Myths & Gears

The Hunt for Alexia

Glaceus 12, 603 AR

The recovery from Alexia’s undead invasion of the city still linger, and likely will for several weeks. Rebuilding much of the damage will take months, at least. The stories and rumors will take even longer to fade.

A couple of days after their excursion into the hard, bloody criminal underworld of Corvis, Father Dumas asks the party to join him in the cathedral library. “My friends,” he says, “I cannot thank you enough for all your help in our recent… trying times. Please, be seated.”

It’s obvious from his drawn features that, despite the long hours he’s been putting in with the work around the cathedral and the city, he’s been working privately on something in his off hours. “First, I must apologize to you all, for doubting the evidence you presented. I was blinded by my care for the Alexia, and could not believe her capable of such… atrocity. I now know that witnessing the execution of her mother seriously damaged her, and that she never truly recovered from that horrific experience. It is my fault, and I will atone for my failure. I wish I could say that it is over, but I’m afraid I must ask for your help again. I’ve learned where my errant niece is off to next, and someone must try and stop her. I hope I can count on you.”

The Prelate pauses and looks directly at each of the team. “My research into her recent studies and extensive divinations lead me to believe that Alexia is on her way to a hidden temple of Cyriss. The church has long believed there was a haven for this cult northeast of Corvis, although we have never known its location. You’ll need to find the temple, try to beat Alexia there, and stop her. In my divinations the dark sword she holds shows as a dire omen. I think she plans some unholy ritual. We can’t leave it in her hands. Recover that blade, but be wary of it; it may be cursed. Recovery of the sword is our first priority. I’m not sure what can be done about my niece. She has done terrible things, but I have to believe she is not beyond redemption. If you can return with her, please try, but I would sooner see her escape – without the sword – than be harmed.”

The conversation reveals several clues to the party:
• Cyriss is known as the Clockwork Goddess. Her worship is a relatively new phenomenon within the last 300 years.
• The Church of Morrow has an ambivalent relationship with the Cult of Cyriss, and is uncertain of their intent. Most worshippers of Cyriss are normal and decent (if misguided) people, drawn to engineering, mathematics, and similar sciences.
• Given the cult’s secretive nature, there are rumors of a darker aspect to the Cult, including: they build their temples in secret, away from prying eyes. The temples are actually some kind of giant machine. The machinery in the temple can bring the dead back to life (a forbidden practice), but Dumas thinks this is why Alexia is trying to find the temple.
• Father Dumas is strongly against the idea of Lexaria being returned to life. He believes this is impossible, and that Alexia will only succeed in creating some unliving abomination, similar to the other coveners she has raised. It is best to let the dead rest – only the highest priests at the Sancteum in Caspia have the wisdom to determine who is worthy of the miracle of resurrection.
• Unfortunately, Father Dumas has been unsuccessful in finding any information regarding the sword. Neither the cathedral or University libraries have any references to the weapon, but he suspects that Alexia may have stolen the relevant passages, as a couple of books were discovered to have had pages torn out of them. Where these pages are is unknown, they were not in the papers the team found in her hideout under the church cemetery.

The day is spent scouring the city for rumors, cultists, any information at all regarding the religion of the Maiden of Gears and her mysterious temple in the swamps northeast of Corvis. Many false paths keep them beating feet, but eventually their efforts pay off. Stringer encounters a one-handed dwarf who claims to have heard of a man who fled when his companions entered the temple, 13 years before. He informs Stringer that the doors are a clockwork, opening only under certain conditions, which are due again soon. The team only has three days to find the temple and gain entry!

Fynn is able to track down a ragged beggar named Madrin, who claims to have been a former adventurer and watchman. Madrin demands to be paid, but once paid claims to have been to the temple thirteen years ago. When his party arrived and prepared to enter, he lost his nerve and fled. His companions ostensibly continued on, but they never returned according to Madrin. He has since been out of luck, and living out of a bottle. He believes that trip to the temple cursed his life, and the gods forsook him. The Watch takes pity on him since he used to be one of their own, and Fynn encourages him to put his faith in Markus, return to the Watch, that Sargent Arn and Captain Helstrom would help him. Despite his fear of the temple, Madrin describes the route to the temple, as if reliving a nightmare: 5 leagues north on the Black, 20 east through the bayou, one league south from the second lake.

Now that they knew where to go, with the day waning they needed to find a boat and a crew capable of making the trip in the time they had left. After asking around at the docks and striking out with several boats, (including the dwarven crew of the Old Stonesides, who become greatly offended at the implication that dwarves can’t sail and point out that Rhul boasts the largest inland sea in Western Immoren) Captain Edden of the steamship Comet refuses to cancel the charter he has booked for the morning (a man of principle and honest business ethics) but directs them to his friend Squint, and the good ship Fortune, a couple of slips down. Edden warns them that Squint can be a bit surly, but no-one knows the bayou better.

