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!”