We were bloodied and tired, in various states of woundedness, having just caromed down the stairs underneath a sewer grate in Duskfields Court. But we were alive. And if we wanted to stay that way, we needed to get moving. This was a difficult proposition. During our wildly flawed rescue of Leolin from the hands of his executioners, wherein our plan had been fouled up from the very beginning, we had managed to kill half a dozen Peristeri guards and set a ravening Kotopoio loose on a square full of people. And so it must be said that we were fortunate to have made it out of the square at all, and with our prize lordling, no less, but still we were well-bloodied.
We took the barest moment to breathe and tally up wounds, and gave Leolin a terse explanation of who we were, letting him know we came from the Academy and were going to lead him to Arcus, but that he needed to do exactly as we said. Once he caught his breath, Fenn prayed for healing for Evendur and Eoin who were in general disrepair after the battle, not to mention himself. And then we hurried on, before the Peristeri could extricate themselves from the chaos of the Court and figure out how we had disappeared. Evendur led our party through the dark sewer tunnels, as he seemed to be doing more frequently than we had expected when arriving in Nauem. Rianne had lit a torch for us to use, and the bubble of light surrounding us only confirmed that, yes, we were in for some serious sludge and stench.
Thankfully, the sewers had a bit of an edge on either side, sitting slightly above the refuse swirling through the swollen subterranean river. We could move single-file along this sort of walkway, and Evendur took us in what he believed was the direction of the Middle City. The going was treacherous, however, and before too long Eoin slipped on a patch of glistening filth and tumbled into the waters beside us. Fenn quickly reached out his quarterstaff for Eoin to grab onto so that he wouldn’t be swept away, and Rianne handed her torch to Evendur and helped haul Eoin back up to safety. Eoin didn’t look very good, though. Apart from being soaked through, he was hunched over in some kind of pain. It appeared that something nasty and poisonous must have been running through the waters, and was attacking Eoin from the inside.
“I’m not feeling great,” he said when we inquired, “but I can keep going for now. I’ll need some help soon though, since I fear that whatever I drank down there is going to kill me eventually unless we find a healer.”
Much more mindful of the risk, and pressing ourselves quite firmly against the wall of the sewer tunnel, we moved forward, now more slowly, and painfully aware of the risk of being caught in the tunnels between Peristeri guards and apparently magically deadly sewage. After some time of this, Leolin hissed at us to stop, pointing ahead into the gloom. Some kind of dark tendrils hung like vines from the roof of the tunnel, blocking our way. Evendur had been about to brush them aside and continue on when Leolin sounded his warning.
“Don’t touch those!” he said urgently. “They’re full of dangerous spores that are deadly if inhaled, and the spore pods are liable to burst at the slightest provocation! Not to mention that they are extremely flammable and will explode violently if burned.” As we looked more closely, the vines did indeed seem to bear nasty looking pustules. We drew back to a safe distance.
Evendur turned to Leolin, no doubt out of innate suspicion. “How do you know all this?” he asked.
Leolin answered with only a little haughtiness. “Well, Arcus was in charge of renovating the Inner City sewers when he was younger, and told me all about what happens in the less well-maintained parts of them underneath the less fortunate areas of the city.. Unfortunately poisonous plants like these are not the only nasty things to be found down here. But it is a sign that we’re still in the Lower City, because the sewers in the more central parts of Nauem are not allowed to go feral in this way.”
The rest of the party nodded, but it was not immediately clear how we might bypass this obstacle without setting loose a storm of sickness either from the sewage or from the spores. We first discussed the idea of somehow affixing our rope to the ceiling and swinging across to the other side of the sewer, but there was nothing that could hold it fast. We then thought of using our rope as a fuse to ignite the pods from a safe distance and wait for the spores to clear the air, but unfortunately with respect to the air in the sewers, if it could be called that, we were downwind of the spores.
As we continued to think and debate, Rianne bent down, picked up some mucky grit from the walkway, and flung it across the sewage water. Fenn raised an eyebrow. We asked Rianne what she was doing, and she responded that we had gotten out of one tight jam already by finding an invisible bridge, so it didn’t hurt to see if there might be one here. Fenn laughed. Silly pirate. While all this was happening we heard a muffled thud and turned to see that Leolin had landed on his rear end on the other side of the sewer! The walkway edge on that side was not blocked by vines, and the path ahead was clear.
“Leolin!” Fenn called. “Don’t rush ahead! How did you get over there?”
“Come now, “ Leolin replied. “It’s not so far that we can’t just jump. You’re wasting time. Let’s be on our way!”
