The Wrathbreakers have destroyed the deepcult leadership, killing their Demiurge and looting her laboratory. Amongst her documents they have found a set of scrolls that describe a ritual that is likely at the heart of the deepcult’s plans. These documents are a set of scrolls rolled up in an ornate scroll case, in a box with obvious magical paraphernalia – a silver knife, some jars of reagents and powders, bunches of herbs, a set of robes, and a wand of blackened bone. The scrolls appear to have been written relatively recently, by an unknown writer who is probably a scholar of magic and most likely a member of the deepcult – and definitely not a deepfolk.

The scrolls describe in detail a ritual to reopen something called “the Rift”, which can be located in the wall of a huge room called the “Chamber of Remembrance.” The ritual will take some hours, and requires seven specific artifacts of great power, listed as:

  • Fragment of a fallen moon
  • Rib of the first human
  • Eye of a dead god
  • Fragments of a dragon’s egg
  • The ghost of the first human child
  • A fragment of death’s shadow
  • The embers of the first fire

Each artifact is described in detail, along with some ideas about its possible location. It is clear from the description that the Wrathbreakers already possess the Fragment of a fallen moon, eye of a dead god, and the ghost of the first human child. It is also clear that the Rib of the first human is in the possession of the cult, in the Demiurge’s study, and that the fragment of death’s shadow is under Kyansei’s lands. The only two remaining artifacts to be gathered are the fragments of a dragon’s egg (held by the dragon that was born from that egg, in Caen) and the Embers of the First Fire, which are currently being searched for in the Valley of Gon.

The writer indicates that this ritual needs to take place at a specified time that corresponds with the millennial re-alignment of the stars known as the Seven Children of Rage. The writer believes that there is perhaps a 1-3 month time period in which their alignment will be approximately good enough for the ritual to work. The writer speculates that the ritual could be conducted at any other time but would require significantly more power than the deep cult currently has available, and to summon that power would require “a wasteful expenditure of a large portion of those who will eventually become our slaves.”

The writer also seems to hint that this ritual is a re-engineering of a ritual first conducted 1000 years earlier which attempted to fully seal “the Rift” closed, but which failed because one of the artifacts was a fake. The writer hypothesizes that the egg was a fake, and that whoever was responsible for providing the egg in the ritual had swapped it for a fake and stolen the real one. Why they did this is not known, but ascribed to ordinary human greed by the writer.

The writer describes the consequences of this treachery: the original ritual failed, unleashed a huge blast of evil magic, and did not completely seal the gate. The writer believes that this ritual was rushed, probably because the humans who conducted it were under attack from the guardians of the seals, and so had no time to abort the ritual and recover the egg – or maybe didn’t even realize the dragon egg had been swapped with a fake until the ritual was supposed to be completed. The writer postulates that when the ritual failed and unleashed its huge blast of dark magic, it killed or severely damaged the guardians of the seven seals, and scattered them across the underworld of the Archipelago. The locations where those guardians appeared probably correspond in some way with the alignment of the seven new stars, The Seven Children of Rage, which appeared in the sky at that time.

The writer does not know what the seven guardians were, but based on what they know about the first artifact they found – the rib of the first human – they postulate that the seals were stolen by humans from “the treasure chambers of their slave masters”, though how this was done the writer cannot say. Each seal had a guardian, and those guardians chased the humans to recover the seals, coming through “the Rift” and catching them during the ritual. The humans must have had to fight the guardians while continuing the ritual to seal “the Rift”. The writer notes that he/she found the Rib of the first Human in the chamber of Remembrance, and had to fight its guardian. This guardian is described as a crazed human with supernatural powers, wielding a powerful spear it calls the “spear of destiny.” The human bled from its hands and feet and could perform various feats of magic, but was ultimately too weak to be a god or a full power from the world beyond “the Rift”, so the writer assumes that the blast of magic power unleashed in the ritual, plus 1000 years trapped in the Chamber of Remembrance, both weakened the guardian and drove it crazy. It is not clear if every guardian survived this ritual.

The writer further postulates that the dragon, being originally a creature from beyond “the Rift”, must need “the Rift” to stay open in order to survive, and will die if “the Rift” is closed. The writer also speculates that fully opening “the Rift” will have significant consequences for the deepfolk, and these consequences should in no way be communicated to the deepfolk. “After all,” the document finishes, “When we are elevated to a place of status alongside our former masters from beyond the Rift, will we not need slaves of our own?”

The Wrathbreakers have destroyed the deep cult, killing its leader, a middle-aged woman with potent deep magic powers who was referred to by her followers as the Demiurge. In her study they found a very recent letter sent to her by one of her field agents, which contains important information about the Dragon of Caen and the location of one of the as yet undiscovered relics, the dragon’s egg.


Demiurge,
 
I have made contact with the beast. It is old and tired, barely bothering to stir from its lair. Its size is fantastic, and it must once have been mighty, but now it were as if it were afflicted by some dementia or failure of spirit. Nonetheless, to fight it even in its senescence is beyond the capacity of our forces on the island.
 
It is convinced that the Rift weakens it, and that it will die if it is not closed. Based on my research here I believe the opposite to be true – if we close the Rift the beast will inevitably fade. In its delirium and weakness it misses the truth.
 
I believe I can convince it to allow us to take a fragment of egg, on the promise of using it to close the Rift. I await your authorization.
 
 
Shileel
Caen
 
 
 

The Wrathbreakers have destroyed the deep cult with a final battle in its lair, and uncovered some documents that can finally tell them what the deep cult was seeking. The first of these are the elven documents that were captured from Regalt’s daughter by deepfolk raiders. The wrathbreakers first stumbled on hints of this story in session 4, when they were attacked by Regald’s daughter’s animated corpse.

The elven documents

These are clearly copies of an original set of documents, with the copies laid out on dwarven stone paper with a few elven notes. They are mad scribbles, pictures and diagrams, transcribed as carefully as possible to reflect the original, with a short foreword by an elven scholar from Asboran called Inxult, who is known to have disappeared in the Middlemarch about 400 years ago. They are written as transcriptions of a dream message, but the message is garbled and confused. It has three distinct voices, and appears to have been dreamed over many nights.

Voice 1: A group of people who are desperate and need help

Voice 2: A group of people who are happy and comfortable, living easy and satisfying lives

Voice 3: A group of people consumed with rage and hatred, who seek revenge and destruction for a reason they do not clearly understand.

Foreword

I had long suspected that there was a reason the elves lost their holdings in Leminog, and was never satisfied by the explanation that the land was abandoned because it was too hard to protect our holdings during the war between deepfolk and humans. In the annals of old scholars during a routine search I noticed that one scholar, Avelst, went missing in Leminog at around the time of the concession of Leminog, but in an addendum in a particular book I found reference to a tower that he had written letters from. Such an obscure link! But I thought there might be something to it, and so I visited here with a small team of human guards and porters. The local humans, a superstitious group, warned against visiting it, telling me it was haunted by an ancient elven ghost, but I refused to believe them. Foolish me! For it is haunted by an elven ghost, and when I found him, buried in his tree, I discovered that the spirit of Avelst himself was bound up in this tree. I bonded with his spirit but could learn little, except that he had dreams of despair and ruin, and finally flung himself from this tower to die in the garden. A tree grew around him but it is corrupt and evil, and I do not understand how his soul can be so trapped within it. I am no Astrologer and so I cannot say, but this whole place makes me uneasy, and I understand why the human locals avoid it. Perhaps this is why the elves abandoned this place? But Avelst was never himself buried, so perhaps he remained after the other elves left, and killed himself? There is much mystery here in this dank, unwelcoming forest – no wonder the elves abandoned this unyielding place.

In Avelst’s chambers I found his documents, a collection of hand-scrawled documents that present a fine testimony to the depth of his madness. It is some hundreds of years since he wrote them and even fine elvish paper has begun to decay, so I conducted a careful and painstaking documentation of them, which has taken me some months. I copied them as faithfully as I could, and then reorganized them into what I think is the correct temporal organization. They are written in the register of a report of a dream message, but have none of the clarity of a dream message, and seem to come from three different voices, which I label The Desperate, The Complacent, and The Vengeful. They are not directly linked temporally, with the story of the desperate coming in between that of the Complacent and the Vengeful, I think.

No doubt serious scholars would laugh at my findings, but I cannot help feel there is some historical fact buried in these crazed visions. I aim now to travel to the elven scholars in the southern Hadun borders, to present these documents to scholars there for further analysis. Unfortunately, the work of transcription has taken longer than expected, and I have business with family in Asboran that I cannot delay. I will return overland to Asboran for the winter, and when the spring storms pass I will take ship to Estona, and from there travel through the Middlemarch to the great forest. It is a long journey, and disrupted by timing and family affairs, but Avelst’s dreams have waited nearly half a millennium to be discovered, they can wait a year longer.

Signed

Inxult, this year 531 of the Human Calendar

Voice 1: The desperate

Images of a life of slavery and torture in a dusty, furnace-hot land where they are used brutally and mistreated constantly. They are used for labour, sometimes taken as food, sometimes used for medical experiments, sometimes forced into horrible union with evil beasts that create tortured children. No one ever escapes slavery except by death, and no one ever has any hope. Their captors are never seen clearly, but envisioned by the dreamer as creatures of shadow, flame and terror.

Eventually the slaves escape, there are visions of a ragged column fleeing across hot dusty plains, pursuit and eventually escape. They find themselves in cool dark and prepare to be permanently free. There is chanting, magic, many people busy in preparation, and then a scene of a great battle. Here the number 7 appears a lot: 7 treasures they need and stole, 7 great evil monsters that they have to fight, a single betrayal, a sense of something lost, then 7 flashes of light and a sense of failure. Here there is a picture of 7 stars, very clearly placed in the sky in a perfect depiction of the 7 Children of Rage.