The Fortune is an old but sturdy single-boiler steamship, 50 feet bow to stern, 29 foot beam across the twin outboard side paddlewheels. Her captain and owner is a rough Morridane known as Squint (not his real name, judging from his eyes). She’s crewed by the brothers Killian and Anouar, Midlunders by the look of them. After learning where they’re headed, and the timeframe they wish to travel in, Squint agrees to the charter, but warns them that he will not sail at night. Period. No negotiation, bribe, or pay bonus will change his mind. “Bayou’s dangerous enough,” he says. “Best I can do is dawn to dusk, but barring complications, I can get you your 25 leagues in two days. We sail at first light. That means at first light, not sunup, not dawn. Riverfolk start early, like farmers. You look like you know what that means. Don’t be late. No refunds if we cast off late waiting for you, and you don’t make your appointment.”

A charter rate of 2gp/day for each passenger, and a fuel surcharge of 5 sp a day is reached. The team has a boat to pursue Alexia with. Further inquiries about the docks doesn’t reveal anything about a girl matching Alexia’s description hiring a boat, but it is noted that the Principia, a small steamboat, is missing from her slip and failed to make a passenger charter that morning. If Alexia took the Principia , she has at least a day’s head start.

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A Fistful of Vouchers

The next morning, the group heads to the Watch HQ to talk to Captain Helstrom about the nights events. They learn a little about Draegyn and Malek, but Fynn’s plan to go undercover are strongly advised against.
The next evening, the team heads back to the Falling Star, rage in their hearts (well, most. For one, it’s greed he harbors) and vengeance on their minds (even the greedy one). The Bull greets them as they enter the tavern, waving them to a table. “Well, yer a sorry lookin’ lot, aren’t ye? Damn lads, what happened to…Nevermind, I don’t wanna know. Look ye, first things first, mates. The Bastard paid fer a round o’ me best.” The large man sat a grimy tankard in front of each, filled with the brackish, dirty blonde pilsner known as Bull’s Brew, or as is jokingly whispered by patrons, Bull’s Piss.

Dando eyes you all, waiting for you to drink up, when a barmaid approaches and whispers to him. The Bull nods and waves her off with one ham-sized hand. “Right, then mates. Grab yer tankards an’ come with me. The Bastard’s here and wants to speak with ye now.” He turns and leads the four some rickety stairs and down a hallway, stopping at a thick door with a chalky-glassed porthole window in it. A plaque above the door reads “The Galley.” Dando opens the door, then shifts his massive frame against the wall to make room. “In here, mates. If ye want anything, there’s a bell pull to the kitchen in the corner. Enjoy.” With that, he heads back downstairs.

The Galley is a lavish room with a long table dominating its center. The familiar figure of the Bastard Draegyn sits at the table with a silver tray of fruits and cheeses in the center. He sips something steamy from a pewter mug and nods to the four as they enter. In a corner, near the bell pull, three of four darkly garbed and armed ruffians play a dice game at a small table. The non-player, a lithe, oddly attractive woman with angular features and an emptiness in her eyes, wears a rapier and a large, curved knife, unlike the others’ clubs and short swords. Her chair pushed back a bit from the others, her attention is focused solely on Draegyn, watching his every movement.

Draegyn waits until the party has finished asking him their questions before speaking. “Yes, of course ‘twere a test. We didn’ really expect yez te survive, but blast me mates! Well done, eh? Ya really put it ta those bastards, yeah? Yeah. So, what now then, hmmm?” He pauses, seems to think. “Good question. Alright, then, let’s see what we ken do fer yez, cuz believe me when I say this, ya mates really did a good turn fer th’ bossman. Aye, ya did that.”

As he finishes, Draegyn produces some slips of parchment from his coat and places them on the table. He then pulls a fist-sized leather purse from another pocket and drops it on top of the parchments. It clicks, rather than clinks. “Ya didn’t retrieve th’ Thunderwicket, but ya did eliminate that uncontrollable fool Redgrave. Th’ boss gave ya a bonus fer that. Yeah, mos’ impressive work, mates. Ya ever need ta earn some coin, ya come here and let Dando know yer lookin’ fer me. It’s a great night ta be alive, mates! All yer drinks an’ food ’er on me tehnight. Throw yerselves a party.” Then, bodyguards in tow, he departs. The bag is filled with small mixed gems, while the four parchments are vouchers, good for a masterwork weapon of choice from any Bodak’s Blades shop in the city.

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Filcher's Crossing

Incensed at the blatant manipulation by Draegyn, the team nevertheless decides to engage in his “mission.” Who knows, maybe the pay will at least be as good as promised. However, the four are on edge as they make their way to the building marked on the map, and with good reason. Draegyn’s directions guide them to a northern section of the city known as Filcher’s Crossing, a decidedly seedy district half-submerged in the river confluence, the streets having long-since become watery canals. Travelers either pole along in small boats or navigate a web of ramps and archways between the buildings and the higher, drier surfaces of the neighborhood.

