Shadowrun: Dark Ages

Stop. Drop. Roll. Radiation Beam.

Finn explodes into the building, screaming as his body is jolted by the combat drugs now pumping through his system. Barrelling past Ail he rounds a corner, followed shortly after by Samson, to a doorway where Kel is crouched, bow drawn and pointing into a large, lavishly decorated study. Elaborate paintings, tapestries and taxidermy decorate the high walls above a smouldering fireplace in the middle of the room surrounded by cushioned armchairs and a long sofa, crouched behind which are the doorman, and an assortment of other peoples assumed to be of the estate. From amongst them stands a man of moderate build with mousy brown hair and noticeably half of a finger missing as he brandishes a sword towards the intruders. Declaring himself to be the Laird McMarkson of Lindore’s estate he advises that the brigands leave immediately before he reports their actions to the guards and has them all hanged. Ignoring this warning Fin pushes into the room and strides forward towards McMarkson, drawing a blade of his own and levelling it at the lairds. Before the blades can clash, Kel seizes the initiative, loosing her arrow into the thick padding of the couch cover, followed by a pan of hot coals and a set of knives to be tossed from behind its shelter at the three in the room. Taking the brunt of the blades and shrugging off the burning coals and ash, Fin engages the Laird in a flurry of blows that leads them into the middle of the study. Having summoned a spectral blade in preparation to defend himself, Samson imposes himself between the two combatants, removing them from each other’s reach with magical threads that yank Finn back a pace and nearly flatten the Laird. Imploring them to cease the fighting and consider a more appropriate method of resolving the conflict, he dismisses his blade as a sign of good will, and a hush sweeps the melee. While his plea met the ears of the house hands and the Laird, hesitating for a breath, Finn pushes his advantage, lunging past samson for the lairds lowered guard. Another heartbeat of blade whirling chaos passed through the study, before Samson turned towards Finn and saying “Sorry” drew a small square of luminous cloth from within his tunic, throwing it towards Finn. The cloth dissipated mid-flight, long fibres of light twisting in the air towards Finn. As they touched his exposed skin, his body spasmed as if struck by some unseen force and fell limp to the ground. Once again trying to reason with McMarkson, Samson was cut off as Finn gasped awake from where he lay on the floor. Finding all hope to be lost, Samson solemnly agreed that he would leave the building, and promptly vanished from the sight of all those in the study, seemingly into thin air. Perturbed by this wicked sorcery, McMarkson returned his attention to the foe on the ground who was raising his blade, intent on continuing the fight. As he did so Fin took in his surroundings and found that while samson had disappeared, Kel was also now absent from the study and so he was left alone to face down the Laird and his men. Composing himself long enough to acknowledge the Lairds demands, Finn turned reluctantly and raged from the room.

Outside he joined Kel and Buddy who were sitting on the lip of a nearby well awaiting the others return. Buddy informed them that while Adair had entered the house alongside him, Buddy was unable to convince him to leave, and so Adair had gone off upstairs in search of his stolen belongings. From inside, the three hear muffled shouts that become clearer as a shuttered window on the side of the building swings open. It would seem that to prevent anyone following him upstairs, Adair had formed his malleable mass of stone into a barricade, walling up the doorway to the Lairds study. After several long minutes of grunting and heaving, a shuddering thud is heard from outside the study door as the guards trapped within manage to topple it over into the carpeted hallway. Upstairs, Adair concludes his searching through the Lairds quarters, finding nothing of significant importance, and escapes through a narrow window, levitating out over the courtyard and gently setting down by the well alongside the others who gawk upon his approach. Standing by the charred and scathed (but still intact) door to his house, Laird McMarkson reiterates his earlier orders, demanding brigands who assaulted his estate to leave. Coaxing information from the harried Laird, Kel informs him that any suspicion they have that the laird is a Traitor to Dundee will be reported to the Earl as treason upon their return. Though visible unsettled by this prospect, he seems satisfied that they are leaving and returns within the building.
Marching the snowy track back to Lindores, some of the party begin to second guess their decisions. Was it best to simply leave the estate after what they had done? Would the Earl heed their warnings? What had they managed to accomplish? While they had assaulted his estate believing him to be the one who had abducted the magic users from around Dundee and they had summarised that their memories and abilities were being suppressed, they had naught but their own word against the Laird’s. The group knew that in their society the word of a Noble or land owner such as the Laird would outweigh that of themselves, seen to many as peasants or workhands… They would need to come up with some evidence justifying what they had done, or else face the dire consequences upon their return to Dundee.

Attempting to mitigate damage by sending a message ahead to alert Elara or the Earl to their actions in Lindors before word from the Laird himself spread, Kel went out on a limb and attempted to reach out in the way she had felt when she heard Buddy’s voice in her head earlier. Concentrating on the image of Elara, Kel could feel something beginning to happen, though felt as if she was being blocked from reaching her. Experimenting with this further, the group discovered that they could communicate to each other in this way, though Adair having removed the implant was unable… it was then that a burst of static filled their heads along with the hurried, frantic thoughts of Ail…

Hearing the sounds of combat kicking off in the study, Ail had slunk off into the kitchen to find traces of his belongings. Discovering a trapdoor that lead beneath the estate he made a torch from the stoves embers and slunk below. On well worn stone stairs he found the buildings basement, housing crates and casks, barrels trunks, supplies and foodstuffs. Pushing beyond these distractions he found a second trapdoor, leading further below the manor into a pitch-dark cellar. In the bowels of this place was a separate room, from behind which wafted a sweet, tantalising aroma that cut through the dank, stagnant air. Entering the side room, Ail had found evidence that would certainly secure their safety and incriminate the Laird as a traitor to Dundee and its citizens. A demon.

Closely perused by the residence’s Guards, Ail ran through waist high crops, having escaped the confines of the manor and its basements below. It was then that he felt the connection to the others open in his mind and blurted all he could to them in hopes they would rush back to his aid. Instead of seeing his friends rushing across the open field to his rescue, Ail saw Kel level a bow past him and heard the thunk of the arrow burying into the ground beyond him. Expecting his pursuers to be gaining, Ail threw a glance over his shoulder to see that they had all collapsed to the ground and were writhing in pleasure, struggling to retain their composure. Ail suspected that had Adair not cast the area spell incapacitating the chasing guards, Kel’s lethal arrow would have smacked one square in the chest. As the others leisurely made their way back and met with Ail, they exchanged all the information they had gathered regarding Laird McMarkson thus far and decided that their best outcome would be to subdue the Laird, capture the Demon, Which Ail described as being restrained and sat like a chair in the lowest basement, and bring the two back as evidence to the Earl in Dundee. Buddy suggested that if the creature was already restrained that he and Samson could heft it up from the basement lead by Ail while the other four captured the Laird, and that they should all make the best use of their newly found means of communication.

Under the cover of a powerful invisibility spell granted by Samson, the three stealthily made their way across the trampled paths of the field while the rest of the party stormed back to the front of the house. After an unusually cohesive battle between the laird and the four party members, during which Finn rushed him with speed and blade and Archie shot a beam of powerful corroding energy from around Finn’s legs while rolling the floor, the Laird was subdued and guarded by Kel’s hounds. Meanwhile, the stealth party had reached the lowest level of the basement, secured documents that they believed would incriminate the Laird along with more of the clay bottles of ambrosia that Buddy had acquired earlier, and retrieved some of their lost gear from a trunk, including Samson’s illustrious coat and Adair’s metal bracer. Signalling that the battle upstairs was over, Adair eagerly descended into the cellar to retrieve his possession and aid in the demon’s removal, carefully moving it up from the dark depths on an animated bed of stone legs. Finding more of their belongings in the guard’s quarters located by the stables outside, the party retrieves the last of their lost equipment and ‘borrows’ some horses to tow the cart bearing the constricted demon, back down to the shores of Lindores. Having captured the corrupt Laird McMarkson who had attempted to enslave them, secured believable evidence against him and retrieved their lost equipment, it would seem to some that the worst of the day’s struggles would be behind them…

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If You Can’t Stand The Heat…

Not for the first time, the party split. Finn Ail and Archie agree to secure passage across the Tay with Finn’s smuggler contact, Buddy and Samson make way for the docks where they will await the others arrival, and Kel says she needs to run an errand.

Entering the Phoenix Inn, it quickly becomes apparent to Finn that he won’t be getting the help needed from his contact, as the ferryman spills another of the evenings many drinks down his front and insists that they join him and his host of inebriated friends for another round. The drunk brushes off any attempt at persuading him away from the inn’s welcoming atmosphere and into the cold night telling them that they ought to wait until morning. Growing tired of the man’s arrogance, Ail asks Adair if he has any flint or a torch for fire, something to let a little smoke under the Phoenix’s door to rouse its lethargic occupants. Happy to oblige the healer flexes his knuckles and with a few simple hand gestures a gentle flame begins to flicker from Ail’s fingertips, spreading over their hands, arms and promptly engulfs them, head to toe. Unharmed by the magical fire, Ail basks in its warmth for a moment, shielded from the frosty night air, before turning to the Inn and placing her hands against its large wooden door… As soon as the flames lick around her arms and progress over her body, warnings of “Fire!” and demands for water explode from the few Dundonians surveying the evening streets. Adamant to prevent word from spreading, Archie targets a young boy in a nearby alley, delivering a stout cuff around the ear and sending the welp running from the scene. A clamour begins to rise behind the smoking door of the Phoenix and fearing that their actions may alert the guards, Finn pushes past the flaming Ail, opening the doorway and bellowing over the crowd that everything is under control and for them to go about their business. Drawing a hush from his audience Finn delivers the final blow, announcing a round of drinks on him. Save for the scorched hand prints on the front door, the three leave little more than drunken merriment in their wake as they head down towards the docks.

Meanwhile, Samson kneels on the chilled, muddy ground drawing clumps of clay from beneath the earth and sculpts them into an idol on the dock front. Laying his hands upon the sculpture, he bows his head offering quiet words to the character and speaks a name, imbuing it with power as he summons the spirit into the idol. Curious whether he can accomplish the same magical feat, Buddy asks for Samson’s guidance in summoning, miming the same steps to a lesser extent in his attempt to summon a spirit of his own. Finishing the ritual, Samson steps away from Buddy as murky black clouds of marshy smelling smoke coil up and around the troll’s frame, sucking in through his breath and vanishing. Drawing himself to his full height, the troll rolls his shoulders and regards the tailor with a contented grin, explaining through a thick African drawl that Buddy beseeched the spirits of his tradition for protection and that he now possessed the troll’s body to that end. Following the exchange, Samson astrally projected to find the others and make sure they were all on their way down to the docks. He found that the group of three were well on their way towards himself and ‘Buddy’, while Kel was heading away from the guards quarters, where he learned she had been attempting to fulfil her end of the bet she’d lost to the guard earlier that same day. The guards had refused her entry however, explaining that Finn had left him in no condition to be socialising…

Convening in front of the Tay, the Finn explained to the others that his ferryman would not be granting them passage over to Fife tonight, but that wasn’t to say that they couldn’t simply ‘borrow’ his boat. They found his cog docked up alongside several other small vessels and after another spell from Adair, the oars began rowing themselves, slowly transporting the party across the silvery Tay.