Voice 2: The complacent

This is shorter, visions of people living happily in darkness and luxury, mining and digging and living peacefully with all. Sometimes they go out under the stars to enjoy the open air away from the sunshine. There is a sense of distant strangers who they know and are never troubled by, just happy days in darkness and starlight.

There is a vision of a horde of desperate, hungry, dirty, tired, almost naked people, bronze-skinned and alien, emerging unexpected in a great hall underground. A sense of them coming from nowhere, of upheaval and confusion. But peaceful exchange. They help the strangers.

Then there is suddenly a great battle, an explosion of magic, a wave of pain and chaos, and they are lost.

Voice 3: The vengeful

This is the shortest. There is a vision of a sudden explosion of darkness and rage, and suddenly a horde of people who are angry, and a strong sense of self-hatred and shame at who they were. There is rage at a group of bronze-skinned strangers, and terrible scenes of hunting them through the dark halls of their home, slaying them and killing them and eating them in paroxysms of brutal joy. There is also hatred of the ground above, realization that some of them are not the same, a vision of a line where the magic explosion ended, and missions aboveground to kill those who were not touched by it. There is constant rage, a desire for revenge, and a sense of a spiritually evil place they desire to ascend/descend to.

The Wrathbreakers have survived a deepfolk ambush and returned to the bay where they left their ship, only to find it scuttled and their crew missing or dead. A ship floating at anchor in the bay suggested that the deepfolk who pursued them had come by sea, and ambushed their own ship while they fought the Spider God. Answers could be found on that ship, and revenge.

They retreated from the shore to plan, but they had little time to prepare. It was midday, and if deepfolk were on the ship at anchor they would likely have taken at least some of the crew of the Wages of Sin captive – if the Wrathbreakers did not take the ship before evening at least some of their crew would be on the breakfast menu. The Wrathbreakers were injured and exhausted but they had no choice but to quickly prepare and spring an ambush of their own.

Blood and fog

They chose a simple strategy. Itzel used her magic to repair one of the damaged longboats from the Wages of Sin, where it lay rolling in the spume of low tide. The party took some time to rest, and after a few hours Bao Tap conjured a fog that slowly filled the bay and obscured their passage. He also attempted to summon a giant squid/crab monster to aid in their attack, but failed and instead only managed to draw a swarm of small squid/crab parasite creatures. This swarm crawled over the bow of the ship as the Wrathbreakers carefully climbed up a rope ladder to the stern. The rope ladder appeared to have been left hanging over the side by whoever was in possession of the ship, probably in expectation that the Wrathbreakers had been slain and the bay was safe.

On the ship itself the Wrathbreakers began their attack. They found two deepfolk standing around a warming brazier on the forecastle, confirming that the ship was under the control of a deepfolk raiding party. Bao Tap’s swarm grabbed these two and dragged them overboard to devour before they could raise the alarm, and as they did so Xu and Bao Tap began to set up an ambush at the top of the stairs to the deck. Ella crept cautiously into the sterncastle and Itzel dropped a rolling ball of lightning into the hold. The deepfolk came swarming up the stairs to attack the intruders and were cut down en masse as they emerged from belowdecks.

There were no serious fighters left on the ship, only a few Grigg archers and some goblin skirmishers, and the Wrathbreakers slaughtered them without mercy. In the belowdecks area they found a young human deepcultist who they kept alive, and within a couple of minutes the ship had been secured. In the hold they found the crew, chained together to locking pins inside large, empty cargo containers. The ship’s party of marines, three soldiers and a captain, had been hung from the walls and cut into parts for food; one, still alive, was obviously being harvested piece by piece. Calim healed him as best he could and they cut the others down for a proper burial. They freed the crew and gathered their story.

The Rake’s Progress

With the deepfolk dead and the crew freed the Wrathbreakers were able to learn what had happened. They found two of their own crew among the humans they freed, survivors of the attack on the Wages of Sin who had been brought on board to be interrogated and devoured. They learnt that the ship had been attacked in the night, the crew captured and the ship scuttled. They had quickly told the deepfolk where the party were going, and those who had not been eaten immediately had been locked in the hull with the crew of the larger ship.

The crew of the larger ship, the Rake’s Progress, told the Wrathbreakers that they had set off from Alpon 7 days ago, carrying a cargo of large boxes that had been brokered by a human who took ship with them. On the third day out, once far from their origin, they had been swarmed by deepfolk from belowdecks – the deepfolk had been hiding in the boxes. Easily defeated in the attack, the crew had been forced to watch as their four-person marine squad was tortured and eaten in front of them. They had then been warned that the same fate awaited them if they did not sail the ship as they were told. Thus they had brought the ship to this secluded bay, and been chained in the hold to await their fate as the deepfolk went about their business.

They turned their attention to the human deep cultist they had captured. He was young and scared and very confused, and eager to tell them his story and try to escape a horrible but just death. He had joined the cult a year ago and was still a new member, who did not even realize that the cult were working with deepfolk. He was not sure why he had joined, and upon interrogation the Wrathbreakers realized he was another person who had been brainwashed into joining the cult by the subtle rituals of deep magic. He had been taking a peripheral role in cult activities, learning vague platitudes about the brighter future they planned for the world, until a week before when the cult had suddenly sprung into action. The capture of the ship had been rushed: the cult leaders had disappeared and then returned with the cargo, and had pressed him into joining them even though he was new. It was only was they were at sea and the trap was sprung that he realized what he was involved in, and by then it was too late to escape. The Wrathbreakers learnt that this was definitely a rushed mission, suddenly and hastily organized by the deep cult in Alpon and rushed into action the moment the party had set off by ship for the Spider God.

They could not interrogate the deep cult cell’s leader to find out how the cult knew about the Wrathbreakers’ mission, their possession of the artifacts, or their destination, but upon reflection they realized that one person had helped them to find the location of the Spider God and provided them with the anti-fey poison that seemed to have no effect: Kyansei’s lover, Wei[1].

They pressed the crew into service, turned the ship around, and rushed back to Alpon for a reckoning.

Wei

They did not return directly to Alpon, but to a small town to its south. From there they traveled overland to Alpon, smuggled themselves into the city, and took lodging in a rundown hostelry far from the academic part of the city. Once they were ready they forced their captive cultist to let them into his lair, on the promise that he would survive their wrath, and launched their raid.

It was easy – the cult’s leader was dead in the great forest, they had the layout of the building, and they knew what Wei looked like. They caught her on her way out and bound and gagged and paralyzed her before she could kill herself or cast any spells. Finally they had a prisoner with some degree of seniority within the cult. Better still, they discovered that she had no magical power – she really was just an archaeologist, who had joined the cult out of desire and interest. A non-magical true believer! The perfect weak link.

Under interrogation Wei told them the story they had expected. She had been working in the academies in Alpon looking for hints of ancient secrets for the cult, when one of her friends told her about Kyansei’s mission to find the cause of the blight up north. Thinking this sounded like a signature of one of the artifacts, Wei took up the job of Kyansei’s research assistant. When she heard about Kyansei’s adventures and past she realized she might have a chance to learn a lot more than just the location of an artifact, so she slowed down the drip of information about the blight, insinuated herself into Kyansei’s bed, and started learning all she could about the Wrathbreakers. Their arrival in Alpon had been an unexpected but perfect opportunity. Kyansei was about to set off on her mission to the north, and once she was gone Wei would send a team of deepfolk to ambush her and destroy all knowledge of the blight. Then she would organize a team of cultists from Leminog to go and explore the area she had researched for Kyansei, hopefully to uncover an artifact. When she discovered the Wrathbreakers were off to kill a Spider God she saw a perfect opportunity to get the rest of the artifacts – go there, wait for them to either die in the battle or come out badly injured, kill them and steal the artifacts. To help this happen she used her position of trust to prepare a poison that would make a fey god stronger, and once the Wrathbreakers set off she organized the ambush. Unfortunately she had not expected them to go by sea, and had to rush her plans to ambush them, which meant the team she sent was under-powered compared to the team that they would have met if she had a chance to ambush them overland.

Wei’s plans had failed but her pride did not. She regaled the Wrathbreakers with angry speeches about how the world would be a better place once the deepfolk achieved their purpose – that once they had the artifacts they would build a better world, with her taking a central place of power in it. She was unrepentant, arrogant, and horrific. Knowing she had planned an ambush for Kyansei, Itzel used her magic to warn Kyansei to avoid the trap, and then they turned their attention to their captive.

Did they have any other use for her, and how were they going to kill her? Should they keep her alive until they were ready to raid the cult headquarters in Leminog? Should they hand her over to the city authorities? They now believed it was time to reveal the facts of the cult and its horrible plans to the human world, and begin sending warnings to all cities about the risk of a cult of deepfolk collaborators in their midst. But then what? Leminog to kill the cult or the far north to find the artifact Wei sought? Decisions needed to be made, and soon, before the cult moved on its mission to raid the site of the Blight and find the artifact. The final showdown was near, and although they did not know exactly what rode on their decision, they sensed that some great fate rested on it. In the dark skies above them the Seven Children of Rage circled slowly towards their alignment, and Wrathbreakers prepared for their fateful decision …


fn1: Tip for newbie GMs, if you want to hide a traitor in plain sight, describe them as the slightly lust-addled and largely objectified nerdy side-piece of a major NPC, make sure they’re a young woman, and be sure to throw in a few ribaldrous jokes about how her “mouth is always full” and “we don’t really talk too much, she’s too busy”. It works a charm, no one suspects she’s a secret spy for an evil death cult! They’ll even let her brew them a “poison” for their enemies which actually makes those enemies stronger, tell her partner all their plans on the assumption that the secret will be safe, and then spend half a session wondering how they got caught out!

