Rumours of a Seal …

The Wrathbreakers have killed the warlord who rules Ar, uncovered a cult of humans who use forbidden deep magic, and gathered together many clues about what that cult was aiming to do. Amongst the clues they found a map of the Valley of Gon with pins for 7 locations, which they now prepared to investigate. The roster for this session:

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

Kyansei chose to leave them at this point to head to Alpon to investigate the blight affecting her homeland, and Calim was too badly injured from the battle to help them further. They would investigate the secret sites of the Deep Cult without a healer.

Itzel’s Intervention

They had spent a week in Ar, recovering from their injuries and enjoying Elizabeth 4th’s hospitality as they investigated the clues left behind by Anyara, and their plan had been to stay in the Valley of Gon and investigate all the locations marked on the map. However, on the 31st Still, a week after the overthrow of the Argalt, Itzel gathered together and told them she thought Estona was in danger.

They sat in a warm gallery overlooking the town in one of its better hostelries, eating grilled eel and drinking maize wine as she outlined her theory. First, she pointed out to them that Anyara, the cult leader, appeared to have sent a corrupted recipe for how to create a Golem to a contact in Estona. They suspected that this contact was the person they called the Puppet Master, who had been using notes to organize crimes in Estona. This Puppet Master had been gathering body parts from Selkie. The notes they had found in Anyara’s study suggested that Selkie body parts could be used to enhance the mixing of magic, but only if properly prepared – and the recipe that Anyara appeared to have sent to her contact in Estona was corrupted to ensure it would use Selkie body parts that were improperly prepared.

Itzel’s suspicion that Anyara had a plan to set up a magical trap in Estona, that could be either:

  • A kind of magical dirty bomb, perhaps disguised as a golem, that when activated would explode with a wave of dark magic (or mixed magic, or just the parts of the golem) and kill everyone nearby
  • A dark magic golem that when activated would kill humans
  • A corrupted and uncontrolled golem that would simply go wild

She pointed out to the group that the contact in Estona seemed to have met Anyara at a magical exhibition, where new magical designs were shown off by wizards to other wizards. If Anyara were building a corrupted golem as a trap, then it is possible that at some upcoming exhibition the Puppet Master would activate a golem that would then begin killing Astrologers. Her studies of the books of Golem-making they had found in Anyara’s study, though preliminary, suggested that Golems could be extremely dangerous, extremely difficult to kill, and potentially immune to magic if they were created in specific ways. If, for example, some spies of Anyara’s were to lock the doors of an exhibition chamber when a magically-resistant golem went wild, the carnage would be extreme and the cream of Estona’s wizardry would be slaughtered.

Furthermore, Itzel had asked Sara (the former apprentice from Estona who they had rescued) about the frequency of such exhibitions, and had been told that thy were quite frequent. Anyara’s calendar had a mark on it for a day two weeks hence, on the 14th of Thawing. Itzel suggested to the Wrathbreakers that this was the date that the trap in Estona was set to go off. So, she recommended they change their plan, and head back to Estona as soon as possible.

Everyone listened to her explanation and agreed. However, returning to Estona from Ar would take 5-6 days, and from Riak would take 6-7 days. So they decided to head to Riak, investigate the cultist point of interest there, and then sail from Riak to Estona, arriving in Estona on about the 10th or 11th of Thawing, with 3-4 days spare to find and stop whatever Itzel suspected was going to happen. It was tight, but they did not know how important the clues were, and anything more they knew of the cult’s plans could only be helpful. So, the next morning they set out for the Freeport of Riak.

The Riak

It took just the day for a river ship to take the Wrathbreakers to the Riak, and they arrived in the late afternoon under a slowly fading snowstorm, perhaps the last of the season. The Freeport of Riak sits near the head of the northern tributary of the river Gon, at the foot of a system of white water falls called the Riak Cascade. A few small Freeholds with lucrative trapping and mining operations further upriver marked out the north-easternmost extents of the Valley of Gon, and these towns were served exclusively by river transport that must pass through Riak. Here the boats stopped, offloading goods that would be carried by porters up a narrow path beside the cascade to a higher section of the town at the top of the falls, where they would be loaded onto smaller boats to be shipped upriver. The necessity of this portage, and the fees and levies associated with it, had made Riak wealthy, and it was the first town in Gon they had visited which did not greet them with slums and poverty. The main part of the town – lower Riak – spread along the southern river bank, with a steep hillside behind it limiting its southern sprawl. The hillside formed a series of embankments marching back into low-hanging cloud, and on the higher embankments there were expensive lodging houses made of logs and stones, nestled amongst pine trees and served by hot springs and streams. A stone wall on the lowest embankment of the hillside separated the town proper from these lodges.

