Of Secret and Hidden Things

Aethne's survey 3.2

SURVEY THREE, section two

Autumn of the year 4663 of Balozkinar’s Reckoning

May it please my lord to indulge this diversion from our research on the halls of Thracia. Though it may not be of such great historic significance as our research targets in Thracia, this diversion may shed light on recent developments in this region. May the Wise Guardian guide these findings to those among us who would find them most enlightening.

I look forward to my lord’s esteemed review of these findings, observations, and analyses.

A Brief Request

I continue to meditate on what transpired with the oracular skull in the star-speckled vault of Thanatos in Thracia. Each of us who interacted with the oracle received a blemish-like mark on the hand, in the shape of a skull. This cannot be good, and seems entirely out of scope with the boon granted by the oracle. Would my lord have any insight as to how to identify the impact of this mark, and how to remove it?

I am humbled by my lord’s benevolence, patience, and expertise.

Doratis, minor port settlment

Field research was necessarily truncated due to impairment within the research team. While we awaited fresh supplies, one of my research associates (A.) invited us to join her in recovering an artifact that had passed from an ally’s possession into the hands of a locally notable freebooter. Though her motives were obviously suspect, there seemed no harm in indulging her in this diversion. While her contact may not have come by the artifact through legitimate means, confronting a feared brigand could improve the health and vigor of local settlements and mercantile endeavors, which would profit us all.

According to A.‘s contact, the brigand had retreated to the port of Doratis with his acquired artifact, a figurine carved of semiprecious stone. The port, rustic and insignificant, was known for nothing more than its salted fish. Upon arriving we consulted with their port authority, who informed us that the brigand had, in fact, become de facto leader of their settlement. Several days before our arrival, the brigand had captured and sequestered the settlement’s legitimate lord, and declared himself in his place. So poor is the settlement that they did not have any standing forces sufficient to dispute his claim, and lacked the organization to raise their militia to remedy the situation. While the brigand’s ship lay in harbor, he traveled freely between his ship, the settlement proper, and an unidentified encampment nearby.

While my associates indulged their palates and sought gossip in a local public house, I visited a wise-woman follower of Kutienna. She elaborated on the information provided by the harbormaster, and helped me establish a course of prudent action to present to my associates.

The brigand relied on brute force, intimidation, and the local populace’s organizational constraints to establish and maintain his power. There were no signs that he intended to establish a power base in Doratis, merely that he considered their government and their laws to be beneath his concern.

Once the sun had set, and it was established that he had left the settlement for the night, we dispatched those of his crewmembers who occupied the brigand’s ship. Onboard we found the rightful lord, whom we freed to gather the militia. One of the crew survived the encounter (a human named Berg). After a brief interview, we granted him custody of the ship and encouraged him to conduct himself discreetly. A. gave him some currency to facilitate his rehabilitation.

After freeing the authority figure, we proceeded north in search of the brigand’s hideout. An encounter with ferocious and surprisingly nocturnal crocodiles forced our team to retreat to the town. A. and her aide scouted ahead while the rest of the team recovered in the relative safety of the settlement.

By light of day our team made another foray, and discovered the location of the brigand’s encampment. Unfortunately, we also identified that it was too well-fortified and defended a position for us to engage them without careful planning. We spotted several human combattants and one dark elf. D. offered to plant alarm devices around the perimeter, and we briefly considered a controlled brush fire. We have yet to reach a consensus.

Conclusion

I will submit my next report at the earliest opportunity, at which point I hope to present a detailed review of the item we presume to seek. Eliminating or neutralizing the rest of this brigand’s crew, and remitting their gear to the local militia, would go some length in fortifying local government. I will also further curry the wise-woman’s favor, in hopes of establishing fruitful communication. There may be significant lore yet to uncover in these lands, and more contacts are always welcome.

I cast this document into the winds of fate, that the servants of our judicious Gatekeeper see fit to convey it unto my lord. May we all find illumination under His watchful gaze.

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Refuge

The next chapter of WIW Begins at the Tower of Saralon where the party has taken refuge to bring Bet-n-war back to health and communicate with Aethne’s colleagues. Arrangements were made for Aethne’s slaves and trades for items found at The Caverns of Thracia. Bet-n-war should be ok in 10-15 days, not to mention the time it will take to receive the slaves and goods from the Thothian order. What better to do than explore the long forgotten depths under Saralon’s tower?