Who is following the Wrathbreakers? They have successfully killed the Spider God and its loathsome Redcap ally, but before they could search its lair or even rest they were ambushed by a gang of orcs, who seemed to know that they were carrying artifacts, and demanded the Wrathbreakers relinquish them in exchange for a quick death.

Of course the Wrathbreakers resisted, and though they were tired and injured after the battle with the Spider God they had no choice but to enter battle again, fighting with fury against their new assailants. The single phalanx of orcs, accompanied by a single human cultist, were soon augmented with the arrival of a Troll and an Orc champion, who came surging out of the shadows behind the deep cultist to engage Xu and Bao Tap. Two squads of Grigg scouts, carefully hidden in the forest, fired volleys of arrows into the fray.

At the beginning of the battle Bao Tap summoned a Nature’s Champion, this time a giant slug that blocked the path from the heavy fighters to the wizards, and Itzel unleashed powerful bolts of fire on everyone in the attacking group. Ella moved into the forest to hide and attempted to pick off the heavier fighters. Unfortunately this time the battle did not go well for them. Already injured and tired, unable to immediately find and kill the Grigg scouts, and facing another orc who would not stop fighting even when it was so badly damaged that it should have been in its grave, the Wrathbreakers suffered heavily. They prevailed after a brutal final few minutes of hacking and crushing, but when it was done they collapsed, exhausted and broken. Xu could barely move, Calim’s magic was exhausted, and Ella was close to succumbing to the weight of her injuries. They had used all their healing potions, and had not even managed to capture the deep cult leader alive – Ella had been forced to shoot her in the eye before she could deploy some terrible final magic.

They guessed that somehow they had been followed, and there was a deepfolk force somewhere nearby that knew who they were. They decided not to linger to rest, and after a quick scouring of the Spider God’s home and the Redcap’s cave for magic items they fled the scene of their victory, limping and weary.

Disaster in the bay

The return to the bay should have taken them only a day, but they were injured and traveling now in the evening and night, cautiously for fear of deepfolk trackers, and they only arrived at the bay by midday of the following day. Worn thin by a night of sleep though they were, they still had the good sense to scout the beach before they ran to the shore to signal to their fellows on the Wages of Sin. It was well that they did, because as they approached the shore from the cover of the thick forest at the edge of the beach they saw a terrible sight. Their ship lay broken in the water some distance offshore, only the tip of bow and stern protruding from the water, the wrecked mast lolling in the ebb and flow of the quiet waves. A line of flotsam had washed up on the shore – crates, a broken ship’s boat, food containers that had smashed open on the rocks and were being picked over by wary seabirds – and among them lay the dead bodies of a few crew members, badly mauled by scavengers.

In the bay, some distance further out than the wreck of their ship, a larger ship stood at anchor. They could see no marks or signs on it that suggested it was out of the ordinary in any way, but its presence was obviously ill-omened. Now they knew how they had been followed – they guessed that the ship had been commandeered by deepfolk and brought here to destroy their means of escape. Finding no artifacts on the Wages of Sin, they guessed that the deepfolk in command of the intruder ship had landed a scouting party and sent it after the Wrathbreakers.

That ship held the secret of who was following them, how they knew about the artifacts, and how they knew that the PCs had come here. That ship was also their own easy way out of the forest. Walking would take them weeks, with no supplies or food, and they were beaten and exhausted.

Somehow, they were going to have to get on that ship, clear it out, and use it to escape here. If they were lucky, and acted quickly, perhaps their crew would still be alive, held in some larder below decks, or maybe the ship’s original crew were still there, pressed into managing the ship for their deepfolk captors. At least, if they took the ship the Wrathbreakers could answer pressing questions and gather supplies and food before they were forced to set off on foot – or Itzel could teleport back to Alpon to organize another vessel to come to this one.

In any case, they had no choice – they needed to act fast to save whatever human crew languished aboard the distant vessel, and to kill whoever had pressed it into the service of their evil schemes. They retreated to the cover of the forest to scheme one more battle …

Recently in conversation with one of my players I was led to ponder whether or not SpaceX is revolutionizing space travel, and whether it has driven costs down to new record levels. My initial response was skeptical, but upon reflection I thought there should be data on this, and it should be possible to make some judgements about whether SpaceX is really doing what people claim. This post is an attempt to understand whether SpaceX rockets, in particular the Falcon 9, really are as cheap as people say, whether SpaceX has revolutionized space travel, and what we can expect in the future from this country or from rocketry in general. The key objectives are to:

  • Determine the truth of the claims about the cost of SpaceX rockets
  • Compare these claims with historical trends in rocket prices
  • Examine the role of reusable rockets in these trends

I hope by the end of this post to penetrate some of the hype around this company’s work, and understand a little more about the economics of space travel generally. A warning: this post is likely to be long, involves lots of dry figures, and is predicated on the assumption that Musk is a dishonest businessman.

Why do this?

First of all, why do this at all? Partly because it’s a rainy public holiday here and I have nothing better to do, but mostly because I think Elon Musk is an utter and complete fraud, who lies about all his companies’ activity, over-hypes his products, delivers dangerous, over-priced or poor quality goods, and wrecks the companies he runs. This is obvious for Tesla, Solar City and (now) Twitter, so it doesn’t seem unreasonable that the same would be true of SpaceX. But unlike Tesla and Twitter, SpaceX does seem to be delivering an actual usable product to high performance standards, so maybe its achievements buck the general Musk trend towards hyperbole and failure? However, on the flip side, Musk has spent a lot of time hyping his plans to go to Mars with SpaceX and everything about that project is obvious vapourware, hype and bullshit. The Youtube Common Sense Skeptic channel goes through this in great detail, showing how every aspect of everything Musk says about his Mars plans is completely and insanely untrue. So why should we assume the rest of his SpaceX plans are anything different? Remember, the first rule about liars is that if you know someone has lied repeatedly and consistently in the past, you should not trust anything they tell you now.

So actually I think it is possible SpaceX is burning money hand over fist, lying about the price of its launches and losing money on them. It’s a “disruptive start up” and it’s not uncommon for this kind of business to over-hype its product while burning through huge amounts of venture capital money. They do this either because they’re built on a completely unrealistic business model and refuse to admit it (Uber, Wework, and Theranos are examples of this); or they hope to smash regulatory hurdles to reduce costs and become profitable (AirBNB, Uber, Lyft); they’re straight-out fraud and hoping to burn through the money and no-one will notice (Theranos); they’re hoping to drive down the price so far that their competitors go bust and then they can ramp up prices before the venture capital runs out (Uber); they’re a business idea that depends on hype and people not noticing how awful the actual product is (AirBNB); or they’re hoping for a breakthrough that will suddenly render their business model profitable, or is the secret reason they’re doing it all (Uber’s self-driving taxi idea). It’s possible that this is what SpaceX is doing – keeping prices low and burning through venture capital in hopes of pushing out its opposition so that it can start charging monopoly rates, and/or hoping for a breakthrough in tech that will lower prices so much it can actually compete.

The history of rocket prices

Launching stuff into space doesn’t come cheap, and getting stuff up there is a big technological challenge. Humans have been launching rockets into space since 1957, and the general trend has been to see lower costs over time, with a noticeable hiccup in costs during the Space Shuttle era when the price of re-using the vehicle itself considerably inflated costs. Figure 1 shows the long-term pattern of prices for major rockets, and is divided into approximately four stages of development, characterised as Vanguard (when the first rockets were developed), Saturn V (when non-reusable rocket technology matured), Shuttle (when prices rose for the use of this orbital vehicle) and Falcon, when SpaceX started dropping prices. I took Figure 1 from a paper by Harry Jones, entitled The Recent Large Reduction in Space Launch Cost. I will recreate figure 1 with some changes later in this post.

Figure 1: Historical trend in rocket launch prices

Rocket launch prices are typically given in dollars per kg; figure 1 shows them in current 2018 prices (so early prices have been adjusted for inflation) but not, as far as I know, in purchase-power-parity prices (a few of the data points in the picture are from non-US sources; we’ll come back to that). Most rockets last for long periods of time, and the prices given in the figure are for the first launch date, not for example the last date, or tracking price over time. A good rule of thumb for a rocket launch is to assume it might cost about $10,000 per kg, and a typical rocket will launch 4000 – 20000 kg into space at a cost of between 50-200 million dollars. It’s not cheap to get shit up there!

But note the extremely low price of Falcon 9: it is listed as $2,700 per kg in Figure 1, which is enormously cheaper than the nearest competitor. Figure 2, which I took from a reddit post, shows different prices alongside the price of other rocket companies currently in operation – there are now a lot of startups in the commercial space industry, since Obama deregulated it in 2010, and these have been pushing their own prices down. In Figure 2 you can see a different set of figures for Falcon 9, with the reusable having a price of $4,133 per kg, and Falcon 9 divided into two kinds of launch (reusable and expendable). Figure 2 puts Falcon 9 prices to low earth orbit in a similar range to the Russian Proton M, or the US Vulcan rocket.

Figure 2: Launch prices for various rockets from a Reddit SpaceX forum

But as I will show, the prices listed in these figures are dishonest, and we will discuss the true price of launching Falcon 9. We will also analyze the data from Figure 1 in a little more detail, and see what we can learn from it.

