Shadow of the Demon Lord @ Gamezilla RPG night

Excerpts of the metaphysical & sylvan meanderings of a Sister Hüvje, a cleric of the New God, and Tonk, a goblin necromancy-enthusiasT
as witnessed by Nessa the Dwarf

SCENE I – A GLADE IN THE WOODS

TONK: Did you hear that Nessa? The inquisitor takes the village hostage, and threatens to raze homes and slaughter families if we don’t retrieve the chalice. And they say that cruelty is not the way of the New God. Religion and Hypocrisy. That is a marriage that no god will tear apart.

HÜVJE: But she means well, Tonk. The Inquisitor truly believes that she acts in accordance to her faith. Her ethics.

TONK: That’s the thing with religion. Every inquisitor, their man and their boar believe their own selfish take on faith is the correct interpretation of the ineffable will of the gods.

HÜVJE: The will of God is like the sparse beam of sunlights reflecting off patches of brush in this glade. We mortals can only glimpse the Divine when it is reflected, in patches, fractured, never whole. Like the canopy of brambles obscuring the sky, our minds are limited and unable to see or comprehend heaven in its entirety. It is left to us to glean the workings of the divine from peeks and fragments of our cosmic Lord.

TONK: Sister, a fine analogy. But it is not holy sunbeams that give us hints of the working of the universe. These hints are not divine in nature. It is shadows of the hidden and unexplored rules of nature, of life and death, that hint the universal laws. Their origin is entirely natural, not from a made-up god. Reason and not faith are the key to unlocking truth.

SCENE II – UNDER A TREE. THE HANGING CORPSE OF A SOLDIER OF ASTRID JUST OUT OF REACH

TONK (excited) : Hüvje, if you can lift me up – I could reach that body. I can…….retrieve it.

HÜVJE (suspicious): Do you mean to desecrate this corpse, goblin?

TONK: Desecration. That is an expression of your faith. It is meaningless in my vocabulary. I mean to animate that corpse, if you want to know.

HÜVJE (angry): I will not permit these heinous deed. The body of a dead man will not be desecrated in my presence!

TONK (visibly annoyed): I respect your faith Sister, but don’t be arrogant to assume we all share your values. Remember that we are trying to achieve the same goals here. If you believe it is sacred, fine. It is but a tool to me. An inanimate object that I can shape and command. A resource to use on our quest.

HÜVJE (frustrated): Assume we meet other Swords of Astrid. And they see the corpse of one of their comrades, with a gaping hole in its head, walking among us. What do you think they will do? React? They will burn Chuton to the ground for heresy!

TONK (grudgingly swayed): Now you are using reason and not faith to argue. I accept your reasoning. Let us press forth.

SCENE IIIRUINS OF A COTTAGE. THE PARTY FACES BEASTMEN.

Tonk steps out Hüvje’s protective spell, becoming visible to the beastman. With preternatural alacrity, the goblin breaks and runs, with one of the foes clawing at the tiny figure, opening a large gash on the goblin’s back. Tonk stops and turns, and the beastman continues chase. Without taking stock of the bleeding, he mutters under his breath, and weaves a spell. Space seems to distort around the beastman, with limbs, skin and bones exchanging places in an instant. The Division spell is as effective as it is immediate – the beastman explodes in a mist of blood, gore and bone. Nessa and Hüvje are left speechless.

TONK (paused, ragged breathing): Apologies Sister. I meant to have asked. There is no rule in desecrating the living body of a man, correct?

HÜVJE: (….)

TONK: See Nessa? Pulverizing a poor living creature with sorcery, that has no guilt other than acting on its own instincts – God is fine with that. The church will bless you and offer a mass in your favour you. Now, taking a corpse. A slab of meat, and performing animating magic on it – no no no. Slap on your hands. Off to hell with you, heretic. I’ll let you work out the logic in that.