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Survey Three

The month since my previous missive have borne many blessings to my doorstep, as I trust The Opener has brought upon my lord as well. Enclosed for consideration please find the third of my survey reports from the Emrival Peninsula.

I look forward to my lord’s esteemed review of these findings, observations, and analyses.

Survey Three

Late spring of the year 4663 of Balozkinar’s Reckoning

Synopsis: Journey from Levonia/ Ljavona to Edominar, and thence to thwart illicit slavers in Sulet Hold. Encountered alien intelligence, dragon, unusual ruins, local sacred relics. Returning relics to interested parties prompted further revelations.

A) Levonia to Edominar, Edominar to Landhaven

I sent my last missive from Ljavona, whose pall had begun to lift. On the road from L to Edominar, my constable-companions were beset by Gishmesh men, whom they presumed to be slavers. Unlike ordinary slave-raiders, these fought to the death, which the constables did not think to consider odd. Upon turning aside the Gishmesh assault, I proceeded to interrogate the one disabled captive, hoping to gain some actionable intelligence before the enthusiastic inquisitors slew him. No sooner had I begun to inspect his mental faculties, and identified a non-magical mental influence, than the captive should seize up and die, as though under a suicide compulsion.

The next morning, the constables took on a freeloader, an erstwhile pirate that had apparently been kicked off his ship due to his over-delicate sensibilities. The group offered to escort him to Edominar.

Upon arrival in Edominar, the constables reported to the liege lord of the city, who summoned me for discourse. I informed him of my scholarly intent in the area and the city, and he “offered” me a “position” with the band of inquisitors. Under the circumstances, I thought it best to accept his offer, rather than discover the ramifications of a polite decline. It seems best for the nonce to continue traveling with these inquisitors, as they are particularly suited to uncover – and indeed inclined to explore – the strange goings-on of the region.

Whilst attending to other affairs, the constable crew purchased a ship and the services of an able seaman to pilot it. I offered Dalthaine’s capable services to render the ship’s colors. Within two weeks of the group’s return to Edominar, their ship Fist of Gold set sail for Landhaven, the sleepy town nearest the slavers’ stronghold.

Landhaven was a backwater, the province of retired shipmen and privateers, with surprisingly little contact with the outside world. The town produced no significant goods for export, and required little by way of import. The land route to Sulet Hold had been dormant for decades, a task the group decided to investigate at a later date.

While exploring Landhaven and its environs, the constables stumbled across some Gishmesh with a crew of slaves tasked to cut and gather wood. The affect of slaver and slave alike were surprisingly flat, and clearly all parties were under various levels of domination, except one of the slaves, who was cowed through more conventional means. The group disabled or slew all the slavers, and corralled the slaves for further evaluation. I attempted contact with one of the slaves, and for the first time had the opportunity to study the nature and extent of the domination.

A second round of slave-handlers arrived before I could initiate contact, and during the chaos we lost the slave-driving captive, but managed to preserve the slaves. The constables took but a few minutes to re-secure the premises, and I delved into the psyche of one of the gathered slaves.

Once I established contact, it became clear that the individual’s will had been forcibly eroded by an external and remote presence, via non-magical metaphysical means. The dominating party required only a tenuous hold on the slaves, since it had flensed them of almost all of their mental presence, leaving just enough to process and follow simple commands. Indeed, the subjects were little better than zombies, though the dominator did possess the useful ability to see through their eyes. I feared giving the dominating party too much information about our presence, so I advised the constables to blind-fold and gently bind the remaining slaves, while I sought to break the binds holding my test-subject in thrall.

It took some force and persistence, but I managed to extract the slave from his bindings, which prompted the return of some of his mental faculties. By the constables’ leave, I took the slave back to the Fist of Gold for further questioning, while they debriefed the undominated slave, Narqueisès. The formerly-dominated individual revealed himself to be Jonah, a furniture merchant from Larkshire, who’d been captured whilst navigating the roads to Ljavona. He reported that, several days after his capture, he was blind-folded and taken underground to be presented to the Master, a livid violet amorphous figure dubbed Kemoritil. K induced a mind-numbing current on the gathered subjects, and those who buckled under its assault were added to the slave pool. Those who remained in control of their faculties were shepherded with more caution, until the following week’s “veneration,” during which time they were again subject to the cowing assault. Jonah survived two rounds of this conditioning before his psyche was brought under sway of the apparent alien intelligence.

