You wait until dark to find the Inn Elcarth has holed up in.
Sections of Merrum this close to the lake cannot afford spelled lanterns, and the grasping shadows conceal hungry, greedy things.
The shadows conceal your approach as well
[[Go to the Inn| The Blushing Peacock]]Sweet smoke and laughter loose with wine pours out of the Blushing Peacock's door. You can see lurid red light peeping out of curtained windows.
The folks of the lower districts are taking full advantage of the Festival
How do plan on finding Elcarth's room?
[[I'll bribe someone working in the inn| Bartender]]
[[A concealing spell will do quite nicely| Cloak of Shadows]]
[[I doubt I'll be noticed searching the inn given the party| A casual Approach]]Dice clatter and patrons howl with laughter at the flirtations of the painted men and women working the tables.
Stained floors and Walls papered in crimson silk provide the classic contrast of a Merrum Inn.
You resist the urge to sneeze, unused to the burning oil from the shaded lamps.
[[walk towards the bar| The Bartender]] There are a dozen ways a mage hide themself.
You reach out to the sens in your rings, cold and heavy.
The words taste like dead leaves as you crook your fingers into spiders.
The shadows native to this place race to you, slick like oil, ready to leave their cages.
[[Enter the Inn| Inside]] Dice clatter and patrons howl with laughter at the flirtations of the painted men and women working the tables.
Stained floors and Walls papered in crimson silk provide the classic contrast of a Merrum Inn.
You resist the urge to sneeze, unused to the burning oil from the shaded lamps.
[[You spot some stairs| Second Floor]]You walk towards the long bar at the back of the main floor.
Shelves lined with ceramic jugs dominate the wall.
The bartender is tall, his short-cropped hair revealing southern tattoos running down his neck.
"I was hoping some information."
"Eight rix for an hour, twelve for the night," he grins.
"I was actually looking for a particualr persons room. He's been in your inn for a while now."
The grin fades as the bartender's face hardens
[[What Next| A choice]] You have a choice now. You can try bribery, and hope that the bartender is more loyal to his pocket than the inns patrons.
Or you can bend his will with an influence, risking potential damage to his psyche.
[[Offer the Bribe|bribe]]
[[Bend his Will|will]] If you could remember scent and color, you're sure this inn would be a riot.
All you see are the blurred impressions of people, dull and grey and cold.
Was color a dream?
You shake your head, pushing past the cost of the spell.
[[There are stairs heading to the second floor| Second Floor]]The doors are painted a garish red with golden numbers.
Too many doors for the rooms in this inn to be very comfortable for an extended stay.
The last door on the left burns in your sight, wards marking it as Elcarth’s door.
[[Examine the wards]]
[[Break the wards]]
Dawn is grey and cold.
Merrum is a warm, bright city. A trick of the old empire.
You’ll be glad to feel that warmth.
Merrum, first of the southern gates.
You can see it from the window of your sky lodge, high above the camping travelers below.
Walls of smooth grey stone.
Towers, twisted like shells, standing century like poisoned quills.
You can’t make out the details from this distance, but you can see the main gate, a giant construct of cerulean marble.
Even at this hour the caravan is awake with activity. The clan will want to push on to arrive at the city by midmorning.
Unloading the goods from a snake beetle can often be a multiweek affair, and with the additional travelers for the Festival of Dust, the time will likely be doubled.
How do you plan on entering Merrum?
[[The Chaos of the Unloading will provide a perfect distraction|Chaos]]
[[No time to waste, I fly ahead| Flight]]
[[Stealth is needed, I find a trod to use| Faerie Trod]]
Showy perhaps, but you want Merrum to know you are coming.
You finish packing, thanking Eli one last time for allowing you to travel with him north.
Flight was one of the first spells you had mastered.
The words are familiar, long and rolling.
You spin the sens out, a gossamer web of creation. It drinks in your words, and begins its battle with the earth.
With a sharp gesture, you and your packs lift into the air and speed toward the blue arch.
[[Merrum| F Merrum]]You want to be circumspect in your arrival to Merrum.
You've been before and there are some of the cities denizens you would prefer to avoid as long as possible.
Navigating the trods of the Fae is never a simple venture.
They chase the earth like lines of ink in a bowl.
Fast, secret, but oh so dangerous. You have no idea what the local trods are like, but you won't have to use them long.
You pull a small mirror from you bags, frosted with the power of the ritual stored there, and speak the key that opens the [[way|trod]]
Unloading the good from a snake beetle is an impressive feat.
