Chapter 8, Diaspora
The party searches for Kasvarina.

After regrouping in Flint, the loose ends of the party’s spying efforts at Mutravir were wrapped up. Delft was brought up to speed on their findings (though not informed of the finding of the Humble Hook), Linia volunteered to join their next efforts, and Constable Von Gearkinson was taken in for psychiatric evaluation. It was determined that this ‘Oscar’ personality was indeed a result of a sudden onset of multiple personality disorder, likely caused by a combination of work-related stresses and the psychic strain inherent in sharing headspace with Xambria Meredith for months on end. All divination and Risur-loyalty tests confirmed that Hugo was not carrying any foreign entities, and while surly, his ‘other side’ was not an enemy. He still bore watching, though.

After hearing out the particulars of the Grand Design and the other details garnered from the Convocation, Delft reported that unfortunately, the RHC had not been contacted by any of the turncoats. The ship carrying Amielle Latimer, Reed Macbannin, Bruce McDruid, and the unknown godhand had either gone into hiding, or had been captured by the Ob after Talon Silverhawk’s connection with Bruce was severed. Moving forward, Delft suggested that the party continue their successful campaign of recruiting former Ob members (which had already netted them such stars as Nathan Jierre, Kaja Stewart, Alexander Grappa (RIP), and Tinker Oddcog). The party, he thought, should go to Elfaivar and search for Kasvarina Varal, supposedly one of the Ob’s founding members who had lost her memory. Even if she couldn’t remember the conspiracy’s secrets, she had some important connection to the colossus Borne, and recruiting her before the Ob found her would surely deal their plans a major blow.

One last announcement was to be made before their departure to Sawyer, in the Risuri colony of Kellandia: the constables were all getting fired. They were free to keep their equipment (minus their ship), plus a final stipend of eighty thousand gold, but following that, the government could no longer afford to keep their gear up to date. From here on out, they would be independent investigators. True, they would have to give up some of their badge-granted authority and diplomatic immunities, but they would also be free to seize enemy funds and resources for their own use without fear of it being labeled as corruption. They could also act more fully in their own discretion without fear of causing an international incident, though Delft promised that both he and the King would have their back if they ever needed it, and they’d be more than happy to continue having enchanters on standby for the buying and selling of magic items.

Upon arriving in Sawyer, the party made their way to the docks. Delft had arranged for them to meet up with two captains: Glidewell, of the RNS Alesia, and Wheatley, of the RNS Chell. Both were veterans of the last Yerasol War, and long-separated friends of Talon. Glidewell turned out to be a woman of few words, but Wheatley and Silverhawk got along as if the years had never passed, reminiscing about close calls and favors owed. Wheatley referred to Talon as “Doge” at one point, and Talon reminded the wiry man that he’d saved his life after one of his infamous blunders. This seemed to provide the necessary encouragement for him to go on an otherwise insane voyage up one of the larger Elfaivaran rivers in search of the colossus, who’d made landfall just a week or so prior.

The threats of the untamed jungle were no match for two ships with trained riflemen and five Risuri knights. It wasn’t hard to follow Borne’s trail, as he left a swath of flattened jungle more than fifty feet wide, not to mention deep footprints that snapped huge fallen trees in half. Eventually, they reached a ruined dock lined with massive crumbling statues of eladrin warriors, which gave way to a ruined city some seventy square miles in size. Initial investigations concluded that there was some magical barrier in effect which was both keeping out the natural creep of the jungle vegetation (thus preserving the state of what had to be Malice-era ruins for the last five centuries) and blocking out extraplanar disturbances, particularly creatures. Linia found herself unable to enter the city at all, and Borne’s footprints could be found circling the border of the area, likely unable to step into the city despite numerous attempts. Templeton made a note of this—it might be handy to replicate, if possible.

Among a few buildings of note were an ancient temple to Srasama, filled with Clergy graffiti, and discarded weapons of their faithful. There was also a pit shaped like an inverse ziggurat, lined with faded writing, and superimposed with illusory script that appeared when touched. Kida ve Alema took interest in the inscriptions, reading what she could and taking notes—they referred to the Seedist god Ingatan, whom holds power over fire and knowledge, and was often depicted as a malicious trickster in folklore.

But most interesting by far was a squat, single-room temple whose carvings and symbology were all purposefully chiseled away and rendered blank, while its only entrance was sealed with a great slab of stone. Qiyet muscled away the blockade (after Hugo’s attempt with his bracers of mental might failed utterly), revealing little inside but a great brass urn raised on a stone plinth.

Talon stood nearby while Qiyet and Templeton entered, and Hugo sat on the ground nursing his strained arms. The urn appeared to be filled with blood, but little else was there to learn from or loot, so they turned to leave. Appearing between them and the exit was a robed figure—and though they didn’t see it at first, her face and hands were made of curious jointed metal, though she was unlike any earthly construct the ex-constables had ever seen. In her hand, she held a stone that glowed with brilliant blue light like a fallen star.

“Will you stand against Chaos, no matter its shape?” the woman asked, in an old dialect of Elvish. With Kida still doing translation work, only Templeton understood her, so he answered that he and his companions were standing against forces that sought to change the very fabric of reality. The asker seemed interested at his answer, circled him, and then challenged him: “Then arm yourself and prove it.” The stone in her hand flashed, and became a gleaming blue katana.

Templeton met her blade for blade at first, but asked her if it would be dishonorable for him to use his firearm in this duel. She answered, “I know not what sort of weapon that is, but if it be a weapon and not a spell, you may use it.” She seemed surprised by the blast of pellets that followed, but she adjusted her stance accordingly, and Templeton found himself landing surprisingly few hits in the battle that followed.

Every few seconds, her glowing weapon changed into a new form: from standard fare like a longsword and a greataxe to more exotic fare, including a bola, a spiked gauntlet, and a whip. Though formed of light, each blow cut or smashed as sure as steel, and she drew the gunsmith’s blood again and again while he hastened to keep his shotgun loaded. Qiyet shouted words of encouragement and advice, but it seemed Templeton was outmatched. He was stubborn as a dozen mules, though, and growled that he would not let himself give up, finding new reserves of strength even after being brought within a blow or two of death on several occasions.

“Enough,” the woman said, holding up a hand. “What you lack in strength, you more than make up for in endurance and tenacity; no challenger has fought through all seventeen favored weapons of mine without yielding.” She stepped forward, and her strange armament became a stone once more. “This… is yours. Use it well.”

The stone was a magic item known to history as the Arsenal of Dhebisu, a fallen star which had been used by an ancient eladrin heroine to slay a rhakshasa. The construct warrior-woman identified herself as an inevitable (specifically, a kolyarut), a servant of Order in much the same way that Linia and angels like her were servants of Good. She explained that she had been ordered to guard this place against those who would worship the fallen god, the traitor of the eladrin pantheon who had fallen from divinity and become the monster mentioned in myth.

After leaving the guardian to her task, the party (minus Kida) pressed on toward the inland edge of the city, finding a cluster of people gathered around what was once an entrance arch through a ruined wall. Eschewing caution, Talon approached and called out a greeting. “Hey guys!”

The group froze, a pair of watchers atop the nearby towers looking down in shock. Someone shouted, “RHC!” and everyone went for their weapons.

It turned out the group was a team of Ob scientists and researchers examining the strange border around the abandoned city. Their efforts for the moment were focused on disarming a trap on the archway itself which would summon a guardian. Snipers took potshots at the approaching party, while the head mage put up a wall of fire to deter their progress, and to coax them into going around, rather than directly through the archway. Talon went straight in anyway, teleporting through the flames.

“You fool, you’ve killed us all!” He shouted, seconds before a mighty lion guardian appeared. The beast was bigger than a horse, and it was joined by 9 spare heads which floated freely of its body and set upon Ob and ex-constables alike. Following a minor glitch of priorities, the two groups agreed to set aside their current quarrel and fight the thing together, though in the end only a few Ob flunkies survived anyway. The two tieflings in particular seemed adamant on fighting the party, citing an allegiance to their sovereign and the late Lya Jierre.

The battle was costly. Area attacks seemed to have little effect on groups of heads, and each snarling face seemed to have some new power: laser breath, poisonous fangs, healing tongues, and more. Talon was brought low by a deadly petrification gaze, though his prudent selection of gear allowed him to delay the effect long enough to get in a few more good strikes. Kida joined the battle, and Linia swooped by, destroying heads one by one with her mighty hammer. Qiyet was in her prime as well, splitting heads with one strike almost as often as the angel. In the end they left the lion’s body headless and blind, and whittled down its vitality while surviving the waves of flame it put out. Kida’s chief contribution to the battle was seeking out and destroying a Danoran artillery piece which had begun shelling the entrance arch regularly mid-battle, running up a sheer cliff to do so and taking out the two unprepared gunners with ease.

But before they could even get their breath (and with poor Talon still a solid statue), a planar rift opened on the archway, and out stepped Asrabey Varal, Vekeshi dreadnought and would-be assassin of Ethelyn Lesterman more than a year ago, the first deadly foe that Team 1 had ever faced, and likely a better swordsman than anyone in Lanjyr even today. He was not pleased to see Qiyet in particular, who had killed him in that conflict on Axis Island, necessitating his revival with the powers of the Unseen Court.

He clearly wanted the heroes to leave, but they urged him to see reason. They wanted to speak to Kasvarina, to use her as a resource to strike back against the shady organization that Asrabey had gone to great lengths to rescue her from. Asrabey reminded them that he was not their ally, and their problems were none of his concern.

“Oh I thought you would care about preventing the destruction of the entire Dreaming, we’ll just be on our way then,” said Templeton.

Asrabey called out for them to wait. He was incredulous, but demanded that the gunsmith explain himself. They told him of the Obscurati’s plan to change the very nature of reality, and that it would likely sever the world’s ties to the Bleak Gate and the Dreaming in the process. Only with Kasvarina’s help could they hope to learn enough secrets to shut the conspiracy down for good. The dreadnought admitted with great hesitance that he was powerless to do the same; he could not even leave this hidden enclave with his wife, at the order of their host. When Kida pulled rank as a powerful member of the Vekeshi, he finally relented, and granted them entrance to the true city, hidden between this world and the Dreaming: Sentosa.

Blue Banquet
The Obscurati turns on itself, culling corruption.

Autumn 80, 501 AOV

GM’s Note: Many of the events that follow were predetermined, not by the writers behind Zeitgeist, but by the GMs that ran it. A vote was held on the EN World forum back in July of 2013, with 85 voters, to determine the Obscurati’s new course for the world. Concurrent with the voting period (during which, people were allowed to change their votes), a discussion was held by a smaller group among the voters (including yours truly, Elfshire), each taking on the role of Obscurati officers and arguing for or against various proposals, in-character. This included a complicated proposal by a user going by the handle of “Ajar,” who created a character named Dame Constance Baden to propose the MAP compromise. It was so well-received by Ryan Nock and the forum users, it became canon.

Midnight – technically Day 2 of the Convocation.

After the voting session had ended, a few people went off to their rooms for the night, but a surprising majority of individuals stayed up to continue talking of the various proposals, and of the nigh-infinite possibilities presented through the opportunity to change the world. Several smaller movements began to emerge within the living population of officers in attendance, already divided in support for the five plans presented earlier.

But in addition to sparking new ideas, a tangible animosity grew between Miller’s Pyre and Colossus, with each claiming the other was too idealistic or tyrannical, respectively. Many also displayed their disdain for the Watchmakers, especially after it became known that their form of control wasn’t entirely invisible—powerful or strong-willed individuals could theoretically be totally aware that they were being manipulated, and so would be forced to live a hellish existence as an unwilling puppet. Amielle attempted to smooth things over with the officers by offering ‘immunity’ to the control, gifted to the Ob, its allies, and their descendants.