During my inquiry, Jonah described Sulet Hold and its environs, including the erstwhile leader of the Hold, the vigorous Gishmesh captain Rashamad. Rashamad was known to carry an ancient, thick, and diminutive text that sounded suspiciously like a traditional Antillian journal. While the captain could not read Antillian or any other language, he recognized the intrinsic value and rarity of such a find, and treasured it accordingly.

The constables through their consultation with Narqueisès established a rough lay of the Hold, by virtue of which they planned a stealthy assault by cover of darkness. Immediately upon our return to land, the constables found a Duanael godsman waiting for them, strangely eager to help in their enterprises. They chose to accept his aid at face value.

B) Raid on Sulet Hold

Their principal rogue (A. Emerikol) slipped into Rashamad’s compound, stole his precious book, and led a stampede of his guardsmen into the town proper, while she silently returned to the constables’ company. Cursory perusal revealed that the book was the journal of one Jarod Skyke, Antillian founder of Sulet Hold some 250 years ago. Among other things, he described finding an ancient dwarven outpost in his mines beneath the town, which he promptly walled up to avoid further “complications.” The dwarven constable lit up when I mentioned this, and we agreed to make a more thorough investigation at the earliest opportunity.

The group snuck around the compound, lit the thatch roofs for further diversion, dispatched the guards to the salt mine, and descended into the deep. In the mines, not only did we find walls that appeared to substantiate the claims of Snyke’s journal, we also came across the dreaming mentation of a young dragon, slumbering in chains. After stirring the constables from their dumbfounded stupor, I persuaded them to continue exploring. The next passage they investigated held the xenotic Kemoritil. It launched a mind-sapping broadcast attack, then teleported itself to the relative safety of its “receiving room” to the south. (enclosed for your reference is D. F. Keeg’s renderings of the caverns). The constables promptly discovered it on its salty dais, and launched a full-on assault.

Kemoritil had no discernable anatomy, and made no specific movements, but launched several targeted mental attacks, and discharged substantial amounts of electricity. It also roused the sleeping dragon, which it appeared to have cowed into service. The dragon raged, and stripped its chains from the walls.

The Dunael godsman attempted to free the dragon from Kemoritil’s dominion, woefully inadequate though his attempts may be. I thought it best to lend him my assistance. I addressed the dragon (named Garmannon by its own admission) in its rightful tongue, and established contact with it. I lent it enough presence of mind that, with the help of the godsman’s enchantments, it successfully broke free of the alien’s dominion. We urged Garmannon to cooperate in our fight with its captor. In a fit of pique, it rushed past us, and by virtue of its flaming breath rendered Kemoritil to cinders. It then suffered a claustrophobic bout, and I submitted for its consideration a series of spatial images and maps, showing it the caverns, the region, and where it was likely to find safety and comfort.

Little remained of the alien intelligence, though I have provided some of its cremated remains in the attached wax-sealed vial. Once Garmannon had incinerated the alien, I could feel the sapping cloud of its dominion dissipate, producing a predictable level of chaos above. The group found and secured the alien’s horde, and proceeded above-ground to inspect the mayhem.

Former slaves, restored to most of their faculties, had gathered in an angry mob outside Rashamad’s compound. The captain, for his own part, was barking orders and striking his men in a startling show of rank fury. The men were trapped between a bloodthirsty mob and a bloody-minded leader, and wanted none of either.

Rashamad spotted the constables, and stormed at us in hell-bent attack. I was all too glad to help the constables put the raving Gishmesh to rest. I realized quite quickly that Rashamad had never been subjected to Kemoritil’s dominion – he did not need to be. He served the alien willingly, bringing it an ever-increasing amount of human fodder to slake its thirst for power. He was the worst blend of sycophantic toady and brutal overlord, the sort of man which sick empires produce in disturbing numbers, and which mankind is better off without.

