The Case of the Insidious Instigator

Session #15-18

The journey to the Isle of the Watchers will take two days, time enough for the party to plan their scheme.  Since this is a Realm island, Sam will disguise himself as a Dragon-blooded (not very hard) while the diverse population will allow Txori, Grey and Chelsea to appear as themselves.  Welkin will have to take the Crimson Gale away to avoid Wyld Hunt detection, and will return when messaged to do so.  The party will be dropped off at the edge of the Shadowlands known as the Stormy Plains and will have to make the trip on foot.  Their cover story will be that Sam was injured by the undead (not untrue) and needs healing (also not untrue).  Since any experienced healer would be able to tell that Sam was healing like an Exalted, the cover is that they are investigating the shadowland, and Sam is the Dragon-blood of the team.  Sam uses his armor to change his appearance into a more attractive version of himself, so that if anyone pierces the illusion they will just think he is vain.

While flying over the Stormy Plains, the most salient feature is a single large apparently abandoned mansion on a small hill in the middle of the barren fields.  Chelsea has a vague sensation that she knows this place, then realizes it is where Kalinda met her end (and in fact this was probably her home, or one of them, at the Usurpation).  The party is successfully dropped off in a fog bank at the edge of the Stormy Plains, and walks on foot past the salt barrier and watch towers around the shadowland to the farmland beyond.  On the several hour walk they stop to talk with local farmers, but no one has any unusual information to share about any recent events.  As they arrive at the city, they can see the harbor as well as the massive Immaculate complex on the northeast tip of the island.  Blending in with the crowd, they are soon met by an Immaculate monk who is helping direct traffic, and when they show him Sam’s injury they are quickly escorted to meet with V’neef Wira, the most accomplished healer on the island.

Wira chats up the group, works on Sam’s injury, and due to the unusual nature of the injury asks some questions about it.  Sam tells the truth that he didn’t see the attack coming but it was something undead, as their story revolves around investigating the shadowland.  This catches Wira’s attention, and she asks in a lowered tone if this has anything to do with the Prefect’s son.  Sam plays it somewhat cool and says it might, they’re not sure.  Wira lets slip that she’s a little miffed that when she couldn’t figure out what caused the Prefect’s son to not wake up that other healers were called in from the Realm but none of them could solve the case either.  This gives the party a new direction for their investigation, and after thanking her and leaving, scheme how to get more information.

The next move is to try and get information from the Mayor, who showed up on Wira’s list of associates.  After an amusingly awkward wait in the lobby that has Sam reluctantly pushed to the front of the line and Txori’s listening to the conversations in the Mayor’s office (which are apparently the height of mundanity), the party is ushered in and Sam opens by expressing gratitude for his treatment here on the Isle of the Watchers.  This seems to surprise the Mayor, as perhaps he is used to more abrupt treatment from the Princes of Earth.  The party tries to get more info on the shadowland, but there is apparently nothing to report.  When probing about the situation with the Prefect’s son, there is more information, that the child simply did not wake up one day, and healers have been unable to find any explanation why.  Sam claims to have been sent to investigate the situation and believes it may be connected to the shadowland somehow.  Sam’s Revelation of Associates Hunch also reveals that Moccasin (as her alias Smiling Blossom) works both here and with the Realm military as an administrative assistant.  With no further information here, the party thanks the Mayor and leaves, then plans to pump the Prefect for info next.

After Sam gives some consideration to impersonating Wira or other people, the decision is made to try and get info from the Prefect as they are now.  Sam takes charge since he is the only obviously Dragon-blooded of the group, and once again is granted swift access to him.  The Prefect, Ragara Kullon, describes in more detail that since his son Korodin has been asleep, spirits have begun haunting the house he lived in, and even when they moved the spirits pursued them.  Sam claims to the Prefect that he has been sent to investigate this matter along with his colleagues.  Txori, under her alias “Listening Bird”, shows sharp insight into the possible nature of the events, and claims her companion “Eater of Ghosts” (Grey) has talent not only as a healer but as an exorcist, and is the right man for the job.  The Prefect takes out a badge and deputizes Txori on the spot, commanding that they get to the bottom of the matter immediately, stating that the badge will enforce his will even on his guards.  The party immediately thanks the Prefect and hustles out.

