The Warden Lands

14 - A Brief Respite
An epilogue of sorts...

Like startled animals the people of Renstake crept beyond their barricaded doors and into the city streets. What had been comfortable and familiar just hours before was now alive with the aftershocks of violence. Nachtkreed bodies lay crumpled upon the cobblestones, either pin-cushioned with Nari arrows or posing with split wounds from heavy blades… All wide-eyed, mouths-gaping in their lifeless slumps… All bleeding out into the gutters…

The Woodwalkers (the Nari rangers responsible for the carnage) had disappeared with the night, leaving Lord Andar Swift and Caretaker Agven to try and allay the fears of the townsfolk. The people were suspicious, fearing the upheaval was the first strike of a terrible coup, but when the carcass of the slain Tanarri was dragged from the church, proof of villainy was confirmed..

The fate of the accused was yet to be decided and in the coming days Agven and Swift wrote an account of the turmoil and sent it to the throne of Norheim. While the city waited for a response from the King, Curatic clerics became the peacekeepers of Renstake and the people quickly returned to their busy lives.

For our brave heroes, a frantic month of adventuring had drawn to a close. To some this was a blessing, an opportunity to return to normality.

Vetch Au Ditre seized the chance to escape the swashbuckling lifestyle for good and immediately tasked himself with opening a tradestall for precious stones in Renstake’s markets. Though his contact base was small, his ambition more than made up for it. He hoped to cash-in on his newfound fame and turn it as quickly as possible into fortune.

A’ari Arayx began assisting Lychor with the rehabilitation of Rune Gulbrand. The Blood-crazed magician was brought to the attic-hideaway of Eriam, who had turned the dilapidated loft into a secured hospice for her once-beloved, furnishing a bed alongside the comatose Nari, I’aeia. When not offering service to Lychor, A’ari spent his time establishing a small sanctuary for the Mathuin faith in the Poor Quarter. Agven quietly agreed to aid A’ari and provided funds to begin the operation, and though the Caretaker kept the transaction discreet, his latest sermons in his own church cast a favourable light on the faiths of the woodland folk.

The fires of vengeance in Umbar Blacktooth continued to smoulder in the days after Renstake’s revolution. He busied himself with his studies, writing detailed accounts of the events and even confronting his enemies face-to-face, interviewing the accused for his piece. Through these journals he found some sense of closure and “Renstakes are High: A beast’s account of treason” even gained some popularity in the pages of Academy Arcanum’s bi-monthly gazette. But the anger inside failed to diminish and the Nari retired from the city to seek quietude and reflection in his northern hometown, Sesquoi.

Akura “Yoshi” Zarakus had found a well-earned break from his travels and adventure was just what he needed. In the weeks after the capture of Margreeth and Sanbalat, the Asuran ranger had found time to return to his exercises, to concentrate his survival skills and to quench his thirst for knowledge at the Academy’s library. Renstake may have taken some time to grow on him, but the chaos of these humans was becoming increasingly engaging rather than infuriating, and their ability to adapt and persevere was simply astonishing. Yoshi found himself yearning for more culture and the sense of wanderlust came calling once more, but he had matters still to attend; the affairs and estate of his deceased cousin, Jai Oshimiru, needed to be similarly laid to rest. The ranger plotted a trip up to Pincer’s Cove and went in search of his companions to see who might accompany him.

Aaaz Donagson sought to gather a contingent of Kobolds and clear the Whitewater tunnels of their trollish inhabitants but Lord Swift argued that now was a time for calm in Renstake, effectively quashing the wizard’s ambition. His best friend Lychor was excessively engaged with either healing Rune Gulbrand or working on his thesis, and most everyone else was busy with their own business. This left little else to do but book-learning (a tedium Aaaz felt akin to watching mortar set) and after a fortnight of languishing in libraries and laboratories, the ornithologically-inclined magician pondered an expedition into the surrounding woodlands. He sought out Cale and Akura as companions… with remarkable timing it would seem.

Cale K’Sroth found himself in a similarly dull state of affairs. Lord Swift had been embroiled in Renstake’s political arena since the revolution and whether in his company or not the young knight found himself beleaguered with abundant, unexciting chores. Rather than be reduced to a page he filled the days with a focussed regime of training, either sparring with the young soldiers-to-be of the household or running drills with Firemane. After a month of this, Cale’s sense of duty and determination had been utterly placated and when Akura came knocking, seeking company on a trek to Pincer’s Cove, the Scourge was saddled-up before the Asura could finish.

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13 - The Exorcism of Renstake
The climactic finale to our tale

“Stinks like Mankind..”
The rumbling voice of a Nari Ranger lingered in the air as the familiar scent of Renstake washed in from the tunnel beyond. Up ahead, the Whitewater gates cast a barred silhouette onto the dark cityscape. To either side of the locked portal stood Nachtkreed patrolmen, backs to the enemy and unprepared for the volley of arrows that stole their lives between heartbeats.

Aaaz took Commander Dietrich’s keys and opened the way for the army. The Nari headed north to the Nachtkreed barracks, led by Lord Andar Swift and Lalcha Sen, while Lychor disappeared into the night, bound for Arcanum Academy. The heroes steeled themselves for the inevitable conflict ahead and made for the Church of the Holy Embrace.

In the distance the first bellowing battlecries of the Nari signalled the ambush had begun. Caretaker Agven unlocked the great Gortwood doors to the cathedral and the adventurers crept into a silent nave, a haze of incense clouding the soft yellow candlelight within.

A cleric soon emerged from the south wing, ready to douse the candles and set the church to sleep for the night. Brother Bartlet was startled at the sight of the party but was quickly reassured by Agven’s presence. The two exchanged words and it was revealed that Agven’s imposter had taken residence in the church’s belfry since falling sick last week.

The belltower stood a hundred feet high and the wooden stairs within lined the walls for over twenty flights. Each creaking step brought the group closer to their target, the foul demon in liege with Sanbalat and Lady Margreeth. Wet, slavering sounds of feasting met them as they neared the belfry door, and Agven’s knocks were greeted with a guttural voice calling for more food. The Caretaker unlocked the door and, with Cale by his side, peered inside and into a glimpse of Hell.

In the centre of a room decorated with human entrails and bones lay a corpulent, festering Tanarri. The abomination looked in parts as an obese, hairless Nari, with an unhinged jaw and a protruding, pustulant tongue. A foulness hung in the air and was amplified by a deep, howling belch that spewed noxious fumes into the belfry, sending Cale, Agven, A’ari and Akura to their knees with nausea. Aaaz, Vetch and Umbar, still outside and just out of reach of the toxic tendrils, took a step back and sent forth a volley of attacks. The magician’s magic missiles struck true as ever, extinguishing themselves on the demon’s feculent flesh. Vetch cast forth a Bloodhound to similar effect while Umbar missed his target completely with a poorly aimed arrow.

A’ari and Akura dragged themselves from the belfry to cleaner air while Cale tried to shake off the nausea and meet the Rot Demon with his Gatesword. The Tanarri engaged the blade with his own massive scythe.

As the battle erupted, a familiar voice called from the base of the tower and Sanbalat began to climb the stairs, “You vermin have been nipping at my heels for long enough! This night I shall end you all!”. A’ari, collected his senses and unleashed the spell of Silence he had prepared to greet the Illusionist with. Sanbalat quickly understood his situation and retreated to the nave to try and dismiss the Satyr’s magics, which effectively rendered him impotent. Vetch readied a Shatterstone into his sling for Sanbalat’s reappearance.

Cale and Agven were again sundered by the demon’s stinking fumes, leaving Aaaz, Akura and A’ari to hold the abomination back. Aaaz reinforced his allies with enhancing magic while Akura fired his crossbow and A’ari hurled forth vials of holy water, which burst upon and burned the demon. Incensed by the scalding waters the Tanarri opened his dislocating jaw and vomited a spray of rot grubs onto the Satyr. As A’ari fell back, the grubs burrowing into his skin, Aaaz summoned a Shocking Grasptm and apologetically electrocuted his friend in the hope of killing the parasites. Thankfully the Wizard’s idea paid off, leaving a scorched Satyr riddled with grub corpses but no longer facing infestation.