After dispatching Rashamad, the stealthiest of the constables opted to help Narqueisès recover his belongings. This attracted the attention of the Gishmesh defenders, forcing several of us to come to their rescue, talking the mob down. We offered to use Rashamad’s treasure to pay the slaves’ dues of compensation, and help them find their way home. We also persuaded the merchant-captain of Sulet Hold, Mahan, to offer jobs to any qualified and interested parties, to aid in the reconstruction of the Hold and its commensurate salt trade. I persuaded the constables to allow the Gishmesh to leave, since they had to a man lost any desire to remain in the region, and were glad to leave with their lives and their minimal personal effects.

Kemoritil’s horde had two particularly notable objects: one death mask (Keeg’s diagrams included), and a pitcher of Dunael origin. The godsman indicated that the pitcher would be considered a sacred relic to the Dunael druids, and at his prodding the constables decided to make their way to the nearest known Dunael druid grove.

C) Into the woods

Several days later, deep into the foreboding wood between Ljavona and Sulet Hold, the constables fought off several fierce felines (a sort of lynx?). The commotion roused an ogre, which I somewhat-successfully intimidated with psychic contact and charismatic manipulation. The constables defeated the ogre, though we were unable to identify the location of its lair.

The Dunaeli godsman brought us shortly thereafter to the druids’ grove, where we met a filthy naked halfling and the keeper of the grove, what would appear to be a dryad-Dunael hybrid named Feloren. As partial reward for the return of “his” pitcher, he permitted me an interview to explore some of Dunael history. While a complete transcript in Shunash’s notation is attached, below is a short synopsis.

By Feloren’s reckoning, Dunaeli humans were the first inhabitants of the Emrival peninsula, arriving at a time “quite beyond your reckoning.” When their primary god Dagda noticed the Dunael and saw their potential, he sent dwarves and elves to guide their way, forging the Dunaelian Empire. From his description, I would judge that the first Dunaeli city-state, called Dunael (“first-home”) was founded during the fall of Kelnor.

Feloren also provided enough explanation of Dunaeli linguistic conventions for me to parse the language more readily. As he explained, the name of the city Edominar is a corruption from Roblandinar (“Earthblood”), the name of the river at whose mouth the city rests. Keeg’s name, “Danika,” is also of Dunaeli origin. In fact, Feloren revealed that her long-lost mother is alive, and living among the Dunael. Keeg was understandably nonplussed.

Feloren claimed that the Dunael are also familiar with Graem-Ghul, though they consider Its name to be deeply offensive. They call it “the faceless one” or “the nothing.” He provided the group safe passage through the forest and back to Sulet Hold, from which point they decided to address the obstruction of the road between SH and Landhaven, before returning for a respite at Edominar.

Approximately concomitant with our departure from Feloren’s company, the Dunaeli godsman made rapprochement with Garmannon, who had been following us at a timid distance since our departure from Sulet Hold. He initiated contact with the dragon, and solicited help from Feloren and from me to negotiate the dragon’s plight. We managed to persuade it to keep company with us – though it refused to alight on the boat or join us in the presence of multiple humans (both of which, I assured it, would be for the best. Neither wooden vessels nor towns take kindly to draconic company). I vowed to help the godsman understand some of draconic culture, and to help both of them understand some of what it means to be a dragon in the modern world. It is my humble hope that this dragon can be taught to learn from and live with humans as valued peers, a relationship in which all parties might substantially benefit.

D) From Sulet Hold to Landhaven

While D.F. Keeg tinkered with her curious arcane contraptions (with the help of another female dwarven blacksmith – what are the chances?), I accompanied the rest of the constables on an information-gathering trip to Landhaven. Between Mahan, the forge-dwarf, and the inn rumors at SH, and further rumors and stories in Landhaven, we cobbled together stories of a single beast, who for almost fifty years had plagued the road between the towns, making the overland route between the cities almost assuredly lethal. The creature was reported to emit fearful cries, and potent electrical coronas, and it seemed to be composed of the parts of multiple animals.

Once the constables were all ready to set foot on the path, they found their way to Coastsong Keep just outside of SH, which belonged to a bardik widow Aela Galen, whose Tarrantine Alryan husband had recently been slain while traveling to the north. The constables paid the widow a visit, and immediately suspected foul-play on behalf of the hot-headed Kharak captain of the guard. Several of the locals corroborated their suspicions. The captain’s story that a giant had accosted the two did not fit with any descriptions of giantish physique or behavior, and he immediately changed topic when we asked for more description of its “savage” vocalization and its “claws.” The bardik widow, for her part, could not be troubled to run the keep for a night, much less a fortnight, and was glad to have a strong and confident captain to take care of the keep. The godsman directed Garmannon to fly to the druids’ grove to inform them of the developments.

