The Wrathbreakers have visited the Lambent Cays and met the Gull, from whom they received some further clues about the secret activities of the Deep Cult. They had considered traveling from Pearl Reach to Jasper at the Southernmost tip of the Lambent Cays, but something happened to change their plans. Itzel had placed a folded letter in the crate that contained the Eye of the Dead God, which they had left back at the Bones under Krotos’s care. This letter was written with the magical ink the party had obtained in Estona, intended to find the Rock Spider’s hidden base. This ink would immediately alert her to the opening of the letter, and tell her the location at which the letter had been opened. By sliding the letter into the gap between the crate and its lid Itzel had set it to open if anyone opened the crate itself, immediately alerting her that someone had interfered with their artifact. On the 26th of Raining, just as they were exploring the labyrinth beneath the Pearl Monastery, Itzel received an alert that the crate had been opened – someone on the Bones had interfered with their artifact. The next morning they set off for the Bones.

Raiding Krotos’s Lair

They arrived at the Bones three days later, Bao Tap exerting his maximum magical power to push the Stirge as fast as possible. With them came Leneus and his crew, with Leneus primed to help them infiltrate Krotos’s lair. Leneus, of course, did not know that they planned to kill him – and probably his crew – as soon as the deed was done, and happily helped them to develop a plan to infiltrate the lair.

They came by two methods, with Itzel and Ella creeping in through a smuggling tunnel while Xu and Bao Tap used Leneus’s help to come through the main door. Here Xu and Bao Tap were able to easily kill the guards, since they were not expecting trouble from Leneus, and secured the entrance while Itzel and Ella moved further into the building. They found some keys in a cabinet, and used them to lock doors to prevent guards from moving freely to the battle zone. Most of the guards died in the sleeping area, burnt alive in their beds by Itzel, but they locked the entrances to make sure any survivors could not stumble through to help Krotos. Then they moved to the command section of the lair, and ambushed Krotos and his lieutenant in a training room in the depths of the lair.

The outsider

The fight did not start well. Although they had the advantage of surprise, Krotos and his gang were quick-witted and resourceful. Krotos was able to fire a shot from his bow before the Wrathbreakers could close distance, and they were not able to properly contain the single squad of bandits in the room, who were able to fire off more shots before they could be engaged. Someone noticed that there was a woman lurking behind their crate, which was on the far side of the room with the lid off, but at first no one paid her any mind, busy as they were with Krotos. Krotos fought like a dervish, rushing straight to engage Xu and attacking him with a greatsword that sang of magic. Every blow from that sword was like a strike by Anyara’s golem, and Xu was immediately pressed. Krotos also shrugged off damage from missile weapons and melee strikes, so that Ella’s normally pinpoint strikes did little damage, and he was able to beat Xu back with destructive swings of that sword. Meanwhile his lieutenant engaged Bao Tap and his gang of thugs sniped from the back of the training room.

After a short time the woman behind the crate stood up and reached into the crate, touching the eye and whispering strange words. Itzel felt the sudden swell of the strange magic that imbued the scrolls they had found in Anyara’s room – magic none of them recognized – and the crate began to give off a sickly glow. Ella fired her crossbow at the woman, hitting her with a powerful and crushing blow to the hip, but the blow was so terrible that blood spurted into the crate and the woman sagged forward, immobilized, leaning over the Eye of the Dead God. Itzel tried to levitate her but for some reason her magic failed. Meanwhile Xu and Bao Tap were trapped in battle with the indomitable Krotos and his loyal deputy, and could not rush to separate the woman from whatever ritual she was performing. After another brief and intense attempt to stop her, the woman cut her wrist and raised her voice in song, dripping blood on the eye. The wall behind her – a wall made of the ancient Bones of the behemoth that the lair had been carved into – began to warp and twist, shimmering before their eyes and radiating intense waves of the strange, alien magic.

Then the wall split open, revealing a kind of window into another world. The window was misty and clouded, but in the distance they could see a wide landscape of cracked, parched desert, marked with the dark lines of canyons or dry creek beds, shadowed with dust storms and punctuated with columns of smoke rising from what looked like giant funeral pyres. A heavy sky of thick grey clouds loomed low over this landscape, flickering with the lurid light of blood-red lightning flashing and writhing in the clouds. They heard the distant sound of voices raised alternately in wails of agony and chorals of exaltation, and a horrible smell of rotting bodies, blood and smoke overwhelmed them.