Much like the waterfront, Filcher’s Crossing at night is no place for the sane to be alone, or even in small groups. In fact, this portion of the city seems grossly more insidious, for the lack of bars and entertainment offers no reason for anyone to be about. The only intention that would place someone in this faintly populated backside of the merchant’s bourg in the wee hours is plain. The evidence is found throughout their trip: a garroted body, looted, clutching a tattered ribbon of canvas wrapped around a square-punched coin, a peculiar sigil scratched into it; a fresh smear of blood, where a body appears to have been dragged to a bridge and dumped into the canal; the sound of running footsteps echoing from the alleys and buildings, followed seconds later by a second pair, then silence.

Eventually, their destination looms ahead of them; an abandoned warehouse or factory bordered by an eight foot high wall of crumbling granite, a padlocked iron gate going to rust. The building and grounds appear to be long neglected, the large overgrown yard wreathed with mist, looking much like the swamp except with pieces of metal and machinery jutting from the ground instead of trees. The huge building is completely dark, no light coming from the windows forty feet up from the ground, the many large stacks rising from the roof vent no smoke.

Quietly climbing over a low section of the broken wall, Stringer quickly scouts the perimeter of the building. Climbing the smooth walls forty feet to the windows seems impractical, and the large vent-like shutters on either end of the factory seem equally so. He finds a pair of large double doors that have had the rust scraped from their hinges, but seem barred from inside. However, set into a massive set of iron hanger doors is a single man-sized door, the rust scraped from the hinges and oiled…unlocked. The crew begins to suspect this is more of a trap than a job, but why? Who is Draegyn and who is he working for?

The door is blocked by some stacked crates, but is pushed open fairly easily. The sound of the crates scraping echoes loudly in the huge structure, a faint light from one of a couple of rooms off to one side, revealing stacks of crates, piles of debris, overturned carts. A huge black teardrop shape looms in the dark beyond the faint light source in the corner room, catwalks twenty feet overhead ring the perimeter and radiate like spokes from the center structure, dozens of heavy chains hang from the ceiling lost in the gloom above. Just below the ‘walks a massive cylinder hangs, precariously suspended from some chains. It doesn’t look very stable.

Stringer immediately heads for a ladder to the catwalks overhead, and Durin heads to the office where the light comes from. Inside he finds a lantern on a desk, a map of the area on the wall, and some other items. Fynn and Kah cautiously make their way into the factory, realizing the huge central shape is a massive furnace. They notice the second room has a long table and benches, and a crack in the floor that runs from the corner of the room out into the larger area of the factory. The sound of running water can be heard faintly through the crack. As they make their way further into the darkness between the main furnace and what appears to be a smaller furnace against one wall, several humanoid shapes step out of the shadows from behind various cover to surround them, and the hiss and clank and stomping step of a massive construct of iron and rust, the hulk of a steamjack looming in the back! The leader, a spiky-haired man with a manic grin on his face, speaks: “Welcome, trespassers, to the last night of your life. I shall enjoy watching you die so I can send your heads back to the Gertens in a sack as a warning to stay out of Griffons territory. Thunderwicket, kill them all!”

Perhaps not the wisest choice of words for the madman, as the archaic machine steps forward, raises a massive arm…and backhands the closest thug into the wall, pivots and crushes another to the floor! Chaos immediately erupts, the thugs scattering to avoid the ’jack’s massive fists, yelling at Malek to get the damn thing under control, the leader screaming and waving his arms at the ‘jack, desperately trying to make it understand. Some of the rogues manage to take pot shots at our heroes, but the fight doesn’t go well for them for the first few seconds. In the confusion, Fynn, Kah, and Durin are pushed back a few feet, the ‘jack charges them, and the weakened chains holding that huge pipe overhead break. The pipe crashes down, smashing through the cracked floor and disappearing into a cavern below, part of the old city that’s been buried beneath progress and new construction, much like the rest of the city. The three friends fall into a pool of water, along with several of the thugs, and Thunderwicket itself. Stringer decides discretion is the better part of valor, and manages to sneak back down to the floor and out of the building, leaving a boobytrap for any thugs that might follow him and heading for the cathedral. He eventually encounters a couple of watchmen who take him to their barracks to patch him up and get his story.

In the dark water, the ‘jack struggles to right itself before the water puts out its boiler fire. The dust from the collapsed floor and the dim light, and more importantly the smell reveal they’ve fallen into the sewers. The two surviving gang members scramble to their feet as our heroes edge towards a tunnel opening they’ve notice the water flowing out of the chamber through. Suddenly one of the rogues shouts “Something brushed my leg, there’s something in here!” At his words, a hulking humanoid shape rears up out of the water, its huge hands lined with suckers, its mouth framed with a pair of strong tentacles. It grabs one man and tosses him aside like a doll, his body smashing into the wall and lying motionless. The thing leaps onto the steamjack and begins tearing into its iron body, ripping riveted metal bulkheads with its hands and tentacles! Thunderwicket tries desperately to dislodge the creature, but cannot reach it easily. Fynn, Durin, and Kah take a leap of faith, and dive into the tunnel, which immediately becomes a long, steep, muddy chute, ejecting them into a portion of the Undercity, a large ruin-filled cavern that used to be part of the city above, until it sank into the swamp and was buried. The sounds of the battle above echo down to them, until the screech of tearing metal, the screams of the human thug, and the roars and growls of the monster subside. Exploring the ruins, they find a way out, holding their breath through the rushing underground sewer, which dumps them into the harbor.

