With the magic barrier dispelled by Itzel’s collapse the battle became harder, but Xu engaged the champions, Ella kept sniping, and Calim brought both Itzel and Bao Tap back from unconsciousness to rejoin the fight. The melee with the champions was bitter; Bao Tap lost his hand, and somehow in the hail of crossbow fire Itzel’s leg was destroyed. However, within another minute they had slain all the fighters and subdued the champions, one of whom they were able to take prisoner. They emerged, blood-soaked but victorious, with the deep cult nest purged.

The deep cult plan

As always they knew they would be able to learn nothing from the deep cult prisoner they had taken; they sequestered him to use as an experiment in reversing the cult’s brainwashing spells, but they did not waste their time interrogating him. Instead they searched the building. Upstairs on a narrow balcony they found a strange magical pipe, imbued with deep folk magic, that was set into a steel tripod and pointed at the sky. They suspected that this was the source of the magic pulse they had felt earlier, and perhaps some form of emergency flare or signal. They also found two maps in the sorcerer’s room on the second floor. One map was a map of the town of Estona, with some clear and meaningful markings on it:

  • Strange long squiggly marks with little side strokes on them, one marked at each gate on the walls of the town
  • Square-like symbols with an unclear mark inside them, drawn at the docks and on the other side of the river
  • A cross at the Academy and the Reliquary
  • A line drawn in a smooth arc from Academy to Reliquary, with an arrow head pointing at the reliquary

The second map was a map of the inside of a building, which had many small locked rooms, some traps marked, and a pathway drawn through it. This was a high quality map that looked like it would be between 5 and 20 years old. They guessed – and later confirmed – that it was the reliquary, and that it was the map that Crulhum had been asked by Anyara to steal from his criminal gang, the Nekkers, a few years ago.

After they had looted the warehouse they split up and visited Kay the Myrmidon, the Rimewardens at the Reliquary, and the Myrmidon in charge of the city guard. These visits took them some time – perhaps two hours – but when they regathered at their hotel they were able to piece together a sense of the plan. While they were poring over the maps again at the hotel Itzel realized that the strange marks inside the squares on the map were the symbol of the Skydeath clan – the clan of deepfolk who had driven them out of the middlemarch the previous year.

They guessed that the deep cult had been set up in Estona by Anyara a few years ago, after she obtained the map of the reliquary. They guessed too that at that time she had begun feeding slightly misleading information about how to build golems to Eliabak, ensuring that the golem he finally built would be broken in some fundamental way, most likely designed to go wild and begin randomly attacking anyone and everyone in the town. They also guessed that at some point after the golem activated there would be a concerted deepfolk attack on the town, with a tribe attacking the walls while the Skydeath clan attacked from the river and also from the cliffs on the far side of the river – possibly using bat riders, as they had used to attack Ibara. Looking at the second map, they guessed that the golem had been designed to go wild and begin smashing its way through the town, heading for the reliquary – possibly attracted by the aura of dark magic it must emanate. While the golem was fighting Estona soldiers, killing wizards and smashing its way into the reliquary, they guessed that the deep cult would attempt to sneak into the reliquary, and steal as many relics as they could. Although they had managed to prevent Anyara’s agent from finding it, they knew that there was some evidence from a library in Gon that one of the “seals” the deep cult were searching for might be in the reliquary. Perhaps the deep cult – and the deepfolk? – had decided the easiest way to gather possible “seals” was to recover deep magic artifacts from the largest reliquaries on Rokun?

Had they not stumbled onto this plan, the Wrathbreakers thought it could have been very successful. Even at its weakest, when briefly activated, the golem had crushed Itzel with a single punch. Were it to be fully operational, in a room with some wizards who were not ready to fight it, it would have easily killed many of them. Once they fled the room to regather, it would be free to begin smashing its way across Estona. Troops would gather to fight it and it would slaughter them, drawing more soldiers and wizards in from the outside of the town. Then, when the deepfolk attacked – from air and land – the soldiers would not be in a position to defend the town walls, and the Astrologers would not be in a position to attack bat riders. With the town invested, soldiers would have to be diverted from fighting the golem, which would then be free to smash holes in the reliquary – which the deep cult could slip into, to loot the reliquary. Even if the deepfolk attack were eventually beaten back, the deep cult would have stolen what they were looking for from the reliquary. And if the surprise attack of the golem and the cult were not beaten back – or if there were a powerful weapon in the reliquary that the deep cult were able to liberate – then perhaps Estona would fall, the first time a major city had been captured by deep folk in human history.

