Thursday, 16 December 2010

Cradle Plain -- Session 57 -- Sunday 31st October 2010

In which many doors open, new and powerful acquaintances are made in the emerald spire, and the extraordinary value of one of the company's recent acquisitions starts to come into focus.

Roster (Party Level 11th)
Berend - Dwarven Fighter (Dreadnought)
Elumai - Eladrin Wizard (Shiere Knight)
Finial - Half-elf Paladin (Justicar)
Jonas - Human Rogue/Ranger (Master Spy)
Aerallo - Tiefling Warlock

October 31st, 370 Pale King's Reckoning

The party spends the rest of the day recovering from their ordeal in the sewers, except for Jonas who is dispatched to stealthily recover any remains he can find of the civilians who were killed. He agrees to this with a murderous twinkle in his eye and melts away into the crowds.

November 1st, 370 PKR

The company takes a few minutes to register their interest for the Pillar to Post race, due to start in a couple of weeks, at a small office in the First Ward (the wizard's quarter of the city). Their team is, for the moment, submitted unnamed, but Elumai nominates herself as the contact.

Later in the morning, a young lad turns up with a wax-sealed letter for Elumai. Inside, there is a note written in elven and a broach depicting an eight-pointed compass. The note reads simply, "Save your friend." Berend offers the boy and his pa free breakfasts at the inn as reward (and perhaps, in the interests of cultivating a useful employee) while Elumai examines the broach.

It's unremarkable except for the trace amounts of divination magic it's emitting, and Elumai wastes no time casting Object Reading on it. In answer to the question of who the note came from, the momentary image of one of the clerks from the eladrin consulate flashes across her mind. To the question of how it might be used to help her, she receives the image of a delicate male hand with a silk handkerchief attached to a gold ring, holding the broach in its upturned palm; the sun is setting in the background, and glittering water lies all around.

to the question of how this relates to her friend Seraiya, she receives an image much like the second one, except the background is instantaneously replaced with thick marshland, and the silhouette of a distant, canted three-pinnacled tower can be seen in the background. Against all odds, she recognises this foetid bog as an area of the Feywild where she was taken as a child to master hunting and survival in the wilderness, a place called Karrick-Kurr.

She reports these findings to her friends, and the suggestion is made that the images may have depicted a Fey Crossing somewhere on the Tondo-Ghantsee lake. However, any possibility of investigating is at odds with the party's stated intention of attending the planar symposium due to be held at the Basilica this evening at 5pm, so it has to be put off for now.

After asking around, they find out that the keynote speaker, Fennig Darshue, is a dwarf; that the whole affair is invitation only; and that several higher-members of the Court of Cloaks are likely to attend. The problem of getting an invite seems readily solvable: make contact with Lord Hottentoat, who contacted them earlier regarding his friend Lord Riva, and sweet-talk him into gaining them entry. This requires them to venture for the first time to the great spire Emerandes itself, from which the city gets its name.

The inner wards of the city are ringed by huge civic edifices put over to the service of either the city, the mages, or the King. Several of these have distinct dwarven lines to them, a fact not lost on Berend as the company passes beneath the columns of the Basilica, the great courthouse of the city, but as they enter the First Ward, the tenor of the environment radically changes. Mages fly to-and-fro. Small communiques zip and dodge along broad, uncrowded streets towards their recipients. Golems and other automata step aside with a muttered and mechanical "Excuse me sir". Gratutitous displays of power, magic, and wealth force themselves upon the party at every turn, and it's a far cry from the dark, topsy-turvy, and tumble-down streets where they've spent the majority of their time in the city so far.

Overlooking it all is the Spire itself, one of the great Citadels of Cradle Plain, reputedly marking the grave of one of the beings who fell to earth aeons ago in an ancient epoch declared taboo by the gods of the present day (and by Osternagum, the great prophet of the mages who brought knowledge of magic to the Plain). The spire itself is a multi-faceted pillar of shining green, several hundred feet wide at its base but narrowing all the way to its cloud-rimmed tip almost half-a-mile above.

One hundred steps are carved into its base, rising to three huge archways and granting ingress to the grand entrance lobby of the the Citadel. Inside, hundreds of people mill quietly about: members of the Court, floating or walking solemnly by, those who aspire to the arcane disciplines, and multitudinous visitors amongst them.

By far the centre of attention is the huge bronze frieze hung on the wall, an elaborate display which encompasses fully one third of the circumferance of the lobby. Known as The Lattice, it is the summation of all arcane knowledge on the plain, the laws of magic inscribed by equations, pictographs, glyphs, and various esoteric symbology, at once simple enough for novices to grasp and yet full of contradictions and subtleties which only the most experienced practitioners can hope to fully understand. From a distance, the inscriptions describe grand, beautiful patterns; up close, these patterns seem to repeat at ever-more complex levels. Empty spaces of virgin polished bronze, gaps even in the knowledge of the Court of Cloaks, are many.