Sanbalat returned to the base of the stairs soon after, sending two shadowy hell hounds up before him. Vetch unleashed his Shatterstone, collecting the Illusionist in a sparking explosion but only delaying his ascent momentarily. The Illusionist then began to phase in and out of vision as he walked up the stairs making the ranged assault from Aaaz and Akura that much more difficult.

The Rot Demon, now in furious melee with the Scourge Knight, hoisted Cale into the wall with an arc of his scythe. As he lay crumpled and still retching from the stink, Agven finally gathered his senses long enough to unleash a spell. Around the demon great flames licked and burned, searing the Tanarri but also weakening the wooden floor of the belfry. A’ari now summoned the strength of his own god, Mathuin, and tried to exorcise the demon, shouting holy scripture at the beast until it began to tremble in fear.

Aaaz recognised the fast approaching hell hounds as merely illusions but Vetch could not un-see the snarling creatures and met them with a quivering pickaxe. Together the Geomancer and the Wizard fended off the shadowy hounds while above them the creaking timbers of the belfry floor gave way.

The Tanarri plunged through the belltower, frantically grabbing at the surrounding staircases and eventually stopping itself some 40ft below the belfry. Still terrified by the Mathuin priest, it hauled itself onto the stairs only to flee into the nave of the cathedral.

Cale was able to keep himself from falling through the belfry floor but Agven, weak with age and exhaustion, could not hold on. He plummeted down the tower. A’ari instinctively hurled himself at the old Caretaker, trying to catch him with enough inertia to send them both onto a staircase platform, but a poorly judged leap resulted in him trailing the old priest into the abyss.

Cale skirted the broken, burning floor of the belfry and ran to help Vetch and Aaaz against the Hell Hounds while Akura, furious with his cursed luck on the crossbow, swung down the staircase to confront Sanbalat toe-to-toe. Aaaz had been knocking his illusionary hound about quite effectively, realising the visions could barely harm him, but Vetch was utterly convinced of the Hell Hounds’ credibility and had the fang-marks to prove it. Cale stepped into the Kobold’s place and hacked at the hounds with his Gatesword but Sanbalat, seeing the threat of the formidable Knight, cast forth lashing tentacles to attack.

A’ari’s attempts to slow his descent proved fruitless, despite the fortifying magics sent down from Aaaz. As the air whipped passed he heard the gentle, calm voice of Agven in prayer and all of a sudden their fall slowed, leaving them both hovering merely 3 feet from the stone floor. Sighting the cowering demon hidden amongst the pews in the adjoining nave, the clerics exchanged a smile and prepared to finish off the Tanarri.

Then a third strike from Sanbalat’s writhing, disembodied tentacles brought Cale down, and a cry from Aaaz stopped A’ari in his tracks. Knowing his friends needed him he returned to the belltower and sprinted up the stairs.

Aaaz ignored the last remaining hound, leaving Vetch to deal with it as he quickly poured a curative potion into the fallen knight’s mouth, but still Cale was unconscious. Springing and bounding along and across the staircases came A’ari, and in moments he knelt beside his comrade and infused new life into the Knight.

Meanwhile, Akura had met face to face with the Illusionist but had been subdued with Sanbalat’s charming words. The Asura believed it was in his best interests to protect his new friend from harm. As he stood, axes drawn and ready to defend, Sanbalat turned and collapsed the belltower entrance to seal the tower from Agven and his clerics. Cale, still waking from his reverie, was the only one to see that the collapse at the base of the tower was merely another illusion.

Cale drew himself up and slew the last Hell Hound. The others lined-up Sanbalat in their sights and let loose with a volley of projectiles.

The Illusionist gasped and fell as bolts pierced his body. Akura turned to see his fallen leader broken and bloody, and whispering into the platinum ring on his right hand. “My Lady, My Love” he rasped forth between dying breaths, before shimmering and disappearing into thin air.

With Sanbalat’s escape the illusionary rockfall similarly disappeared, revealing a gaggle of slack-jawed clerics at the belltower entrance. The Curatic monks moved in on Agven’s word and healed the adventurers while they shook off the adrenalin and discussed their next move. The demon had been dealt with but the sounds of distant fighting still rang out across Renstake and the heroes work was not done.

Agven’s clerics were organised into pairs and dispersed into the city to calm the locals. The heroes then made for the now burning garrison of the Nachtkreed to see how the Nari fared. As they neared on the guardhouse they saw the victorious rangers emerging and Lalcha Sen and Lord Swift were soon in their company.

The newly reformed allies exchanged information but Cale’s attention was drawn to the western docks, where trader vessels could be seen moving out to sea. Aaaz sent his familiar, Snowl, to investigate, fearing perhaps that Lady Margreeth was either escaping or worse, had an armed flotilla readied. The owl flew through the crisp night air and caught sight of Stormbreaker, Baron Wolhem’s galleon, hauling anchor and preparing to launch from within the stronghold walls.
Knowing they had scant moments to catch Lady Margreeth, and convinced that Sanbalat had teleported to her side, the party rallied ideas on how to catch the fleeing villains. Eriam’s name was mentioned and the heroes agreed she was their best chance… She was a friend, a friend with a ship.. and now they just had to find her! Remembering she frequented the dive-bar Keelhauled the group ran for the slums. Outside of the closed tavern a couple of straggling drunkards were more than obliging (once Cale snarled at them a few times) to offer what knowledge they had of Eriam. She’d been here earlier drinking but was now loading her cutter, Cat o’Ninetails and moving offshore until things settled down in town.

A’ari and Cale sprinted for the docks and were first at Cat o’Ninetails’ gangplank. The Satyr charged up to Captain Eriam on her beckoning and hurriedly explained the situation. Eriam was reluctant to send her ship and her crew unarmed against the Baron’s galleon, but found a bargaining chip in her former-lover, and now prisoner of Renstake, Rune Gulbrand. Only when Cale had given his oath to free Rune was Eriam willing to help pursue Margreeth. The party hastily boarded Eriam’s ship and scurried below decks, all the while with a pair of Curatic clerics in tow on Agven’s command.

Vetch took out his telescope and spied The Stormbreaker through a porthole window, noticing it was short on crew and struggling to get up to speed on the black waters of Mastbreak Bay. Cat o’Ninetails quickly drew on the galleon and after weathering a brief and poorly executed attack from The Stormbreaker, were close enough for the heroes to hurl grappling hooks across and board the galleon.

Cale, A’ari and Umbar were first aboard and surveyed a terribly undermanned deck. Only a few men were crewing the ship and all were too occupied with The Stormbreaker to even notice the trio of armed intruders. Margreeth’s bodyguard, Mute, was well aware of the attack however, and accompanied by two Nachtkreed he emerged from the main hatch and charged.

Aaaz, Vetch and Akura were still hauling themselves up the galleon’s hull as their comrades bore the first attacks. Mute moved in on Cale and their magical blades clashed as the two adversaries took stock of one another. The Nachtkreed divided and ran to A’ari and Umbar to similarly square-off.

Mute couldn’t find his way through Cale’s sure-handed defence, the Gatesword parrying almost every stroke of the infamous warrior then cutting ribbons through his armour. The second wave of heroes quickly boarded and leapt in to flank the enemies.

A collection of dumbstruck crewmen slowly arced around the skirmish, uncertain of whether to intercept a fight that was well beyond their means. A dazzling display of magic above their heads sent them cowering, and from the decks bannister Aaaz couldn’t help but grin smugly.

The Nachtkreed guards were struggling, as was Mute, against superior numbers and superior ability. As Cale tore another slice across the chest of his opponent, a female voice cried through the night, “We Yield! Enough blood has spilled this night!”.