For the timebeing, we left the situation intact, though the constables committed to several parties that they would investigate the claims. Garmannon and A. Emerikol flew north to inspect the possible presence of “giants,” while the rest of us set off cautiously toward Landhaven. Along the way, we assisted D.F. Keeg in surveying the road, for its eventual improvement.

Soon after leaving the keep, it was obvious we had ventured into the domain of a very territorial, rapacious hunting beast. The remains of its electrocuted and dismembered victims littered the erstwhile road, and no beasts larger than a songbird were found alive. Still, rather than wait for the dragon and the rogue, they insisted on venturing on.

The first night out of Coastsong Keep, the beast set upon us at camp. My faithful Phaelon heard it first, though its harrowing screams did not provide enough evidence for us to engage it until it lept into our midst. Even with potions and spells at our disposal, it was a tough fight, with an abyssal-stained chimera that would take no quarter. I briefly attempted contact, but its potent mind was treacherous territory. I was able to discern nothing beyond some peripheral connection to the local bogeyman, Graem-Ghul. The beast had a furry mammalian head, serpentine neck and tail, draconic torso, and legs that bore a striking resemblance to those of a honey-badger. Enclosed please find a preserved vial of its blood. The constables took its eyes, head, heart, meat, and skin for processing, possibly for sale or consumption. If any of these items interest you, I shall retain them and remit them to your company.

After breaking down the carcass of the chimera, the constables found the remainder of their trip to Landhaven quite uneventful (since indeed, almost every animal along the way had long been slain, sensible folk kept far away, and senseless folk were devoured). We spent some time with healing and repairs, until Garmannon and A. Emerikol returned with their findings.

E) Return to Edominar

[uneventful return]

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Survey Two

May this missive find my lord in good health and spirits, flush with the blessings of That Which Opens the Gates of Dawn. Enclosed for consideration please find the second of my survey reports from the Emrival Peninsula.

I look forward to my lord’s esteemed review of these findings, observations, and analyses.

Survey Two, [timeframe] of [year] of [calendar]

Synopsis: Journey from Edominar to Levonia/ Ljavona pursuant to rumors of exotic phenomena; encounters in L that end in (permanent?) resolution of noted phenomena.

A.) Leaving Edominar

Springtime in Edominar seems unrelentingly and pervasively damp, much like Heyr Dulkova’s descriptions of autumn in Modron. Unlike H.D.’s records, the dour weather seems to have more of an effect on the locals. I suspect this to be because, unlike Modron, the residents here hail from diverse populations, and much of their stock is not suited to such climes.

While I do not have the formal training nor the proper equipment, I did seem to detect an unusual shift in mana since spring set in. I have yet to determine if this is an acknowledged local effect, or something irregular or novel. It feels notably different from the seasonal tides in Viridistan, Targnol Port, Kevalla, or Warwick. My preliminary impression is one of mana being gently gathered, as though via a vast but gently-sloped funnel. I have contacted Shiol sin’Eyr, asking after productive experiments suitable to someone of my grade.

A brief missive from B alerted me to a novel opportunity, which begged me to depart Edominar at once. He reported a town to the north, long notable as an artisanal settlement, but lately plagued by a rash of stillbirths and the mysterious appearance of an iron cradle in their common graveyard. Low-ranking members from the militia of the peace had been dispatched from Edominar to investigate, but B felt that these “constables” would benefit from someone with my background. While I briefly considered obtaining a guard, time was of the essence. I left immediately for the north.

The highways in this region are little more than trampled ruts, but surprisingly well-traveled. Signs of brigandry were present, but sparse. No press gangs or other extralegal enterprises revealed themselves, and I made the [two-day?] journey with minimal complications. For such a diverse population, these peninsular folk seem remarkably peaceful, almost docile.