The company accosts the nearest official, a blonde-haired mage whose plainness is offset by the complex golden patterns inscribed on her face. She greets them politely, and as it is their first visit, invites all of them to contemplate the mysteries of the Lattice.

"It is not just the truths of magic that lie trapped in the Lattice, but the truths of life. For one is the other."
-- Court of Cloaks official, the Grand Lobby of the Spire

They show her Lord Hottentoat's invitation and she immediately walks off to summon the wizard. A few minutes later (where in the meantime Elumai takes a few seconds to correct a nearby acolyte who has been teaching improper somatics to a rapt group of students), the clockwork monkey they saw earlier skitters across the polished green-tiled floor, scampers up Finial's leg, and starts sniffing his ear. Finial offers it one of the ball-bearings from its earlier visit. The monkey accepts, and a beautiful friendship seems inevitable.

"Ah!" says a creaky voice from behind them. "I see you've been re-acquainted. He was terribly sorry for his earlier rudeness, but he had a lot of pressing errands that day, I'm afraid."

The party turns to see a hunched old wizard approaching, dressed in dirty (but pearlescent) green robes, leaning heavily on a black quarterstaff shod with silver. Wisps of grey hair frame his lined old face, and the outline of a white lightning-bolt is inscribed, somewhat half-heartedly, from his forehead across one eye to his cheek.

Elumai bows but he waves her off. "None of that, none of that! Well then, you received my summons I see, and only a day late in arriving! Heheh." He instructs everyone to link hands, takes Elumai's delicate palm in his, and there is a sudden drunken rush of air before the party finds itself in Hottentoat's apartment.

Carved seemingly from the crystal of the tower, the room is bell-shaped and hung with various colours of curtain and weave, likely to provide some solace from the unceasing and innate green-ness of the apartment. A window of thick glass looks out, from their current vantage, onto nothing but blue sky. The room, which doubles as a laboratory, seems a mess to everyone except Elumai, who discerns a certain symapthetic order amongst the chaos.

There are several workbenches, all strewn with cogs, springs, cut pieces of metal, tiny clockwork engines, and various other materiale. At the arrival of Hottentoat and his guests, two metal dogs bound out of a side room, buffeting several thick curtains aside, one jumping up at Berend and the other at Elumai, their inner workings of bronze ticking and spinning in a complex dance. From another corner, a fat, miniature gnome shuffles out from behind a curtain, looks around, harumphs! magnificently in a slightly tinny voice, and starts to clean the place with a dust-pan and brush almost as big as he is. "Turing, must you do that when I have visitors?" asks the wizard curtly, but he is ignored. Completing the menagerie, a parrot made entirely of what looks like stained glass swoops down from the ceiling and perches on Hottentoat's shoulder, nibbling at his ear.

Finial enquires as to whether these are the wizards own creations and Hottentoat nods, splendidly pleased to have been asked.

"Yes yes, all my own work. I call it inanimation. None of this suffusing machines with living spirits nonsense. I find the idea acutely offensive. No, I say that with sufficient programming, you can instill a perfectly adequate semblance of life in these creatures without stealing that spark from some other potential soul who might have a much better use for it."
-- Lord Hottentoat shares his opinion on constructs

"Like a warforged?" enquires the paladin, and Hottentoat looks taken aback,

"I should say not! And I'm surprised you even know the word, sir! Anyone so well-versed in ancient history should know the fate of the warforged, and their creators. There's no slavery here, and no chance that my little friends will rise up, destroy me, and rampage across the world! They just don't have it in them! Do you, you just don't have it in you, do you Rufus..." The wizard sets about petting the larger of the two dogs, which sits and wags its metal tail in appreciation.

Over refreshments (prepared by an increasingly exasperated Turing) the party tells of its adventures with Calamachia. "You found a working Forge?!" he cries, aghast, grabbing some note paper and a quill. "You must show me. Turing! Turing!" There's a crash of crockery and the gnome waddles out of the kitchen carrying a rolled up map of the Plain.

As the party indicates the Rowenoaks where the brothers Cannith led them unwittingly to the Forbidden Forge, they get a good look at Hottentoat's splendid and detailed map. Elumai is particularly interested in multiple sets of contours overlaid on the geography and seeming to focus around the Citadels of Emerandes, Phalax, and Lovosignum. Hottentoat prompts her to speculate on what they might be, but Elumai, suddenly feeling the pressure of a student being asked a difficult question by her teacher, can only guess in vague terms. The old cloak is symapthetic. "Confluences of magic, my dear, energies between the shadows of the Citadels. Even we don't know exactly what they mean, but they are there."