Txori and Grey conduct an experiment where they have some guards collect a number of homeless and/or impoverished citizens to spend the night in the Prefect’s “haunted” house.  Meanwhile Chelsea and Sam appear at the Prefect’s house itself and meet his wife and children.  Sam learned already from probing the Prefect that his wife is the god-blooded daughter of the god of this island.  Chelsea has activated her essence sight, finding the entire house clouded with a miasma of foggy essence similar to the clouds of the Stormy Plains, though an aura around the mother keeps some of the clouds at bay.  When they enter Korodin’s room Chelsea sees the fog is thicker and somehow emanating from around Korodin, though he and the Immaculate monk keeping watch over him also have an aura keeping some of the fog at bay.  Sam sees none of this and asks the monk and the mother about this further but they seem to be at their wits’ end.

Txori and Grey have finished setting up their experiment, including Grey’s ghost wards on the house, and they meet Sam and Chelsea at the Prefect’s house.  The update from Chelsea seems to confirm that Korodin himself is causing the spirits, not the house, but just to be sure the party spends the night sleeping in the Prefect’s other abandoned house, what a burden.  In the morning, everyone seems to think that the best course of action now is to investigate the shadowland, and the creepy haunted mansion in particular, since they have no other good leads (the notion of scoping out Moccasin is floated but avoiding her is decided as more prudent).  First the party reports to the Prefect, who heard from his wife already that some progress was being made.  They ask about Ragara Diora, the Head Immaculate Monk of the temple, but the Prefect says that Diora is on a patrol around the shadowland, as he claims he would not assign his men any task he would not undertake himself.  The party informs the Prefect that their next move is to investigate the shadowlands.

Txori waves her badge around and secures several horses for a fast trip down to the Stormy Plains.  After less than an hour, they have arrived at the military post on a hill overlooking the Stormy Plains where they can stable their horses.  They are met by a Dragon-blooded lieutenant who is somewhat skeptical of their plan to go in and warns them to avoid the haunted mansion, but makes no effort to stop them.  As they head in, Txori’s incredibly fine-tuned senses barely register anything, and her focus distracts her from what Chelsea sees plainly as they enter the fog: a black-clad man on a glider lands at the camp, flying in from the ocean, just as they are out of sight of it.  Chelsea mentions this man has a blue metal arm and a black mask, and this sounds an awful lot like the man who tried to blow up the Crimson Gale in Chiaroscuro, so Sam boosts Txori’s stealth and she sneaks back into the fog to listen in on the man’s conversation.  His name is apparently “Kagami” and he is providing descriptions of Sam, Txori, Grey, and Ah Nold, though he apparently expects Ah Nold is not there and heard a report of his demise.  Once confirmed that some people matching that description went into the shadowland he tries to recruit a force to go after them but no one at the post is biting, so he says he will be back soon with a more powerful force that isn’t afraid of the dark.  He takes off on his glider.

The party doesn’t seem to have much of a plan at this point besides “run to the mansion and see what’s inside.”  Once there, Txori listens at the door, hearing no suspicious movement or breathing, and Chelsea considers ringing the doorbell since it might still recognize her but decides not to give away just yet her association with this place.  Ultimately Sam picks the lock and opens the door with a creak, and Txori immediately hears light footsteps approaching quickly.  Indecision wracks the party just long enough for a feminine figure cloaked in black to come around the hallway, stop in shock at seeing the party, and demands to know why they’re there.  She demonstrates familiarity with the party (especially Sam, calling him by his full name Iselsi Samuel) and asks where their airship is, commenting that Meticulous Owl is already on his way for payback with some friends from both his masters.  Txori’s heightened hearing can soon make out his voice arguing his way through the bowels of this mansion which seems to connect to the Labyrinth.  The girl, who identifies herself as the Wanderer, also says that Meticulous Owl also contacted someone else who is on the way named Countess Candela, the friend of the Sharp Lady that Sam identified when making a threat at the Ominous Oasis.  Chelsea comments that it’s good to know she’s not the only member of the group who is being hunted.