Then a huge beast reached through the rent in the wall, tore it opened, and stepped through. The beast was over four metres tall, humanoid with dark leathery skin and huge, bat-like wings sprouting from a spined back. Its head was half-human and half-lizard, festooned with goats horns and open in a scream of rage. In one taloned hand it held a long, coiled whip of fire and in the other a massive sword. As it stepped through the gap behind it snapped shut, returning to the blank line of wall, and the woman died in ecstasy.

They quailed before it. It turned to Xu and in the human language roared, “Come back to me, slave!” He was overwhelmed with a numbing tide of exhaustion and nearly collapsed, but somehow resist the beast’s will to dominate. Bao Tap attempted to call forth a giant beast of nature to fight it, but failed. Itzel fired a bolt of pure brilliant light at it, and did some damage, which simply incensed it – it struck her with its whip. Xu had finally killed Krotos, but had to take a moment to drinking a healing potion and recover his breath. Bao Tap called forth an earthquake, which rendered the ground beneath the demon so unstable that it fell over, caught its sword in a crack in the earth and could not remove it. Then a wave of fear rolled out from it, and Bao Tap panicked and ran[2]. His earthquake had done its job, however – the rest of the Wrathbreakers stood back and poured missiles and spells into the body of the creature until, with a final scream of rage, it died. At the moment of its death it crumbled to dust and in a cacophony of screams and cries and a rolling cloud of stinking mist its body disappeared.

They stood victorious – but over what? What had been unleashed by the Eye of the Dead God, how had it taught Krotos’s Astrologer the power to do so, and what realm had they just seen? What was this Outsider? And what forces moved outside their world, clawing at the fabric of reality? Why did the Deep Cult want this magic? Dark forces were moving in the world, hurtling towards a confrontation as the stars moved peacefully in the sky towards some dark alignment. The Wrathbreakers needed to discover the secrets of the deepfolk’s past, the stars and the artifacts the Deep Cult sought, before the walls between the worlds were torn asunder and the Archipelago became the hunting ground of more of these beasts.

They needed to head to Dalepo, and find the ancient Deepfolk observatory. Perhaps there they would find answers…

Technical notes on the lair raid

Because my PCs are now extremely powerful, minor battles with minions and low-tier rivals have basically a pre-determined outcome, and are of little purpose except to deliver a minor critical and a few points of strain to one or two of the characters [1]. These parts of adventures have become a bit of a drag, actually, and mean we spend an hour rolling dice when we all know what is going to happen at the end. So instead I gave the players a choice of two rolls to determine how they got into the lair and disabled, distracted or enlisted the minions and lower level rivals of the lair. They could choose melee, deception, charm, stealth or coercion, and each option would have a (secret) hidden difficulty, with (secret) payoffs and risks, and the level of success determining how many minion squads they eliminated. Then we made a kind of shared story about how they got to the final battle, and only actually handled the final battle round by round. Because the PCs had enlisted Leneus’s help they guessed that the deception skill check would be easiest, so they went with deception and stealth. They actually didn’t roll so well, which meant that when they go to the final battle they got the chance at surprise (vigilance checks for initiative) but no free round of attacks (had they failed both rolls they would have been met with an absolutely withering hail of missile fire when they entered the location of the final battle).

For other GMs who are struggling to balance the nitty gritty of Genesys combat with time and fun for high-powered characters, I recommend playing around with this method (and/or mixing it with progress trackers) to build stories from these raids. I actually thought of trying to do it Blades in the Dark style (like a series of flashbacks) but I haven’t actually GM’d BitD yet, and don’t want to risk an entirely new system mixing in for even one session.

Also for this adventure I used a space station map for the lair, which is a network of tunnels in the docks section of the Bones, so mostly underwater. That was a little jarring for the players but they are used to my inability to do anything artistic and rolled with it nicely – one player annotated the map live on roll20, while everyone else chuckled amiably. I really wish I could do art.