Despite this, Elumai does notice subtle interference patterns which seem to coalesce around where she knows of three fey crossings (her home Dyanosis, and the Fey Consulate and the lake here in the city), and points them out. Hottentoat perks-up at her observations. "Very good my dear, very good! Riva was right about you, I see! In time, one of your heritage and skills might not even have to chart crossings into the Feywild, you might be able to simple see them for yourself. Can you imagine?"

Coming around to the subject of the invitation-only planar symposium, the company is soon filling him in on the Seraiya situation, as well as the fact that they have come into possession of a plane jammer once owned by the Reverend Tarq Frushante. Hottentoat knows little of the planes or Tumerex itself, but is stunned into disbelief that they claim to have a planar vessel, something he hasn't heard of existing for hundreds of years, and supposes that Fennig Darshue would dearly love to get his hands on it (as would the Court itself). After a moment of strange, distant contemplation, he is able to recall exactly in which room Darshue is staying, and pens a simple letter of introduction which might lend them more credibility upon a visit.

And then at last Hottentoat comes to the business at hand. Apologises in advance for any deception on his part, he reveals that in fact he doesn't know Riva personally, and is most definitely not his friend... in point of fact he can't stand him, seeing him as an unsufferable egoist who prefers accolades to be on lavished on himself in place of the Court. The old wizard doesn't approve of such behaviour, but it seems his suspicions run far deeper about the enigmatic Dustboot who saved Elumai's life so many months ago.

Upon finding out that Riva had Raised Elumai from the dead, he seems most perturbed at the scale of such a gift. "I mean no disrespect, but why would he do such a thing? Give of himself in this manner? He must have taken quite a shine to you my dear. And you've felt entirely yourself since this procedure?" Elumai can only nod, troubled by Hottentoat's concern and his reluctance to elaborate on what exactly Riva had to "give" in order to resurrect her.

The news does little to allay his concerns. "I've long had my suspicions about him. His fascinations are unkind. His obsessions, shadowy. I opposed his appointment to the Dustboots many years ago on the basis of an intuition, but nevertheless the vote was passed. I feared that away from the spire, separated from the oversight of his peers, his nature would assert itself in ways we would come to regret.

"Since his appointment, I've spent considerable resources and called in many favours to keep an eye on him; a responsibility of my position, you see. Magic is a dangerous business, to its practitioners, to the King, to the city, and to the Court. It's no coincidence I'm sure that you found yourselves embroiled in the affairs of the Samazar Splinter -- you knew of them as the Mages of Saruun -- while in his company. It wasn't the first time he had dealings with them, long a thorn (if you'll excuse the pun) in the Court's side, ever since the day they rejected our authority and formed their own secret enclave. Disbanded, now, you tell me? And not under instruction from Lord Riva? Hmm, perhaps, perhaps not. I wouldn't be surprised if he engineered it in some way, although perhaps I'm giving him too much credit.

"And so to the matter of his recent disappearance. A member of the Dustboots entirely outside of our supervision is unprecedented and has caused no small degree of consternation at all levels of the Court, all the way up to the Emerald Magister himself, and this is especially true given the worrying company Riva has kept in recent years.

"He's had dealings with several unnerving groups, shall we say. The Old Hands at Sixth Sea, a very unpleasant bunch; the Samazar Splinter, as we know; and the Black Mantissa in Lukktor, a murderous cult with a long and bloody history..." (Lukktor is a name familiar to the adventurers, having been the source of the ruined caravan which Azurami and Xavier came upon and swore to avenge.)

"On the face of it Riva seems to have been doing his job.
Before he disappeared, his reports were frequent and punctual. The Splinter is now disbanded, due to the actions of a group he himself patronised. But there's something about these cults, something I can't quite put my finger on... the necromancy of the Old Hands; the Splinter's independent work into the Rockworms of Kworm, if you're to be believed, and who-knows-what-other interplanar mysteries; and the Mantissa, brokers for powers far darker than shall be named here..."

As the subject of flurock comes to light, Hottentoat offers his thoughts on the petrified worm-flesh, recounting legends that those who came into contact with a Rockworm could subsequently smell the children of Kworm from miles away. "
The Rockworms of Kworm are sSome of the most powerful creatures of old, endlessly burrowing through the earth. Legend states that if they should ever reach the World's core... poof! Everything will be destroyed in a moment of infinite consumption. Your experiences of these creatures, long thought extinct, are not to be taken lightly, and I shall report them to my superiors immediately."

So the old wizard arrives eventually at the question he has been waiting to ask: will the company take it upon themselves to track or find Lord Riva, and report back to him on their findings? He offers a bounty from the Court treasuries to sweeten the deal, and suggests that Lukktor, a town under the sway of several insidious cults, will be a good place to start. "I do not recommend that you simply walk in the front gate and start asking questions, however," he warns. "They will be the equal of you, I'm sure."