Claims about SpaceX

The common claims made about how SpaceX has “revolutionized” space travel are available at booster sites like Space.com, which lists 8 mostly bullshit ways in which SpaceX has completely transformed space travel. For an example of bullshit consider their claim that it has made the uniforms fashionable … also note the uncritical reference to “German-American” rocket pioneer Werner von Braun (spoiler: he was a Nazi). In amongst the various nonsense we can find two main claims:

  1. SpaceX has reduced the cost of space travel, typically people giving unsourced claims that it has driven prices down, or using phrases that Musk himself constantly uses but clearly doesn’t understand like “by an order of magnitude”.
  2. SpaceX has developed completely new technology like reusable rockets which have both helped to push down the price of star travel and opened up new fields

Neither of these claims, as we will see, has any basis in reality. Incidentally, during this search for claims about SpaceX, I learnt that Musk claims to have spent 350 million dollars developing Falcon 9 and 750 million developing Falcon Heavy. I will use these numbers even though I don’t believe anything Musk says.

Methods

For this post I have performed three main analyses:

  • Analysis of SpaceX funding sources and costs
  • Analysis of SpaceX launch activity and prices
  • Analysis of the history of rocket launch prices

Here I briefly describe the methods I used for each of these analyses.

SpaceX Funding and costs

SpaceX obtains funding from launching rockets, Starlink subscriptions, government contracts, and venture capital. For launch prices I used the stated prices on the SpaceX website and associated forums, generally given at 62 million for a new Falcon 9 rocket and 50 million for a recycled one. Data on Starlink subscriptions I obtained from a website called nextbigfuture, for what that’s worth. I obtained contract information from a search on the govconwire.com website, which lists contracts and funding. Venture capital information I obtained from crunchbase.com. I put this data in mostly for 2017 onward (government contracts), 2010 onward (launches), 2016 onward (Starlink) and 2002 onward (venture capital). Note that some contract data is for “potential” contracts, which may vary in detail on delivery, but I wasn’t able to work out exactly how and when the money was delivered. For some obvious future contracts I did not include them as a funding source, but my numbers on government contracts are definitely shaky because of this.

For costs I used information on the total number of Starlink satellites launched from Wikipedia, cost of a satellite from nextbigfuture, and vague reports on Falcon 9 launch costs sourced around the web – about 50 million dollars for a launch of a new rocket, and 15 million for a reused rocket (these figures are attributed to Musk in interviews but seem dodgy to me). I used google to get the total number of current employees and their average salary (11,000 or so, at an average salary of $90,000) and assumed on-costs of 30%.

Note that SpaceX is not a public company and it is difficult to identify exactly how much money it has or is using. I do not know if it pays dividends on the shares it sold, what its rental or real estate costs are, how much money it is burning in fines and compensation, and any interest repayments on loans. This is only a blog post, after all!

SpaceX launch activity and prices

I obtained Falcon 9 launch data from Kaggle, though I think it’s just a scrape from the Wikipedia website. This data contains the date of the launch, the booster used, the client, the payload and its weight, whether the booster was new or used, and the result of both the launch itself and the attempt to recycle the booster. A small number of launches were classified launches for US government defense contractors, with no information on the weight or type of payload.

I also visited the SpaceX website and put in data on small payloads for their Rideshare plan, which confirmed that for all payload weights up to 800kg SpaceX charges $6000/kg, much higher than the sticker price and generally consistent with the prices in Figure 2 for other mature competitors. Not quite revolutionary is it …

Once I downloaded this data and did some unpleasant work importing it to Stata I produced some basic summaries of the data, such as mean payload weights, maximum weights, proportion of flights that were government contracts, etc. I also calculated a price/kg for each flight based on the sticker price of 62 million for a new rocket or 50 million for a recycled one, and also attempted to identify rockets that were new on launch and were not recycled (these would be “expendable” rockets).

Analysis of the history of rocket prices

I imported data from the Jones paper (it is provided in the Appendix) and added some additional information: I categorized rockets as communist or non-communist, and added some additional data for Falcon 9 launches based on the analysis of launch prices to give some more reasonable numbers for these launch prices. I deleted Falcon Heavy (which I don’t have launch data on and which seems largely to be vapourware at the moment) and made a fake data point for Communist launches in 2018 (these are still happening – China has a whole communist space station now!).

I then fitted a regression model of natural log of launch price per kg by year, with a term for communist/non-communist, generated the predicted values of price per kg from this model, and plotted curves for communist and non-communist launches. I plotted these against the observed price data and added Falcon 9 data separately. I ran the models and plotted for launches after 1961, because the first 4 years of the rocket program were, obviously, slightly special.

This gives a reproduction of Figure 1 with a little more detailed statistical analysis, with very different implications.

Results

The first thing I want to say before we get into details is that the sticker price everyone reports for Falcon 9, of $2700 / kg to launch into low earth orbit, is a lie, or at least very dishonest. This is taken from the SpaceX website description of Falcon 9, which states that it has a payload of 22,800 kg, and the common price of 62 million dollars for a launch of a new rocket. This is dishonest because it gives the payload for a fully expendable Falcon 9 rocket, but this rocket does not exist. No Falcon 9 is intended to be fully expendable, and if such a rocket existed it would need a separate production line to the current Falcon 9s in use. Reusable rockets need to be more robust and stronger than expendable ones, which means they have a different frame and fairings. This discussion of reusability makes clear that up to 40% of the payload can be lost in a reusable rocket due to the need to have a stronger structure and to keep some fuel for re-entry. You can’t just build a reusable rocket and use it as if it were expendable! This is backed up by the data – in 165 flights on which I have data, no flight ever flew at full payload, but there are multiple flights at a maximum value of 16,250 kg. The true maximum payload of the Falcon 9 rocket is 16,250 kg, not 22,800kg, and it will never fly at this value. In case you doubt me, note that all the max payload flights were Starlink deliveries, and it is just inconceivable that SpaceX would never use the full payload of their rockets to deliver their own satellites to orbit. The hard limit on a Falcon 9 rocket is 16,250kg, and the website is lying.

As we will see, this sticker price is also dishonest because in reality the rockets only ever fly fully laden when they are delivering Starlink satellites, and often the price paid by commercial buyers is much higher than 62 million. We will explore this below.

SpaceX funding and costs

SpaceX has been burning through money at a staggering rate. Here are my estimates of its income streams:

  • Approximately $7.5 billion in venture capital since 2017
  • Approximately $15 billion in government contracts since 2016
  • Approximately $3 billion in commerical launch fees since 2016
  • Approximately $3.75 billion in Starlink subscriptions since 2016

This amounts to about $4.8 billion in income per year. Its annual costs over the same period appear to be about $3.7 billion if we assume a recycled rocket costs 15 million to launch, a new rocket 50 million, and a starlink satellite costs $250,000 to build.

From this we should assume that SpaceX is making $1 billion per year in profit, if it has no dividend payment, interest or other expenses. Obviously this isn’t true (someone probably has to buy some stationery!) and maybe its other operating costs overrun this spare billion. But I think the story is likely dire. Why is SpaceX raising venture capital worth a billion a year if it is also getting enormous amounts of money in government contracts? I would suggest it is because it is losing money hand over fist on launches, which actually cost a half billion more than Musk is letting on, and/or rocket development (particularly Falcon Heavy and the Starship project) are costing an enormous amount more than he has let on.

Let’s also note that more than half of SpaceX’s revenue is government contracts. Without those government contracts, it would be dead in the water. Note that some of these contracts cover specific launch tasks, and almost always pay much more per launch than the SpaceX sticker price. For example, the Heliosphere contract pays 109 million to launch a satellite for NASA in 2024, while the cargo resupply mission to the ISS covers 32 flights for $14 billion (about $400 million per flight). Nobody in NASA seems to believe that the cost of a single mission is a mere $50 million!

SpaceX launch costs

The data on SpaceX launches covers Falcon 9 launches from 2002 to mid-2022, for a total of 165 launches. Of these 45 (26.5%) are aerospace/military contracts, and 52 (30.6%) are SpaceX flights, mostly delivering starlink satellites to low earth orbit (LEO) were they can vandalize the night sky in service of a poor-quality internet supply. Most of the flights (80.6%) used recycled boosters, and only in 12 flights (7.1%) was a new rocket used with no attempt to recover the booster – these 12 flights are the only ones that potentially used an “expendable” rocket. Of these 12 flights, seven were to GTO, which has a sticker payload of 8,300 kg. The maximum payload in those 7 flights was only 5600 kg, well below the sticker payload.

In fact most flights of the Falcon 9 have been far below its maximum payload. Figure 3 shows the mean, median, minimum and maximum payload by orbital destination for the 153 launches on which this data is available. No GTO flight has reached the sticker payload of 8300 kg, and the largest payload for LEO is 16250kg (all these flights were starlink deliveries, when the incentive and opportunity to use the maximum payload was greatest). Note the LEO(ISS) weights – these are deliveries to the International Space Station. Under the contract linked above, these flights are being paid for at somewhere between 100 and 400 million dollars per flight, giving a ludicrously high cost of – on average – between $20,000 and $85,000 per kg. This is potentially more expensive than the space shuttle, depending on the content and nature of the contract.

Figure 3: Mean, median, minimum and maximum payload weights by orbital destination, Falcon 9 flights to mid-2022

Figure 4 converts the values in Figure 3 to price/kg, assuming a price of $62 million for a new rocket or $50 million for a reusable rocket and ignoring higher prices for NASA or NRO contracts. These are to the best of my ability to tell the minimum price charged by SpaceX – in reality it is probably charging a lot more. For example on 30th June 2021 a Falcon 9 was launched that carried 88 rideshare payloads – this probably cost $6000/kg, judging from the website, and so the whole flight could have cost as much as $98 million. Even then, this figure is low compared to some of the low earth orbit launches, which could have cost as much as $360,000 per kg.

