Leelo and Mesmer climb hundreds of steps to reach the ‘Reliquary’ where they are met by the Elohim monk from the Chancel. Within the vast airy structure are wide colonnades, vestibules, practice rooms, lecture theaters and other spaces of less obvious purpose. Monks, sages and clerics move about the dim spaces like ghosts. Some of the faculty are in fact spirits from across millennia of Elohim history. Spectral shades of Elohim scholars, monks and other learned beings return to the Reliquaries and pass on their knowledge to subsequent generations. Some appear in archaic dress from the Age of Dragons, others are contemporary, and every age in between. Some spirits return only for a short time, others remain to guide the living for much longer. Herein lies the secret of Elohim cultural and intellectual continuity across three different ages, a feat only the long-lived elves of Sucellus come close to matching.
Lower and lower within the vaults of ancient knowledge the silent monk leads his guests. The journey ends in a natural cavern filled with blue-green water. The pale shade of an Aifon, extinct since the Age of Dragons, steps forth from the lonely grotto. The monk speaks, “This child of Danalin was once a living Elohim of great wisdom and power. She has been with us since the Age of Dragons when her people became extinct, for what reason we known not, since she has never spoken in living memory.” Nor does the beautiful Aifon speak now, instead indicating five relics in niches around the shimmering grotto: collars of silvery blue-green metal. The monk presents these to Leelo. “These are ‘Torcs of the Aifon’. The wearer will assume the submarine form of an Aifon when in water, able to swim quickly over long distances and breathe water as well as air. Use them well, and after the fate of Syzimondo and the green pearl are sealed, return them to this reliquary.”
The translucent form of the Aifon approaches Leelo, passes into her and disappears. Leelo feels the silent presence of another joining her own soul. The monk is surprised by this turn of events, “the Aifon has chosen to be your Spirit Guide, a rare honor. This quest must be of even greater importance than we first thought. Whatever happens, do not let the pearl fall into the tentacles of the Overlords. Perhaps it can be destroyed, but the consequences cannot be foretold, if indeed this node of depravity is the prison of Blikdak’s soul.”
News of widespread crop failures come in from the lands around Cahir Abbey. Indeed, the loss of the summer crop is repeated in all the provinces west, north and east. Already the most vulnerable members of the empire are starving. What is worse, plague is reported in the lower quarters of the capitol. The few clerics and healers are unable to cope with the sudden mysterious appearance of disease in all the cities of the land. Charnel houses soon fill with corpses. Mass graves and huge pyres for the dead appear outside Cahir Abbey. Similar plague and starvation is reported by travelers from far lands. The Infernals and Mercurians are least affected. The Blood Comet is widely blamed.
After two months in Cahir Abbey, Mesmer, Leelo and her henchman Xar take passage east back to Trinity where they will consult with the Luchuirp remnants and await the completion of the commissioned white dragon shield and armor. At Trinity they learn of the fall of Ithralia. Bannor and Elohim mages entered the High Keep to rescue King Gyr and his retinue, but the old gnome refused to leave and perished hours later in a last stand. In the weeks that followed the cities of Mutanbo, Tia’ran and Val’ran fell, marking the end of the Luchuirp empire in the New Age. A large part of the population is already enslaved and put to work in the Deadlands repairing roads and bridges connecting the Sheaim empire with their newly-acquired provinces east of the Dragonspines. The rest can look forward only to a dismal existence under the rule of cruel sorcerer-kings.
Mavriy, Krag and Finch, with their henchmen Thothra and Grenl, board a coastal cog for the 5-day trip to Warrenpoint where the party is supposed to meet Syzimondo when the winds change later in the year. The island city of Warrenpoint is only a tenth the size of Cahir Abbey 100 miles to the east, but hosts important trading and commercial concerns that feed wealth to the rest of the empire. A great lighthouse, harbor and shipyard dominate the seaward side of the city. Though relatively small, the importance of the city is belied by the presence of a Guardian’s Chancel and Order of the Elohim Reliquary atop the highest elevation. Just off the docks are extensive markets, money changers and taverns.