A note on criticals, strain and monster abilities

There are some effects and criticals which prevent monsters from using their free manoeuvre, or immobilize them (meaning they can’t use manoeuvres), or prevent them from voluntarily incurring strain to activate abilities. These criticals absolutely wreck powerful adversaries, because they stop them using the full suite of abilities at their disposal. The beast, on the ground and unable to move (according to the rules) could not use manoeuvres, so could not summon allies or teleport. In the past I have had enemy wizards take criticals that prevent them taking strain to activate abilities – this kills wizards, basically[3]. So when designing powerful enemies I recommend you give them a free action that can do something, a powerful ability that does not require strain, and a powerful ability that does not require a manoeuvre. That way they only become completely useless if they are staggered, immobilized <em>and</em> unable to take strain, and should still at least have one free action they can use for something.

Also I backed myself into a corner here by giving the adversaries a type of magic which cannot heal, so they can’t cure any of these crits and neither can their friends. Sucks to be evil!


fn1: This would not be the case were we playing Coriolis, which has much simpler rules for minions, has fast and furious fights, and is always deadly. Were we playing Coriolis even players who had gained XP continuously for 48 sessions would still be cautious of minions.

fn2: I always forget to do the fear first. This battle would have been a disaster if I had remembered to do fear as soon as the thing arrived. But I try not to take back my mistakes.

fn3: This also happened to Itzel once but she’s an elf so she deserved it

The Wrathbreakers have encountered parasites on the open seas on the western edge of the Archipelago, and also some monsters. Having killed the monsters, they decided to also kill the bandits who they are working with, but first they must travel to the Lambent Cays to meet the Gull, and find out what this mysterious dwarf knew about the Ashentide and the activities of deepfolk in the southern Spine Mountains. Can they hold their wrath under control until their work in the Lambent Cays is done?

A serendipitous offer

With 12 crew from the Stirge, two survivors from the Wages of Sin and the four Wrathbreakers themselves, captain Leneus realized that he could scratch together enough crew to sail both ships to the Lambent Cays provided the weather remained fine and he could put Bao Tap on one of the ships and himself on the other. He called the Wrathbreakers to his cabin and put this suggestion to them, followed by another, grimmer idea: if they would stick with him back to the Bones after their task in Lambent Cays was complete, he proposed that they help him destroy his boss Krotos and take over Krotos’s criminal enterprise. In exchange he offered to let them keep the Wages of Sin. “I’ll throw in a crew to get you as far as Hadun, and you can even keep the boy,” he added, “Provided you return him relatively intact when his family have paid their debts. Don’t worry, you’ll be bored of him by the time they do, it’ll be no skin off your back.”

Given that the Wrathbreakers had already agreed quietly together that they would murder Krotos and break up his criminal enterprise when they returned to the Bones, and had been planning to murder Leneus on their way to the Lambent Cays as the first instalment of their plan, his suggestion seemed ideal. He and his little crew of flotsam could help them to surprise Krotos and kill him, and hopefully during the battle a few of them would be killed by Krotos’s men. Then they just needed to clean up Leneus with the same treacherous moves he had shown himself willing to deploy on his own boss. For once, they really did have an effective plan! They agreed to his scheme, and the following morning Bao Tap and Ella joined seven crew on the Wages of Sin, to help sail it to the Cays.

Pearl Reach

The Lambent Cays are a string of small islands to the west west north of the Bones, which are situated on a wide shelf that forms a shallow sea surrounded by deeper ocean. The islands are all between 10 and 30km apart from each other in a chain, and each island is about 1-5km across. Most of them are uninhabited, but five of have small monasteries on them.

The islands are surrounded by sprawling coral reefs, which can extend up to several kilometres offshore and which glow during the night with phosphorescent light. This means that the islands are only approached at night, because the gaps between the reefs are clearly visible as pathways of shadow between the phosphorescent light of the reefs. The coral glows with a different colour depending on the position of the island in the chain. The waters of the northernmost islands glow a rich, dark bluish-purple, while the seas around the southernmost islands are flooded with a vivid red.