Figure 4: Mean, median, minimum and maximum price per kg, in thousands of dollars, for Falcon 9 launches to 2022

Figure 4 makes very clear that the sticker or theoretical price of rocket launches has almost no relationship to the actual costs, which can be much larger depending on the type of cargo shipped and the nature of the orbit it is sent to. This should be borne in mind in the next section.

Analysis of the history of launch prices

Figure 5 shows the price/kg of rocket launches from 1962 to 2018, with launches coloured blue for non-communist and red for communist states. Corresponding lines of best fit from the regression model are shown in the same colour, and some indicative Falcon 9 launch prices are plotted at the end in green. For indicative Falcon 9 prices I chose a) the median LEO price of $3210/kg; b) the optimum true LEO price of $3030/kg; c) a likely ISS supply price of $7,880/kg based on a $134 million contract; and d) the dishonest website price everyone quotes of $2,700/kg. We could also include $6000/kg, which is cited on the website for rideshares, but I forgot to, and can’t be bothered making this figure again.

Figure 5: Historical launch prices and modeled trends for communist and non-communist states, 1962 – 2018

As can be seen, the Falcon 9 optimum and some of its median launch costs are on the curve for communist systems, while the optimum ISS launch contract price lies just above the historical trend for US rockets. In fact, the predicted price for 2022 for the US system would be about $6000/kg, which is exactly the rideshare price that SpaceX cites on their website.

So in fact, far from revolutionizing the cost of launching rockets, SpaceX’s Falcon 9 is exactly consistent with the long-term historical decline in prices observed for launches from the US or its allies (mostly Japan). SpaceX have done nothing to advance the price of launches except to be there, commercializing a mature technology.

Conclusion

The final conclusion of all of this is that SpaceX are lying about the price to launch stuff into space on their rockets, and the media are uncritically repeating their fabricated price without checking its validity, comparing it with other prices available on the SpaceX website, comparing it with the prices that would be implied by SpaceX’s government contracts, or looking at the evidence from actual SpaceX flight data. The true price of launching stuff into space on a SpaceX rocket is likely more like $6,000/kg, more than twice the number they are citing.

Furthermore, this price is not a revolutionary drop in the cost of launching, and is in fact entirely consistent with the historical trend in US rocket launch prices. The best prices Falcon X manages to achieve are also not unusual, being simply normal prices for a Chinese or Russian rocket. The claim that SpaceX is doing anything special to drive down rocket prices is just more Muskrat hype, with no basis in reality at all.

It is also clear that reusability has not driven down the price of launches. Reusability incurs a payload penalty, since the rocket needs to be stronger and some fuel needs to be reserved for re-entry. Reusability is also not a radical new idea: the space shuttle’s booster rockets were reusable, and SpaceX’s sole advance on this 1980s technology has been to land them on a barge rather than beside one. This likely speeds up the time to return them to use, and slightly reduces the penalty incurred for robustness (since the rockets don’t need to resist the crash into the water) but it also significantly increases the amount of reserve fuel needed for re-entry. In fact United Launch Alliance (ULA), a SpaceX competitor, analysed reusability and found that it does not necessarily deliver much cost benefit for these reasons. There are formulae for the calculation of how many re-uses are needed for a recyclable rocket to be cheaper than an expendable one, available at the documents linked in this discussion board, and they suggest that in general it only reduces costs in the long-run by about 5%. So no, SpaceX has not revolutionized anything in this regard either.

So in conclusion, SpaceX is not revolutionizing space travel, it has not driven prices down at all relative to the long-term trend, launches with SpaceX cost considerably more than their PR suggests, and SpaceX is essentially a low-quality internet service provider with a side-hustle in military contracting, being heavily propped up by murky venture capital. Elon Musk is not, and never will be, anything except a scammer, and in future decades people will look back on how he was viewed in this period with confusion, scorn and disbelief.

The Wrathbreakers have been in Alpon, researching the history of humans and deepfolk and learning where to find the Spider God they made plans to kill when they first began adventuring together. With the help of Kyansei’s girlfriend Wei, Itzel brewed a poison that would weaken powerful fey creatures to make the battle easier. Bao Tap sought out the spider-slaves the Wrathbreakers had saved from a spider’s nest the previous year, and they eagerly agreed to join him in the battle against the Spider God. Xu made contact with the leader of a mercenary band called the Wild Meercats, and hired a small group of them to join the party as cannon-fodder. Once this was done they set off.

The Spider God was rumoured to have a nest inland from the remotest stretch of the bay north east of Alpon. It would take more than two weeks to travel there on foot, but only a few days to circle around the headland in the Wages of Sin and set down in the small inlet near the lair itself. From there they could hike inland for a day, and begin the slaughter. They took some time to load the ship and set off on the 9th of Harvest, ready to kill.

They made landfall at the inlet on the 12th of Harvest and early the next day set off inland, climbing first over a wasteland of dead and dying grasses and then walking into a sinister, shadowy mire of swamp and dying trees. They slogged through this all day, crawling through stinking dead mud, cold, clammy marshland and stalking through mist-wreathed stands of denuded trees until they reached a zone of death and fey magic. Here the trees were wrapped in spindles of web, the ground was covered in rotting leaves, and no bird sang. They were near.

They knew there would be many spiders in the region, and they wanted as few of them as possible to be interfering in the final battle, so they sent the team of Wild Meercats in a different direction, to approach from the flank. As they expected, some time after the Meercats had moved away from them they began to make noise, drawing attention to themselves. While the Meercats fought bitterly against the spiders and died one by one, the Wrathbreakers crept forward, ready to ambush the spider god.

They emerged from the mist and films of spider webs into a scene of rot and death. Before them lay the blasted, dead shore of a lake of stagnant, filthy water. Just a small distance into the stinking lake was a lone island, nothing more than a hummock emerging from the slime on which an ancient, lichen-crusted statue of some kind sunk beneath the weight of slime and dead leaves, menacing despite its crumbling, eroded anonymity. There amongst the dead trees surrounding the statue stood the Redcap King, as different from the Redcap they had previously killed as a lord is from a guttersweep. It was huge, wrapped in shadows, with fiery red eyes and a helm made of scarlet chitin that glowed in the gloom of the mist-shrouded clearing. It carried a halberd made of the fangs of giant spiders, dripping venom and menace. But it did not attack; instead it waved one mailed fist, the air around the Wrathbreakers shimmered, and spiders appeared from nowhere, teleporting around them to attack.

They fought them brutally, stabbing and hacking and pouring fire on them as the beasts teleported and blinked around them. As Xu and Bao Tap cut and hacked at the beasts Ella tried to hide and shoot at the Redcap itself, hoping to kill it before it could engage, but doing little damage. The Redcap was almost impossible to hide from, and was ready for her when she fired.

Soon enough the phase spiders were defeated, but now a wave of new spider beasts fell on them. Spiders the size of small dogs floated down from the cloud-shadowed sky on parachutes of silk, while waves of spiders the size of rats swarmed on them from the ground and larger, hound-sized spiders ran from the shadows of the denuded trees to spit acid at them. From behind this swarm shambled malnourished, envenomed human slaves, still shedding parasitic baby spiders that had been feeding inside their skin as the helpless enslaved humans rushed into battle. Only their eyes betrayed their lost humanity, showing first fear and then relief as they fell onto the Wrathbreakers’ weapons and were finally released from their misery.

Finally it was done, and the Wrathbreakers stood victorious on a shoreline covered in broken chitin, ichor and steaming pools of acid. Across from them on the small island the Redcap King screamed in rage – and the ancient statue began to move. With a cracking, creaking tremor the thing they had thought was an ancient icon of some time stirred from its slumber, extended its legs, and rose to tower above the Redcap King – the Spider God itself, a horrific arachnid monstrosity the size of a house, its legs splayed across the entire width of the island, huge fangs dripping venom beneath a battery of massive, inky black eyes, a thorax twitching with hairs the length and thickness of javelins.

It began the battle with those hairs, flinging a barrage of them at Itzel and Bao Tap where they stood on the shore. Itzel called forth her brick of missile warding, which projected a field of magical force that rendered those behind it completely immune to missile fire. It stopped the hail of javelin-sized hairs, but they destroyed it and the magical backlash injured both Itzel and Bao Tap. The Redcap King fired a bolt of fey energy across the clearing and Xu charged to engage it, as Ella fired her crossbow, tipped with Wei’s poison, at the Spider God.

The battle was ferocious. The Spider God summoned giant spiders to aid it, beasts the size of horses that scuttled out from the forest to attack Bao Tap but were engaged by the spider-slaves who had come with the Wrathbreakers. The Spider God captured Xu in a flung web and dragged him toward it to consume, but Bao Tap freed him and charged in to fight the Redcap King, which struck out viciously with its halberd. The Spider God fired salvoes of its javelin-sized hairs at Ella, knocking her unconscious, while Itzel tried to destroy it with acid, fire and light. Finally the Redcap King, injured, teleported from the island to a nearby stretch of web, where it conjured a strange white spider that began healing it. Itzel caught both of them in a vicious blast of fire that consumed them with such intensity that it almost destroyed the Redcap King’s magic items completely. The Spider God continued fighting, doing massive damage on Xu, who could not be healed because soon after Calim healed Ella from her near-fatal wound he miscast a spell and lost his powers. Finally, though, the damage piled up, the beast was weakened, and Ella shot it through one eye and straight into its brain, killing it. With a scream of rage and a final lash of fey energy the beast fell into the mud at the edge of the pond, vanquished.