SCENE IV – WALKING BACK TO THE VILLAGE

The three companions, deep in thought, exhausted, covered in sweat and blood walk back in silence. No word is spoken for hours. Tonk, bleeding, ragged, struggles to keep pace. Sister Hüvje, pauses, and motions for the goblin to stop. She takes out an embroided hankerchief, and tenderly cleans the wounds Tonk suffered from the beasts. She mutters a prayer, and channels divine healing, her hands aglow with a faint golden light. Tonk and Hüvje exchange no communication, but the goblin nods gently, in acceptance of the act and the person. Hüvje nods back, and turns and walks the rest of the way, in silence as before. Nessa sighs, smiles, and leads the way home.

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I fight for the forest

The forest is my home, I fight for the forest.

When the inquisitors came for Chuton, those of us unlikely to pass as “righteous” in their gaze took to the trees. But the trees had changed, vines trailing on the ground. This was Redleaf, he had come to my home, changed my home. Was this still my home?

The Swords of Astrid came upon us, asking questions of us. Urrgghh!! proclaimed himself of the old gods, and having come from Chuton. The interrogation was going as all go, heading towards our damnation. Had Raya not leapt upon them first, I would have sought them out with my sacred club soon after.

The fight was hard, I faltered, I fumbled, I failed. My companions saved me as the inquisitors tore down upon us with iron and flame. This forest is not my home, I could not fight for the forest.

We offered the bodies of these zealots to the vines we’d encountered – the enemy of our enemy may yet be our ally – and led others towards them. We heard fighting and shouts. Redleaf would feed well, the inquisition would never make it to Chuton. Night came faster than it should, and we laid up camp.

And then finally a meeting with Redleaf himself. This forest – my forest – was now his. We appealed for him to help remove our enemies, and in return we would offer him guardianship and liberty. My companions followed somewhat reluctantly, but I pledged my wardenship willingly.

After all, the forest is my home, and I fight for the forest.

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Darkness Breeds
"Darkness breeds dark deeds." - Farmer's Almanac

From the personal journal Sister Hüvje, priest of the New God and minister to the town of Chuton.


I don’t know why the silly little proverbs that I used to read in my aunt’s almanac keep coming into my mind. Shallow platitudes for the most part, and I haven’t read them in nigh on twenty years, but somehow they creep into the back of my mind when I’m distracted.

It was that accursed town that planted that silly adage about darkness breeding darkness in my thoughts. Even in the middle of the day, its sky was like slate, and the dim streets seemed drained of all colour. It was a strange ghost of a town, like the remnant of something that had died years before.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Izzy, our kind and good mayor, spent two days after the horrors of the night of the Forgiveness Festival talking to everybody in town and piecing together what had happened. I don’t know how he separated those rare nuggets of fact from the piles of rumour and gossip, but he finally felt he had some answers and called the town together for a meeting.

First, though, there needed to be a funeral and, with me now being the village priest, it was my job to conduct it. I wish I could have run away, hidden under my bedclothes like a child frightened by the thunder, anything but see all those pale faces looking to me for hope. I wanted to scream at them that I was just as frightened and exhausted as they all were, but somehow the duties of a priest kept me centred. My mouth remained clenched shut and its corners pointed resolutely upward in a frozen smile. My cheeks ache, sometimes, from keeping that stupid smile on my face.

Summoning all my calm resolve, I spoke about the Baileys, of Stenk and Terry, of poor Father Bert, and the two dozen other innocents who perished that night. I was about to speak about the dead halflings when Vert piped up and said I’d forgotten Rusty. I nearly shouted at him. We don’t know how much blame we may place on the late publican, but there is no doubt that he was deep into those evil goings-on, right up to his grimy neck. To utter that villain’s name during our solemn memorial… No, I simply ignored him and moved on.

Finally I pleaded with the townsfolk to display unity in this terrible time. It is far too easy to fall into squabbling and suspicion and discord, but if we should turn on each other we will be doing the demons’ work for them. We have followers of gods new and old in our town, but we are more alike than different. I told the congregation just that, and thankfully I saw more nods than scowls.

Izzy then explained that five different strangers had been seen about the town. Five. Of course it was five. Five demonic summoning charms, five sites of evil and murder, and now five strangers of dark aspect. Some malign power is playing with us, I am certain.

Only one caught my interest: a well-dressed but sour-tempered woman who had been seen dragging a large wheeled trunk from the Rusty Crown the day before the attack. Weird, arcane maggots crawled in the earth wherever she dragged it, which would make tracking her movements easy but unnerving.

