The Wrathbreakers have uncovered a secret cult of humans who work with deepfolk, at least one of whom also uses deep magic. To do so or to work with deepfolk in any way is a deep and terrible heresy, believed impossible for 1000 years. The Wrathbreakers found this cult and its sorcerous leader under the Stronghold of Ar, in an ancient temple that is likely of deepfolk design, but they were previously attacked by very similar people in the Freeport of Gon. They suspect, therefore, that the cult they have uncovered in Ar is only a cell of some greater network, and that there must be other deep sorcerers like Anyara, the woman they killed in the ancient halls beneath Ar.

The Wrathbreakers also stumbled upon and killed a strange beast in the Freehold of El, just a day’s boat travel from Ar, and every place they visited in the Valley of Gon seems to have academics devoted to the study of ancient deepfolk ruins, and tales of ancient deepfolk caverns under their towns and farms. Is it a coincidence then that they would find a deep sorcerer and a new cult here? Is this some aberration of human morality that has arisen in this fractured, warring land, where the normal moral constraints on human endeavour have been weakened by long years of war and “freedom”? Or did this cult travel here searching for something? Were they seeking the strange beast that the Wrathbreakers killed outside of El?

After they defeated Argalt, Warlord of Ar, as he lay dying in a pool of arcane vitriol, he told them that the deep sorcerer Anyara had come to his stronghold some years ago and offered to work with him in exchange for his acceptance of and occasional support for her activities. This suggested that the cult and its deep sorcerer had been formed somewhere else, and came to Gon on a quest of some kind. The Wrathbreakers realized that they needed to carefully investigate Anyara’s belongings, to see if they could find any clues as to her origins, the nature of her cult, or her goals. So, after they had rested for an hour or so and confirmed the Stronghold of Ar was secure and under Elizabeth 4th’s control, they climbed the tower to investigate Anyara’s room.

The Sorcerer’s Haven

Anyara’s room was at the top of a flight of spiral stairs that passed the throne room and rose two more levels. The stairs curled up to a kind of gallery, which had arrow slits giving views over the stronghold gates and a wide window overlooking the castle roof. From here they followed the stairs up one more level to a narrow landing with a solid wooden door.

At the door Itzel sensed that there must be a magical trap, which would be activated by the key in the door and which she did not know how to defuse. This would unleash an extremely destructive wave of deep magic that would roll down the stairs and enervate anyone within a wide distance. Although she could not defuse it, Itzel guessed that it would not be activated if the door was opened from the inside, and decided to see if she could access the room from the window. She descended to the lower gallery and cast a flight spell on herself, using it to travel from the window of the lower gallery to a matching window in Anyara’s room. Here she took a risk, opening the window and slipping into the room without triggering any traps. She opened the door with no trouble, and they wedged it open and entered the room unhurt. Anyara had clearly been much more concerned about people within the castle prying into her affairs than she had been about intruders from outside.

Anyara’s room was a simple, comfortable affair typical of a woman living in high status in a stronghold. It had a comfortable bed, a desk, closets with women’s clothes, a small make up desk under the window, and a comfortable rug from the western isles. The only sign that she was not a court lady was a large bookcase of slightly esoteric texts, a map of the Valley of Gon on one wall, and a sinister silver mirror set on the wall next to an expensive scroll calendar. They checked everything for traps, and then searched diligently for clues.

The desk

The desk had a long, narrow drawer in the centre and a small cupboard on one side, both locked. They opened them using one of the keys from the collection they had found on Anyara’s body. In the drawer they found:

  • A deep magic wand, identical to the wand she had used to attack them in the subterranean temple
  • A small rolled-up scroll containing an original of a famous human poem about vengeance, which could probably be sold
  • A small silver key

They destroyed the wand, and searched the cupboard, where they found a powerful healing potion and a sandalwood box. Inside the box they found:

  • A single printed note, exactly the same as those which had been used to organize criminal activities in Estona, which simply said “This is how I do it. What else did you expect of me?”
  • A fragment of text on selkie
  • A list of magical reagents, which made no sense at all to them. The text was written on a piece of yellowed paper that was obviously very old and had been torn from a larger book. In the margins of the text was a note that had been hand written more recently and simply noted “In the copy, make clear that the sand cannot be from a beach, and the water should be pure”
  • A faded scroll, rolled up, in which the small printed note had been secreted, which was an advertisement for a display of magical experiments held about 20 years earlier at the Academy in Estona. This advertisement promised exciting developments in sun magic, and an inset piece of text in a separate bubble promised “Apprentices Free”

The fragment of text on selkie was also old, part of a larger document on some soft leather that had been torn or taken, and appeared to have sustained some damage. It was written in clear, careful writing in a slightly archaic script, which started mid-sentence and read as follows:

… speaks of both power and control, and of transition between salt and storm. The Selkie is a creature of flux and transformation, but like all fey its magic has a special power over humans.  It will not harm you provided you remain neutral in all dealings, but will strike with great power if disturbed. Like all fey, its memory is long and its vengeance bitter. It is worth disturbing though. What can one do with the essence of this liminal creature? Bind both salt, sun and storm, and combine or interweave all forms of power – such is the strength of the selkie’s connection to flux and change. Few know of this property of its essence, but the proper preparation of the hide and organs of selkie offers unique power to harness flux and merge powers together. But beware! The power is not easily contained! Without proper combination of tinctures of violet, beach sand,  sea water, and flowers withered in the winter sun, any such powers shared and combined will inevitably come loose of their caster’s control. Little is known of the consequences of this, but the selkie is a malevolent force of nature, so do not expect the backlash to spare the caster or their immediate associates.

No author was ascribed to this document. They could make little sense of the documents bundled together in this box, but Itzel did note that Anyara had appeared to be in her late 30s, and would likely have been old enough to be an apprentice 20 years ago, when the advertisement was printed. Had she been an apprentice in Estona, who subsequently turned to evil, but retained some connection in Estona? Was the Puppet Master, who organized crimes by printed note, an old friend, comrade or lover of Anyara’s? And if so, had she told this Puppet Master about the use of selkie ingredients, but misled him or her slightly about the correct method for their preparation? They would need to investigate this when they returned to Estona.

The bookcase

The bookcase held a collection of largely standard texts used by Astrologers across Hadun, along with a few novels and collections of poetry and some standard histories of Gon. However, in amongst these traditional shelf-fillers the Wrathbreakers found a group of three texts on the construction of Golems, and a small box of magical scrolls.

The Golem Creation texts were entitled Elucidation of the Manufacture of Mechanistic Humanity, and were collected in three volumes sub-titled Theory and Ethics of Mecha-humanity, Principles and Practice of Rudimentary Quickening, and Mechanical Recipes in Sun, Salt and Storm. Although these titles were slightly sinister, those familiar with the writing of magical texts would be familiar with titles of this kind: for example, text books on specific spells and rituals would often be labeled “X recipes in Sun”[1] or “X recipes in Storm”, with X representing a discipline or task (“Lumic recipes in Sun” for example would detail spells of light and shadow). Texts detailing the theory and ethics of magical practice were also common, particularly where spells could be mis-applied or misused by error or design. Nonetheless, magic for the animation of matter was rare, and would offer powerful enhancements of ordinary life if properly used. Anyara’s possession of such a textbook was something of a mystery, however, since she was a practitioner of deep magic, which focused on the domination of the minds of other living things and the animation of the dead.

They briefly considered the possibility that Anyara had created flesh golems that were able to change their form, or had made multiple flesh golems in the form of dwarf, elf and wildling, and that the Puppet Master in Estona had used these golems as messengers to organize his or her schemes, but Itzel quickly searched the Principles and confirmed that flesh could not be quickened. During her search, however, she found a dedication a few pages into the text, written in an unknown hand, that was much newer than the original text and simply said “A parting gift, I will always be yours.” She searched a little more and found that the third book contained a single missing page, which perfectly matched the fragment of recipes in the sandalwood box. Unfortunately later that week, when Itzel decided to check that section of the book again to see which recipe the missing page had been torn from, she spilt some wine on the text and obliterated the majority of the recipe, so that none of them could determine what recipe Anyara had torn from the book and relocated in the sandalwood box, with instructions to transcribe it falsely.

The box of scrolls was a finely made wooden container with a crystal lid that could be unlocked with the small silver key from the desk. It held three scrolls laid side by side and bound separately into tight rolls using old, faded silk ribbons. These scrolls had clearly been written very long ago and were extremely fragile, and were so old that Itzel could not determine what magic they contained. She could tell, however, that once these scrolls were opened they were so old that the ink with which they were written would soon fade. She also guessed that they would be fragile, and any attempt to read them would need to be done carefully lest they crumble or break. For now they left the scrolls unopened, and committed to read them when they had a safe place and time to do so in Estona.

The Chest

The chest was also untrapped, and held Anyara’s magic items:

  • A cloak of defense (+1 defense to whoever wears it)
  • A strange potion that when taken reduces wound threshold by 5 but increases the character’s arcane skill (in any discipline) by 2 and increases all mental attributes by 1 for 1 hourr or scene
  • A belt of fortitude that increase strain threshold by 1
  • A collection of fine jewelry worth 5000 coin

They also found a potion rack that held multiple valuable potions.

The map

The map was a large, detailed map of the Valley of Gon, framed and hanging on the wall over Anyara’s desk. By itself it was probably worth a lot of money, but it had been slightly disfigured with 7 bronze pins, the head of each of which was a number, that had been stuck into the map at 7 locations. The map had some towns they knew marked in black for Freeports and Grey for Freeholds, and a few towns they did not know marked in the same way. Beneath the map was a handwritten list of 7 points, which they assumed corresponded to the points marked on the map with pins:

  1. Anzad (1) – The Principium
  2. Verity (3) – Archives of Agaz
  3. Numenor (1) – Aveld the Foul??
  4. Greel (5) – The Song of the Seraphim
  5. Anders (1) – Rumours of a Seal
  6. Gandaz (3) – Ruins of the First
  7. Nirek (1) – Archives of Askelian

They recognized Anzad, Greel, Ganaz and Nirek as common names in the Archipelago, and guessed the rest were too. Were these the locations of agents of the cult, investigating historical locations or items of value to the cult?

The mirror

The mirror was placed on a wall away from the cosmetics table, and was not high enough quality to be useful for aesthetics in any case. Bao Tap touched it and immediately realized it was steeped in sinister purpose. With a simple act of will he was able to identify the location of the silver platter that they had been given as a token of good faith for their “spy”, Emily, and so they realized that they had been tracked from the moment they had left El on their mission to attack Ar. With further investigation it became obvious that the mirror was a product of deep magic, and that although it might have many uses, they should destroy it. This they did, immediately. Next to the mirror hung a bone plaque engraved with a benediction in deepfolk language, beneath which was written in normal human script:

Good luck. May the Host guide you. I welcome your return to Leminog. A.

Obviously Anyara had a contact, A, in the far northeast. Was this another cultist? Did they communicate by the mirror?

The Calendar

The calendar was an expensive scroll calendar, opened to the current and following week and hanging from a special mount with a pen and ink pot in a cradle on the wall next to it. This kind of calendar was not normally available to the ordinary people of the Archipelago, and was more typical of the type of calendar that might be found in a Harbourmaster’s office or a senior official’s home. It was made of solid, high-quality parchment bound carefully in a roll around high-quality staves, and carefully illuminated with high quality inks in a tasteful mixture of sepia, gold and dark reds. Every few weeks the scroll was embossed with the name of its creator, a company in Rokun called “Arcadium Calendars”. In the visible two weeks were two handwritten notes: One indicating that the 31st of Still (one week from the current date) would be an event known as “the alignment” and another indicating the 3rd Thaw was the date to “Begin study.” Unrolling it further, the Wrathbreakers found that the calendar ended in two months, at the end of the current season of Salt, and a new one would have been needed by then – perhaps, given the company was in Rokun, it had been ordered already? There was a cross on the 14th Thawing, three weeks from the current date, but no account of what that cross might mean. The only other noticeable feature of the calendar was a single strange symbol on the 31st Still, where “Alignment 1” was written. This symbol was embossed onto the calendar in the gold ink of the calendar’s makers, not written there by Anyara. Typically such symbols would be indicative of important celestial dates of relevance to the calendar’s purpose – a season’s end, for example, the likely beginning of heavy rains, a propitious time for a wedding or other special event, or a time of particular activity on the sun shard, but this symbol meant nothing to any of them. They would need to speak to the calendar company to learn its meaning.