As the sun rose on the following morning the cog was steered into shore at Lindore. Achy backed having spent the night in close quarters on the cramped boat, legs were stretched and yawns exchanged as the small vessel was tied off. More perceptive members among the party summarised that the mornings market must have recently packed up, catching the pungent whiff of sheep manure trampled into the dirt on their way into the hamlet. Raising his head, Buddy claimed to catch a fragrance behind the stench of the morning market and briskly made his way towards a small tavern, swatting off the pleas from Samson to continue towards the estate they were headed for. A small man answered the door to the Troll, unsure to his intentions but welcoming him inside anyway, perhaps appraising him as potential customer. Joined by Finn at a table, Buddy explained in acute detail the aroma that had brought him to the man’s door, that of sweet spices, caramelised fruits and rich creams. Unsure as to the troll’s methods, the innkeeper introducing himself as Fek produced a dark clay bottle from a cupboard beneath the counter. Finding the syrup within to be irresistible, Buddy purchased the bottle from Fek, who told them that the bottle had been a gift from a certain Laird McMarkson. Finding that the Laird seemed appealing to the people under his authority, levying light taxes and requiring few and little tithes, the group left Fek’s tavern and began the traipse towards Laird Mark McMarkson’s estate.

The road out of the settlement was quiet, few fresh footfalls or tracks ahead of them in the wide, snowy cart path. Passing a trio dwarven locals on their way, the party reached the edge of the fields bordering McMarkson’s estate to see them being well tended, despite the layer of snow capping the waist high crops. Every few hundred feet they closed between themselves and the manor they would pass another contented worker, harvesting from the low corn fields. Suspicion rising among their rank, Samson flicks his gaze into the astral to assense the workers and finds that while they are ‘Awoken’ humans with the potential to channel magic, they have been drained of nearly all their essence and so have no magical abilities. He also noted that they have the same absence of aura in the backs of their heads that he had seen in the other party members who had been captured. One of the workers they spoke to seemed fairly content to tend the fields, sharing that the Laird had been very generous to them in helping them relocate from Dundee, though when pressed for more information on her transition or any of her detailed past she struggled to recall, saying that her memories were ‘fuzzy’. Leaving this conversation, Archie reeled around and feigned a jab at the woman’s face, who reacted unusually calmly with placid confusion, confirming their concern that these people had been pacified through some alteration similar to their own.

Passing what they took for large stables and a barn the group approached the front of the estate building, moving through the magical barrier that Samson assumed had dispatched his spirit scouts days previously. They were greeted on the door by a smartly dressed, slight man, who bid they await his return as he informs the Laird McMarkson of their arrival. It would seem that he had been expecting them…

Turning towards the two stone, humanoid golems that he had moulded and animated earlier, Adair flexes his fingers and begins tracing the same intricate patterns that some of the party had seen the previous night. Flames coil up the figures and once again cries of alarm and orders for pales of water erupt from nearby stable-hands. As one bucket is thrown hissing and popping over the head of a statue, only to burst into a cloud of steam, the alarm of onlookers grow, alerting a pair of guards who had retired from their training to investigate the distress. The flaming statues begin pounding against the door while Finn shouts down the two nervously approaching guards who flee the scene along with several others from the fields nearby. Seizing this opportunity to slip away, Kel and Ail find an unattended kitchen window to slide through and quietly enter the house’s interior. Finding that the front door is of sturdier construction than he originally believed, Adair waves his hands over the stone figures and reduces them to dust, that blazes around and under the frame of the door, instructing it to reform on the other side as a boulder to ram the door open… little to his knowledge that the floor on the other side off the entranceway slopes inwards, and so the destructive stone boulder starts to tumble inwards past Ail, who by this point had found his way though from the kitchen and unlatches the front door for the others.

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A Splitting Headache

Over the next couple of days the group split their efforts towards finding any information or tracks that might lead them to their former captors. Samson returned to his position as tailor to Lady McGovern, using his free time to summon spirits of the air that would search for his coat, an item that he had been wearing when he was abducted and one that carried some sort of unique astral signature. Ail and Archie set about getting information from the Dock’s master to see if there had been any unregistered shipments going across the river, combining a variety of stealthy and underhanded methods in their information gathering. Finn sought to eavesdrop on the information and rumours form the Cities guard, using the confusion in the ranks from recent assaults on Dundee to disguise himself as one of their number. Kel continued in her search across the length of the Tay, using her hawk’s vision to scan the banks for any tracks of the boats having been brought into shore. Adair used his magics to help improve the potency of the other members spells, spurring on their casting ability with powers of his own, finding significant success aiding Samsons air spirits. ‘Buddy’ the troll concentrated his investigation around the peoples of Dundee, sticking to familiar grounds and hoping to find some truth amongst the gossip.

Convening back at the university building on the afternoon of the third day (a Sunday), the party set about sharing what information they had gathered so far. Archie and Ail’s discussion with the Dock’s master, involving the return of goods which had been conveniently thieved from him in nights prior, (and threats to cook him with magic) had loosened the fat drunks lips enough to tell them that he had been letting unregistered shipments sail between the shores of Fife and Dundee’s slums, so long as his purse was compensated for turning a blind eye. He didn’t know what was in those shipments and he didn’t seem to care, though mentioned that his last payment hadn’t come through and that if either Archie or Ail met the ones in command, to remind them of his payment. Kel’s overhead search with her hawk confirmed her suspicions, finding marks where the boats had been dragged ashore further inland up the Tay. Samson had discovered that while none of his air spirits had returned from Tensmuir forest, suggesting an ominous presence there, they had followed the faint traces of his coat in the astral plane across the Tay and into Fife, towards an estate that bore frequent foot traffic to and from, sitting by the edge of Lindors. While none of these spirits returned either, Samson speculated that this may be because the building was magically warded. Having grown tired of waiting for information to reach him, Finn had taken action, impersonating a member of Dundee’s magisterium and finding out from one of the maids there that some documents had recently gone missing from their files, including a list of all of the registered magic users from around Dundee and their addresses. This information was further solidified as ‘Buddy’ claimed to have heard from one of the villagers that after the battle which had taken place within Dundee’s walls not long ago, a boy working for the magisterium had been found dead in a burned out building. While many of Dundee’s citizens had died during the battle, killed in the field of battle or their homes alike, the notable thing about this incident had been that while the building was burned out, the boy was largely unscathed, save from a thin line of bruising around his throat… It was when telling them about his activities over the past days that the group remembered a strange incident that had occurred earlier, a surreal vision of a world with a boiling red sky, flashing grid lines on the ground firing off into the horizon and all of them besides Finn claiming to have heard ‘Buddy’s’ voice in their ear. Explaining that besides blacking out around the time described, he said nothing ‘out of the ordinary’ (for a troll with 4 days of memory) had happened…

Once all the information was shared between them, a discussion followed over dried meats, bread and cheese that would decide their next action. Since the estate in Lindors was likely where their kidnappers were working from and trafficking other captives through, they would pay the occupants a visit. Deciding that this would be their next move, Adair steps forward, telling them that over the last couple of days he had been debating the nature of the creature planted within his head, and that if they were to potentially assault this place, he would rather they try and remove the explosives from their brains before they do. After a rejected offer from Archie to cast a beam of radiation over his head to kill the creature within, Adair bid they back away to a safe distance and only intervene should he say so, lowering his head and relaxing himself into a meditative stance, clasping his hands in front of his chest. Beginning to roll his whitening knuckles over one another, the others watch in discomfort as first, joints and cartilage begin to pop and crack with each compression, the bones of his fingers soon following suit. Each twist and crunch disfiguring his hands more and more, bloodied white shrapnel punctures up from under his skin as Adair’s expression lapses between concentration and extasy, his body shuddering with each flex. A mix of bafflement, disgust and intrigued, the others watch wide-eyed as Adair releases a breathy moan, sinking to his knees and letting his head fall back toward the rafters. A low droning creak trembles through the room as Adair’s face seems to widen and his eyes bulge. Reaching its zenith, the unearthly creaking of his skull ceases with a chilling snap and a narrow red fissure spreads vertically between the centre of his features, from forehead to upper lip. From the mess that was once a nostril, a fist-sized lump of chitinous grey meat oozes out, trailing behind long thin tendrils that disappear further within Adair’s cracked skull. Seeming remarkably to retain some sense of awareness, Adair draws in a trembling wet breath, remnants of muscle and tissue twitching across the separate halves of his nose as he reels his head back, pausing… and then violently throws his body forward, sneezing the foreign slug from his facial cavity.

Hesitant to bring himself into contact with the creature’s unmoving body, Samson uses a magical extension of his fingertips to retrieve it from the lecture hall chair it landed against and turns back to watch with the rest as Adair’s slumped body rises from where it knelt. Slivers of splintered bone retreat into hands that pop and reconfigure themselves, twisted tendons slithering back into rightful places. Smoothing down his blood-spattered shirt and standing straight, Adair runs a now fully functional hand back through distressed hair as the hideous open seam down his face draws itself closed, any evidence of what should have been a fatal wound blending away amongst his uncannily handsome, scarred features.
Fully healed, he set about explaining to the rest that he used a rare ability of his to fully regenerate himself and in doing so reject the demon implant, forcing the foreign body out, though through the centre of his face would not have been his first choice… since this was not an option for the rest of those afflicted, they contacted Elara and asked if she could join them with someone who might know how to deal with such problems. Fortunately, Elara informed them that there was someone in the university who had such experience and she retrieved an aesthetic looking man with a thick Italian accent, introducing himself as Silvio Montore to join the group in discussion.

The discussion that followed resulted in ‘Buddy’ coming forth with information that none including he knew they possessed, as while discussing with the demonologist the extent of their situation he found himself responding questions he didn’t now he had answers to. Telling them that all of their implanted slugs could be connected via the gems to a “motherboard” of sorts, he reckoned they might be able to deactivate them if someone could communicate to its “interface”. When asked how he though someone would go about talking to this thing he responded simply by pulling out a long, ribbed tether from one of the holes in his forearm, seemingly to his own surprise. He went on further to explain that the “motherboard” was not a construct but in actuality a large, bulbous creature of hideous appearance, with a wide, gaping maw, long tendrils falling down from its upper lip and milky white eyes; a nightmare of sorts. Intrigued to know more about this strange troll’s knowledge, Silvio fell into deep discussion with ‘buddy’, meanwhile Kel and Finn went into Dundee’s marketplace to source some equipment for the days coming.