The Wanderer demands to know where the party’s airship is, which is met with dumbfounded wordlessness, but only a moment later the Crimson Gale dives out of the storm clouds and lands near the entrance to the manor.  Sam takes one look, turns to the Wanderer and says, “Thanks for the help!” and sprints off, only for the Wanderer to call out, “We will meet again soon,” which Sam replies while running, “Looking forward to it!”  Txori, Grey and Chelsea also hustle over to the Crimson Gale and soon it’s in the air.  Welkin estimates that the Wyld Hunt could be here any minute, and Txori can also hear the approach of Meticulous Owl and a number of other footsteps with him.  Things are looking pretty dire.

At this moment, Txori demands a spare sail or other large scrap of fabric, which is quickly acquired.  With a mop as her Whirling brush, Txori rapidly inscribes a few words in praise of the Wyld Hunt on it, implanting a subliminal message: “The real enemies are on the ground.”  No sooner is this banner hung from the stern of the Crimson Gale than the door to the manor bursts open and Meticulous owl, three powerful-looking Abyssals and three deadly Infernals (two of whom Chelsea recognizes, one of whom is Kythor from her own circle) spill onto the plain looking for a fight.  Meticulous Owl, still wearing a sling and bandages from Txori’s arrows, peers up at the silly banner, and the fact that there is a grain of truth to the banner is enough to allow him to perfectly resist the compulsion.  He starts haranguing his compatriots to open fire, but after a moment sees that the Abyssals and Infernals are looking at each other with seething distrust and ducks back into the manor as they prepare to attack each other.

In the next moment the fog bank roils and discharges several skiff-type airships, bound demons and a massive earth elemental, all of which bear a number of Dragon-blooded.  Arrows and cannons are pointed at the Crimson Gale, waver, then refocus onto the six figures standing in front of the manor and open fire.  A brutal battle ensues, with the Infernals and Abyssals deploying perfect defenses to attempt to weather the massive volley of elemental attacks, and as they begin to become mote-tapped, the fight gets messy, and the Infernals and Abyssals might have a chance against two dozen Dragon-blooded if they fought back-to-back but appear doomed by their lack of cooperation and fall one by one.  As the Dragon-blood who had attacked the party is there again, who Txori had identified by name as “Kagami,” Sam gets a strange feeling about him, thinking he somewhat resembles his older brother Karan.  While it would be at least fifteen generations for mortals, Sam realizes with a jolt that it’s potentially only three generations for a Dragon-blooded lineage, and this could be a relative.

As the bloodbath proceeds on the ground, the party begins noticing a buzzing sound coming from the clouds around them.  Txori fires a flare arrow at the nearest target as though there were no wind, lighting up a massive ladybug-esque creature with a green humanoid riding its back.  The clouds begin raining ladybugs, with a massive and hideous winged monster bursting from the most distant cloud with Countess Candela at its head screaming that she will bring Samuel’s head to the Sharp Lady.  Chelsea deploys a massive cylindrical force barrier around the Crimson Gale, stemming the tide of swarming creatures and forcing them to approach one by one from the prow and stern.  Txori begins shooting them and Chelsea shoves them off the ship with her mind as they land, while Sam conceals himself in the shadows.  Once the ship is out of the cylinder, Welkin throws the Crimson Gale into a barrel roll, shaking off many of the assailants, but then the monstrous mantis-dragon starts to catch up so Welkin opens the throttle to full speed due north.  The behemoth is keeping steady with the Crimson Gale, so Txori fires four arrows at its wings in rapid succession, shredding them with uncanny precision, and it veers off to dive into the ocean as they exit the storm clouds.

With the Raksha threat gone for now, Welkin steers the ship back to the manor, where a dozen Dragon-blooded have formed a loose perimeter around the manor.  Their attempts to set fire to the manse are unsuccessful and they appear to be debating how long to persist for.  Welkin flies into the clouds and attempts to use his new spy-eye to look into the manor, but it’s taking him a bit.  One thing he does manage to see after a bit is that in one room there is a Dragon-blooded in full white jade armor sitting in a chair in a plush room, discussing something with a hooded and cloaked figure.  Sam also wants to know if the Dragon-blood the party met before is still alive, turning into him and asking Welkin if this person is still there.  Welkin does in fact see him as part of the perimeter group.