Lady Margreeth stood at the hatch with Sanbalat leaning heavily on her and still bleeding through hastily applied bandages. Mute handed his blade to Cale and returned to his Lady’s side and the villainous trio were bound and gagged. Umbar wanted no mercy for the three and saw to end them then and there with the same vengeful spirit that overcame him at the cemetery, but this time Cale was ready and stood before the captives. Margreeth, Sanbalat and Mute would all face the justice of Renstake, not that of Seyoke or Kyalassi or anywhere else.

Eriam sent her first mate aboard to commandeer The Stormbreaker and together the ships returned to the docks, granting time for the six heroes to gather their thoughts. Though exhausted, so much more work needed to be done to ensure Renstake’s future! As the company discussed their plans it was evident that the moment to reflect on their successes was passing by almost unnoticed.

The Gate slowly opened on the horizon, casting back the dark but bringing little warmth to Renstake. Acrid smoke still billowed from the city’s guardhouse and the Stronghold lay bare. Nachtkreed bodies stuck with Nari arrows lay in the streets. Clerics tried to spread calm amongst the disoriented locals, but rumour, fear and hate travel so much more swiftly than solace.

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12 - The Resurrection of Hope

The storm dispersed quickly, chased from the eastern horizon by the opening Gate. The vast white silhouette of Antaeus arced over the western mountains and the first tentative calls of Whiptail sparrows broke the stillness of the cemetery gardens. From the mausoleum of St Fjorgin, a great yawn of the Nari, Umbar, bellowed forth, quickly followed by a chorus of long-deprived laughter.

With the restoration of Umbar and A’ari to the group a great burden of grief was lifted and a clarity of purpose revealed itself, rallying the heroes against the Nachtkreed, against Lady Margreeth and Sanbalat, and against whatever hellspawn waited in the Church of the Holy Embrace.

After a short rest to regain lost spells, the adventurers planned to head to the Nari community, Kyalassi, to join in Lord Swift’s pleas and gather an army against the evil of Renstake. Those plans were halted by a contingent of Nachtkreed however.

A’ari had just finished his morning prayers when the Nachtkreed made their presence felt. A crossbow bolt was fired purposefully into the dew-soaked grass before him, followed by the jubilant voice of Commander Dietrich directing the heroes to surrender.

Dietrich, flanked by Gariss and Mallon and with a further nine Nachtkreed guards in tow, paraded into the Cemetery to capture their prey, but none of them were prepared for the devastation that followed.

Umbar immediately began hurling rocks at the Commander as the adventurers leapt into cover and prepared to do battle. The portly wizard Aaaz dealt the most telling blow early though, charming the Commander and leaving the Nachtkreed divided and directionless. The fight sprawled over the cemetery grounds with no shortage of mayhem and destruction but ultimately the heroes were victorious and picked through the spoils of their attackers.

Commander Dietrich, still charmed by Aaaz, allowed himself to be tied and bound by the group. The wizard planned on leaving him to the mercy of Margreeth, but no sooner had the Commander been tethered than Umbar hacked at his throat until the head was detached. Aaaz struck out at the Nari, disgusted by the savagery. Agven also warned against the tides of malice and vengeance that swelled in Umbar’s heart, but the emotionless face of the Nari simply stated, “They killed Me.”

Disturbed by the violence of the morning, the party nonetheless picked through the bodies, stripped the Nachtkreed of their armour and prepared for Kyalassi, with Dietrich’s warhorse acting as mule for the scavenged equipment.

By late lunchtime the adventurers were walking into the woods of the Nari camp, hearing the familiar songs of Spring festivities and sighting the first of the shell-homes. They were quickly herded to Lord Swift and a council of Kyalassi’s Elders to discuss the grave threat of Renstake.

The story was laid out to the council in full and Elder Barlum was convinced that action needed to be taken immediately. With the help of the adventurers the council formed a strategy to use the dried subterranean river, the Whitewater, as a causeway for their seventy armed Rangers to gain access to Renstake. They would attack by night, taking the Nachtkreed guardhouse while the adventurers liberated the Holy Embrace Church of its evil and while Lychor simultaneously delayed the magicians of Arcanum Academy from entering the fray… so went the plan.

First they would have to navigate the Whitewater tunnel, and prior to that the party wanted to secure some decent arms for Umbar and A’ari and enjoy the evening’s festivities. And so that night was spent wheeling, dealing, laughing and dancing, for all except Aaaz, who spent the time studying and scribing with Lychor, building up his spellbook for the oncoming war.

At the lifting of the Gate the next day, the heroes and their entourage of seventy Nari rangers made for the tunnel entrance. The fine Spring weather offered no resistance to the morning’s travels and in no time they were at the wide cave entrance, preparing to wade through stagnant waters and meet whatever perils the tunnels would throw at them.

Thankfully there were few, if any, obstacles. A phalanx of Kobold golems guarded the northern tunnel but as the army was southbound they left the motionless wardens alone. Seeing as a Hill Giant corpse was beaten, broken and bloody at the feet of the golems this was just as well.

Later in the evening the group heard the final death throes of a party of Kobold adventurers in the distance ahead. Aaaz sent Snowl to investigate and witnessed vicariously a small family of trolls taking the Kobold corpses up into their little cavern homes. Hopeful that the trolls would think twice before attacking nearly eighty armed foes the army continued, and were proven right as they marched unhindered passed the caves.

Barely an hour later the group realised they were just half a mile from the Renstake gate. Softening their footsteps and calming their nerves they prepared themselves for war.

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11 - The Path to Salvation
A mission to resurrect A'ari and Umbar takes the party on a perilous mission

Akura walked across the cold stone courtyard of Arcanum Academy; a dark, cloaked figure in a crowd of colourful wizard apprentices. In the top pocket of his robe was a note for the magician Lychor Zandramus, penned by Aaaz, explaining the conspiracy in Renstake and requesting his aid on behalf of Lord Andar Swift.

The Asuran navigated the college with ease and before long found himself in the presence of Lychor, who seemed unsurprised by the visitation and similarly accepting of the ranger’s explanation for the underhanded murder of Baron Wolhem and the false accusations of his companions. Lychor gathered some scrolls and curious magical components for the Asura to take to Aaaz and agreed to travel with haste to Lord Swift to offer his services.

In the stinking sewers beneath the city, Cale, Vetch and Aaaz lay in wait for Akura’s return. In the dark, fetid catacombs, the approaching voices of grumbling Nachtgreed guards announced unwanted company to the scene. Cale immediately moved through the shadows, sword in hand to meet the foes, as Vetch and Aaaz cautiously drew in upon their prey with magic readied. Akura’s return was timed moments before the ambush was triggered and he deftly slunk through the manhole and rushed to the aid of his fellows.

As the Nachtkreed emerged from a narrow tunnel into the main sewer canal Cale unleashed a powerful stroke across the shins of the first guard, snapping the bone and sending him reeling into the filthy stream of waste. Aaaz let fly with a pair of excessively showy magic missiles which sent the crippled guard reeling and Akura set his crossbow and fired, the bolt narrowly missing his target.

The four heroes fell upon their prey, seeming to have the measure of the two hapless Nachtkreed, but another foe had been drawn to the furious sounds of melee in the tunnels; a grotesque abomination of slithering flesh, mouths and eyes, gibbering madness and threatening violence with a dozen lamprey-like maws. Vetch’s Bloodhound stones struck the creature true, but it pursued Akura regardless, first latching on with three suckering mouths before smothering the Asura and sucking pint after pint of blood. Aaaz was caught in the spell of the chattering voices from the Mouther and set about cleaning his shoes rather than attack it. Cale was still caught in a drawn out battle with the remaining Nachtkreed, their blades parrying and armour catching most of the blows.

When Aaaz shook the state of confusion from his senses he realized Cale was needed to deal with this slavering beast and turned his attention to the Nachtkreed to release Cale from the melee. One swift strike from behind with his quarterstaff caught the guard by surprise and he crumpled to the sewer floor unconscious.