Bent on finishing this, the three companions climb out of the river and head back to the foundry, determined to capture Mad Malek, and get some information about this whole mess. On the way, they run across two watchmen escorting Stringer from the barracks to the cathedral, and the team is reunited. Sneaking back into the factory is easy, as the distracted gang members are too busy arguing with Malek to have even set a watch, but while the gang has the advantage of numbers, their general independence and lack of real leadership from Mad Malek dooms them. Many flee. More die, including Mad Malek. A captured thug is taken to the Watch barracks, and a report is filed of the evening’s events. The team heads for home, to clean up, rest, and consider the question of Draegyn, the “Black Bastard,” and just what he wanted out of this.

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A Brief Undertaking

A few days have passed since the attack on the city, and the squad has stayed on with Prelate Dumas at the Church of Morrow. The grey morning finds them in the courtyard of the cathedral, where Dumas has been overseeing the cleanup efforts. The good father wears a long face, obviously still stricken with despair after enduring the ghastly revelations of the ruined holiday festival, and his dark vestments are stained with mud from the debris of fallen stones and the decayed remnants of the undead army. He stands amidst a trampled garden that is now a muddy mess of tracks from the workers and wagons. Mostly patrons of the church, these men heft old bones and even older stones into wheelbarrows and horse carts to haul the remains away from the once beautiful courtyard.

Spying the members of the team, he calls to them and approaches. “Morrow bless you, my friends,” his voice deep with sorrow. “Another day of this, and the courtyard should be prepared for laying the good souls to rest who gave their lives defending this church. I would ask a favor of you. Would you be so kind as to fetch some minor items for me from the Quad? Normally I would send Wat, but… alas, he is one of our fallen,” referring to the youngest of the acolytes who served the church. Father Dumas paused, making a gesture for Wat’s passing. He produces a list of menial items, and Kah agrees to run the errand. On his way across the bridge, Kah spies a darkly garbed man paring his nails with a dagger, watching the party with a more than passing interest. A wagon obscures his view, and when it passes the man is gone. Later, in the Quad, Kah would catch site of the mysterious man again, but again loses him in the crowds. Indeed, for the Quad it is business as usual, with nary an acknowledgment of the events of the Longest Night.

Upon returning to the cathedral with the items, Father Dumas hands Kah a folded parchment, sealed with red wax. “A messenger boy brought this for you and your friends.” The note simply reads: Meet me at The Falling Star. You know where it is.

Dusk in Corvis is seldom different than day, except for the waterfront. Whereas in most sections of town business continues as usual, the coming darkness here presages the turning over of the district. Once the work bells ring out, dockworkers and merchants give way to rogues, thugs, and other ne’er-do-wells. It is often said, “On the docks at night only a fool walks alone.”
Corvis_Bridge.jpg
As the group makes its way toward the harbour, the graceful spires of Corvis become less frequent, giving way to the unadorned and sometimes squalid structures and canal-spanning bridges of the old city. The usual mist from the Black River begins to rise as night falls, and traffic thins as the proceed along the river. Nearby the faint lighting from a warehouse illuminates the cobbles, and from inside you hear the chug and hiss of steamjacks at work. Shouting and laughter spills from The Falling Star as they enter. The tavern is filled with the ususal rowdy bunch, but they do not find Cpt. Helstrom as they expected. Instead, they see the same man who had been following Kah at a table, a clean-shaven, wiry fellow with angular features, sunken green eyes, and long strands of oily black hairhanging down in his face. He wears a leather greatcoat over a black shirt and dark grey leather pants, wrapped in a multitude of straps and buckles. A long knife hangs from each hip, and two more hilts protrude from the tops of his thick boots. He cuts an intimidating figure, despite being lean of stature.

Waving them over to his booth, he looks the team over and says, “Seems as I’ve been watching yeh of late, so let me cut ta th’ quick of it. My employer ‘as a job he needs done. ’ad somethin stolen from ’im three days ago, an’ ‘e needs it stolen back. So, ’e’s charged me ta find a band o’ worthies ta take this on. You toughs seem ta ’ave the fire in yer guts fer such a thing. Ya think mebbe yer right fer this little job?” Watching them intently, he pushes a folded parchment across the table with a gloved hand. The note contains directions to what appears to be a warehouse on the backside of the industrial bourg.

He answers some questions for the group, calling himself Draegyn, but is reluctant to provide details of what the item is, calling it a “Thunderwicket. A prototype device. Ye’ll know it when ye see it.” He also refuses to identify his employer, merely insisting that they’ll be well paid. The team turns down his offer. He stands, shrugging as he picks up the parchment, and leaves the bar, saying “Yer passing up a lotta coin, mates. I’ll give ye a day te think on it. If ye change yer minds, I’ll be here temorreh night.” Coincidently or not, a couple blocks from the tavern, they’re ambushed by a small gang of bandits. The fight is going well, but then Draegyn appears, killing two of the bandits. He tosses the note with the directions to them, saying “Ye owe me one. Ye’ll be rewarded well, trust me.”

