At the Westgate in the month of Thaw

The Wrathbreakers have returned to Estona, sure that a disaster is going to strike the city on the 14th of Thaw, and with most of the clues they need to find the Puppet Master, the strange wizard who has been directing criminal operations in the city using printed notes, and who may or may not be in league with a strange cult of deep magic-using humans. Upon their return Itzel let slip to one of the prime suspects that they had secret knowledge of his plans, and soon thereafter they were confronted by the Iron Hand, a gang of rival adventurers known to have previously done at least one job for the Puppet Master. They defeated the Iron Hand and captured its injured leader, and from her they have learnt that they were paid by a “generic elf” to set this ambush. They now rush to capture that elf, who is supposed to be meeting the Iron Hand to pay them for their job in a small square near the Westgate, in one hour. The roster for this mission:

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

They warned the Iron Hand’s leader, a woman named Garag, that if she did not help them with the capture of the elf they would hand her over to the city authorities, but if she helped them they would give her a portion of the money the elf was carrying, and give her the chance to flee the city. She agreed, and they headed to the square near the Westgate.

The Puppet Master revealed

The square was a typical Estonan public space, a square open area of paved stones with a disused well in the middle, one entrance to the square on each side, and shops and businesses lining the square at ground level. They stationed themselves at places around the square: Itzel used her magic to disguise Xu as a street-sweeper, and the two of them took positions in the square itself, Xu near the well and Itzel at a chestnut seller. Ella found a public library at one corner of the square, which specialized in Biographies, and hid herself in its unused rooftop garden. Below her Bao Tap pretended to be reading in the public reading gallery, near the door and with a view of the square at ground level.

The elf walked into the square on time, approaching Garag where she waited at the disused well. He carried a bulky, well-made leather bag that looked quite heavy. As he approached Garag, Xu walked towards him to speak, but the elf realized immediately that Xu was disguised, threw the bag of money at him and turned to flee. He slipped as he turned, but still managed to evade Xu’s mad grab for him. Ella shot him in the back of the leg, which caused him to stumble, and Itzel tried to levitate him, but he resisted this magic and was just landing and ready to hit full sprint out of the square when Bao Tap rocketed out of the library door, throwing aside a book of salacious pictures about a famous young Gigolo, and hit the elf with a ferocious tackle that dragged him to the ground and nearly ripped his head off. They rolled to a stop in the slush of the square and much as the elf struggled, he could not escape Bao Tap’s grip. They had their agent.

They immediately dragged him from the square to the nearby gatehouse at the Westgate, where the city guard – warned earlier in the day by Kay the Myrmidon that the Wrathbreakers were investigating events – let them drag him to a cold basement room. The man told them his name was Crulhum and yes, he was a Changeling. He promised to answer their questions truthfully, and revealed that his employer was the Wizard Eliabak. Eliabak! The Wizard that Itzel had visited earlier that day for a consultation about crafting a prosthetic arm, and who would be part of the exhibition on the 14th. Their suspicions confirmed, they demanded that Crulhum tell them the full story.

The Nekkers in better times

The Changeling’s web of lies

First of all, Crulhum told the Wrathbreakers that he had been working for Eliabak for about 3 – 4 years. He told them that the printed notes came from a magical printing press installed in the basement of a house in the Stone Quarter. This printer could produce notes on Eliabak’s command, without anyone being present to operate it. These notes would be printed with an address and a message. The old man living in the house folded them up, read the address, and then gave the letters to street kids working for the messenger network in town. He always chose children who could not read, and told them where to deliver the letter. This old man was happy to provide this service without any complaint, and was paid a decent amount of money every month to maintain the service. He never saw Eliabak, but instead received supplies for the printer by delivery, and sent the letters on without further instruction. This ensured that Eliabak’s network of crimes was conducted remotely, without anyone tying anything together. The old man in the Stone Quarter had met Eliabak once some years ago but did not know who he was (and would probably not remember his face). Crulhum’s primary job was to visit people (like Creosote or the Iron Hand) to make the initial business arrangement regarding receipt of the notes. He would always visit in a different form, thus ensuring that no one who worked for Eliabak’s little network of notes ever saw the same agent as anyone else, and no one every knew that the agent they were talking to was Eliabak’s assistant.

