V’neef “Rick” Ricardus, Cathak Olaf, Peleps Vayne, and Tepet Skai are all rejects within their own house, hampered by severe personality problems and not living up to the high expectations placed on them by their Great Houses. Each has received an invitation to jump ship and become members of House Nellens, and has realized through the letter that they have no future and no destiny in their home house that plans to use them up and discard them. So each of them has accepted the offer presented within, to travel to a satrapy called Zerushka, on the continent north of the Blessed Isle.
The instructions at the bar tell them to head to the main tavern, so there the adventure begins. Nellens Kori, the deputy satrap of Zerushka, arrives and rapidly discovers the flaw in his brilliant scheme: Olaf is attempting to start a brawl while Skai is gambling his money away. He somehow manages to grab both of them and bring them to the back table where Rick and Vayne are already seated. He fills them in on the reason they have been instructed to come here: there is a problem at the main silver mine of this satrapy, which technically belongs to House Cynis but is actually under the control of House Nellens. Cynis Jamari, the satrap of this place, is a cheapskate and has approved this mission for them because having Immaculate monks come investigate would cost money, so they have a week to do this. Olaf tries to demand what’s in it for them, and Kori stares blankly before trying to re-explain that joining House Nellens would be immensely beneficial for them both, and asks whether Olaf even read the letter. When Olaf shrugs, Kori demands to know how he even found the tavern, and Olaf points out he skimmed it and then just followed the glittering cat, Vayne’s familiar. Kori doesn’t seem to have an answer for that.
Everyone has agreed to the plan, so Olaf goes back to trying to start a brawl, Skai finishes losing all his money, and Rick tries to spread his theories on equality to the bartender, without much success. Rick also tries to calm Olaf and catches an elbow in the face for his trouble. Olaf finally becomes bored of trying to start a brawl with people who are afraid of him, and goes to bed. Skai finishes losing his money and goes to bed weeping, and Vayne feeds her giant calico cat Glitter some milk and turns in early.
In the morning, the party has gathered at the stables. Nellens Kori purchases five excellent horses like it was nothing, in a not-too-subtle signal of what joining House Nellens could do for them, and they ride out to the mining town. Olaf double-botches his ride roll and cracks his tailbone on the ride, and Rick notices right away (starting Rick’s streak of almost always getting 5+ successes on awareness rolls) and tries to locate some herbs or bark for Olaf’s pain. He finds some bark that appears similar to something that will kill the pain, and tries to test it on himself (but of course, he is immune to plant toxins so not terribly effective there). He offers it to Olaf, who accepts, and chews the bark, feeling the pain subside, and also successfully resists the hallucinations that this particular type of bark produces.
Nellens Kori brings the party to the city hall, a tall building overlooking the mining town, and introduces the party to the other deputy satrap, Cynis Detharo. Detharo speaks in a low, subtly grating voice that Vayne immediately hates. Detharo brings the party inside and up the stairs to one of the upper floors, which has the main satrap’s office. Upon opening the double doors, the party is treated to a vision of the Realm’s splendor, with lots of silver decorations on a huge, high-ceiling office. The satrap, Cynis Jamari, is sitting in his seat like it’s a throne, with a scantily clad girl on each knee. He is clearly unhappy at being distracted, and rapidly instructs the party to go figure out why the people have stopped working in the main mineshaft before the Immaculate order arrives and charges him money to get it figured out. He promptly directs all questions to the deputies, and the doors slam before anyone can say anything in response.
The party tries to get more information but none is really forthcoming, despite (or because of) Rick’s attempt to insert his weird politics into the situation, so they are set loose to begin their investigation. Skai decides to start his investigation in the city hall itself, and after rolling passably well to sneak away from the party as it leaves, he rolls a very high score on his awareness roll to scout the building, and when going from one empty room to the next he spots a hidden door at the back of one of the meeting rooms. Upon entering he discovers a secret room with demonic runes painted in blood on the walls, texts of demonic works, and some paperwork written in old realm that includes the name of the satrap.
Skai rushes back to the party which is now gathered outside the main building, and informs them of his findings. A distraction is called for so Olaf sets fire to the stables, then runs away in a panic because he’s also severely pyrophobic (how a fire-aspect Dragon-blooded with a hearthstone that allows him to set fire to things is also deathly afraid of fire is not explored here). Vayne then adds to the confusion by firing her Nyan-cannon into the air. While people are rushing out, Skai leads Rick back to the secret room. Rick searches himself, and finds nothing else new despite a very high roll, and also attempts to copy the Old Realm contract so he can have it translated.
Once the party has reconvened (Olaf has been collected from behind a bush) Rick asks if anyone can read his copy of the contract. Vayne can read Old Realm and so tries to translate Rick’s scrawl, but Old Realm and High Realm are about as similar as middle English and modern English, so the best Vayne can do with Rick’s scrawl is “I, Cynis Jamari, do hereby foreswear my eternal soul to the glorious Yozis in exchange for apples, concrete, and eternal glory.” Vayne comments on Rick’s terrible handwriting.