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Conclusion
A New Year: 603 AR

A few days after the events of Longest Night;

The end of 602 AR was not as festive as most would have liked. The triennial Longest Night celebration was interrupted when Alexia’s undead army invaded Corvis. For weeks afterward, the city will still be recovering from the attack; fires smolder for days, shops and homes must be rebuilt, a few remaining swamp shamblers must be hunted and destroyed, hundreds of criminals and looters remain to be caught and convicted. Consequently the Watch is spread thin, while the city council and the mayor have released funds for the organizing and payment of work gangs to accomplish these tasks. Our heroes have been doing their part to help with various areas of the city, the Church of Morrow being one of the hardest hit, as it was the focus of Alexia’s goal of retrieving the body of her mother, and the sword, the Witchfire, contained within the tomb.
The entire city is buzzing with stories of that night, but no one seems to have a particularly good idea of what really happened.

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It's a Dead Man's Party

Late evening, Ashtoven 28th, 602 AR
Well into the celebration for Longest Night

Once again the team heads for the Falling Star, where they meet with Cpt. Helstrom to report their findings. Upon hearing the news, he seems skeptical of the sheer numbers Alexia has raised, but has no doubt that an invasion of undead is coming. What Alexia’s motives, beyond raising her mother, are unknown, but it’s fairly obvious that is her goal. Plans are made to defend the city as best as possible, but without the authority to command any more of the Watch than he already does, Helstrom knows any defense raised will be inadequate.

While Stringer takes his henchmen to blockade as many of the sewer system and catacomb entrances to the undercity as possible, Helstrom and the companions take their evidence directly to the Watch Commander’s residence (and taking Durin from Watch custody on the way), forcing an audience with the man. The Commander is extremely doubtful of the tale of an undead army approaching the city, at the beck and call of a wisp of a girl, but Helstrom and Fynn convince him to at least order the other captains to follow Helstrom’s lead and begin pulling their men off the streets and place the majority in strategic locations around the city. Plans are enacted to take the city’s small army garrison to guard the cathedral island. The team has a few extra hours to prepare the city, and every resource is used. The team regroups and digs in on the island of the Cathedral of Morrow, stationing the army troops at both bridges, and holding fast at the tomb of Alexia’s mother, Lexaria.

Unfortunately, even the best laid plans are met with the hard reality that even on alert, the Watch and army garrison, even the few militia that can be mustered, are inadequate. At least the team had the idea that a frontal assault on the gates would not be Alexia’s likely attack point, and tried their best to limit access to the city from the sewers and catacombs, and the rivers are a huge vulnerability, since the undead don’t need to breathe or even swim. After long hours of preparing and waiting, just as hope begins to rise that maybe, maybe Corvis isn’t going to be attacked… the sounds of screams echo through the still-busy streets. Citizens, first in pairs or small groups, then larger and larger crowds begin to run frantically through the streets. Indeed, the undead are coming up through the catacombs!

Chaos engulfs the city, but the companions and their army troops stand their ground. Father Dumas and his three acolytes have joined them, the priest looking invigorated in his battle-gear, the lads in chainmail. Though the threat to his city has brought him some measure of determination, he still holds to the belief that Alexia is somehow not responsible, a pawn by some other person, using a young girl for some unknown end. Watching from the island as the undead rampage, checked only by the brave and often futile efforts of the Watch and a few brave citizens, their resolve is tested often through the assault. A small navy river warship, in desperation, is seen firing on both civilians and undead alike, while unknown to the crew a squad of skeletons climb the anchor chain, obviously intent on taking the craft and it’s cannon. A single warjack is seen escorted by a pair of Watchmen, only to be spotted later with two skeletons, wearing Watch helms and weapons, attacking it to little effect. Another river barge, this a cargo scow, is seen aflame and adrift, eventually crashing into the docks, spreading flames along that district and covering much of the river with thick smoke in addition to the traditional fog. Revelers are slaughtered, and thralls are seen wearing their costumes. Shamblers kill more revelers, and those fresh corpses rise to kill even more of the populace. Despite the horror and hopelessness, the urge to go and fight, to defend the city, the group holds their position, knowing Alexia will soon be coming to them.

Their faith holds true. After untold hours of watching the city burn and die, scores of undead march on the island. The garrison troops fight back, but are forced to withdraw back to the tomb, surrounded by hundreds of skeletal warriors, most of them simply walking out of the river onto the island. Barely a dozen paces away from the circle of armed humans, however, the undead unexpectedly stop in their tracks, and like a single organism, the horde drops to one knee…

Alexia and her four dead coveners fly out of the pre-dawn gloom, landing between the party and the entrance to the tomb. With a gesture, the witches erect a barely visible wall of force, then join hands and begin a ritual. Father Dumas assures the team that the magic sealing the tomb is impenetrable, but Alexia and her zombies prove him wrong, blasting open the door. Wrapped in her burial shroud, Lexaria Ciannor’s inanimate body floats out of the tomb into the arms of her undead sisters, and Alexia emerges bearing a greatsword of black metal, its blade etched with sinister looking runes. This must be the weapon known as the Witchfire that her notes referred to. She raises the blade in triumph, her scream of victory inhuman as her witches fly off with her mother’s body. Father Pandor Dumas has fallen to his knees, tears streaming down his agony stricken face.