Oscan (Hugo in disguise) was skeptical of the offer, and so began to spread a plausible rumor around the room: “I get the feeling the Clockworks are just saying this to get on people’s good side. They’re lying for votes. You know, false advertising? I’ve been among the criminal element long enough to recognize this.” After making similar comments to two individuals, he sat back and watched his addictive opinion spread through the room, and soon enough people had lost all interest in talking about Watchmakers’ proposal.

Over the next hour or so, conversation fluctuated between the three most popular proposals ( Panarchists, Miller’s Pyre, and Colossus). Reed Macbannin made a half-hearted attempt to keep Arboretum relevant, but few cared to listen for long. Erskine Haffkruger wasn’t even talking.

Following a spiking interest in Colossus, Erdanen Torrance gave a spirited speech to the room about the Ob’s moral duty to go with Miller’s Pyre, but this only further polarizes the factions against each other. Livia attempted to unify the debaters again by reminding them, “we’re the best and the brightest, we’re above this sort of thing,” but conversation continued at an angry volume. At this point, Erskine pulled out a bag of popcorn, enjoying himself quietly in the corner of the room.

Xavier (Qiyet in disguise), who had until now been trying to sleep, entered the room with weapons drawn, but this didn’t even faze the crowd, continuing to devolve into less and less tactful arguments. A man dressed in ranger-like attire came up, introducing himself to Xavier as Bob Stela. “It’s good to see someone else not from the main nations,” he said.

Xavier raised his voice above the building din. “Whoever gets this room QUIET first will get my vote!” Bob added, “Me too!”

The rowdy tables quieted for a moment, bemused at first by the backwater monster-slayer’s brazenness, and his assumption that anyone would care about his childish proposal. Then a wave of understanding seemed to pass across some of their faces, as they realized just how closely the various factions were currently tied, and how much impact two votes might have on the next session. Before anyone else could act, the ghost of Amielle Latimer pulled a spectral handgun from her coat, blew a very real hole in the ceiling, and shouted, “Everybody to bed!”

The crowd dispersed. Xavier nodded to the ex-tiefling. “Thank you, ma’am. You have my vote.”

“I’ll be watching for your name on the board tomorrow, Xavier,” she replied.

Some unspecified amount of time later, Hugo awoke, but not in his Oscan-flavored duplicant body. He awoke in Bleak Flint, with a few RHC attendants and Tinker Oddcog standing by. “Oh! You’re awake,” remarked the gnome. “You’re not supposed to be awake.”

Hugo began freaking out as a free action.

After verifying that the equipment seemed intact, Tinker admitted he couldn’t immediately identify the problem, and so began a lengthy process of disassembling and reassembling the Pilot-Duplicant linking apparatus, but even afterward, it refused to work. “Well, you must be dead!” he concluded. “Someone iced your duplicant.”

“But then, we’re compromised. Right!?” Hugo asked. “They’ll know Oscan wasn’t real!”

“Right, your duplicant’s corpse is going to be a big obvious metal dummy.”

Hugo wrung his hands, pacing back and forth. “Whatdowedo? Whatdowedo? Whatdowedo?

Tinker shrugged. “I mean… are you a religious person? You could pray. I mean, I’m not, but I’ve heard it works for some people. Or maybe you have a good luck charm?”

Hugo searched his belongings, pulling out a cigar gifted to him by Captain Rutger Smith back in his first mission, then dismissed it and pulled out a pocketwatch instead. It did little to calm him down. Tinker rolled his eyes, advising his fellow technologist to just ‘not get killed in his sleep,’ next time. When that didn’t help, he distracted the constable by asking for his help on his next invention.

Well before dawn (though there was no sun in the Bleak Gate version of the Obscurati palace), Qiyet awoke after a scant few hours of sleep, disturbed only momentarily by a muffled commotion outside, around 3:00 AM. Puzzlingly, ‘Oscan’ was nowhere to be found… Hugo wasn’t an early riser by habit, so this was immediately suspicious. There were no signs of a struggle, though; his bed was unmade, but his shoes were gone, as well as anything else he’d normally leave the room with. He’d even locked the door after exiting, apparently.

A paperclipped note slid under the door. “Meeting Nic. Follow me. Don’t be seen.”

Qiyet cracked the door open, managing to glimpse Grappa at the end of the hallway, accompanied by two of the Bookpin guards that had been glimpsed at various stations around the palace: ostentatious-looking warriors in polished plate mail, bearing longswords, shields, and a backup pistol, cloaked in purple capes held by golden book-shaped brooches. As she made her way after them, she reached out to try to connect to Hugo’s telepathic augmentation. “Are you like, building shit, or what happened?” she asked.

“Nah, everything’s fine,” came a weary response. “I just really needed a drink.”


“Listen, I can’t talk right now,” Hugo replied dismissively, then stopped answering.

(Out of Game) Talon’s player: “… But Hugo always talks!”

Using her keen senses as an urban ranger, Qiyet immediately ascertained the most likely room her coworker could be in, judging from the known radius of his telepathy and the moment she first came into contact with him. Risking her mission of tailing Grappa, she broke off pursuit and entered a nearby lounge, finding ‘Oscan’ drinking whiskey—and Erskine, in the corner of the room once more. They didn’t appear to have been talking.

“Hair of the dog, huh?” asked Qiyet, trying to maintain some level of cover with a stranger present.

“Don’t talk to me about dogs,” Hugo replied. Not being much of a drinker, the young constable had never heard the phrase before in his life.

“Oookay. I’m gonna go exercise.”

Hugo nodded. “Let me know when something interesting happens.”

Qiyet hustled back onto Grappa’s trail, following him upstairs and across to the other end of the building, the so-called ‘forbidden wing’ that Nicodemus had warned them not to pry into. The two guards paused here to watch a pair of hallways, while ‘Leone’ went on to the meeting.

Thanks to the Surgeon’s adjustments on her soul, Qiyet had forgotten her minor arcane talents involving teleportation and invisibility. But she decided to make up for it with sheer martial alacrity—she blitzed across the distance pummeled both guards into unconsciousness before they could so much as shout, even though the pair of them stood about fifty feet apart! Even better, she was reasonably certain neither of them had been able to see her (Xavier’s) face, unless they had darkvision… and they were both visibly human. Qiyet’s duplicant body could see perfectly fine in darkness, of course. She took off their pins as a precaution (unable to tell if they were magical), hiding them in a nearby potted plant.

At the end of the wing, a few stray Ghosts Council members stood watch outside the windows, while Nicodemus, Vicemi Terio, Cula Ravjahani, ‘Leone,’ and Han Jierre sat at a table together. As Grappa arrived, Nicodemus rolled out a map of Lanjyr and began to talk, occasionally placing glass beads to mark locations of interest.

“Since the colossus broke free eight months ago (he places a bead in Flint), it has battled with the fey titan, She Who Writhes. Since it was designed to resist divination, we can’t tell exactly where it is, but we believe it is making its way toward Elfaivar.”

Vicemi explained further. "At first, we wondered why the colossus chose that particular path, and now they have a theory. At the same time the colossus escaped, an eladrin warrior named Asrabey (Cula rolls her eyes) abducted Kasvarina and spirited her away to the Dreaming. We’re fairly certain that Asrabey thought Kasvarina was just a hostage, not one of the founders of this conspiracy, and given her condition, it’s unlikely she can compromise us.

“Kasvarina is still an officer of the Obscurati, of course, so we cannot divine her location, but we can trace Asrabey, and I assume the two remained together. He headed to Elfaivar, then disappeared entirely near some old eladrin ruins (bead), which we believe have an entrance to an eladrin enclave, which exists between the real world and the Dreaming. That was five months ago.

“My theory is that somehow, the colossus is drawn to Kasvarina, perhaps because their memories were both locked away by the same man. So far we’ve refrained from rescuing her, since the risk of an assault on an eladrin conclave is quite high, and because without her memories Kasvarina isn’t actually useful to us. Now, though, it makes sense to secure her.”

Nicodemus says, “We have a plan to restore the colossus’ memories, but it requires bringing it to a specific location.” He looks meaningfully at Han. Han curses, then nods. Nicodemus continues. “Then our first priority after the convocation ends will be to regain control of the colossus. We still have a few of the prototype golems that were put away for a rainy day, and if we can’t find a way to restore the mind of the colossus, we can always try implanting one of the other golems’ minds.”

Nicodemus pauses to ask ‘Leone’ if he would be able to manually control the colossus, in the event that had no mind implanted at all.

Grappa stammered, then said “No, that would be too much for me.”

Nicodemus replied that they would keep Leone on hand just in case, to help them at least slow the thing down. He then asked for a dossier of vulnerable points to target, and said it might be time to start coming up with fall-back options if the new colossus minds won’t work.

Cula chimed in, claming, “I could probably find out what enclave Kasvarina is in. I just need to know what resources I can bring in for the rescue.”

Nic held up a hand. “We’re not making any plans until we know who’s still on our side.” He asked if anyone had any other pressing business, and when no one answered, he suggested they all get a filling breakfast.

Qiyet took this as an opportune moment to leave—but before her exit, she caught a glimpse of Livia Hatsfield, watching from a vent in the ceiling.

Han, Cula, and Grappa stood to leave, but Nicodemus called ‘Leone’ back for a moment to ask what faction he voted for. Grappa answered, “Watchmakers?”

Nicodemus and Vicemi exchanged glances, and after a moment’s hesitation Nic suggested, “Keep an open mind to other, more popular proposals.” Grappa left.
Nic asked to be alone, and once Vicemi was gone, he lit a cigarette and gazed quietly out the window over the pitch-black sea.

The higher-ups likely noticed the KO’d guards on their way out, but if this caused a stir or aroused suspicion, no one was there to witness it.

At 6:00 AM, the guards began to make wakeup calls to each dormitory. Livia and Xavier were both convincingly awakened, despite having only returned to bed minutes before. Breakfast was served, and during the meal Bruce McDruid caught up with Dame Constance Baden, who looked terribly underslept, having apparently spent most of the night working on what she called the MAP Proposal, a novel configuration of planets that would allow several of the planar traits desired by Miller’s Pyre, Arboretum, and Panarchists, essentially combining them into one plan for the world’s future. Bruce rebuked the idea, so she went off in a huff to display her notes to a less Colossus-centric audience. Livia in particular managed to convince many listeners that the compromise was in everyone’s best interests. Erdanen slid her a mimosa.

During the talks, Hugo wandered up to the Portal Gallery, and Qiyet followed. A few ghosts minded the paintings, but other than that, the two found themselves alone in the Colossus demiplane.

“Who are you?” Qiyet demanded.

Hugo smirked. “Heh. Let’s just say… you know ‘him’ better than you know me.”


Hugo shook his head ruefully. “Mr. Fancypants. Mr. Perfect. Hugo… f***ing… Von Gearkinson.”

He wrote the name “Oscar” on the clay stele at the back of the demiplane, although the letter “r” was cuddly misshapen to be easily mistaken for the letter “n”. Then he started to work out some aggression by hurling giant stone blocks into walls. Most of what he said didn’t make much sense, but Qiyet came away with the impression that her coworker was suffering from some kind of multiple-personality disorder. He even called himself ‘Oscar Ashberry,’ a name he had taken during the party’s mission on the Avery Coast rail line.

“I’m gonna leave you with your thoughts,” Qiyet resolved, deciding there was little she could do for Hugo in this time and place.