The party agrees and takes its leave, Hottentoat promising to meditate on the information given to him (which encompasses much of what they've experienced to date, including their strange experiences with Aiyanna and her group below near the Seven-Pillared Hall). They stop by the treasuries on their way to Fennig Darshue's apartment.

A gruff and harassed voice shouts back at them as they knock on the door. "Too soon! I'm not ready!" but Elumai insists that they're not here on symposium business. "Will these interruptions never cease!" says a half-clothed dwarf as he pulls the door angrily open. Laid out on the bed behind him are multiple exotically-coloured garments, and a large, dropping feathered cap hangs from a coat-stand near by.

Clearly, they've caught Darshue at a bad time. The company wastes no time with banter and asks the dwarf directly what he might know about re-joining the bisected halves of an interdimensional plane-jammer. Darshue, however, is unimpressed. "If such a thing existed, I would surely know everything about it. Since I do not, it does not. And I do not know you... is this some kind of joke? A distraction by that wizardly fellow who I embarrassed so thoroughly last year?" Darshue pokes his head out of the door, looking up and down the corridor outside for anything suspicious.

Much to his consternation, however, Elumai pushes past, grabs the nearest garment, and begins dressing the flustered dwarf, the rest of the company piling in behind her. "Alright then, on the infinitessimal chance you're serious, and given your colleague's obvious expertise in matters of hosiery, ask me your ridiculous questions again!"

When shown the rubbing of the planar map that the party took from the ship, the dwarf's attitude radically changes. "I say... yes a fold just there and the third principle of harmonic release... where did you find this wonder? I certainly didn't draw it. Tumerex? I don't believe a word of it."

Extricating himself from Elumai's attentions, he pulls a monocle from a nearby drawer and stares at each of the company in turn. "My word. It's all true! The signs of interplanar transgression are clear as day on the lot of you. If I could just..." From under his bed, he pulls what looks like a circular disc of glass, utters a nonsensical command word, and the glass fogs over. "Ah, excellent image quality!" he exclaims, showing them a ghostly image of their silhouettes from which various prismatic auras can be seen to emanate. "Have a seat, then," he says smoothly, finally closing the door behind them, "I can be a few minutes late to that lecture, I'm sure."

The company fills the dwarf in on a few more details, wary of revealing too much. "So, a plane jammer? Damaged, you say... well I wouldn't worry about that, it'll maintain its relative spatial integrity no matter how damaged... but more to the point when can I see it? Your secret is safe with me, you can be sure. Perhaps honorary navigator would be a suitable role? What's the control mechanism?"

Berend recounts their failed attempts to establish mental control of the ship. "Ah yes, a finely honed mind is needed. (I'm at your disposal.) You need to visualise the location of the ship in five dimensional space, such is the nature of all things. (I could certainly do the job for you.) There are even rumours these things have a semi-sentience all of their own. (But I would certainly be willing to give it a try.)

"To the question of repairs, on the one hand it's simple metallurgy, any good blacksmith could re-form the shell. But it's the translocation that's the tricky part... you have to reform the outer slipshell, something requiring powerful minds, or a focus into which they've imparted their energies. They would need schematics, I'm sure, and be fully informed of what it is they're attempting. But yes... I don't see why that wouldn't work..."

Berend is intrigued albeit reluctant to propagate news of the planejammer any further than he needs to, and the prospect of a fleet of ships cruising the cosmos under the control of the mages, whilst exciting to Fennig (obviously) gives the rest of the group more pause for thought. As they make to leave, Fennig is gripped by a moment of panic. "Wait! How will I contact you? Where are you staying? What are your names?" but the party simply waves goodbye and closes the door in his face. Then, with much to ponder, they return to the Fall Right Inn.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Cradle Plain -- Session 56 -- Sunday 24th October 2010

In which Jonas gets the attention of the hornet's nest, his friends kick it over, and difficult choices are made deep under Emerandes.

Roster (Party Level 11th)
Berend - Dwarven Fighter (Dreadnought)
Elumai - Eladrin Wizard (Shiere Knight)
Finial - Half-elf Paladin (Justicar)
Jonas - Human Rogue/Ranger (Master Spy)
Aerallo - Tiefling Warlock

Franky's Stein is an inn deep inside one of the seedier districts of the city, frequented of old by many of the more dangerous people of Jonas' one-time-acquaintance. The place looks much the same as the last time he was here: a stiflingly-hot, low-ceilinged bar filled with the murmur of quiet conversation. As he draws his hood down there is a subtle change in the atmosphere, too minute for anyone but he to discern.