B.) Entering Levonia

Almost a half-day’s ride from Levonia (also called Ljavona, Liavona, or Liavonia), the sky took on a deep, slate cast, and the mana flow left a metallic tang in my mouth – wickedness was afoot. I found B and his charges at the inn, and B helped allay their initial suspicions. They shared what meager information they had accrued thus far, and I followed them as they pursued their leads. (Roderick Manray, Annora Emerikol, Danika Figginsdottir Keeg)

The constables indicated that about a year ago a wrought-iron cradle appeared in the town’s graveyard, rooted to the ground as though it had grown there overnight. An (apparently human) infant was soon found in the cradle, which a young couple took in. Some time proximate, the townsfolk observed an increased rate of births and stillbirths that they could not account for. The sorrow of lost children and the malaise of strange happenings took their toll on the town, and its industry was soon fruit withering on the vine. No mention was made of the especially-heavy pall overhead, and none of the constables seemed to notice the almost-Veridian tang in the air.

The constables’ first stop in my company was to the adoptive parents of the cradle-foundling. While the entire town was unkempt and wasting, the foundling’s house was particularly bleak. The premises were unkempt to the point of disrepair, and the parents seemed more sleepless than usual for a child of three or four months. The constables were obviously unseasoned, and viewed the situation as they might the siege of a crime-lord’s lair. Luckily, their clumsy indignities came to nought. After a brief conversation with the harried surrogate father, the constables caused enough commotion for the foundling to begin yewling, which started a fierce row between the foster-parents.

The foundling seemed rapt with the argument, even gleeful. It was then that I caught a good view of the child, and realized it was clearly no merely human babe. Its flushed skin and skull ridges implied abyssal origins. The constables, suitably embarrassed for having distressed the poor family, apologized and took their leave. As they departed, I quietly addressed the child in the Infernal tongue, to test my hypothesis: “We shall see you again soon.” The parents showed no reaction, but the foundling startled and cackled.

The constables went thence to the church of Mitra, whose priesthood dominates the theogony of the region. The church seemed surprisingly wholesome, and the pervasive hell-tang had no perceptible hold on Mitra’s consecrated ground. The presiding priest (Arlen) was kindly and helpful, though he had little insight to offer at first. I surmised at that point that the taint on the town must have crept in very slowly, for Mitra’s vigilant hounds not to notice.

The church kept detailed records of births, deaths, handfastings, baptisms, and similar passage-rites, and it also retained many magisterial records – but the abbot had not maintained the files, and two centuries of records moldered in disarray. Amazingly enough, both Keeg and Emerikol were literate, so I guided Emerikol through the Endrián system to search and organize the records while the others spoke with townspeople for clues. A day of filing uncovered some court records about the trial and execution of Augustus Prior, from whose grave sprang the cradle.

As we concluded the day’s research, B, Keeg, and Manray returned from speaking with townsfolk. The constables learned much about the politics of the town. While they uncovered no actionable evidence, they did collect a few useful leads to pursue the following day.

Among their findings, they discovered a place in town where the miasma seemed absent. Though all of them commented on the clouds parting when they reached a particular public house, none of them commented on it at the time. This bears further study.

A. Emerikol and I also found records dating from the appearance of the cradle, in which the local sheriff was tried in absentia for murdering his wife. I considered it an interesting bit of trivia, but it prompted me to speak with Arlen about our investigation. Arlen explained that the current magistrate (Fendraki) believed in harsh justice, and while Levonia was orderly under his administration, it could not flourish. As he continued, he perfectly described a Viridian lord. It seems that the local populace does not have a decent grasp of evil, and are particularly inclined to manipulation and abuse from those who do.

When the other constables returned from their interviews, A. Emerikol briefed them on our findings, and R. Manray revealed that he’d met the boy whose witness decided the case against the sheriff. The boy (Mickel) worked for an innkeeper (Kurgo), so we set off to that inn to interview the boy.

When we reached the inn, we entered to find the cemetery groundskeeper (Burnham Lowdigger), whom the constables recognized from a previous encounter. Constable A. Emerikol detected poison, and quickly determined that Lowdigger’s drink was tainted. Kurgo was genuinely surprised and outraged, and helped us trace the taint to the keg of Lowdigger’s preferred drink. In our inspection, we also found the corpse of the former sheriff, packed into a cask.