She had been heading south from the inn, toward the Bailey Farm, and I wondered if she had been responsible for the unholy slaughter that had occurred there. I decided to find this woman and ask her myself.

I joined a group made up of Tonk the farmer, who is an odd but generally agreeable goblin, Bzzzantine the erratic little flying machine, the earnest young inventor Alaric Clay, and a companion from my previous expedition: Branka the Farrier. I made a point to return her borrowed hammer to her, since she had obviously been so reluctant to lend it out in the first place. Not that I was fool enough to go unarmed: I had purchased a sturdy fighting staff from the general store.

The sickening trail of eldritch maggots passed the Baileys and turned east, following the road to Oldoak. I was surprised when Alaric told me Oldoak has a depot for the steam-powered rail – I had no idea the trains came out this far. When I first came to Chuton I had walked the entire way.

As we made our way to Oldoak I became glad that I had fortuitously bought a walking staff. As we walked, the young artificer explained that the town had been on the brink of financial ruin and its leadership had taken on the rail depot as an act of desperation. The money from travellers would pour in, they were assured, and the town would thrive again. I would soon discover that the reality was altogether different.

We met only a few others during our long, slow trudge to Oldoak. A foolish dandy was heading to Chuton, believing himself to be on the road to the city. Luckily for his wife and small child I convinced him to turn around. Weirdly, he had been given the wrong directions by a well-dressed woman with a wheeled case not an hour before. Clearly our quarry had a vicious sense of humour, and also was not far ahead. The dandy also mentioned something very strange: the reason he and his family were walking was because the trains were not running, and in fact had stopped abruptly on the night all the bells had tolled. Hearing that made my heart flutter weirdly, though I am not sure why.

Our next encounter was with a terrifyingly huge wild boar that sat snorting and rumbling in the middle of the road. It was fearsome-looking, but turned out to be completely tame and very friendly, behaving more like a dog than a wild pig. Tonk befriended it with some dry biscuits, and later seemed genuinely sad when we gave it back to the swineherd we met a little further down the road. He was a pleasant man who clearly doted on his animals, and he was greatly relieved to have the boar returned to him. He repaid the favour by instructing us to mention his name – Giovanni – at the hotel in Oldoak in order to secure a night of free accommodation. He also confirmed the fop’s earlier story about the stopped trains, saying that a town-wide strike had brought the system to a standstill, stranding hundreds of passengers.

One part of his story shocked me more than anything else, however. The reason he and his boars had become separated was that a now very familiar woman had passed him on the road. Perhaps she had been frightened by his admittedly intimidating animals – or maybe on intuition she was trying to cause trouble for any who might be following her from Chuton – but she had pulled a pistol from the folds of her dress and fired it wildly. Imagine having so much wealth that you could afford to waste gunpowder like that! None of the pigs had been hurt, but the sudden noise had startled and scattered them. Poor Giovanni had spent hours rounding them up, though thankfully our biscuit-loving friend was the last of them.

After that there was nothing between us and Oldoak, except for rather a lot of road, and we arrived an hour after sunset. The town itself was very small, barely more than one street, but what little there was of it was impressive at a distance. The hotel we had been recommended by the swineherd was enormous, easily the tallest I have seen outside the big cities. When I first saw it on the horizon I took it for an oddly blocky church steeple.

The railway was everywhere. Sprawling across the landscape was a plethora of mechanical wonders – elevated bridges made from vast amounts of cast iron, cavernous storage and maintenance buildings that could have swallowed up my little church in Chuton, complex hoppers and cargo interchanges, and things whose function I couldn’t even guess at.

I turned to my companions to share my wonder, but I found them scowling. “So inefficient,” Alaric said, shaking his head.

Branka agreed. “I’m hardly a rail engineer, but even I can see they’ve made a complete cabbage of this place.” She pointed a stubby finger. “See here? This roundhouse is right between the main rail interchange and the car storage. Bloody fools have to run the locomotives from the roundhouse, get their cars connected, then either pass back through the roundhouse or go all the way around.” She shook her shaggy head. “Designed by a bunch of puddings, this place.”