Making their first stop the guard’s barracks in hopes of some free equipment, Kel and Finn found a group of guards off duty in a recreation room. Struggling to get a straight answer from the guard she was speaking with and sensing that perhaps he was trying to take advantage of the situation, Kel proposed that they stake a wager on an arm wrestle. If she wins, the guard would escort her to the smith and carry the heavy equipment back to the university for her. The guard agreed but on the condition that should he win he would ‘take her for a date’. Accepting this offer Kel began an uphill struggle against her opponent, who seemingly had plenty of practice strengthening his right arm… Basking in the cheer from his fellow guards the arm wrestler mocked Kel’s attempts, feigning a struggle before pushing her arm down with ease, knocking her knuckles into the table enough just to sting. Interrupting the proceeding, Finn cut his way into the display, throwing shade at the humans for taking advantage of a young elf girl, attempting to pass her off as his daughter and that they shall have no further encounters with her. Anticipating the pointless argument, Kel slipped out from the guard’s barracks and continued towards the northern district where she had been told the smiths could be found, to procure the supplies they needed. Meanwhile Finn and the strongarm had agreed to a shirtless one-on-one, no weapons or armour. Unbeknownst to either side, each participant took a hit from a combat drug before stepping up to fight, though the effects of Finns seemed far superior. Spurred on by the fuel pumping into his bloodstream, he deftly avoided the guard’s quick jabs, side stepping each and throwing one of his own beneath the man’s guard, up across his face, landing an open palm into his cheek and sending him skidding across the floor and into the stone wall. Through gritted teeth Fin gnashed a flurry of derogative barks at the unconscious man while the other guards bawled at their fallen companion. Gathering his gear in a furious storm, Fin raged out of the barracks and after Kel, still seeing red from the drug in his veins.

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The Hangover Part 2

Ail awoke groggily. A heavy presence clouded his mind and clung to his thoughts as he began to assess his situation… The space surrounding him was cold, dark, damp and tight. With hard, wooden walls on either side of his body and a heavy, waxed tarp overhead, he struggles to sit up without finding his face pressed against the wax cloth. Keeping a calm mind in spite of his situation he quickly worms his hands free of their bindings from behind his back, removes the rag covering his eyes and finds purchase where the cloth meets wood overhead, peeling it back and letting an arrow of golden summer light cut across his vision. Waiting a moment to gather his bearings, Ail takes in the salty tang of the silvery Tay and feels the gentle lap of waves against the sides of the row boat as he lies quietly inside. Assured that there is no immediate threat, he steps out onto the muddy shore and begins towards the nearest building, a small, decrepit shack sat not thirty feet inland, nestled at the edge of Dundee’s slums.

Hearing the murmur of voices within, he approaches a shuttered window at the front of the building and peeks through the narrow gap to see six, visibly armed men standing amongst the ruined mess of a living space. Deflated, lumpy shaped decorate the floor, stirring up flies and stench as the men inspect them. Remaining unseen and unheard, Ail overhears snippets of their conversation and rapidly gathers that whoever these men are, they were not expecting to find the building in this state, delving further beneath the floorboards to make more sense of their situation. After bouts of cursing and confusion over the cellar’s apparent absence of captives, one of the men orders another to make a pass of their perimeter and keep watch in case more trouble should arise. Despite making a beeline for the waterfront and slipping into the shallow waves behind the two moored boats, the brigand exiting the building caught Ail’s movement in his peripheral and barks a warning to the others inside. Judging that the option for stealth is no longer an option, Ail tries his hand at diplomacy with the man, leaving the cover of the boats and making his way up the shore towards the house and its occupants. Visibly intimidated by his very presence, the guard brandishes a long shaking, knife towards Ail, his companions now heading over to join him, Ail bolting towards Dundee’s walls.

Having shaken off his pursuers in the slums by means of tumbling loose tenting, shoving shoddy stalls and a particularly well-placed kick to a stack of barrels (one of which found its mark on the frontmost pursuers foot), Ail returned to fulfil his duties as the apothecary’s assistant and inform his mentor of the afternoon’s events. Entering the establishment through the shops rear door he finds his mentor in a worried slump over a desk, toying absentmindedly with some herbs. Startled by Ail’s sudden return, the senior apothecary begins inquiring the nature of his apprentice’s sudden leave, explaining that he has been missing for two days and that he had hired help from ‘The Duke’ to find Ail and return him here, though that party had returned earlier this afternoon and hadn’t counted the assistant among them. Wanting to know more about why he had awoken unconscious and bound in a rowboat by the slums, Ail makes preparations to head towards the University and consort with the other ex-captives finding respite there.

Stirring from their sleep to the sound of the lecture theatres door opening Samson, Archie and the Troll see a gaunt, tall young man slip inside and introduce himself, explaining that he had awoken near the same building they had been found in, and that he wanted to understand what was going on. Sat on a stool methodically grinding a herb between his front teeth, Finn eyes the man over and invites him to join the others as they wait for Elara to return and explain their situation. Not long after, the door to the lecture theatre creaks open again and Elara slips inside, closing it behind her and eyeing over the room’s occupants. After passing her gaze languidly over each figure in the theatre, during which her pupils appear to cloud, she tells them that those who had been found in the cellar were still partly under the effect of the drug used to subdue them. That aside, all those who had been missing or abducted, Ail included, had a presence in their head that was not their own, leaving an absent void in their auras. Agreeing that more answers are needed, they prepared to wake their own captive…

With a brief waft of sharp smelling salts under his nose, a mouthful of vomit raises up the old man’s throat and is caught behind the gag stuffed in his mouth. Once it is removed and he finds a lungful of stale, lecture hall air between his racking coughs and hacking croaks he freezes, the weight of his situation becoming apparent all at once. As the group begin probing with questions their former captor resists, claiming that there is no worse they could do to him than the ones hiring him would do if they found out he had divulged any information pertaining to his activities in the shacks cellar. This opinion was swiftly changed as the maw of one of Kel’s deerhounds slowly closed around John(he was quick to say)’s groin and began squeezing… he told them that he had been tasked to place worm like creatures inside the noses of the people brought to him in the shacks cellar, and that immediately prior to crawling inside would excrete a small, oval gem and then crawl into the victims skull where it remained, curled up… hibernating? This procedure made those affected far more compliant with the will of whoever they were then passed onto, given that the crystal from the worm could act as a detonator, rendering the victim headless if the detonator crystal was crushed. Needing his vision in order to answer some of their other questions, John’s blindfold was removed and to his horror discovered that the troll, who had been remaining relatively quiet until now, was also sitting in the room. As he attempted to squeak his chair back over the uneven floorboards, ‘buddy’ came across from where he had been splayed out over a bench and sat down on the floor directly in front of John so that the two were eye to eye. He asked what the man had done to him, why he had things in him that the other captives didn’t and if John knew who he was, to all of which John answered promptly, fear boiling behind his eyes. Somewhat satisfied with the exchange, the troll lumbered away to begin poking at the two holes in his forearm, shifting items to and from a pouch on his belt as the others drew their interrogation to a conclusion.

From John they discovered that while most of his interactions had been with faceless lacky’s, there was one man that remained consistent during the exchanges named Fergus, a man with several teeth missing from one side of his face and his left ring finger half remaining. Being told that the next exchange was to have been made an hour or so after Kel and Finn had knocked him unconscious, the group decided to send Ail, Finn, Archie and Adair (who had been strangely absent from the evenings proceedings) back to the shack to see if the men Ail had eavesdropped on left any traces of where they were heading after their collection had gone awry. Before leaving the university, Archie offered to locate Adair, casting a field of magical energies around himself and moving throughout the rooms of the large building. As Archie reached the uppermost floor he sensed that Adair was in fact ‘roosting’ above them on the roof. When asked why he hadn’t rested in the lecture theatre with everyone else, Adair replied simply “well I don’t trust any you fucks”, and in his eagle form swooped away from the building to retrieve fresh clothes, agreeing to return and meet them before they left. Samson, ‘buddy’ and Kel set about “escorting” John to the city guard for “safe-keeping” during which there was a moment when John took the opportunity to slip the trolls loose grasp in the lecture theatre and dashed for the exit, only to be met by a ball of Samson’s stunning energy delivered to his back, knocking the man comatose before he hit the ground. The two groups parted ways as the late June sun dipped below the western horizon casting the sky a bruised purple hue, agreeing to regroup by the shack once John had been delivered to the guard.

On their way towards the city guard, Samson discussed the practice of magic to the sceptical ‘buddy’, explaining that the troll himself may well possess magical abilities since that had been a similarity in the other captives. For the first time since waking up, Samson successfully pushed the miasma back from his mind and allowed his vision to flick into the astral plane to assence the troll’s aura. He found that ‘Buddy’ was awakened but he couldn’t identify exactly what his gifts were, maybe it had been supressed by the introduction of a demonic absence woven throughout his entire body, converging on his left arm and his head. Perhaps more worryingly was that its aura did not take on a form that reflected his personality, as was usually perceived in all living things, but rather that the aura itself was formless and undefinable… Leaving John in the hands of the city guard, the three set off to regroup with the others by the shack in the slums.

Meanwhile Ail, Finn, Archie and Adair have been rummaging through the remains of the shack. Save for a few barrels of pickled herrings no new evidence was turned up that might indicate where the ones responsible for the kidnapping may be. While searching through some of the decaying remains of their ex-attackers, Archie and Ail spotted some strange chunks of slug, leaking from a partly crushed skull. Examining it further they suspected it may have been part of one of the creatures that John said were implanted into a subject’s brain to leverage control over them. For this reason, they placed the chunk in a stoppered jar that the four found and continued their investigation until the others arrived. The shack holding no more use to them, they headed towards the nearest building that could be considered its neighbour to inquire with its occupants. They were greeted at its door by an aged, wiry woman, slow to trust the four strangers on her doorstep. Easing the tension between the groups with some recently acquired pickled herring, they found out that she had seen men coming and going from the old shack across from hers for some while now, often be loading and emptying carts as they went between the rowboats at the shore and the shack itself. It was then that the group noted that there was no sign of either rowboat by the shack… the woman continued that while it was difficult to make out any faces in the late light that the men had worked, one amongst them stood out, adorned with a pointed hat. Thanking the old woman for her information with a fistful more fish, the group awaited the company from their other number.

Reaching the shack and deciding that there was no more evidence could be gained from the spoiled contents of its interior, Samson and the Troll joined the others in searching for traces of tracks in the spoiled foliage and the shallow mud nearby as Kel found a comfortable tree to nestle by and slumped against its base. The hawk that had been until now circling high overhead began to beat, rising higher still, making its way out over the Tay and towards the shoreline of Fife. The party’s efforts searching were slowed however, as from overhead small white flakes began to drift on the night air, gathering on branches and covering the muddy ground with a carpet of fresh snow. Seeking shelter from the bizarre summer weather and hesitant to share company with the corpses inside the shack, Samson wove his magic into a petit clay figurine, giving it life and bidding it provide the group shelter from the thickening snow, which no sooner began to gather on some unseen barrier mere feet above their heads. Finding this to be an ideal time to educate newly discovered mage, Samson set about instructing the Troll on the uses and practices of magic, attempting to steer its attention away from the distracting snow, wafting down around them. To their surprise, the Troll’s attempts at magical manipulation were met with some success as pale bands of feathery light coiled down its outstretched arms, fading as they passed his fingertips and for a moment, the world around Samson faded into a muffle and he struggled to hear the crest of the Tay, the footfalls of his companions or even his own breathing. It would seem to him that while ‘buddy’ did possess some magic capabilities of his own, their source found root in magical traditions that he young tailor was not himself familiar with…

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Just Another Sunny Tuesday

High overhead the sun lingers in a clear sky, looking down on what remains of the people of Dundee. Outside, boots trudge through mud and slush as the land experiences an unseasonably cold June, bringing with it frost and snow, forcing warm wear and cloaks onto tired backs. By a large warehouse on the docks, a well-kept elf waits outside an inconspicuous doorway. Allowed entry from the well-dressed troll that answers the door, Finn slips his muscular frame past the doorman and into the narrow, shaded hallway, away from the suns gaze.