Vetch’s missiles had worn the Gibbering Mouther to the point where it began to retreat from the fray, leaving a badly injured Akura in its slimy wake. But the ranger was in no mood to see his adversary escape and finally struck true with a crossbow bolt, killing the creature.

Vetch tried to heal Akura but was himself drained of power, barely able to seal the savage wounds. The Asura’s determination drove him on however, and he proceeding to trace the Mouther’s trail to its lair, where he was rewarded with a glut of coin as well as a scrollcase.

The others availed the Nachtkreed of their armour, realizing the potential of such disguises in a city that was out to find them. The four then made for sanctuary, figuring the trap room in which A’ari met his demise was as good a safehouse as any and would allow them to rest up as well as recover some of the Satyr’s remains. For eight hours the party rested, giving Vetch and Aaaz time to ready new spells and heal Akura somewhat.

That evening they made through the sewers (which Aaaz was growing intimately familiar with by now) and scouted the tower walls where Umbar’s head was spiked. They monitored the Nachtkreed patrols and planned how to retrieve the head before agreeing the attempt should be made later, once they had secured the papal crown from the church’s treasury.

Risking their disguises they crept from the drains and spent a while cleaning themselves off in a trough behind The Iron Tankard, an upmarket tavern near Wolhem’s keep. Akura, (the only member of the four not wanted for the Baron’s murder) bought food for the others and they greedily devoured the pastries before descending into the sewers again to travel unseen to the church.

As the wee hours drew in, so did a heavy fog, giving the heroes cover to creep through the church courtyard and directly to the cathedral’s front door. Aaaz drew forth Agven’s key and they made into the darkness beyond.

The cathedral was empty. A few tired candles made meagre offerings to the vast blackness and their sputtering were engulfed by heavy silence. The stillness was somewhat comforting to the midnight intruders however, and after collecting some cleric’s robes from hooks by the door they made for the staircase into the crypt.

The stout Gortwood door stood at the foot of the steps, but was already unlocked. Beyond was a long wide corridor which led up to the ceremonial Pool of Aos, a round sunken pit of shimmering blue water in which a great sphere was one-third submerged. On the surrounding steps, upon which it was easy to imagine the church’s clerics gathered in prayer, two figures sat in conspiratorial whispers.

Sanbalat and Lady Margreeth spoke thus:

“That will be fine. It will allow us to build fervour against the Nari. If anything it will allow for a more unified strike with our own forces from the south. What news of our friends?”

“Still hidden I’m afraid. I have eyes and ears on every corner but perhaps they’ve fled the city. A contingent of Nachtkreed hold the Swift estate, but Andar has also escaped. I think they’ve cut their losses and run m’lady, likely to the Nari camps.”

“So be it. Death will find them soon enough.”

Cale grew uneasy when he realised it was Margreeth, knowing her infamous bodyguard ‘Mute’ was never far from her side. Warily the four retreated from the crypt and back to hide amongst the pews of the cathedral. Here they waited until Margreeth, Sanbalat and Mute left the crypt themselves. Margreeth and Sanbalat shared an intimate kiss, bid each other goodnight and parted, with the Illusionist leaving the cathedral via the front door and Margreeth and her bodyguard bound in the direction of the infirmary.

The heroes then made for the treasury. Aaaz walked up to the statue of St Euris and proclaimed rather than whispered the words Agven told him:

“I ask for aid in time of need,
I seek a path to the Treasury,
I hope it does not trouble thee,
But I’ve gone and lost my blasted key.”

…and a soft grating sound behind the figure announced an opening secret door. The narrow tunnel beyond took them directly to the treasury where a hoard of riches lay in wait. Akura duly noted none of the spoils were apparently stolen, all rather crafted for the church. All the party respected the trove and took nothing but the crown.

They then made for Umbar. Plans were made on how to gather the severed head from its pike, mounted as it was some 15ft on the walls of the stronghold and constantly in view of a pair of nightwatchmen. Aaaz then realized that it wasn’t necessary to retrieve the entire head and sent his familiar, Snowl, to claw but a few strands of the Nari’s hair from his head.
The party now had the papal crown in hand, as well as remains of A’ari and Umbar. Vetch was at this point almost whimpering in anticipation of reviving his fallen comrades and prompted the others to make directly for the Swift Estate and hopefully to Agven. Using the sewers to get as close to Constitution Way as possible, the group then hurried through the slums, with Akura and Cale adorned in Nachtkreed armour, Aaaz in clerical vestments and Vetch simply trying to keep to the ample shadows.

Halfway up the crooked, treacherous cliff-track the group encountered another patrol of Nachtkreed. With Cale’s quick tongue and Aaaz’s charming magic both Gariss and Mallon were congenial enough and allowed the fugitives on their way none-the-wiser.

Through the quiet hamlet of Clifftop and to the Swift Estate, the adventurer’s prepared to creep up to the mansion-house, wary of the Nachtkreed contingent Sanbalat spoke of. From the stillness of night came Lychor’s friendly voice, ““Aaaz! Over here you great lummox! Lord Swift has left a note for Cale up this tree and I’ve left some things for you. We’re all okay and are heading…” and then the voice abruptly stopped.

Aaaz and the others closed on the large tree from which the voice seemed to emit and the wizard surmised that Lychor had cunningly left the secret message to trigger from the tree at their approach. Snowl investigated the bowl of the tree and found a long, thin bundle of sheets with a small sheet of parchment attached. Cale boosted Akura up the tree and brought the package down to the Scourge.

The note was a heartfelt message from Lord to Knight and spoke of the Nachtkreed encroachment on the Swift Estate and how he and Lychor had made for the Nari village of Kyalassi to seek aid or at least spread word of the trouble brewing in Renstake. Andar also stated that Caretaker Agven had found sanctuary in a crypt in the cemetery down the road and was waiting for the heroes’ return. The third part of the missive pertained to the bundle and what it contained; a relic of the Swift family, a Gatesword. Swift was giving the sword to Cale rather than to his own blood, seeing the Scourge as a more worthy inheritor of the blade.

Vetch again spurred on the heroes with his incessant howls and whimpers and the group walked from the seized estate to the Renstake cemetery where Agven waited. In a cold stone mausoleum they found the Caretaker. Agven was relieved to again see the heroes, and delighted to find they had indeed retrieved all the items necessary for the resurrection of their friends.

For two hours the Caretaker summoned the primal power of Aos and drew it from the earth, channelling it through the companions and into the remains of A’ari and Umbar. A great storm rolled in and cracked the sky above the cemetery as Agven screamed his prayers. As the Gate opened on the horizon and dawn washed in over the sea, Umbar and A’ari awoke.

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10 - Escape the Dungeons!
The heroes rescue Sigrid and Agven, adopt an Asuran and are framed for murder

Aaaz and Cale crept up the cold, stone steps to join the geomancer and see for themselves what lay beyond. A deep prison, wrought in stone and aglow with the fiery light of four great braziers chained to its ceiling. At its centre stood an observation tower with a narrow horizontal window cut through it.

“Sigrid?” Vetch’s guttural whisper dared into the prison. A startled response from around the tower confirmed his assumption and he moved, as quietly as he was able, around and across the open jailhouse floor to his friend. As he crept passed a cell a crazed man’s voice called out from within to alert the guards to this intruder. From within the turret a gruff voice called the old man to silence, threatening him with a sound beating, but his warnings did nothing to thwart the geriatric.

Cale prepared for the inevitable. The heavy latching on the tower door echoed throughout the prison and with a hefty creak it opened, giving way to an irritable Nachtkreed, sword in hand. Cale paused just a moment, enough for the guard to be a step from his tower, before charging. A heavy crack to the skull sent the Nachtkreed careening into the tower wall.

Aaaz put Magidar’s lurid green boots to immediate use and sprang across the room to aid Cale. In a dazzling display not witnessed since the battle beneath the Reinstihl Manor, the ungainly wizard charged his fist with lightning in mid-air before bringing it down upon the guard, leaving him thunderstruck. The broadsword of the Nachtkreed fell from his spasmodic grasp and his last failed attempt to strike Cale was met with a sickening riposte from the Knight’s pommel.