The telescope

Bao Tap had one theory, however. A small telescope stood on the window sill, its lens housing pointing up at the ceiling. Bao Tap theorized that this telescope was being used to track a celestial body that was due to align with something on the 31st Still, in 7 days’ time. He proposed that they take a week to rest in the town, and every night turn the lens housing down its pivot, not moving the legs of the tripod but assuming that they were placed in the position of the axis on which the alignment could be viewed from Anyara’s window. Were they to do this they might get a sense of what this alignment was for, without having to visit Rokun and ask the calendar makers.

They followed this path. Everyone was injured and exhausted, and Elizabeth 4th had offered them the chance to rest as long as they wanted under her care. They spent the week relaxing, studying Anyara’s documents, searching the room again, and regularly scanning the sky. On the 31st they confirmed that there was a star on the axis of the telescope, but unfortunately at the end of a viewing session Itzel knocked the tripod so that it moved slightly, and was unable to locate the star again[2]. They would need to find an astronomer to whom she could report their observations in order to be sure which star they were looking at, but this would not be difficult to do, either in Estona or even in the Freeport of Gon[3].

Rest and conclusions

After a week in Ar the Wrathbreakers had recovered from their wounds, thoroughly studied everything they could find, and discussed the results of their investigations. They had stumbled upon a conspiracy with profound implications, which they did not think was limited to Gon. This conspiracy involved a secret human cult or organization, which they called the Deep Cult, that was in contact with deepfolk and whose leaders seemed to be able to use deep magic. This Cult had been found in Ar but they did not believe it was limited just to Ar, or even to Gon, and likely it had at least a connection in Rokun, the capital of Hadun, where the calendar was made, and in the wild peninsula of Leminog where someone called “A” appeared to be waiting for Anyara’s return. The leader of the Deep Cult in Ar, Anyara, had come here from somewhere else and may have been an apprentice Astrologer in Estona 20 years ago, where they suspected she had made contact with, and still worked with, for or over the Astrologer they had come to refer to as the Puppet Master. She may have given that Puppet Master information on the use of selkie body parts for magical creations, but had deliberately misled him about the method of preparation of those body parts. She also had, or was working with, agents who were distributed around the Valley of Gon looking for clues about some ancient secrets. They sought something called “The Principium”, were delving into two archives, and were also seeking something called a “seal” and something else that might be a poem or lost story about an object, place or person called “The Seraphim”. They also appeared to serve, worship or owe alliance to a thing called “the Host”, which must be some form of supernatural power. It was possible that all of these secrets were somehow connected to the stars: Anyara had an expensive calendar that spoke of an “alignment”, she had a telescope that pointed in a specific direction, and the last time the Wrathbreakers had encountered Deepfolk in force those Deepfolk had been on a mission to destroy an observatory and despoil all its knowledge, though they appeared to have missed a poem that a desperate Astrologer had rubbed off of a blackboard before the Deepfolk completed their destruction of the observatory. It seemed clear that there was a sinister conspiracy stretching across the entire main island of the Archipelago, involving deepfolk and a human Deep Cult, and possibly reaching as high up as the stars themselves and as far back in time as the prehistory of human activity in the Archipelago.

What did it all mean? What were the deepfolk and their human allies trying to do? And what were the Wrathbreakers going to do about it?


fn1: The astute reader here will notice an allusion to modern engineering and physics, where we can buy the classic texts Numerical Recipes in C [or Fortran, or …]

fn2: Itzel rolled two beautifully timed despairs this session, one on the attempt to learn which golem recipe the reagents were from, and one on the attempt to find this star. Well done Itzel! She also rolled 8 successes and a triumph on another roll, so there is no pity for her from these quarters.

fn3: This will, however, mean that someone outside their immediate group knows what they are looking for …

The Wrathbreakers have been led into a trap beneath the strongold of Ar, which ended in a pitched battle against a human woman who could use deep magic, her cultist followers, and allied deepfolk. The Wrathbreakers prevailed and captured the cultist, who they now prepare to interrogate before they resume their assault on Ar. The roster for today’s session:

  • Bao Tap, human stormcaller
  • Itzel, elven Astrologer
  • Kyansei of the Eilika Tribe, wildling barbarian
  • Ella, spume dwarf scoundrel
  • Xu, human weaponmaster from Ariaka

In the aftermath of the battle they tied the cultist leader and gagged her, while Calim healed their most badly injured party members. Unfortunately, though, they had not searched the area or secured it, and as they were recovering from the battle a new fusillade of arrows flew out of the shadows of the room, injuring Calim grievously and destroying Itzel’s left arm before they could react. Battle was rejoined!

They charged into the shadows to take on the new threat, and found themselves facing a team of Grigg archers and goblin raiders in a large side chamber. As they attacked these foes another team of Grigg archers and goblin raiders flanked them from the far side of the main chamber, attacking Bao Tap and Itzel with arrows as the goblins moved forward. Once the initial surprise attack had been triggered though the goblins and grigg were no match for Xu and Kyansei, who tore through them in short order. Soon 16 more deepfolk lay dead in the chambers of this strange, ancient temple.

The Hidden Temple

Having cleared away the last of the deepfolk, the Wrathbreakers decided to check the entirety of the hidden temple, to be sure there were no other surprises lurking in the dark. They moved from room to room in the dark, checking for lurking goblins and traps, and found no other threats. The temple was very old, with an altar of dark stone under a leering skull statue at its northmost end, and statues of skulls with twisted features on the walls and corners of some of the rooms. In some places runes they could not read had been incorporated into the stones of the floor, and in other rooms raised dais and platforms suggested an ancient ritual purpose to the entire complex that they could no longer hope to guess at.

Behind the main altar to the north they found a small hidden door that led up to the Stronghold of Ar, but they were not yet ready to use it. First they needed to recover, and interrogate the strange deep magic-user they had defeated. They also discovered a deepfolk camp in the rooms on the eastern side of the temple. This camp consisted of a cluster of tents against the walls in two of the rooms, with equipment and supplies stacked neatly and carefully in place and signs of long habitation. These deepfolk had obviously been based beneath the castle for some time, undiscovered and working on whatever filthy alliance they had forged with the cultist.

Unfortunately, they could not interrogate the woman they captured. They learned her name was Anyara, but as soon as they tried to interrogate her in any greater detail she used her remaining magic powers to try to force Kyansei to attack Xu. After her first spell was successful and Kyansei swung her axe at Xu, the Wrathbreakers wasted no more time on the cultist: Xu killed her and, to be sure that no deepfolk might slip behind them and raise the bodies, dismembered the dead and scattered their parts in different rooms. It was gruesome, dirty work, but with their Rimewarden down they had no way to sanctify the dead, and thus no way to prevent them being raised as an army if any deepfolk (or indeed human) enemies remained down here. After this gory work was done they crept into the secret door behind the main altar and headed for the Stronghold itself.

The Changeling’s Deceptions

From the subterranean temple they ascended a narrow set of stairs to a hidden door in an old cellar. Although there were footprints and scuffs in the thick dust on the floor of this cellar there was no evidence that it had been used recently for anything, and the room was full of a jumbled mess of boxes, crates and sacks. They crept through it carefully into a hallway and from there to a junction, with doors opening to their left and right and straight ahead. The doors straight ahead opened into a small guard room, and those on left and right to what they guessed might be prisons. They moved first to the prisons, thinking to save whoever was here. In the right hand hallway they found a single cell, in which a scared, dirty dark-haired woman with a scarred face sat – Emily. But they had just seen Emily escaping from them in the hall below – how could she possibly be here now in prison? And how could this Emily be so much dirtier and thinner than the one who had betrayed them just an hour ago? They guessed that they had been fooled below by a Changeling, and that this might be the real Emily on which the Changeling had based itself. When they spoke to her they discovered that she had been regularly visited by Sara, who they guessed must be in the other branch of tunnels. They freed her and took her with them down the left hand pathway to another cell, where they found Sara. Her reaction was quite different, however – she was shocked at Emily’s appearance, saying she looked too thin and worn, and that she never looked so bad during her weekly visits. Now Emily protested that she did not visit Sara, Sara visited her. This confirmed that there was a Changeling in the hallways, that either of these two could be that Changeling, and that they could not confirm who was who. They considered locking them both away, but if neither was the Changeling then the Changeling might return, kill one and take her form, then be able to escape under their noses. They decided it would be safer to take both women with them, and be wary.

Both women told them the same story: that they had been held in the prison for a long time, but every week the other woman would visit them to talk, apparently with permission from the Warlord of Ar. Emily was always visited by Sara and never left her cell; Sara was always visited by Emily and never left her cell. They talked about personal matters, events back in Sara’s home town in her past, Emily’s scholarship, the secrets under the castle and in the Valley more generally, and life as an apprentice with Siladan. Emily remembered Sara as inquisitive and always asking questions while Emily did not talk much; Sara had the same impression of Emily. Obviously they had been played by a clever Changeling, who had learnt enough about them to copy them, and was continuing to mimic Emily, pretending to act as a traitor to the Argalt when in fact she was setting a trap. It was a cunning ploy, and they guessed after several months of such deception the Changeling might be able to infiltrate Siladan’s compound under the pretense of Sara returning from a failed elopement. They needed to find that Changeling!

They crept back down the hallway to the junction and stormed the guardroom, killing three of the guards and taking the fourth prisoner in seconds. They interrogated him to find the likely location of the Argalt and his men, then locked him in one of the cells from which they had just freed the two women. The time had come to kill the Warlord of Ar.

Dethroning the Warlord

The battle with the Warlord of Ar was over almost as soon as it began. They found him in his “throne room”, a shabby visiting room on the third floor of his castle, easily accessible by spiral stairs from the basement. He was lounging on his throne, a large chair with a fading animal skin of some kind cast over it, and talking about matters of security with two sergeants and a group of about 8 bodyguards. Even though it was late Argalt was clearly paranoid: he was wearing his half plate armour and had a large, vicious looking sword near him as he sat in his heavy chair. A fire burnt in a large hearth suffusing the room with smoke and fumes, and a collection of wines and small treats sat on a large, plain table in the middle of the room.

With no particular strategy to lure him out or find a way to surround him, and with time running out now that they knew there was a Changeling at large in the stronghold, they simply crept up the spiral stairs into the throne room and attacked him. Ella crept in first, taking a position behind a pot plant, and Itzel followed her with the plan of casting a fireball in the room. Unfortunately Itzel’s fireball failed and Ella’s first sniper’s shot missed, so the entire group of enemies was alerted before they could seriously harm Argalt. He charged forward straight into battle, smashing Itzel with his sword and almost knocking her unconscious immediately. She struggled out of the way and was replaced by Xu, who engaged the warlord as Bao Tap slipped by to conjure his nature’s champion in the room. This caused a huge centipede to appear on the table in the middle of the room, and while some of the bodyguards rushed to engage Xu half of them plus one of the sergeants rushed to fight the centipede. Finding herself free of combat, Itzel conjured a barrier of acid on Xu, Kyansei and the centipede, which covered them in a powerful aura that splattered acid over anyone who hit them. After the centipede killed one of them and the sergeant was destroyed by a horrible gout of acid when he struck it, three of the bodyguards turned and fled. Meanwhile the other bodyguards and Argalt himself struck at Xu and found themselves covered in acid, and in seconds the combination of waves of acid plus heavy strikes from Xu and Kyansei destroyed the entire force. Another group of guards entered the room to support their lord but seeing him and all his allies writhing and screaming on the floor as acid consumed them, the room filled with the stench of dissolving flesh, and a giant centipede advancing on the door, they immediately turned and fled. They had control of Ar!

