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

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

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

A deepfolk scroll

Strange magic and old secrets

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Swamp lands

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

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

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

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

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

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

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