09:41 – 19:45 - On arriving at Aramayne the group are greeted by the worried townsfolk, who awoke to discover that Istan, their guardian, was missing along with the strangers. They are overjoyed to see him return, and go manic when he informs them wearily that the attercops are no more, making it clear that the party are entirely to thank for the incredible victory.
With this, the group are buried under grateful praise. Some, such as Schnecke and Emmiven love this, soaking up the praise and happily accompanying the townsfolks to the Wending Way for a day of drinks, whilst others are not so keen. Varracuda, once more dwelling on being press-ganged into the Unified Order, feels only seething despair and anger, whilst Grigori is secretly repulsed by the townsfolk, seeing them as grubby, weak and pathetic, scrabbling to spew praise and thanks to a band they would have spat on yesterday (he does not stop to consider why he feels this way, when such thoughts are alien to him normally).
And so the group head into the pub, the genasai soon leaving to sit outside – brooding and carefully scribing a curious string of symbols, unimportant to any but him, on a piece of paper, in the hopes that someday they will be of use to him. They are symbols he only saw for a few seconds, but they are indelibly marked in his memory, and he scribes them with such accuracy that even reproduced without the same ritual and care as the originals, they make his very soul ache. As he broods and writes, so his flesh shimmers with dark bands of colour, until his entire form pulses with visible anger and upset.
Inside the group get stuck into some drinks and food, the Ulnyrr out drinking everyone else by a significant margin with his unique system – a spiked door handle which he rams into a beer keg, and uses to drink from the massive vessel as if it were a stein. Emmiven, Istan and Jaeger engage in enthusiastic conversations, whist Seren watches everyone with golden, unblinking eyes – the only member of the party the Aramaynians are reluctant to approach.
At first Grigori has a couple of drinks, if only to dull his irritation at the shrieking, mooing idiots surrounding him. However, he soon begins to feel claustrophobic, finding it harder and harder to respond politely to the back slaps and embraces of the yokel. So, hoping to avoid any trouble, he heads outside for some fresh air. The genasai is vaguely aware of the cleric as he walks across the town's square, ignoring the waves of several children playing around the statue. Suddenly feeling the need for some proper solitude, and feeling strangely drunk in a way that the beer could not cause, Grigori heads through the town's gate, and plunges southwards into the Argent Wood.
Back in the pub, the group continue to drink. Outside the pub, Varracuda ruminates and continues to flicker with emotion.
19:46 – 19:55 Istan realises that he hasn't seen Grigori for some time and asks the assassin if he has seen him. This leads to a round of questioning, and pretty soon they party realise that both Grigori and Varracuda have been missing for some time. Fearing trouble the group (including a very, very drunk Shnecke and a rather tipsy Emmiven) stumble out into the evening mists to see if they can locate their allies. There they find the genasai. Varracuda tells them that he saw the priest heading out into the woods a good while before, and grabbing his gear agrees to join them to look for him.
19:55 – 20:10 – The party, backed by several of the townsfolk, tromp into the gloomy embrace of the crepuscular forests, the latter group whispering in fear of their depths and the gathering dark. Calling out for the priest, they move a little way from the town when a bobbing light, low and multi-coloured, is seen moving a short distance away. Recognising it as the floating lantern, they head towards it...
They are calling me? Yes. But why? I'm fine. More than fine. I feel fantastic...
Grigori comes to, stumbling through the darkness of the forest. He remembers very little of the last few hours; feeling angry in the inn, leaving the town and heading for the solitude of the forest...and then....this. His fingers ache, and looking down he sees them caked with black soil and...blood?
Several of his fingernails are missing, and looking down at himself, he is surprised, but not horrified to see his robes are torn and soaked with a considerable amount of blood. A blackness swirls briefly in his psyche, fluttering like a trapped bird desperately trying to smash its way free of a cage, but something....no he...pushes it away.
No matter, I can hide this.
Grigori calls up power, and at no point worries that the power is being drawn from the vial – which now feels warm and welcoming to him, and quietly gleams within a fully restored band of restraining glyphs. The power flows through and over him, mending and cleaning his robes and healing his minor wounds.
Oddly enough, Grigori feels fantastic. He feels, for the first time in an eternity that he has control of something, though the fluttering part of his mind, the part pushed into the darkness, seems to react badly at this, briefly dancing desperately against his consciousness as if trying to get his attention.
And then he remembers – he has mastered the vial; his considerable power and intelligence succeeding where so many had failed before.
The fluttering is thrown into the darkness. His mind glows with pride and imagined power, and as the lights of his comrades begin to flicker in his eyes, he smiles broadly and waves, a sense of joy and right washing away the very last vestiges of sanity within him.