The Warlord was able to tell them little except that he had allowed Anyara the cultist to work in his castle in exchange for her help when he needed it. He knew about her little arrangement with deepfolk, though nothing of the details, and they soon learned why he did not care – his sword was a cursed magical sword of deepfolk origin which had no doubt ruined his mind long ago. He died of his wounds and the creeping acid before he could tell them more, and they only just managed to find the keys on his body before the acid consumed his clothes and ruined his armour. Truly this place was a nest of despicable evil, and the sooner it was handed over to Elizabeth the 4th and they could escape it the better.

With that in mind they sent her the alert that the battle was won and, accompanied by Bao Tap’s centipede, carried Argalt’s severed head to be paraded through the castle grounds. At the entrance to the stronghold they were met by a particularly sensible sergeant, who had gathered 30 of the Warlord’s men and had them throw their weapons down at the Wrathbreakers’ feet when they emerged. Their job was done, and Ar was theirs.

As soon as she arrived they warned Elizabeth about both the cultist and her deepfolk ties, and the possibility of a Changeling. With unerring accuracy for treachery and double-crossing she immediately had her men kill the competent sergeant, whose body began to twist and change before their eyes – the Changeling had been trying to hide in plain sight! With that done she thanked them, held a brief ceremony appointing Argalt’s distant relative Alad as the new Warlord of Ar, and bade them loot what they could from Anyara and Argalt’s rooms before the new order took charge. They needed no urging – Anyara had many secrets, and they needed to uncover all they could about whatever sinister and heretical scheme had been in place here before they could rest for even a moment. They took their leave and headed back into the stronghold, to find the truth of whatever deep treacheries had been festering here.

The wrathbreakers find themselves standing over the battered body of a strange monster, deep in an old deepfolk mine in the Valley of Gon. They came to this mine to kill the monster as a favour to the Warlord of El, but rather than killing it they have beaten it into submission and now have a chance to try and question it. Once they have interrogated it and delivered proof of its death to the Warlord’s guard captain, they can hope for an audience with the warlord herself. The roster for today’s session:

  • Bao Tap, human stormcaller
  • Calim “Ambros” Nefari, human rimewarden
  • Kyansei of the Eilika Tribe, wildling barbarian
  • Ella, spume dwarf scoundrel
  • Xu, human weaponmaster from Ariaka

Their first task was to make a decision about the fate of this monster. The spell-casters discussed it briefly and decided they might be able to combine their powers and, using Calim’s salt, create a barrier around the creature that would be sufficiently harmful to it that it might answer their questions in order to shorten its suffering. Calim’s power might also be sufficient to grant them some ability to speak with it. But when the interrogation was done they would still need to kill the thing and, although they had taken its sword and depleted its magic, they knew it remained very powerful and dangerous. They decided not to question it further, and instead Xu hacked its head off with his halberd.

As soon as it died its body shriveled and turned to dust, then faded away to nothing, leaving behind just its huge sword and its armour. The armour held an embossed seal of a strange white material that radiated great power, and which Calim took for his own use. They searched its chamber and found nothing else except a strange fragment of white stone, perhaps the size of a human fist, which was completely unlike the rest of the stone in the cave complex. Some parts of it were rough, as if it had been broken from a larger piece, but one side was polished very smooth. They could make no sense of it except to think it must be part of some larger object – perhaps a statue or object of art of some kind – but they kept it anyway. They found a second entrance to the chamber, which was also blocked by a line of salt. On the far side of the line of salt lay another cave, and on each side of the door a grinning skull, much larger than the head of a human, balanced on a pole, its bleached eyes looking away from the cave they had come from and into the cave they had entered. These heads were nothing like the head of the creature they had just killed, and looked more like the heads of some kind of large deepfolk monstrosity. The walls of this room and of another connected room were covered with deepfolk writing, mostly a single rune of some kind. Calim copied the rune into his notebook and, finding no other exits, they left this strange place, dragging the beast’s armour with them as proof of their kill.

Of scholars and stars

As promised their kill gained them an audience with Elizabeth 4th, and the following evening they were led to the stronghold to meet her in the Shard Room. The stronghold was a squat, quite ugly building with three towers. The tallest of these had at its summit a small, domed room entirely made of glass, from which it was very easy to view the sunshard on clear nights, and it was here that they would have an evening meal with the Virgin Warlord.

In the shard room they found a pleasant, comfortable space, dimly lit with braziers and smelling pleasantly of good food and subtle incense. The centre of the room was comfortably furnished with divans, floor cushions and a wide, low table holding some appetizers. Guards stood to attention around the edges of the room, far enough from the centre to be unobtrusive but close enough to save their leader if she needed it. The Virgin Warlord herself lounged on a divan in a luxurious gown, sipping from a glass of red wine; when they entered she sprung to her feet and greeted them warmly, gesturing them to join her at the sofas. She was a strong, lithe-looking woman of early middle-age, perhaps in her mid forties, with the build and movements of a fighter but the grace and manners of a leader. She welcomed them into her room, apologized for the cloudy skies that would prevent them enjoying a view of the sunshard, and fussed over drinks and snacks as they made themselves comfortable.

During their meal they discussed various topics, including the nature of the creature they had killed for her, and she proved herself to be an eloquent and educated interlocutor. She had spent some time in Ariaka studying at Alpon, and had been called back only after the 3rd Elizabeth had died. The succession had been relatively orderly, although she had needed to show leadership and a little ruthlessness, and confirmed that the system put in place by the first Elizabeth had been well designed. The Freehold of El was now the only Freehold in Gon to have seen three leaders succeed a warlord without major social upheaval, and as a result was growing in strength while others had been constantly afflicted with conflict. Her plan was to unite all of Gon under her leadership, but she did not know if this would be possible in her lifetime. But it was good to dream, no?

In the discussion of the beast they had killed they somehow stumbled onto a conversation about stars, and the various theories about what they represent. Bao Tap maintained that they were like distant suns, and that the sun itself was a ball of fire. Elizabeth 4th pointed out to him that scholars believed them to be holes in the sky through which light flowed, and that these holes moved in stable patterns through the sky that scholars believed repeated themselves over long periods of perhaps a thousand or more years. She surprised everyone by revealing that she had a small academy of scholars in El, and that in fact every Warlord maintained at least one scholar. These scholars often kept some knowledge of deepfolk lore – though she confessed she did not know if any of them had any understanding of what deepfolk thought of the stars – because their primary goal was to find deepfolk mines, to dig for whatever silver and other minerals was left in them. Gon was apparently riddled with deepfolk mines, which had been abandoned long ago for reasons no one understood. When they learnt that she had scholars with knowledge of deepfolk they asked if they could interview one and she, of course, agreed. Word would be sent.

After this conversation their meal ended, and the Elizabeth dismissed her guards. They gathered around the table with more drinks and discussed their plans. They needed to get into the Freehold of Ar to rescue Sara and find out what the Argalt knew about mysterious deepfolk interest in old elven documents. She wanted to make the Freehold of Ar into her tributary. She agreed to help them, though she would not do so openly, and revealed to them that she had a spy in Ar, a scholar named Emily. Emily’s face had been disfigured by the Argalt, who threw acid on her after she spurned him, but as one of his Freehold-bound chattel she could not easily leave him. So, she had to remain in Ar, researching deepfolk history for him, and she was deeply resentful. She had offered a deal to the Elizabeth some years ago, soon after the acid attack that ruined her face: she would reveal a secret way into the Argalt’s stronghold, and all she asked in return was that the Argalt’s balls be delivered to her on a silver platter after the job was done. She even provided the platter. The Elizabeth did not want to mount an open attack on Ar, because raising a siege was too risky – it would attract the attention of other Freeholds while she was gone. But if the Wrathbreakers were to sneak in, kill the Argalt, and open the gates, she would send a small force undercover – smuggled in in small numbers over the next few days – to help sieze the stronghold after Argalt’s death. She also had a claimant to replace him – a sniveling brat she had rescued from exile a few years ago, who would serve as a perfect leader of a tributary Freehold – who she would deliver to them once the castle was secured. It should then be a relatively simple matter to establish his claim, pacify his guards with a promise of continued service and survival, and set up the Freehold as a Tributary. In return she would allow them to gather whatever information they needed from the Argalt and his lackeys – though of course in the end they needed to put his balls on the silver plate she would give them.

They did not ask why this particular silver plate mattered to Emily. Instead they agreed to the plan, and moved on to discuss details. It would take about a week to set up, smuggling her small force to Argalt as travelers and traders. They had a week to prepare. They cast salt to pledge the deal, and took their leave.

The Catacombs of Ar

They spent a week or so in El, resting and recovering from injuries and making the most of their accommodation, which they discovered now the Virgin Warlord was paying for. After this week they took a ship upriver to Ar, arriving after a day and a night of travel. Ar was a desultory effort at a modern town, consisting of a couple of slums clustered around a small city of black stone buildings. Concentric walls of the same stone separated levels of the town from the rabble around the river, and higher up a small hill a grim, ugly castle glowered over the defensive walls. This tower looked like a thorntree made of black stone, with two twisted towers protruding from a sprawling, mishapen trunk-like structure. The combination of those multiple rings of stone around the town, and the solid, windowless walls of the castle itself certainly made the town appear impenetrable to standard assault.

They took rooms in the best inn they could find, within the first ring of walls, with a window looking across the river. After they had rested a little and eaten they went to meet Emily, who was expecting them that afternoon in a jumble of eel-drying racks a little upriver and outside of town. She was where they expected, waiting in amongst the grimacing corpses of thousands of eels, surrounded by their fishy stench. She wore leather armour under a dark brown woollen cloak, and when she pulled her hood back they could see a rough network of angry scars and pockmarks on one side of her face, the eyelid and edge of the eye melting into the mess of flesh around her forehead – the legacy of spurning the Argalt. They showed her the silver platter on which they would deliver her the Argalt’s balls and with a satisfied grunt she led them away from town, through mulberry orchards and thickets of blackberry to a small hill perhaps a kilometre outside of town. Here, amongst the stark bare brunches of winter hawthorns, she pushed something and a rock rolled aside to reveal a dark tunnel.

The tunnel led them down into the cool darkness of ancient catacombs, large enough for them to walk two abreast and upright, and obviously well made and ancient. They guessed these tunnels might be deepfolk origin, though they could not be sure. They sensed they might have traveled down a little, and then they wandered randomly for a little, Emily occasionally seeming to be confused or even lost. She seemed edgy and nervous, but they assumed this was because she was betraying the warlord who owned her. They did not realize it was because she was betraying them until it was too late.

She led them into a newer, obviously human-built chamber, a space too large to see the edges. Steps led down from the old catacomb tunnels to flagstone floors, and she told them that the far end of this hall had another set of stairs leading up to an entrance to the castle itself. They were halfway across the hallway and heading to the middle of the hall when Itzel decided to expand her werelight to brighten the room, and Ella got the first sense that something was going on. Sensing movement in the shadows, she reacted to warn people, and at that moment Emily sprang away from their group, dashed her lantern to the ground and disappeared into the shadows. Moments later a hail of arrows emerged from the darkness, and the ambush was sprung.

From the shadows on each side of them emerged archers similar to those who had attacked them in the Freeport of Gon. Ahead of them a woman in robes, carrying a staff, emerged onto a platform that looked suspiciously like an altar of some kind. Behind them a squad of goblins emerged from the shadows, led by an Orc. The Orc had skin so pale it glowed under Itzel’s werelight. Its tusks protruded through scars in its cheeks and reached almost up to its eyes, its face was pierced with chunks of dull metal linked by chains, and it wore a necklace of human bones. It charged towards them with a scream of rage, and at the same time the human fired a bolt of darkness at them.

They had stumbled onto a cult of humans who used deep magic and worked in alliance with deepfolk. Such a heresy was unheard of in all the annals of human history, and was considered such a dark and terrible betrayal of the human condition that it was beyond the imagining of most ordinary mortals. Bao Tap had long suspected such treachery lay behind the events connecting Siladan the Elder, the Freeport of Gon and the deepfolk, but no one had been willing to give any credence to his suspicions. Here now in the dark halls beneath the Stronghold of Ar they were revealed to be true, and worse than even his most cynical imaginings. Humans wielding deep magic! All those gathered here would have to die.