Caravan engineers supervise spelled containers and spider like golems that carry goods from the creature’s massive back.
A miniature town begins to take shape, as merchants come to collect long awaited product and entice the wealthy southern travelers to come enjoy some particular corner of the festival.
Moving through the chaos is like swimming through living mud, but several hours sees you through the arch.
The arch rises above you, the wild, beautiful carved figures ever watchful.
Merrum has no injunction against flight, no city registration. Always eager for a new friend, the saying goes.
Also a new soul to profit from, but that is another matter.
[[You have a meeting to get to.|Friend]]
Merrum has kept its strange magic. Hot, thick air, perfumed with plants that have no right to grow in this part of the world.
A dome cut into the earth, smooth wide plains cascading down like giant steps, each tier a different ring of the city.
The strangest feature of all, the large pale lake in the center.
[[Time to meet a friend|Marcus]]
The cold of the plain disappears.
Dark, wet heat envelopes you.
Your witch light reveals a cave tunnel, walls wet and covered in pale moss.
You press on, not wanting to chance a meeting with whatever might make its abode here.
[[City|Friend]]You haven't seen Marcus in a little over a year. the last time you were together, he was pulling you out of a dungeon in the province of Qix'Profaq after a job you pulled went south.
He got you out of the province and took care of the prince you stole from.
You owe Marcus.
[[Onward|The Golden fan]]
Chilled fruit tea and spiced buns wrapped in cappa leaves await you at the table.
Marcus's hair unruly brown hair and braided beard remain much the same.
The silk robes and round cheeks speak to his newly won status.
"I'm so glad you finally made it," Marcus says grasping your hand.
"The festival makes traveling north an exercise in patients," you reply.
You catch up in your time apart. Marcus has done well for himself acting as an agent for a textile firm here in Merrum. You catch him up on your time laying low in the Gethren coastal cities.
[[Enough small talk, time for business|the stone]]
The Golden Fan tea house sits on one of the higher levels of Merrum, providing an excellent view of the city and lake.
The intricately carved tables and silk covered chairs demonstrate that Marcus has chosen one of the nicer eateries.
he has done well for himself in the year since you saw him last.
[[Approach his table|the meeting]]
While you might enjoy the conversation, you have business to settle.
You pull out a small square box no wider than your hand. Carved from the pale golden trees from the north, the runes carved into its corners weave a net of sens that obscures the contents from unwanted observers.
Inside the velvet lined container lies the smooth white form of a lorestone. Smithed by the ancients, lore stones contain the mental projection of the Fallen Empires rituals.
Most stones are hidden away by the mages of the Ascendant Empress or the Guilds. You almost think you are insane for giving this one to Marcus, but debts have a way of biting mages in the ass.
He deftly conceals the box in his robe without opening it and produces a blue envelope with sealed with golden wax.
"Three letters of introduction to people in need of someone with your talents. I've woven traces into the link so you can use the letters to find them."
Marcus rises from the table and takes your hand.
"Good luck my friend."
[[Go to your lodgings|theater]]
[[Pursue the names|3 jobs]]
The Black Wall Theater is small and shabby in a city known for its performing arts.
Anna never invested in the magics the larger house use.
On the occasions you visit the city, she allows you to stay in the small room the back of the building in trade for some minor wardings.
The room is much as you remember it, small, walls covered in old paintings of previous shows and dark wood chest of drawers.
You store your equipment and examine Marcus's names.
[[Pursue the names|3 jobs]]Three letters. Three names of people who potentially could enlist your services.
Selen, a representative for the Smoke Mirror Guild. You don't know much about the guild other than its traveling theater programs and its news criers.
Morgan, a mage working in the Ascendancy’s embassy in the city. Tricky business working for the Ascendency given you recent past, though you doubt you'll have any problems.
Finally, Jaxon, a smuggler loosely affiliated with the Northern Confederacy. You've had few opportunities to work with northerners, but the rumors of their ruthlessness are widely appearing.
[[Meet with Selen|Selen Intro]]
[[Meet with Morgan| Morgan Intro]]
[[Meet with Jaxon|Jaxon Intro]]
Smoke Mirror is housed in one of the glass towers that circle the city's Walls. Gleaming in the wan light of the sun, the glowing tower is hard and brigth like a beetles shell.
Built long ago, you can still feel the power that marks the cities of the wastes.