The five inhabited islands are called:

  • Indigo Haven
  • Cerulean Gardens
  • Pearl Reach
  • Amber Inlet
  • Jasper

The Gull lived in the central island, Pearl Reach. The reefs around Pearl Reach extend several kms from the island itself, and are a brilliant flickering mixture of silver white and green. The channel to the harbour is an arc of darkness that spirals through this cloud of light, twice circling the island before finally opening to a small bay on its eastern side.

The island itself has a small port inside this natural bay, surrounded by cliffs. There is a small town here, called Pearl, which is a little back from the sea by the side of a small stream. Boats anchor in the bay and ferry in passengers and goods in small ship’s boats. The bay is lined with a smooth, clean beach of white sand. The town has a population of about 200, all support workers for the monastery.

The rest of the island is formed from the slope of the hill that hulks around the bay. The hill is about 100m high at the top of the cliffs overlooking the bay, but then sweeps back up to about 500m high, an old volcanic peak. It then reaches in a smooth slope down to the sea, falling over a distance of about 4km. The rear half of the island has two other small towns, of 200-300 people each, which support rice farms, sheep herding and fishing. The Wrathbreakers did not see these settlements as they sailed into the island, because they had to circle the island at night, sailing carefully through the wide, dark channel that cut between the reefs in a steady spiral towards the bay, Bao Tap and Leneus concentrating on the wind to ensure the ship stayed steady, the sailors rowing carefully and concentrating on the steering. All about them the sea glowed a deep, rich mixture of whites and greens so that they felt they were sailing through star-glowing clouds rather than water.

Finally they reached the bay, and the crew visibly relaxed as they broke free of the channel between the reefs, leaving the silvery water behind them and sailing into the secluded, lapping shallows in front of the town. Ahead of them they could hear the gentle susurration of waves on the beach, and see a line of lights where the town sat a little back from the shore.

The Gull’s Secrets

They found a hostel near the shore and collapsed into the first decent sleep in 10 days, freed of sailing responsibilities, the noise of the bandit crew fussing on deck, or the constant unsettling swaying of the ship. In the morning they headed up the cliff face to the monastery, to find the Gull.

The monastery, they learned, is a complex of caves set into the top of the cliff, with visitors rooms, chapels, galleries and accommodation in the airy, open network of rooms with windows overlooking the sea and laboratories, libraries and workshops buried in the depths of the mountain. Somewhere above this, slightly inland and higher up the hillside beyond the cliffs, they were told there was an ancient forest called the Sacred Grove, which acted as a kind of seed bank and repository of all the ancient herbal and natural resources the dwarves used in their seasteads. Although the origin of the dwarves was a secret kept from humans (or perhaps a mystery to even the dwarves themselves) one rumour held that they had sailed to the Archipelago from the west, beyond the maps, and the Lambent Cays had been their first stopping point. Here, before they spread out to settle seasteads all across the western and southern oceans, millenia before they formed their first settlements on the Isle of Teseran, they laid in a stock of their most precious magical and medical plants, and left a devoted priesthood to husband the grove in perpetuity. Now thousands of years old, the grove was a seedstock for the entire dwarven realm. If a seastead on the Sahakan Ocean suffered some catastrophe and lost some of its most precious herbals, it could send word to Pearl Reach. The guardians of the Grove would procure a cutting, bulb, spore or seed or shoot from the Grove and send it with all due care to the supplicant, restoring their ability to grow all the most important things they needed. It was also said that these guardians regularly harvested the magical and medicinal plants of the grove and worked to make potions and potent magic items which would be distributed to seasteads and ship’s captains as they were needed. Particularly on the Sahakan and Dorato Oceans, these magical items and the full range of apothecary goods and trinkets were essential for dwarven stormcallers to protect their seasteads from storms, leviathans, pirates and all the mysteries of the ancient seas.

And, upon retiring from adventuring, the Gull had joined the guardians, to spend the rest of her days in quiet gardening and arcanery.

They met her in a pleasantly furnished and comfortable viewing gallery with fine views over the bay and the flickering reefs, and she led them to her personal study. This was a smaller, cozy room with a balcony protruding from the cliff face, notes scattered around, some plant cuttings on a bench and pencil sketches on the walls. They sat down to talk in comfortable chairs around a coffee table, taking coffee and sweets. She was a lean woman tending to middle age, with scars of dark magic on her neck and cheek and a calm, detached manner. They told her about the deaths of her fellow Ashentide members Gerald and Verbere, and a little about how they had helped Siladan in Estona.