Then, before anyone can act, in a blinding blue flash of light and thunder, a man wearing a greatcloak and bearing a lightning-wreathed staff appears behind Alexia, and stabs her with a dagger! Staggering forward, the Witchfire flies from her grasp, skittering across the cobbles towards the group. Fynn steps forward and takes up the sword, but immediately feels waves of the most coherent evil he has ever known rolling off it. The mysterious stranger is borne away by a swarm of Alexia’s minions, and is lost to sight.

Alexia staggers towards Fynn, pale and drawn from her wound. Extending a slender hand, she begs him, “Give me the sword. I have to finish what’s been started. Can’t you see that?” Bright blood has begun to stain her white dress. “Give me the sword, and I’ll let all these old bones rest. That’s what you want, isn’t it?”

From a few paces away, there is another blinding flash of light and a crack of lightning. Unhurried, the stranger confidently strides out from the circle of shattered bones that had swarmed him moments ago. Approaching Fynn, he says “Do not listen to her, friends! Do you really want to give her what she wants? Look at what she has done!” Gesturing at the thrall army and the burning skyline of Corvis, he states “I am here to protect Corvis. She wants to destroy it. The weapon is mine, it belongs to me! Give. Me. The. Sword.”

Looking from one to the other, Fynn hesitates, then glancing at his friends and Father Dumas, he hands the hilt of the wretched weapon to Alexia. Father Dumas remains stunned, staring at his niece with an expression of soul-crushing failure on his craggy features. Alexia grasps the hilt, and smiling winsomely at Fynn, waves a hand, then flies off into the pre-dawn haze of smoke and fog. Her army, true to her word, collapses into bones and dust, the only threat left being the swamp shamblers still infesting the city.

The mysterious stranger, obviously a mage of some power, curses vehemently. “Fools! You have no idea what you’ve done!” then vanishes the same way he appeared, the smell of ozone left behind… and a medallion clatters to the ground in his wake, it’s chain apparently broken in his struggle with the undead. A medallion bearing the same eye-over-lightning-bolt design as they saw tattooed on the hand of a young assassin sent to kill them at Fort Rhyker.

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Scouting Fort Rhyker

Having spent the rest of the afternoon preparing for their journey, and getting a much-deserved solid night’s rest, the group gathered at the Watch stables where their borrowed mounts and supplies awaited. The first day’s travel was uneventful, if dreary through the dark and misty swamp. The following morning, however, shortly after breaking camp and getting underway, the three companions were attacked by a pair of swamp shamblers, a unique type of undead whose victims are rumored to rise as zombies themselves! Howling with the mindless hunger of their kind, the shamblers closed, and the fight was on. The undead proved no match for our adventurers, though, and their corpses were swiftly returned to a state of inanimate flesh. Rounding up their mounts, the journey continued for several more soggy, nervous hours, picking their way over the drier paths, until they found a small cave on a slight hill about a mile from where the swamp bordered the drier steppe land to the north. A decidedly opportune spot to make a base camp and secure the horses and gear.

Dusk found the three edging the border of the swamp, where an cold, windswept plain stretched before them. In the distance could be seen the two towers of the ruins of Fort Rhyker, gatehouse and main fort separated by a deep gorge. Unfortunately, in between themselves and their goal were skeletons. Dozens of skeletons, digging for old bones, loading the bones into carts which were then drawn up the overgrown trail to the gatehouse by none other than the ancient animated skeletons of horses.

Skirting the rare patrol by armed and armored squads of undead warriors, the three discovered that the workers would ignore their presence completely. A plan to hide in a loaded wagon was devised and executed perfectly, gaining them access to the interior of the gatehouse, where more slave thralls sorted piles of bones, and carted these piles across the drawbridge that disappeared into the mists, spanning the chasm to the fort proper. Cautious scouting of the gatehouse’s levels revealed another bridge on the top level, but it’s condition appeared precarious at best. Stringer set about rigging the two kegs of explosives under this bridge, in such a way as to destroy both the sky bridge and the chain supports to the wider wooden drawbridge below. While he was engaged in this, a patrol of skeletons clattered onto the battlements, but were easily dispatched by Fynn and Kah. The charges set, the team descended the stairs of the gatehouse, down to the lowest level where the drawbridge crossed the foggy gorge. As the prepared to cross, Durin climbed out of a dumbwaiter, where he had been hiding from the patrols while awaiting his companions.