Our party looked at each other a bit sheepishly, having been shown up rather severely in our adventuring capacity by this lordling. But clearly this was the only reasonable way forward, despite the danger of falling in the water and succumbing to its awful poison, which continued to afflict Eoin.
And so one by one our party attempted to make the leap, but not before following a similar strategy to the one we had used when running the invisible Naga bridge, where we kept a rope tied to the person jumping in case they fell, so they would not be swept away by the sewage. Everyone made it across safely this way except for Fenn, who was the last to jump. Slipping on a bit of grime, he tumbled into the waters and was held fast by the rope, but not before succumbing to their virulence. When Evendur and Rianne hauled him out of the liquid, he was already retching and moaning. And unfortunately it didn’t seem amenable to the kind of healing that could be effected through his prayers. Time was now even more of the essence, since if we couldn’t make it to the Medica soon, it was not clear what sort of chances Eoin and Fenn had of remaining whole.
This dual urgency drove us quickly forward along the other edge of the sewer, until Leolin, now in front, halted abruptly. He pointed carefully ahead at the walls, and we saw that he was drawing our attention to a sort of moldy slime, which differed slightly from the moldy slime that was everywhere in the sewers.
“This is a powerful poison. We must not touch it! I’m not sure exactly what it will do but I know that it’s one of the dangers to be avoided down here.”
Fenn, already poisoned, rolled his eyes. Eoin was in too bad a state to notice much at all. So we moved forward and carefully circumnavigated the mold. Soon we reached a T-junction and had to decide whether to continue forward, which would mean jumping across the water again, or to take the left hand sewer which would allow us to stay on the same walkway. Not wanting to risk anyone else encountering the debilitating miasma which was already afflicting two of us, we decided to take the left hand turn and continue along the walkway. Soon after, the air started to smell a little less fetid, which was promising. Leolin then spotted a symbol carved into the stone of the sewer walls, and grew excited.
“This is Arcus’s sigil!” He said happily, and then explained that Lord Arcus (whom we knew from our own experience to be exceedingly vain) had put his sign in various hidden places, and more of them obviously were clustered around his Inner City domain. What it meant for us was that we were certainly heading in the right direction at this point. And sure enough, after another interminable-seeming stretch of sewer time, we came across a bit of light filtering down from above through a grate not unlike the one we had escaped through shortly before. A metal ladder descended from this grate, and we hurried over to see whether we might be able to escape the sludge at this point.
We sent Evendur up for a stealthy peek to try and discern our whereabouts, and he gamely started up the ladder. Unfortunately, it was covered in disgusting slime, and even his prodigious balance was not enough to keep him attached. He fell in an ungainly fashion from near the top, landing in a heap and groaning with the pain of the fall. Realizing this humble ladder was perhaps more dangerous than had previously met the eye, we threw our rope around the top rung, tied Evendur to one end, and made sure that the other side was held by at least one of us, in this case Rianne. It was a good idea, because Evendur fell again on his second attempt, and eventually we decided to give up entirely on the slippery rungs and simply combine forces with Rianne to haul a very embarrassed Evendur up like a sack of meal. Now safely perched at the top, he looked through the grate at the urban surroundings. There weren’t very many people nearby, and it wasn’t possible to discern exactly where we had found ourselves, but Evendur did discover that the grate was locked. Once again under pressure to do so, he pulled out his set of thieves’ tools and got to work.
Once unlocked, Evendur risked emerging further from the sewer to get a better look. Satisfied, he ducked back down to deliver the news, being careful to keep a good grip on the grate so as not to slip.
“We’ve come up between the Acronauem and Murky Sprawl,” he whispered down. The Acronauem, most of us knew, was heavily Chemosh Cult territory and therefore liable to harbour members of the Peristeri Wing. In fact to get to where we were we must have traveled underneath the Hetarai Palace compound, very close to where we had found ourselves in the sewers before when stealing the Tehokivi. Deciding this location was close enough to an Inner City gate and knowing the sewers would likely be more dangerous than making a run for it at this point, we decided to come out into the light. What followed next was a comedy of errors that was certainly less comedic for involving several deathly ill party members (Eoin and Fenn). The damage done by a whole square full of Peristeri guards turned out to be not much more significant than that inflicted by one slippery ladder, as the whole party took turns trying to climb up and falling, receiving various degrees of damage for our efforts. But eventually we vanquished that oozing metal worm of a ladder and quit the sewers at last.