The party is really unsure of what to do next, but regardless of whatever corruption is happening in city hall, the mineshaft poses the more immediate obstacle. The party therefore heads there immediately, not even bothering to investigate the town or ask anyone anything. Once they arrive, Rick volunteers to enter first with the rest of the party standing in wait at the entrance. The entire party has been issued Winged Messenger Baubles (the same devices that played a huge role in the Burning Campaign) so Rick is writing a note on his and can send it back to the party if need be. He has a knife in his mouth, is scribbling with his hands, and his weapons are at the ready.
Rick heads in, and not too far in can see something shining in the darkness. It appears to be a scarab made of solid metal, about two feet long and a foot tall, its legs clicking against the stone. Rick debates whether to yell back anything but then decides to lead it back instead. Olaf sees the metal scarab and decides to take it out with his axe. He makes a single massive swing and kills it with one blow. It then begins to melt, apparently made of liquid metal, and Olaf then impulsively decides to drink some. He rapidly begins hearing a demonic voice in his head, then things starts looking strange around him. A tall metal scarab appears in front of his face and he decides to kiss it. The rest of the party sees Olaf try to kiss Rick, then pass out and start vomiting liquid metal.
The party decides to stick together as they go down the mineshaft, weapons at the ready. Vayne expends a mote of essence to glow for the scene, since she is the least stealthy anyway. The three of them head in.
Meanwhile, the Immaculate Order put a high priority on the request since it was vaguely worded yet from an important satrapy, so they immediately deployed Sesus Alejo (yes Louis named his character Alejo, ostensibly so the DM would have an emotional connection with the character… also to make the quotes section as confusing as possible) to investigate. Sesus Alejo has several advantages that make him ideal for this deployment, including Transcendent Phoenix Pinions, which are essence-powered wings that let him arrive a week ahead of schedule. Alejo arrives at the city hall, the main building overlooking the mining town. Lacking any real information to go off of, he looks around for someone in charge and finds the stables burned down and a red-headed man trying to direct cleanup and triage. The red-head is Nellens Kori, who is startled at the Immaculate’s arrival (Alejo replies only with “The immaculate order works in mysterious ways”), and directs him to the mineshaft where the Nellens team was last seen heading.
While en route, Alejo pays careful attention to the town and notes that in addition to everyone hiding and not going outside unless absolutely necessary, there is a substantial lack of visible children anywhere. He makes a mental note, but presses on to the mineshaft, where he sees Olaf passed out with a bit of liquid metal dribbling down his mouth. He takes Olaf’s hearthstones and hangs on to them for potential later use.
Rick is the first to hear Alejo’s footsteps echoing down the mineshaft, and he calls out, “Who goes there?” Alejo identifies himself as an immaculate monk here to help with the investigation. He then lays eyes on Vayne who in addition to glowing, has pointed ears and teeth and colored skin reminiscent of a Fair Folk. Alejo spends a long moment peering at her before deciding that her behavior, her jade weaponry, and her anima are all decidedly Dragon-blooded instead of Raksha, but keeps an eye on her (this roll was probably unnecessary since we all forgot she was using her Dragon-blooded anima to glow, but it was hilarious, so all is well).
New tactics are decided, where Rick proceeds first, followed by Alejo, with Vayne and Skai holding back since they provide more ranged firepower. They soon see another scarab and this time it’s Alejo who takes the shot and also manages to kill it in one blow. They continue down the mineshaft, noting the veins of pure silver running through the mine, reflecting their light and probably looking really pretty. This is tempered by the fact that they can now hear the cries of children mixed with the clicking of metal on stone echoing down the hall.
A substantial way in, the shaft makes a hard right turn with light emanating from around the corner somewhere. Vayne and Skai stay back while Rick creeps forward and briefly peeks his head around the corner. He sees up to a dozen scarabs milling around the hall while the children appear to be embedded in the walls somehow. In the back corner something is shining, but very hard to see. The room is dimly lit by mining equipment attached to the ceiling.
They don’t seem to have been spotted so they prepare a coordinated all-out attack. Alejo runs in first and strikes one of the scarabs in the center of the room with Rippling Water strike. This mighty blow successfully destroys the target scarab, and all the other scarabs in the room take 4 dice of bashing damage, killing two more and battering most of the rest badly. Interestingly, an actual construct of solid metal would be immune to the water essence, but their bodies are made of a liquid metal and so are just as vulnerable as a human’s.