Chelsea volunteers to fly down on her psychic surfboard and Sam, after infusing her with stealth ability, wants to go with her.  Chelsea diplomatically omits the fact that she’s never even used this charm before, much less tried to carry anyone with it, but she manages to carry Sam and stealthily land on the roof of the manor without the Dragon-blooded noticing.  There is a convenient skylight they can access near one edge of the roof, and much safer to get to than the windows.

Once inside, Chelsea stays on her surfboard and calls on her memory for how to get to the hearthroom, which had a hearthstone that among other things permitted limited reality warping in the manor.  She successfully follows the trail according to her memory, but is stopped at the last big hallway by a large door that definitely doesn’t belong, with purple glowing runes inscribed all around it in strange patterns.  Chelsea’s essence sight can also tell that the door is rigged to explode.  Onyx has followed Chelsea and Sam, and by sharing senses Txori can use Savant’s Discerning Eye to decrypt the runes as a cypher for Old Realm, and has Onyx peck at the correct order of runes to disarm the bomb.  Sam then picks the lock and the three float on Chelsea’s surfboard into the hearthroom.  The walls moan gently as they pass into the fog, alerting a figure cloaked in black in the hearthroom.  He turns, and he is black-skinned and foul-looking, with purple glowing runes all over his body that spell out swear words in every known language.  He is initially brusque with the party, but when Chelsea claims ownership of the manor, the creature scoffs and says it was Kalinda’s dying curse that drew him to this place of power in the first place, and from here he now works to bring down the Dragon-blooded empire once and for all.  Oops.

The creature, named Obscene Markings (a nephrack of considerable power), decides he’s done toying around with the party and one of his arms grows to a massive club with spikes.  Chelsea notices the hearthstone, a storm-filled orb, on the pedestal in the middle of the room some meters away, so she steals it with Mind-Hand Manipulation and flies back the way she came at top speed.  Her attempt to navigate through the confusing layout of the manor goes badly, however, and just as she thinks she’s getting back to the skylight room, she throws a door open… and finds herself staring at a Dragon-blooded soldier in full white jade armor sitting in a chair across from a hooded and cloaked figure of an old lady.  Double oops.

The Dragon-blood, Ragara Diora, is startled in particular by the appearance of Kagami, and demands to know why he defied Diora’s orders for no one to ever enter the manor.  “Kagami” asks why Diora broke his own rule, but Diora says he was protecting the empire.  Sam subtly accuses him of treason, increasing his blood pressure.  The old woman (of whom there is a portrait on the wall labeled “Ragara Moya”) sees Obscene Markings as he arrives and demands to know what’s going on.  Everyone seems a little too familiar with each other here, and when Moya says Kagami and his friend must die to preserve the secret, Chelsea does the only thing that comes to mind: she seizes mental control of the hearthstone and puts a wall between themselves and the enemies.  What follows is a delicious few minutes of Yakkity Sax as Chelsea and Sam flee from Obscene Markings and Ragara Diora through doors and hallways, changing the architecture in their wake.  Finally they make it back to the skylight and burst through with no regard for stealth.

As Dragon-blooded arrows bounce off the underside of Chelsea’s psychic surfboard, they return to the ship, and Welkin, who has been watching the entire thing with his eyepiece, tells Chelsea to open the front door and move the enemies to that door.  With a well-timed Rubik’s cube swap, Diora and Obscene Markings are suddenly standing at the front door, and in a massive volley of elemental and arcane power Obscene Markings is vaporized.  What follows next is an incredibly awkward conversation with Ragara Diora, as he seems to be in a very compromising position, and his attempts to bully the other Dragon-blooded into dropping it aren’t working since these are dedicated Wyld Hunters and not his subordinates.  He also accuses Kagami of being inside the manor, but Kagami clearly was not and has an alibi, so the weirdness of the conversation increases.  Finally Diora and Kagami are both taken back to the Immaculate temple for further examination, leaving the manor wide open.

Sam and Chelsea fly back down to explore the manor, finding it abandoned even with Sam’s new earthsense awareness charms.  An exploration of the outer rooms of the first floor reveal little of substance besides the room with the portrait of Ragara Moya (and portraits of various other Ragaras).  The painting appears to have been willed into existence, as Sam sees that it is impossible for an ordinary brush to produce the painting as it is.  Chelsea keeps one of the small portraits for reference.