The rogue strolls over to Jack Billard, an old acquaintance, and the leather-faced one-eyed bar-fly looks him up and down.

One-Eyed Jack: "Master Jonas, all growed up. Never thought I'd see the day that you'd step foot in this city again. You must know you're a dead man walking."
Jonas: "You're still working for him then?"
Jack: "O'course I am! They keep my palms greased, and I keep me mouth shut. You know how it works."
Jonas: "Tell him I have a message for him..." (moves to draw sword)
Jack: "Now now, Mr. Jonas, you and I goes a way back. That wouldn't be violence you're threatening me with? I'm sure I got more friends in this place than you have. What're the chances o' you walkin' out that door, do you think? Put the weapon away Master Jonas, if you come here to talk, let's talk."
Jonas: "I'm surprised I got this far."
Jack: "Ah well, it's not my business to carry out assassinations sir. I leave that to people better equipped. All I do is clean tables."
Jonas: "Yeah right. You're as sick as the rest of them."
Jack: "That's a matter of opinion. Now why'd you really come back? Just to threaten a one-eyed tramp? And not alone even. I see you brought some new friends to play with. They know all about you, do they? All about your dirty little past?"
Berend: "We know all we need to know."
Jack: "Is that right, master dwarf? I could tell you a tale or two about this young man's days in Emerandes... what he got up to... sicken even a dwarf's ears it would."
Jonas: "And what have you done?"
Jack: "Ah, plenty. But I make no bones about it. I'll tell everyone in this room what it was."
Jonas: "Go on then." (nudges Finial)
Jack: "Ah here to pass judgement are you? I killed nineteen men in cold blood, me, in the course of this one life. Not a-one of them deserved it. Made eighteen gold across the lot o'them. But the value of those men's lives wasn't in the money they had in their purses, as Mr. Jonas well knows..."
-- Jonas and One-Eyed Jack, Franky's Stein in Emerandes

It's here that Jonas tires of this banter and grabs the surprised old rogue, one hand reaching for the gladius at his belt. His friends immediately unsheathe their weapons as chairs are pushed back, tables turned over, and several armed men and women get to their feet.

The tavern quickly descends into chaos, split almost equally between those who want a piece of Jonas for past deeds or for what looks like the imminent murder of Billard, and those who just want to get out of the firing line. Jonas plunges his sword into Billard's chest, and the filthy old ne'er-do-well's eyes go wide with pain and surprise. "You're a madman, after all!" he croaks, blood bubbling on his lips, before sliding, lifeless, to the floor.

The fire flares up in sympathy with Elumai's Burning Hands, thickening the already oppressive heat as her hair flies back in a magical wind unfelt by friend and foe alike. Flames streak out across the room, incinerating a half-drunk patron who had drawn his dagger and bloodying several others who are forced to dive into cover to escape the inferno. Aerello calls upon his powers and transforms into a diabolic beast, blasts of eldritch power erupting from his fingertips and engulfing one of the assassins who had stepped forward intent on slitting his throat.

By this point many of those who were spoiling for a fight are now retreating in stunned disbelief in the face of such a powerful display, but this doesn't stop Finial unleashing holy judgement on a wounded enemy. As he does so, someone else Jonas recognises appears from the store-room: Gizzard, one of the more dangerous Assassin's Guild enforcers, a scarred brute of a human a great two-handed sword in his hands and a look of perfect scorn on his face. "Last mistake you'll ever make, Jonas!" he bellows, and charges the rogue, but Jonas is ready for him, throwing him over and into his fellows, all of whom go sprawling against the bar, then leaping over Gizzard's head and punching his sword into the enforcer's thigh. The villain screams in pain, frustrated that Jonas has obviously become a much more dangerous opponent in the years since his departure from the guild.

s the party continues to unleash ever-growing amounts of injury on the throng, the contingent of patrons who want nothing to do with the fight quickly starts to swell, and what was at first a casual move towards the door quickly becomes a stampede. Unfortunately Jonas, Gizzard, and several of his fellows are blocking the way out, their steel flashing and clanging together in the doorway, so one of the clearer-thinking fellows picks up the heaviest chair he can see and flings it through the window. The glass explodes out into the street and draws screams of surprise from passers-by.

Heedless of this, Jonas tumbles over the bar, spins on one heel, and with a single crossbow bolt to the throat expertly divests Gizzard of his life. Aerello and Elumai all-but finish off two of Gizzard's cronies, and suddenly all that's left is a mopping-up exercise in the wake of the rest of the tavern climbing over each-other in their haste to get outside. A voice speaks out from the bar, and it's Jonas, a tall, frothing jug in one hand. "Beer, anyone?"