“They are mine, after all,” Hugo (or rather Oscar) nodded.

Qiyet stealthily sent a message to Tinker via Gale’s messenger wind: “Duplicant’s not dead, but Oscar is here.” It would take about two days to arrive in Bleak Flint.

Back in the lounge, MAP was steadily gaining traction, and Vicemi made it a point to say it would be an actual choice during the next vote. Impassioned debates continued to decline into ugly rumor mills, with some officers accusing others of belonging to unofficial radical factions.

The three major factions start to make concessions, appealing to the eight ‘Other’ voters from yesterday, as well as any fringe-supporters that may change their minds.

  • Colossus changed its name to Colossal Congress, adding a clause that would allow for Ob rulers in their new world to be impeached by their constituents. If more than half of the ruled populace voted against their ruler, they would lose all their power.
  • Watchmakers changed their name to Watchmaker Watchmen, claiming they could still ensure the purity of the thousand-year destiny AND keep the Ob from becoming enslaved by essentially creating a city-sized demiplane to house the Ob until the clock wound down. Qiyet pointed out that even if they did this, re-introducing the Ob’s descendants to the populace would reintroduce the notion of evil. This earned a glare from Amielle, and from there on, her faction was pretty much sunk.

Discussions continued to be heated. A fistfight broke out in a hallway between two Berans. This all happened before lunch! And moving the crowd into the Main Hall for the meal only made things worse. Catherine Romana fanned the flames, saying, "Oh, who trusts anyone else here? We don’t know each other. I barely trust the people who say they’re on my side to actually vote as they claim they will. So why in the world are you trusting our gentle leader Nicodemus? He keeps hinting that all he wants is peace, that he values the ideology of some writer who’s been dead for five centuries, but I’ve known plenty of politicians.

“You can’t trust words. All you can trust is that people are afraid of losing power. We’ve gotten here because we’ve been ruthless. Let’s not pretty it up. I tell you this, if you idiots vote to give up the authority that we have earned over this world, you’ll be showing yourselves as weak. And this man, this conspiracy? It doesn’t need weak people.”

Vicemi was soon fed up with the commotion, and called an emergency vote, if only to shut people up for a bit. Nicodemus steps up to the podium for a final word before the vote begins.

GM’s Note: I completely forgot to read Nicodemus’ pre-vote speech at the table.

“We all have different ideals, but before we vote I want you to understand what led me to found our organization and pursue this long, grand work. It wasn’t a desire to gain power myself, or to punish those who had abused their power. I started down this path because I’d seen that intellect, wisdom, and good intentions were feeble weapons in the face of propaganda and fear.

“The problem with this world is that the dreamers and poets are blind to its real face. It’s easy to mock as childish those who grow upset when the world isn’t ‘fair.’ The habit of accepting injustice as the way of the world has become too familiar, and while I shed my innocence long ago, I never fooled myself into thinking it is good that I’ve had to do these foul things.

“I do think any of these proposals would result in a materially better world. And I will support whichever wins, as will the Ghost Council. But only one of them will make a world good enough to balance out the evil we’ll create to get there.”

Nicodemus then stepped down, and placed his vote-marker on the board, under ‘Any.’ The Ghost Council followed suit, and then the officers approached table by table, though a quick roll-call determined that Miss Baden and Grappa were absent. A few ghosts were dispatched to find them, but the vote couldn’t wait.

Day 2 Voting results Votes Notable Supporters
Watchmen 6 Kiov, Bob, Xavier, and Amielle
MAP 18 Erskine, Luc, Reed, Erdanen, Han, Livia, Cula, and Bree
Congress 20 Catherine, Bruce, Oscan
Other 0
Any 26 Nicodemus, Vicemi, and remaining Council votes (24)

As the last magnet was placed (and members of Colossus started to look smug), the ambient lighting cast by the gaslit lanterns on the wall started to glow blue… and then everyone started to relax into a calm, quiet state—with the exception of Nicodemus and the ghosts.

“Will everyone who did not vote for Colossal Congress please join me outside in the grand foyer.” This seemed like a reasonable request to all present. The other 20 people stayed seated, content to relax in their chairs until otherwise interrupted. But as people file out toward the main doors, Oscar snapped out of the trance, quickly laid a spell of camouflage on himself, and darted to one of the side exits behind the curtains on stage.

As the door was shut behind the supporters of MAP and Watchmen, the effects of the lantern faded in seconds, and they found themselves looking at a mob of over one hundred ghosts, floating together in a tight group. Nicodemus turned to those who came out with him. “Those inside would ruin this world if they were allowed to come into power. In my time I’ve seen plenty of monarchs and oligarchs just like them who have lashed out when their authority and dominance is threatened. I don’t like what we have to do now, but the most efficient way to avert this threat is to strike now. This small dishonorable deed will be balanced by ages of greater prosperity for all of civilization… But I need your support in this decision.”

Qiyet questioned if this was really in the spirit of the occasion, having called everyone for what they assumed would be a fair vote, but Nicodemus assured everyone that he had planned this all along. Part of the reason for the Convocation was to determine who among them was corrupt, and liable to work against the Obscurati’s vision for a better world by trying to claim power for themselves.

Amielle and Macbannin remained impassive, but the rest of the officers in the crowd began to nod assent. Soon about twenty people, speaking somberly and reasonably, urged Nicodemus to do what must be done. But just before he could order the Council forward to slay the members of Colossal Congress, Erskine Haffkruger spoke out in a defiant yet folksy voice.

“Now hold on jus’ a second here. I came to see internecine cockfightin’, not a one-sided pig slaught’r.”

Nicodemus paused, looking baffled. “… Who are you?”

“I was once called Gradiax the Steel Lord, and I have a message for you and your lil’ organization. Whatever you try to do to this world, I will stop it. Because there is only one true ruler of this world, and that is dragonkind!”

And then, Pemberton’s dwarf-shaped duplicant started to tick loudly.

Quick-draw Latimer reacted first, swearing under her breath and fleeing through a wall. Nicodemus yelled to the Council first, “Get in there and kill everyone!” and to the living crowd second, “Everyone out!” Then he picked up ‘Erskine’ and threw him fifteen feet, just shy of the the door.

The Ghost Council swept into the Main Hall, killing the entranced bystanders with every flavor of touch-range arcane magic in the book. Qiyet bull-rushed Pemberton out the door, and Oscar mage-handed the door shut to try to shield Qiyet from the blast. Livia and Erdanen ran upstairs, while Cula stepped into the Main Hall and shut the door behind her. Macbannin held a door open while the living noncombatants fled in both directions from the Foyer.

Pemberton stood up on the doorstep, dusting himself off and laughing. “Well, at least this should wake up your entranced victims!” Then he exploded, though the shield of solid wood protected people from the blunt of the damage. The members of Colossal Congress snapped out of their stupor, and the shockwave doused the blue flames. People started to scream, fleeing from the Council.

Bruce ran like hell toward backstage, then turned left into the storage room, where he saw two more Councilors taking a Bleak Golem out of storage. He left, heading to the lighthouse exit instead, but the ghosts summoned a wall of ectoplasm to cut off the door. Cula joined the ghosts in the massacre, cutting down swaths of them with a barrage of magic missiles from her wand.

Upstairs, Oscar joined forces with Erdanen and Livia to concoct a complicated scheme to… knock a hole in the floor. Livia had envisioned using the power of the Colossus plane to create a diabolic planar cannon, using the superpowered occupant’s strength to hurl boulders out of the painting, but halfway through Erdanen pointed out that none of the matter in the paintings was real, and none of it could leave. Half-assing it with a vandalized lantern taken from a wall (and aiding it with ordinary magic spells), Oscar was able to create a hole in the floor just big enough to wriggle through. Erdanen fled the scene, and Livia went back downstairs.

Nicodemus watched somberly as the Ghost Council finished up, and his wounds healed as the seconds passed. Livia asked if he needed anything from her, but he casually declined, saying “The purge is well underway.” Bruce, Catherine, and one other Colossus member (later identified as the halfling inventor Alloquicious, head of Iron Cell and inventor of the Steam Suit exhibitioned at the Kaybeau Arms Fair during Chapter 3) managed to get through the wall, after tearing at it with desperate hands, Bruce’s shillelagh, and a wolf summoned by Catherine.

They fled into the lighthouse, but Catherine was quickly mobbed by the ghosts, disappearing into their spectral swarm. “We should split up!” Alloquicious cried, seeing the golem still in pursuit. “That way, they can’t get us both!”

Bruce yelled back, “You go left!” conveniently directing him away from the nearby dock at the bottom of the cliff, where he spied a ship waiting. Rather than chance the long stairs down, he lept from the heights, plummeting 40 feet onto the deck, cracking a few ribs, and ending up right in front of Amielle Latimer.

“Are you the last?” she asked.


“Cast off!” she cried to the helm, staffed by a number of guards she’d evacuated from the mansion.

Meanwhile, Qiyet had spent most of the combat running the entire length of the west wing, heading toward the meeting room and hoping to find Grappa. She found him there, strangled by a length of rope, seated in a chair by the window. Dead. Again.

Oscar stuck his head down through the hole he had created, getting Nic’s attention. He sprinted below, then growled, “Get down here.” The words seemed to close around Oscar’s brain until they were all he could think about, injuring his mind with the sheer need to obey. He took a lash of psychic damage, then forced himself through the splintered hole and fell twenty feet, but managed to land on his feet, unharmed.

“Oscan Ligurio,” Nicodemus intoned, instantly recalling the man’s name. “Thought you could escape the purge, did you?”

“I’m usually pretty good at escaping,” Oscar replied, staying in character even to the bitter end.

“Not this time you’re not. You have no place in the new world. Greedy creatures like you cannot be allowed to taint the Obscurati, nor can you spread our secrets to the outside world.”

Thinking quickly, Oscar prepared to sever his link with his duplicant body. “Well, then it’s a good thing Pemberton gave me an insurance policy.” Then his face went blank, turned into a mannequin like shell of metal, and fell over. Hundreds of miles away, Hugo screamed as he got the mother of all migraines. The duplicant headset—which he wasn’t even wearing—burst into flames.

On the ship, Amielle fills Bruce in to the plan from here on out. She and Reed are resisting the rest of the Obscurati, though they’d hoped to save more than just Bruce. They did manage to rescue the godhand that had been captured earlier, at least. They hope to be able to take their information to Flint, and give it to a certain group of constables Reed knows…

Back at the mansion, a roll call was taken to make sure everyone’s safe, and the body of Dame Constance was discovered in her room, burnt to cinders. Vicemi apologized for the dramatic end to the Convocation, far messier than they’d planned, and arranged for everyone to leave—there was a short delay, as one of their ships wouldn’t respond to their signalling. But soon enough people were sent home.

After spotting a strange light on the island of Mutravir, an encamped RHC field operative hasty Sent back to Flint, ordering the comatose constables’ bodies to be brought out of the Bleak Gate. From the island, a ferry started to bring people back to the Crisillyiri mainland. Xavier looked over at Livia, whispering, “We’ll be in touch later.”

“Who are you, again?” Livia asked, but Xavier was already walking away, with the Humble Hook around his neck.

Into the Lion's Den
The Obscurati's Grand Design, unveiled at last.

Autumn 65, 501 AOV

Following a tip from Alexander Grappa, the party met him in a hotel in Mirsk, where he outlined a plan to hopefully unmask some of the Obscurati leadership once and for all:

“The opportunity we have waited for has finally arrived,” he said, "if the five of you have the courage to take it. I admit, the plan which I’m putting forth here may disquiet the moral sensitivities of some of you, but believe me when I say that such drastic measures are very necessary.