It was through this note system that Crulhum had originally proven his worth to Eliabak. A few years ago Crulhum was a junior member of a gang called the Nekkers, which was unique only for having an Astrologer from the academy as its (secret) leader. At some point Eliabak made contact directly with Crulhum and gave him a device which enabled him to activate Eliabak’s secret printer, and to send short messages. They were always of the form “[Address to send letter to] Short detail about a nekker raid”. Eliabak then used his printer and notes to direct various mercenaries to intercept those activities and disrupt the Nekkers. The Nekkers could not understand who was doing this and how to stop them, and although they became increasingly paranoid and desperate they could not penetrate this strange plot, because they did not know about the printer[1]. Eventually Eliabak organized for the Iron Hand – who were new in town – to raid the Nekkers’ base and kill them all except Crulhum. The Iron Hand would be allowed to take any treasure in the Nekkers’ possession, except their magic items.

The night before the raid, however, Crulhum was approached by Anyara, the deep cult leader from the Valley of Gon. She paid him a lot of money and offered him a very bright future if he would do one simple thing for her during the raid: steal a map in the Nekkers’ possession, and turn it over to Anyara. He did this and gave her the map, and since then he has worked for both Eilabak and Anyara, with Eliabak unaware that Crulhum was Anyara’s agent in Estona and secret spy within his own laboratory.

The map, he informed them, was simply a map to a complex of rooms inside some larger building. He did not pay much attention to it, does not remember the details, and knows only that Anyara wanted it, and the wizard leading the Nekkers had left it in their possession. Crulhum believes this raid destroyed a competitor of Eliabak’s, and also cemented Eliabak’s role as a criminal in the town. Since then Crulhum has worked to set up Eliabak’s network of agents, keeping Eliabak’s role as a criminal mastermind secret from both his agents and the town generally. Much of his tasks were mundane – things like organizing drop offs or setting up dropboxes, paying people for information, occasionally visiting agents to ensure that they were still loyal to the process – but occasionally he had to do dirtier jobs. For example, after he learnt from Creosote that the Wrathbreakers had attacked Creosote’s base, and then learnt from the Rock Spider that the Wrathbreakers were starting to investigate the network of children who deliver messages in the town, it was Crulhum who organized to ambush them at the river outside Estona.

Crulhum now had a second employer though, who paid him well and had offered him “a bright future.” His primary task was to give suggestions to Eliabak from Anyara, but occasionally he attended to extra tasks in the town. It was Crulhum, for example, who organized the investigation and ultimately the abduction of Siladan’s apprentice Sara, on Anyara’s request. Crulhum did not receive his messages from Anyara directly, but through a group of agents of hers who were living in a warehouse at the docks. He told the Wrathbreakers that this group were “a little strange” and “don’t seem very nice”, and that he would visit them regularly to give information to be sent to Anyara, and to receive advice and orders from her, as well as his regular payments. Of course he visited them in a different form to the form he used around Eliabak – as always his comings and goings were disguised by his Changeling skills.

They guessed that the agents in the warehouse were deep cultists, though it appeared Crulhum knew nothing about the more sinister nature of Anyara’s magic or her darker connections. When pressed, he told them he did not know the agents’ true goals, but he was sure something big had been planned for the 14th of Thaw. He had been promised by Anyara that once the events of that afternoon were complete – whatever it was she had planned for Eliabak’s exhibition presentation – Crulhum would be free and rich. He told them that at midnight on that night, a ship would arrive at the docks with a large amount of money for him, to take him away from the town to make his own future however he wanted. He completely trusted her, of course – either because her magic had done its subtle work on him too, or because he had no reason not to. Crulhum did not know what Eliabak was building, but said it must be big and important, because he had been working on it for more than a year and was regularly receiving deliveries of Orun stone, metals, and various reagents to one of the biggest laboratories on the first floor of the Academy. Crulhum also did not know what Anyara’s plans were – all he knew was that they would come to fruition at the exhibition. His job was to put the parts of the plan into motion, not to inquire as to what those parts were.