While explaining their findings to the innkeeper, the constables effectively alerted Mickel, who fled the scene. A brief chase ended with the boy’s tearful revelation that he’d seen precious little of the sheriff’s supposed crime, and further that a man named Bejan had charmed him to help dispose of the body at the inn, and plant the poison for Lowdigger.

From the constables’ previous contact with Lowdigger, they’d learned that the ruins of an older temple to Mitra dominated the site, and L had recently seen figures in the graveyard at night. He suspected that they were “cultists” from the art academy. Though the constables failed to obtain clarification, they assumed that the same party skulking in the graveyard was also responsible for the poisoning, a clumsy attempt to get rid of the charm-resistant and curmudgeonly groundskeeper. Fearing further foul play, the constables chose to escort L to his home in the graveyard.

C) Gravesite Inspection

We reached L’s home at dusk, and the constables showed me the cradle for the first time. The iron sprang from deep in the earth of Prior’s grave, and even in the gloaming dimness I could not mistake an infernal stylistic influence.

Unfortunately, I did not have much time to study. As if on cue black-robed figures appeared to menace us on the cemetery grounds. We gave chase, and the constables put up a good fight, but several of the black-robed figures made good on their escape. We spent the rest of the evening uneventfully at L’s home.

D) Surveying the Art Academy

The following day I accompanied the constables on their visit to the art academy, which specializes in ceramics that are a local favorite. We had a very friendly and productive conversation with the Antillian dean of the school, who would be a good contact to cultivate in Thoth’s name. His insight, erudition, and openness to wisdom were a refreshing balm. He told us some of the history of the academy, and mentioned several renowned artists whose ceramics helped to make the town famous. When we spoke of A. Prior, he suggested we visit the studio of the current holder of Prior’s position, a woman the locals called Bird Mud-house.

We found HL’s studio on campus, and studied her sculptures, which had developed a following despite their characteristically unsettling nature. She seemed to study the Rosh Ainanah aesthetic school, and one of the chthonic sculptures bore the Tharbrian-script inscription “Grem-gul” (Graem Ghul, per Rasdalian’s treatise on Kelnorian iconography). All of the sculptures leaned heavily on GG’s iconography, though with some embellishments that did not strike me as appropriate in a classical sense.
As we studied the sculptures, the artist arrived, and I immediately understood what seemed amiss – the bizarre-sounding name was hobson-jobson for an Orichalan name, which I would tentatively render “Hârremanche Lioul.”

To allay her suspicion, I immediately presented myself as a scholar and sculpture collector, and the constables as the locals I’d hired to help me find the reclusive but talented sculptor who had so artfully modernized the ancient imagery. While I am no bard, my ruse worked, and she took me into her confidence. She took me aside to speak privately, to revel in the glory of her master, GG, who to hear her speak was greater than any of the currently venerated gods. She described GG as an ancient force of darkness, older than Kelnore and greater than any ordinary god. Can you substantiate her claims, or are these the ravings of a madwoman?

I expressed as much interest in her god as I thought believable, but suggested that my bumpkin escorts would neither understand nor appreciate such a position. Before any of the constables could mar my ruse, I took my leave of her, and vowed to return shortly to discuss the purchase or commission of a statue. Once we left the campus, I explained the situation to them. We agreed to study the cradle in depth, and to explore the Mitra’s former temple in hopes of teasing out further clues.

E) Further Events of Interest Graveside

D. Keeg sent a courier to Emrival explaining the extent of recent events, and asking that magisterial assistance be sent immediately. We then returned to the cemetery, and the fading light of the afternoon gave us just enough time to explore the outside of Mitra’s old temple. The research, while hardly optimal, did not turn up any salient details. By the time we had inspected the exterior of the ruin, it was too dark to continue, so we gathered back at Lowdigger’s house.

While we broke bread with the caretaker, we noticed movement outside – lycanthropes. After a hard fight (during which time Lowdigger demonstrated his fine marksmanship), we defeated the werewolves and captured their general, none other than “Mud-house” herself!