With the old convict’s screeching unabated Cale was forced to silence him with a sling stone, while Vetch scurried back to Sigrid. Here he discovered Caretaker Agven was also imprisoned down in this dungeon. The priest asked for his freedom and also that of a fellow prisoner, an Asuran man in a nearby cell.

Aaaz briefly toyed with a Tanarikin captive before turning his attention to the tower, searching for keys to free Sigrid. Inside the tower he found an array of levers rather than keys and quickly set about heaving the one corresponding to Sigrid’s cell. Vetch ran to the Wizard to help with the heavy levers, stating a further two cells needed opening. As they hauled the handles down, the cylindrical cage at the centre of the tower began to lift; a great chain mechanism clanking and straining.

Sensing reinforcements were on the way, Cale rounded up the freed prisoners and herded them back to the staircase. Vetch sent a gemstone arcing up to meet the elevator as it returned to the prison floor, now full of Nachtkreed, but it did little more than shock the guards within. He ran to join Cale and the others leaving Aaaz with one final task. When the Nachtkreed were but twenty feet from the floor, the wizard threw the lever for the Tanarikin’s pen before bolting for the sewers. As he fled he caught a fleeting glimpse of the predatory demonspawn, creeping to the tower with murder in his eyes.

Aaaz led the party through the sewers to an alley near Eriam’s hideout in the slums. There they regrouped and shared stories and suspicions, fear and woe. Sigrid was informed by Cale of her parents demise, and the Asura was introduced to the group. Akura was a cousin to Jai and was in Renstake to find the slayer of his kin.

Meanwhile Vetch staked-out the perimeter of their shelter. Mere moments after his companions had entered Eriam’s attic, none other than Jonas, the thug from Keelhauled, came sniffing around like a sewer-rat. The geomancer confronted Jonas with a gemstone glowing in a clenched fist and a snarl on his muzzle, but Jonas was less brave without his bar-mates in tow, and he fled into the slums too quick for the kobold to chase.

He returned to his companions and announced their safehaven was anything but safe. The party agreed to move on and after some debate, chose Lord Andar Swift’s estate as the best sanctuary.

A path along the precarious steps of Constitution Way and then along the outskirts of Clifftop was taken to get to Castle Swift, where the party was greeted first by the congenial squire Darius, and then the less friendly step-son of Andar, Syle. Syle protested the incursion but was helpless to thwart Caretaker Agven’s presence. Syle’s wife, and daughter to Andar, Vanessa, also tried to stall Cale and his companions but was forced to relent. Before long, Cale, Agven and Akura were by Lord Swift’s side, the priest bringing light and warmth to the dying man.

Agven noted there had been poison in Andar’s blood, and warned the Lord to surround himself with trusted allies. This began a long conversation into the night wherein the plight of Renstake was discussed at length. Agven pointed the finger at Baron Wolhem, knowing he controlled the Nachtkreed and that the Nachtkreed were deeply entrenched in this conspiracy. The Caretaker, enraged by the desecration of his church, the poisoning of his city and the bloodshed on those who rose to protect them, made a pact with the heroes; he would do all he could to resurrect Umbar and A’ari so they might rise against their slayers and continue the fight for their people. This was no small feat however, and he would need the remains of the fallen bodies as well as his papal crown to proceed with the ceremony. He gave directions to the church’s treasury as well as a password to gain secret access.

The next morning was broken by the clanging of bells brought on sinister winds from Renstake. Aaaz understood the rhythm of the bells to indicate the death of a monarch, and a sense of dread washed over the party.

After Akura had equipped himself from Swift’s armoury and Aaaz and Vetch had rested and meditated, the party of four descended into Renstake again. They planned to contact Aaaz’s university friend, Lychor, and entreat him to act as advisor and protector to Lord Swift. Also they wanted to dig up information around the city regarding the recent underhandedness of the Nachtkreed and the Church. All this intention was stopped dead in its tracks with a single parchment, nailed fresh to a Cryer’s Post in the slums, which announced Baron Wolhem had been murdered in his sleep by five assassins. A price of 1000 pieces of gold was now on the heads of A’ari, Aaaz, Vetch and Cale, and the head of Umbar was already taken and staked outside the city dungeons.

Dread amplified to terror as the grey city closed in around them.

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09 - The Waste
A violent series of encounters in and around the Renstake sewers results in the loss of two party members

In the catacombs beneath Renstake, where a variety of human effluent converges, the adventurers held fast the unscrupulous merchant and murderer, Magidar. “I Yield!” he cried to the pack of hungry predators as they circled and fell upon him, binding his hands and preparing to dine on succulent vengeance.

The magician, Aaaz, had a spell of charming already prepared and delivered it upon Magidar, forcing him into obedience and readying him for inquisition. But despite the wizard’s directions that their captive not be intimidated lest the spell be ruined, A’ari couldn’t contain his fervour and in his next breath threatened the merchant, bringing him back to his senses.

Magidar already felt his life was forfeit and was reluctant to share information, especially when his pleas for protection were bartered down to the relative mercy of a quick death. As he begged for his life, Umbar and A’ari heard a man’s whispers emanating from the tunnel beyond the grate but his words were strange and incomprehensible. The whispers were obscured by Magidar who started howling in morbid terror. Presuming the whispers were a spell sent to render the merchant’s mind useless, Umbar grabbed Magidar’s head in his enormous paw and thrust it back into the wall, knocking him out instantly.

A’ari had meanwhile been using the merchant’s keys to unlock the grate, though something unseen still held it tight. A firm shunt of Cale’s broad shoulders sent it flying on its hinges and the Satyr and the Scourge charged into the darkened tunnel, hoping to catch a man they hoped might be Sanabalat. A’ari darted along the sewer path and spotted a hunched and cloaked figure on the opposite bank. He hurled his torch at the man, setting the hem of his robes aflame, but the garment was quickly discarded as the figure shrouded himself instead in invisibility. Cale leapt across the river of waste and sprinted along the far side but after coming to a second locked grate at the end of the tunnel, it seemed apparent that the man had somehow escaped.

Umbar dragged the unconscious Magidar back towards the bakery basement and in the darkness plied the merchant with alcohol in an attempt to revive him. Magidar awoke but was still reeling from terror and in a barely coherent ramble enforced that trouble stemmed from the Church but that the Church itself was not the enemy. As the fear took hold again he begged for death before taking matters into his own hand and slamming his head repeatedly into the stonework, spilling his blood and then his life onto the cobblestones.

Aaaz joined the Nari and picked over the merchant’s magical necklace and boots, happily discovering the footwear expanded to accommodate his oversized feet. Once pillaged, the body was hoisted up by Umbar and taken up through the bakery and out into the street for all to see. A crowd of scared and bewildered onlookers gathered and soon a pair of Nachtkreed guards was on the scene.

The guards seemed highly suspicious of the Nari and dismounted their horses, drew swords and approached. They exchanged a knowing glance and a calculated nod and stepped in to attack, giving Umbar scant time to prepare a defence. The baker meanwhile had crept behind Umbar and pushed him beyond the doorway of his shop with the end of a broom before hastily slamming and locking the glass door. Umbar was flanked by experienced swordsmen who quickly cut him open. As the great Nari kicked out at the door behind him trying desperately to find an escape the Nachtkreed hacked mercilessly; a savage slice across Umbar’s belly doubled him over and a mighty overhead sweep severed his head clean. Umbar was dead.

Aaaz and Vetch had given chase as soon as the painful bellow of Umbar hailed from the streets but they charged into the shopfront only in time to see their friend collapse. Aaaz fled back into the tunnels, gathering the wailing Kobold in his arms.

Unaware of the tragedy unraveling above, Cale and A’ari scoured the stinking sewers for any signs of the missing mage. A’ari cast another spell of detection, this time for secret doors, and lo and behold a near-invisible portal revealed itself. The pair felt for some kind of trigger to open the door and eventually happened across a small protruding button. A gentle push and the secret door gave way.