Rick goes next, jumps into the room, and getting a good look at the tall silvery monster in the back corner, fires three arrows at it with his Jade Powerbow. Two arrows hit and seem to wound it. Skai goes next, runs along the wall and shoots the two least-wounded scarabs with his Dragon Sigh Wand, killing both. Glitter, Vayne’s familiar, then rushes in and zaps the scarab nearest the entrance with its lightning attack, and while mercury is not the best conductor of electricity, it is still a metal and thus a good conductor of electricity. The scarab fries, scorching the cat and some of the nearby children. Vayne brings up the last attack, aiming her Nyan-cannon at the silvery demon in the corner, hitting it with a blast of concussive energy that it cannot dodge due to its wounds. The penetrative blast of power further wounds it but it rears up to continue fighting. The concussive blast of energy in the contained room finishes off the wounded scarabs, and all the children start crying from the thunderclap, but the party is unwounded due to their armor’s hardness.
Alejo has the initiative, due to his fast speed he is able to get in one more attack before the demon’s turn. He charges the demon (which has two large legs, four silvery limbs of various shapes, and a faceless head which towers eight feet off the ground), and in an epic 3-dot stunt grabs its limb, uses an arm-pull to throw himself behind it, kicks out a knee and bodily slams the demon to the ground in a clinch. The clinch means on its turn the demon cannot move or defend itself, but it does reach out to the nearest scarab, turning its liquid metal body into a floating globe of liquid, which then forms a spear that stabs Alejo in the back. Alejo activates Flowing Water Defense and has some armor on so the wound is not fatal, but he still takes 5 lethal damage and the demon seems more able to resist his grip. Skai has the next action, however, and Alejo shrieks at him to shoot the demon in the head before it can act again. Skai lines up behind its head and activates Swallows Defend the Nest to shoot three blasts of fire through its head execution-style, destroying the demon. Its body also begins to melt into a pool of mercury.
Vayne activates Stormwind Rider to carry most of the children out, and the last few are carried out in the arms of Rick, Skai and Glitter (Alejo is able to walk still but it hurts a lot). They reach the outside of the mine, and soon the entire mining town has gathered to reclaim their children. However, the village healer has arrived with the rest of the town and diagnoses the children with Cinnabar sickness (mercury poisoning). Rick has no answer for this, but Vayne has a Rod of Cleansing the Body on her person which she can use to cure them. This takes some time and essence but she gets started right away.
While Vayne works to cure the children, Alejo and Rick start to question the village healer about the satrap and how things have been. She mentions that the previous satrap was a good man but when he retired the new one has been a disaster. When they ask about demonic influences, she has a good poker face, but Rick (rolling 7 successes AGAIN on an awareness roll) sees she is not actually surprised. He calls her on it, and she loudly comments that Alejo is wounded and she must take him to her shelter for treatment.
Once the party has been pulled aside, she reveals that when the demon attacked, a rumor went around that the only way to keep the demon out of your head was to put mercury on your forehead. Unfortunately the villagers started putting mercury on their childrens’ foreheads, causing the aforementioned Cinnabar sickness and also exposing them to the demon’s influence. She had personally seen the children get up in the night and walk to the mineshaft, though others insisted they were abducted. She knew from that moment that whoever started that absurd rumor had been responsible for the demon arriving in the first place. She also briefly speculated that the adults were probably also putting mercury on their own foreheads but the children were the most vulnerable.
With further questioning about the satrapy, she also revealed that there was a lot of mercury stored in warehouses here because it is used to refine silver ores, but the mines have mostly pure silver and the mercury is part of a ruse to let people believe the mine is not as profitable as it actually is. Alejo had already noted the mining town is not as wealthy in appearance as it should be given the presence of a high-yield silver mine, and this all seems to be fitting together into a single pattern.
The party together constructs a warning to send to Nellens Kori about the satrap, Cynis Jamari, using one of their Winged Messenger Baubles, and that he should call for backup from the Nellens legion stationed at the Zerushka port where they had landed. They then rest the night, once Vayne has healed all the children and Alejo has had some healing applied by the village healer.
In the morning, there has been no reply from Nellens Kori, so Vayne casts another Stormwind Rider to bring the party up to the city hall with all haste, while Alejo flies using his Transcendent Phoenix Pinions. The building appears to be empty, no one is visible in any windows, so they land on the roof and head down. While heading down one of the flights of stairs, they run into the satrap, Cynis Jamari himself. He asks them to report and they are unsure how to proceed, so Alejo distracts with patter for a bit then yells “Get him!” It is at that moment when he initiates the grapple with the elder Dragon-blooded warrior that he realizes his hearthstone, which lets him smell demons and demonic influence, isn’t giving him any scent of demon on this guy. Jamari immediately countergrabs and throws Alejo and pulls out paired short daiklaves and enters Fire Dragon form, preparing to slay the entire party. They manage to talk him down by offering proof that someone has been trying to turn them against each other. They lead him to the secret room, only to find no hidden door and furthermore that architecturally there cannot be a room behind that wall. Gulp.