“My employers are taking a bit of a risk, it seems, and are calling a Convocation, to which they have apparently extended invitations to almost every ranking officer of theirs—exactly the sort of people your RHC has had trouble running down. Normally, I would be unable to speak of this to you, but most of this is guesswork on my part; I suppose you might say I have slightly cheated my geas, as I do not strictly know I am revealing any specific secret plans. I do not know the purpose of this Convocation, though I must logically conclude that they are calling a vote of some kind. If they were merely disseminating information, there are far easier ways to do it.

“What I do know is that I have been asked to stay here at this hotel from Autumn 72 to 74, and I believe I will then be asked to escort a few individuals to the site of the Convocation. If I can manage to get the five of you into that group, it is my hope that you will have unparalleled opportunity to learn of my employer’s goals and secrets… or failing that, an excellent opportunity to strike at their leadership and make a few important arrests.

“My plan here is to use the Surgeon’s gift, Mortal Possession, to have the five of you inhabit the bodies of five of my ne’er-do-well colleagues, giving you an unassailable cover identity for this mission. With my aid, you should even be able to draw on the personality and memories of those you inhabit; even an individual unskilled in deception could fool their host body’s own mother with conditions like these.”

The thought of using magic to enslave a sentient being and control them like a puppet was abhorrent to Qiyet Outrunner, though she wasn’t the only constable with misgivings. After much debate, Kida asked Grappa to weaken the ritual, such that as ‘possessors,’ they would have no control over their hosts, and merely be along for the ride. Though they would not be able to make arrests or intervene in whatever the conspiracy was planning, they stood to learn a great deal.

Hugo, only recently parted from the disembodied intellect of Xambria Meredith, had no inclination to put himself in a similar position again. Instead, he suggested contacting Tinker and using duplicants technology to copy the Ob officers’ appearances, then pilot them to the meeting place for some risk-free spying.

In the end, Hugo and Qiyet used duplicants, while the rest had their souls implanted directly into the Ob officers as ‘ride-alongs.’ The real bodies of the constables were then shipped back to Flint while the well-disguised party made its way to the Obscurati’s secret palace on Mutravir Island, not too far off the coast from Vendricce. As predicted, the true meeting place was on the Bleak version of the island. Hugo made sure to contact the RHC back in Flint, having their real bodies moved over to Bleak Flint—this way, if their Ob hosts were to perish or the ritual were to expire, their souls would still be able to find their way back to their original bodies.

For the lead-in to this next scene, read Interlude – A Gathering of Minds.

Autumn 79, 501 AOV

Once greeted by Nicodemus, the party was passed on to a volunteer in the hallway who had agreed to take on the task of room assignments—a half-elven man by the name of Erdanen Torrance. Livia Hatsfield (Kida) was to room with Erskine Haffkruger, Kiov Hetman (Templeton) was paired with Bruce McDruid (Talon), and Oscan Ligurio (Hugo) ended up with Xavier Sangria (Qiyet) by design, since they were the only two ‘conscious’ constables.

The newcomers were given opportunity to explore the mansion, though a few areas were deemed off-limits (notably, much of the west wing and the lighthouse tower). For a previously-uninhabited manse located in the middle of nowhere, the place was richly appointed with carpets, gas lighting, chandeliers, copious food and drink, and a surprising amount of printed literature and light research material.

Snacks were provided, but it was clear that events would be starting soon. Kiov hobnobbed with the ghost of Amielle Latimer, one of dozens of spirits joining the living here, as part of Nicodemus’ so-called Ghost Council. She gave out cigars, asking everyone to enjoy them twice as much as usual, since she could no longer partake in them herself. Erskine awkwardly made conversation with the other latecomers, alluding to his dreadfully boring work as an Ob biologist. The party also met the acquaintance of Dame Constance Baden, head of the Ob’s Blue Sky Cell, which researches unusual or radical concepts just to push the boundaries of modern-day magic and science.

Soon, all in attendance were called to the Main Hall.

Lights dim, and the crowd murmur fades out. Two incandescent calcium oxide spotlights shine down on a stage podium, slicing out a single bright oval in the dark hall. Nicodemus steps into the light and places an unlit lantern the size of a pumpkin on the podium. He surveys the crowd for a moment, then begins his oration.

“We have gathered for this convocation because we share a purpose.” As he speaks, he draws a cigarette from a case and lights it with a match. He takes a casual drag and continues, speaking through the smoke.

“That purpose is to fix the unsteady course of a flawed world. Some of us have worked to kindle industry, thinking progress and invention will defend nations from war and suffering. Others have ingratiated themselves with the callous and corrupt, ready to unmask their true faces and replace them with more honest and just leaders. You’ve unearthed ancient relics that revealed the forgotten origins of today’s woes, and have with regrettable necessity silenced those who would have revealed and thwarted our Grand Design.

“Few of you have been trusted with the full extent of our agenda. You know simply that I or one of our other officers asked you to cloak yourselves, and then to strive and correct some flaw of society that the common people and their complacently powerful masters have chosen as ‘the way things are.’ Unlike them, we have not been content with an imperfect reality, because we rebel against the conceit that the inertia of the world cannot change, that its course is set, that there is an inescapable fate, or destiny.

“But the truth is, at their basest physical level, life, our planet, and everything we know is swayed by forces beyond us. If I may move from broad strokes to scientific particulars, our world is connected by ancient magic to eight planes—elemental realms of fire and earth and air and water, and inscrutable lands where time and space, life and death are corporeal and manifest. Look skyward and you can see these distant discs tracing their orbits through the night.

“These eight are but a handful in an infinite starscape of planes, and some of our agents have peered into the night sky to learn their nature. One airy world they spied through a powerful lens reveals itself to generate calmer and more predictable storms than we have here. Another planet, a dappled purple and yellow orb, is possessed of warm clouds and a strong cheerful emotion, while countless miles away a hazy nebula is wracked by eternal lightning—destructive, swift, and powerful.

“Now, we have a world of our own full of elemental air energy, but its skies are thin, and the winds are erratic. Imagine if, instead of that plane, our world was infused with the energy from one of those others. It would change our climate. It would change, on a subtle level, the emotions you feel when looking at the sky. More than that, it would change the very fate of civilization.

“There is an ancient ritual seal, crafted and hidden by our distant ancestors, who chose which of these realms ours would be linked to. But we have learned how to open that seal, and we are ready to change which planes dance in orbit with us. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the true purpose of our convocation. My name is Nicodemus, and though it was I who set this endeavor in motion, it is the right of you, the agents and officers of the Obscurati, to set a new course for all the people of this world.

“For centuries prophets have sought visions in the night sky, and why? Because those eight worlds have power over us. The motion of the stars allows different ideals to gain ascendance: war, decay, chaos, exploration, order, creation. But no longer shall the procession of heaven obey the whims of an ancient, absent clockmaker. Now the hand that controls the zeitgeist shall be ours!”

The audience applauded, but before the excited whispers among the table could discuss these revelations further, Han Jierre took the podium, outlining the specifics of the Grand Design. Following that, he organized the officers into five groups, which would rotate through and hear the leaderships’ initial five proposals for world change.

During these talks, a grisly murder somehow took place. The body of Ramos Zoltan (owner of all the prisons in northern Drakr), was discovered in the walk-in icebox off from the palace’s kitchen. He was coated in a light sheen of frost, suggesting he’d been there for at least the duration of one of the five sessions. A wound was inflicted on his chest, consistent with a knife or dagger of some kind, but no weapon was present—instead, a white stone carving of a serpent lay in the dwarf’s lap.

Xavier Sangria (Qiyet) was permitted into the room and saw the body firsthand; the guards were at a loss, as they were basically all hired on as muscle—there was no notable law enforcement or crime-inspection talent among them. Nicodemus arrived shortly after, but seemed disturbed, muttering that the man’s spirit was gone. As word spread through those in attendance, a cautionary rule was given to only travel in groups of three or more while the Ghost Council set to finding the culprit.

In the meantime, the Portal Gallery was opened upstairs. Walls were lined with framed floor-to-ceiling paintings, through which people could step into small demiplanes that demoed the potential changes proposed by the five main factions, as well as a number of ‘just for fun’ worlds: a wintry hill where one could change into any animal they desired, a stormy sea one could fly over without the aid of spells, a pool of lava that couldnt’ harm creatures, and more.

The Arboretum showed off plants that could be grown by stretching them like clay, as well as trees that bore impossibly lush fruit… and even one that grew haunches of beef. Erskine was there, explaining in his monotone voice “We’re still working on one that cooks the beef as it grows.”

The Panarchists made a three-story house with no doors, that one could navigate by innate teleportation ability. As promised, traded favors or belongings now came bundled with psychic ‘prompts’ to return. Livia tested the limits of the plane’s healing ability by falling backward off the roof… she was in a severe amount of pain afterward, but only for a few seconds until the various wounds knit together and disappeared.

The ghostly attendants at Miller’s Pyre didn’t let anyone into the painting; rather, they assembled an audience outside of the frame, then pushed two prisoners (condemned murderers) into the demiplane and informed them that only one would get out alive. Both men scrambled for weapons, and one proved far quicker, putting a blade to the other man’s throat as he cowered. A tense moment passed, and the men began to talk… against all odds, they came to an agreement. If only one could get out alive, then at least he would return to bring food for his fellow who would remain trapped, for now.

A trip into the world crafted by Colossus gave mighty abilities to those who enetered. Strength, athleticism, resistance to harm, the same healing factor granted in the Panarchist world, and an improved ability to shake off deleterious effects. If one carved their name onto a clay stele seated on a prominent pillar at the realm’s center, they also gained the power to sense everything in the demiplane without regard to their line of sight, improved perception, and the ability to teleport anywhere.

The Watchmakers also had more of a non-interactable show for their painted domain. Another prisoner was put into the painting, at which time a 60-second clock started counting down. Devoid of his free will, the man infallibly broke into a smile, pet a dog, lit the fuse on a bomb, then began a series of events that ended in him ‘accidentally’ shielding himself from the resulting explosion. Then he danced a jig and walked out, just as the clock ran down. Each time he was put through the show, he became more panicked, disturbed by his inability to control his actions, and paranoid that something would go wrong next time.

A pair of guards came by again and again during this exhibition, pulling away a different officer with each trip. One by one, each of them were taken to see Nicodemus himself, as he questioned them on the proceedings, their views, and on the details of Zoltan’s murder. While Oscan (Hugo) spoke with measured guard, Xavier (Qiyet) was far more frank and earnest. She asked Nicodemus about Zoltan’s soul (indeed, it had been somehow banished, and Nic could now not bring the dwarf to become part of the Ghost Council) and about the wisdom of leaving the fate of the world up to a vote.

“Surely there are certain plans you don’t agree with?” she asked.

Nic smiled, gazing at the lit end of his cigarrette. “That’s why I have a vote, too.”

As he turned to pace about the balcony atop the lighthouse, the world seemed to slow for a moment, and Qiyet saw a small metal object slip out of Nic’s shirt and land on the floor. No one was watching, so the disguised constable pocketed it before returning to her room for the night. After conferring with Hugo, they determined it was none other than the Humble Hook itself, coveted by the Clergy as a piece of the god Triegenes. It had been lost for quite some time… and now it had found its way to a most unlikely owner. In Lanjyr stories abounded of artifacts as mighty magical items with wills and goals all their own—had it given up on Nicodemus, and now chosen to throw in its lot with a martial scientist, dedicated to bettering herself, as its first owner once had? Such questions couldn’t be answered here.