In a large, mostly empty room, Finn is met by two figures. The first is Dundee’s unspoken crime-lord ‘The Duke’, standing opposite a woman who he had clearly been in conversation with. After introducing the woman as Elara, The Duke tasks Finn with aiding her in an unnamed issue she is experiencing. Reluctantly, Elara accepts Finn as the aid The Duke is willing to offer in the matter, given the excuse that his other operatives are currently occupied, and that should Finn want to earn the Dukes trust, he need prove himself first.
Escorted from the warehouse by the troll doorman Hamish, Elara suggests that she explain to Finn her need of him somewhere more private than the busy dockfront, and so the two head through Dundee’s chattering streets and markets towards the University.

On their way towards the University, Elara is flagged down by an exuberant young woman, who Elara identifies as Kel, a member of her tribe in the Highlands. Flanked on either side by a large deerhound, Kel explains that the help Elara requested from the highland tribes to bolster Dundee’s forces and guard has sent its response in the form of 200 men and women not a couple of days travel behind herself. Taking in the good news, the group begin to notice a small crowd forming around them, several bearing an effigy not dissimilar in appearance to Elara herself…

Arriving shortly after at the University, Elara sets about explaining the issue at hand. She tells Finn and Kel that a number of people from around the town have been disappearing, more notably people that have registered with the local magical taskforce, the Magesterium Arcana, and that whoever is responsible is likely using the chaos left behind by the recent battle to disguise their work. She asks Finn and Kel to find the missing persons and ensure their safe return, commenting that one of the missing is an apprentice of a local apothecary. Finn and Kel begin their work there.

Through the information gathered with the senior apothecary, a useful suggestion from Finn’s smuggling contact and some expert tracking from Kel’s strangely coordinated hounds, the duo are lead to a rickety looking shack at the far edge of the slums that reside outside Dundee’s walls. Having received no response from knocking on the building’s front door, Kel pushes inside, to the frustration of the two men residing within, engaged in drink and dice. Some heated words are exchanged between the parties, the two men attempting to fend off any accusation of having been involved in the kidnappings, and tempers rising lash out at Finn and Kel with swords drawn. In a flash a long, narrow blade has found its way into Finns hand, efficiently cleaving one of the attackers in two from the waist. As the halves hit the floor another pair men emerge from a side room with crossbows raised at the same time as Kel slumps to the ground seemingly unconscious in the doorway and her deerhound charges towards them. The brief conflict resolves with three of the building’s occupants laying dead and dismembered around the room as the remaining man bolts for a back door. Fortunately, before entering the shack, Kel instructed one of her two hounds to stay guard at the rear of the building, and so as the man throws open the back door to flee he is barrelled down by the large beast. Showing no mercy behind his cold eyes Finn executes the survivor after he reveals that there is a basement level to the building, hidden under a rug in the main room. Further instructing her hounds to keep watch above, Kel and Finn descend quickly and quietly into the dark bowels of the shack, whereupon they are met by a scene they are unlikely to forget…

Candles mark the edges of the dank soil and stone cut basement, casting an eerie, flickering light across the occult assembly that it contains; effigies of bone, clumps of feather and mud, barrels coated in wax and cloth under lumps of carved meat and gore. A low doorway in the side of the room allows the stench of human waste to escape from behind and mingle with the foul, stale air. Surrounded in the centre of the room by rings composed of pink marble fragments, a sizable oak and iron wrought table bears the weight of a large, unconscious troll, covered in strange charcoal symbols and markings. As the two enter, a low mumbling chatter that droned through the air ceases, and a man draped in black hooded rags spins round from his desk in the rear of the room. Bloodshot eyes widening, he immediately raises a fist and brings it down on the desk beside him, followed by a wet pop from the closed door off to the side of the room. Kel draws an arrow from the stairwell as Finn rushes the man, in time to see him bring his fist down on another pebble sized clear crystal sitting amongst others on his desk. Another soggy popping from the side room and from within, a body begins to stir from its drugged slumber.

Samson, a tailor of renown amongst Dundee’s noble families, is the first to begin regaining his consciousness, fighting back the heady daze that pushes against his senses and supresses the magical powers that he reflexively attempts to conjure. With mouth gagged and hands bound he begins to worm his way upright, a low glow emanating from his exposed skin, allowing him to see the details of his cramped surroundings. Others bound in the same way fill the space around him, though before he can ascertain how many the head of another in this small chamber pops in a wet confetti of bone and grey matter. Outside the grim, bloody cell, the sounds of combat can be heard as steel rings across chain and arrows find their mark…

Kel and Finn make short work of their adversary, assuming the purpose of the crystals and wanting to have some of the captives released in one piece. As the twisted mage falls, bloodied and unconscious, the two scoop the remaining crystals from the desk into a pouch and squirrel them away for later inspection. Opening the side door, they find the missing people from the town, most still bearing the effects of the drugs that had sedated them, though some, Samson included, appeared to have regained their faculties. Samson and two others emerged from the group in the cell, aiding and escorting other captives up the stairs and out of the basement to wait in the room upstairs. The first of the two was a largely indistinctive young man, standing 5’7 with short hair. Introducing himself to his rescuers as Archie, he quietly lead a couple of other survivors up and out of the darkness. Afterward emerged a man who’s face appeared so scarred that it seemed none had been left unmarred, yet had an unnaturally amiable presence. Helping them to their feet, Adair supported the remaining few out of the cell and from the basement.

Turning their attention to the troll, Finn noticed that it had begun to stir, and before sitting fully up had thrown his head over the tables edge to vomit. As he sat upright, she could see that his horns had been removed and sheared back to the skull, his canines had been ripped out and calcifications peeled away. Seemingly bewildered and dazed, the troll was escorted out of the basement last, carrying with him the table top that he had been found unconscious on, as some sort of comfort. Waiting in the room upstairs, Samson fashioned some clothes to cover the otherwise nude troll, as they discovered that it didn’t remember anything beyond its waking up just moments before. As the group conversed with the troll (which Kel affectionately dubbed ‘buddy’ for simplicity) Finn sent for a guarded escort to take them back to town, which arrived at the shack shortly before the sun dipped below the horizon. Heading towards the wall, Kel, Finn and ‘buddy’ were discussing her control over the loyal hounds by her side when the three experienced a strange otherworldly vision that blinked before their eyes and was gone within a moment. Seemingly unperturbed, perhaps an aftereffect of the drugs or simply fatigue, the three continued their journey in silence. And despite their prior discussion and his seeming inability to do so, the troll now walked beside them whistling a broken, disjointed tune…

Their welcome at the university was minimal as the keeper ushered them into an empty lecture theatre and supplied them with some food water and dry clothing, before telling them to hold tight and departed. They tied the captive mage from earlier to a chair and ensured that he was not only bound and gagged but blindfolded as well, Samson telling them that magic most often relies on sight. As the minutes drew out into hours many of the congregation let sleep overcome them, a welcome change to the drug induced slumber they had recently endured.

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Aftermath

In the years to come that day would become known as Devils Fail. Decades after the spilled blood had dried and the memory of that day was naught but a story, the people of Dundee and the surrounding lands would still celebrate. Breads were baked in the shape of bears, sugared to make them white and with dried fruit as eyes they became a childrens favourite, and in amongst the feasting and revelry they would hang effegies of beautiful women, with half-black half-white wings and red eyes, and they’d dance around as it twisted in the wind.

The days and nights that followed those events in Dundee were quiet ones, but they were not easy. Almost four hundred men, woman and children died that day, most incinerated by the fiery blasts from the demon. A further two hundred more would die of wounds and sickness after. In the final accounting, twelve of the noble families of the City had lost men, mostly guards and loyal retainers, but five lost more. Four lost fathers, heads of their families, leaving their heirs to take their place. One, the MacDouds, lost a father and two sons, leaving a young daughter and a spinster Aunt to run their family. The Earl survived the fray as did the Seneshal (though his dogs did not). The same could not be said for the upper echelons of the Catholic church within the city. The Bishop, the paladins (bar two), the Arch Deacon and most of the high ranking Deacons and priests, twenty three clergy in all, were slain during the fight; the price they paid for being so close to the front of the crowd when the fanatical monks and the paladins attacked.

The remains of the Perthian delegation inside the city were taken prisoner by the city guard, the Earls men and the men of the Dundee nobles. The Earl ordered them held in his compound but treated well, and fairly. A curfew was placed on the town, enforced by the city guard, the Earls men and those nobles who could spare their own guard. The heroes of Dundee, such as the Earl knew who they were, were… invited… to become guests at the earls residence for a short while so they might be protected from well-wishers or those crazed by grief and anger. The very next day, the earl dispatched envoys to the armoured Pertians at the gates to tell them of the events that had transpired, and with them they carried the Baronetts body, laid and dressed in the finaries of state. Letters were taken for them to convey with all haste to the Viscount of Perth, expressing Dundees condolences at the unfortunate death of the Viscounts son and heir. For a while there was chaos within the Perthian camp and it seemed that things might boil over, but the commanders there quickly got their men in hand a the next day the camp was struck and the two hundred armed men escorted the viscounts body home.

Over the next few weeks the mood of the city began to settle down and fall back to some sense of normality. The Earl moved quickly to prevent the remaining clergy, such as it was, from galvanising around a leader. Within a few days he announced that it was essential that any remaining demonic influence within the church be rooted out and purged. This investigation would be carried out by a young ork man named Martin Luther. Once a Catholic priest before he goblinized, he remained a devout catholic and is both well disposed to those of faith, familiar with the churches organisation, rituals and hierarchies, and – being an ork – his appointment to this role was well received within the metahuman community, both those born here and those recently arrived. And, of course, there were funerals for those that died – even for those that couldn’t afford a decent burial, thanks to the generosity of the Earl and Lady Blencoe. The Earl welcomed the new heads of the noble families to his council and announced a suite of appointments, and several new edicts:

Firstly, Murdo was given the title of Knave of Arms within the court and the announcement was made publicly that, following the appropriate period of mourning for the late Lord Blencoe, he would wed his betrothed with all speed and take up his place both as head of the Blencoe family and advisor on the Earls council.

Secondly, he issued a formal pardon and apology to Elara and he bestowed upon on her a new title as part of his household – Mistress of the Mysteries – and made her responsibilities for all things pertaining to magic within his household. With it cam monies, title to a small property in the city near his own, some land on the tay flood plane to the west, tutors nannies and all the benefits of such a loft position.

Thirdly, the formal announcement of the formation of the Magisterium Arcana, as a new branch of the City Guard, with a mandate to protect all the citizen of Dundee from the malicious use of magic. Jane Lemons was announced as it head, given rank equal to a captain him his personal guard, and given mandate to find a full dozen of those with the gift within the city who would join. Along with this appointment came three new laws: 1) all those with the gift of magic within the city must register themselves and their talents with the Magisterium, either upon entry to the city or within the following month. Beyond this, all those with talent that were not registered would be considered criminals and subject to arrest and stiff sanction. 2) That the use of magic to assist in perpetrating a crime would be considered an aggravating circumstance akin to the use of any other weapon and would lead to a tougher sanction, and last but not least 3) that any form of mind control or mind manipulation magic was utterly banned within the Earls lands and that anyone using such – for any reason whatsoever – would be hung.

lastly, the Earl also issued formal and full pardons for the dwarf Cid (although he had left the city by this point) and the hunter Hannah, appointing the latter to his staff as Head gamekeeper, with all the relevant entitlements. Monseur Failon and Connie were given the freedom of the city and welcomed to stay with the Earl for as long as they wished.