A’ari delved into the blackness, keen to scout ahead while Cale stayed and waited for his companions. In the long, featureless tunnels the Satyr scoured for Sanbalat but found no trace. His search came to a head in an eerie stone chamber, littered with skeletal remains and otherwise empty save for a pair of black double doors at the far end with two stone columns at either side. On closer investigation A’ari saw that the columns were made of rotating cubes decorated with diabolic runes, which could be twisted to make different combinations. A button, not unlike the one on the secret door in the sewers, presented itself upon the doors and the cleric, with no small measure of imprudence, pushed it.

A colossal, fiery explosion erupted within the room, obliterating A’ari, reducing his earthly form to little more than smouldering, ashen remains.

Once united, Cale, Vetch and Aaaz had little time to grieve over Umbar as the distant explosion in the tunnels foretold further disaster. They each broke into a sprint and chased after A’ari, ultimately finding the stone room in which he found his final fate.

Fearing that the secret door in the sewers would now be blocked by Nachtkreed, the trio set about revealing the correct combination of the demonic columns to open the double doors before them. Vetch placed his hands on the stone and used a Geomantric technique of Recall to ‘hear’ the history of the rock and thereby find the correct sequence. Though the process was largely successful, the recent explosion made it hard for the Kobold to be certain of his findings, but after narrowing it down to a 1-in-4 chance of success, the party agreed to at least try.

Aaaz was able to conjure a Mage Hand to press the button itself, keeping the group mostly out of harm’s way, but when the first attempt failed the size of the explosion caught him by surprise and sent him flying. The terrible burns he suffered were enough to convince him now was a bad time to continue the experiment, and Aaaz found a conveniently depressing patch of dark, wet catacomb to sulk in, but Vetch and Cale were undeterred!

An arrangement was forged in which Vetch would send sling bullets flying at the button and Cale would leap to cover the Kobold in the event of another explosion. As the target was so small and the room so long, Vetch struggled to find the target, and even when he did first strike the button, success was rewarded with a fireball. This time the knight and the geomancer were at least able to dive away in time. Bolstered by the ever-increasing odds, they continued…

The next attempt on the door was successful! The heavy stone door lifted, presenting a dark, rising staircase. Vetch, gifted with darkvision, slunk up the cold, stone steps in pitch dark and near silence, to find an enclosed panoptical prison at the top. Whispers reverberated through the jail, borne of familiar voices.

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08 - Unravelled
Nefarious plots are brought to light as the party investigates around Renstake

Cale, having spent the morning with Lord Andar Swift, pushed through an icy wind to the Academy of Arcana. The four black towers of the college rose before him, the impossibly high spires tormented with vaporous tendrils of dark clouds. As he crossed the courtyard he heard shouts of desperation and instinctively quickened his pace. A trail of panicked students led him directly to his companions.

In the university’s observatory Umbar, Vetch, A’ari and Aaaz had their quarry pinned to the marble floor. The murderer Rune Gulbrand, disguised in the magical visage of a young acolyte, was held fast, but he screamed not for mercy but their trust. “We must flee! We’re on the same side! I can take you to I’aeia!!”. The adventurers were thrown by Rune’s pleading and with a contingent of armed guards and wizards fast approaching they even began a hasty retreat. Rune coerced Cale into opening a secret passage out of the observatory and the party made for the descending staircase beyond, but the pursuing magicians cast forth a net of viscous silken webs that caught them in their tracks.

A heated exchange ignited between the adventurers and the wizards and although the heroes absolved themselves of any wrongdoing it seemed inevitable that Rune was destined for the city dungeons, a prisoner of Renstake and not the Curatic Church.

Unwilling to let Rune out of their sights Vetch, A’ari, Cale and Aaaz accompanied him to the cells at Baron Wolhem’s Keep, with Umbar going alone to explain proceedings to Caretaker Agven. Along the way Rune was able to catch Aaaz’s attention and silently direct him to a note hidden in his cloak; a page torn from an encyclopedia of arcane artefacts and specifically detailing a Gem of True Seeing.

In the dungeons the party was permitted to speak with Rune but the madman could only weave a piecemeal and implausible tale of conspiracy, lost minds, evil magicians and Blood. He did drop one name familiar to the group however; ‘Eriam’.

Before leaving the Academy, Umbar returned to the offices of the city gazette to enquire after his manuscript. The editor was delighted with his work and signed him on as a freelance fictioneer. Somewhat chuffed, the bard headed for the Church of the Holy Embrace to meet with Agven. Unfortunately, Caretaker Agven had apparently taken ill and the monks beneath him only served to thwart any attempts for his audience. He rejoined with the others and together they discussed a course of action.

It was decided that Agven must be consulted, sick or not, and their reward for capturing Rune granted. A second attempt to talk with the Caretaker was even less successful, with the whole party gaining only derision for their discourteous insistence. Again they were turned away.

Aaaz had decided to wait outside the church grounds while the others blundered within, and was approached by the familiar, knowing voice of Eriam. She enquired after Rune and to some extent sympathized with the murderous illusionist. Eriam seemed to be more a part of this than they knew and she sought the party’s further cooperation in what seemed treacherous affairs at hand. A meeting the next morning was agreed upon and the adventurers departed for the homely warmth of a dockside tavern.

Over dinner they were joined by Lychor (Aaaz’s magician friend from the university) to further discuss the Gem of True Seeing. Coincidentally, Lychor was currently working on such a device but was having great trouble distilling his creation into a gemstone.

Most retired to their quarters early and nightwatch was shared by Cale, Vetch and Umbar.

The next morning and the party made for Keelhauled, the designated meeting place with Eriam. The looming clouds of yesterday had blown away to reveal an open azure sky but the Wintery Gate brought little warmth to the streets.

Eriam led the group through back alleys to the shambling ruin of a tavern in the slummish north quarter of town. Here in the filthy attic of the tenement they found Rune’s accommodation, and on a large iron-wrought bed, I’aeia. The comatose Nari was staring blankly into space, a rivulet of drool draining from his cracked lips into his matted fur… Eriam began to explain all she knew.

She had grown up with Rune and possibly even loved him once, but that was a long time ago. He had developed quickly into an angry young man and became quite militantly anti-humanity, despising his own kind and choosing to align himself with the Nari of the northern woods instead. It was in such communities that he met I’aeia, a Nari who shared his hatred for the invaders from the east.

They began a long and enduring friendship which intensified when they sighted a Renstake smuggling vessel delivering arms to a Tanarikin encampment on the northern fringe. They tailed the boat back to the city and immediately set about unveiling those involved. Two main antagonists were revealed; the illusionist Sanbalat and Captain Grimm. For weeks the pair plundered for information on the smugglers but to no avail, til one night I’aeia went alone to chase a lead. He left a note saying he’d gone to the Church of the Holy Embrace to follow Sanbalat, who he believed was in a close relationship with Caretaker Agven. The Nari was missing for three days and later found by I’aeia wandering the streets of Renstake as a mindless zombie.

Rune was enraged, but didn’t have nearly enough information to seek retribution. Convinced he had to repair the mind of I’eaia, he set about casting magic beyond his measure, fueled with Blood. The procedure, needless to say, was far from successful. Rune mostly erased his own memories and replaced them with a jumble of displaced and incoherent ramblings of his Nari friend. He left Renstake confused and freshly addicted to Blood, drawn inextricably to the northern lands of the Nari.

He didn’t regain his own mind until some months later, when the Asura of Pincers Cove repaired him. Apparently Rune implored the Asura to help his friend I’aeia but Jai refused, and in a Blood-fury he slayed the psionicist.

And now Rune was back in Renstake. Realising he had no means of helping I’aeia he turned his attention to revealing the evil presence he was convinced dwelled in the Curatic Church. He was in the university researching a device of seeing through all illusions in an attempt to uncover those behind the smuggling operation.