You enter a stylish repception area and are greeted by beatiful young man. After a lengthy wait, you are escorted by a brass and silver golem to a platofrm which takes up the next level of the tower.
[[Selen's Office]]You meet with Jaxon in a bar on the mid ring, west side. Jaxon clearly hails from the north, covered in their warrior tattoos. You know this makes him deadly in combat.
You wonder if it makes it difficult to smuggle.
"I don't work with foreign mages."
Well that was quick.
[[Back to the others|3 jobs]]
The Ascendancy’s embassy resides in a small palace in one of the upper rings of the city. Built before the fall, the architecture is all stylized columns and open breeze ways.
True to the style of the imperial court, plants and murals are chief among the decorations.
You are brought to small garden and served sweet floral tea while you wait.
Morgan's dark skin is contrasted beautifully by her sky blue dress and tear drop sapphire earrings. Gold drips from her log neck and wrists. She moves with the confidence of one born in the Imperial Court of the Ascendancy.
Magic rolls off her like the tide.
"You are the one sent by Marcus." Her station allows for directness, especially with a hireling.
"Good. I need you to retrieve a man named Elcarth. He was to be escorted back to the capital, but became concerned that he would be intercepted. Bring him to us. We know he is holed up in a warehouse on the north shore. Here is a talisman to find him." She hands you a small clay disk.
You nod and make your exit.
Selen's office fits in well with the rest of the tower, all steel, and glass and dark wood.
Selen herself is quite fashionable in a silk suit and painted lips.
She keeps you waiting while she reads Marcus's letter.
"Marcus speaks highly of your sill"
"We've helped each other on occasion."
Her lifted eyebrow suggests she'd like more, but you fail to elaborate.
"Well, anonymity works best for what I need anyway. You understand I can't give you a formal contract. If this job goes well, that might change, but not before."
"I've worked under those conditions before," you're not sure if her smile is at your coolness or something else.
"Good. There's a mage named Elcarth. He has developed plans for a device that we would like to examine. He seems reluctant to negotiate. I don't have much, other than he's staying at an inn in the lower east called the Blushing Peacock. Retrieve whatever he has on this device and bring it back to me.
"I'll see what I can do." She returns to her desk before you can get up and dismisses you with a wave.
[[Leave|Inn on the Hill]]
You pull out a pouch full of gold dust.
"I don't want to be inconvenient," you say as you slide the bag across the bar.
He eyes the bag for a moment before picking it up.
"Last door on the left on the second floor."
[[ Second Floor]]
You make a fleeting gesture with your hand and bind the sens into tyour throat.
Suddenly your words taste like honey and promises.
"Please tell me where the man name Elcarth is staying," you ask, glowing light relfecting inyou eyes.
The bartender goes rigid, eyes glazed with the power of the enchantment.
"He's in the last room on the left ont he second floor," his smile is adoring.
You leave the bartender stiff to recover and head towards teh stairs.
[[ Second Floor]]Pretty standard ward work. Sens bound in chains by runes either painted or carved on the other side of the door, used to prevent unwanted entry.
You then notice, like a creeping vine, and aspect of the warding that is not so typical.
A being, faerie from the other realms, trapped inside the ritual.
Clever work. Destroying the wards would release the creature, likely killing the mage involved.
You take a different track. Carefully you insuate yourslef into the spell, weavign your essence into its pattern. Instead of breaking the wards, you teach them that you were always meant to be let through as though you were Elcarth himself.
Its a time consuming process, but you are finally able to convince the wards to let you through.
[[Into the room]]Standard warding work, nothing you haven't handled in the past.
You bark three words, harsh and bitter. You feel the chains of sens snap like brittle branches.
Suddenly there is a haunting scream. Trapped inside the wards, a creature of the fae manifests itself, all limbs and talons.
You don't have a combat ritual prepared. Desperately, you bend the sens out of your rings, shaping a blast of lighting and wind and hurling it at the creature.
Unfortunately, as the creature is sent flying, the act of binding twists your body, causing all of your muscles to cramp at once.
You fall to the floor and try to crawl away, every part of your body screaming in pain.
You don't get far before you feel the faeries talons rip into your back.
Elcarth's room is a study in chaos.
Clothing over every surface, sorcerous materials covering shelves and small tables.
The desk seems promising with piles of sketches and books.
[[Searh the desk]]
At first the pain is terrifying.
Then coldness spreads throughout your body.
Your last conscious thoughts are that the fae must have some toxin in its claws.