Several days after the departure of the armed Perthians from the west road, a messenger and entourage arrived from Perth for the Earl and was received in the Great Hall. The Viscount requested that the Earl consider terms for the release of the Arch-deacon, the Shield Anvil and the First Spike, as is right and proper for men of their station, so that they might attend and preside over the funeral of his son. The Viscount offered considerable ransom for them, however the Earl was disinclined to acquiesce to their request – all of it at any rate. He agreed to release the Arch-deacon so that he could preside over the Baronets funeral, but he refused the ransom of the Shield Anvil and the First Spike and bid the messenger return to Perth saying that they would be released only when the Viscount disbanded the camps of Others around his city and released their inhabitants into Dundees care. The messenger and the Arch-deacon (protesting loudly and vehemently to anyone who would listen) left the city that afternoon and journeyed back to Perth.

The following five weeks were a time of peace and recovery, despite the unseasonably cold weather. Murdos wedding went smoothly and many hoped that this signalled a return to normality in the City. The bodies of Beth and the mad monks had been unceremoniously burnt and the remains of the paladins were taken from the city by a merchant vessel, under guard, to be returned to their holy order at Lord Blencoes insistance. The bodies of the Bishop and the Arch-Deacon were held in the crypt for a period of mourning and were buried a week later in the grounds of the ruined cathedral with a brief and perfunctory ceremony. Martin Luthor concluded his investigation finding only two young priests who remained under demonic influence. They were both hanged for refusing to renounce the false bishop and his demonic templars. Two weeks later the remaining clergy in the city elected Martin Luthor the interim Bishop of Dundee and their choice was ratified by the Earl. The new Bishops first edict was to instruct the clergy to provide aid and sanctuary for those who has suffered losses in the battle, assisting them where. He then began clearing the rubble of the collapsed section of the cathedral in preparation for rebuilding and sent our messengers to nearby nunneries, churches and priories beseeching them to come and visit Dundee that he might talk with them about the future of the faith in the region. Messengers from Perth confirmed the Viscounts acceptance of the Earls terms, and notified him that, following the usual period of mourning for his son, the Others in the camps would be brought to Dundee under armed escort, to be handed to the Earls care in exchange for the prisoners. Rumours and eye witness reported on the lavish funeral of the Viscounts son and the unapologetically firebrand sermon the Arch-deacon gave. During the mourning period (traditionally a month) considerable effort was made by the Perthian rulers to expand both the city guard, nobles private guards, and the Order of the Thisle, ostensibly in order that they might have enough armed men to provide escort for the hundreds of Others from the camps to Dundee. More refugees arrived in Dundee, though not so many as had been feared, and although the cities resources were stretched; Dundee coped – in no small part due to the widespread aid for the new arrivals from the newly motivated church and due to a clear ‘message’ from the underground that the refugees were not to be molested or taken advantage of. After recruiting their first few members, the Magisterium began posting people on the city gates during busy periods, to identify and provide newly arrived awakened with an easy place to register, and to provide support for the City Guard should they need it. This increased registrations considerably. The Earl agreed to expand the university and to provide some funding for deserving Others arriving on the ships.

Several small oddities also caught your attention. Several Others that apparently escaped from Perth spoke of rumours that The Order of the Thistle was actively seeking and conscripting those with magical talent and that armed men from the south, many with a swarthy, dark-haired look, had been seen arriving at the city. Brother Claudius began to look thin and tired. Aiden and others (no doubt including members of the party) were concerned but Brother Claudius still seemed bright and was firm in his rejection of treatment beyond eating better and sleeping well. Several disappearances happened in the city; again nothing particularly odd there and the City Guard looked to investigate. What did strike you as slightly odd was that five of those that disappeared were registered with the Magisterium. Finally, small figurines began appearing in the hands of the poor and the faithful, depicting the Mother Mary tending to a sick man; nothing odd in this except that the unusual figures had pointed ears and carried a staff as well as the customary cross and halo.

Then, in the space of a week, everything changed. Brother Claudius collapsed at the university and, although he recovered, it became clear he was seriously ill. Brother Aiden began treating him despite his weak protestations, and several members of the church (and no doubt the party) attended his bedside and attempted magical healing. It all proved to no avail and Claudius worsened. Several days after he collapsed, Aiden then fell ill with a similar set of symptoms and things looked grave. Then the real body blow fell, the Heroes of Dundee were called to the Earls residence following the arrival of a messenger – an Englishman wearing the colours of Perth, of the Catholic church, and the King John. He was received in the great hall by the Earl and the court. There, he presented the Earl with a message from the Viscount containing an open declaration of war on Dundee. The Viscount accused the Earl of aiding and abetting the death of his son, despite the Earls declaration of protection for him. He declared the Earl an oathbreaker and false. He declared both the the Earl and the entire city guilty of heresy in the eyes of God, not only for protecting and sheltering wretches that are anathema to God and the true church, but also for the appointment of a false Bishop. He named those who the Earl held captive, martyrs and heroes of Perth, instructing the Earl to pass this declaration on to them if he even a shred of honour left before their execution at his devil-wrought hands. The message declared that, within the week, Dundee would be surrounded and broken by an army of the righteous with God riding with them, and that no quarter nor negotiation would be sought. When they entered the city every inhuman wretch in the place would be slaughtered and those who gave them shelter – be they man, woman or child – would be put to the sword.

Before receiving the Earls reply the messenger then presented the Earl with a second message, this one in a scroll-tube of scented rosewood stained red and bearing the Popes own seal. Within it was a message from the Pope himself declaring the Earl and the city to be enemies of the Church and excommunicating them from the loving gaze of God and the embrace of the Holy Mother Catholic church. The Pope further condemned the soul of any god-fearing man who would stand with the Earl or the City to an eternity in Hell. The Earls expression, already dark from the first message, darkened further. He looked both furious and shaken.

Once more, however, before receiving the Earls reply the messenger gave the Earl a third message – this time in a scroll-case of black leather bearing the royal seal of the scottish crown. The Earls hands shook as he took the message, already guessing the heavy news that it must contain, but before he could open it the Englishman struck! Although he had been searched and carried no weapon, with a flick of his hand he hurled a spike at her, a spike which buried itself in her chest and… pulsed and twitched. Murdo and Connie sprung upon the assassin and smote him to the ground with a few well-placed punches while Hannah and the Earl ran to Elaras side. Thankfully, the wound was not deep – certainly not the worst Elara had sustained in recent months – and she healed it easily as the unconscious assassin was dragged off to the dungeons. neither she nor Jane nor Connie saw the lingering malignancy withinin the strike, despite their extensive exploration of Elaras aura. The Earl, at her insistance opened the black-dyed scroll case and read the message therein. It read, “King William the Lion is dead, lament you who are true Scotsman! By the Kings command, come you to stirling with all haste to give thy fealty to his son, Alexander. Long live the king!”.

The discussion following these three messages went long into the small hours of the morning and, as the sun rose over a changed world, the word went out to raise the militias, fire the forges, and prepare Dundee for war. The Earl was adamant that he must attend King Alexander in Stirling with all haste, war or no war, and demonstrate Dundees commitment to his crown and the succession. He came to this decision in no small part because it was far from clear that the new King would continue his predecessors apathy towards the Catholic churches proclamations, or continue the crowns support for the tolerance of Dundee. The Viscount of Perth had almost certainly been extended the same invitation and to leave his voice unopposed to influence the new King during his first days as ruler was to court disaster! So, against the protestations of many of his advisors, he was resolved that he and a small band of guards would leave with all haste, before the Perthian forces made travel all but impossible. He resolved to travel south through Fife before turning west towards Stirling. The consensus of opinion was that Perth were unlikely to be able to bring significant forces to bear for at least a week and that time would give the Earl a window to attend upon the new King and possibly even return before the Perthian army complicated matters. In the mean time, the preparations for war would be overseen by the nobles of the court and the heroes of Dundee, lead by Lord Blencoe. Murdo and the other lords and nobles would see to the defence of the city, raising their militias, speaking to their allies, logistics, supplies and the forging or new weapons and armour. Hannah was given a mandate to find poachers and hunters that could swiftly be turned into scouts and spies that might give warning on Perths preparations, to organise them, and to send them out to gather the information Dundees leaders would need. Elara was tasked with raising such spirits as she could with the same aim and was also asked to contact any allies she may have amongst the Others in the highlands. It was hoped that they might be sympathetic to the cause of their brothers and sistes sheltered by Dundee and that Elara might persuade them to come to Dundees aid. Lemons was tasked with preparing the fledgeling Magisteirum for battle and, with Elara, to coordinate the establishment and provision of such healers as she and the magisterium could find. Finally, Connie and Monseur Failon met with the Earl privately the following morning and agreed to the Earls request to carry word of Dundees predicament, the impact the Earl suspected that it might have on Scotland as a whole, and by extension its impact on England and beyond, to the ears of the French King. There they would beseech him to lend Dundee and Scotland such aid as the country might. They left on the evening tide, even as the Earl and his small band of guards left his city for Stirling.

It was the day after the Earl left that Elara collapsed unconscious, the insidious poison in her veins overtaking her. She had suspect something wasn’t right the day before as she had had a headache all day and felt woozy and light-headed in the evening. With the responsibilities put on her by the Earl, however, she had ignored these minor ailments putting them down to stress. Fortunately others where there then she collapsed and she was immediately taken to the university for care. Alas then that Aiden himself was was ill and worsening, as was Brother Claudius who seemed frail. Nevertheless he resolved to help both his friends and with the aid of Lemons and Silvio he performed a ritual that saw him meditating alongside the bed-ridden Aiden. During the ritual Claudius seemed to be having a conversation with three people, though no others could be seen and no words were heard beyond the ritual circle. Some agreement seemed to be reached, at which point those observers saw Claudius slump, exhausted, his small frame seeming to crumple beneath great weight even as colour and fullness returned to to his friend Aiden. As the ritual ended and people rushed to help Claudius it was clear that, while he was alive, it was barely. He regained consciousness later that evening and spoke at length, privately with Aiden and other. Aiden left furious and in tears but did as he had been bidden and made arrangements for Claudius to be escorted back to Lindores Abby, where his brothers and those of his Order would take his last confession and guide him to God. Claudius died four days later and was buried in the Abbey. In the decades to come his actions would be recognised as miracles and in the late 1300s the then Pope would pronounce him St Claudius, patron saint of the Awakened (something which St Benedict found riotously amusing!).