In any case, he revealed, all the plans had changed. After Itzel’s visit to Eliabak, the wizard had called Crulhum and told him some Fay-drenched elven bitch is sniffing around after my work – they’re onto me! He had told Crulhum that for his own protection he would go now to his laboratory and complete the activation of his grand project, two days early, to ensure it was not disrupted by some elven wizard. He wanted Crulhum to organize for the Iron Hand to kill the Wrathbreakers. With that, he had rushed off to his laboratory. Crulhum had organized the Iron Hand in person, and then rushed straight to the docks to meet Anyara’s agents. They told him that everything would have to be sped up. His ship would arrive at midnight tonight, instead of 3 days’ hence, so as soon as he had finished the task of eliminating the Wrathbreakers he was to return to his lodgings and prepare to leave the city.

So, now the Wrathbreakers knew who to target, and where. They cut a very simple deal with Crulhum: he would help them until midnight, when they would raid the ship coming for him to catch whoever was going to pay him. He could keep the money he was owed provided he helped them honestly, and left town afterwards. He agreed eagerly to this plan, and told him where the warehouse at the docks was. They decided that their priority was Eliabak: they would go and stop him from activating whatever his secret project was, and capture him alive to hand to the Selkie Queen. Then they would go and raid the Warehouse at the docks, and exterminate the deep cult agents who were lurking there. Once that was done they would go to the docks with Crulhum, wait for his ship, board it, and take captive whoever was waiting for him. All in one night! The sun had set, the evening mists of Thaw had begun to rise, and they had perhaps 5 hours until Crulhum’s ship arrived. But first, they had to rush to the Academy to stop Eliabak.

Eliabak undone

Before rushing to confront Eliabak the Wrathbreakers first visited Kay the Myrmidon at his dockside stronghold. They explained their fears and he granted them two teams of four marines each to help in their intervention, along with a letter of authority that he hoped would help them gain access to the Academy’s laboratories, though he warned them that he had no official responsibility for Estona’s security, and could not guarantee his word would help them at all. With this limited assistance they proceeded to the Academy to confront Eliabak.

Eliabak had hired a special over-sized laboratory on the first floor of the Academy, directly adjacent to the main exhibition space. The exhibition space itself was a coliseum-like theatre structure, large enough to hold a couple of hundred spectators in banked seats, with enough space for a pitched battle between wizards to be watched comfortably from one side. The wall opposite the spectator stands held four huge sets of double doors, each about 10-15 m high and 8-10m wide, which opened into over-sized laboratories large enough for the preparation of unusual and exceptionally large exhibits. Crulhum informed them that Eliabak was working on his secret project in one of these, and so after a short but tense negotation at the entrance hall to the Academy they headed to one of these. Before they even opened the door Itzel and Bao Tap could feel the straining pulse of magic being worked inside the room, and they knew they were close to the activation of whatever Eliabak had planned. They pushed the door open and charged in.

Inside was a huge, high-ceilinged room with laboratory benches lining the walls on one side, and a study table at the far end. The room towered up into shadow perhaps 20-25 m above them, and was dimly lit with just candles and a few recessed enchanted low-light globes. Opposite the laboratory benches, standing against the right hand wall, was a huge structure of scaffolds, perhaps 10m square at the base and about 15m high. Inside the scaffolding stood a huge humanoid figure made of black Orun stone. The stone glimmered faintly in the dark light, but within it lines of silver and gold flickered with magical energy, and gems studded in various parts of the beast pulsed dimly with their own internal energy. This enormous statue was only a crude humanoid form, lacking proper digits, with no face and only rudimentary eye sockets, which were not yet puissant with their own light. It loomed over them, shadowy and threatening, still silent and cold, but Itzel and Bao Tap could feel that if they did not stop this process now the thing would activate, and even in its dormant state they could tell that it carried enormous power. If that thing were to activate, it would easily kill all of them.