The dwarf and the artificer exchanged mocking shouts of surprise and disparaging jokes as we trudged through town. I understood little of their jibes, and Tonk and I exchanged bemused expressions while our companions ranted about poorly-designed rail infrastructure.

Gradually, I began to get an inkling of just how much trouble Oldoak was in. The final leg of our journey was up the main street to the hotel, and even in the darkness I could see how decrepit the shopfronts were. Clearly they had once been gleaming modern constructions of steel and copper, fitted with enormously expensive glass windows and electric lighting. Now, however, everything was in decay. All of the metal I could see was mottled brown and green, and the few functional lights were flickering and buzzing. At least a quarter of the shops were boarded up, many with hastily painted “out of business” signs on them.

Even the hotel looked worse close up. The ridiculously extravagant “HOTEL” sign in electrically-lit wrought iron, which had clearly once cost a king’s ransom, was spotted with rust. The H was hanging at a dramatic angle and swung lazily with the breeze, emitting an alarming metallic screech every time it moved. I started to imagine the harm it would cause when it inevitably fell, but the horrible mental images made me shake my head and try to think of something else.

We disagreed on what to do next: I felt that we should hurry to the rail yard in case the woman we sought was trying to make her escape, but Tonk was sure she would be in the hotel since it was already so late. We agreed to split up, with the goblin going to see if she’d checked in while the rest of us investigated the trains.

As we approached the passenger station, we saw just how desperate things had become. No fewer than four trains were stranded, each of them packed with desperate passengers. The air inside those cars must have been unbearably stale, but most stayed put, bloody-mindedly assuming that everything would be back to normal soon. Never underestimate the human ability to assume someone else will fix everything.

The ticket vendor was an ancient crone, mostly blind with maybe three teeth left in her head, but she was a garrulous sort and gave us lots of good information. We learned that the rail controller had walked off the job without any explanation when the bells had tolled, and even now was locked inside his room at the hotel, refusing to come out. Without him there to keep things working, the staff beneath him had gone on strike. Almost everyone in the entire complex had stopped work, from the drivers and engineers right down to the luggage handlers and dining car waiters. The old woman was frightened for her town, and worried that even another day or two of rail strike could finish it for good.

All thought was suddenly gone from my head as a sense of overwhelming wrongness rushed over me. The whole world became icy cold and utterly silent, and I knew that something terribly alien was nearby. I turned, and there was a cloaked and hooded figure shuffling past us, hunched down almost double, its proportions strange and the fabric of its clothing sticking out in odd places. I got the weirdest impression that I was seeing a pile of dismembered body parts covered with a blanket, moving under its own power.

It vanished into the railyard, and the paralysing fear it had caused in me subsided. “Did you see that thing?” I muttered to the group, and they said they had. Somebody suggested we follow it, but I was filled with panic at the idea. At that moment I would rather have kicked a sleeping bear.

We spent a few minutes discussing what to do next, and we were about to turn back and head to the hotel when I saw something startling. A rail worker – evidently one of very few who was still on duty – had emerged from between two trains carrying a large metal object. He called out happily to a friend, saying he was going to sell it and get rich, and I realised with horror that he was carrying a motionless Bzzzantine. I hadn’t even seen the little clockwork troublemaker go, but he must have decided to follow the robed figure on his own and got knocked out for his trouble.

I’m not proud to say it, but I know how to manipulate men. A pretty face and a shapely body, even when hidden in a priest’s robes, can make a slow-witted man do silly things, and the man carrying my friend’s motionless body did not look like a genius. I put in place by biggest, sweetest smile and stepped forward.

“Oooh, what’s that!” I said, trying to sound friendly.

The rail worker grinned back. “I found it! Must be worth a fortune!”

“Wonderful! May I see?” I leaned in without asking permission and tilted my head so that my hair would fall back and expose my neck. The man’s breath audibly caught in his throat, and I knew I had a moment of distraction to act. “What does this do?” I said in a sugary, girlish voice, and I gave the key in Bzzzantine’s back a hard twist.