Returned to health by Claudius, Aiden immediately took to caring for Elara. Working with Silvio, William Montpiere and Hannah they kept her alive and quickly identified the rare demonic poison afflicting her, but none knew of a cure. While the cities apothecaries and talismongers were scoured for information, Lemons contacted an old cantankerous friend for advice. Fortunately, Magor had heard of such a poison and knew of the cure. Unfortunately it involved many rare and expensive ingredients. Things were looking bleak for Elara until, three days later, a mysterious package arrived at the university containing all the ingredients needed. With them, Hannah was able to mix the antidote and purge the toxin from Elaras body. Even as she awoke, rumours of the wholesale slaughter of the Others in the camps around Perth were spreading like wildfire throughout the city. The tales spoke of the roads into Perth lined with crucified and brutalised corpses, whispers of bloody initiations rites for the Order of the Thistle overseen by the Arch-deacon himself. Stories of new recuits forced to slit the throats of Others on consecrated graveyards, while preachers extolled that the blood of the enemies of God would nourish the souls of the faithful in heaven. The rumours did little for morale in Dundee and many citizens fled south into Fife, or North, to Aberdeen, fearful of the impending war. The first armed men from Perth were sighted on the road the next day. And in all the chaos, no one noticed until too late that the woman Gilsa had gone. When Elara did notice and began to ask questions, she found out only that she had left the north gate, days before, and hadn’t been seen since.

Eight days after the declaration of war had been received, more that eight hundred armed an armoured men stood at the west gate of Dundee. Most of them were militia, or clansmen loyal to the Perthian nobles, but more than two hundred heavily armoured warriors wore tabards emblazoned with a thistle aflame with holy fire and circled with a halo, and another two hundred bore the rampaging lion of the English and other banners from europe. They struck camp, they made noise, the set fire to the deserted slums, and as the dawn rose, they assaulted the City. Things went poorly for Dundee in the first few days of the attack. The haze over the burning slum provided ample cover for the advancing army, despite the best efforts of the Magisterium, and their spirits, to disperse it. The wooden west gate – thick though it was – was sundered by the first afternoon of the attack and the organised defenders of the city, numbering no more than three hundred, were hard pushed to defend the breach. Defend it they did though and nightfall brought a retreat by the Perthian forces and an opportunity for Dundee to regroup and make such repairs as it could. Several times during the night, minor skirmishes, magics, and spirits struck at opposing forces but to only minor effect on either side. The dawn saw a renewed attack from the Perthians, encouraged by the small numbers of Dundees defenders, this time favouring the more heavily armed and skilled warriors from the south and the Order of the Thistle. The assault breached the hastily repaired gate swiftly and the street-to-street fighting began – and this is where the tide turned and the trap was sprung. The city guard, the Earls men and the nobles clansmen were swiftly pushed back as the Perthian forces spread out across Nethergate and The Ward Lands. In Nerthergate they learned that the free men and women of Dundee would not ceed their homes easily and that when Others and humans stood together they were stronger than they were apart. In The Ward Lands they learnt the price of selling out those who had trusted them as, Murdo, Martin Luther, the Earls personal guard, most of the Magisterium Arcana, and Sir Martain MacCrosain alongside twenty veteran ex-perthian soldiers tore into their ranks. The growing friendship between Sir MacCrosain and Murdo had been the key to persuading them that they stood on the wrong side of history but, that if they swore fealty to the Earl and Dundee – and if they fought for the protection of the city – then they might just make things right for themselves.

Caught on unfamilliar territory, between the pincers of a militia of enthusiastic citizens (including at least two hundred angry and motivated trolls and orks) and a small but well-trained, well-armed, well-led and magically supported force, the Perthians discipline crumpled and despite their training and equipment they were soon in full retreat. Even that did not go well for the Perthians however as some very sizeable spirits materialised on the far side of the wall in the shell of the burnt out slums tearing into – and effectively cutting off – their retreat. With their mages disorganised, the spirits were not swiftly dismissed and caused a great deal of havok and harm. A great many Perthians died that day; of the eight hundred that were in the attacking force more than two hundred lay dead, with a further three hundred wounded or captured – and the rest fled west back towards their city. Dundee paid a heavy toll too, laying tragedy upon tragedy. Hundreds of its citizens lay dead in the streets by the time the day ended and dozens of buildings across the west and north of the city lay smoking and in ruins. More than half of the defected Perthians had given their lives for the city, fighting people they had called brother only days before. The Magisterium was decimated – many of the mages had fallen early and rapidly in the battle, the targets of attacks from unseen hands from the other side of the veil. The noble families of the city had fared better, with their men better trained and armed, but several families had lost heirs, including some newly-inherited sons (leaving more daughters than usual to inherit the responsibilities of leading their clans). For the survivors, the battle felt as much of a defeat as it did a victory. Lacking the forces necessary to lay siege to Perth and with many dead to be buried and mourned, the decision was taken not to pursue the Perthian retreat immediately. Instead, Murdo and the Earls council sent groups of scouts out to harass the retreat and to gather such information as they could and report back. And they were right to worry; men from many of the clans loyal to Perth that had not been part of the original attack were gathering with the survivors of the attacking force and brigands from the south. It would take time for them to organise, but it seemed certain they were marshalling for another, larger, attack. Still, Dundee was not without its allies. Elaras pleas to the highland tribes had been persuasive and even now many were on their way to Dundee to support their beleaguered brothers. Dundee regrouped and repaired such as they could in the hopes that aid would arrive.

Two days later the Earl returned from the south, only two of his guards remaining. He bought words of hope – King Alexander had been greatly moved by the Earls pleas and those of his allies, and the king had resolved to set Scotland against the English tyranny and that of the Pope if need be. He also brought worse of despair – English forces had crossed over the boarder near Berwick two weeks before the attack on Dundee had begun and were pushing up through the boarder lands bringing death with them. By the time the Earl arrived back in Dundee he expected that they would be just days away from Stirling, and that the new King, with all the forces as he could muster, would shortly meet them on the field of battle. No doubt they would be outnumbered and out-equipped. All was not lost, however, the King too had allies, not least amongst them some powerful (old and cantankerous) mages who seemed to think they were protectors of this land. The implication was clear though; as the first snows of summer fell, war had come to all Scotland and, at least for the time being, Dundee could expect no direct aid from the king.

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A city of two tales...

Tired, hurt and with the crippled King in two the party limped their way back toward Dundee, first returning to Agneses home to collect their horses. As they left the forbidding woods, their spirits were struck another blow as Sir Arthur suddenly spurred his mount to a canter and sped away down the road leaving the party in his wake. Murdo and Fen gave chance but even their swift feet were not enough to catch the powerful horse and he was already on the ferry by the time they made it to the village on the southern banks of the Tay. There, they gave up, knowing that he would be in the Cathedral by the time they made it over the river, and instead waited for their friends. Late afternoon, witht he light fading fast the rag-tag group returned to Dundee and, skirting the town square and the cathedral, they went instead the the University to get what help they could for the King.

Over the following few weeks it became apparent that the destruction of the withered dragonheart had indeed finished the spread of corruption and life in Dundee returned to an uneasy tense approximation of normality. The nights after the part returned to the city saw two more attacks from the possessed cannibal devil-creatures, but the bands were small and the attacks were easily dealt with by the increased guard presence and some some local civic-minded civilians. After two nights, there came the first uneasy night of peace and a few days later the Earl declared the curfew over and the city cleansed of the curse that had plagued it.

The Earl knew the truth, for the party had told him of the events that transpired on Tentsmuirs shores and indeed he met with King Tita before he was taken to meet Hestaby. So to did the Bishop for (presumably) Sir Arthur must surely have told them. Yet it would seem that neither felt that such a strange and astonishing tale of myth, magic and legend should be told. Instead it was proclaimed that the city thanked the heroes of the city guard, the noble families who donated men to help the city, the people of Dundee for their forbearance in the face of trying circumstances, God for delivering them from the devils work – and somewhat grudgingly the Earl even thanked the church for their tireless efforts to protect the immortal souls of those in Dundee, rich and poor alike.

The churches slant on the situation turned out to be somewhat different. In packed church halls throughout Dundee, and not least the cathedral itself, the church proclaimed Gods victory – their victory – over the Devil and his works. They preached to a great many who listened of the victory that faith in God gave them and the priests, monks and nuns extorted people to reaffirm and renew their faith in the lord. The Earls response did not counter the church directly, but the guards were vigilant and the Earl was forthright in his insistance that the laws of Dundee be upheld and that attacks on Others in Dundee would not be tolerated. Indeed, minstrels and bards throughout Dundee were unusually active in reminding the people they played to of the role, the heroism, showed by these people in the aftermath of the Laws eruption. And so a different battle began, a battle not of swords, but of propaganda, faith, whispers and words. A subtle and careful battle for the soul of Dundee.

Over the next few months tensions between the rulers of Dundee and the church rose as the nobles, one after the other, began to take sides. Still, for the everyday folk things returned to a semblance of normality. The winter cold set in proper and thick snows came to the city and the countryside surrounding it. Nevertheless, the workers worked, merchants peddled their wares and, when the silvery tay was free of ice, ships came to the harbour bringing food, drink and other goods from foreign parts. Banditry and piracy, while always remaining, were not so problematic as to significantly hurt trade though prices rose as the cold of winder set in proper.

For the party, Agnes finally met with Aiden upon his return and he spoke with him about her cough. She was seen around the university for a time, clearly in pain, until eventually she was seen no more. Fen returned to the slums where he can still be found assisting people wherever he is able and Orion, although taciturn and terse as ever, can still be sometimes seen frequenting the warehouses and taverns around the docks. Naught was seen of Sir Arthur for some time. It was rumoured that he had unburdened his sole over some dark deeds to the Bishop himself and had been told he could only receive absolution after a long period of isolation, abstinence, mediation and prayer, something the pious young knight had enthusiastically welcomed. Upon his return to society and his cousin he was observed by some to be a humbler man, quieter, somehow more twitch and intense and prone to long period of solitary prayer. He shunned galas, dances, and fancy feasts in preference for the bible, plain food and the company of the Cathedral congregation. Surprisingly, his standing and reputation only grew – in no small part due to the churches good opinion of the young man.

Noted for his part, Struman was granted a rare pardon by the Earl but not before he was stripped of his rank and standing in the city guard and so he was gifted a new start in life. Surprisingly, he and Cid (now calling himself Sod to avoid the attentions of the guard, decided to go into business and, buying a cheap property on the docks, began a pie shop (Bullseye Pies) that swiftly gained a reputation for fine affordable food thanks in no small part to the pair hiring a mysterious mercenary called Douglas who, it turns out, was a surprisingly talented cook. Elara returned to her village in the highlands, seeking to know if Eonan was cured, but also to speak with the wise women of her village of the deal she had made with the Old Man of the Sea and the child growing inside her. For Murdo, life returned to normal – at least relatively. During Sir Arthurs absence he called on Katherine often and she welcomed him warmly – a fact not unnoticed by the nobility of the city. Upon Sir Arthurs return to the household however he chaperoned her often and her welcome grew colder, though whether this was her doing or the presence of her cousin was unclear. Still, an uneasy peace reigned over Dundee as the winter festivals passed and many tales were told in the taverns of Dundee about the ravaging disease now being called the ravening plague, and some even mentioned a role for some of our heros in its end, despite the churches efforts to claim the credit.