In return she told them again the story of the final adventure of the Ashentide, of how they had to abandon Ash’s body and did not know if she had been brought back as undead by the deepfolk. She remembered that they had stumbled on a small squad of deepfolk carrying the box of elven documents, and they had fought hard to defend them. She remembered that after they retreated from the deepfolk camp they had checked the documents but it had all been gibberish to her. Many of the pages, she recalled, looked like the diary of a madman, with strangely chaotic writing in many different sizes and styles, lists and diagrams and doodles that made no sense. She tried copying them but could not easily capture the sense of the writing, and gave up quickly. After that the group retreated to Estona and broke up there. When they parted they left the documents with Siladan, who seemed most interested in them.

The Gull told them she still had a box of mementoes from her time with the Ashentide, and they were welcome to take the afternoon to go through it while she worked. They searched the box and found little of interest, but between two sheets of paper with attempted sketches of the elven documents they found a note, written in deepfolk. The sketches had stuck together with damp or some light glue, perhaps an accident of the work environment at the time, and the Gull guessed the note had been between them. Looking at it now, many years later, she guessed it had been amongst the elven documents, and had fallen amongst her sketches at some point. She could not read it, of course, but the Wrathbreakers could. It read as follows.

Master

These notes are old, and make no sense. You curse me with their interpretation. This language is filthy when spoken by the sane from amongst the Tree Scum, but this is madness, one crazy man’s notes on his dreams.

They raise a question for me though. You say these writings are old. The mad fool who penned this dross implies that the Seven Children of Rage did not exist until the beasts who walk beneath the sun (may they all be reaved from this land) arrived.

We cannot know. But I have heard rumours of an ancient observatory from before The Awakening, somewhere in the region the beasts call Darepo (may the seas around that peninsula swallow them whole). Of course it is lost to us. If its records survive, they will have the truth of it.

Bid me not journey there, I would never again walk under the sun. There must once have been a road there under the earth, but it is lost to memory.

Who would journey all that way for simple rumours? Unlike you, I care not for the stars we abandoned, but only for the beauty of the still darkness beneath the earth, and the consolations of rage.

WRATHCHILD!

So, the Wrathbreakers surmised, the deepfolk had once long ago had an observatory on the Cape of Darepo, and had abandoned it at about the time that humans arrived on earth – which is what they suspected The Awakening referred to. Why would people who live under the ground have an observatory? Simple curiosity? Furthermore, the Seven Children of Rage was a reference to the seven stars that must align soon, at which point the Deep Cult’s secret goals might be realized. Yet this letter – taken from amongst the elven documents – suggested that these stars had not existed before humans arrived. How was this possible? And how could this information be in elven documents, which were apparently the raging of a madman? What mad elf had written these documents and how had they been lost to the elves and recovered by deepfolk?

The Wrathbreakers would find out. They planned to return to the island of Hadun through Alpon, and to get there they had to pass through the Cape of Darepo. They would find this observatory and loot its ancient books, learn why the Deepfolk had an observatory there and why they had abandoned it, and uncover whatever secrets it held – no matter what the cost.

But first they had to slaughter Krotos the dwarven gangster, break up his evil gang, and take back the Eye of a Dead God, which currently slept in the darkness of a cellar in the millenium-aged bones of an ancient leviathan. They bid the Gull good day, and turned their faces to the sea…

The Wrathbreakers are traveling the Outriders looking for the retired dwarven adventurer known as the Gull. They visited a seastead called the Bones, where they learnt that she is living in a remote island chain called the Lambent Cays, but were told that it is not possible for non-dwarves to visit those islands, so they made an arrangement with a local gangster called Krotos to find a missing ship of his in exchange for illicit passage to the Lambent Cays. They soon found the ship, floating abandoned just next to a vast, dead crab. Now they prepare to board the ship.