The Wrathbreakers traveled through the town, passing a large stone structure called the Riak, after which the town was named. This building was a mixture of shopping arcade, fortress, residences, libraries and official buildings, cut through by several galleries for public amenities and surrounded by wooden additions, pavilions and squares that marked out the centre of the town. Beyond this was a wealthy area of expensive townhouses and shops, then a cluster of simpler buildings wandering up the hillside to the town wall. They passed out of the town and up to a higher embankment, where they picked out a luxury lodge called the Overlook and booked a suite of rooms overlooking the Cascade. After a nice comfortable soak in their suite’s onsen, they headed into town to do some drinking and socializing and learn what they were looking for. All they knew was that someone called Anders was seeking “rumours of a Seal,” so they guessed they would need to do some rumour-hunting, some smooth talking, and some carousing until they could learn where to look for antiquities in the town, if any strangers were hunting around for the same thing, and who was and was not investigating ancient matters.

In the bars and restaurants near the riverfront they learned that the primary source of information on antiquities in the town was a very old Astrologer and scholar known simply as “The Collector”, who lived with his two apprentices in the Riak, where he maintained an extensive library and a small laboratory. Not particularly magically powerful, he had retired and moved to the Freeport of Riak many years ago, where he had devoted himself to studying ancient history and training apprentices with great research skill and mediocre magical ability. He was known to have a side interest in deepfolk magical artifacts and abominations, though everyone insisted his reputation was pure and he would never keep or use such atrocities. Finding no other evidence of suspicious activities, they decided to visit the Collector the next day and see if they could find out what books he had on deepfolk antiquities.

The next morning they visited the Collector, following an invitation sent by the maitre d’ of their hotel, arriving at his quarters at the Riak just before lunch. The entrance to his home was located just off of a gallery stretching through the middle of the Riak, which served as a shopping and dining area protected from the weather by a glass-paned roof. A young man called Jessop greeted them, and led them through to a warm, comfortable study where an incredibly old man sat in a deep chair, reading scrolls. After they had made their introductions Itzel offered him a fragment of a text that they had uncovered at the Observatory near Ibara as a gift, and they began negotiating access to his library. They also discussed astronomy with him, and by some strange feat of negotiation Itzel was able to learn that the symbol on the calendar they found in Anyara’s room was a star, that was part of a constellation of seven, about which the Collector knew very little but which they now could investigate at their leisure.

They spent the rest of the afternoon in the library, and eventually tracked down a tome called the Necromanteion, which held exactly the list of antiquities they had hoped to find. Eventually they selected five likely candidates for the item that they thought the deep cult might be searching. They returned the book to its place in the library and Itzel went to speak to the Collector’s second apprentice, a girl called Anthea, to find out about any suspicious activity around the Riak. Anthea was initially sullen and uncooperative, but Itzel helped her with a simple apprentice’s challenge involving beaming light through tubes, giving her some tips on magic use, and in exchange Anthea brightened up and began talking more freely. She revealed that yes, for the past 10 days she felt someone had been watching her and the Riak when she left on business, although she had not been able to identify anyone and had put it down to the kind of typical feelings of depression and nervousness one got in the middle of winter.

They decided to set a watch on the Riak, and to also put a guard on Anthea as she performed her evening chores. Ella followed Anthea into town, while Xu and Bao Tap took up position in a grilled meat stall across from the back entrance to the Collector’s home, and Itzel ensconced herself in a cafe in the Gallery facing the front entrance. After an hour Anthea returned unharmed, and Ella joined Itzel at the cafe. They waited.

They did not have to wait long. After perhaps two hours Xu noticed that the door to the Riak was open – someone had crept in under their noses! They charged in, and found the apprentice Jessop in the living room not far from the back entrance, fending off two cultists with a chair. Xu attacked the cultist who looked most like a wizard, and although he hit the cultist he suffered a shocking burst of dark magic up his sword arm that injured him badly. The other cultist appeared to be some kind of rogue, perhaps there to break locks, and proved useless against Xu. While Bao Tap attempted to cast spells that failed, and Ella and Itzel rushed around from the front entrance, Xu engaged the wizard, who summoned a shadow from the dark corners of the room and set it against Xu.

This battle could not last long, and soon both deep wizard and rogue were dead. A team of four cultist foot soldiers emerged from a connected room but upon seeing their dead leaders they fled. Bao Tap killed one on the spot, and the remaining three emerged into the square at the back of the Riak to be attacked by both Ella and Itzel as they entered that same square.

Two footsoldiers escaped this ambush, but they easily tracked these two to a hotel on the hillside outside of the town, and killed them both. In the room they confirmed that the deep mage was a man called Anders, and he had with him a note which simply had the following information scratched on it in Anyara’s handwriting:

  • Necromanteion
  • The Collector of Riak
  • Should be powerful, rare, unique, very old
  • May come with a location
  • Get the description, any information about the location
  • Do not arouse suspicion or leave any clues about your objective
  • Find out what else the Collector has or knows only if you can

This confirmed for them that they had found the right document, and helped to narrow their search among the shortlist of antiquities. But why were the cult searching for these things? What was a “seal”? Did it seal something shut? Or did it mark something in some way? And what was its connection to the star in the calendar and the “alignment” marked there? And why did Anyara have such an interest in sabotaging an unknown wizard in Estona?

These questions would have to wait. They had no more time in Riak. They needed to return to Estona as fast as possible, to arrive before whatever strange event was marked in Anyara’s calendar, and avert some kind of disaster in Estona. Soon the dark threads of this strange plot would be tied together, and they would learn what the cult was planning – in Estona!