Elaras pregnancy progressed fast, and fears grew for her. In mid-January, barely three months after her pact was consummated, the midwifes of the village declared her time was imminent. Fearing for her life, Elara and the wise woman went with great haste to the shore, reasoning that, given the child’s heritage, a birth in the sea might encourage things. This did not go well, as it turned out. As her labour began and the waves washed over her there was terrible pain and the child writhed inside her as if hurting. Draging her from the sea the wise woman was at a loss but with a sudden flash of insight Elara understood – even as water returns to the sea in time, falling first as freshwater rain and flowing through bright streams and slow languid rivers, so must her childs journey be to his eventual dominion; first, he must be freshwater, before he was salty. As the rain clouds broke overhead and the wise woman and her midwifes lay her shivering in a nearly freshwater stream so she gave birth to a boy child, hale and healthy, and surrounded by a myriad of small excited water spirits. She names him Ethan. They returned to her village for a time. Ethan was growing fast, far faster than a normal child and he needed no mobile hung over his crib for he was entertained by water spirits, unseen by any without the gift of astral sight. Elara began to feel a strong draw to return to Dundee, as if the sea there called her too it so it could watch over her and within weeks she had made plans to return and departed. Upon her return to Dundee she was gifted a smallholding just along the north shore by the Earl (out at what would today be Broughty Ferry) and she arranged for a wet nurse to attend her child. And with that she went to the university to renew her acquaintance with her companions, only to find Struman, Cid and Murdo departing for a meeting with the Earls Castilian to discuss matters of great import. Coincidence? I think not; rather Fate – and she joined them for their talk. As it turned out, not the least important thing that they discussed was the disappearance of a young girl from a noble house, only a few days ago…

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Telling the truth...

The party quickly rushed to the king and realised that he was weak, twisted and broken, a mangled shell of what he once was, though he still lived. Murdo lifted the broken child-like form in his arms and, with help from the others, carried him from the beach, swiftly, back to the stone circle. There, the attempted to awake him but Cid and Elara quickly found that his mind had fled the shattered form and was wandering the Astral, far from here. They laid the king with his head upon one of the rune stones and, with the king laid before them, the pair sent their own minds into the astral to find him. For them it took an age, for the watchers it was a matter of less than an hour. They found the kings soul, a timid, cowering thing that mirrored the body it had fled. The spoke with him and reassured him that he was now free of his watery prison. He refused to believe them, fearing some cruel spirits jest or trick. The persuaded and cajoled him otherwise and eventually he agreed to return to his body with them. When he did so he saw that they spoke the truth and that his mortal shell was indeed free.

After some hesitation he tried to slip back into his body, but so long had his mind been estranged from it that the fit was not easy, and only a little ‘percussive maintenance’ from Cid and Elara was able to force the Kings mind back into his body.

The king awoke with a start. Eyes that had not opened in centuries opened to see the light once more, muscles that has twitched and spasmed in silent agony while the kings mind was fled suddenly blazed their signals of pain into his mind. The king screamed, such as his old, unused and feckless vocal chords were able. Little more than an agonized croak in truth, but one that would not end with every breath. Elara and Cid awoke beside him and they and Agnes swiftly went to work to try and alleviate the pain and through a mixture of smoke, herbs, tinctures and magic had some success and, for the first time in nearly a thousand years, the King of the Grey Men spoke to a mortal. He was astonished and grateful, thinking that his was a torment that would last forever, but he tired rapidly and soon swooned and lost the battle with unconsciousness and he slept. He awoke throughout the night. every twitch, every movement woke him in agony, but slowly the pain began to lessen and some rest was had.

On the morrow, the party woke the King as the morning wore on and the forrest mist lifted. The king spoke with them of his imprisonment and his gratefulness at his release. When they asked him about the circle and it’s history it was a while before he answered. Then he told them that there were ways and means of doing these things and that what was needed to reveal the story of the circle was a True Telling; a ritual more primitive than any magic, something from the dawn of time when the beings of the world sat round fires telling tales to comfort themselves and make sense of the world. The party gathered wood, food of all types, fruit, nuts, meat. Spirits were found, buried deep in backpacks. A fire was laid and lit and as the meal began to unfold and the merriment rose an odd thing happened. The light took on a richer, more wholesome hue, the food was somehow fuller, more flavourful, more juicy. The spirit was more fiery but sweeter, and as the King began his tale of the circle it was almost as if the tale lived in each of the parties minds.

An eon ago, when the Fey walked the Scottish hills, when men were yet few and still young, and dragons wheeled in the upper winds; the White Hag of Winter seethed. Seeing her minions fail in destroying the world of the Green Man and his creatures, was wrathful and beset with furious anger. She resolved to destroy the Green Mans power and bring ruin to his creatures, the Fey, the Faries, and all all that was magical and good in the world. And so she hatched a cunning plan to bring about the end of magic, that it might break his power.

To do this she wrought a powerful ritual, decades in the casting. What she could not bring about by strength of arms she brought to be through cunning and brutality. One-by-one she sent envoys with tales of power and riches to the great dragons of the age and lured them to the runic circles of the Fey. Each time they came in the depth of night on he darkest day, obscured by driving rain and dark clouds to claim their treasure, their power, only to find the Hags foremost servant waiting for them and such was her power that she slew them until only one remained. It is said that she butchered them, ripping out their hearts even as their life faded, and buried those still beating muscles beneath the runic circles where it began to corrupt and desecrate all the magics of the world. The desecration was subtle and difficult to see to begin with but the sorcerers of the Grey Men felt the corruption of their power and were greatly afeared! They began to unravel some of its nature and recounted to King Tita their fears surrounding the corruption and the deaths of the Great Dragons, however King Tita was distracted by a great sorrow. His daughter, Princess Mab, had by a few days before sought out the Old Man of the Sea to request he withdraw his waters from around the islands of Scotland that they might join again with the Emerald Isle. Angered by the impertinent request, the Old Man had taken Mab into the deep and held her there in watery misery.

Driven to rescue her, King Tita ignored his sorcerers warnings and instead assembled his forces and led them to the shores of what is now North Fife to confront the Old Man and demand her release. The Old Man of the Sea feared naught – for it was said that he could not be harmed by any weapon of land, sea or air – and would not be swayed by the might of the gathered Fey forces. And so war was bought to the seashore. Ocean Spirits crashed against the Grey Men and both suffered. Seeing the Grey men falter and the King embattled the eldest of the Grey sorcerers called his followers to mighty magic and, even as their bodies burned out from within, he reached unto the heavens and drew down the fiery heart of a star and smote it on the sea with a mighty crack. And that is all the King remembered until his consciousness awoke in the Old Man of the Seas realm below the waves where he was, until this very day, held in great torment – is pain a delight to the Old Man of the Sea; his greatest prize.

Astonished by the tale, the party swiftly reasoned that, if it was true, perhaps the return of magic to the world had not cleansed the circles of their corruption and that perhaps the corruption of the very circle they were stood upon was at the heart of the twisted black trees growing in Tentsmuir and the twisted black horrors that were plaguing Dundee. Swiftly they began to dig and as evening fell they came across the truth. Nearly ten feet below the ground they came upon a rough-edged block of ice nearly three meters on side, glittering hard and cold int he fading light. Within it, a blackened and withered heart as large as two grown men. And as they watched, it shuddered once in a mockery of a heartbeat. Appalled, they swiftly struck out with blade and magic at the block in an effort to destroy the abomination but with little luck. Until, that is, Murdo took up the etched had axe called Oceans Bane, anathema to spirits of water and potent item from legend. When it struck the ice there was a thunderous crack and a mighty explosion that blew him from the hole and knocked the party flying. Amazingly, Murdo survived (just barely) and with the ringing still loud in their ears they crunched their way back to the hole over the fast-melting shards of ice to find the black gone and the Dragon Heart with it. The question now was, had that ended the corruption? Only time would tell….

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The Heirs Bargain

The old man looked around at the assembled group, glancing down disdainfully at the body of the Fey before him. “Well?” Struman and Cid began to negotiate with the creature. They explained that they had summoned him from his watery depths to bargain with him for the life of the old King of the Grey Men, tho they believed was his prisoner still. The Old Man of the Sea was haughty and siamissing, declaring himself above petty concerns and went to leave the ritual circle only to find his way blocked by Fen and, more importantly, Murdo – whose gaping wound in the astral seemed to make the spirit uncomfortable. Effectively forced into communication, at lest for a while, the spirit became cagey and dismissive; at first denying that he had any such prisoner in the inky depths of his kingdom and then saying that even if it were true, why would he trade his prize possession with this rag-tag band? The conversation went back and forth with the party making various offers to the spirit, offers of servitude, of the destruction of the axe they had in their possession that was anathema his his lesser kin, but the Old Man of the Sea seemed unimpressed. They even tried to bargin with the body of Efyl, until they learned from the Old Man of the Sea that his corpse was already claimed by the sea and that his blood was the only reason he was here! Did the party truly have anything this ancient and powerful spirit wanted or needed?

It was then that the sly and cunning spirit revealed his hard. He told them of the seas future. Once his domiain had been a place of myth and legend where the creations of the Green Man, the Hag of Winter or any other beings of the land, were just unwelcome visitors. A mysterious domain full of secrets, dangers and unexplored places – tales that gave the sea power over the hearts of man and lonely places that only spirit would ever know. This is what gave the sea its magic. Powerful and unpredictable, intractable, unforgiving and immense. And yet it was this very mixture of danger, adventure, mystery and the unexplored that was changing the seas very nature. Increasingly man was encroaching on the unexplored seas, exploring its secrets, traversing its hidden currents, and fishing its depths. The Old Man of the Sea told of a time that he foresaw, not long in the future, when man would traverse every corner of his domain with impunity and arrogance, a time when the seas would hold no more mystery and secrets. A time when he, an unrelenting unforgiving force of nature would no longer represent the seas true nature. His time, it seems was ending, and that a new personification was needed, one that represented the seas new duality and mans growing role in the seas of the world. In short… he needed an heir, one that blended man and the spirit of the sea.

At first several member of the group misunderstood, thinking perhaps that the spirit wanted to make one of them his heir, but he quickly dismissed this making it clear that he needed an heir Born of spirit and man. With that revelation, eyes turned to Agnes and Elara who seemed a little taken a back. But the male members of the party were not to be let off so easily, and the Old Man of the sea told them that any of them could be a vessel for his seed, with the appropriate adjustments. So, this, was his price. The question then was, were the party willing to pay it and, if so, who would bear the child?

After some discussion, Elara and Struman both seemed intent on paying the price, though for different reasons. Struman saw it as his duty to protect his city, both by helping to deal with the current crisis but also perhaps by tying Dundees futre to the sea, perhaps granting it some favour from the new lord of the waves. Elara, on the other hand, was driven by a desperate need to do something about the current problem whatever the cost particularly given her current… situation. Knowing that the protecting astral candle that Hestaby had conjured for her had burned out with the effort of channelling the magic of the ritual, she was loosing time to argue. Her anger rising she cast a spell to entangle and entwine Struman and put an end to the argument. The spell was only marginally effective, but the Old Man of the Sea seemed amused and engaged by her fre and drive and agreed to accept her as the vessel for his Heir – the bargain was sealed.