Reunited, the team began a cautious crossing of the wooden drawbridge, but made it only a few feet before coming under attack again, this time from mysterious crossbow-wielding men on the stone sky bridge above. Kah and Fynn rushed back upstairs to confront the brigands, while Stringer and Durin attempted to keep the hooded assailants pinned with ranged attacks, landing a lucky critical shot and killing one who fell to the drawbridge. Fynn and Kah, having reached the sky bridge and realizing its instability was the perfect weapon, brought the stone bridge crashing down, taking parts of the drawbridge below and the last three assassins with it. Little was revealed by the corpse of the remaining body, a young man with barely a whisker on his chin, and a tattoo on his hand… of a stylized eye over a lightning bolt. The sign of The Inquistion, the secret police of the exiled and deposed Vinter Raelthorne IV the Elder, former king of Cygnar.

Crossing the drawbridge led into the dungeon of the keep proper, where they discovered the apparent lair of some large creature that had dug its way out through the very walls, a tunnel leading to the outside of the fort. Unfortunately this tunnel led out on the wrong side of the chasm for the team to make a quick escape from the fort and back to Corvis. Also in the nest of whatever might live here, they found the gnawed remains and personal effects of two Watchmen, apparently Helstrom’s missing men.

A long switchback stairway at the end of the dungeon corridors led all the way to the battlements of the keep, overlooking the large courtyard below, a courtyard filled with rank upon rank of armed and armored skeletal warriors, some even wrangling chained swamp shamblers like rabid dogs. Sneaking around to an old stained glass window missing a few small pieces, the team looked down into the great hall of the keep, where they observed none other than Alexia Ciannor and the four dead coven members she had raised conducting a ritual of dark necromancy. Before their eyes, as Alexia painted a red rune on the forehead of an inanimate skeleton and the chanting and casting of the four grey dead women rose to a crescendo, the armored skeleton’s eyes lit up with a deep unholy flame, the bones rose to their feet, grabbed a weapon from a nearby pile of arms, and marched out the doors into the courtyard to join ranks with the rest of Alexia’s army!

Their fears not only confirmed, but exceeded, a plan was quickly concocted for their escape. With the charges set, Stringer and Durin would return to the far side of the drawbridge, while Fynn and Kah would create a disturbance, drawing as many of the undead into the trap of the rigged drawbridge as possible. Once executed, only a couple dozen of the undead pursued the cleric and monk, but some were better than none. The escape plan went flawlessly, the thrall slaves in the bonefield once again ignoring the team as they fled the chaos and mustering of the undead legions their blowing of the drawbridge had caused. Returning to their hidden cave, the four friends decided to continue their flight, even though the dark swamp at night posed a danger all its own. Riding as quickly as they could without risking a mount, they traveled until about midnight, then made a cold camp, shivering in the dark fog and sleeping only in fits.

The weak grey dawn found them headed south, looking for the “road” through the Wood that had brought them from Fellig to Corvis mere days ago. A chance break in the constant mists as they crested a barren tor gave them a glimpse of the massive horde of bones and corpses in the distance, steadily and tirelessly marching to the southeast, toward the city. They missed the road, but found themselves in a tiny village of swamp folk on a small, shallow lake, some hours west of Corvis. It took some doing to persuading the stubborn patriarch Gurn of the reality and insurmountable odds of the approaching undead hordes, but after listening to this toothless, ignorant redneck resist his attempts to reason, Fynn lost his temper. His fervor convinced the man to send his boy Jethro up the tallest tree, and the lad confirmed what Fynn had been saying. Gurn wasn’t happy about leaving, but the wily swampy knew that adobe and wattle houses can be rebuilt, and set about gathering his clan to vacate their homes.

Hours later the party entered the city, Gurn and his kin waving a thank you to Fynn, and heading straight into the heart of the city and south-bound. It is the evening of Ashtoven 28th, the last day of the year, Winterfest… and the festivities for the three-day Longest Night celebration are in full swing.

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Another Mission for Cpt. Helstrom

Mid-morning the following day, the wet and weary party arrives back in Corvis to be greeted by Sergeant Arn with a request from Watch Captain Julian Helstrom, who wishes to meet them immediately at a tavern called the Falling Star, in the Docks district.

The Docks are busy during this part of the day, though the reputation of the burg at night is somewhat seedier. The Falling Star is no different, and even at this time of the morning is filled with customers; dockhands grabbing a quick bite or pint, laborers looking to hire onto a river boat or as a dockhand, layabouts looking for an easier way to snag a few coins. The tavern is a grimy place, and its patrons are even grimier. They drink watered ale from flagons and tankards, and engage in loud conversation forming a crude and ever-rising din. The walls are adorned with furs and hanging tapesries of every color, and a pair of shaggy dun and brindle dogs crack bones by the hearth. The barkeeper, a huge man known as Dando the Bull (by reason of the fact that his neck is actually thicker than his head), wipes a wooden flagon with a dirty-looking towel. His trusty bouncer Gajan sits at a dark corner of the bar, frowning and toying with the grips of the twin pistols holstered on his thighs. Though a man of slight build, the more boisterous tavern-goers give him a wide berth.