They joined battle. It was vicious and chaotic. Bao Tap summoned a giant worm, which slithered out of the darkness and cut the Wrathbreakers off from the goblins and a newly-arrived group of Grigg archers. Xu and Bao Tap attacked the archers while Kyansei took on the orc and Calim healed. Ella disappared into the darkness to take shots at the cultist leader, who was casting spells to drain the will of the fighters, with the ultimate aim of dominating their minds and turning them against their fellows. At one point Calim was knocked unconscious and had to be revived so that he could heal Kyansei, and as the tide of battle turned against the cultist leader she reanimated her dead fellows as zombies, so that the Wrathbreakers had to kill them all over again. Finally, though, Kyansei felled the Orc captain and Ella was able to deliver a good shot with her crossbow, bringing the cultist leader down. Bao Tap’s giant worm smothered and crushed the remaining goblins, and the battle was done.

They stood in the darkness beneath the Stronghold of Ar, surrounded by death and blood, looking at the vanquished cultist. She was unconscious but alive. Should they keep her alive to question, or should such terrible treachery be exterminated without further consideration? What horrors had they uncovered here under Gon? Connecting the details of their journey so far, they began to think that great, dark forces were moving in their world, and they had uncovered a dark and sinister plot that extended far beyond Gon. But here, unconscious at their feet, was their first chance to begin piercing that darkness, and learn the truth about whatever secrets they had begun to uncover in their journey to Estona last year.

What was going on, and what were they going to do about it?

The Wrathbreakers have arrived in the Valley of Gon, where assassins stalk them for reasons they do not understand, seeking the abducted apprentice of Siladan the Elder. They believe this apprentice, Sara, is being held in the Freehold of Ar, which previously sent raiders to find documents once in her master’s possession. They plan to travel to the town of El, whose Warlord leader Elizabeth the 4th is a rival of the Warlord Argalt who holds Ar, and try to make a deal with her. The roster for today’s adventure:

  • Bao Tap, human stormcaller
  • Calim “Ambros” Nefari, human rimewarden
  • Itzel, elven astrologer
  • Kyansei of the Eilika Tribe, wildling barbarian
  • Ella, spume dwarf scoundrel
  • Xu, human weaponmaster from Ariaka

For this adventure the Wrathbreakers have two new members, a dwarven scoundrel on the run from a suspicious ship that she abandoned after learning the crew are occasional pirates; and Xu, a human weaponmaster who was introduced to the party by one of their marine guards. Their marine guards have left and will return to Estona, but upon leaving they gave the party some Striders and a special present: a Shardhawk, a rare bird capable of flying rapidly over vast distances, that is trained to return to the tower of the Myrmidon Kay in Estona. Should they need help they can send this bird back to Estona with their plea, and he may choose to answer it.

The town of El

First the wrathbreakers traveled upriver to El on a nameless riverboat, arriving two days later. El sits just east of the confluence of two rivers that make up the river Gon. The town used to have an outpost on the confluence itself but constant attacks by rival warlords forced the first Elizabeth to give up this town, which is now a ruin, and move El about an hour’s travel East. None of the warlords wanted any other warlords to have control of the confluence of the rivers, so aside from a few ramshackle travelers’ inns and a boat repair dock there was no activity remaining at this strategic point. To the east, however, lay the farms and mines of the Freehold of El, spread around its small but powerful centre, the town of El. Their nameless riverboat drifted into this town, passing through slums on both sides of the river to dock at the westernmost wharf. Here a crowd of scammers, grifters, longshorefolk and labourers gathered to pry the visitors’ money from their grip as quickly as possible. From amongst this gang of chancers the Wrathbreakers selected a guide, Scrim, to get them oriented to the town. Scrim was a busy, active and cheerful young man with an oily manner but an accomplished ease in the city: he had them in a tavern and preparing for their stay in El very quickly and easy. He found them a manse separate to a large and comfortable tavern and hotel complex near the central stronghold. The tavern, called the Last Ember, had multiple levels in its main building, a large and famous restaurant serving Ariakan food, and a pleasant garden surrounding its guest areas. Behind this garden was a separate outhouse, an entire building with multiple bedrooms and its own common areas, which Scrim was able to secure for them at reasonable rates. From there they were able to begin their plans to explore the city and meet the Virgin Warlord. Scrim set off to begin brokering meetings, and they moved to the restaurants and bars of the town to find out what they could before their meeting began.

They did not learn much at dinner. El is a small town on the border of Ariaka, with some long-abandoned deepfolk mines where they dig up what is left of the silver, gold and iron that the deepfolk were scavenging for hundreds of years ago. The mines were abandoned before the city of El was formed, perhaps before the Valley of Gon was disputed, and had been left with relatively intact ore loads compared to most abandoned deepfolk mines. This had made the warlords of El rich, compared to many of their neighbours, and they were one of the few Freeholds to have formed a kind of dynastic lineage, in which each Warlord had managed to choose their successor (called the Elizabeth) for the last four generations. This had made the town something of a power in the area, and the most recent Elizabeth – called also the Virgin Warlord – clearly had intentions to expand, perhaps with the ultimate plan of taking back control of the river confluence and declaring the entire Upper Gon their demesne. Such power plays require long, careful preparation, however, and the impression the Wrathbreakers received from their short time in the Last Ember’s bar was that this project was a long way from fruition – though nonetheless the locals of El were proud of their warlord’s power and confident in the superior position their Freehold commanded in the Valley. It was obvious that the wrathbreakers would need to appeal to that long-term project – perhaps offering a way to help with the vassalization of the Freehold of Ar – if they were to have any hope of gaining help from Elizabeth 4. With those thoughts they retired to bed, to dream of living in easier lands.

The Guard Captain’s Problem

By the next morning Scrim had organized a connection for them: a meeting with the chief of El’s guards. They would not be able to meet Elizabeth 4 until they could satisfy this man that they were of use, and as they expected, he had a trial for them. They would have to deal with a small “problem” the town had uncovered, and if they could do so successfully he would pay them 2500 coin and arrange them a meeting with the Virgin Warlord. But they would have to do so immediately, and it would not be easy.

The guard captain told them that a monster had been unleashed in a mine to the southeast of El. A group of miners had broken through a wall a week ago, uncovering a strange set of linked chambers. When they explored those chambers they had been attacked and slaughtered by something, with only one survivor. Some guards sent in later that day had also been killed. The miners had resealed the wall but the guard captain doubted that their hastily improvised stonework would hold for long, and he needed some brave warriors to go in and kill whatever was inside. He had been preparing to send in some of his own guards but did not want to waste his elite soldiers on such a task, which made the Wrathbreakers’ arrival extremely fortuitous. They simply had to go in, kill it, bring him evidence it was dead, and make sure nothing else was in there that could leave any nasty surprises. He wanted them to go immediately before the thing broke out and news of this trouble reached Elizabeth 4. Once it was done he would present the evidence of its elimination to her, along with an invitation to meet them. Since the old mine was originally a deepfolk excavation, his best guess was that it was some form of deepfolk monstrosity, left behind when they abandoned the mines in those previous eras.

The Wrathbreakers agreed to his suggestion, of course, and set out immediately for the mine. A few hours’ travel on their striders got them to the location by mid-afternoon on a dreary, grey and slightly snowy Still day. The mine was a simple hole carved into a hillside, with a messy jumble of shacks and open service tents scattered around the muddy slopes. They perched their Striders and moved into the camp, speaking to a few resting miners at the edge of a shabby tea tent who told them to visit the hospice tent. These miners were obviously not working here by choice: they were typical Valley of Gon indentured labourers, effectively slaves working where their patron sent them. They were thin, grubby, scared and wary, with injuries and signs of mistreatment hidden under scanty clothes. Up the hill a few ill-disciplined guards lounged around a fire, watching the PCs suspiciously.

The hospice tent was just a stretch of awning on poles, barely keeping the drifting snow out of a rush-floored space that had two canvas beds, a rough wooden bench with some herb jars on it, and a pair of miners siting on logs in place of real chairs. One of these was the sole survivor of the initial contact with the beast. He was physically unhurt but appeared gaunt and withdrawn, and he shook when his friend handed him tea. After a little time to break the ice, mostly spent assuring him that they had not been sent by the guards to permanently shut him up about his experience, the surviving miner told them that he remembered little except a brief flash of pale white light, a sudden rush of movement, then everything went dark and people started dying. He described a cloying, supernatural fear in the darkness, and then he just ran while behind him people died. He was followed out by a piece of someone, who had been killed so brutally that their dismembered body parts had flown out of the gap in the cave – he told them it was now being disposed of after the guards investigated it.

They thanked him for his limited information and headed off to find the person disposing of the body part. It was a severed arm that looked as if it had been brutally torn off the body, but there were no signs of teeth marks or claws. They could learn little from such limited evidence, and finding the guards to be of no use at all decided that their best approach was simply to go into the caves and start fighting.

The beast in the darkness

They entered the mine through the cutting in the hillside and passed carefully down a long, smooth, circular passage. Aside from some small recent modifications this was obviously deepfolk work, of far too high quality to have been made by humans, and obviously very old. The walls were so smooth and well-worn that they appeared almost polished, and somehow a cool, dry breeze kept the tunnel airy and comfortable. It traveled smoothly down a considerable distance, curving back on itself and stopping twice at wide, flat rest areas that had obvious signs of recent human modification: quenched fires, rough wooden benches, coat racks and marks of rough human use. Finally the tunnel leveled out and split into three mine galleries. Following instructions they took the right hand gallery and passed along it to its end, where they found a pile of rocks from a hastily constructed makeshift barrier. The miners who had built that barrier a week ago had knocked it down an hour earlier to give the Wrathbreakers a way in, but they had done it as quickly as they could for fear of being attacked, and the gap in the rocks was barely wide enough for one member of the party to pass through at a time.

Naturally they sent their scout, Ella, first. She slipped through the gap and into a long, narrow cave in complete darkness. Behind her Itzel conjured a ball of soft blue light, but she could still barely see. The room was empty and cold. She crept along, checking for signs of enemies, and then crept back to bring the others through. In the glow of Itzel’s light they saw a small cave, probably also of Deepfolk design, that ended in another small gap in the rock. Passing through this gap took them into a smaller cave, fashioned as if it were an antechamber to a larger entrance in its left hand side. This entrance was open, and Ella’s keen eyes saw a thin line of white powder in a smooth arc from wall to wall in front of this gap. The miners who entered here must have missed it, because their feet had scuffed it and scattered powder over the floor, though the line was mostly intact. Calim tasted it and confirmed everyone’s suspicions: salt. It must have been here long before the miners came in here, judging by the way the powder at the ends of the line had solidified against the wall even in the cool dryness of the cave. Had the deepfolk – who hate salt – used salt to bind something inside this room? And the miners, not seeing the salt or guessing its meaning, had simply passed over whatever barrier this represented and into the room?

Sadly Itzel’s magical talent was not sufficient to probe this ancient barrier, and she could not tell if it was imbued with deep magic or any other enchantments, but they all guessed it must be. They paused, prepared themselves, and stepped over the line.

Nothing happened until they reached the middle of the cave on the far side of the room, but when it came the attack was sudden and brutal. Itzel’s light did not reach to the edge of the cave, so it came out of the darkness. There was a flash of light and suddenly a huge figure in bizarre, bone-like white armour rushed into the middle of their group, attacking Ella. They had expected it but it was so fast that they were still taken completely off guard, and it was able to strike before anyone could move. Two of them hit it but the armour absorbed their strikes, and then the room plunged into darkness and the beast was gone, hidden in the deep darkness it had called forth. A wave of torrid sounds flooded over them – the whispers of terrified children, screams of pain, discordant screeching sounds, and a gasping fear of suffocation. They stood solid though, and Itzel fashioned a spell to dispel the darkness. Bao Tap attempted to summon a nature’s champion but failed, and Kyansei struck the beast hard enough to damage it. Itzel then attempted to escape over the barrier, realizing she would be dead if the thing hit her. In the light she had summoned they could see it was 3-4m tall, humanoid, with heavy armour and carrying an enormous greatsword as if it were a shortsword. Its eyes glowed with a malevolent, pale blue light and every time it moved it emitted a sinister hissing sound. It hit Kyansei, Bao Tap summoned a giant scorpion, the thing cast some spell that suddenly caused Xu, Calim and Kyansei to slam into the ceiling with Calim suffocating and struggling on the ground when he landed. Then the thing attacked the nature champion, but Kyansei followed it. They exchanged blows, the thing sometimes exploding with white light and firing beams of brilliant white light at members of the group, but Kyansei’s strikes were hard and true. Soon the warriors in the group managed to batter it into submission and it fell, drained and broken, to the ground. The swirling shadows, the strange whisperings and urgent fears subsided, and the thing lay vanquished.