The party attempted to convince the spirit to give up its prisoner first as a gesture of goodwill, but he refused and the party eventually relented. With a bright and bulging moon risen high in the sky, the beach cast in pale moonlight and the soft sound of the gentle surf lapping at the sea shore, the party decided to give Elara a little privacy (at her insistance!) although some refused to go far for fear that the Old Man of the Sea might renage upon his bargain (he was as capricious and unpredictable as the sea, after all!). While the negotiations had been taking place, Fen had left the group and gone looking for Orion, who was absent from the discussion. He found his barely conscious body on some rocks further down the beach, where he had landed after being struck by the powerful sea dragon spirit. To Fen (and Orions) great surprise, he had somehow [ed: cough karma!] survived the attack and had just begun to recover consciousness. Fen helped him back to the group as they made their wy up the beach tot he driftwood fires to away the completion of their bargain with the Old man of the Sea. Discussion was muted and, a few hours later, the a quiet and subdues Elara came to bring them back tot he ritual circle. The Old man of the Sea was smiling an obsequious grin when they arrived and said “Very well, here then, have your prisoner, for what good he will do you. I am done with his torment…”. Even as s=he spoke, two oversized crabs hauled an enormous blue and yellow veined giant clam fromt he sea, its hoary barnacle encrusted shell testament to its life deep beneath the waves.

With a gesture and a creaking groan the creatures shell opened, to reveal a wretched worm-pale twisted form, crunched up inside the great bivalves inners; Almost mummified, the creatures limbs were twisted and bent unnaturally, its skeen, sodden and pruned and rotting int he constant wet also sloughed off its flesh, yet with a wracking caught it spluttered up seawater and took a ragged breath, betraying the the king yet lived.

“The deal is done, now, out out of my way!” the old man said and with that he strode bak into the curling surf, the sea creatures going with him. Leaving out heroes along, on a beach, in dead of night, with an old, waterlogged, mostly dead Fey King.

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Night of the Efyl dead

The ritual was a complex affar. While Murdo and Fen set a break-wall of large driftwood fires between the group and the forest, Struman, Agnes, Cid and Elara began digging into the sand the ritual circle, following Efyls instructions. Orion, meanwhile, moved off back to the treeline to keep guard, having refused to participate in the ritual, despite his magic. Evidently he was fearful that some great disaster may befall the undertaking if he took part.

The others began with a nine-pointed star with the line joining tips of two of the points of the star making a parallel line to the sea – this Efyl termed The Gate. The tide was coming in and Efyl instructed them that they would need to make the circle close enough that as the sea came it it would enter The Gate and lap around the feet of the casters. The lines of the star were dug six inches deep in the sand so that the inbound seawater might be drawn along them by the rituals magic.

Struman, Murdo and Fen joined each point of the star with a line, except The Gate which was to be left open, while Efyl began instructing Cid, Elara and Agnes on their role in the ritual. The diggers then made three sides of a square, surrounding the the star, again leaving the gate open – a second constraint on those summoned. Finally, at every intersection of lines within the star, a two foot circle centered on the intersection was marked. Each mage was told to mark these points as anchors with the symbols of their tradition. Finally, the entire thing was marked with such things as the group had that could anchor magic, chief amongst which were the shards of dragon eggs that various members of the group had pocketed on their last visit to Hestaby the great. These, along with the leaves of the dark trees and totems from Elara and Agnes would act as pins for the barriers.

Finally, at the center-point of the star was build a crude symbolic representation of a closed eye, made of driftwood from the sea, clay fragments from Orion, gathered at the deserted and sorry Castle Dudehope and iron nails from by Cid. Stabbed vertically into the heart of the star like a spear it cast a long flickery shadow on the sand from the fires behind it. All in all the construction took some time to get right and by the time they had finished the last vestiges of the setting sun were only evident by the deep orange and purple uplight on the clouds. The driftwood fires lit everything with an eerie flickering light as Murdo propped Efyl up against the totemic eye. His strength was fading fast now, but with everything ready it would prove enough. He instructed Elara, Cid and Agnes to take positions within in three of the intersection circle anchor-points for the casting. The others he tasked with protecting those within the ritual from whatever the Old Man of the Sea may send to disrupt it – after all, he said, the Old Man was not accustomed to being summoned and would likely be displeased with the idea. Finally he instructed Murdo that he was to play a key role in the ritual. Once the Old Man of the Sea had been summoned he must stand squarely and impassably in The Gat position – his void of magical essence would then effectively bar thee Old Man from leaving, at least for a time. And with that he began the casting. Elara, Agnes and Cid performed their roles admirably and the tides and flows of magic began to fill the astral around the ritual space. As he seawater lapped over the outer edges of the gate and began to fill the channels the magic became pinned and, as Fen flicked his visio into the Astral, he could see great curtains of power begin to coalesce along the rituals lines and the closed eye began to crackle with green-blue electricity. Slowly, every so slowly, the eye began to open, leaving behind it the electric blue tracery of an iris and a pupil.

Meanwhile, Sir Arthur Fergusson had caught up with the group and from the tree-line watched, spy the fires on the beach and the strange goings on and hearing only snatches of of the ritual chanting. Frankly he didn’t know quite what to make of the situation. What had happened to these folks that drove them to this Heresy? He decided to move closer and, surprisingly, avoided the sharp eyes of Orion to make it all the way up to the fires before he was spotted. He saw the ritual, the odd looking creature at its center, the casters mouthing odd, heathen, words in a tounge he didn’t know as magic crackled around the ritual. Finally his eyes met those of Fen, across the ritual. Gazes locke for a second, it seemed that Fen would confront him, but there did not prove to be time.Moments later creatures began to emerge from the lapping surf, crabs, lobsters, fish, urchins, nudibrachs, eels and more. Most were not of a size to cause much consternation but then several larger creatures appeared, and seemed bent on disrupting the casters. Several giant crabs, a massive lobster, a huge spider crab, strange-looking jellyfish, a long dead sailors corpse, all moved with surprising speed up the beach intent on the caster nearest to the gate, the long-suffering Elara.

Fortunately Murdo, Struman and Fen were there to protect them and swiftly intercepted the creatures, destroying them with considerable efficiency and alacrity. Notably, int he battle, Murdo struck out at the creatures with the magical axe Cid had lent him for exactly this purpose and where it struct the creatures it wreaked until devestation. The Axe, known to be bane to spirits of water began glowing a deep azure as cut through the creatures, betraying the not-entirely-mundane nature of the beasts. The ritual continued to build, the central eye staring out to sea like the half-lidded gaze of some hidden giant, and the magic began to take its toll on the casters. Things were going somewhat more easily for their defenders. Three horrid man-sized creatures had emerged from the sea; a massive angler fish with grotesque spindly tall legs and a glowing bulbous growth the size of a head dangling before it, a giant sea snail, thick and fat, and a creature of driftwood, seaweed and rock from the deep. The creatures rushed toward the beach determined to disrupt the ritual but in an astonishing display of competence were cut down or smashed apart in mere seconds by the heroes of Dundee. [[:fen-mac | Fen] confronted the angler fish and struck the glowing orb so hard with his fist that the growth burst with a sickening pop and the creature convulsed, collapsed and was draw out to sea by the surf. Murdo bought the glowing Axe down on the snails shell so hard that it cracked cleanly in two with a loud retort, despite it being an inch thick, spilling the soft squishy insides of the creature all over the beach. So furious was their assault that the creatures barely landed a blow before returning the the ocean that gave them birth. The ritual continued to build. The circles around each of the anchors began taking on a dark indigo swirl shrouding the casters with wraths of shadow and the magic reached out into the sea and pulled the incoming swells of surf into the ritual through the gate and swirling around the feet of the party. Efyl stiffened and gasped in pain as the sea lapped around his propped up form and when it touched the eye the driftwood and iron construction the magic cracking around it cracked an iridescent red lending the now mostly open eye a baleful aspect.

This turned out to be somewhat prescient as, rising ominously from the water was a creature of myth and legend. A mighty luminous sea serpent, of sorts, pale blue with tassels resembling the gills of a salamander framing its head like a mane. The creature was huge, its a head the size of a wagon. With a sinuous flick of its tail the mighty creature curled through the surf, across the sand, and struck out with blistering speed at the drop-jawed heroes. Suddenly realising that they were in a fight for their lives our heroes flew at the creature but it proved as tough to hurt as it was to hit and several of their blows either missed entirely or struck the creatures tough hide but did little to harm it. The creature reared up and opened a mouth the size of a wagon wheel and, from it’s maw through a haze of steam that billowed out into the cold night air, erupted a torrent of scaldingly hot water directly at Fen. Extremely fortunately, Fen’s swift reactions and wary nature allowed him to throw himself out of the way at the last second and the water missed. Murdo flew at the creature with the Axe, which was glowing like a star in the night, but the creature – who definitely did not like to the look of the axe at all – coiled itself out of the way with an agility that belied its size. Struman unleashed a crossbow bolt that glanced off the creatures hid and the situation seemed fire. Fortunately, however, Orion joined the fight. He had seen from the treeline the creatures attack his friends and concerned that he was too distant to help he had previously begun running towards the battle. Now with creature focussed on Murdo and Fen, Orion drew back his bow and muttering incantations under his breath the tip of his arrow began to glow fiercely. He let fly and the arrow struck home, driving into the creatures armoured flesh. A ball of purple flame erupted from the side of the creature knocking it back and scorching its tough hide. This drew the creatures ire and it lashed out with its tail, knocking Orion clean off his feet and sending him crunching into a rock pool further up the peak. Blocked by the bulk of the creature, the other heroes did not see what happened to Orion and his crumpled form lay still on the rocks in the darkness.

With the serpent distracted, Fen used the opportunity to strike the creature a series of swift blown, the magic of his Chi lending the strikes the power needed to damage the mighty spirit of the ocean. Damage it, but not kill it and it now turned its attention to Fen. Once again it unleashed a spew of superheated water only for Fen to narrowly avoid the blast. Murdo and Fen attacked again but to little avail and then suddenly it reared up, seized Murdo in its maw and swallowed him whole! It evidently didn’t like the taste though as it immediately convulsed violently and threw up Murdo across the beach (the axe too, was regurgitated and ended up in a rock pool), leaving his collapsed still form on the beach as the creature writhed. The serpent was badly hurt now but it was closing on the ritual casters. Too late, however for the fighters efforts had bought enough time for the ritual to complete! The last of Efyls life and magic faded from the world, is life force sealing the rituals, the magic within the components of the ritual flared and the cage was complete, the blazing red eye lay fully open and fixed on the sea, calling for the ancient spirit to attend. A heartbeat later the serpent had vanished and standing bent next to the now magic-less lifeless driftwood eye was an old, bearded and bent man. He was clothed in a rag-tag of skins, netting, sailcloth and hemp, with no irder rhyme or reason to his attire. His shaggy beard, eyebrows and hair were all a washed out grey (not white) and moved as if submerged. Seaweed, crabs and other small crustaceans grew from his long hair as if perfectly happy lifting on him. His deep blue eyes held the depths of the deep ocean and knarled hands, looking as much like bleached knotted driftwood as living flesh, grasped a thin bent stick for supporting himself. A rough gravelly voice, that ground like pebbles on a beach or the surf on rocks, said “Well! I’m here aren’t I?! What do you want?”

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