Of Secret and Hidden Things

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


EmrivalTheGreat kelurian

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