At the table at the far end of the room Eliabak stood, preparing his golem. Various magical paraphernalia were scattered across the table, obviously to be used in the preparation ritual. As soon as he saw them enter he yelled a threat and pulled a golden ball from his gown. They had been warned about this by Crulhum: Eliabak’s automated flying attack device, which he called “The Bludger”. It whirred to life, wings buzzing, and flew forward like a bolt of golden lightning to hit Itzel. She dodged, and battle began.

Initially the battle seemed to be in their grip, but it soon spiralled out of control. The two teams of marines and Xu surrounded Eliabak, but he used lightning bolts of incredible power to destroy them, killing four at a time. He also knocked down Xu, although the team’s healer brought Xu back to his feet long enough to take a healing potion[2]. Both Xu and Itzel tried to damage the paraphernalia on the table, and the Bludger continued trying to kill Itzel while Bao Tap used storm spells to bludgeon the wizard into exhaustion, and his rockhopper summoned monster tried to knock him over. Realizing that if he could push them back Eliabak would make time for himself to complete the golem ritual, Itzel ran to the golem itself and intervened directly with the apparatus, to break its magical connection to Eliabak, as the Bludger attempted to shoot her with beams of light. It missed and she successfully broke the connection, but as she completed this task something went wrong and the thing briefly twitched to life, one fist smashing into Itzel and immediately knocking her unconscious.

They had to take Eliabak alive, which prevented Xu or Bao Tap from using the full range of deadly abilities at their disposal, but Ella was suffering no such qualms. She lurked in the shadows behind the laboratory benches, firing crossbow bolts into the fray whenever she saw an opportunity, and after Itzel was knocked out, seeing her chance, she fired a crossbow bolt straight at Eliabak’s head. It stunned him[3], and unable to cast spells under the overwhelming pain of the crossbow strike, he was no longer able to fight or even to escape. They grabbed him, tied him up, and smashed everything on the table. They had stopped whatever disaster had been tied to the activation of the golem, and taken Eliabak alive.

Unfortunately 8 marines were dead, fried in electrical storms, and everyone was exhausted and injured from this battle, Xu nearly killed with lightning and Itzel smashed by the golem’s enormous fist. They still had two more missions to complete, and no time to rest. As they finished tying Eliabak some senior Astrologers entered the room to investigate the commotion, and after a tense stand-off, explanations and justifications, the group managed to talk their way out of trouble. Instead of being punished and Eliabak freed, they were given healing potions and allowed to escort Eliabak to Kay the Myrmidon. Here they locked him in a cell, ready to face his fate with the Selkie queen. They barely had time to rest, though: now they must rush to the docks and confront the deep cult nest, to find out what else was planned in this night of chaos and confusion. What had been Anyara’s ultimate goal, and what sinister plan lay beneath her subversion of Eliabak’s golem-making?

Artist note: The picture of the city in mist is by a Lithuanian artist called Gediminas Skyrius, and appears to be from an illustrated book.

fn1: I think actually this entire setup would make an excellent campaign of its own, possibly using a Blades In the Dark type system.

fn2: Since Calim left the team have no healer, and rather than play an NPC we have decided the team can use a story point to get a healing spell cast. This healing spell is cast using Calim’s dice pool when he left the group, and can heal either wounds, or level 1 or 2 criticals. This is significantly increasing the story points available to me!

fn3: Another miracle critical from Ella, this time rendering him staggered – and thus unable to act – until the critical is healed. Her shots don’t necessarily do much damage, but they have wickedly perfect criticals.