The sole survivor

The ship, the Wages of Sin, was anchored in the small bay formed by the dead crab’s enormous foreclaws, sitting stably moored against the chitin of one gigantic pincer. They took a ship’s boat to the vessel, accompanied by the Stirge‘s first mate, Severn, and used boarding grapples to climb up the side onto the silent deck. There were hints of damage and a battle on the ship’s deck – a smashed siderail that must be new, and stains on the deck that would normally have been scrubbed away. They could see no signs of any presence on the boat until Itzel noticed someone in the shadow of the doorway to the quarter deck, at the rear of the ship. She called to the person but they disappeared into the interior of the ship.

The center of the ship had a single deck cover with steps leading down to the hold. Ella and Xu took those stairs into the silent hold while Itzel, Bao Tap and Severn moved to the quarterdeck. The hold was a small living space, with hammocks, seating areas and rest areas, that had been overturned by battle. Ornaments and basic cabin parts had been smashed and thrown over, and there was blood and mess everywhere. A single body lay decomposing on the stairs, and they had to throw the body down the stairs to enter the room, leaving smears of rotten meat and gore all down the stairs and into the room. There was no one in the room, so they searched it carefully while they waited for the others to search the stern of the ship.

In the quarter deck Itzel and Bao Tap found a small map room and a small dining room, with a small and comfortable captain’s cabin behind it. They wanted to search the map room but Severn discouraged them, instead strongly encouraging them to search downstairs. They took narrow spiral steps down to a small kitchen-galley, where they found a freshly-baked naan and still-warm naan oven – someone was here. In an alcove behind the crew wash area they found a single, small door, which opened into a tiny cell. The door had been smashed outward, but the room was deserted. As they searched it someone dashed out behind them, running into the hold, where Ella and Xu tackled him to the ground. They had found the ship’s sole survivor.

His name was Eletus, a thin slip of a dwarven man just recently matured to adulthood. He had rich brown skin, green eyes and a long, loose crop of lustrous black hair. He was thin and scared-looking but otherwise unhurt. Severn told them all that this was the “treasure” that Krotos had sent them to secure, and their mission was complete. They took him back to the Stirge, and in the presence of Krotos asked him what had happened.

Two kinds of parasite

Eletus had been locked in his cell when the Wages of Sin arrived at the strange crab/island, and did not have a clear view of any of the events that followed, but he was sure that on the first night after the ship moored at the claw of the dead crab it was attacked by a horde of beasts of some kind. He heard sounds of battle and screaming, that ended with the screams of crew members being dragged away from the ship. Some he thought had died on the ship, but he remembered cowering in his cell listening to the desperate cries of the crew becoming fainter with distance and then disappearing altogether. At first he thought that perhaps the crew had won, and the cries were the sound of them driving the monsters off, but by morning they had not returned. Realizing he was alone on the ship, Eletus began trying to break out of his cell. He pried and banged at the door all day, but at nightfall he heard strange sounds around the ship and realized the beasts were returning. He fell silent and listened as they scuttled around the ship, searching every nook and cranny for survivors. Then he heard horrid sounds of feasting as they ate the dead they had left behind. In the morning when all was quiet he began again, and after another day and night finally managed to break out of the cell. He stole water and food and returned to the cell, hiding there as the beasts again searched the ship. After that they did not return, and the ship was his to live on as he wanted. But every night he returned to the cell, just in case they returned.

Once they had heard his story, captain Leneus and first mate Severn ordered Eletus locked in their own ship’s cell, and announced that the Wrathbreakers needed to enter the crab to see if they could rescue any of the crew of the Wages of Sin. They guessed that the crew had been stolen from the ship as food, and that there might still be a few members alive in the beasts’ larder. The Wrathbreakers had contracted to protect the ship, and so this was their responsibility. The Wrathbreakers agreed, but insisted Severn come with them. They retired to their cabin to prepare, but while they were there Bao Tap cast a spell on one of the ship’s rats and attached a note to it. He sent the rat scuttling through the secret ratways of the ship to the prison cell, where it would deliver the note – and a pencil – to Eletus. The note simply asked “Why were you a prisoner on the Wages of Sin?”

Eletus’s answer was as they suspected: “My family owe Krotos a lot of money, and he likes young men.”