Immediately the little creature leapt to life and buzzed into the air. “Wait!” the man shouted dumbly, trying to grab the buzzing clockwork, but it was too late. Bzzzantine’s little wings carried it up, over the roof of the ticket office, and out of sight.

“Whoops!” I said, and tittered like a schoolgirl, but I was forgotten: the worker was staring up into the sky, looking bereft. “Sorry!” I added, patting him on the arm, then I turned and left. It was hardly my most dignified moment, but our companion was safe.

We caught up with the little metal troublemaker halfway to the hotel, and coincidentally found Tonk coming to meet us. We all compared notes. Before he had been captured and forcibly unwound, Bzzzantine had seen a sumptuous-looking train car up the back of the yard, connected to a gleaming, state of the art locomotive. Tonk said this must be the private train of the woman we were chasing, and I was again startled by our quarry’s apparently great wealth. Tonk had learned that she was staying in room 66, on the sixth floor, and her key was not on the rack behind the counter. She was almost certainly inside.

Thinking quickly, we returned to the hotel and introduced ourselves to the pimply youth behind the counter. He smiled when we mentioned Giovanni and made a joke about pigs, but to his credit he offered us two rooms. We asked for 65 and 67, and he handed the keys over. We rode the mechanical lift up to the sixth floor and I’m told I had a funny turn in the cramped carriage, but I have no recollection of it.

In room 65 we could hear water running in the bathroom it shared with room 66, and unsurprisingly the door between the two rooms was firmly locked. We had a brief conference and decided to split up: Bzzzantine and Tonk would stay upstairs, one in each of our rented rooms, while I along with the other two of us would pay a visit to the controller of the railway station, who we had been told held lodgings on the first floor.

In retrospect, I am certain we were overheard. Perhaps the woman we had come to find had been sitting with her ear to the bathroom door, listening to our every word. It would certainly explain what happened next.

When we arrived on the first floor, we immediately knew there was a problem: the door of room 11 was ajar. We knocked and announced ourselves, but as we feared there was no answer. Inside, the controller’s quarters were a shambles. Either somebody wanted desperately to find some small hidden object, or else they had simply wanted to destroy everything in the place. Honestly, I could believe either.

However, we did find an intact photograph of a smiling, moustachioed man in a uniform, lifting a laughing child in his arms. The background appeared to be some kind of funfair. I stared at it for a long time – the very concept of something as innocent as a funfair seemed utterly alien after the past few days. Still, I kept the photo.

Suddenly Alaric shouted. I turned to look, and he was recoiling in horror, doubling up and sinking to the floor. “Five floors below!” he croaked through quivering lips. “Five floors below and I CAN STILL FEEL HER!

I knew the lad was sensitive to arcane energies, and I was filled with dread at his reaction. What kind of magic was so powerful that he could be overwhelmed by the power of it so far below? We had to get back upstairs!

As we rushed from the ransacked suite and approached the elevator, the door to the stairwell crashed open, and there was Tonk. “A bat!” the goblin shrieked. “She turned into a bat!” There was no time to wait for the elevator attendant to come to our floor, so we hurried back up the stairs. The door to room 66 stood wide open, and Bzzzantine hovered in the doorway.

“People don’t usually turn into bats, do they?” the inquisitive little machine asked. “It’s just that the lady we’re following did, and I don’t think that’s normal.” It had only been activated for a few weeks, after Alaric had found it lifeless in a ditch, and it had so far recovered almost none of its earlier memories. As such, some simple things were still puzzling to it.

“No,” I reassured it. “Most people are stuck with the one shape.” I slipped through the doorway and into room 66.

The little metal thing’s head bobbed enthusiastically as I passed. “Ha! I thought that was the case! Humans rarely fly, and NEVER turn into bats!”

A quick search told us everything we needed to know. A moustachioed man who may have had a kind face and a sweet smile when he had been alive was hung upside down over the bath, his throat cut and the porcelain tub filled to almost a foot deep with deep crimson blood. The woman’s wheeled case had been left behind, its lid open to reveal rows and rows of weird vials, jars, and alchemical tools. The window was wide open, and the wind whistled softly through it. Faintly, in the distance, we could hear the sound of a steam engine hissing.