Just as Jamari prepares to disregard everything they are saying and slaughter them, Alejo activates his charm that enables him to see invisible and dematerialized things. He sees the lever, now invisible but previously visible, that allows entry to what is probably a spirit sanctum. He then activates his charm to allow him to interact with dematerialized things, and opens the secret door. Inside, there are several dead people with their entrails hanging from the ceiling including Nellens Kori, and a robed figure in the middle of casting a spell turns around, startled. It’s Cynis Detharo, the other deputy, with a solid-circle black caste mark on his forehead. Jamari reacts instinctively by leaping inside and slicing Detharo into two dozen pieces that are splattered around the room.
Jamari nonchalantly dismisses the entire affair as a single demonic crazy and the whole problem is now resolved, but Alejo, sensing an opening, points out that Jamari is worried because this will make him look bad, and that it wouldn’t be to his benefit if the Immaculate Order started an in-depth, thorough and expensive investigation of the whole affair. Jamari seems displeased and the party keeps needling him until he agrees to cooperate. He then casts a spell which Vayne recognizes as Infallible Messenger, sending a message off to a friend of his, who then appears in a flash of flame and a roll of thunder a minute later. His friend, a very powerful sorcerer who apparently interrupted his class he was teaching at the Heptagram to come investigate, notes that the deputy satrap was actually a new type of Anathema and was casting a spell to resurrect a demon using a nearby large quantity of mercury. Vayne recognizes this professor from the heptagram and likes his style. He slouches off with Detharo’s head, deciding to change the topic of his lecture to identifying novel Anathema types, and casts a spell to teleport back.
Jamari has agreed to vouch for Skai, Vayne and Rick’s entry into House Nellens and also provides them with more information, saying that Detharo became his deputy after being recommended by someone named Nellens Cyan, and she may be connected to this mess somehow. The party rides off into the sunset, victorious and with a new mission at hand.
Epic Verbatim Quotes
- DM: “So like in all RPGs, the campaign begins in a tavern.” Debbie: “I ask for dwarven ale.” Keith: “I get drunk and try to start a brawl.” DM: “…”
- DM and others, several times: “Geoff you should have chosen the rogue”
- Rick, more than once: “But will things be shared equally?”
- DM: “The dead scarab melts into a liquid metal that pools on the floor.” Keith: “I drink some.” DM: “Okaaay…” *Random crap happens for a bit, then Keith has to leave* Alejo: “Okay so that liquid metal was mercury by the way.” Keith: “Oh that was mercury?? Olaf’s dead!” DM: “Not dead, the Exalted are tougher than that. He did go crazy and pass out though.”
- Rick, upon seeing Alejo: “You seem trustworthy. Would you care to join us in our noble quest?“
- Louis: “I want to investigate her [Vayne] more closely.” DM: “Okay roll perception plus investigation.” Louis (while picking up dice) “You do know your life depends on this next roll right?” Leslie: *Sweatdrop*
- Vayne: “My cat’s name is Glitter.” Louis: “Of course it is.”
- Leslie: “My cannon shoots cat-shaped blasts of energy that sparkle and trail rainbows.” Louis: “Is it a nyan-cat cannon? Awesome.” DM: “Yes it’s a Nyancannon.”
- Vayne: “Glitter! Use thunderbeam!” Everyone else: “….”
- Alejo, while Skai tries to position himself: “Shoot it! Shoot it in the head! Hurry it hurts augh!”
- Debbie: “7 successes.” DM: “What?? Can I see your dice? How are you always rolling so many successes?” Debbie: “You’re the one who gave me an awareness excellency.” DM: “…… Ahhh, so that’s what’s been happening.”
- Jamari: “Prepare to get Jammed.”
- Alejo: “Oh surely there’s more you can do for us, we wouldn’t want a big Immaculate investigation.” Jamari: “Don’t push your luck.”
- Louis: “I like that when I arrived the first thing I saw was a big armored guy passed out at the entrance with mercury dribbling out of his mouth. It set the tone. It was very Joss Whendon-esque.” Alejo: “That is high praise for me, Joss Whedon is one of my inspirations.”
- Cynis Jamari is based on the worst person in the world, Councilman Jeremy Jamm from the TV show Parks and Recreation
- The central role of mercury in the plot has a lot to do with the electron configuration and the real-life role of mercury in silver purification, both prominently in my brain thanks to tutoring at HS2 for the last month
- Joss Whedon, as mentioned, is my inspiration for mixing humor with seriousness and mixing complexity with straightforwardness.
- The various party flaws (Olaf’s pyrophobia, Rick’s political views, Skai’s gambling and Vayne’s appearance) draw from a variety of inspirations, notably Game of Thrones. The “group of misfits thrown together to solve a case” trope is well-worn but apropos here, and Louis really sold the elite cop tack that made it all work.