For the final scheduled event of the night, everyone was once again gathered in the Main Hall, where they cast their vote in a non-secret ballot:

Day 1 Factions Votes Notable Supporters
Watchmakers 6 Leone, Kiov, and Amielle
Miller’s Pyre 12 Nicodemus, Oscan, Cula Ravjahani, Erdanen, and Xavier
Panarchists 9 Luc, Livia, Han, and Bree
Colossus 10 Catherine Romana, Bruce McDruid
Arboretum 4 Erskine and Reed
Other 33 Vicemi and the Council (25 ghosts total)
Visit with the Surgeon
The lich's magics are recovered.

After pumping what information they could from the two Ob-funded scientists, Gangenwieck and Thornsenkertz, the party pressed on to the final chamber, where the lich rested over a foot deep in the ice, totally motionless. Before even attempting to talk with him, they had Hugo perform a Reverse Portal ritual, bringing in Leone Quital and the rest of Templeton’s squad, just for backup purposes.

Once Leone was cuffed into unconsciousness, the bargaining began. The surgeon spoke with an incongrously smooth and gleeful voice, slathering on the charm to his supposed liberators and offering them further boons in exchange for their help. “Perhaps the martial-minded among you have always wanted to master the arcane arts? Perhaps some among you were born with quick minds, when you’d value quick hands even more? All these things are possible for me. With but a few minutes of soul-surgery, I can alter your body and memories; no door is closed to you. You can be anything you like, just give me permission…”

Rightfully, most of the party was spooked by the idea, but Qiyet stepped forward. She had been focusing on the techniques taught to her from her study-abroad program in Elfaivar of late, and though occasional teleportation was helpful, she found the overall style incongruous with her self-crafted fighting technique. After detailing the possibilities to the lich, he agreed to alter her memories, dimming the lessons gleaned from eladrin warriors and strengthening the fundamentals she’d learned back in the Jierre Academy of Arms, a set of core maneuvers known to some as Elementary Stances.

After granting this adjustment for free (and assuring them that he’d avoided learning mind-control magic during his existence, to make his service more palatable to the Demonocracy), he requested all those present to enter into a pact with him. He would grant them the soul-manipulation magic that Grappa had requested, but once he did so the party would be required to free him. If they tried to leave while he was still trapped, the power of the pact would turn their blood to ice. The constables agreed, fancying their odds against a lich who hadn’t had a chance to hone his spellcraft in centuries.

First, the Surgeon removed Leone’s soul. Even though the man slept, the pain of the removal brought his consciousness to the surface, and he screamed. He used every ounce of his strength to try to throw his captors away from him as they pressed him up against the wall entombing their undead benefactor, but Templeton and Talon held him fast, while Hugo kept a chunk of ice against the back of his head (thanks to his investment in a belt of endurance). As his cries died away, the ice turned black, and the lich informed them that their enemy’s soul could be destroyed forever if they sundered the ice here and now.

“You know what the worst part about this is?” Templeton asked the silent, fragile container housing Leone’s soul. “These days, this sort of thing doesn’t even bother me anymore.” He slammed the ice against the ground, watching the color bleed out from the dozens of tiny shards until nothing remained of their unrepentant rival.

This process was repeated again, though with a more permanent form of crystal plucked from Kida’s seemingly bottomless inventory. The soul of Xambria Meredith was finally removed from Hugo, and placed into the body of Thornsenkertz, leaving the Ob researcher trapped in the crystal. Finally, the lich taught the details to a more limited form of the soul transfers they had watched; a ritual he called Mortal Possession. Grappa listened intently, and Hugo took the time to copy notes into his own ritual book, as well.

“Now fulfill your half of the bargain,” the lich decreed, suggesting they use heat to simply melt him free… only the party realized they had journeyed to Drakr with no kind of fire magic whatsoever. Undeterred, Talon began to shave away layers of ice using an adamantine battleaxe, and within a half hour or so, the lich was able to stand up and shake the remaining ice from himself in the alcove the warden had carved.

“You will all have a place in my future domain, once I’ve had my revenge on the Clergy…” he laughed airily, but the constables were in no mood to let him live out his dream (though they still had little love for the Clergy leadership). As he saw them level their weapons, he shouted, “Fools! I stood with the mighty armies of the Demonocracy. I helped them fell legions of your kind in my day, and you think you can stand against me!? Your souls will only fuel my rage across this continent…!”

Kida pulled out her fracturing handgun and fired off a spray of shrapnel—unexpectedly, the lich burst into thousands of bony fragments, and the fight was over before it had started! At first, the constables refused to accept what had happened, searching the ice nearby for the lich’s phylactery, or some other sign that he had somehow escaped destruction… but a careful check of the Ob notes by Xambria and Hugo revealed that the Surgeon’s phylactery had, in fact, been destroyed very soon after uncovering his frozen form, just as a precaution.

The real battle only began after the constables left that chamber, finding the Khangitche Odul with a dozen or more of his fellow frost giants, arrayed against them with a wall of mostly-dwarven prisoners, including Kvarti Gorbatiy. The greedy giant announced that he had decided to change he and Talon’s deal from earlier, since it seemed the party were traveling with untold wealth just hanging off them in the form of expensive magic items. Talon warned him not to try – that the very items he lusted after were deadly in the hands of the constables, and that they would destroy the Khangitche and his tribe, if they needed to. Odul was unmoved, and ordered his fellows to kill them all.

Kvarti joined the fight after being tossed a carbine and a sack of bullets, but the battle was long and bloody. For once, none of the party dropped from their wounds, despite the arduous circumstances! But the giants were all formidably tough—even the weakest of them still took several hits from the powerful members of Team 1 before succumbing to their injuries. One by one they were all taken out; and when Odul himself was felled, his three mages tried to surrender, only to be wiped out since the party was in a very unforgiving mood.

Templeton despaired at the sheer amount of evidence they’d left at this dig site; it would only be a matter of time before the RHC’s involvement here was discovered by the Obscurati, he reasoned. Xambria suggested they simply leave nothing behind, using munitions from the party’s ship to collapse the excavated chambers, nurturing the idea that the frost giants had simply rebelled, taken everything of value, then flattened the place in their anger, burying it under tons of ice. From there, Xambria would use her notes to figure out where she needed to be to meet with an Ob contact, while Grappa would take a train into Crisillyir and try to slip back into Leone’s life. Both promised to contact the constabulary immediately if they found information they could use against the Ob, or an opportunity they could exploit.

Return to the Vault
Kida leads a rescue party for the angel.

Delft met with the constables a few days after their return from Ber, but rather than hold a meeting in his office, they chatted on the way over to an unfinished brick safehouse he’d acquired in Stray River. “So we’re sure this is Grappa hanging out inside Leone Quital’s skull?” he asked, though he’d already heard reports from RHC divinists assuring him it was so. Delft was slow to trust this sort of convenience, but he shrugged as he considered the situation. “If nothing else, it’s been fun having a dozen boys with wooden billyclubs shoving him around for the last three days and force-feeding him coffee. Let’s go see what ‘Grappa’ has to say… but I’ll have a ritualist buddy of mine put a zone of truth on the building, first.”

After dismissing the guards and allowing the exhausted Leone to finally collapse, the constables watched intently as Leone woke again seconds later. He spoke in slurred nonsense, but the dormant personality of the Mindmaker eventually got used to steering the unfamiliar body, and spoke to the constables briskly, as though he were afraid Leone might awake at any second. Just as a precaution, everything metal was left outside, including Sir Hugo Von Gearkinson. Absent from this meeting, Talon Silverhawk had picked up some violent form of stomach flu from traveling abroad and was recovering at home.

“I’ll get right to business,” the man said, using Leone’s voice, but Grappa’s by-now familiar vocabulary and mannerisms. “Toward the end of my time with… my employers,” he said stiffly, still unable to overcome the geas that had clung to his mind through three different bodies, "I discovered they were working on a sort of excavation of Knütpara, an ancient dwarven city now covered by ice. While digging there, they happened upon a giant lich, frozen in the ice. Apparently, he’d left his phylactery in the city at some point before it had become consumed by a glacier, and after being destroyed in battle he reformed near his lost phylactery and was trapped. The only reason I can tell you all this is because it has nothing to do with why the organization originally started digging there; they found him utterly by accident, and from what I’ve heard, they have no interest in releasing him.

“He’s been stuck there for a thousand years… from what I was able to learn about him, he went by the name ‘The Surgeon,’ and he specialized in ripping out the souls of mortals and planting other souls into the shells of the still-living bodies. He plied this magic for allies of the Demonocracy, allowing them to infiltrate groups opposed to the demons, or simply to become effectively immortal by periodically taking younger bodies. It was apparently quite effective, even able to fool magical detection.

“I only risked one sending ritual while riding in Leone’s mind: I contacted the lich some time back, asking if it would teach me its knowledge of soul transfer—I think we could use it to give me free reign over Leone’s body and let me assume his identity. The Surgeon agreed, but only if we freed him first.” Grappa looked grim at his own suggestion. “But do not doubt my intentions here—we shall definitely destroy him once we get what we want. I’d hate to loose some ancient evil upon the world.”

Qiyet raised a point of moral concern. “Wouldn’t this solution involve enslaving Leone’s soul so you could permanently control his body?”

Grappa shook his head. “No, you misunderstand. I’m proposing that we take Leone’s soul out of this body and destroy it so that he can never be brought back from the dead.”

“Ah,” Qiyet replied with a shrug. “Then I’m fine with that.”

The others had mixed feelings. “Wouldn’t we be disrupting the natural order by removing a soul from the cycle of life and death like that?” Kida asked. “Isn’t there a chance that he could be reborn—even if it’s on some distant world—and have a chance to become a good person?”

“I don’t presume to know anything about the ultimate destination of mortal souls,” Grappa admitted, “but if the destruction of souls is something that bothers you, consider our common enemy’s use of witchoil. While the refinery in Flint has been destroyed, I’m sure they will continue to manufacture the substance, and that will require the consumption of innocent souls. Is it not better to destroy one evil soul than to continue to risk innocent bystanders while we wait for some other opportunity?”

Though it was a hard pill to swallow for some, eventually it was agreed that the group would go to Drakr, find the lich, and destroy Leone’s soul in the hopes that Grappa could then re-join the conspiracy and wait for an opportunity to lead the constables to breach its defenses.

“And isn’t there some other mission you were planning?” Delft asked, pulling out a letter he apparently hadn’t yet read. “Island of Odiem, blah blah blah, rescue the angel, yadda yadda yadda, requesting the following personnel: Hugo Von Gearkinson and Xambria Meredith, Nathan Jierre, Kaja Stewart, and a skilled psychotherapist." He put the letter back into his coat. "Yeah, I’m authorizing this mission. But I recommend you bring the rest of your team with you, too. I know you’ve been there before, but there’s no telling what could happen out there.”

GM’s Note What follows is a controversial scene from the table which ruffled a few feathers both in- and out-of-game. It is included here for the sake of completion, and not meant to serve as a reminder of lingering grudges or slights, but as a testament to the party’s ability to overcome interpersonal differences. As GM, I’m of the opinion that this was fully an in-character miscommunication/disagreement, and I don’t detect any unfriendliness among the players in my group, even though the scene created a level of tension around the table that I’ve only rarely seen.

Frankly, stress levels would realistically be high among government law enforcement officers working an anti-conspiracy case for more than a year, so I’m not pretending this didn’t happen.

Qiyet raised an eyebrow, somewhat curious. “How come you requested Hugo to come, but not me or Templeton?”