Walking the aftermath looking for familiar faces, he quickly finds one: Bob Bilby, one of his earliest contacts with the traditionally anonymous higher-echelons of the Assassin's Guild and its head, the Shadowman. A couple of young men who might have been runners he once knew, just kids who fell in with a crowd of killers, also seem familiar. The rogue feels little remorse for their deaths.

At about this point, the door to the inn opens, and Jonas dips out of sight. A gruff-looking fellow in a leather cap stands there, his keen eyes surveying the carnage with something between amusement and disgust. He strides across the room without invitation, and several uniformed guard file into the bar behind him. "What's this?" he says, lifting the head of a dead assassin, looking at his bloodied face, and dropping it with a thud back to the table. "Not what I expected to find. A plate-armoured paladin and his powerful friends in the midst of this den of thieves, and not a warm body left sitting at their drinks."

Finial calmly assures the sherriff -- who introduces himself as Trip -- that he was forced to pass judgement on One-Eyed Jack after the drunk old rogue was foolish enough to boast about his past sins. Trip is unimpressed. "While it might be your business to smite evildoers, you've left me a right mess to clean up. Checked in with your church already have you? It does seem odd to me that new arrivals to Emerandes would find their way all the way over here to the Stein as soon as step foot inside the gates."

The party is impassive in the face of these insinuations, as one of Trip's men suddenly speaks up. "Cap'n! Look 'ere! It's old Bilby, and his face is burned clean off!"

"Well now, that's a shame," Trip sighs. He looks about, rights a blood-stained table on its remaining three legs, sits down and puts his feet up. "Six months to persuade Bobby there to work for me. Now I'm gonna have to start from scratch.

"Lookit. I've got three, some even say four thieves' guilds. I've got the Blackhawks," he says, gesturing at the mess around him, "who may or may not be the front for an assassin's guild, depending on who you ask and what time of day it is... and Bobby there sure ain't got the breath to help me with that any more."

The company is vociferous in its offers of help. "Well," he says, "I drew the short straw and got command of the crappiest ward in the city while the higher-ups soak their fat arses in wine... so you want to make me an offer? I'm listening."

Finial suggests it might be beneficial to allow the company to proceed on their mission unmolested, but Trip doesn't take kindly to that. "Come now," the paladin purrs in the face of his reluctance, "consider all these societies and brotherhoods you find yourself fighting... you can rest assured they will be judged if we happen to cross paths with them.

"But I need evidence! One person to the next to the next. I need the head, not the tail!"

"And if we brought you the head, what then?" asks Elumai, the question on everyone's mind.

The sherriff considers the situation before nodding in agreement. He orders his man Barnaby to take some names (Jonas offers the name 'Jacob'). "Just one more thing then, where might you be staying?" He waves his hand at the bar. "I've a feeling the lease on this place might be coming up. I could grease a few wheels...?"

Neither Finial nor Jonas are keen, but Elumai and Berend speak up in favour of the idea, and it passes. As the final details are hammered out, Jonas deliberately lets slip an old signal he once knew from his days in the guild, whispering: "Do you like to dance along the moonlit rooftops?" Trip frowns at him, confused, but Barnaby, busy scribbling the terms of contract on a torn scrap of parchment, betrays a flush of recognition that he quickly tries to hide.

The matter of the lease is quickly decided, and the "Fall Right Inn", proprietor one Elumai Niastai, is born. It has four rooms (one with a couple of beds, the others more common room than bedroom), and a simple wine cellar, which to Elumai's relatively untrained eye seems innocuous enough (jonas later discovers a trapdoor into the tavern above and, behind one of the barrel racks, an earthy tunnel which he doesn't take the time to explore).

Soon after, Trip and his men leave. Jonas discreetly follows them to a local barracks, a building which seems to serves as both a civic centre and bunkhouse for the guard. Barnaby is visited by a man sometime later, but the conversation is out of earshot; one gold piece gets exchanged openly between the two men before he leaves, closely followed by Jonas weaving in and out of the crowd.

It quickly becomes obvious he's dealing with a pro, when between one blink of the eye and the next, his mark vanishes. Jonas just manages to catch him ducking into a network of alleyways and nips up onto the rooftops to continue following him, and in time, his pursuit becomes so subtle that the man visibly relaxes, moving back onto the main street convinced he's given him the slip. From here it's easy. Jonas's target heads north-east around the spire towards the rear of Jaren's Gable, the most expensive residential quarter of the city, then veers off into one of the many trade districts and from there down towards the docks.

Sitting comfortably on the southern shore of the great
Tondo-Ghantzee lake, Emerandes does thriving trade across the water with more northern settlements, and the lake itself is a rich fishing ground. The man he's following strolls nonchalantly onto one of the longer piers, takes a last look around, and makes as if to jump into the cold water below; at the last minute, he acrobatically grabs a supporting strut, and swings under the jetty and out of sight. Jonas hasn't heard of any dockside hideouts here before, but things will certainly have changed since he left, and he's perfectly content with this result, whistling a happy tune as he heads back to the inn.