“The train!” Tonk shouted, and the icy feeling in my belly told me the goblin was right. Our quarry had flown to her train, and within minutes she would be away and out of our reach for good.

Once again we were pelting down the metal stairs of the hotel. When we reached the street I heard Alaric and Tonk muttering incantations and, moments later, Alaric and Branka shot off into the growing darkness like corks from shaken-up beer bottles. Clearly it was some kind of magic that distorted space or time, but the rest of us were stuck running at non-magical speed toward the station.

Tonk, Bzzzantine and I darted between dark carriages and engines, toward the back of the train yard, listening to distant shouts that might have been our two hasty friends. As we rounded the last turn we were greeted by a bizarre sight. A tall woman with an imperious bearing and wearing a finely tailored dress – certainly the one we had come to find – was standing astride the disconnected coupling between the gleaming engine and the single luxuriously appointed carriage. Three of the robed figures were grappling with her, and I heard a faint voice shout something like “You can’t leave us!” It appeared that our enemies were engaged in a fortuitously-timed disagreement. (Later, on the walk home, I found out it was Branka’s doing. She had called out to the weird robed things, telling them the woman was betraying them and they should stop her leaving. Miraculously, it had worked.)

There was a deafening crack like a thunderbolt, and a visible globe of shimmering force expanded out from the woman’s hands. Two of the figures were thrown backwards, and I saw for the first time what was under the robes: instead of flesh, their bodies were strange mechanical contraptions, and in place of a head they had a glittering, smoky orb like the crystal ball of a tacky fortune teller. One landed clumsily and started staggering upright, but the other was smashed, whatever magic animating it dissipated. The third, however, hung on gamely, refusing to let go of her sleeve.

That was when I realised, with horror, that the locomotive was moving. It was still slow, but was picking up speed. I was about to cry out for someone to do something to stop it, but Alaric was way ahead of me. As he sprinted beside the huffing engine, I was startled to see a glittering, metallic object fly from his outstretched hand. Whatever it was, it worked: the engine’s brakes locked on and it immediately screamed to a halt, sparks jumping from its wheels. The woman matched the din from the engine, letting out an inhuman screech of fury.

The noise seemed to penetrate my bones, and in that moment of clarity I knew that this foe was beyond us. We were just idiot villagers, fighting against an immense evil force we could never have any hope of defeating. Branka had raised her warhammer above her head, bellowing some kind of dwarven battle cry, and I had a terrible premonition: her blow would miss, and then this terrible woman would strike her dead while I could do nothing but helplessly watch

I don’t know what made me do it, but I grasped my Ouroboros medallion hanging around my neck, the symbol of my faith, and held it up before me. There was no cunning plan, I just needed her to be distracted so she wouldn’t murder my dwarven friend.

“Stand down, you witch!” I screamed. “You’re not going anywhere! You will stay here and face divine justice!” I didn’t even think what I was saying – the words just tumbled out.

That’s when it happened. A dazzling beam of golden light, like a sliver of sunlight, leaped from my medallion and shot like an arrow at that evil woman. The sleeve of her dress immediately burst into flames, and I saw a flash of genuine fear in her dark eyes. Apparently she was just as shocked as I was that these idiot villagers had some tricks to teach her. For just a moment, my doubt vanished and hope pounded in my chest.

And then, she was gone. I struggle to describe it. She cried out something hideous, a grotesque mockery of a prayer, and the name of whatever being she prayed to hurt my ears and made my teeth ache. Then, I can’t be sure, but I think she bit off her own finger. I might be mistaken – it was dark and I was very shaken – but that is what I seemed to see. In the next instant there was a flash of fire, perhaps like a great mouth gaping open, and then… nothing. The woman we had come so far to apprehend was gone without a trace.

We were filled with conflicting emotions in the aftermath. We were frustrated that the murderer had escaped, but at the same time I felt that we had miraculously survived an encounter with something terribly dark and dangerous. Many others, such as the poor railway controller, had not bee as fortunate as us.

As we tried to make sense of what had happened, the lone surviving robed thing asked to parley. In a very strange voice, soft and high-pitched like a tin whistle, it reminded us that it had tried to stop the woman escaping and asked for our mercy. We swore it would come to no harm as long as it did not try to harm us, and it led us inside the luxurious carriage.