Kida replied impassively, “Hugo is the only one who has skills I don’t.”

Templeton groaned, knowing what was coming.

“Oh, so I’m useless?” Qiyet fumed, understandably upset. “Is that it?”

Kida tilted her head. “I simply didn’t think you’d be doing much there besides leaning up against the wall and being bored. Anything left in the Vault is probably way below the sort of threat level you’re used to handling for us.”

“That’s not the issue here,” the martial scientist said flatly. “You think you’re above us, don’t you? Or at least me and Talon—you’ve done nothing but badmouth our skills during the last mission or two! Why?”

“Okay, just hold on,” Templeton said, stepping between the two and putting his hands up. “Qiyet, you know that Kida sucks at saying things right. And Kida—just apologize and get this out of the way. You did kinda say she was useless.”

Kida looked flabbergasted. “I didn’t say that at all! I simply didn’t think there was a need for her to come along if there’s nothing dangerous to fight—”

“How many times do I have to say that’s not what this is about!?” Qiyet cried out.

At this point, the noise drove Delft to shoo them out of the house, lest they somehow wake Leone. “Alright, this is probably a conversation you need to include Hugo on,” he said lamely, then quickly explained the situation to the young constable. “Basically Kida said something, Qiyet got upset… just calm them down, huh? I kinda see you as the mascot of this group. Er, morale officer. Yeah, that.” And with that, he retreated back indoors.

Hugo tried his best to remind the group that they were all friends, and that Qiyet had saved his life more than once. But the fundamental misunderstanding between the two co-workers remained.

“Look,” Qiyet spoke, increasingly frustrated by what she perceived as Kida’s stubbornness. “I don’t think I can even WORK in this group if you think THAT little of me. Odiem could be dangerous. I should go.”

“Fine, then I guess next time I need to fetch myself a glass of water, I’ll ask you to tag along too.” Kida said, rolling her eyes.

“Oh hell.” Templeton buried his face in his hands.

Tempers were burning hot, but neither side exploded or drew their weapons. Instead, both women seemed to reach an understanding that there would be just no getting through to the other, and so the conversation slid into icy silence until Delft re-emerged. From the lack of footsteps leading up to his exit, it was obvious he’d been listening behind the door the entire time.

He spat a wad of tobacco into the grass. “Can I say something?”

“I wasn’t aware you needed permission, boss,” Qiyet pointed out.

“Well, I was mostly asking for effect,” he admitted, unperturbed. "You five—er, four right now—are the best employees I’ve ever had. And yeah, a lot of that has to do with your investigative ability, field records, and combat ability. But I also know from working with you that you’ve always got each other’s backs. I’ve seen that time and again, you are always looking out for each other out there. I’ve been working with you for what feels like years, and it would break my heart to see you guys tear each other apart now… and I’m not just saying that because I have an obligation to King and Country to ferret out the Obscurati leadership, and it would be a nightmare to try to replace any one of you.

“Who knows? Maybe you guys are just here for the paychecks. Maybe the whole patriotism thing goes right over your head. But if you didn’t care about each other, I’d know. Now then… Kida? Do you think Qiyet is a highly-skilled individual?”

“There’s no question,” Kida replied, without so much as a pause. Qiyet looked surprised.

“Now Qiyet,” Delft said, turning around, “I want you to know that the zone of truth extends out a few feet from the building, so you can take Kida’s statement there to the bank.” Hugo and Templeton chuckled appreciatively.

“Qiyet,” Delft spoke again. “Do you think Kida is a highly-skilled individual?”

This time there was a significant pause. Qiyet shifted from foot to foot as she weighed her answer. “I guess,” she said.

It wasn’t the answer the Chief Inspector was looking for, so he pressed further. “And do you think that her personability is among those skills?”

“No.” This time there was no delay.

“Okay! So maybe she screws up what she wants to say sometimes?”

Qiyet nodded. “Maybe. Though to be fair, I don’t have that skill either.”

“Right. So disagreements are bound to happen,” Delft agreed.

Kida seemed reassured, but Qiyet looked expectant for some more solid resolution. “And…?”

“And nothing,” Delft said, shrugging. “I’m no shrink. But that psychotherapist Kida requested is going to be a permanent member of your ship’s crew from now on. Now—I’m not saying you guys are unstable… but I’m saying I would be unstable after working this case on the front lines for as long as you have. No judgments, ya hear? I just want you guys to have an outlet if you need it, and definitely with someone more qualifed than me!”

(End inter-party conflict)

The constables set out for Odiem with Kida’s requested specialists (though with the order that they were not to be brought on shore until all other avenues of breaking the angel’s chains had been attempted.

“Visitors to Odiem are rare, and return visitors are rare beyond rare,” spoke a soft voice. It seemed to echo over the whole island as the party rowed ashore. “Why do these four return to Ashima?”

“We’ve come for Linia,” Kida answered to the empty air.

“Ah, they have come for the angel. Ashima’s restraints are unbreakable, truly, but Ashima wonders if these four even have enough strength to free her lesser cellmate…”

Everything in the Vault was as they’d left it. As they reached the end of the first room, Linia’s eyes lit up with hope, and she reached out for Kida like a child for her mother. Kida gave her water, and promised to do everything she could to free her now. Six golden chains ending in cruel golden hooks pierced her body; two each on her arms, legs, and wings. A skeleton key had no effect on them, and it took two uses of dust of disenchantment before the chain on her left leg was rendered inert. Qiyet (standing by with a craghammer of the titans) demolished the unprotected chain with a whopping 70 points of weapon damage.

Lacking more dust, it was found that the least protected part of Linia’s restraints was the stone in which the chains were moored – after applying enough Sechim-brand StoneEaterTM to the floor, the eyebolts easily pulled free. No longer fed magic from the Vault itself, the hooks fell free of the angel’s body after a single coating of oil of etherealness.

“And the seventh?” Linia asked excitedly, looking to Kida.

“Seventh…?” The constables looked at each other, confused.

“The seventh…. the seventh! The seventh chain!” Linia cried, clearly panicked. Suddenly, an alarm began to blare, and the walls lit up with ominous red sigils. Similar markings lit up on the angel’s own face and shoulders, and arranged in a circle upon her sternum. Suddenly she was filled with an unnatural vigor, and she attacked!

Most spells and strikes did little to harm Linia’s divine form, but now and then the veteran constables’ considerable skill managed to pierce even her defenses. A lucky blow from Qiyet’s carrikal bit into the angel’s chest, and her weapon clunked against a length of gold chain that now hung from the wound. “Found it!” the ranger exulted.

At a loss as to how to remove something buried in her body, (and being mercilessly pummeled by Linia’s short-hafted warhammer), the constables retreated into the southern hallway, hoping that the Leaden Curse they’d encountered on the doorway previously would affect the golden chain in her chest and hopefully disenchant it. But the spell of domination upon her forbid her to give chase, so she only screamed her hope that they would “rot in the Vault” and slammed the door on them.

“Two chains the Clergy forged for Ashima’s manipulative hands," spoke a familiar whisper. "Two chains they forged for her cowardly legs. Two chains they hooked into her back so she might feel the eternal sting of the betrayals she wrought, and a final seventh chain they hooked into her blasphemous lips, for the Clergy feared Ashima’s lips above any other part of her. So it is with your winged friend, though it is not her lips they feared…”

“…but her heart,” Templeton finished.

Sparing no time to think of a plan, Kida rushed into the room and drew the now-airborne angel’s ire. All attempts to reason with her verbally were failing, as Linia’s broken, enslaved mind caused her to mumble curses and promises of doom to enemies of the Clergy, to the point where she couldn’t hear anyone talk but herself. Templeton fired off a shot from his handcannon to deafen her, hoping that it might cause her to stop her chatter, and then they might get in a word edgewise.

“¡Liberdad!” Qiyet shouted, hefting her patriot’s carrikal, but her word of liberation had no effect. Taking a long shot, she dropped her handaxe and used her new spell of teleportation to get herself to Linia’s height, grabbing for the chain even though she was not practiced in the difficult art of grappling…

[nat 20]

Somehow her hand closed tightly around the blood-slick length of chain, and Linia screeched as a half-orc was suddenly hanging off her. Even so, she was more than strong enough for her wings to keep herself aloft.

Hugo acted quickly, retrieving a rope from his backpack and tasking Xambria with handing off the grappling-hook end to Qiyet. With no time to hand off the rope to a stronger teammate, Hugo activated his bracers of mental might, which flared through his tailored sleeves as he hauled backward on the rope, somehow besting the angel’s inhuman strength as he nearly got her through the cursed doorway. The bracers didn’t quite have enough juice to get the job done, but as Linia backwinged away, Qiyet’s iron grip on the chain exposed her orb-shaped heart, and the large golden hook curled around it. Just before Hugo’s temporary strength ran out, he used charm of misplaced wrath to compel her to break the hook with her warhammer—!

Everything went white after Linia screamed and brought the hammer down, but Qiyet saw a piece of the hook break off inside her chest just before they all fell to the ground. Xambria told them to bring the angel through the cursed doorway just in case, and then they returned her to their ship.

“You were right,” Qiyet said to Kida. “Standing up against that wall was SO boring.”

In the morning, Linia woke. She was alive and recovering, though the strength the wards had given her had faded, and her muscles were atrophied from her long imprisonment. Even so, she thanked her rescuers from the bottom of her heart, and pledged to repay them somehow, as soon as she was well.

In speaking to her, they learned that she had known Triegenes personally, and that the corruption of the Clergy was hardly recent, for she had no knowledge whatsoever of Srasama’s fall, or the effects of the Great Malice. She also claimed that she had been living in this world for countless centuries, and that returning to her home plane was impossible, as the world was inexplicably cut off from the celestial domain of her birth long, LONG ago.

Between the inability to travel between the world and the domains of the gods, and the supposed invulnerability of deities, Linia could hardly believe that a being like Srasama could be called here, let alone killed. Templeton mentioned Ashima’s Secret – a ritual that could give form to a belief.

“I have heard of this magic,” she said, thinking back to dim memories from before her long years of torment. “The Demonocracy tried to use it against Triegenes, once. It is called the Sacrament—”

“Stop,” Templeton said. “Even Ashima, a demoness, fears this ritual’s power. I don’t want to know anything about it.”

Interlude - A Gathering of Minds
The Obscurati meet on an unknown island.

Somewhere in the world, a ship passes close to a scrub-brushed shore, weaving between looming stones that jut from the sea, some of them even higher than the vessel’s sails. Hazy clouds and sea spray fade the island into a foggy gray, but somehow the crew navigates to a small pier.

The ride inland from the dock is brief and surprising. As the passengers look out from their two carriages, the island looks wholly abandoned; it’s hardly an auspicious gathering place for a group as powerful as the Obscurati.

Everyone’s only barely had a chance to meet or speak with the other guests—some priests from the Clergy, a dwarf from Drakr, a man from Crisillyir, even an elven woman from Risur, plus two whose nationality are harder to place. It’s been a convoluted route, but these precautions are necessary.

The drivers bring them all down an overgrown dirt road, along a weed-choked reflecting pool, and finally pull to a stop just outside a run down mansion. Cracked and empty windows leer down at the newcomers, and even the plants that have taken over the estate are tattered and bug-chewed.

Two figures stand at the front door, and though the entry behind them is rotted, they are resplendent. A distinguished old tiefling, dressed like a head of state in a black silk suit and golden jewelry, is attended by a younger tiefling in a suit and tie. The suited one whispers something to his elder, then lifts off the ground an ornate glass lantern the size of a small pumpkin.