They had killed a god.

They did not have much time to enjoy their victory, though. They paused briefly to rest, recover their breath, and drink healing potions, and were just beginning to relax when a group of four Orcs emerged from the shadows on the edge of the clearing. They were huge, heavily-muscled, scarred, their pale skin glimmering with threat in the half light, falchions drawn and ready. With them stood a thin, bald human man. Itzel took one look at them and fled in terror, her discipline finally broken.

“Tell us where the artifacts are,” the thin man hissed at them, “And you will have the relief of a fast death.”

They looked to one another, sighed, and prepared for another battle. Even god-slayers can win no rest in these darkling days …

The Wrathbreakers have explored a deserted deepfolk Observatory, and learnt disturbing things about the time when humans first emerged in the Archipelago from the diary of a deepfolk astronomer who died on the island. Now they must continue in their mission, first to Alpon and then to kill a spider god. They explored the remainder of the island a little, identified the collapsed tunnel leading from the observatory into the deepfolk caverns, and then set off for Alpon.

The city of scholars

Alpon is a city built in two stages around a pair of small rises. The first stage, called Dwarfhelm, was built 500 – 800 years ago when Alpon first formed, with much help from dwarves. It consists of wide, paved roads with sturdy apartment buildings set around inner courtyards, 3-4 stories high, made of bluestone and with wide, clear windows. The central two rises are topped by a fortress (called Dwarfhold) and Parliament House, which is actually built into the hill called Parliament Hill. Between these two rises is a small lake called Firstwell, which is fed by a stream from the south west that flows through Alpon to the river to its north, and also by an underground stream in the hill of Dwarfhold.

Dwarfhelm is surrounded by a low stone wall, suitable for defense, with four main gates leading out to the outer stage, called Newstead, which is a chaotic sprawl of wooden tenements, bluestone warehouses, parks and squares that forms the outer living quarters of most of the population.

Alpon is famous for its many large libraries and multiple small Academies, each connected to a library. It holds many historical texts dating back to the earliest times after the Harrowing, and scholars and scientists from all across the Archipelago come here in search of ancient secrets, genealogies and historical notes. The Wrathbreakers arrived in the City of Scholars after five days sailing along the eastern coast of Ariaka, and took a suite of rooms in a tavern near the scholarly section of Dwarfhelm called Stormsholm. Here they rested, arranged for an agent to introduce them to necessary libraries and academies, and prepared to explore the town. They were here on three separate purposes, which they hoped to explore over the following days:

  1. To investigate the ancient history of the Harrowing, in order to learn more about the connection between the ancient deepfolk, the Seven Children of Rage, the mysterious artifacts and why deepfolk and humans were at war
  2. Any information about the history of the deepfolk, that could help them to understand the secrets they were slowly trying to unravel, or any links to the deep cult
  3. The whereabouts of the Spider God, which they aimed to kill for no particularly good reason except that it was there, and horrid

The day after they arrived their agent took them to a library called the Academy Of Dust, a kind of college and reliquarium devoted to ancient history and archaeology. Here they learnt of a collection of works called the Dwarven Codex, a large collection of books and scrolls that had been gathered by the dwarves during the construction of Alpon. At that time there were many humans who still remembered clearly the days of wandering during the Harrowing, or who had heard stories from parents and grandparents of those days. Dwarven scholars, still learning to understand their newfound human charges, had attempted to record some of these oral histories in a long and detailed set of documents that came to be known as the Dwarven Codex. Unfortunately a deepfolk raid on Alpon in the early years of settlement had razed much of the town and the dwarven scholars had fled, taking much of the Codex with them. The ship carrying the Codex back to the Isles of Tesseran had been hit by a terrible storm and sank, taking some of the Codex with it and damaging other parts. The dwarves had attempted to reconstruct some parts from memory and the damaged text, but much of it had been lost, and only those parts that had been left behind in Alpon, and a few fragments later returned there by a rebellious dwarven scholar, remained of the collection. Nonetheless, it was one of the few documents that memorialized that time, and so the Wrathbreakers sought to meet the scholar who led this Academy of Dust, a man named Siu, and gain access to the documents.

An old friend

As they were moving around town they noticed they were being followed by someone, and set a trap for their pursuer. Ella, of course, was the one who sprung the trap, and she almost killed a scruffy boy who screamed in shock and scrabbled desperately to get away from her iron grip. The boy told them he had been sent by a “giant woman” to determine if they were truly “her old friends” and to confirm they weren’t “up to mischief”, and they realized he must have been hired to check on them by their old comrade Kyansei. Kyansei, the giant barbarian Wildling woman, had left them from Estona and traveled to Alpon to do research on the blight affecting her Wildling lands, and so of course they guessed she must still be here. Perhaps she had even learnt to read! So, they sent the boy back to Kyansei and organized a meeting.

The meeting took place at Alpon’s only Wildling restaurant, a collection of open tent pavilions in a park on the northern side of Dwarfhelm. They arrived as the sun set and were met by Kyansei herself, big and sleek but dressed for once in civilized, non-combatant clothes, accompanied by a small, thin and busty Ariakan girl wearing figure-hugging black clothes and spectacles. Kyansei greeted them all warmly with hugs and lifting-up and back-slapping and laughter, and then introduced them to “my girlfriend Wei” with a ribaldrous arse slap of the small girl. They greeted her in a more appropriate fashion and retired to the Wildling restaurant, which Wei excused herself from with vague excuses of an urgent task, and set about a repast of stone-grilled lamb, roasted bugs, horse’s blood and bear sashimi.

Over dinner Kyansei told them of the success of her research mission here. She had begun her research months ago and had proceeded through three different scholars:

  • Luo, who studied her reports of the blight affecting her land and concluded it was not natural; recommended an expert on dark magic
  • Jin, an expert on the history of dark magic, who said it did seem like it might be deep magic but was confused because the wildlands are not said to have deepfolk
  • Jing, an expert on ancient history, who contacted Kyansei on Jin’s recommendation and began studying records of first contact between humans and wildlings, and believes that there is evidence of an ancient and abandoned deepfolk complex in the area, based on some very dubious ancient poems

Kyansei told them that Wei had also helped her; Wei was a scholar “into books and all that”. When they asked her more about Wei’s interests, Kyansei was classically unforthcoming. She told them Wei studied something “about game theory and mathematics and the ancient history of Gon” in order to “find out how Gon ended up in such a mess”, but could not tell them more. She explained to them “She doesn’t talk much, her mouth is mostly full when she’s around me” and shared a few other ribaldries. When they told her they were investigating the location of the Spider god she offered them Wei’s help because “She’s really good at finding precious things in thick bush”. So, in the interest of everyone’s digestion they agreed to the offer of Wei’s help and moved on to other topics.

They told Kyansei a little of their mission but not all. They did not tell her about the deep cult of humans working with deepfolk, or their findings on the Observatory Isle, but did tell her that they were seeking seven artifacts that seemed of value to the deepfolk, and that they already had several. Kyansei told them that she was preparing a mission to her homeland to attack the ancient deepfolk caverns there, leaving in about two weeks, and suggested they join her – if they were busy killing a spider god they could catch up with her at Rokun, where she planned to stop (possibly for the whole winter).

The wrathbreakers, thinking that her finding of deepfolk caverns under blighted land hinted strongly at one of the lost 7 artifacts, said they might join her. They all got very drunk, and headed home.

Research

The next day they visited the Academy of Dust, and Siu gave them access to the archives. They secured help from Jing, the scholar who had helped Kyansei, and Kyansei’s shy girlfriend Wei, and began their research. After 10 days their research was complete and they emerged from the academy with the knowledge they needed: the location of the Spider God, and with Wei’s help a recipe for a substance that would be poison to its fey constitution. They also had learnt some of the secrets of human history, which they would organize and compare when their most pressing task was done: It was time to kill a god.

Day 11, 7128

Weather: Fine
Mood: Consternation

Today we made some progress replacing the beans that were uprooted by our night visitor, which Eldun maintains is a racoon of some kind. We harvested what beans the visitor had left untouched and the servants suggested using the fishing nets to set a barrier around the plants, but I refused. Our quarterly supply train is now a week overdue, and we may yet need the nets before the next train arrives.

Day 13, 7128

Weather: Cloudy
Mood: Excitement

Our junior astronomer Katya reports that she has found a new constellation! With today’s cloud cover she cannot show us her findings, but everyone is very intrigued. If it is a new constellation, our reputation in the home caverns will grow enormously! But if it is not Katya will need to be warned about another display of typical over-exuberance. Of course it is months of work to confirm such a finding, including exhaustive research through the celestial records to confirm it is not simply a rare sighting of an existing phenomenon. Katya insists it is too bright to be an overlooked existing system, but we will see when the work is done.

Day 31, 7128

Weather: Cloudy
Mood: Anticipation

With a week of clear skies behind us I can report wtih some fragile confidence that Katya’s discovery appears to be correct, and it certainly looks like a new constellation has appeared in the sky. We cannot say for sure, because we must check old records, but it burns so bright in the sky that it is very difficult to believe that such a brilliant set of stars could have been there before and not been noticed. Either a very strange atmospheric phenomenon is at play, or something new has appeared in the sky. We have all been very busy with this work, preparing experiments during clear days and scouring the old records during cloudy days, and today is the first day of rest we have taken since Katya’s announcement. I confess that in this sudden burst of research activity I completely missed the dwindling of our supplies, and had to be reminded that our quarterly supply train is now 27 days overdue. I have not had time to check records, but I belive this is not so unusual. Nonetheless, I should make contact with the home caverns if it does not arrive soon.