For the first time in his life, Grigori, acolyte unknowing of Jantherak the Shadebinder, is happy.
20:11 – The party spy Grigori, smiling dreamily to himself, stumbling through the mists ahead. He waves at the party, and straight away they feel that something is wrong. This feeling increases when the priest is not only happy to see them, but is nice to them. He does manage to piss off the Aramaynians by referring to them as peasants, but overall, he presents as strangely relaxed, peaceful and happy.
20:12 – 20:13 – Jaeger, feeling increasingly that something is wrong speaks to the cleric, trying to determine what exactly he has been doing in the woods. Grigori continues to talk in an upbeat and bright manner, and the assassin is about to move from suspicious to alarmed when something drops from Grigori's sleeve and lands on the dew wet grass besides him. The group stare, and after a few seconds realise what it is.
They look back at the cleric – who seems almost as surprised as them at the appearance of the intoxicating root, and then relax as everything begins to fall into place in their minds – Grigori! The sly bugger! All this time he's been chewing Gobroot and the Gods know what else! Explains a lot really. Silly prick!
They laugh, and Schnecke wraps the priest in a crushing bearhug, laughing deafeningly in his ear, his beery breath warming his face. And inside Grigori something coils back into itself, and with a stab of anger puts it to the priest that he needs to reign in his joy a little if his allies – all of whom would not understand the nature of his new discovery and would see it as a bad thing – are to remain ignorant to his new found strength – at least, until they and he are ready for the knowledge to become common knowledge.
20:14 – 22:45 – The party make their way back to the town. Some take this opportunity to go to bed, whilst others stay in the taproom and drink some more. However, the long day works its soporific magic over all the group, and all are asleep – some in their rooms, others sprawled over the tables of the Way's taproom.
5/5/1472 (Early mists burn off to give a bright, warm day with light breezes. A chill night with light fogs follows, becoming clear and cool towards midnight).
07:00 – 09:30 – The group awake, some in more pain than others, and after a good breakfast gear up and return to Irin. On the way back Istan explains that they are going to be heading for the Northwood district; a place of former splendour, slowly sinking into decay, increasingly haunted by darker elements and criminals. He tells them that the secret way into Darius' home is watched over by an “ally” - though from the way he says the name, the group get the impression that there is more to the warrior's relationship with the mysterious individual than he is letting on.
Curious, the drakven and priest ask Istan a few questions, and manage to get him to talk more of the person they seek. He explains that they are seeking an Order artifcer who runs a side line in smuggled magics, illicit pleasure rituals and certain drugs. The artificer's name is Fren, and he tells them that they have known each other since before the aelwyn wars, though they are not too close any more as she has become increasingly paranoid since the war; hearing voices she says are dead soldiers, and seeing “shadows”, which she says are their ghosts. Istan thinks she is sliding into Xix's realm.
Whilst speaking, he superficially seems somewhat callous in his attitude. However Grigori senses that this a front, and with a small jolt he realises that Istan cared for this Fren, and indeed, may still do.
09:30 – 11:40 – The party enter Irin, and after a brief discussion on whether or not they should stop by the Staff of Wands to see if there are any messages for them, they decide to head straight to Northwood, which lies to the east of the High Hills district.
They move through the busy streets of the ancient city, marvelling at the hustle and bustle of the populace as they go about their daily business, and eventually begin to climb up streets that are increasingly empty and poorly maintained. Eventually, as the sun is climbing towards its zenith, they come to the outer limits of the Northwood district, clearly delineated by a well made, but badly maintained boundary wall of red brick and iron barred fencing. A large cast iron sign secured to the empty gatepost of the wall declares the name of the district beyond, though it is hard to make out the writing due to the thick tangles of carved symbols and words – gang signs and territory markers realise Jaeger and Seren, several of which belong to one of the Gutter King's chapters.
“Be on your guard” growls Istan, and the party move onwards.
11:41 – 12:00 - Northwood was clearly a beautiful place once, its wide roads and palatial residences speaking of a glorious heyday where it would have rivalled the glittering mansions of High Hills. Now many of the buildings are boarded up, and the roads are full of potholes and weeds. Gang marks mar many buildings, and the few residences that are still inhabited hide behind high spiked walls and expensive dundorin crafted gates.
In many ways Northwood is worse than the Roughs, for whereas the latter is unashamedly squalid, Northwood almost seems to be trying to hold onto its glorious past, giving an echoing sense of loss to its empty mansions and weedy gardens. Also, whereas the Roughs teemed with life, this place seems empty and desolate – haunted by the ghosts of its lost glory days. The only obvious life in the place are the pigeons that roost in the decaying gutters and eaves of the houses and the feral cats that stalk them, though Jaeger notices the glinting eyes of hidden rogues watching them pass by through tiny spaces in the porch stairs and basement windows of several buildings, making him realise that there must be hidden pathways of tunnels linking many of the “empty” buildings of the area – a rogues highway, and likely, at times when rival gangs meet, the scenes of clandestine trench warfare.