As Eriam’s story came to a close, an alarm bell rang out from the south side of town signaling a distant fire. Attention was turned to the view from the attic hatches and across the cityscape the adventurers saw a dark plume billowing from the Thorgerson mansion.

The heroes leapt into action.

A long, exhausting sprint across the city brought them to the smouldering ruin of the manor. Cale barged in through a locked and barred door and fought through the flames to find the bodies of Uthcroft and his wife motionless in their burning bed with throats slit. A’ari soon accompanied the knight and helped bring his friend to safety as the building all but collapsed around them.

As Umbar arrived at the scene he suspiciously scanned the crowd, his black eyes coming to rest on none other than Magidar the merchant and Gral, Sigrid’s butler, engaged in a heated dispute in a nearby alleyway. The Nari drew Aaaz’s attention to the pair and made for the rear of the alley in hope of surrounding their prey. Aaaz sent his familiar Snowl to the sky to keep track of events and slowly moved forward.

Something alerted Magidar to the encroaching assailants and in a seamless arc he sliced across Gral’s throat and then leapt with unnatural power onto the tenement rooftops that lined the street. All gave chase. Umbar heaved himself fist over fist up a drainpipe to pursue the murderous merchant. Aaaz empowered his own legs with magical springing, and bound to the rooftops as well. A’ari sprinted along the streets beneath Magidar hurling spells to thwart his escape as Cale whistled for Firemane to aid his chase. Vetch, who was only now drawing on the scene, was alerted to Magidar and drew a flaming stone from his pouch that exploded on the merchant, stalling him momentarily.

The pursuit continued across rooftops, over streets, through buildings and into hidden tunnels beneath the city where A’ari finally caught the fleeing merchant and pinned him to a grating. The others soon joined to submit Magidar who screamed nought but “I Yield!”

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07 - Sick in the City
The afflicted heroes return Sigrid to her home and search Renstake for I'aeia and clues about the smuggling racket

Dawn encroached upon ‘The Fork n’ Foxes’ tavern and crept off unnoticed by the slumbering travellers, who woke awhile later to hammering fists of the furious publican on their quarter’s door. The innkeeper was somewhat put-out by the wreckage and devastation left in his tavern by the nocturnal rampaging of the adventurers and came seeking compensation. His quotes of reimbursement seemed somewhat overblown by Vetch’s calculations but his negotiations were ignored til Umbar interjected with a measured threat. Swayed by the towering Nari, the man accepted the offered 5 pieces of gold and bid the party an unfond farewell.

Cale, Vetch and Umbar were feeling the filthrot coursing through them worse than ever. A’ari was keen to rest further that morning and suggested taking a room in the adjacent inn but Cale could be delayed no longer from his mission; Sigrid Thorgerson was to be returned to Renstake today. The wagon was hitched, all clambered aboard, and the wayfarers rejoined the North Road.

Sharing the road with miners, merchants and mercenaries, the group made quick time to Renstake’s sister-town of Clifftop and headed directly for the Gateway, a taxed tunnel descending into the city below. Once in the city proper, surrounded by unwelcoming Nachtkreed patrols and beggars, a path was forged along the Kobold Quarter and south into the affluent section of town, straight for the Thorgerson mansion. Umbar however separated from the group to immediately seek Caretaker Agven in the Church of the Holy Embrace and hopefully find a cure to the filthrot.

Meanwhile, the party found the surprisingly unkempt and spartan abode of Sigrid and her small family. A belligerent butler eventually yielded to the party and soon Uthcroft and his daughter were reunited. Uthcroft showed obvious surprise and relief and offered reward to the heroes, but with their promise of secrecy regarding Sigrid’s return. Cale was at this point coughing up blood, so dire had his infection become, and the group departed to join Umbar at the Church.

Umbar had quickly found himself in the esteemed company of Caretaker Agven and after delivering an impassioned psalm of Curatic scripture was escorted to the church’s hospice for treatment. This is where the others discovered him shortly after. Upon revealing Curator Helmsward’s scroll, Agven took an interest in the party’s potential and, after hearing their pleas for healing, offered an exchange of their services in return for his curative powers. He wanted Rune Gulbrand (the man they know as I’aeia) brought before him for exorcism.

The adventurers were unappreciative of the holy man’s transaction-based charity but, as they intended on seeking out I’aeia anyway, agreed to Agven’s terms on the condition that they be granted at least temporary reprieve from their illness. A night spent in the hospice saw to this and the next morning the group woke in the prime of health.

Aaaz chose to spend the night not in the hospice (himself remaining unafflicted by filthrot) but in the familiar surrounds of the Academy of Arcana; Renstake’s university of magic. Here he caught up with an old friend who he regaled with tales from afar in exchange for local gossip.

After regrouping the party set off into the morning to investigate the dockyards. Cale felt it necessary to instead return to his Lord, Andar Swift, and explain his absence as well as seek out local news from the keep. So the others made for a tavern which Rune Gulbrand was known for frequenting months prior named ‘Keelhauled’. The dingy, miserable, stinking tavern was silent, despite a hunched procession of permanently affixed drunkards supporting the main bar. Vetch went about integrating with the locals, with limited success. A’ari patrolled the outside from an adjacent alleyway and Umbar and Aaaz did their best to not look out-of-place in the seedy district.

The tavern was soon joined by a host of two dozen dockworkers as a clanging bell from the jetties signaled lunch. The rough-as-guts dockers took no time rousing conflict with the strangers… The Captain (Umbar’s golden cutlass) was spotted and called out as belonging to Captain Grimm, a true and noble mariner whose blade had no place in the filthy paws of a primitive. Umbar was surrounded by the thugs and a noxious air of violence smothered the room. Vetch preempted proceedings with a tankard-attack on the unaware spectator that was the barman; a fumbling swing that missed its mark. Though it was a poor gambit, war had been waged.

Surprisingly it had taken almost an entire day for the party to get into a barfight.

Vetch continued his failed flailings upon the barman while Umbar was quickly overrun. Aaaz, in the typically theatrical stylings of an 80s hair-metal god, cast his palms to the sky and invoked a peal of thunder that A’ari augmented with a cacophonous sound burst, terrifying the dockers and sending almost all scattering. The bar went very quiet save for the whimpering of the bully who initially confronted Umbar, now held fast by the Nari. As Umbar sat the man down and prepared to interrogate him the tavern was met with the approaching laughter of a woman; a swashbuckling lady applauding the adventurers’ prowess and delighting in the downfall of Jonas the bully. Vetch served the woman a drink and exchanged pleasantries, garnering the name ‘Eriam’, but further discussions were caught short by A’ari, signaling the arrival of a Nachtkreed patrol on the scene. The party hastily made for the window and to the alley beyond, though not before Eriam could call out. She wanted to meet the party again, saying she had information they might find useful…

Umbar had managed to get something out of Jonas before their escape. Captain Grimm worked for a man called Sejen Curl, a spice trader who owned The Sea Ghost. It wasn’t much to go on but the adventurers agreed to chase it up at the Academy’s library. This tied in neatly with Umbar’s ambition of publishing his latest semi-autobiographical piece in the local gazette, a paper published from the university.

In the Academy of Arcana the party went about searching the vast underground library for all manner of clues. Who was Sejen Curl? Who was Uthcroft? Did he have anything to do with Baron Wolhem? Who was next in line for the Barony? Aaaz summoned his best investigative skills and the others quickly realized why he might have flunked out of university.

As Umbar delighted in perusing the archives he couldn’t help but notice a familiar aroma in the air… the distinct scent of stale blood that conjured memories of I’aeia. The smell grew stronger at the approach of a young female mage, and Umbar grew suspicious. He questioned the girl and she backed away from the imposing Nari, but as she left the library aisle and disappeared around the corner she mentioned his name with a smile.

Umbar let out a call to arms and turned the corner only to find a wall of bookshelves where none had been. As Vetch, A’ari and Aaaz ran to the scene they found the same blockade of books. Aaaz summoned magic beyond his reckoning and brought down the illusion and the group gave chase to the fleeing girl.