“My apologies,” says the robed tiefling. “One drawback of secrecy is that we have to carry our own luggage.”

Once the travelers have retrieved their luggage, the carriages drive off. The tiefling with the lamp talks as he reaches into his coat and pulls out a small vial of black oil.

“Gentlemen,” he begins, then stammers as he realizes the elven woman’s presence. "Er, and l-lady: may I introduce Han Jierre, sovereign of Danor, my uncle, and… w-well, one of the people you’ve been working for. That is, ah, whether you knew it or not.”

The tiefling gives a slight smile to you, then works his way down the line of visitors, greeting them each with a handshake or a bow or a subtle blessed gesture, always appropriate to their culture, always comfortable and with the practiced ease of a seventeenth generation politician.

“Monsignior Dexlano, Patre Hevny, Bishop Vigilio your grace. Oscan! How’s it going? Herr Hetman. Miss Hatsfield, thank you for coming so far. Mister McDruid, Sir Sangria. It’s a pleasure to meet you all.” He nods to his assistant. “Luc, if you would?”

Luc has finished loading the lantern oil, and now he lights it with a quick strike of a match. A purple glow covers the area, and the surroundings are spontaneously transformed. The cracked dusty ground is now also smooth and swept clean. The façade of the mansion is somehow both decayed and coated with pristine white plaster. And the small gathering has been joined by dimly visible figures on the periphery of the light’s radius—armed men. Each one is clad in plate armor, bears a longsword and shield, and wears a cloak held in place by a book-shaped silver pin.

“We are currently coterminous with the Bleak Gate,” Han explains. “We do apologize for the inconvenience of planar travel, but as you know, secrecy is of the utmost importance around here. Thankfully, my nephew has at least perfected the technology involved,” he nods, gesturing to Luc and the lantern. “Earilier incarnations of this device involved the use of amulets or wands to bring one fully to the other side, but for now we need do nothing but wait.”

The guards around the area part slightly, and Han clears his throat. “Oh—Please pardon us as we perform a bit of security.”

From outside the light radius a massive snake slithers in, at first inky black. The moment it gets into an area of bright light its scales turn a brilliant iridescent in reds, greens, and purples. It grasps the ground with short, stubby forelimbs, and its eyes glow like pale yellow suns. It looms menacingly over the group, its gaze turning to each of them one by one.

Suddenly the guards start to level their weapons, for one of the newly-arrived guests looks like someone completely different. Monsignior Dexlano, originally a heavy-set pale priest, now has a second face: that of a muscular, dark-skinned man, with the glowing halo of a Clergy godhand. As he realizes his disguise has been pierced he turns to flee, but the serpent moves first. Its eyes flash with blinding light, and the man’s body starts to blacken and peel away while his shadow is slowly burned into the manor wall behind him.

The other arrivals are panicked and confused. Luc starts shouting for people to stay away from the monster and to remain calm. Xavier reaches for his sword, and Han calmly grabs a nearby guard and tells him to fetch Vicemi, and the guard runs indoors.

about six seconds later the man has been totally disintegrated, leaving behind only a silhouette on the manor wall. That silhouette twitches slightly, as if it is somehow still alive. The reptile slithers up to the wall and starts licking the silhouette’s fingers.

The other Clergy members demand answers, asking why the snake just murdered one of their fellow priests. The answer comes from the door as four spectral figures glide through.

Three of the ghosts hang back, while the one in front takes control of the situation. Vicemi Terio speaks with a raspy voice that reverberates unnaturally and chills all those who hear it. “That man was a spy,” he says. “Your fellow priest was replaced and likely died long ago. You should be more careful in keeping your secrets. But we will find out how you were compromised. Macbannin.”

One of the three other ghosts walks forward. While Vicemi’s face is withered and decayed, and the other two ghosts’ features are faded like they don’t remember what they looked like in life, Reed Macbannin has barely been dead a year, so he still mostly walks rather than floats. He stops next to the still-twitching shadow of the intruder, casually shoos the beast aside, and draws a very solid vial of blood out of his spectral cloak.

“Really,” Macbannin laughs, “it’d worry me more if we didn’t have any spies trying to come here.” With that he coats his hands in blood, then reaches into the wall and grabs something. He yanks, and the intruder falls to the ground shivering and burnt, barely alive. The guards swarm him, search him, and manacle him. “I’ll take him to the dungeon,” Macbannin says. Then he grins and winks to the new arrivals. “Welcome to the Obscurati.”

As Macbannin and the guards drag the impostor away, Han introduces the newcomers to Vicemi Terio, and then asks the two remaining Clergy priests to stay and answer a few questions. Han leads the other five visitors into the mansion. A far cry from the decrepit shell of its real-world counterpart, the Bleak version of the building is richly decorated with tapestries, lush carpeting and finished wood paneling.

“So how much am I getting paid for this gig?” Oscan asked impatiently.

“I apologize,” Han said after a pause. “I fear there has been some miscommunication, likely owing to the secretive nature of our communications. None of you are here to perform a service. Rather, you are here to be heard. We are holding a forum about the plan we have all worked so hard to bring to fruition: the Grand Design. A few days from now, at the end of this convocation, we’ll hold a vote—that’s why we need everyone here.”

Seeing an opportunity for further questions, Xavier spoke up. “What was that… thing at the entrance? Is it native?”

“A shadowlisk, and yes, it does call the Bleak Gate its home. Our leader has seen fit to tame a few to ensure that we have no uninvited guests slip in. You see, the creature’s truesight gaze not only sees through illusion and shapechanging and the like, but it also dispels such effects, letting everyone around see things for what they truly are.”

As the group passes through the lounges on the ground floor, they spot a few early-arrivals smoking cigars, swapping stories, or simply browsing the numerous bookshelves that are scattered about. Once they head upstairs and down the west wing’s second floor hallway, though, the mansion appears nearly empty. None of the hall lamps are lit, lights are visible from under only a few doors. But there is a dim red glow at the end of the three hundred foot long hallway.

In the vast room at the end of the hallway, a central fireplace roars warmly, but out the glass windows on the north, south, and west walls the whole landscape is nearly black. Together it creates the effect of light disappearing, and darkness encroaching. A set of luxurious leather chairs are arrayed near the west windows, and one man sits smoking. His hands are gloved, and a necklace is visible around his neck, but tucked into his shirt. At first he seems alone,
but as he stands to greet the group, it becomes clear that a dozen or more ghosts are floating outside the windows, watching.

He says, “Call me Nicodemus. I’m glad you came. Together we’re going to change the world. Come on. Let’s have a drink and talk.”

Winning the Challenges
The party succeeds at the Bruse's silly contests.

(Note: Due to poor GM note-taking and a scathing lack of motivation, this log has been written 6 months late. As a result, the account of events occurring at the table that are now incomplete and inaccurate, and your GM only has himself to blame).

Kida and Templeton worked with Dr. Recklinghausen to develop a cure for the strange parasites afflicting the goblin tribe, known as “dragon worms.” Apparently, the tribe had endured the pests for decades, and now that the lake of their home had been drenched (and the water sent down the aquifers into Cavallo’s city), the waterborne infestation was spreading.

The other half of the party worked to complete the railroad, though Leone Quital clearly had the upper hand, given his power over magnetism—his team laid track almost twice as fast! Fortunately, Damata Griento finally got up the courage to respond to Talon’s sending, apologizing, saying that he would certainly be willing to dump the project if he had the financial means to do so. He mentioned that he already had a contract to build the rail line to Citado Cavallo, so it seemed that the constables could solve their rail problem by solving their warlord problem, first.

In retaliation, Rush and Merton riled up a local tribe of undead lizardmen, once loyal to a dragon tyrant named Cheshimox. The ghoulish inhabitants of Abismo Condendado descended on the rail line in the dead of night, wielding icy magic and fielding a sled made of their dead master’s bones. Though short two members, the constables made quick work of the aggressors, even taking their prized vehicle and using it to drift stylishly across the plains.

While the cure was in progress, the constables worked to stymie the progress of the other railhead. In particular, they requisitioned dynamite from the RHC’s supplies, and tasked a local group of bandits with destroying and burning incoming timber for Leone, knowing he couldn’t easily move or replace it. The bandits agreed hastily once they recognized Qiyet, and let slip her local nickname of “Threeblade.”

Once the dragon worms were cured (using a complex ritual, followed by a campaign of education to avoid re-infection in the populace), and the treatment applied to Cavallo’s own grandson, the warlord was more open to negotiations, though he saved face by publicly gaining Beshela’s blessing as well. Griento dropped the Cantabrilla project, stranding Leone to work with only the men he could hire on his own, and no easy supply chain to rely on.

Having won both contests, and the favor of Shantus’ court, the party was entitled to finally meet with Tinker Oddcog. Leone and his entourage were forced to wait outside the throne room, under heavy guard to ensure there would be no funny business from them. When the gnome was brought in, however, he rebuffed the constables’ questions, adding, “In fact, I want everyone else to leave. I’ll give you to the count of—” here he pulled out a pocketwatch, “sixteen.”

He started counting upward from 0 as the party exchanged worried glances. Talon heard a faint noise outside, and his time in the war let him instantly recognize it as the Doppler whistle of an incoming artillery shell! The party sprung into action as Tinker opened a cavity in his chest—both revealing himself to be a construct (one merely resembling the inventor himself) and pulling out a comical yet very real black powder bomb.

Qiyet struck first, slaying the false Tinker in one stroke. The bomb rolled out of his hand, still lit, and Kida pounced on it with a bag of holding. The weapon exploded seconds later, destroying only a small fraction of the elf’s massive personal inventory. Templeton shouted to the room to hit the deck, just before the artillery shell hit—which would have been a good move, if the shell was explosive. Instead, it slammed into the middle of the throne room, burying itself halfway into the floor, and then began to vent poisonous gas.

The doors to the room burst open, and scores of palace guards marched in with an eerie calm. At the same time, Kenna Vigilante turned on her leader, lifting him off the ground with one arm as she attempted to strangle the life out of him. Battle ensued, but the constables found their attacks doing far less damage than expected. They soon discovered (after finally wounding a few of them), that both Kenna and much of the guards had been compromised, replaced by metal-bodied construct warriors (later identified as duplicants).

Talon rescued the Bruse from Kenna’s clutches, then activated a guardian form to allow him to fly away with him, out the balcony and over the hedge maze they’d cleared days earlier. Kida, master of mobility, fled easily, and Qiyet simply turned invisible using an arcane trick she’d picked up during a study abroad program. Templeton and crew fast-roped down from the balcony, bringing Hugo and Melissa Amarie along with. Leone and crew were left to face the remainder in a fighting retreat, though last the party saw of him, he had just figured out that his foes were made of metal and could be easily torn apart.

Taming Cavallo
An orcish warlord flaunts the Bruse's edicts.

After conferring with their ship for precise coordinates, Hugo sent both Templeton and Kida (along with the inquisitive Melissa Amarie) back to their RHC-granted ship, where they changed course from Seobriga to Citado Cavallo. They also charged Hugo with sending a warning to the leadership at the Risuri fort of Manhill, calling on them to expect a sudden naval strike from Ber as a worst-case scenario.


Sailing into the port city and admiring the cliffside scenery untouched by Ber’s fledgling industry, Kida almost immediately parted ways from Templeton, displaying a plethora of caution by approaching the warlord’s keep via stealth while the gunsmith met with de Guerra’s men and was readily escorted to the front gates. Once there, he was met with a heartwarming greeting:

“Well, if it isn’t another dog, lapping at the hooves of Shantus. Give me one good reason not to tell my men to kill you for having the audacity to dirty the ground of my city with your filthy paws!”