But not dead. They stood in the room, panting and shaking, looking at their slumbering foe. If they wanted they could wake it, try to ask it questions about what manner of creature it was and why the Deepfolk had left it here. Or, they could kill it and take its head back to the guard captain with incurious savagery. Which would they do? Were they sufficiently curious about what this thing was to wake it and risk fighting it again, or would they settle for simple, bloody victory?

The Wrathbreakers have run into some trouble with rival adventurers in Estona, and think the best thing for them is to put some distance between themselves and the town for a little while. Fortunately they have discovered that the missing apprentice they are looking for, Sara, was kidnapped and sent to the Valley of Gon by those same adventurers. They decided to travel to the Valley of Gon and find her, in the hope that they can gain some power while they are there and be better placed to take on their enemies in Estona when they return. The roster for this session:

  • Bao Tap, human stormcaller
  • Kyansei of the Eilika Tribe, wildling barbarian
  • Itzel, elven Astrologer
  • Quangbae, wandering blacksmith

So it was that on the 8th of Still they took ship on the Gone with the Wind, and headed for Gon.

Searching for Sara

They arrived in the Freeport of Gon on the 10th of Still, and found a comfortable tavern called the Golden Mug to set up their presence in the town. They already had a fairly good sense of where Sara had been sent, because they knew now why she had been groomed by Stitch in Estona. Someone in the Valley of Gon had been trying to find out about documents in the possession of Sara’s master, Siladan the Elder, and at about the same time as those documents had been sent to Siladan’s friend Gerald, Sara had disappeared. In their journey to Estona the Wrathbreakers had encountered raiders from the Valley of Gon who were searching for those documents at Gerald’s home, and their guess was that the same raiders had been spying on Siladan through his apprentice. So they guessed now that Sara had been sent to those raiders, either to be disposed of or to be interrogated or used in some way. They already knew that those raiders were based in the Freehold of Ar, far up the river from the Freeport of Gon, but they thought it would be good to learn a little about the situation in Gon before they went storming in.

So it was that the following morning they began to explore the town, looking for information about Ar and any signs of Sara’s transit through the town. Their investigations led them to a rundown park where homeless and day labourers gathered in a small transient community, and here they learnt a little about the process of trafficking people up the river. They also learned something of the history and situation of the Freeport of Ar. It appeared to have been taken over by a new gang of warlords a few years ago, and although it had been in dispute with its south western and north eastern rivals little had changed about its boundaries over that time. The leader of the warlords had styled himself the 11th Argalt, and renewed an old claim on the nearby Freeport of Azel, though to little effect so far. The Freehold sounded poor, rundown and a little desperate, but the Wrathbreakers were assured that its central fortress was splendid, an ancient tower built either by deepfolk or by an elf-trained human so long ago that its origin was lost to human record. This fortress, and the fact that the Freehold’s borders to the north were in the hills overlooking Hadun, had made it a target for a much larger central power in Gon, Elizabeth the 4th from the Freehold of El. Rather than going directly to Ar, the Wrathbreakers realized they might be better served attempting to forge an alliance with Elizabeth. Her town El was on the river journey to Ar, so they decided they would head to El first, investigate the situation, and then travel to Ar.

The assassins

Having met at the outskirts of the rundown park the Wrathbreakers headed back down the hill towards the Golden Mug, walking through slush and fresh falling snow. As they entered one of the tight, overhanging streets on the hill they noticed that the market stalls lining the street were suspiciously empty, and the street had gone quiet. Warned just in time, they were not overwhelmed when the ambush hit them.

Their attackers were a squad of leather armoured swordsmen in dark cloaks; some archers hiding amongst the stalls; and a wizard of some kind lurking further back behind his soldiers. The archers used poisoned arrows, and when the battle looked like it would not turn in their favour another squad of archers appeared on the balcony. While Kyansei and Quangbae distracted the swordsmen Itzel used a firebolt to bring the balcony down, and Bao Tap summoned a Nature’s Champion: a huge secretary bird that fell from the leaden grey skies to tear apart a stall of snake meat and set upon the archers with vicious, stamping attacks. After it tore through the archers the remaining one fled, and it turned its attentions on the next squad as they fell from the sky.

The battle ended quickly but unsatisfactorily. Every assassin who was not killed by Kyansei’s sword took an amulet around their neck, bit it and died within seconds. They had killed themselves rather than reveal their identity or the person who had sent them. Poisoners and fanatics – a cult?

Was the 11th Argalt building a squad of religious fanatics in his Freehold? Or was a more sinister group active in the Freeport of Gon, with the same target as the Wrathbreakers? With no one to question and no clues, they headed back to the Golden Mug and prepared to leave, keeping a careful watch behind them and an eye on every twitching shadow. They had escaped conflict with the Iron Hand in Estona, but what new swarm of horrors had they stirred with their arrival in Gon?

The Valley of Gon is a disputed land between Ariaka and Hadun, that is occupied by feuding warlords who vie constantly for control and riches. It formed as a separate political entity in the aftermath of the long border war between Ariaki and Hadun. This war came to its exhausted conclusion perhaps 300 years ago, when the people of Hadun and Ariaka decided that they could no longer justify warring over the valley. New borders were drawn, with Hadun ending at the western and northern side of the low mountains on the northern side of the valley, and Ariaka ending in the forests on the southern side. The river valley in between was left unresolved, and in the period of peace that followed free peoples from around the Archipelago moved here to settle and farm the fertile lands. They were followed by warlords who conquered settlements and formed their own tiny principalities, made and lost by violence. By the time the people of Hadun and Ariaka realized what was happening in Gon it was too late, and no one wanted to spill more blood on the land; from then on it became a wild zone of separate, overlapping warlord’s holdings. Exhausted from the border war and seeing the benefit of an ungoverned wilderness separating their kingdoms, Ariaka and Hadun stood by as the valley fell to warring chieftains.

The Patchwork Demesnes of Gon

The Valley of Gon is a fertile land, and has many small settlements. Over time these settlements have been captured by warlords and amalgamated into their holdings, so that now the land is a patchwork of different warlords’ possessions. The area of land held and defended by a single warlord is called a Demesne, the villages and towns within it subject to the whims of the rulers, and its capital usually characterized by a stronghold of some kind surrounded by a shabby township. Most of the strongholds are remnants of the Ariaka-Hadun border war, or older towers built by dwarves or elves to help the humans fight deepfolk when they first settled after the Harrowing. Some of these strongholds are beautiful and enduring works of military architecture, while others are decrepit ruins crumbling slowly under the poor stewardship of their warlord owners. Nonetheless, at the centre of every demesne is the stronghold and the warlord’s personal army; possession of the stronghold, combined with the death of its former owner, gives someone the power to declare themselves ruler of the demesne – though they will still need to be able to defend it against rivals.

Some demesnes are successful and have been passed down through generations of descendants. Others change hands regularly, as one warlord is slain and replaced by another, neighbouring warlords steal land, and border conflicts sap the warlord’s fighting strength until an incursion finally leads to his overthrow, or an outside usurper takes over. Many adventurers have ended their career of delving and fighting deepfolk by moving to Gon and overthrowing a weak ruler of a small demesne; they soon fall prey to some other retired adventurer, a mercenary band with ambition, or a neighbouring tyrant. Sometimes they impress the citizens of their demesne into fighting for them, or tax them until they bleed while war ruins their crops and hopes. Such is the life of an ordinary person in the Valley of Gon.

By common agreement, citizens of demesnes cannot easily leave. They will not be openly allowed into any other demesne, and must live their lives within the demesne in which they were born until such time as a rival warlord captures the land and makes them part of a new demesne. They are not serfs per se, but in many ways their lives are similar to those of peasants: nominally free, but unable to leave and subject to the whims, the taxes, the wars and the cruelties of their masters. Such is life in the Valley of Gon.

The Freeports

The river Gon meanders through the middle of the Valley of Gon, and at points along its banks one can visit a Freeport, a small town not held by any warlord, free for all to visit and trade in. Not every town on the river is a Freeport: El, for example, held by the fourth Elizabeth, is a town on the banks of the river that is not free; while Azell, a half day’s boat travel upriver, is a Freeport. Why some towns are Freeports and some are not is not known, and not all towns remain Free: Azell, for example, is disputed by the Warlord of Ar and his western neighbour, the 11th Indri. One day, if the power balance in that rivalry fails, Azell may become a new holding in the demesne of one of those antagonists. In the meantime it makes a roaring trade, taxing all goods heading to the demesnes surrounding it while charging passage fees to all boats heading past.

Anyone can live in a Freeport, and any resident of any demesne can leave to live in any Freeport. By common agreement Freeports are neutral towns where Warlords’ disagreements must be set aside and all must live in peace, though no Warlord would be foolish enough to put their safety in the hands of common agreement. Commoners, too, do not often take advantage of the freedom on offer in these ports, because by common agreement any Warlord is allowed to send soldiers to recapture any citizen who has moved to a Freeport, unless they can pass three Harrowings in the port and thus be declared a freeman. Because by common agreement no one can interfere with a Warlord’s exercise of power in his or her own demesne, no one can stop a Warlord from punishing those commoners who leave a demesne, and grisly torture can await those who fail to stay hidden for three Harrowings. Thus it is that the Freefolk of the Freeports and the commoners of the demesnes live different lives and rarely experience each others woes and joys.

The largest Freeport is Gon, at the mouth of its eponymous river, ruled by a merchant family, teeming, filthy, busy and raucous. The other Freeports are all along the river, growing smaller but richer as one heads inland. No one knows how a Freeport is made, though all know how they are lost, and Warlords all watch each other carefully for signs one is planning to take over an existing Freeport, with all its riches, artisans and opportunities. The forcible capture of a Freeport is a rare moment when Warlords will unite in common purpose, and fear of the massed vengeance of other Warlords is the primary reason that the Freeports remain free. War is all in the Valley of Gon, and it is the threat of war that keeps the river open and its towns prosperous.

The Book of Broken Nights

In every Freeport one can find Nightmasters, a kind of archivist who keeps the complex history of the Valley. These people maintain special registers of the major events of the Valley of Gon, in which they record every time possession of a demesne changes hands, maps of every demesne and records of every change in boundaries and laws in the demesnes. These books are called Books of Broken Nights, for reasons no one understands. They are the only history of the Valley of Gon that matters: who killed who, who wrested what right from whom, and who belongs to whom.

Most Nightmasters also hold other books called Almanacs, which chart the history of individual demesnes. The Book of Broken Nights at Azell, for example, will record that 11 years ago the Warlord ruling the demesne of Ar was overthrown violently by an incursion by another warrior, who captured the demesne and declared himself the new Warlord Argalt. The Almanac of Ar will record that following this capture there were two years of sustained raids by the 11th Indri on Ar’s southern border, attempting to wrest control of three sheepfarms and an elvery; that these raids failed; and that after the payment of 30 cows and a young woman whose name is not recorded the 11th Indri ceased attempts to conquer that stretch of border, and had returned to him his own son, captured in war. The Almanac of Ar will also record that that son had been rendered a dribbling lunatic by a blow to the head during his capture (so it is said!) and that the 11th Indri harboured much resentment for it which likely led to two assassination attempts, though the details of those attempts are uncertain. The Book of Night will therefore record no adjustments to the borders of these two demesnes, since the 11th Indri failed in his efforts.