Fortunately the Wrathbreakers had returned from Gon to Estona in time to defeat every part of the plan. They had killed Anyara in Gon, and from clues in her room had realized something bad was planned for Estona. Correctly guessing it was a sabotaged golem, they had returned to Estona in time to defeat Eliabak and prevent him activating the sabotaged golem, even though he had tried to move the activation forward. Then they had killed the deep cult that had planned to raid the reliquary, and warned the city authorities of a possible impending deep folk attack. There was one part of the plan that they had yet to interrupt, which held the potential to teach them more about Anyara’s network of contacts inside and outside Estona: Crulhum’s ship. It was Crulhum who had stolen a map of the reliquary for Anyara, who worked secretly with Anyara to sabotage Eliabak’s golem project, who had coordinated with the deep cult in the city and who had organized Eliabak’s criminal activities for him. But Crulhum himself was not a deep cultist, and had been promised a big payment and escape from the city in exchange for his work. Whoever was coming to collect him would arrive at midnight tonight in a ship at the river docks, and Crulhum had agreed with the Wrathbreakers that if they let him keep the money on the ship he would play the part of an escaping accomplice, enabling them to board the ship and capture whoever was coming to collect Crulhum. They hoped with this act they could gain more information about the people helping Anyara, and perhaps find clues about her network outside of Estona. So, they headed at midnight for the docks, to ambush Crulhum’s ship.

The deepfolk attack

They rested for an hour and then took Crulhum to the docks. Since the sun had set the town was again covered in the heavy mist typical of evenings in the month of Thaw, and it was difficult to see very far, especially when they reached the pier where Crulhum expected his boat to arrive. There were few lamps burning here and their weak light was soon lost in the mist. Even Itzel, blessed with elven darkvision, could not see far in the dimly lit fog. The pier was deserted, a 20 metre long wooden structure extending into the cold, sluggish waters of the river. Other piers and jetties for the river ships were all further west, closer to the sea and the town and only visible as strings of blurred light in the mist. Crulhum took a position at the base of they jetty, where it met the land, and the Wrathbreakers settled in behind some crates and coiled ropes to wait for the boat’s arrival. Itzel cast a fly spell and hovered over the pier, ready to drop from above, and Ella took a position hidden at one end of the crates, watching the water.

The boat drifted into view near midnight. It was hard to see in the gloom, but they could hear the beat of its oars as it swung in towards the docks and slowed down, and as it drove closer they could see the outline of the ship itself. As it approached Ella, a dwarf with experience of boats and sailing, noticed something strange – that the rowing was too precise for any human crew, the oars beating in time more perfectly than even the most highly trained dwarven raiders could manage. She could see someone crouched at the bow of the boat waiting for it to reach the pier so they could throw the rope out to tie the ship on, and she could see what looked like sacks of grain or some other trade good slung along the gunwhale of the ship, as if it were overloaded and some of the cargo had been slung to hang outside the ship.

The ship came to a stop at the docks and some people set to work tying it to, their activities barely visible in the dark and the fog. Up above in the frozen air, Itzel could see movement on the deck but could make out no details. Someone jumped off the ship onto the pier and walked towards them, calling out “Crulhum! Crulhum! We are here!” in a thin young woman’s voice. The Wrathbreakers braced themselves, ready to charge the ship once Crulhum made contact. Crulhum stepped forward and hailed the woman, announcing his presence. “Come,” she called, and he walked out onto the pier. Behind him, in the shadows of the crates, Xu muttered “Here goes nothing,” knocked back a healing potion, and tensed to rush.

A flight of arrows emerged from the ship and hit Crulhum across his neck and chest, killing him instantly. The girl fell to her knees and cried out, “I did what you ask, can you free me!?” but was silenced moments later by another flight of arrows. As she screamed and fell off the pier with a splash, Itzel felt a disturbance in the fog and just managed to dodge out of the way as a huge bat emerged from the shadowy sky, hurtling straight at her as the goblin riding it attempted to skewer her with a spear. Below, at the pier, Ella looked upriver and noticed other shapes looming in the darkness – more ships drifting down the river. A huge form uncurled itself from the shadows of the docked ship and leapt with a scream to the jetty: a deepfolk of monstrous proportions, perhaps 3 metres tall, carrying a huge, curved sword in both hands and roaring a deepfolk battle cry to the heavens. Behind it, Griggs, goblins and orcs gathered ready to charge.

As this deepfolk monster leapt out of the ship one of the sacks hanging from the gunwhale twisted, its fastenings knocked loose, and a naked, dead human arm flopped around to dangle over the water. They were not sacks at all, but human victims tied to the gunwale to be carried for some horrible purpose to Estona. Ella cried out in horror, Itzel swooped across the sky trying to avoid bat-riders, and Xu and Bao Tap jumped from the rear of the crates to face the pier and the onrushing deepfolk champion.

The deepfolk were here, and the Wrathbreakers were alone against the whole horde of them!