[[Darkness]]You have died
[[End]]Double-click this passage to edit it.At first, all of the work appears fairly ordinary, documentation of well-known spells and formulae. Nothing that would warrant hiring someone to steal.
Then you discover a false bottom in one of the desks drawers. A black leather sketch book lies underneath.
You can feel the weight of the book. Texts used to store arcane knowledge have a denser feel than mundane ones.
You open the book, and after skimming the pages you realize you've located what you came for.
Instruction and diagrams for the construction of spires that would allow remote access to an areas sens.
The implications for such artifice are staggering.
No wonder the Smoke Mirror Guild wanted this.
[[Time for a hasty retreat]]
You've spent long enough in Elcarths rooms. With a twist of your thoughts the window shatters outward, and you are skyward in a flash.
Flying might be risky, drawing to much attention from the wrong kind of people, but you want to get to Selen as quickly as possible.
You aren't surprised to find that Selen is awake and at work in the tower at this time of night. You are brought to her office immediately.
You place the sketch book on her desk.
She begins searching through the pages, long nails lingering over the fine details.
"Marcus was right, you don't disappoint," her face is a mask, but her eyes dance with possibility.
"Glad to help."
"See the assistant down stairs, he'll take you the treasury for remuneration."
As you open her office door, "Come back in a month, we might have something more permanent for you." You close the door and had down stairs.
The north lake levels are used for storage and building. The smell of fish and soot assault your nose.
What a wonderful and terrible place to hide.
[[Use the Talisman]]
[[Find Elcarth with Guile]]
The clay disk is a simple focus to help a mage to locate a person. Most mages would never allow one to be made for themselves because of the use of blood or other body parts.
You wonder what Morgan had done to convince Elcarth.
A few spoken words and you are able to see the faint silver thread winding its way into the warehouse district.
Using the talisman to find Elcarth could alert the wrong people to your search. You don't know that his paranoia isn't well founded.
Besides, a mage in the warehouse district of the lake ring north end will definitely have been noticed. A little leg work will keep you sharp.
Your assumption is proven correct when a bribed loader reveals the warehouse the strange man is hiding in.
A [[Lost mage]]
The warehouse smells of salted fish. You wonder why the owner hasn't invested in some star lamps, given the danger of fire in a warehouse.
You freeze at the manic shout, turning slowly to see a disheveled mage holding a sphere of lighting and darkness.
"What are doing here," yeah, definitely paranoid.
"Morgan sent me, she gave me this," you toss the clay disk to him. He catches it and stares for what seems like ours. Finally, he lowers his hand and the attack disappears.
"Sorry about that, can't be too careful."
You nod, " do you know who’s after you."
"No, but they've been on me for weeks now. I'm glad Morgan finally decided to take me seriously." You privately doubt Morgan's motives have anything to do with trust, but fail to share your doubts with Elcarth.
"We need to get you to the embassy," you say as you check the entrance of the warehouse.
"I agree," Elcarth is hugging a bag to his chest, likely his research.
"Alright, let’s go."
[[Leave]]You leave the warehouse under the cover of a spell, not wanting to chance pursuit. You remain shrouded until you enter more populated sections of the city.
Elcarth looks pale in the daylight.
"So, just how important is this research."
Elcarths glare demonstrates how much you don't actually want to talk to him, and you continue on your way through the city.
Abruptly, Elcarth stops and drops his package on the ground.
"No, not this way," he croaks through his clenching jaw.
His skin begins to sizzle, and soon he is silently burning. This begins to draw a crowd.
[[You have two choices]]
Elcarth is dead, you have nothing you can do there.
But you do have a choice of what to do with his research.
Do you want to
Steal his reasearch
Return it to Morgan, despite having failed her.
[[Return]] Someone just assassinated the mage you were trying to protect. Maybe it’s time you got into his for your own benefit.
You have his research, and given how important in was to the Imperial Court of the Ascendancy, you could sell it to one of the faction in another city.
You take Elcarths bag, and you head off into the darkness.
You have some professional pride. Also, the last person who tried to sell this ended up dead.
You take his bag and make your way to the embassy.
You are met immediately by Morgan.
"Where is Elcarth," her tone isn't pleasant.
He's dead, assassinated before he could get here through magical means."
Here displeasure is evident. "Even with these plans, it may take months or years to decipher."
What is there to say to death.
"Well, I cannot say that I am pleased with this situation, but I suppose you were serviceable. Leave now." Morgan leaves in a swirl of cloth taking Elcarths work with her.