Templeton was less than apologetic, a stance which seemed to earn the orc’s respect as he opened the gates and the soldiers present began to treat Templeton less as an invader and more as a foreign dignitary. He bade Templeton to join him at a banquet table set out in the middle of the courtyard, swarming with members of his extended family, rather than his assistants and underlings. After hearing of the circumstances for the constable’s visit, Cavallo got straight to business, saying he’d need two things to even consider paying off his supposed debt to Shantus: a favor to earn his approval of the RHC, and a trade to make up for what he’d be giving up.

For the favor, he suggested a targeted strike on a tribe of annoying goblins that had been raiding outlying towns, accompanied by strange insectoid monsters. His own military forces were largely sea-based and ill-equipped to handle land assaults. For the trade, he wanted to get the blessing of the archfey Beshela, specifically to have permission to use once-forbidden sea routes to open up new avenues for once-forbidden sea lanes for both merchant and military ships, and for her to grant protection from sea monsters. Templeton saw no issue with these requests, and agreed.

Kida snuck her way into Cavallo’s main keep, spying a hefty horde of treasure under guard in the main hall, which explained why the banquet was being held outside (as they later discovered, the big news in Citado Cavallo was that de Guerra had just unearthed the trove of one of the nation’s dead dragon tyrants). However, she made her way deeper, into the fortress’ living quarters, following a mother and child she had seen turned away from the banquet outside. The child at least seemed related to the warlord, young enough to be his grandson, and was hobbling with a leg both bandaged and splinted.

Upon catching up to them, Kida suddenly remembered she didn’t speak a word of the local language, and the ensuing shock of a pale-skinned elf in the fortress sent the base onto high alert until Templeton explained the situation. Gruffly, de Guerra ordered them out, and not to return unless they had something for him.

The two set out with Templeton’s squad in tow, arguing all the way along the mountainside, their disparate backgrounds and beliefs creating escalating friction and casting wonder as to why the pair agreed to be alone together on this mission in the first place. Finally, they tracked the goblins to their cave lair, and even without backup they managed to lay waste to the defenders, mostly dog-sized ants with a few beetle-mounted goblins mixed in, along with an umber hulk somehow tainted by elemental fire. Just before they could slay the chieftain (controlling the vermin with a queen ant’s head-on-a-stick), a familiar figure emerged from the goblin’s cave, exclaiming, “Mein gott!”

What the heck was Wolfgang Von Recklinghausen doing here??

Cantabrilla Railroad Challenge
The Steelshaper won't be an easy opponent, here.

The constables decided that they could maximize their chances at completing the Bruse’s challenges by splitting their party. Hugo, Qiyet, and Talon headed up the rail challenge, teleporting across the nation from the palace near Seobriga to Reo Pedresco, then riding one of the supply trains for about seven hours to the staging town of Aigotsura.


Once there, they met the acquaintance of Surtan Liss, owner of Liss Rail Construction, the company granted the contract for the western end of the railroad. An eccentric entrepreneur, the lizardman sported a line of garnets set into the scales along his cheekbones, and was enjoying refreshments with a familiar face to the constables: Benedict Pemberton. The two were discussing Liss’ possible purchase of a group of construct servants, currently demonstrating their abilities by laying a short section of rail track in a nearby lot. Greeting the constables and Hugo in particular, the rich-accented inventor asked the constables to “kindly help convince this gentleman what an opportunity he’s missing out on by not buying these fine machines!”

Liss seemed interested in the constructs, but well aware of the financial risk. The Bruse was offering a substantial bonus to whichever rail company first reached the halfway mark of the cross-country line, and if he didn’t win, he’d be taking a substantial loss over the whole venture due to already having to pay for a few unforeseen complications out-of-pocket (if he ended up losing the bonus without paying for the constructs, however, he might still make a modest profit).

Needing a decisive victory for Liss, the constables set to brokering a compromise between the two parties, sweetening the pot by pledging Hugo’s skill as a technologist, both to maintain the supply trains and to do any needed repairs to the prototype Pemberton Industries constructs. At first, Pemberton balked at Hugo’s ability to tinker with such advanced gadgetry, but after hearing of his effortless defusing of the Eschatologist Bomb just before the cancelled Risur-Danor peace talks in Flint, he was more impressed than ever with the prodigy’s skills.

In the end, it was agreed that Liss would “borrow” the ten golems for a mere 10% of Pemberton’s 250,000gp asking price, returning them upon the project’s completion. In return, the constables would use their leverage with King Aodhan to give Pemberton Industries special subsidies that would vastly increase their profit margins in Risur over the long term.

Talon had Hugo send to Damata Griento, unveiling himself as Calius and calling in the favor owed to him after saving the investor’s life and career back in Nalaam. He requested that Damata stall his workers’ progress on his half of the rail, adding a warning that the ‘help’ he was about to receive from a Crisilliyiri individual was not to be trusted. Worrisomely, Damata did not respond…

Fickle Favor
The proven adults must now act like children.

Having earned the right to an audience with Ber’s leader, the party entered the throne room of the summer court. Accompanying the Bruse were Kenna Vigilante, Minister of Dragon Affairs; Zarkava Ssa’litt, Royal Vizier; Pardo, Minister of Rebellion; Soleda Outrunner, a longstanding Executore; and the now ex-Ambassador to Risur, Brakken de Heffanita.

The party found the Bruse to be a rather sad perpetuation of the local minotaur stereotypes. In a word, he was lazy. Despite having a line of supplicants more than a mile long, the Bruse was seeing as few of them as possible, and now that he had two groups of foreign dignitaries pestering him about a gnome that had sought asylum in his kingdom, he’d had quite enough of boring chatter.

The other group consisted of three individuals familiar to the party: a half-elf warrior with a wry grin and weaponized immovable shafts, a half-deaf half-orc with a polearm shaped like a tuning fork, and a finely-dressed Crysillyiri gent sipping at a glass of wine, whom Alexander Grappa had identified as the Steelshaper, one of Borne’s three creators. They were accompanied by a simple porter named Ulrik and a ritual mage named Inez. Obviously, this group was here in Ber to represent the interests of the Obscurati, but because they had charmed their way into the Bruse’s good graces by offering him a fine Danoran warship, there was little chance of bringing them to justice here, or even getting them thrown out of the palace.

Both parties wished to have access to Tinker Oddcog, and had good reasons for NOT wanting the others to lay a hand on him. To resolve this conflict (and to alleviate his own boredom), Shantus decreed that the groups would compete against each other in a pair of challenges, the completion of which would strengthen Shantus’ politcal position and put him in his visitors’ momentary debt.

First, he had a bone to pick with the admiral of Ber’s navy, an orc and former warlord by the name of Cavallo de Guerra. Cavallo stood to profit from a planned railroad linking the capital city of his largely-independent lands with Seobriga, but refused to pay his share of the construction costs, thus stalling the project and embarrassing the Bruse, who could do little against this show of power from his military commander. He challenged the RHC to convince him to pay up, while he tasked Leone’s group (the “foreign investors”) to trick de Guerra into attacking the Risuri fort of Manhill.

The constables (Qiyet in particular) were shocked at the reckless gall of Shantus, but the minotaur seemed confident that the act of violence wouldn’t spark a war with Ber’s neighbor. After all, he could simply denounce Cavallo’s actions after the fact and say that the orc was acting without orders, shaming the admiral publicly and claiming the necessary leverage to remove him from his position. Risur would likely be incensed, but after decades of war with Danor they wouldn’t be looking to make another long-term enemy.

For the second challenge, he decided to test both groups in a race of railway construction. Two magnates in the business of laying tracks, Surtan Liss and Damata Griento, were working to connect the east and west edges of Ber, but their progress had been slowed by megafauna, bandits, supply shortages and the like. The railheads were currently 36 miles apart; to win, a group only needed to ensure their assigned company laid 18 miles of track before the opposing side. The constables were assigned to Liss, on the western end of the nation (much to their chagrin, since they’d already made inroads with Damata during their mission on the Avery Rail line).

The majority of five votes would decide the victor:

  • One vote could be won during each of the two challenges.
  • Three more votes would then be cast by the Bruse, Kenna, and Zarkava, doled out at their discretion based on the behaviors and accomplishments of either group.

In addition, both groups had to abide by a few ground rules, on pain of forfeiture.

  • No leaving the Summer Court until the following dawn.
  • No attempting to locate Tinker before earning the right to see him.
  • The five main members of either group are forbidden to directly cause each other harm.

The constables cannily noted that the open wording of that last rule in particular didn’t dissuade sabotage, the use of third-party muscle, or other indirect and underhanded tactics. Shantus was certainly looking to be entertained. As soon as a lull in the converstation arose, he excused himself for the evening to hobnob with a few of his favorite nobles and try out his fine new telescope (likely a bribe/gift from Leone).

Soleda and the other politicians hung about after the Bruse’s departure, answering questions in his absence while a harpsichordist played for the un-festive crowd. Rush couldn’t help but snark it up, dragging over Merton so he could ask the constables whose ambush was better.

Kenna spoke with Talon, and the two hit it off with their similarly easygoing natures. Talon led with “So what do you care about besides money?” though he knew it was an inherently racist question for a dragonborn, it seemed to earn the Minister’s good favor as she nibbled on a few fruits and pastries. She invited the warden to come with her on a jog the next morning before he left, requesting that he bring Qiyet, too.

“We Berans gotta stick together,” she mumbled around a half-mouthful of grapes.

Zarkava was less amused by the situation, complaining loudly to Qiyet that even if the challenges strengthened the Bruse’s position, it stood to weaken Ber’s global reputation ever further, showing that the government needed the help of foreign dignitaries to finish domestic affairs. She wasn’t particularly inclined to let either group visit with Tinker, but she was resigned to the task she’d been given as judge in the contest, and hoped to promote whatever good for Ber she could manage in the meantime.

Kida spoke with Pardo about his position in the Court, and truthfully the gnoll had little concern for the contest or the fact that he wasn’t allowed to cast a vote in it. He stayed for the duration of the explanation though, taking advantage of his high societal status to learn all he could of the Bruse’s doings, and the immaturity of his nation’s ruler only strengthened Pardo’s opinion that Berans as a whole are weak and beastly, and unfit for self-governance. Moreover, Shantus in particular was a fool. “If the head of the beast is weak, the beast itself is easily slain,” he commented darkly.

The topic steered in the direction of the gnoll’s beliefs, and Pardo explained that he was a member of a gnollish tribe that venerated the Steel Lord. In centuries long past, they mined iron from the earth and built great offerings of steel to their god, and to this very day they venerate the metal as a sacred substance unfit to be touched by living hands. When he excused himself from the room, he turned the door handle with a handkerchief.

The constables were put up in a cottage on the palace grounds for the night, and quickly dismissed their maid and chef out of concern for their safety (and suspicion that they were up to no good). Even then, they soon discovered a pair of birds outside their window, spying on them! They made false plans, promising each other that they’d ignore the Railway Challenge entirely, on the assumption they couldn’t match Leone’s mastery over metal.

Then, using Hugo’s command circlet they telepathically worked out their true strategy. Templeton and Kida would warp back to their ship, sail into the port of Citado Cavallo and speak with de Guerra, while Hugo, Qiyet, and Talon would go west to meet Liss—after joining Kenna for her morning jog. They hoped that dividing their forces and talents would improve their chances of winning at least one of the trials.

The night passed without incident, and the constables made their way via teleportation as best they could to their respective destinations…


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