Day 33, 7128

Weather: Storm
Mood: Consternation

A strange day! A storm gathers over the ocean and threatens to cover our island for some days, forcing us to close the observatory covers and retire to our rooms for the next few days. We will no doubt have to then waste days of research time recalibrating the telescope, since closing the covers seems to always slightly move it (oh if only they had sent technicians to investigate this those years ago when I took over this outpost!) Everyone is eager to continue confirmatory observations of Katya’s new constellation, and the recalibrations will be a frustrating delay.

Katya herself now cannot participate, at least for a few days – with our supplies dwindling we have been on the lookout for our nocturnal visitor and last night she caught it, a racoon as we suspected, plundering our bean stores. She scared it away but somehow sustained a bite. Our Wizard Agrila healed the wound, but she is under orders to rest for a few days under observation in case it has given her the fever – we have treatments for it but they are limited in number and I prefer she be observed and administered some of our remaining supply only if need be, a policy I put in place until at least the next supply arrives, when I can send in a request for more. In fact our medicinal herbs and apothecary are disturbingly low, mismanagement on my part, and I should do a complete stocktake before the next supply train arrives.

More tedious distractions from the big project of confirming Katya’s constellation!

Day 40, 7128

Weather: Cloudy
Mood: Frustration

It is now 27 days since Katya made her potential huge discovery, but we have had barely one week of clear skies in which to ascertain the facts of it. We had a single break in the weather yesterday, and yet made no progress due to the need to recalibrate the telescope. Fortunately Katya’s consternation is still there, but we were unable to proceed with measurements and will need to wait until this abominable cloud bank is gone to continue. I have never cursed the open sky as much as I do in this season!

Katya suffered no further ill effects of the bite, and our medicinal supplies were not consumed tending to her healed wound. However, our supply shipment has still not arrived, and being now more than one month overdue I opted to communicate with our authorities using the Mirror. I oculd not though, because Agrila could not make it work! He tried all he could but it simply would not hold any vision, and was dark and lifeless as if it were a normal piece of metal. He did some investigation and research but no message or signal could pass through it, and he does not know why. So we are now 36 days past the due date for our supplies, and no message can pass in or out of the caverns.

Day 102, 7128

Weather: Clear
Mood: Concern

Katya’s constellation hangs over us still, and we have pored through records going back 1000 years and found no record of it. We can only conclude it is new. However, we have had to divert some effort from our continued study, because not only is our new year supply run now more than 3 months late, but the next supply was supposed to arrive a week ago and it, too, has not arrived. Further attempts to contact our superiors with the Mirror also failed, for reasons Agrila cannot understand. We are truly alone here and beginning to worry.

We have hastily drafted an initial report on the constellation, and this morning we sent it with one of our junior scholars, two servants and two guards to the caverns. Having no mounts, we believe the nearest outpost in the tunnels is two weeks’ walk from here; a return party will take some days to organize at least, assuming all is well in the caverns and this loss of supplies is just an oversight. We cannot therefore expect even a partial resupply for nearly a month. So while our little expedition heads underground to the caverns, the rest of us have set about a reduced research load and increased activities on the island. We have regular fishing shifts, and I have organized for some of the scholars and servants to put some work into preparing and repairing vegetable patches in the garden – these last few years we have become lazy about gardening, and use it primarily for tomatoes and a few fresh herbs, but now we have laid in other over-ground crops that might mature within the next six months. Potatoes, a little corn, that sort of thing.

Also we have begun rationing the wine.

Day 132, 7128

Weather: Sunshine
Mood: Hopeful

Today is now 30 days since we sent our expedition into the caverns, and we can begin to hope that from now we might see a response from our elders and connections underground. We opened the last of the wine today in anticipation.

Day 185, 7128

Weather: Sun
Mood: Worried

It is now more than two months since our expedition entered the caverns, and there has been no word from our homes. We have now missed the third supply run of the year, which was due today or yesterday, and I fear that no more will come within this year. We still have significant supplies of basics – our fungal stocks are high, as are beans and other staples – but we have now very little fruit, oil, only the worst of our preserved meats and vegetables, and very little sugar. We also run low on basic supplies for our research, and discovered to our horror yesterday that we cannot replace an important lens if it breaks – our supplies of highest grade glass are gone, and we cannot produce more here. Our supplies were sufficient to live comfortably through two missed deliveries, and I wisely instituted some measures after two, but it is still a concern. Our one blessing still is that we have been living well on fish and shellfish, and we have extended the garden to include a little barley and more corn. Also we daily forage the island picking berries and little sour apples that we would normally reject, and we have laid in some seeds in hope we can grow some more.

Still, it is a matter of concern to us all. What has happened down there?

Day 191, 7128

Weather: Ill-omened storms
Mood: Determined

Two days ago we completed the final draft of our dissertation on Katya’s constellation, which we have been working on in a more and more desultory fashion these last months. With the completion of the dissertation it is safe to say that we have a legitimate reason to return to the caverns, but we are torn, so yesterday I called a meeting of all here present – servants, guards and scholars – to discuss what we should do. Official policy from our elders is that we should wait for two full lost supply wagons before considering return, and weigh up our circumstances with the needs of the mission before deciding to abandon our post – recall all of us were to be here for a five year term, and those whose term was closest to ending were sent back with the ill-fated messenger expedition on day 102.

Discussion was heated but not acrimonious. The guards are happy to stay provided that food can be supplied. Some of the scholars believe that we have simply been overlooked for a while as part of some stupid inter-departmental conflict, and should wait a little longer before panicking, and I confess I share the concern of Katya that our biggest pressure is to ensure that our dissertation is published before one of the two other observatories reports the same findings. Normally we would send our thesis back with the supply wagon post, but since we cannot something must be done.

Finally we agreed to send Katya with a single guard and one servant to deliver the thesis, and to try and push for our resupply. This time we gave the guard, at least, strict instructions to return here within the month, or to send a message if unable. If we do not receive word from them before the next supply is due, we will all return to the caverns. I have also insisted two guards be posted on the tunnel entrance daily – some of my colleagues believe I am being alarmist but I am concerned about the delay in supplies and the loss of the Mirror.

Now we are down to five guards, five servants, three scholars, myself and Agrila. At least our food will last a little longer, but we must also do more shared work on smaller rations. We are now more fishers and farmers than scholars!

Day 233, 7128

Weather: Treacherously sunny
Mood: Terrified

Disaster! We have been attacked, and many of our number horribly slaughtered!

The attack was yesterday but I could not until today write about it. We were fortunately at our research stations in the afternoon when it happened, and all but three of our number inside the tower. They came up through the tunnel, and our guards, thinking the situation resolved, rang the bell to call us all to attention, and then went to meet them. But they were not met with hails of joy or even stern reproval from some unpleasant academic oversight board – rather, they were attacked by a gang of our fellow folk, accompanied by some form of hideous new soldier! They defended themselves but one was killed in the tunnel and the other had to retreat. Fortunately he was joined by our other guards who had come down after the bell was rung, as had we all. They fought valiantly but the three other guards were unarmoured, and two were killed before we could close the gate to the supply room and seal it from within.

They were so horrid! I watched myself! They were of our own kind, but like terrible crazed monsters! They had scarified their faces, and held aloft a banner that was an emblem of a snake coiled around a battered bleeding skull, crudely drawn. They screamed and yelled, and one of them used some horrific magic that fired bolts of actual shadow, which hurt our soldier horribly.

Worst of all though, was that amongst them they had a new ally, shambling, slow-moving humanoid figures with dark bronze coloured skin, who wore rags over their bodies and stared at us with sightless eyes. They did not seem to understand speech or to respond to pleas, and … and … they ate the guard they killed. They dragged him down before our eyes, clubbing him with terrible ferocity, and then began to eat his still struggling, half-conscious body. Such horror!

They stank, and one was riddled with worms. We spoke with Agrila and he believes that they were somehow the bodies of animated dead, made to move by some terrible marionette magic. He said he has never before sensed the magic they use, but that it is of ineffable evil.

Something terrible has happened in the caverns, and now it emerges to find us. I can only think that Katya and her retinue have been slaughtered by these horrors.

Day 237, 7128

Weather: Terrible
Mood: Terrible

They have lurked in the tunnel for days, and today they began battering the door with some terrible magic that sallied against it for hours. We thought the door would hold but by mid-morning it was beginning to splinter and crumble. The magic stopped but then those shambling bronze-skinned automatons were set upon it and began beating at it. We had no choice but to go out and do battle with them, our three remaining guards charging forth in full battle gear while Agrila supported them with flashes of light, and the rest of us fired bows as best we could. They pushed the beasts back as best they could, killed two and forced the other three back, but then theywere submerged in bodies – there were many more of the brown-skinned dead than before, and they were torn apart by the pack.

Agrila, who knows no combat magic, had little choice. He collapsed the tunnel, crushing all those of our kinsfolk who had been attacking us and driving the dead away. We won the battle but lost our last three valiant guards and another servant.

Now there are just four servants, the three scholars, Agrila and I. Our numbers dwindle.

Worse still, the dead are in the gardens. Our exit into the caverns of our homes is blocked, something terrible has happened down there that we perhaps cannot return to, and there are murderous dead wandering the lands around our castle.

Day 238, 7128

Today we realized that collapsing the tunnel without sealing in the dead has also cut us off from our garden. The tunnel ran under the rise on which our observatory and garden were built; collapsing it created a kind of trench between us and the garden. To reach the garden we must go outside, down the trench and up again. But the dead prowl around, and we would have to fight them to reach the garden.