After about twenty minutes the group find themselves outside of a large, dilapidated mansion, which stands far beyond a high, well maintained wall, interrupted by a substantial gate of Steelwood and Stone, carved with blatant runes of warding. A large statue depicting a woman carrying a water jug stands about 10' in front of these, and as the party draws near, this crackles with energy, and a scratchy, male voice issues forth.
“HALT! INTRUDERS WILL BE VAPORISED! MAKE YOUR NAMES KNOWN OR LEAVE!”
Istan seems a little vexed, but replies, and almost at once the voice rings out again.
“Istan? Is that you? It is....good? To hear you. But who are those...people...with you? WHO HAVE YOU BROUGHT HERE ISTAN? WHAT IS THIS?”
Istan flinches, and for a moment a weary sadness marks his face. This however is quickly replaced with frustration and anger, and he is about to speak when Seren, Grigori and Emmiven step in. They address the statue (though they all realise now that the voice belongs to the mysterious Fren, and is clearly some kind of projection from the mansion) and carefully explain that they are allies of Istan's who are here to help him accomplish a vital goal. They explain that despite their exotic appearance they mean her no harm, and explain that they only wish to be about their business.
A moment passes, and then, in a rush of magic, the gates open, revealing a long weedy path of crushed gravel winding through overgrown gardens towards the mansions sagging frontage. Peering along the path, the group also spot a hulking humanoid mass of metallic material standing at the top of the path. They mention this to Istan and he simply shrugs.
“'Tis Skull Thumper, Fren's home made golem.”
12:03 – 12:18 – Even from the gates the state of utter disrepair of the mansion is apparent. Windows are boarded up and the gutters are thick with vines and weeds. As they move closer they can tell that the only thing holding it together are the thick growths of thorned ivy and southsummer creeper – all signs that Fren might be too unwell mentally to even keep her home livable.
At the mansion the group are greeted by Skull Thumper; a 10' high, 7' wide humanoid construct made from salvaged components from half a dozen other constructs. Despite his material's source he is a substantial guardian; his right shoulder mounted with a re-purposed magical ray weapon and his arms ending in spoked and rotating fists of iron and adamantium. For a tense moment it looks like he is going to block the groups' path. However, as they reach him, he steps swiftly aside with a whir of artifice and gestures towards the door of the mansion.
Moving onto the creaking and badly bowing steps the group move onto the porch, and are greeted suddenly by a painfully thin woman in her early thirties, with haunted eyes, long, thin, greying hair, dressed in filthy robes. A strong smell of rank sweat and long worn dirt wafts from her, and her skin is dry and filthy. From behind her comes an even stronger smell; the musky stink of rat urine, of rotting plaster and paper and of mould spores.
“Istan,” she mutters, staring with what seems to be anger, “you've not changed a bit.”
Istan is staring, and takes a moment to respond. When he does, it's in a strange, stunned tone of voice. “Oh, well, you know. I. You. I mean, you look...”
Fren tuts and wanders back into her home, stopping to glare at the warrior and ask “Are you coming then?”
The party follow Fren through the decaying halls of her home, trying to take shallow breaths in the “fragrant” atmosphere. Everywhere stand piles of junk and huge, melting towers of papers and schematics. Greasy trails and dropping give plentiful evidence of a heavy vermin infestation, and cobwebs hang in almost every corner and space. Dry and wet rots sprawl like spidery corals across the rotting plasterwork and wood of the building, and the only light comes through the few remaining windows or holes in the roof. As they pass one room, the priest spots a huge piece of artifice, and drawing it to Seren and Varacuda's attention they realise it is an arm mounted emitter cannon from the warforged titan. Looking closer, they can see the name of the monster it was made for (as a modular component) - Mortifer Fabrica – a machine that saw some brutal action during the war, defending the boundaries of Irin's territories.
It is also a machine that is associated with a most terrible legend, for it is known that it went rogue towards the end of the war and turned on its own. A last generation Titan, it was given terrific power, and to this day it has never been brought low. Worshipped by some warforged as the “Fury of Blades”, it has become a local boogeyman; a deadly presence that from time to time visits death on the unsuspecting. Jaeger also knows that there is currently a 4,500 gps reward for destroying the machine; double that if it can be brought in intact but deactivated.
Seeing their little whispering huddle, Istan moves over, concerned that Fren will become suspicious. He becomes clearly alarmed when he hears what they discuss and hisses for them to shut up.
The group grow silent and continue to follow the glaring apparition of the faded, insane artificer.