Upon hearing of this potential nest of vipers, Finial is unwilling to wait one second more than necessary to root out the sinners within and immediately counsels an attack . Jonas, at first reluctant, is easily persuaded, and a plan is hatched to first observe the locale of the hideout (which reveals to Jonas two sentries, posing as traders on the wharf) and then attack first thing in the morning.

Meanwhile, The Fall Right Inn starts to attract a modicum of attention. Word has quickly spread of the change, it seems, and may people who stop by ostensibly just to take a look at
the strange and anachronistic new owners soon find themselves staying for the excellent dwarven spirits. One patron in particular gets Jonas's attention: none other than the man Jonas followed to the docks, who seats himself at a table with a couple of his friends and doesn't show any signs of recognising the rogue.

A plan is soon hatched to get the villain drunk so Jonas can pilfer a gold ring from his finger, a risky proposition which the implacable rogue deftly handles. Examining the ring, he finds that the black stone set into it lifts on a tiny hinge, and there is a small, empty void beneath. Jonas is convinced that this is some assassin's guild trinket and pockets it for later use.

Over the course of the night, Elumai enjoys her new role as serving wench to the fullest, plying the three men with ever-stronger spirits and convincing Jonas's mark that if he just stays until lock-in, he might get more than a gallon of ale for his trouble. The assassin struggles with his better judgement but her charms are too much, and a few hours later, he finds himself trussed up in the bedroom, both of his compatriots dead by Jonas's hand, and a company of seasoned and extremely well-armed adventurers standing over him.

Their interrogation doesn't get very far, as he's as drunk as a man can possibly get while not at the same time being comatose. He defies all threats to his wellbeing, demanding a professional torturer instead of the amaters he's faced with, and taunts Jonas, whom he obviously knows by name, with the truth of his flight from Emerandes years before. In the end Berend simply punches his lights out, and the company searches him.

They find two scraps of paper, one with their names and descriptions, and another with a set of times, four of which have passed, two of which are still to come, and none of which mean anything to them. Thusly unedified, they leave him to stew in his own beer, and he remains safely tied up until the morning, when Finial, Elumai, Jonas, and Berend set out to infiltrate the assassin's base.

First stop is the barracks and a quiet conversation between Finial and Captain Trip. It turns out that the good captain is well aware of Barnaby's split loyalties ("Whatever Bilby didn't turn up... I have high hopes for Barnaby...") but he's outright shocked at the company's plan to take on the assassins. "There could be dozens of 'em in there!" he protests. "I wouldn't take any less than a regiment myself!" However he finds Finial to be his usual charming self, and agrees to the idea of trumping up a couple of misdemeanors in order to pull the lookouts legitimately from the dockside and give the company time to do what they do best.

He follows through on this promise and some time later a quartet of guards descends on the lookouts. A fight breaks out as one of the traders makes a run for it, and in the ensuing commotion, the company sneaks through to the underside of the jetty. There they find a series of nets nailed to the underside of the thick planks, suspended about twenty feet or so above the cold, churning water which laps against the rocks and pilings below. A few acrobatic maneuvers and one dodged trap later, and they arrive at a sewer grating which covers a tunnel several feet wide cut into the very crystal of the city's foundations. They open the grate... and narrowly avoid being stuck by the dart trap which they also failed to spot.

Inside the tunnel, they get their first close look at the material which forms the base of the city. It's a smooth, matt emerald, shot through with subtle harmonics of green, self-illuminated and warm to the touch. It also doesn't look hewn, but smoothly cut, almost perfectly engineered, and there is much speculation about tunnelling or burrowing creatures which may have built the sewer network. Rockworms are even briefly considered, but the tunnel doesn't have the tell-tale rifling which is characteristic of the work of those dangerous creatures.

The tunnel pushes in underneath the city before splitting into a y-junction. All three tunnels are marked with some kind of glyph which is unfamiliar to anyone, including Jonas, but Elumai speculates that the south-west tunnel will head towards Jaren's Gable, the noble's district of the city, while the eastern tunnel seems to be heading in the direction of the Spire. This doesn't really help, but combining everything they know, Jonas confidently submits his intuition that the south-west tunnel is the right one. In the absence of any better ideas, they follow his advice.

On the way through they notice something odd: there's something deep within the crystal, a small shadowy blob moving slowly through the semi-transluscent material. Since the crystal has the feel of inches-thick glass, and for all they know this could be some natural property of the stuff, they choose to ignore it for now. Further down the tunnel, they come to a wooden barricade laid haphazardly across it, and Jonas disarms the relatively simple explosive tripwires attached to the barricade. Unfortunately, in their haste, neither he nor the others detect the expertly-hidden firetrap beneath the decoy, and a fireball erupts over the party and rolls down the tunnel behind them. The singed adventurers leap through the opening and avoid the brunt of the blast, finding themselves in a junction of sorts.