Day 241, 7128

Today we tried to reach the garden. We set a distraction in the front while others of us ran to the garden to dig up potatoes and cut corn. One of the servants and a scholar died, and we gathered only a few sacks of potatoes. Now we are but 7.

Day 267, 7128

We ran out of arrows today. Our shooting has killed some of the dead, but a large number remain. They seem never to sleep or rest, wandering by night or day. We cannot evade them easily, though occasionally we try to slip away to set fish nets. It is a risky business that will not end well.

Day 268, 7128

Little Cornet, our youngest servant, fell from the tower today, trying to gather eggs from a seabird nest on the outside of the observatory. No one had authorized him to do this, but none of us have eaten an egg or anything fresh in so long. We ran to the window when we heard his cries, but it was a terrible scene. He had fallen through brush that broke some of his fall, and he did not die when he hit the ground. He lay there feebly moving as the dead ate him. It took hours for his cries to end. Now the crows feast on the parts of him the dead left – after he died they seemed to lose interest, and left him to the wilds.

We are now 6.

Day 297, 7128

A failed attack on the dead. Agrila has been working on some magical repellents, and we prepared spears from the armoury, trained a little with armour, and tried to round them up with a distraction. We killed two of them, but lost three of our own, including Agrila.

Now we have no healer. Any mistake now is fatal.

Day 331, 7128

We saw a ship on the horizon, one of the maritime folk, but only too late thought to flash it a message with a mirror from the observatory. We might as well have used the Mirror, for all the good it has done us. They did not see, or ignored the message. Perhaps we would only have lured them to their deaths on the beach, anyhow.

What terrible, evil magic can animate the bodies of the bronze-skinned dead for so many days, without relent? It is a sin against all of nature.

Day 352, 7128

Eldun took his life today, threw himself from the top of the observatory. We did not know until the afternoon, when I found his note in the observatory and, looking out, saw his body.

Every day now we are hungry. I am keeping rations low, so that we can stay alive as long as possible. We sit in the observatory every day, hoping to see another ship and to send a message.

Day 3, 7129

A bitter, cold new year. We have no firewood, and without Agrila we cannot heat the rooms. We sit cold and hungry in the wind-blasted observatory, hoping for some sign from the ocean.

It gives us nothing but the cold railing of winter storms.

The dead do not feel the cold. They prowl the dark of the winter, waiting for our next desperate error.

Day 27, 7129

Some winter fever took my last companion, Evret, the last servant. It is no surprise, we are wind-chapped and exhausted in the tower, staring with dry eyes at the empty, uncaring sea. Its callous indifference may have seeped into her bones and killed her as surely as any disease.

By some curse of the uncaring fates I have been spared her infection. I must die here cold, hungry and alone.

The days pass. It is just a question of when.

Day 39, 7129

There is no point in continuing. The food is exhausted, as am I, exhausted and alone. My fellow scientists and all the people who worked here are gone, something terrible has happened in the caverns of our homeland, and there is no hope now that I can return to them. We have done all we can to find a way to survive here, but without communication from below we have no food and no way to know what catastrophe has caused this terrible isolation. I have a last draught of a sleeping drug. I will take it, and see no more lonely frozen mornings on this outpost.

I fear no one will ever read this, the last entry of the southern Observatory, but I hope that if you do you will find the answers I could not, and save my people from whatever horrors have befallen them.

Farewell from Velor, chief scientist and last survivor of the Southern Observatory.

The Wrathbreakers have completed their work in the Outriders, killing the gangster Krotos and all his allies and recovering the Eye of the Dead God. Now that their business here was done, it was time for them to return to their investigations. First, they wanted to find the Observatory alluded to in The Gull’s notes, before they traveled to Alpon.

Searching the Wild Cape

They rested in the Bones for a week while minor repairs were done on their ship The Wages of Sin, and then set off for the Cape of Darepo, where the Observatory was rumoured to be built. They sailed across smooth, shining seas to the Cape, which separates the main island of Hadun from the jungle tracts of the Archipelago of Kadora, and also separates the Igano sea from the Sahakan Ocean. Although their journey to the cape was relatively calm, the line of small islands where Igano and Sahakan met was infamous for its storms and mercurial weather, so they decided to begin their exploration on the Sahakan side, hoping to find the Observatory without having to cross the line where the seas met.

The Cape of Darepo is at the very south-westernmost tip of the island of Hadun and although nominally part of the country of Ariaka, it has strong separatist and independent streak, and is renowned for both its poverty and its pirates. The Wrathbreakers decided that they needed to be careful investigating the small ports of the area, lest they draw criminal attention to themselves, and decided to conduct their search using a mixture of scouting – sailing the seas investigating small islands – and charm – visiting small towns and dispensing alcohol and coin liberally as they asked about lost towers. At first their strategy was successful, with the discovery of a hidden (or abandoned) pirate cache on a small deserted island. However the next three days were spent fruitlessly questioning ignorant villagers in small, poor towns on the barren, windswept coast. Eventually they hit on a rumour of islands on the inner curve of the bay, and crossed over the storm line into the shelter of its leeward side to continue searching.

Poor weather here hindered their search so they put into a small pirate town, and here they learnt from a local “fisherman” of an island in the middle of the bay which was said to be haunted. Strange lights shone from it on clear nights, and it was rumoured to be haunted by the bodies of dead sailors who had been stranded there. Since the Wrathbreakers associated the walking dead only with deepfolk, they decided to investigate, and soon found themselves floating offshore of a small, heavily-forested island with a crumbling tower in the centre.

The Deepfolk Observatory

As soon as they set foot on the gravel beach of the island they were attacked by zombies, animated corpses which shambled out of the forests and attempted to flail at them with crumbling, skeletal fists. These creatures were so old that they were barely recognizable as corpses, just parchment-thin skin stretched over crumbling bones. A single blow from any of the Wrathbreakers’ weapons put paid to a brace of the pallid, dusty creatures, but they continued to attack until the Wrathbreakers counted more than a dozen shattered bodies on the shore. Finally the wave of dessicated corpses ceased, and they could venture inland.

The tower was a narrow, round building of five stories, perhaps 30m in diameter, with small windows on all levels of the building and a domed roof. It was built on a small rise in the middle of the small island, and thick forest marched up to the walls of the tower, which were covered in ivy. They could see, however, that some of the windows on the higher levels had lights inside them.

While Xu and Bao Tap worked on freeing plant growth from around the ground floor entrance and Ella kept watch for more zombies, Itzel levitated to the second floor and began looking in through windows. She found a series of empty rooms, each with a single bed and a small desk, in many cases long-since decayed to almost nothing. In some rooms there was still a magical light, similar to the marshstone lights the Wrathbreakers had encountered in the Peninsula of Moran Kei.

Itzel entered through an open window of one of these rooms as the rest of the group broke through the door of the first floor. They explored the rooms simultaneously, determining that the first floor held long-since abandoned dining rooms, kitchens and a gallery that would once have held views over the bay, while the second floor held only sleeping chambers. They also discovered that the centre of the first floor was a hollow shaft that descended into a basement chamber. They opted to explore up rather than down and, after gathering in the 2nd floor, headed up to the third. Here they found an ancient library full f crumbling books, and a laboratory with many well-made glass objects. Between the two rooms was a round, windowless chamber which they could seal shut, and with some care and a little magic they were able to bring one of the crumbling tomes from the library into this room and open it long enough to identify that the books were written in deepfolk script.

They continued upward to the 4th floor, where they found a gallery with views over the bay and two residential suites. One was empty but the other was sealed shut. They slipped quickly into this room, trying to avoid introducing new air, and Bao Tap used his magic to establish a seal around the door. In this room they found a deepfolk body lying on a crumbling bed, its features dessicated with age in the dry air of the room. On the table near the bed they found a journal and a beautiful quill pen which radiated with its own light when picked up. Itzel and Bao Tap identified that the magic in the quill, the lights on the walls, and some objects in the laboratory was all fey magic, not deep magic.

The diary was open at a final entry, which they read where it sat open on the desk. It read as follows:

Day 39, 7129

There is no point in continuing. The food is exhausted, as am I, exhausted and alone. My fellow scientists and all the people who worked here are gone, something terrible has happened in the caverns of our homeland, and there is no hope now that I can return to them. We have done all we can to find a way to survive here, but without communication from below we have no food and no way to know what catastrophe has caused this terrible isolation. I have a last draught of a sleeping drug. I will take it, and see no more lonely frozen mornings on this outpost.

I fear no one will ever read this, the last entry of the southern Observatory, but I hope that if you do you will find the answers I could not, and save my people from whatever horrors have befallen them.

Farewell from Velor, chief scientist and last survivor of the Southern Observatory.

They could not read the rest of the journal until they had secured the building, so they climbed the last stairs to the fifth floor, where they found a decaying, long-abandoned observatory. In the centre of the observatory was a partially broken telescope, of unusual design and obviously of beautiful style and workmanship. The observatory also glowed with a dim red light from more of the strange fey stones set in the wall. The room was filled with delicate constructions of glass and small objects carefully crafted in testimony to minds committed to beauty and science.

Everything in this observatory, made by deepfolk, spoke of a culture with no connection to the deepfolk that the Wrathbreakers had ever met. They needed to know more. So, they picked up Velor’s journal, carried it to the windowless room in the third floor, established a sealed room safe for opening ancient books, and devoured its contents in a single sitting.

What had happened to the deepfolk – who were they, what had they become? And had humans been the cause?


Image credit: the first picture is from the DeviantArt page of Juhani Jokinen.