So, they had contracted to work with human traffickers, and were now expected to help in the trafficking, in exchange for passage to the Lambent Cays. They decided that this was not going to happen. Leneus and Severn would need to die, and the crew of the Stirge be pressed into service of the Wrathbreakers. When they raided the parasite lair, Severn would die. Then, once the Stirge reached Lambent Cays, Leneus would follow. They would then commandeer the Stirge, return to the Bones, and destroy Krotos and his entire organization. With this decision made, they set off to attack the parasites.

They walked along the claw to the point where it joined the body of the crab, and from there climbed along layers of shell and cartilage until they reached the opening of the crab’s body. Here its mouth, eyes and other soft parts had collapsed and been consumed by birds and seabeasts until nothing was left except a huge hole opening into the innards of the beast, which had also been mostly consumed. Fragments of shell and huge thick filaments of cartilage held the sea back in many areas, though sometimes waves washed over the top of this barrier and then sloshed out again through gaps in the shell, carrying remnants of the crab’s inner body with them. Sunlight streamed through the huge hole into the cavernous interior, revealing a huge and now mostly-empty space, the soft and spongey floor pock-marked with rock pools and areas of drier ground, and great hanging filaments of tendon and cartilage separating the space into dimly-lit chambers.

They picked their way into this stinking, rotting space, doing their best to cover their mouths against the stench of sea water and rotten crabmeat, and looked for the place they thought the beasts most likely to be hidden. It seemed obvious: in the middle of this great, vaulted cathedral of rot they could see a series of huge interlinked chambers, their walls made of the same semi-translucent tendon-like structures that hung from the ceiling and kept the sea out of the hall. They guessed the beasts were hiding in there.

They were not wrong: as they approached, a horde of huge, scuttling, slimy, insecto-cephalopod things came swarming out, sliding and crawling over the rotten spongey ground towards them. Each was the size of a huge dog, with 10 many-segmented legs like a sea-louse, and a central slimy, semi-solid body like a kind of squid. Their wide, toothed mouths were surrounded by bristle-like feelers, and they seemed almost eyeless. They swarmed over the party, four or five of them latching onto a single person, and battle was joined.

These beasts were numerous, but easily killed. However, once they swarmed over one of the Wrathbreakers they could not be beaten off with swords, but needed only magic or brutal hand-to-hand combat to dislodge. The party made short work of the first wave, only to be attacked by another; and as this wave attacked they also saw two much larger, terrifying beasts, each the size of a horse or larger, detach themselves from hiding places in the chambers and join the battle. They were similar to their smaller fellows, but lashed about with huge spiked tentacles, and spat acid. Behind them came the Queen, a many-legged, tentacled monstrosity the size of an elephant.

The battle was vicious but ended quickly with the destruction of the Queen. In the last moments of the battle Itzel struck Severn with an acid bolt, which made his sudden death appear as if one of the beasts had struck him with its spit. They left him to dissolve amongst the remains of parasites and rotten crab-meat and entered the chambers. Here they found the bodies of most of the crew, bound to the ground with some kind of gelid substance and riddled with holes. They had obviously been impregnated with eggs, which had hatched and eaten their way out. The Wrathbreakers could see the larval progeny sleeping in nets of the same substance slung above the chambers, slowly metamorphosing into the parasitic hordes they had killed outside. They found two crew members still living, dehydrated and starved and bound up to a wall, waiting their turn to be impregnated. Once they had confirmed that these two had not been impregnated, they freed them and returned to the ship. On the way they extracted a promise from these two to do exactly what they were ordered to do. Of course these two sailors’ gratitude was so great that they immediately agreed to be bound to the Wrathbreakers’ service.

They returned to the Stirge, and began making plans for exactly how and when they would kill the captain and hijack the ship. They would have to kill all the parasites, those that nested within dwarven society as well as within the rotten shells of crabs…

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

The Bones

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Stirge and the Crab

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

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

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

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

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

The Wrathbreakers shrugged, and prepared to board…


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

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

Securing the site

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

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

Sending for help

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

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

The Poison Eye Clan

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

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

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

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

The Eye of a Dead God

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Goblin’s conversation

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

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

Xu and Ella return

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

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

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

Reunited

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

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

Cleaning up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Deepfolk ambush

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Swamp Folk

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

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

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

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

The beast of the bones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A deepfolk scroll

Strange magic and old secrets

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Swamp lands

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes, it his him. Push him in.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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