This is how history is recorded in the Valley of Gon. Should one seek knowledge of a rival, whether for trade, love or war, one must seek a Nightmaster in one of the Freetowns, pay them the coin they demand, and put their faith in the dismal record they are given.

Possession and freedom

The people of the Archipelago consider slavery abhorrent, and will tolerate no capture or control of others for profit or ideology. While this consideration extends to the Valley of Gon, it is interpreted differently within its borders, and generally with a much greater degree of moral flexibility. While outright slavery remains unheard of, indentured servitude, forced labour, conscription, human trafficking and inherited obligations are common. It is a bad idea to become indebted to anyone powerful in the Valley; crimes committed against the powerful can meet with far worse punishment than simple imprisonment or corporal punishment. Demesnes in the Valley of Gon can have many strange customs, including hereditary castes, inter-generational labour obligations, permanent captivity and hard labour. Some Warlords practice human trafficking or use the slightest excuse to enforce punitive labour punishments on their commoners; for some reason no one has been able to understand this is particularly common in demesnes that have old mineshafts within their boundaries. Sometimes warlords do population swaps, exchanging for example 10 shepherds they no longer need for 5 potters from a friendly neighbour. Whether those shepherds’ and potters’ families will accompany them in the swap is rarely discussed, since it is of no matter to those who matter. Of course this is not slavery – the shepherds are free to flee to a Freeport, as are their confiscated family. No one is constrained!

This possession and freedom extends beyond individuals to demesnes themselves. Some demesnes are tributary to larger, more powerful demesnes, providing annually taxes and sometimes conscripted labour in exchange for “protection”. Many warlords, after taking possession of a crumbling stronghold in a tiny demesne ravaged by war and mismanagement, soon realize that it is better to live on your knees than to die on your feet, and attach themselves to a richer, more powerful rival. It is well that these poor and war-ravaged demesnes always have too many mouths to feed, because inevitably their tribute-holding master will find a need to sacrifice people in the frontline of their latest battle. Why would they risk their own, when they have desperate allies paying tribute?

Such is the nature of freedom in the Valley of Gon.

Strange ideologies

While investigating the selkie killings in Estona, the Wrathbreakers met some strange people who followed an ideology called “monarchism”, and advocated for serfdom in all of the Archipelago. These monarchists did not develop this ideology by themselves, but learnt it from a Warlord in the Valley of Gon. With so many demesnes and so many rulers, the Valley of Gon constantly reveals strange new systems of political organization, most of which are soon put to the sword. Some, however, survive. Occasionally a warlord attempts to unite the entire Valley under one leader, and in doing so they usually present an ideology of rulership and a vision underlying their conquest (they are never doing it just for themselves, and those who claimed otherwise can be seen outside the stronghold windows, sinking slowly on the impaling spears). After their inevitable failure these Great Uniters leave behind their ideology, which festers and spreads long after their vision has disappeared from the earth. Sometimes these ideologies even escape the Valley to find a foothold in the more civilized regions of the Archipelago, though Kyansei showed the contempt in which many such ideologies are held. Nonetheless, the Almanacs are full of strange visions and mad philosophies.

No Deepfolk

Part of the reason for the Warlords’ continued success is the absence of deepfolk in the Valley. Aside from a few incursions on the northeastern edge of the Valley, where its mountainous borders encroach on the Spine, there are no deepfolk anywhere in the Valley of Gon. War in the Valley is an exclusive conceit of the humans who make it their home. This was not always the case: until perhaps 500 years ago there were Deepfolk here, and they left behind them some of their workings, including mineshafts, occasional towers and structures aboveground, which are assumed to have been used against humans, and abandoned tunnel networks. Some demesnes are rich because of these abandoned mines, which they continue to work; occasionally they uncover buried secrets of the deepfolk that inevitably lead to ruin. Some Warlords have deepfolk artifacts, which they use to enrich themselves or destroy their enemies, and occasionally a mining team will uncover some dark beast from the time of the deepfolk, abandoned in a deep shaft for hundreds of years, and catastrophe will follow.

Generally, however, the Valley of Gon is free of deepfolk, which gives its human Warlords more time and freedom to kill each other for money and power.

Strange religions

The spirituality of Salt, Sun and Storm can be found throughout the Valley of Gon, but here it co-exists with other, stranger religions drawn from the minds of people too long freed of any obligation except constant war. Oftentimes a traveler in the Valley of Gon will come across a strange Shrine in which devotees of an imagined god sing strange songs. Sometimes these religions will be a harmless mish-mash of folk wisdom and the teachings of distant lands; other times it will be a philosopher’s work turned into a creed to which the lost blindly cling; but sometimes the traveler will find themselves being sacrificed to some dark and insane religious icon. All of these religions are empty of power and gravity: they cannot heal like a devotee of Salt, or call upon the weather as does a Stormcaller. But here in the Valley of Gon every madness has its place, and many strange religions can be found.

In amongst these strange religions are rumours of dead gods, buried gods, ancient magics with strange powers that cannot be compared with anything humans know or normally use, and mysterious alchemies. Devotees of strange gods brew mysterious potions and devotional tinctures on twisted altars, to be used in religious ceremonies that should never be known by simple humans. Even, it is rumoured, human sacrifice, blood magic and cannibalism can be found in the Valley of Gon, if one dares to look.

And it is to this strange and twisted realm that the Wrathbreakers now travel, seeking a lost girl and the answers to questions about lost secrets. Something is stirring here, and they are going to find it – and kill it.

A stitch in time …

The Wrathbreakers have been investigating a mysterious puppet-master in the city of Estona who uses printed notes to dispatch various mercenary and criminal groups on shady missions. They are also attempting to track down the former apprentice of the wizard Siladan, by finding the boyfriend they think may have harmed her. All they know about this man is that he had long dark hair, was older than her, hung around the docks, and was referred to by her as her “Starfall”. They have reached a dead end looking for the notes, and know that the only way they can pursue them now is to confront the man or woman who runs the network of street urchins who deliver messages across Estona. Their investigations proceed from this impasse. The roster for today’s session:

  • Bao Tap, human stormcaller
  • Kyansei of the Eilika Tribe, wildling barbarian
  • Itzel, elven Astrologer
  • Quangbae, wandering blacksmith

Seeking the Puppet Master

It was nearly the new year, the 31st day of the month of Ice, and all would go quiet the following day. They had learnt that the Puppet Master organized his business arrangements with a first, initial visit by one of his agents – one time a dwarf, and one time an elf – so they decided to search the seedier areas of town to find out if there was any knowledge on the streets of a group of adventurers or criminals that was multi-racial, containing an elf and a dwarf, and had been in the town for at least the past year. Unfortunately, this investigation turned up nothing – they could not tell if such a group was here and hiding, if their inquiries had been insufficient, or if the group did not exist. This, their last avenue of investigation that would not bring them into conflict with other forces in the town, ground to nothing.

New Year

New Year in the Archipelago is a day of quiet reflection and prayer, where the citizens of all the islands retreat into quiet contemplation and prepare themselves for the year ahead. The wrathbreakers participated in this day of still inner peace as well, though in their own ways:

  • Bao Tap visited the primary Shrine of the Storm in Estona, a huge tower of ancient stone with a large, open chamber at its base where devotees of Storm could spend the day in silent meditation. He eschewed the option to climb the outside of the tower’s noble spire where, buffeted by the strong winds above the city, he could absorb the full energy of the storm, and instead prayed in the Great Chamber of the Winds at the base of the tower
  • Kyansei rose early at the stronghold to pray to the sun as it rose over the mountains to the east, then traveled all day to the storm-tossed beaches on the western side of Estona, where she prayed again to the setting sun and bathed herself in the salt waters of the first tide of the new year
  • Itzel attended services at the Academy, where she spent the day in the ancient building’s sun dome, meditating on a beam in the pale glow of the new year’s sun
  • Quangbae also attended the Academy, but only for simple prayer and reflection in one of its devotional chambers

At the end of the day, refreshed, they were ready to face the new year, and all the challenges they knew it must surely bring.

Confronting the Rock Spider

They decided that it was time to force the hand of the man or woman who controls the urchins, who they call the Rock Spider. They could have tracked him by carefully observing what his urchins do and where they go, but Itzel thought of a subtler technique. A few days earlier they had received a letter from the Rock Spider telling them not to interfere with his business or inquire further about the notes, or they would be punished. They decided to reply to this letter with a new year note, wishing him well and agreeing to his request. However, the letter would be written with magical ink that would tell them where it was delivered and when it was opened. Itzel knew this ink could be bought from the Academy, and set off to find it. She bought a bottle at the Academy, but they learned it would take a few days to be delivered. In the meantime they decided to continue the search for the missing apprentice, Sara.

The Iron Hand

This time the Wrathbreakers decided to use their limited charms to search for the boyfriend of the apprentice, again trawling through bars and restaurants in the Docks and Old Town looking for signs of a man who might fit the description they had been given. By now they had narrowed down the area of their search to a small cluster of bars and night districts just back from the Docks, so they set out there with a simple plan. Kyansei would again pretend to be on the hunt for men, while the rest of the group would stay nearby within easy alarm distance, ready to pounce.

They plied this tactic for two nights, and on the second night finally found their target. Kyansei was relaxing on a verandah of a well-known bar when from across the road she heard a young woman’s voice exclaiming “Oh stars you have a tattoo! Oh wow! On your neck!? Let me see! No show me! Oh wow it’s a falling star! So beautiful!” Looking closer, she saw a man who matched the description they had been given of Sara’s former boyfriend, flirting with a young woman who was exclaiming over this falling star tattoo. Remembering the nickname Sara had given her boyfriend – “my Starfall” – she realized this must be him. She stood up, abandoned her drink, gestured to the rest of the Wrathbreakers where they sat in a nearby coffee bar, and walked across the road to speak to the man.

Perhaps it was something about her demeanour, or perhaps their investigations thus far had not been as subtle as they had hoped, but as she approached the man saw her, pushed his woman away, stood up and snarled something at her that suggested he knew who Kyansei was. Then he attempted to leap over the balustrade of the verandah where he sat, and battle was joined.

They thought they would be confronting one man, unarmoured and carrying just a knife, but they soon realized they had stumbled into something much worse. A woman emerged from the bar where the man had been resting, carrying a shield and sword; from an alley nearby they saw a wizard with ruined legs, marching towards the square in a chair with magically animated spider’s legs; someone else emerged from the bar carrying a bow. Bao Tap called forth his Nature’s Champion, which manifested as a giant hippopotamus and charged down the alley toward the wizard in the animated chair; as it did so a solid, powerful looking women in half plate armour with a great axe emerged from the shadows and hit it a huge blow with the axe. The wizard began dropping balls of fire on the main battle, which enveloped Kyansei and Quangbae but seemed not to harm their engaged enemies at all. The woman with the sword and shield teamed up with the Starfall to take on Kyansei, and she had great difficulty hitting either of them; behind them the man with the bow deployed healing magic or blasts of stone bullets from his hands to support the warriors or take down the Wrathbreakers’ marine minions.

The battle was poised until the wizard in the magical chair and his heavily-armed colleague finally beat the Nature’s Champion hippo to death; they began to move towards the square, and the Rimewarden on the verandah with the bow did a serious injury on Itzel. Things were looking bad for the Wrathbreakers, but Bao Tap decided to risk everything and cast a second Nature’s Champion. It worked, and another giant berserk Hippo appeared in the square blocking the path for the wizard and his female companion. At this point another man emerged from the bar carrying a bow, and called for a truce. The two sides backed away from each other, the Hippo stopped its advance, and they agreed to a ceasefire while they tried to find out whether they actually had any cause for disagreement.

Badly injured and exhausted, the two groups cautiously moved back into the bar, set out tables, ordered drinks, and sat down to negotiate.

They discovered that they had run into a group of adventurers called The Iron Hand, who had been based in Estona for a few years and made money from various mercenary tasks. Their rogue, Stitch, had been paid to befriend Siladan’s apprentice Sara and find out more details about her master’s work. He had sent these details as letters to his employer. Eventually, after a few months of investigation, Stitch had been told to kidnap Sara and send her to the Valley of Gon. This had been about 4 months ago, about the time that the Wrathbreakers had run into raiders looking for an old friend of Siladan’s just outside the Valley of Gon.