Exploring deeper into the mansion, they come across another room with portraits, this one containing a center portrait of the Wanderer, with a face naggingly, almost infuriatingly familiar to Sam.  Chelsea, noting a strong family resemblance, mentions this to Sam, who is suddenly thunderstruck by the realization that the young woman is his sister Dora, looking the exact same as the day she died hundreds of years ago.  The painting is once again not made by mortal brush, and the other portraits are also of Iselsi who bear strong family resemblances to Sam.

Sam takes down the portrait and searches it, finding a note tucked into one corner.  To Sam it reads: “Sam, see you soon, Dora”.  However, Chelsea’s essence sight reveals the letter actually contains instructions to go to a certain address in the City of the Watchers.  Chelsea doesn’t mention this right away, and Sam becomes distressed, hoping to find the Wanderer soon.

At this point they feel approaching footsteps, and Chelsea hides up the chimney while Sam conceals himself in the room.  In walks Ragara Moya, who spots Sam and talks down to him like the Dragon-blooded boy that he is.  When Sam identifies himself by name, Moya immediately grasps that the Wanderer somehow sent for him through fate, and elaborates that this manse allows both Moya and the Wanderer to manipulate fate because of its unique location and power.  She asks about Obscene Markings, who Sam suggests is no longer useful, but Moya merely sighs and remarks that it may take him months to regenerate this time.  She says that both she and the Wanderer are working to save the Realm each in their own way, but that they need Obscene Markings’s help to do it and he wants to destroy the Realm, which makes this all very frustrating.  Chelsea starts to get the idea that the hearthstone she is holding may be more potent than she realized.

Moya is acting friendlier now, and asks if Sam grew up under another house.  Sam confirms that some have called him Peleps Samuel.  Moya begins digressing here and there, mentioning her own grandchildren do not have the same will that the Iselsi do, and expresses admiration that the Iselsi could have their house dismantled and still remain organized enough to claim their true heritage while pretending to live under another banner.  Moya expresses frustration at how difficult it was to persuade Diora to implant Obscene Markings’s curse into the Prefect’s son, which was a necessary step to enable them to channel one of their more powerful spells that they are influencing the Loom of Fate with.  When Sam asks about it, Moya scoffs and says the Wanderer may or may not choose to inform him about it.

Ragara Moya eventually leaves after mentioning she’s looking forward to hearing what the Wanderer has to say to Sam.  Chelsea comes out of hiding and the two fly back on Chelsea’s psychic surfboard back to the ship.  Welkin plots a circuitous route that can drop off the party within easy walking distance of the city, and the plan is to meet up with the Wanderer at her designated meeting place that Chelsea has read on the note.

As the Crimson Gale approaches the city (it is early afternoon by this point) Welkin calls up a fog bank that lets him drop the party off while keeping the ship hidden, and he quickly takes off, promising to return as soon as summoned.  Sam reverts his disguise to look like a more handsome version of himself, and he, Txori, Grey and Chelsea all head into the city, finding the address to be of a moderately sized Immaculate temple in the poorer quarter of the city.  This temple clearly makes reference to local deities and is staffed by different Immaculate monks than the ones in the major temple that houses the Wyld Hunt.

After wandering through the main part of the church, the party decides to go out back, where there is a small cemetery and a prayer garden dedicated to the five elemental dragons.  While everyone is sitting around enjoying the garden, a hooded and cloaked figure arrives and sits next to Sam, and lo and behold it’s the Wanderer, AKA his sister Dora, who is clearly a ghost (Txori detects no heartbeat and no breathing, and Sam can see her eyes are empty black holes).

Dora and Sam have a brief chat, and soon Dora reveals that she knows her father arranged her death when she walked in on him and his family plotting to assassinate the Empress.  She died, but her ghost was saved by someone called the Doctor, who she has worked for as an agent in the Underworld ever since.  She knew Sam would come back, as his fate line disappeared instead of ending, and when she asked about the circumstances of his disappearance, Sam describes how he was caught in a trap and ended up in the future.  Dora suggests he may have been sent on his mission secretly by their father, Iselsi Kane, in conjunction with a strange, magical piece of paper that Dora had seen her family poring over.