Up a flight of stairs and A’ari scanned for evil as the magician scanned for magic. After a brief false-alarm they both honed-in on the figure of a girl and resumed the hunt. The group confronted the girl (now cloaked in magical invisibility) in the observatory; a gigantic glass-domed building peeking through the courtyard above and to the heavens. A’ari ran with Satyran speed at the girl and leapt on her, pinning her to the ground. Vetch deduced where the invisible figure was and scrambled to add his weight to the pile-on while Aaaz attempted to rope her down. As the might of Umbar imposed itself on the scene, the girl’s escape seemed futile.

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06 - Traitors and Assassins
I'aeia turns on the party and the journey to Renstake begins

Night fell upon the hamlet of Pincers Cove and the heroes settled into their bunks at The Inn of the Shipwrecked Dawn, coughing, wheezing and spluttering. Vetch suffered a midnight visitation from a Blood-addled I’aeia, who crept into the Kobold’s cabin under the silent veil of magic. The mad conjurer rummaged through Vetch’s gear before fleeing, and though the others were quickly woken to pursue the mage, they could find no sign of him.

Vetch decided the next morning to accompany his friends to Renstake and take up the pursuit of I’aeia, as well as help return Sigrid Thorgerson to her family and deliver Helmsward’s scroll to Caretaker Agven. The party took up the road south.

A day’s travel brought them to the small township of Northrun, where they rudely interrupted a traditional tug-o-war between the farmers and the miners. Cale quickly went about smoothing over the situation as best he might, but the others were in no mood, or fit-state, for socialising and instead made preparations for the night’s accommodations.

That night four assassins encroached upon the tavern in which the heroes slept, seemingly hunting for Sigrid. A long and dangerous skirmish broke out in the town’s streets but eventually the adventurers pulled through, though no assassins were left to question and no clues were left to reveal their identity.

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05 - Return to the Reinstihl Manor
The secret of Jorgan Reinstihl is uncovered and Filthrot sets in

A’ari’s illuminated copper piece rolled and skipped and plunged down each wooden step, chasing shadows into the recesses of the smuggler’s quarters below. The cellar was devoid of life but resonated with a familiar dread aura. One by one they descended into the ghostly pall, a reluctant inevitability guiding them, pulling them towards that door, that boarded portal, that surreal nightmare. The Nari drew forth a hammer and with an arcing swing battered the boarded planks, a violent riposte to the mounting fear. And then it was open.

A torch was cast into the gloom beyond and revealed a crypt-like chamber with high vaulted ceilings and a human figure laying motionless at the far end, blanketed in black robes and heaped at the centre of an unholy symbol, ten feet across and radiating evil. With utmost caution they entered the room but for A’ari, I’aeia and Umbar the rancid stench of putrefied meat was too strong and drove them back, gagging for the door. Cale, sword-drawn with anticipation, moved to the body. It was a human man, emaciated and decorated with strange tattoos and piercings, with a wide-eyed and horrified countenance frozen on his face. As Cale took in his surroundings he noticed arcane symbols painted on the arched ceiling above, a handful of black candles melted into wax puddles beneath, and a stoic, still burning candle at the centre of the symbol on the cobblestones before him. The larger-than-life wizard, Aaaz, seemed shrunken in the chamber, and quietly inspected the runes to no avail. Moments passed as the others outside gathered their reeling senses and sheathed their faces in rags to filter the noxious fumes, then they rejoined Cale and Aaaz within.

The group gathered around the body and prepared to examine more closely but as soon as the corpse was even slightly disturbed it contorted and shook. Umbar, with arrow cocked and aimed at the ready, panicked and snapped the bowstring. Cale brought down his sword in a maddened swing and nearly shattered his blade upon the stones. As ill-fortune grasped the heroes the twisted man’s jaw cracked and tore and he vomited forth a bilious liquid that defied gravity and congealed upon the ceiling. A’ari clutched at his holy breastplate and for a moment dispersed the gathering ooze but it soon pulled together and took the shape of a foul, obese demon with a massive and open, razor-toothed maw.

The rotund magician Aaaz had quickly prepared a spell of leaping and in a swashbuckling display of acrobatics he bounded to meet the beast mid-air, pummeling it square in the belly with an electrically-charged uppercut. The demon lurched to the ground and responded with a sinister pole-axe, cutting down the wizard with one fell swoop. In seconds, the Satyr cleric was by his side.

With lightning speed the demon turned upon the Nari and channeled a fear so pure and white that it paralysed the bard completely. Then all went black as the hellspawn cast a magical darkness into the chamber.

I’aeia, previously wrestling with his own ineptitude and the task of destroying the candle, now found an opportunity to vent his frustrations. With an arcane word and a flicker of fingers the demon was engulfed in dancing light, breaking the darkness and offering a target for the blinded heroes.

Cale went toe-to-toe with the wretched abomination, the magical cutlass glowing in his hands but struggling to find blood. In the end it was a plain old sling bullet, cast from the hand of the revived wizard Aaaz, that struck down the vile demon. The room shook with death throes and slowly, with retreating screams of torment, returned to calm, the only sounds the gasping for breath of the exhausted adventurers.

With that the group itself dispersed. A’ari, Cale and Aaaz headed upstairs to confirm their hopes that the malicious presence in the house was truly vanquished. Umbar and I’aeia searched the unholy shrine, with the Nari finding another secret door, this one leading into the laboratory of Jorgan Reinstihl.

The afternoon crept in as the party uncovered the secrets of the mansion. Jorgan had been an ambitious alchemist whose luck took a turn for the worse and whose failed dreams drove him to despair and then madness. His creation of a Philosophers Stone was supposed to unravel the mysteries of alchemy but the marble brought nothing but misfortune and Jorgan ultimately went insane and butchered his family before killing himself. How this sad tale involved the smugglers or the demonic presence of the mansion was uncertain, but the heroes had at least accomplished their original mission, and with no small measure of accomplishment they set out to return to Pincers Cove.

As they left the mansion they happened across Magidar the merchant, who showed great pleasure at seeing the valorous adventurers. But the group was deeply suspicious of the man’s intentions; why was he here? why was he trading in exactly the same wares as the smugglers? and why did he flash with evil intent earlier that day as A’ari cast his magic across him? Either Magidar was innocent or remarkably quick-witted, for he seemed to have an answer for everything.

  • * * * *

Anteaus, the vast white planet, heaved into the chill evening sky while far below, at The Inn of the Shipwrecked Dawn, the Council of Pincers Cove gathered with their hired men to hear their account of the last ten days. It was a finely woven tale of Cale’s that enraptured the Council, but the atmosphere waned as the smugglers were revealed and dissolved further when Magidar was implicated as being in liege with them. Magidar continued to plead innocence and eventually grew angry at the allegations, departing the cabin early with contempt in his bulging eyes.

The following day brought severe illness to all but Aaaz. The knight and the bard were bed-ridden but A’ari had energy enough to return to the mansion and ensure it was in fact clear of evil. He was soon joined by Curator Helmsward who sanctified the building and was taken on a tour of the estate to see the terrible story unravel again.

Satisfied with the success of the adventurers, the Council met again and distributed the reward to the heroes in a deeply awkward presentation. A’ari wanted the money to go back into the community but, unlike Cale, couldn’t bring himself to trust Helmsward to share it out amongst his flock. I’aeia greedily took his platinum pieces and ran off for his therapy session with the Asura, Jai, and Vetch and Aaaz bickered over risk and reward and deeds and entitlements until everyone backed away uncomfortably.

So the evil of the alchemist’s estate was banished but the mansion raised more questions than it would answer. The adventurers found themselves burdened with the plight of the Nari, tasked with the safe return of Sigrid Thorgerson to Renstake and with a sealed scroll to deliver to Caretaker Agven of the Holy Embrace Church. All this and most everyone was infected with Filthrot, a necrotic and potentially fatal disease administered in the stinking bilges of The Sea Ghost.

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