The taverns in particular are famed across the myriad ports of Earthsea. Hundreds pack the most popular to hear the declamation of entertainers and skalds from cities as far as Midgar, Prespur, Tolero, Evermore and Thariss. The rune-heroes find temporary accommodation at ‘The Laughing Sun and Crying Moon’. Using treasure from Frostbite’s hoard, they soon purchase title to a ramshackle tower of three stories with attached barn and outbuildings. The seller and new neighbor is a peg-legged old pirate, complete with eye-patch and squawking parrot. ‘Jackdaw’ is always willing to regale adventurers with tales from his decades sailing the shores of the Earthsea.
In less than two weeks Krag is able to trace the source of certain glyphs and sigils found in public areas around the city. In the back of a distant warehouse the half-orc finds a small chapel to his lord Aeron, god of war, serving a diverse clientele hailing from ports across the Earthsea. Krag takes over management from a lowly acolyte and is soon receiving alms and administering benedictions to a small but steady trickle of supplicants. The number and variety, and coin-purse contents, of those seeking favor in battle increases steadily over the summer. It seems that times are good for the god of war! Religion is always a good money-making proposition, the ‘Church of Krag’ exceptionally so. By the fall Krag has amassed an offering pot exceeding 400 gold pieces! All for the cause, of course…
Finch quickly discovers that Warrenpoint is the entry point for black market goods from all corners of the world including pearls, sugar and dyes from the Lanun archipelago, usually considered hated foes of the Elohim. Contraband goods are brought in by smugglers of all stripes, including more than a few outright pirates, who work by night and in bad weather up and down the long convoluted coastline of Warren island. The Elohim constabulary and navy make a desultory attempt at policing this lucrative trade, but in reality look the other way most of the time: the profits are spread far and wide, high and low. Finch soon embroils himself in this activity, first arranging deals and slumming-it with small-time shore smugglers. Soon he graduates up the ranks and finds himself aboard a 50-foot sloop running contraband across the 24 miles of open water between Warrenpoint and the mainland. The profits for a newcomer are small at first, but the half-elf learns the basics of seamanship and sailing, especially at night and in poor weather.
Warrenpoint is a hive of activity for herbalists, alchemists and potion-makers. Finch pays a good amount to get his hench-goblin Grenl into an apprenticeship (disguised as a halfling). By the end of summer Grenl has concocted a laboratory of sorts in the tower’s top story. The neighbors are annoyed all night long by muffled explosions, foul smells, colored lights and the occasional shriek. One day soon Finch and Grenl will be able to make true potions of power, assuming the equipment and arcane ingredients can be assembled.
Mavriy determines that Warrenpoint hosts a small temple of Esus. As expected, the temple is well hidden and changes location from time to time. Only those familiar with the secret paths of Esus have much chance to locate the temporary meeting places. Communication and coordination are accomplished through cryptic messages left at dead drops around the city. The priesthood, if there is any, remains hidden behind an impenetrable veil of anonymity. The demonling paladin soon begins providing services through this network and makes a not-inconsiderable sum of coin, though failing to approach the profit-margins of Krag and his war-god.
The power of the Council of Esus is small here, not large enough for the customary ‘Nightwatch’. The Nightwatch serves as a secret militia and guards any city where the Council of Esus has a significant presence. While there may be a few Esus assassins, shadow monks and other candidates in Warrenpoint, none have the leadership needed to form a ‘Nightwatch’.
Through the Esus grapevine, Mavriy discovers the holy city is located in Thariss, capitol of the Svartalfar empire. There the great shrine of Nox Noctis reveals current events in many empires, all the while shrouding the activities of Queen Viconia in a cloud of fog. Mavriy learns much of the world through a connection with Nox Noctis. For example, the Grigori have historically allowed Calabim slavers passage through their lands to take slaves from the Clan of Embers, on condition the vampires refrain from poaching Grigori lands. This agreement has enriched the Calabim greatly over recent decades, along with their lucrative ties to the Lanun sea-empire, and now a huge army of conquest led by Losha Valas is assembling on the eastern border of the Malaki desert. This has prompted the Grigori to end the prior arrangement and sever relations with empress Alexis and emperor Flauros, twin rulers of the vampiric aristocracy.