The coincidence was too great to be put down to chance – they guessed they had run into raiders sent by the same people that had taken Sara. Although Stitch did not know this – he had simply sent the girl as a package to a ship he had been told about – they guessed they knew where she had been sent. But why? They asked him who his employer had been and he explained to them that he had been instructed to do all these vile deeds through a series of notes sent to him.

The Iron Hand, then, were also being paid by the mysterious Puppet Master, by the same mechanism. They asked who had set up the arrangement initially and were told it had been a Wildling agent of the Puppet Master. At this point Itzel realized, the agent must be a Changeling. The Changeling appeared to all of the Puppet Master’s agents as a different race, to ensure that they could never find the agent’s employer. From then on they would be given instructions in notes, which they were instructed to destroy. Except …

… They discovered that the Iron Hand had not been destroying the notes. It was always good to keep evidence of their employers’ foul intentions, so they had kept them all, with the wizard casting a spell to make it appear that the notes had been destroyed. They offered to sell a note to the Wrathbreakers for 500 coin, and the Wrathbreakers quickly agreed. Now they would have the notes, they knew where Sara was, and they guessed that the Puppet Master was interested in some secrets buried in Siladan’s past adventuring. What had been in those elven documents that had been stolen by Deepfolk…?

The Wrathbreakers had more pressing concerns, however. Having established what they needed to know, they had to negotiate a careful truce with the Iron Hand. They had been surprised and unready, but even so it was clear that the Iron Hand were easily their match, and they could not afford to go to war with them. They carefully negotiated an agreement not to interfere in each others’ affairs, finished their drinks and went their separate ways, but as soon as they were on their own the Wrathbreakers immediately agreed that they had to destroy the Iron Hand. They were certain that they would be forced into confrontation with them again, and also sure that soon the Puppet Master would pay the Iron Hand to kill them. As they neared their targets, they needed to clear this mercenary band out of the way. But there were 6 of them and they were very dangerous. The Wrathbreakers would need to be stronger and would need to get the upper hand in some way.

First, however, they decided it would be best to find Sara. She had been kidnapped and sent off to the Valley of Gon, possibly to a very bad fate, and needed help. They also guessed that if they found out who had taken her and why, they might be able to track down the Puppet Master from a different direction. Having crossed the Iron Hand they guessed now would be a very good time to get out of town for a while, and when they came back, more powerful and hopefully with more information, they would be in a position to attack and destroy the Iron Hand – then move on the Puppet Master.

They were close to answers to many questions, and whatever evil secrets the Puppet Master sought in the viscera of the Selkie she had paid for was connected to the disappearance of Siladan’s apprentice, the raiders they had encountered in Gon, and the deaths of the surviving members of the Ashentide. Somewhere behind it all was some dark secret buried in ancient elven lore and stolen by the Deepfolk. They were close to something now, though they did not know what, and the answers were trapped somewhere in a dungeon in the Valley of Gon, scared and alone and waiting for rescue. It was time for the Wrathbreakers to leave Estona, and to be heroes again …

The wrathbreakers are on the trail of two difficult problems: where is Sara, Siladan’s lost apprentice, and who is the mysterious and powerful wizard who is trying to kill them? They know that Sara had a boyfriend in the docks, who they are trying to find, and they know that the powerful wizard uses notes of some kind to direct agents of the underworld in Estona to do his bidding. They continue to search the docks for Sara’s boyfriend, and they have been ambushed by agents of the mysterious wizard. But who are they looking for, and who is trying to kill them? The roster for this session:

  • Bao Tap, human stormcaller
  • Kyansei of the Eilika Tribe, wildling barbarian
  • Itzel, elven Astrologer
  • Quangbae, wandering blacksmith

They are joined today by Alexin, a Rimewarden, and three marines, all working for the Myrmidon Kay. Right now, though, they have no targets to point their soldiers at. What to do?

The rock spider

The first thing they decided not to do was to continue pushing into the nature of the network of child messengers in the town. They knew that this network of messengers was controlled by a central figure, likely an adult, who they decided to call the Rock Spider. They also knew that one of these urchins had lured them into a trap, and they guessed it was because either the Rock Spider was in league with their wizard nemesis, or part of the payment his network of urchins had received included alerting their wizard nemesis if anyone was spying on the wizard nemesis’s dropboxes. They had tried to approach the Rock Spider through their only underworld contact, cashing in the favour they were owned by the barkeep at Charlotte Sometimes to ask him to set up a meeting with the Rock Spider. Unfortunately the barkeep returned to them with a simple message from the Rock Spider: there would be no meeting, and although they were on neutral terms at the moment all that would go out the window if they continued trying to investigate or break into his network of child runners. They decided to put that issue aside for now, because they had sparked enough confrontations with underworld figures already.

Onto the Carousel

They decided to continue their search for Sara by deploying Kyansei into the bars and nightlife of the docks, pretending to be a woman looking for a casual partner. They guessed that the man who had been Sara’s boyfriend was likely a player, and might be well known in the area. If Kyansei spent a night or two carousing and looking for men meeting a certain description, they guessed she might hear of one or two regulars who matched the description. They were right: after two nights of flirting and drinking she was able to rule out a large number of potential suitors, and also learned of a few regulars who might match the man they were looking for. Exhausted and hungover after a long night, Kyansei returned to the Boar and they decided to switch their attention to the search for the wizard nemesis.

Creosote’s story

All they knew about the wizard nemesis was that he or she (probably she) communicated with her agents almost exclusively through notes. But reviewing the case so far they realized they had not asked any of the wizard’s contacts how they first brokered the deal, and any details about how the notes looked or operated. They knew the men they had interrogated so far did not keep the notes, destroying them as instructed, but they knew nothing else about them. They decided to visit Creosote, the only recipient of notes they had left alive, and see if they could ask him more questions about the origin of the notes. Obviously given the damage they had done to his business and his dignity the visit was going to be a little complicated, but they figured they could just hit him a lot if it did not go as they intended. So they set off to his lair.

It took them some time to break him down, but ultimately they were able to come to an agreement with Creosote. He convinced them to owe him a favour, in the form of a job that he would call on them for in the future, if he answered their questions. He told them:

  • The notes were printed, not hand written
  • The notes were intended to be destroyed, and were enchanted so that the sender would know if they were not destroyed
  • The ink on the notes had a particular smell, which Creosote could not describe but would recognize immediately if he smelled it [for the reader: it is the smell of the AD&D Player’s Handbook]
  • The notes were printed on fine quality bone-white paper [1]
  • The job before the Selkie job had been to organize someone to kill a hedge witch called Aelsov and deliver his head to a particular location in the docks. Easy work!
  • The job had originally been organized by a dwarf, about two years ago, whose featuers Creosote did not remember and whose name he did not ask. “Just a generic dwarf,” he told them, who was an agent for whoever sent the notes, and who he never met again.

Creosote also made clear he was not scared of this patron: he destroyed the letters as instructed not out of fear, but because he assumed if he did not destroy them he would lose future business. He seemed unconcerned by the work he had been contracted to organize – as far as he was concerned the notes offered a simple, reliable source of income and the arrangement was far preferable to the usual complex meetings and negotiations he had to engage in as part of his work.

At the cusp of an age

After this meeting the Wrathbreakers rested, and then set to work: they spent a day searching the town for every printing press. They discovered there were two commercial printers and a small independent operation run by a strange bunch of political fanatics called “monarchists” who advocated absolute rule of the land of Hadun by a hereditary strongman, with most of the population held in a form of abject subjection they referred to as “serfdom”. Obvious freaks, they had a printing press of some kind for producing their repulsive propaganda. The wrathbreakers visited the two commercial printers, collecting samples of their paper and inks, and confirmed from Creosote that one of the papers was the one used in the notes. They visited that supplier and determined that indeed, about a year ago an elf had come into the shop and bought a large supply, but they could not remember any more details than that – “A generic elf”, they said. So, it was on to the monarchists.

Itzel attempted to politely negotiate with the monarchists, but their leader, an oily old man who called himself “King” Robert the 1st, offended Kyansei. He mentioned that in future, when he was “King”, the “empty” lands of the far north would be colonized by the people of Hadun. When Kyansei pointed out these lands were actually crowded with wildlings “King” Robert patronizingly suggested to her that she did not understand the language she was speaking, and that rather than saying “crowded” she should use the word “infested”. As the predictable results of this exchange unfolded across the office and the younger members of the monarchist group either fled or cowered from Kyansei’s rage Itzel and Bao Tap walked into the back room to investigate the printing press. It was a ramshackle, shoddy machine with little ability to produce decent type, let alone high quality letters. This was not their target. They waited the length of time required for Kyansei to beat “King” Robert to a pulp, and then left the building with her still raging at the remaining monarchist activists. That did not appear to be a movement with its eye on the future …

They returned to the Boar. Now they knew they were looking for a fourth, unknown printing press. They also knew that the wizard’s agents were a “generic dwarf” and a “generic elf”. They decided that for their next step they would ask around after adventuring groups of that kind. If they could not find answers in that avenue well, they were going to have to find out from the urchin network where they collected the notes. That was going to require a confrontation with the Rock Spider. They were close, and all that remained was to determine how much violence was needed to find their target …


fn1: One of my players, not yet used to the full depravity of my campaigns, imagined that an off white bone-coloured paper might actually be paper, rather something manufactured from the bones of children. He will learn!

The Wrathbreakers are searching for a missing apprentice called Sara, and also trying to find the person who hired mercenaries to skin and gut selkies on the coast west of Estona. They know that Sara was spending time with an older man she called her “starfall”, at the docks, and they also know that the mastermind of the fey hunts organized them by way of printed notes. But who are these people, and how can they find them? The roster for this session:

  • Bao Tap, human stormcaller
  • Calim “Ambros” Nefari, human rimewarden
  • Kyansei of the Eilika Tribe, wildling barbarian
  • Itzel, elven Astrologer
  • Quangbae, wandering blacksmith

The Wrathbreakers have been carousing in the docks, sitting around with sailors and scoundrels plying them drinks trying to find clues to the identity of their target, this “starfall”. They have also set an urchin watching a dropbox in the Old Town, where they think their note-printing target is likely to visit. While they wait for these tasks to bear fruit, they spend a lot of time in the Boar, their chosen tavern while they are inside the city walls, and Itzel spends a lot of time at the Academy researching Fey. Unfortunately her research yielded few results, except the knowledge that a much larger and more useful library can be found at Alpon in Ariaki, where the Wrathbreakers have connections and mysteries to solve. They resolved to travel there as soon as they have resolved the current problems.

The Urchin Network

While scanning the docks looking for the man who might be behind Sara’s disappearance the Wrathbreakers had to spend a lot of time sitting watching the day-to-day activities on the wharf. They spent many hours between the 12th and 19th of the month of Ice watching people moving around on the docks, trailing people away up the snow-dusted slopes of the winter-bound town hoping to find hints of criminal activity, or watching small deals take place out of sight of the main squares and merchant spaces of the city. It was cold, difficult, boring work and it yielded few rewards – after 8 days of careful attention they found no clues as to the identity of the “starfall”.

However, they did discover one of the secrets of Estona’s underworld. There was a small network of children who worked delivering messages and running small chores for the people of Estona, and those children were obviously connected and working for someone. The younger ones could be seen gathering and sharing resources, then meeting older ones to hand over money and other rewards, receiving instructions and returning to work. Many were clearly poor and struggling, but this may have been an act: others dressed well and filled other roles, such as acting as messengers or porters for Astrologers, Rimewardens, ship captains or ladies in waiting. Some obviously knew their adult contacts well, as if they were regular clients, but others obviously were performing tasks for people they had never met before. Much of the work was simple and blameless – delivering bread, looking after a baby while a father delivered goods for his shop, running off to the blacksmith to get an urgent repair done, the kinds of work that keep small businesses functioning throughout the land – but some was obviously shady. They watched notes and packages exchanged, subtle gestures, children slinking into alleys to make arrangements with shady men. Some could obviously read, and were employed for that skill, to be able to follow instructions and written information. Others obviously could not read, and received either the lowest paid jobs or in some cases jobs where it would help if they were unable to read at all – jobs where they could be trusted not to understand the content of the material they carried, and thus not to care to spill secrets to others.