Once up, Leolin turned to us to get a better look than was to be had in the dank underbelly of the city. “Thank you!” he said earnestly to us. “But, who are you? And how did you know where I was?”
We repeated that there was no time to explain now, that we had to get to the Academy as soon as we could, and that we would divulge all once we were safe and sound. And so Rianne gently returned the grate to its sconce as Evendur began leading us to the nearest Inner City gate. Arriving at the gate, the ever-present guards blocked our path.
“Halt!” they said, all too predictably. “No one can pass through here.” And so we stepped aside to let Leolin take centre stage. Immediately recognizing the lordling, the guards bowed and fawned over him, expressing their apparently heartfelt concern at his disappearance and being all too glad to see him safe and sound. We reminded Leolin that we were not yet out of the woods entirely, and he requested an armed escort to the Academy. The guards were more than happy to dispatch some of their number to ensure us safe passage, and so we arrived at last to a safe haven, having rescued Leolin and in doing so completing our first mission from Tarala. Leolin bid our escort to bring word to Arcus that he was safe and at the Academy, and the rest of us turned our minds to the next-most pressing matters. After deciding to meet with Leolin for dinner later at the Refectory, we parted ways to pursue whatever was most pressing for each of us. For Fenn and Eoin, this meant heading directly to the Medica, where they had the poison leeched out by the arts of the physicians there. They were not fully recovered, but at least the poison was not going to do more damage as time went on. Afterwards, Fenn’s first order of business was to head privately to his quarters to ensure that nothing had happened to the Tehokivi. And happily, on that front, all was well. It remained safely hidden beneath the floorboards, apparently untouched.
Evendur and Rianne took Leolin to Lavina to get him cleaned up before attending to their own hygiene, and Lavina was more than happy to have the handsomest and most sought after lord in the city in her care.
Once these chores were complete, the group met at the Refectory for some food and refreshment. All eyes were on Leolin, having been converted from a bedraggled executionee into his usual stunning form. He listened as Fenn explained how we were assigned to assist Arcus in finding him, and how we’d been following his trail all over Nauem. It was clear how fortunate we were to arrive just in time to foil the fruition of the Peristeri plot against his life. Then, we listened as Leolin told us what had happened from his perspective.
It all began, as we had suspected, at the Golden Chalice by way of Lord Eglon’s previous gala. After getting reasonably drunk with his friends at the pub, Leolin and they had all decided to go to the Middle City, where their conversation about stone sigil signing had eventually made its way into our intelligence. We paused to ask Leolin more about stone sigil signing itself, and he gushed enthusiastically about the practice. Apparently it was connected to interplanal studies, and the use of crystals to somehow access the power of the gods. Fenn’s ears perked up, since this was of course very much in line with everything we’d heard about the Tehokivi up until now.
At any rate, that night at the Golden Chalice, Matrim Dezel had told Leolin of a Tehokivi stone that was rumoured to be in Nauem, and they decided to go hunting for it. Evendur broke in at this point and asked about Matrim, implying he was surprised that Leolin would be such close friends with a merchant family’s son. Leolin said that they’d been friends for years, making an offhand comment about class distinctions not mattering, and assuring Evendur that Matrim was not involved in anything unsavoury. Well, being very drunk in the Middle City, the lordlings were captured. This much we knew, and kept our mouths shut about Evendur’s contact who had facilitated this little kidnapping. Apart from this, Leolin didn’t seem to know much. He’d been kept hooded as he was moved around from one place to another, up until he had been paraded onto the gallows. And lastly, he affirmed that he and Arcus would be very happy to leave Nauem and come with the Academy to its new founding-place.
As soon as Arcus was spoken of, the man himself entered the Refectory as if on cue, with his entourage, and shouting loudly for Leolin. The two lovebirds then had their very exuberant and, it must be said, sloppy reunion, during which we felt it was best to make our exit. Thus, having finished out the chapter of lost Leolin, we took care of personal business before visiting Tarala to see what our next mission would be. During this time, Evendur and Rianne met Fenn by prearrangement in Fenn’s quarters, to discuss the Tehokivi. Specifically, we needed to figure out what to do with our new party member Eoin. Should we tell him? Doing so would put not only our secret cause at risk but also Eoin’s life itself, since depending on how he reacted we might be forced to kill him to keep our oath. Ultimately, we decided that the time was not yet right to bring him into our confidence, but so as to be prepared, we settled on a set of code phrases to use with one another, so we could agree to tell Eoin if necessary even in the midst of a conversation.