In other news, the Elohim and Bannor are infuriated by the Khazad tribute to the Hippus. Though all four empires are nominally members of the Overcouncil, the Elohim and Bannor have recalled their diplomats from Khazad and severed all trade, believing that the dwarves will be forced to pass any new wealth and knowledge on to their overbearing Hippus neighbors. This acrimony and bickering within the Overcouncil can only benefit the Calabim and Sheaim empires.
In the middle of summer Mesmer and Leelo return from Trinity with magic created by gnome artificers and enchanters. Warren island is the site of ‘The Blue Principles’, a Mage Guild that keeps a low profile, but has great importance to the Elohim. The guild is almost unique in having no central keep or stronghold. Instead the cabal’s board of notables maintain various manses, towers, keeps and residence of all sorts across the island and along the nearby mainland coast to north and east. The Blue Principles are named after their guiding document, a constitution of bylaws ensconced within a blue crystal ‘Perciplex’ protected by the Wi’ih, a mindless being from the 9th dimension. The guild controls a wide range of mana including Law, Nature, Spirit, Water and finally a node of ‘Mind’ mana on Warren island itself. Mesmer pays his dues and joins the guild as a full member. The tumble-down tower in Warrenpoint is listed as his ‘manse of residence’. He soon finds a wizard willing to do business and gives over a little-used spell in exchange for phantasmal-force.
Earlier in the spring, Mesmer determined that Thothra, the Amurite archer captured from Syzimondo, has a small knack for magic. Not too unusual among a race descended from the greatest and first archmage Kylorin. Mesmer apprentices Thothra over the summer. The young Amurite excels and masters not one, but three powerful cantrips of magic! Perhaps one day Thothra could even become a full wizard. In the meantime, Mesmer has gained a faithful henchmen and apprentice.
Late in the summer Mesmer notices a dim spot appear on the horizon, visible only to himself and always located slightly east of due south from Warrenpoint. By day the spot is smoky gray, by night a dimly glowing ember. The rune-heroes theorize this is a guide provided by the Lich Asmoday to gather his minions from all across Arcanearth. Apparently the dreaded Lich-King counts Mesmer among his servants. A chilling thought! As the summer passes, the wizard finds his gaze wandering more and more often toward the spot.
Mesmer soon detects other more disturbing changes within himself: 1) a circular tatoo of untranslatable glyphs appears on his chest, at first barely visible, but growing more pronounced as the summer wears on; 2) a waxy pallor to the skin; 3) fingernails forming into long pointed claws. These physical changes will become very obvious by next year, at the current rate of change. Mesmer declines to have Krag use the old Luchuirp scroll to immediately remove the curse, if indeed it can be removed, on the chance this curse can somehow be turned to the group’s benefit. Talk about playing the long game!
Later in the year, during the voyage across the Earthsea aboard the Sea Hag, the spot slowly shifts to the southeast then finally slightly north of due east.
Leelo steps onto the dock wearing reconditioned and newly-magicked black dragon armor, courtesy of grateful gnome expatriates in Trinity. She finds Krag at his shrine and gives over a magic shield: a circular warboard of bronze covered with a rosette of iron-hard white-dragon scales. On Finch’s instruction, his new suit of magical leather armor was left at the Luchuirp embassy vault in Trinity. This armor is fashioned by gnome craftsmen from the white hide and scales of Frostbite (dyed gray by the gnomes…it resists all attempts to turn it black). The warlock currently lacks facility with armor, but plans to gain this skill soon so that he can cease using the unfortunately-obvious protective enchantment provided by the ‘Voice from Beyond’ (a swirling gray-blue field of arcane force).
Voyage of the Damned
When the prevailing winds shift to the northeast with the coming of winter, a snaggle-toothed agent of Syzimondo contacts the rune-heroes at ‘The Laughing Sun and Crying Moon’. The Warrenpoint tower is left in the care of the ice-gnome Xar, Thothra the newly-minted Amurite apprentice, and Grenl the goblin shamaness. This unlikely trio have somehow established an uneasy accommodation during their months together. In the dark of the moon on a stormy night the adventurers row out from a smuggler’s cove along the windswept western shore of Warren isle. Out of the dark emerges a familiar frigate of four masts: the Sea Hag.