B fetched Arlen while we began interrogating HL. I practiced some stock Viridian interrogation maneuvers, but could not break through her zeal. Once Arlen arrived, he psychically engaged her, and compelled her to speak truthfully and plainly. Under Arlen’s watchful gaze, I moderated my interrogation techniques, and HL revealed that she worked to bring her god “further into this world,” to carve Levonia into a beachhead for its presence on this plane. She continued the work of A. Prior. Bejan and Fendraki were her accomplices, though Fendraki’s primary concern was his own power, not the greater majesty of their dread lord, and would be cast down when he was no longer useful. The ruined chapel was never consecrated to Mitra, and this is why a new church was needed when Mitra’s priesthood sent Arlen to the town. The old church was always a front for GG’s cult, and they continued to use it after it was abandoned.

Once we had asked HL our fill of questions, Arlen broke her link to her deity, and took her into his church’s custody. B escorted him back to the church while the rest of us secured Lowdigger’s house for the night. When B returned, he brought the mendicant friar Barn, in case we needed divine support.

In the morning, we made a concerted study of the cradle. By clear light of day, D. Keeg noticed an irregularity in the hammer-strikes on the metal. She sketched the pattern that she saw, and it reminded me of Zerkan’s manuscript on hellcrafting, though Barn seemed to think it was Markrabi work (he did not call it such, but his description and use of the term “demon” made it clear that the Markrab were the primary inspiration of his tale). The upright bars of the cradle were twisted into the shape of cavorting impish figures, and magical writing along the top spelled a paean to GG’s devouring flame of oblivion. The device had a strong necromantic aura, a deep air of loss and hunger, pulling the souls of the town’s stillborn children into the cradle and channeling them down.

F) Descent and Resolution

Sure there must be a subterranean mate to the cradle, we began looking around for a way down. We entered the chapel, only to discover it was occupied. We fought Fendraki and eight “cultist” assistants, some of whom we managed to incapacitate and tie up for later questioning. Fendraki opened a secret passage below the altar, though he did not make it far down the steps before succumbing to the constables’ attacks.

Before stepping down the stairs, we inspected the interior of the church. I was immediately struck by the imagery of the stained glass windows, more appropriate to a church of Demogorgon than Mitra. The panes spelt out an infernal liturgy to GG. (Please see my notes and D. Keeg’s diagrams in an appendix to this missive.)

We descended the passage beneath the altar, which revealed a large subterranean chamber reaching out toward A. Prior’s grave. A pool of molten stone surrounded the far side of the chamber, accessible only by a bridge that had just collapsed. We made our way across thanks to a grappling hook D. Keeg’s elaborate ropework, and A. Emerikol’s dexterity.

Once we’d begun to cross one by one, we entered combat with the foster-parents and their foundling, who had all been augmented by infernal investment. The parents fell without much difficulty, but the child (which had grown larger than an adult human, with a head of tremendous portion and a rapacious maw) proved to be a tough foe. It nearly bit off Barn’s arm.

During the combat, D. Keeg and I noticed a vast and strange machine at the far end of the room, right under A. Prior’s grave. While the others fought, I inspected the mechanism, and solicited Keeg’s help. A vast clockwork-like mechanism whirred and throbbed beneath the grave, with a heart of energy that built to a dangerous crescendo. The whole mechanism stank of infernal craft, and the hell-taint was so thick it was like suckling on cold iron.

Once the foundling was dispatched, Keeg turned her attention to my request, and jury-rigged a blunt instrument to fire into the mana-heart to disrupt it. The shot struck true, and the mana grounded harmlessly. The machine ground to a halt. Once we’d determined the machine was “dead,” we swiftly left the cavern to inspect matters above-ground.

The clouds had parted, and the pall lifted. Arlen had gathered some townsfolk to take action against the surviving cultists, and they greeted the commission from Emrival shortly after we arrived. They swore to raze the ruined temple to the ground, and offered the constables and me a cash reward.

The constables, however, had other matters at hand. On the way to Levonia they had uncovered evidence for a plot of illegal slave-collecting that seemed to be based in the Gishmesh settlement of Sulet Hold to the north. The flow of salt from Sulet Hold was faltering, and the flow of flesh was taking its place. Perhaps if the lord of Emrival had not abolished slavery in his dominion, Gishmesh hooligans would not have been able to establish themselves thus and disrupt other legitimate businesses.
For the nonce, I journey with these constables to Sulet Hold. I shall submit another report for your perusal as soon as conditions permit.

Your faithful servant,
Aethne tir’Ahlein

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