Eventually we all met up again and made our way to Tarala’s office, bypassing once more the long queue of Kydemones and supplicants waiting to see her. Once inside, and after enduring her sigh of disappointment and the usual admonition to please obey the custom of queueing to enter, we celebrated the finding of Leolin, which of course she had been apprised of. Her next task for us was something of a surprise. Rather than begin to escort at-risk Kydemones south, she told us that the continued seasonal downpours and the infeasibility of city folk managing an exodus in them had delayed the timeline somewhat. The Academy would not be ready with people and materiel for the better part of a month. She wished the situation in Nauem would not worsen before then, though that seemed an empty hope. But during this period of preparation, she was sending us back to the Highbury Plain, to Lady Almara’s manor no less. The Academy was in need of carpenters, miners, masons, and other craftspeople, if it was to rebuild further South, and Tarala hoped that Almara would be able to send some of her people to help. Tarala had heard that there had been various attacks in and around Lady Almara’s region, and that the town of Krunu at least had definitely fallen to a group of monsters. All of its people had been evacuated to Lady Almara’s protection, and Tarala hoped that she would be willing to send the refugees to help build the new Academy.
Hearing that Krunu had been evacuated, we looked at each other in concern, remembering the kind welcome we had received there from Brother Dimos and his own worry that something dangerous had awoken in the nearby mines. We were also concerned about our journey there, since we might now expect even more dangers on the road between Nauem and Highbury than before. Confirming we understood our mission, we left Tarala’s office and went to prepare our gear and provisions for the journey, and take care of any last tasks before leaving the Academy for some time. Rianne and Fenn swapped out their chain mail for leather armour, owing to how much we had been opting for a more stealthy approach to dangerous situations. Fenn spent time going through his Mekailite martial arts exercises with his friend Torbin Yaris, who then surprised our party with a set of new weapons that would hopefully improve our chances against whatever foes we might meet. Eoin, for his part, simply drank away the time in the Refectory, and as for Evendur, he was nowhere to be seen.
The next morning, as we were having our last breakfast before embarking on our way, a man came up behind Eoin and clapped him on the shoulders with a loud greeting. After getting over the surprise of it, Eoin jubilantly hailed him as Adso, and introduced him to us as an old companion, dear friend, and a cradle-sibling at the Academy, in fact. Adso halted the reciprocal introductions and made to guess each one of our names, doing so with precision, at which Fenn raised his eyebrows. Who knew we were so recognizable! Adso then mentioned that he was stationed here for the moment awaiting the Academy’s initial flight south, which he was to join us on and provide assistance with. He’d just come from the south, in fact, trying to break up a disturbing new slave trade apparently perpetrated by none other than some monks of the Highbury Monastery. We were shocked to hear this, having come recently from the Monastery ourselves and having not seen anything like a secret slave trade taking place. Adso, also previously having been loyal to the Monastery, was now devoted to his task whenever possible, particularly given his role as a Magister, someone who deals with administration and laws, and who could make pronouncements in the name of the courts. Apparently Adso himself had been captured by slave traders some time ago, but escaped with the help of some fellow prisoners, and were given refuge in the northern baronies by Lady Almara. That part of his story explained why he wasn’t wearing Kydemones blue or Highbury green but was instead dressed in Lady Almara’s teal colours.
Hearing his story, we remarked that our present mission was in fact to go to Lady Almara’s manor, and that we were leaving momentarily. On a whim we invited Adso to come with us, knowing that he’d just be sitting around in Nauem until the Academy was ready to start moving south. Adso was only too happy to oblige, and left immediately got his own provisions ready. We agreed to take a short break before meeting at the gate to plan our exit. During this time, Rianne visited Tarala, wanting to confirm that Adso had been speaking the truth in what he said, which Tarala confirmed. Rianne then found Fenn for a private conversation, worried that Adso might somehow detect the Tehokivi we possessed. For the time being, Fenn and Rianne decided there was not much to be done other than to hide the Tehokivi well among Fenn’s belongings, and that they could have a conversation with Evendur later about the larger issue if Adso remained among our party for longer than the trip to Lady Almara’s manor.
When we reconvened at the gate for our departure, Adso showed up in full uniform, including bearing a brightly polished shield with the sigil of Raguel (the god of law and justice) shining out boldly on the front. Fenn and Evendur exchanged glances, and Fenn broached the topic with Adso.