At the center of this network of children they guessed there must be an adult, or a small gang, pulling the strings that connected all the gangsters, ordinary businesses, scholars, and government workers in Estona. Did everyone know about this network, or was it operating mostly unnoticed in plain sight? And how much did that gang at its heart know about all the criminal activities happening in Estona?

The crayfish trap

After a few days of watching the subtle patterns of criminal activity on the wharf, the Wrathbreakers were approached by one of those urchins. It was a different child to the one they had set to watch the dropbox (as far as they could tell), but this one told them that not only had he seen the person who owned the dropbox, but he had followed her to a secret location outside of town. The child demanded extra payment – after all, he had done more than asked – but in exchange he would be able to guide them exactly to their target.

Like foolish naifs, the Wrathbreakers paid up, and followed his tip. The urchin told them that the woman they wanted had left Estona and headed along the river to a secluded bank with an old wharf, where she was hiding in a small river boat with a group of armed men. They followed the child’s directions, traveling near the river for a few hours until they reached the place he had described. A crumbling wharf jutted into a small bay in the river, and leaning against it was a decrepit old river boat that was obviously too old and unstable to be used. The edge of the river was swampy open clearing surrounded by a dense stand of silent trees. The old boat had no cabin but a kind of tent of canvas covered the middle of the deck, and inside that tent they could see a dim light.

They approached the wharf. Itzel remained in cover in the dark shadows of the trees, keeping watch in case anything crept up behind them. They crept forward in the faint glow of the distant light and the fading remnants of the sunshard, which pulsed slowly in half of a cloudless sky; the other half of the sky was blocked out by the distant bulk of the Orun cliffs, towering here 2 km above them on the far side of the river. A freezing breeze blew down the river, and all they could hear was the slosh of water against the boat.

Nothing noticed their approach. They walked carefully down the rickety wharf and onto the boat, pulling aside the curtains of the tent carefully to look inside. The tent covered a set of splintered, fragile-looking stairs that descended to a low-ceilinged underdeck, from whence they could see the light. They carefully descended the stairs into an empty room, on the far side of which a small light glowed from an emplacement. There was nothing in the room, and noone. They fanned out to search for doors or lurking trouble, and at that moment everyone felt it: a faint wave of magical force, a creaking, grinding sound, and the ship fell apart around them. The walls and floor collapsed and freezing, muddy river water crashed in through the rapidly fragmenting hull of the ship. They all floundered in the water, and then the giant crayfish came.

There were four, ancient chitinous beasts from the murky depths of the deeper river. They slide under the kicking, struggling Wrathbreakers and lunged in to attack, striking and grabbing with pincers the size of a child. In the dark and the chaos the sinking Wrathbreakers could not tell how large these beasts were, but they knew they were in trouble. They attempted to drag themselves out of the water, either onto the water or the swampy ground, but with little success until Itzel, far away in the trees, was able to levitate Kyansei out of the water. She dragged Calim, and Quangbae dragged himself somehow onto the mire at the water’s edge.

It was then that the archers opened fire, shooting at them from within the cover of the trees. Truly, this was a vicious ambush. As they lay gasping and frozen on the shore, Bao Tap still battling the beasts in the water, a hail of arrows struck at them. A massive crayfish emerged from the water to attack Quangbae on the shore, but now Bao Tap was able to make a moment for himself, and unleashed his most difficult and powerful spell: Nature’s Champion. It took two tries but on the second try a huge snapping turtle came at his call, bigger than any of the crayfish, and started attacking them in the water.

With the crayfish under control the group were able to turn their attention on the archers, who were shooting now at Itzel. They made short work of them, but took no survivors. By the time that battle was done the crayfish had been destroyed and the snapping turtle had slid away into the turgid depths from whence it had come. They all stood, frozen and exhausted, at the edge of the water, watching as the remains of the ship drifted into the river and out of sight. They had been set up by someone who wanted to kill them, who had powerful magic at their disposal, and who had used the urchin they had paid to lure them into the trap.

Questions would need to be asked, and their search for the person behind these notes would have to be stepped up. They returned to their stronghold and the next day sent Selena into town with a message for the Myrmidon. After she returned they set out for the town again. They would continue their search, and if necessary the Myrmidon would help them. It was time to call in some favours, and start hurting people …

Standing at the limit of an endless ocean

Stranded like a runaway lost at sea

City on a rainy day down in the harbor

Watching as the gray clouds shadow the bay

Looking everywhere ’cause I had to find you

This is not the way that I remember it here

Anyone will tell you it’s a prisoner island

Hidden in the summer for a million years

The Wrathbreakers have discovered that someone sinister is operating in Estona, directing criminals to do dark deeds by mysterious notes. They have found the first link in some kind of chain, the fixer Creosote, who hired some mercenaries to harvest body parts from Selkie and then shipped them on to a warehouse in the docks. He was hired to do this by note, which he destroyed, and had little else to tell them. Now they must move on to the warehouse of the man who received the goods, one Gerald of Hamm. The roster for today’s session:

  • Bao Tap, human stormcaller
  • Calim “Ambros” Nefari, human rimewarden
  • Kyansei of the Eilika Tribe, wildling barbarian
  • Itzel, elven Astrologer
  • Quangbae, wandering blacksmith

Standing in the smouldering ruins of Creosote’s bar, they decided to head straight to Gerald of Hamm’s warehouse before he received a warning from one of Creosote’s flunkies.

Warehouse failure

At the warehouse everything went wrong. As they approached they saw a group of men loading some goods, and deciding to be careful they sent Bao Tap sneaking down a side alley to investigate the back of the warehouse. He failed to sneak, and was sprung by a wizard smoking a cigar. Fortunately this man was unconcerned with his business, and after introducing himself this man made off to the front of the warehouse to oversee his goods. He was an Astrologer from the western isles called Jonah, who was shipping coal out there for new technologies he was developing. During this brief chat Bao Tap was able to establish that maybe fey magic is absorbed by coal, though he learnt no details before the man walked away. With Jonah gone Bao Tap was able to sneak inside, through a kitchen and into a completely dark back store room.

Meanwhile the rest of the Wrathbreakers entered through the main door of the warehouse. Kyansei and Quangbae lounged against the entryway looking threatening while Calim and Itzel sought out Gerald of Hamm. They found him soon enough, a balding man wearing simple workman’s clothes, carrying a clipboard and yelling at his labourers. He agreed to talk to them and took them upstairs to an office that had been built onto a gantry overlooking the main warehouse. Here they tried to talk him into telling them about his delivery arrangements, using threats and insinuations.

Unfortunately as they were doing this trouble hit them on multiple fronts. In the dark back store room Bao Tap realized that some men were coming to the door, so he hid in the dark behind what he hoped was a solid object; however, with no light to see by he did not know where he was hiding. Moments later the men entered the room carrying lamps, and in the sudden glow Bao Tap realized he had hidden in direct view of a consignment of mirrors, which stood in direct sight of the entering men and were set up in just the right way to ensure he was visible in all of them. After a moment of mutual shock Bao Tap pushed them out of the way and dashed for the kitchen exit, accompanied by their clamour.

While Bao Tap was preening at the back of the warehouse, at the front a gang of men were approaching, armed to the teeth and obviously intent on some kind of violence against the Wrathbreakers – maybe sent by Creosote, maybe by someone who had begun to realize what they were up to. Kyansei and Quangbae moved to meet them just as Bao Tap hit the side entrance. Up above them Gerald heard the clatter and yelling and made a break for the entrance to his office. Before he could reach the stairs Itzel hit him with a levitate spell and lifted him into the air, dangling him over the warehouse below, an obviously fatal drop. As he hung there and the sounds of battle began to drift up from below Calim began negotiating with him.

They heard the same story from Gerald: he was given instructions by note, which he promptly destroyed. In this case he had immediately shipped the goods to a dropbox in the Old Town. He gave them the location but was unable to give them any more information because as Itzel was searching his room for shipping records and other details she triggered a trap, and the shock and damage broke her concentration. Gerald of Hamm fell to his death in the warehouse below, and as they heard the clashes begin outside Itzel and Calim decided they had better go help.

The battle ended quickly once they were all there in force, leaving their assailants either dead or limping away in terror. Worried that more trouble would soon come they only had time for a quick search, and found nothing. The back room where Bao Tap had been hiding was obviously some kind of smuggling room with a hidden stash beneath the floor, but they could find nothing of use there. They gave up and headed off to find the drop box.

The dropbox

It was evening on the 8th of Ice, a bad season for staking out postal boxes. Their target was a small compound of eight stone rooms with locked doors, an open gate and no apparent guards. They stood across the road in the freezing cold watching the snow fall, and after a while decided to go and investigate. They did not know which room they were looking for but based on the limited information they had been able to get from Gerald before Itzel killed him they guessed which door it was. They were about to open it when Itzel sensed a magical alarm, and they backed off. There was every possibility it was also trapped, and now both Itzel and Kyansei were very wary of trapped things. In fact Kyansei was across the courtyard, “keeping watch” on the deserted and frozen street. No one was coming, of course.

They retreated to the shadow of a doorway across the street to consider their options. They were tired, lightly injured, and they did not know what they were looking for. The latest delivery by Creosote had been some days ago, likely had already been picked up, and they knew – since all the men Creosote had hired had been killed by Selkie-enchanted lampreys and Gerald of Hamm had been killed by Itzel – that no more deliveries were likely soon. They guessed that the alarm on the door was intended to tell the owner when the door was opened, which they guessed was how he knew his goods had been delivered. But if he was not expecting more goods they did not think he would blithely open the door, and they guessed that their target was likely a powerful astrologer. Gerald had indicated that the person who sent him the notes did not always nominate the same dropbox, so triggering the alarm would probably just alert their target to the fact that his or her note-based arrangements had been discovered. They could see no easy way to solve this problem.

In the end, not seeing a way to solve the problem by direct violence, they gave up and headed back to their stronghold. They grabbed a local urchin and paid her a small amount of coin to keep an eye on the drop box, and headed off to sleep.

The lost apprentice

Two days later, after recovering their strength and taking some time to discuss what to do, the Wrathbreakers decided to head back to Estona to continue their investigations. They took rooms at their regular haunt, a tavern called the Boar, and prepared for the next stage of their investigations.

Here they were approached by Alephia, one of the apprentices to the astrologer Siladan who they had met when they visited him. When they visited Siladan he had mentioned that one of his apprentices had recently left him, probably because she could not handle the pressure of study, but Alephia told them she thought something more sinister had happened. This apprentice, called Sara, had been very committed to becoming a wizard, and in Alephia’s view was not the kind of girl to give it up. She thought that Siladan had misjudged Sara because she was the kind of “nice girl”, all shiny manners and big breasts, which made people think she was weak and simple, when in fact she was a strong woman with a deep desire to learn the secrets of Sun. Alephia thinks something happened to her.

In fact, Alephia was able to pinpoint her suspicions: Sara’s new boyfriend. This man she had only seen once but he was much older than Sara, quite oily, and he seemed sleazy and “not quite right.” Sara had spoken about him a lot, calling him her “starfall”, but Alephia thought she was being manipulated. She thinks maybe Sara’s “starfall” has done something to Sara, and in exchange for a magic weapon she would like the Wrathbreakers to investigate. Surely they have contacts and abilities?

Of course the Wrathbreakers did not say no. They took her initial payment – 6 magic arrows – and agreed to investigate. In fact they set out immediately to scour the docks, pretending to be agents for Sara’s family looking for information about her. It was a pleasant break from investigating lost notes held by tight-lipped criminals, and they suspected it would be an easy investigation that would yield a nice magic gift from Alephia.

Strange notes from arcane fey-harvesters, lost girls, flying gangsters – Estona was proving more troublesome and more complicated than they had expected, and they had not even begun investigating the many mysteries they had encountered on their journey here. They had much to do, and many secrets to uncover …