Syzimondo has instigated major changes. The ship is fully refitted for a long voyage. The previous boatload of cutthroats is reduced to a skeleton crew of hand-picked pirates. The 1st Mate and Bosun are recognized as two of Syzimondo’s companions who also escaped the melee in the jungle long ago. Armament has been reduced from eight to four ballistae to make room for extra provisions.
Syzimondo has deceived his crew with a plausible tale of slave-taking as a cover for his real purpose. The crew are comfortably familiar with snatching island barbarians and selling them at the Calabim ports of Nubia and Araia. From there slaves go to serve the great estates of the vampiric nobles, or contribute their blood to one of the ‘feastings’ held on public not-so-holidays…
During the voyage southwest the rune heroes watch the crew carefully for any possibility of future advantage. Should Syzimondo be killed outright and the ship taken over, or charmed by magic? Leelo stealthily inventories the contents of his cabin and those of his officers, but finds nothing useful. The wily pirate has apparently memorized the missing half of the tablet. At no time does he sneak off to a secret location to retrieve or consult the missing half.
By the second week of the voyage, Finch has used his eerie powers to divine that the 2nd mate is definitely susceptible to the charms of mutiny and would love nothing more than to supplant Syzimondo. Possibly useful, though his knowledge of navigation seems lacking compared to Syzimondo and the loyal 1st mate. Syzimondo knows how to use the stars, moon and sun, the currents, the winds and weather, and even the color of the sea to somehow divine his location and sail on with purpose toward the mysterious destination of ‘Zencotan’, supposedly somewhere far south of the southernmost Lanun isles. The warlock is rapidly improving his knowledge of wind and wave by working with the officers and crew, and surreptitiously observing Syzimondo as he navigates. The fat black-bearded rogue chuckles at Finch’s attempted seamanship, but is clearly nettled by the eavesdropping. Syzimondo begins concealing important aspects of his calculations.
Near the end of a third week with nothing but ocean in sight, overt grumbling sets in among the crew, but they are uncertain whose side these adventurers are on. Some barbarian islands better appear on the horizon soon. Leelo and Mesmer hatch a plan to assassinate Syzimondo and take over the ship with the help of the 2nd Mate. Before they can execute the plan, a strange storm blows in from the north.
From the storm emerges a black copper-plated ship with bronze-armored crows-nests atop three tall masts. Shades of Scylia, but the banner of Saryin Nures is not in evidence. By skillful sailing Syzimondo is able to keep the Overlord warship well to stern, until the wind and waves seem to conspire against him. The ship lurches to a stop as the sea boils with unnatural activity all around. A great black shadow moves in the waters beneath the ship. The timbers creak with strain as something grapples the hull. Shouts of ‘Overlords!’ and ‘Kraken!’ are heard among the crew. Even these hard-bitten pirates begin to panic. The officers desperately lash them back to their positions.
As the great warship looms close, the rune-heroes race to take strategic positions for the coming encounter. The green pearl on Syzimondo’s remaining ear glows fiercely, attracting stares of superstitious dread from the 1st mate and other nearby pirates. The situation looks grim. The scope for action has narrowed to a few desperate choices. Is now the time to take the pearl, possibly to destroy it? The adventurers whisper urgent plans as they sidle into position near the wheelhouse and atop the poop deck.
The Lanun warship halts as it approaches within 100 feet. Monstrous tentacles rise from the roiling waters around the doomed Sea Hag. Some pirates scream in terror. Others prepare to fight to the last. Syzimondo’s bulging countenance exhibits a horrid mixture of human and perhaps alien emotion: terror, outrage at the fate befalling him, and a sort of avid urgency or hunger. Familiar figures appear along the rail of the Overlord warship: Laerlith, Priestess of the Waves, and four green-hooded ‘Hands of Hastur’. Laerlith’s expression is obvious even from this distance: hateful vengeance mixed with gleeful expectancy for the impending completion of a task long-delayed.