“Adso, as you yourself have seen,” Fenn said, “the city has been in a state of chaos for some time now, and even more so after the Peristeri Wing’s public execution was thrown into disarray. The Kydemones are not particularly well liked by those outside the Inner City, and it will be our task to navigate through the entire city before we reach the open road. As you can see,” Fenn said, indicating the rest of us, “we have removed our Kydemones blue and dressed like simple travelers. Would you be willing to do the same?”
Adso looked at us as though the idea of dressing differently had never occurred to him nor did he very much like the idea of hiding his affiliations, but he agreed and went away to change. He returned shortly looking more appropriate for the day’s journey, and with his shield covered up. For our route out of the city we chose the same path we had used to enter the city some weeks earlier–after passing through the Inner City gate, Evendur led us without problem to the secret passage leading out of the city entirely. And so we returned to the road that had brought us to Nauem so recently, but as such a different band of adventurers than we had now become. Orwin was gone, replaced by Eoin, and we had been through a number of adventures, some more smelly than others. And above all, Fenn was carrying the Tehokivi secretly wrapped in his travel bag. It was a surprisingly lightweight object for its size, though it weighed heavily upon Fenn nonetheless.
Our journey began in the rain, as was to be expected for all journeys in the month of Ramurskurr. We couldn’t see very well, and it was muddy. Adso was leading the party, assuring us that he had walked this road many times. He pleaded with us to keep our eyes open for Kotopoio, telling us of their lightning-quick attacks. We needed no encouragement from him, having been the victim of one such attack already. To lighten our spirits, Eoin played some inspiring music to accompany our rainy walk. Eventually the road approached the edge of the thick forest, and we were forced to decide whether to make camp for the night or to push through to the closest town, about three hours away. Given that night was not too far away, we decided to pause for the evening but to set a double watch so as to have more eyes to look out for Kotopoio. We set no fire, and our nightly watches proceeded without incident, though Adso did make strange noises from time to time, which he said were to scare beasts away.
The next day we tackled the forest. Now that we were aware of the various dangers that awaited travelers who left the safety of the path, we hewed closely to it, and had no incidents beyond the usual exhaustion of travel that whole day. As evening fell, we came to Lady Almara’s manor. Well, after passing through a sprawling but well-organized town and a set of high walls that stretched a far distance, and which had seemed to hide a fortress, not a country manor. Adso explained that Lady Almara had been working hard to consolidate all the local baronies threatened by monsters or disasters under her protection, and had been developing many defensive structures, not to mention building what we soon saw was more or less a city inside. Thanks to Adso’s recognition, we were admitted through the gates immediately and walked through all the new construction to Almara’s original manor, which still looked like a large country house. When Adso led us inside the manor, however, the quaint external appearance was given the lie by what seemed to be a proper throne room, into which we were led by Lady Almara’s attendants.
Almara herself sat on a large chair. She was a slight Monean woman who radiated intensity through her dress and her expression if not her stature. While she and our party took each other in, a rotund woman bustled from the side of the room to Adso, pinched his cheeks, and reproachfully told him he looked too skinny. Looking embarrassed and attempting to brush the woman off, Adso indicated that we should bow to Lady Almara, so we make the proper reverence. Adso greeted Lady Almara and introduced us to her, vouching for his good friend Eoin and for the rest of us as representatives of the Kydemones Academy.
Fenn stepped forward to delivery Tarala’s request for assistance of craftspeople, and specifically the miners and masons of Krunu who had recently been displaced. Lady Almara replied apparently favorably, saying, “Of course I would love to assist the Academy in rebuilding! The Kydemones Academy is a welcome home to me and to others, and as part of my domain I will always support their good work.”
Almara’s choice of words felt ominous to Fenn and the others—when before had Lady Almara spoken of the Kydemones of Nauem as “her domain”? But Almara continued.
“I have incorporated the good people of Krunu into this new town you see being raised around you, and they are now residents here. I will happily ask their leaders, Lumberlord Bratus and Mayor Bromley, if they or their people are willing to go and aid you in your new endeavour. Please, allow Rakel to show you to guest quarters and enjoy the evening while I deliver your message. You may return tomorrow morning when I should have an answer for you.”
And so, our first audience with Almara was over. The party exchanged glances as Almara’s house-mistress Rakel showed us our apartments. There was clearly a lot going on under the surface here. So, with a great deal of uncertainty about Lady Almara’s purpose, we resolved to fulfill our mission as far as we could, but also to keep our eyes open to opportunities to learn more about what was going on here in this suddenly new and strange town. And of course, we needed to be careful, for we had brought a Tehokivi straight into the seat of Lady Almara’s power, and we knew she sought these stones of power for purposes which were not entirely clear or altruistic.