It's half filled with dirty, smelly water trickling in from six-inch grates high above, but the company can keep their feet dry by sticking to a raised walkway along the edge. The tunnel they enter out of is inscribed with the same rune at this end as the other, hinting that each tunnel has its own mark and what a map of the network might therefore look like.

Jonas hears voices from the north-west corridor, ordering someone into something, and the party stealths its way forward. The tunnel inclines sharply upward towards a larger underground chamber. Along both sides, wooden platforms are supported by struts hammered or drilled into the crystal, and on these crouch leather-armoured enemies ready to shoot approaching invaders. At the far end of the room, what looks like a large round bar table has been reinforced with metal straps and jammed into the tunnel exit. Water dribbles ominously between the planks.

There are also three metal cages suspended over the shallow lake of sewer muck which has settled on the floor of the chamber. Each one contains a single person, dressed in rags, bound and gagged and staring in wild-eyed terror at their captors. Armed men, presumably members of the assassin's guild, crouch and lurk in the corners, poised to strike.

Jonas scrambles invisibly up the near slope, dashes forward, plants one foot onto the wall and springs up onto the walkway, sinking his blade into the nearest foe and drawing blood. Thus attracting the attention of the entire room ("There he is! Perforate him lads!"), he focuses his mind, forces a dart of distracting psychic energy into their heads, and leaps back down out of sight. Two crossbow bolts still find their mark, however, leaving small flechettes of metal in his back which send bolts of lightning pain into his muscles when he moves.

A voice, gruff and confident, sounds out behind him. "You and your friends, drop your weapons now, or the civvies get it in the neck!" One of the guards reaches out to the nearest cage, pulls the terrified woman inside towards him, and places his knife to her neck in order to reinforce the threat. Meanwhile, the mook closest to the dam pulls out a huge maul from where it was hidden beneath a pile of cast-off planks, and looks expectantly at his superior.

Finial advances under a hail of crossbow bolts and unleashes divine fire on the assassin threatening the woman, but doesn't kill him. Elumai, heedless of the danger to the civilians, casts a freezing cloud over him as well... which also immediately flash-freezes and kills the woman he was holding. He turns to his boss, shock on his face as he realises that their carefully-prepared human shield doesn't seem to be as much of a deterrent as they had assumed. Elumai immediately follows-up by conjuring a blazing Wall of Fire, splitting the chamber in two and bathing the rear half in molten heat.

This has quickly become much more than the assassins had bargained for. Several of them feel their skin crisping under the intense heat from the wall of fire, and a second prisoner is baked alive under the onslaught, collapsing dead to the floor of her cage. The leader of the group, desperately re-assessing his options under this game-changing assault, orders his man by the dam to unleash hell, although his exact words are lost beneath the roar of the flames. His subordinate nods, and though he swings a mighty blow at the nearest wooden support, it's not enough to dislodge it. Water squirts from around the dam as it creaks and shifts in place.

Seeing what's coming, the company scrambles to get out of the danger zone, battering their enemies out of the way and clambering up the sides of the chamber just as the assassin swings the maul again and brings the dam down in a chorus of splintering wood and roaring water. Two of his compatriots pay the ultimate price for not paying enough attention when the defense was discussed and are swept by the tsunami of filthy sewage straight into the wall of fire, dying in a gout of flame and foul-smelling steam.

This sight, combined with what has already happened, is too much for the remaining assassins, and as the water begins to to lap at the walkways they turn tail towards the newly exposed exit. Two more are cut down by Finial and Elumai as they rout, and a third doesn't have time to regret surrendering to Jonas before Finial judges him unfit for continued life.

In the aftermath, only one of the prisoners still lives. He looks with a mixture of fear and hope at Finial as the paladin sets him free and heals his wounds, and collapses with a sigh of gratitude into Elumai's arms as the cage door swings open. Jonas moves amongst the bodies, casting a disapproving look at Elumai ("Charred! Frozen! Burned!" he reports, pointing at each in turn) but she has no time for his witicisms and Finial, who approves of her actions in saving at least one of the civilians, has to step in to cool the tension. "There's a place for you with the Justicars," he smiles at her.

Under questioning, the prisoner they saved, a man named Rathar, tells how he, his wife, and his sister were taken from their homes and kept blindfolded in a cell deep in the sewers along with several others. They were brought out only a few minutes before the company arrived, and from snippets of overheard conversation it was clear that the assassins were expecting an attack. For now, at least, his relief at being rescued permits him no time for grief at the fate of his loved ones.