Helstrom is sitting by himself at a table, though it is evident that he is not alone. Neither he nor his two men are wearing their Watch cloaks, in fact they are dressed in civilian garb without armor. Helstrom immediately questions the group as to what they have learned so far, and the team reveals their findings from the Witches Tomb and the catacombs under the cathedral. He is dismayed to learn that all the evidence points to Dumas’ niece as the perpetrator, and how that news will effect Pandor. He expresses his frustration with what he considers the irresponsible position of the Watch Commander to allow him to investigate the crimes, and suspects that the interference is coming from the city council, from the highest levels of the government. He admits that he can only rely on his few trusted watchmen and now, hopefully, this team of newcomers, an advantage as they are an unknown factor to the powers that be.

Helstrom then reveals to the group that he has indeed disobeyed orders, and detailed two men whose loyalty lies with him rather than the Watch proper to scout the area to the northwest. They in turn had reported the movement of what seemed to be animated skeletons periodically headed further to the northwest, deep into the swamp. The only place of any significance in that direction would be the ruins of old Fort Rhyker, an ancient and abandoned outpost from the days of the Thousand Cities, and the site of a major battle. His suspicions aroused, he had dispatched the two scouts in that direction days ago, but they have not reported back on time.

Helstrom asks the party to investigate Fort Rhyker, about a two day ride through the Widower’s Wood to the edge of the swamp. He also asks that they try to learn the fate of his men… Their families deserve to know what has happened to them, and Helstrom holds himself responsible. As a hedge against what he suspects may be the worst-case scenario, Helstrom will provide the team with two small casks of blasting powders, and a small pistol that he requests be returned to him, as it is not really his to loan out. He also provided a writ of service that proclaimed the team members to be operating in the interest of the Watch and City Law, that might persuade some merchants to be more flexible with their prices. It was decided that Durin would leave early, scouting ahead and meeting the team later.

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The Witch's Tomb

The next morning, the party heads to the Watch stables to collect the horses Helstrom promised them, and head north and west out of the city and into the Widower’s Wood…and the dangers of the swamp. With only the directions of Father Dumas to guide them, it took several hours of thankfully uneventful travel to find the low hill, barren except for the low stone wall and circular paved courtyard guarding the entrance to what could only be the resting place of Corvis’ infamous Coven. The heavy iron-bound wooden door that had sealed the crypt, however, had been violently blasted from its hinges, the pieces littering the unlit corridor that led deep under the hill.

Lighting torches and cautiously entering the crypt, the companions learned that the place had once been some sort of base for the ancient Orgoth Empire, but now seemed to be home to a tribe of bogrin, only one of which seemed to be in the caves today. Stringer was able to gain his trust, and learned that indeed, a young woman had recently entered the tomb, and had left with some “grey ladies,” but that she had left her “monsters” behind. Convincing him to show them the way, the group finds the main chamber and four empty sarcophagi. True to the little gobber’s tale, in place of the Coveners were several thralls, apparently left on guard duty. Not Alexia’s most dangerous creations, they were dispatched fairly easily, and the rest of the caves revealed little in the way of further evidence.

As the day had worn on, and travel through the swamp could be dangerous at night, the companions made camp outside the courtyard, which although consecrated ground, still held the aura of death from the executions so long ago.

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The Catacombs

The following morning, the party fulfilled a request to meet a Captain Helstrom of the City Watch. The Captain wished to assess these newcomers, and encourage them to continue their investigation as he had been unable to elicit any support from the Watch Commander. He offered what aid he could, in the form of mounts and mundane supplies.

The meeting with Helstrom and Fynn’s planned dinner for the Watchmen this evening delayed the journey to investigate the Witch’s Tomb in the Widower’s Wood, so the decision was made to look into Alexia’s activities at the University. Unfortunately, this was rather fruitless, as Alexia is not a student, and therefore is unable to remove books from the library, nor are records kept of what she may have been reading. The team did learn that her mother and the rest of the Coven had been students in years past, but no obvious connections were to be made from their records.

Fynn and Durin went to the Black Stag Inn to prepare for the night’s event, while Kah and Stringer shadowed the girl. Late in the evening, they observed her approach the southern bridge to the island, pause while studying an area of flagstones, then return to the Cathedral. Checking the area, Stringer discovered a loose flagstone concealing a trapdoor. Stringer hid to keep an eye on the secret entrance, while Kah went to the inn to tell the others what they’d found.

As soon as they were able to wrap up the dinner service, the three returned to the church, grabbed their gear, and joined Stringer to see where this door led, apparently an old section of sewer. Following some recent tracks through the tunnels, the group discovered not only a forgotten section of catacombs beneath the church grounds, but two armed and armored skeletons as well!

After defeating the two undead warriors, the team learned they had found their way into what was apparently Alexia’s main lab. Several scrolls, dozens of experimental notes, sections of pages torn out of books, even the beginning of a letter to Prelate Dumas were found, all damning evidence of Alexia’s obvious aptitude for necromancy, and her plan to restore her dead mother to life.

Moving further into the underground complex they encountered several more of Alexia’s undead thralls, from her early failed experiments, to more advanced thralls, imbued with a small level of intelligence and ability to improvise. By far, though, were the first two they had defeated in her personal chamber. Having purged the catacombs of undead, the group returned to the Cathedral to clean up and get some rest, before they depart the city to find the Witch’s Tomb.

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