When the Iselsi attempted and failed to assassinate the Empress, most of them were killed immediately, but their older brother Iselsi Karan escaped with this magical paper and with an artifact armor that helped him evade fate tracking, so Dora lost track of him, but ultimately found him again in the South years later.  He went on to have a son, and eventually a grandson, who is Iselsi Kagami.  What Dora believes is that Karan hid the important paper somewhere in Chiaroscuro, where Kagami is based, somewhere well-protected and ancient.  Dora can’t leave the island but she asks the party to locate whatever magical paper it was that compelled the Iselsi to attempt to assassinate the Empress.

Session Quotes! (So many good ones)

  • Jennifer: “I’ll have to find some scarf for my hair since it’s constantly unbraiding and rebraiding itself.”  DM: “That’s fine, you can always say you’re god blooded–” Debbie: “Lice, lots of lice.”
  • Debbie: “But they might find out I’m Dragon-blooded.”  Someone: “There’s worse people they could find out about.”  DM: “Yeah like anyone else in the party.”
  • Alejo, several times: “Immaculate Mastah!”
  • DM: “Is there any other dragon blooded charm that is as remotely unintentionally overpowered as Revelation of Associates Hunch??”  Debbie: “I haven’t found one.”  Jennifer: “Facebook!”  DM: “It’s clearly meant as a get to know you charm, but as written it’s basically a mind probe.”
  • DM: “There is a huge, apparently abandoned mansion on a hill in the middle of the Stormy Plains.” Someone: “Oh that’s not suspicious at all.” Debbie: “Let’s go say our car broke down and we need to use their phone!”
  • Someone re:Revelation of Associates Hunch: “I’m just gonna download a few things from your brain”
  • DM: *giving NPC speech* Debbie: “I hate do this to you but I have to cut you off.” Jennifer: “Imma let you finish but–“
  • DM: “IT’S NOT THE HOUSE THAT’S HAUNTED, IT’S YOUR SON.”  (Also since no one has watched the movie Insidious it is now immediately recommended viewing for everyone since (A) it’s a good movie and (B) it will contextualize this entire session).
  • Lieutenant: “If I may just give you some advice though, there is a house in that shadowland you should avoid, few who venture in that direction survive.”  Sam: “Yeah that’s where we’re going.”
  • Eli: “It’s not the shadowland that’s dangerous, it’s…. yeah… I’m trying!”
  • Eli: “We’ll have to investigate this house carefully, we’ll need food and rest, and some wine, no not wine, well maybe a little wine…”
  • Eli: “There is no peasant, only zuul…”
  • Eli: “I’ll just file that under ‘terrible news’…”
  • Eli: “Do we have some kind of “these are not the droids you’re looking for” charm for this ship?”
  • Eli: “I could put some kind of hidden message on the underside of the ship saying there’s nothing here.”
  • Eli: “’The real enemies are on the ground.’  That seems pretty truthy to me.”
  • Chelsea: “Get the shot off quick, I’m gonna shield us” Txori: “I don’t understand this, but I like it!”
  • Txori: “I don’t know about the rest of you guys, but as far as I’m concerned, there is no wind”
  • DM: “It sounds like the raksha just want Sam, you could chuck him over the side.”  Jennifer: “That’s not a precedent I want to set.”
  • DM: “So, uh, the Crimson Gale can do barrel rolls huh?”  Taylor: “My wits + sail roll will contest any determination that it can’t!”
  • Sam: “I turn my armor into a g suit.”
  • *Raksha monster dives into the ocean*  Eli: “I feel safer already.”
  • Chelsea: “If you can help me be stealthy it would be helpful”  Sam: “Okay I recommend doing this, this and this”
  • Jennifer: “I want to roll perception socialize to notice Sam’s reaction to this portrait.” DM: “It’s pretty obvious, this is his sister–” Jennifer: “8 successes!”  DM: “Wow, way to waste a good roll.  ‘I perceive you are in some kind of emotional turmoil.’ ”  Debbie: “Thank you Counselor Troi.”