It had been a very strange day, but what we saw inside was stranger than anything I had seen before. In a large porcelain bath there lay an incredibly ancient man, completely submerged in a purple liquid that shimmered faintly with arcane energies. The old man never moved while the crystal-headed thing spoke to my companions, and I was completely baffled by the conversation. Alaric explained later that somehow the man in the bath was projecting his intelligence into the construct, and it was his voice we were hearing it speak with.

He was a powerful wizard who had mastered the mysteries of time itself, and he had reluctantly helped the witch prepare her spells and rituals. He suggested that she had forced him to aid her, but I suspected he was also curious, an eternal academic always keen to gain more knowledge, even if that knowledge were of things dark and forbidden. After a private conversation with Branka, the old man, along with the liquid and the bath, vanished in a crackling aura of purple light. The remaining artificial body lost its magic and smashed on the floor.

Meanwhile Alaric had been examining the papers and equipment in the carriage, and he reported something terrible but not unexpected: this woman was definitely responsible for the attack on Chuton. It was possible she’d had other accomplices, but the young artificer said that the evidence proved beyond a shadow of doubt that she was at the centre of it. Sadly, nothing indicated why she would do such a thing, only how. The mystery of why she would attack an innocent rural village was the remain just that, a mystery.

There is little else to tell. On our way out of town, it was clear that Oldoak was beyond saving, and within weeks it would be a ghost town. Some final thread had been severed, and around us folks were looting shops, loading their belongings onto carts and barrows, or simply indulging in petty vandalism. If I ever return to Oldoak, I expect to find it silent, empty, and dead.

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Save the sprouts

When the Swords of Astrid came to town, I was as frightened as anyone. There was talk of interrogation and burning and other terrifying things. We tried to welcome them, but they didn’t look too welcome.

They demanded that we prove our loyalty, and gave us three choices:

  • Bring back their holy chalice.
  • Bring back the heads of some dangerous fey.
  • Find out why the sprouts of Grantham had turned black.

I don’t know about you, but I like sprouts.

Besides, just a little while ago, I’d saved the cheeses of Meriview, and that had turned out OK.

Some of the better people of Chuton had been to Grantham recently. It hadn’t gone well. There had been a fire. There had been an inquisitor. People had died, by all accounts.

But nothing that would destroy good healthy sprouts.

Owen Blacksmith and Bzzzantine said that they would come along with me (Porky). The coffin maker came, too, which I took as a bad omen – but she had a cart, so what choice did we have. I never did get her name.

A bad season for sprouts

When we got to Grantham, we found it was true. Every sprout, black as black. When you touched them, they went ‘poof’ and all you were left with was a fine black dust. We needed to find out who had dropped a Grantham on these poor little sprouts, and fast!

The mayor seemed distracted and distraught. It may have had something to do with the fact that she had participated in the burning of the village schoolteacher and her whole family, perhaps. But that wasn’t what was important right now. We needed to save the sprouts!

It turned out that one of the younger members of the town had taken umbrage at the murder of his beloved, the schoolteacher’s daughter.

The teacher’s black-eyed daughter,
Bess, the teacher’s daughter.

Taken umbrage in the form of a pitchfork to the neck of Bess’ lover, Hank, as it turned out. So claimed Frank, Hank’s brother, and all the town backed him up. They’d all seen Hank die, and they’d all seen young Wilbur run off into the woods. And then they’d all seen their precious sprouts turn black.

They’d all seen it, but they hadn’t done anything to stop it.

With the help of a dog called ‘Dog’, we tracked Wilbur into the woods. The woods were scary, but lovely. The dappled light made it seem like there were four of me – I felt like there was a little crowd of ‘me’, all protecting me.

Dog went mad and I smelt blood. We thought that we’d found young Wilbur, but it was only a goat ripped in two, with it’s entrails eaten out. The culprit had hauled the goat into a tree and eaten it up there, so we started looking in the trees.

Sure enough, Dog found Wilbur in a tree, all trussed up like a Solstice ornament. Hanging there, just waiting for someone to come and try to rescue him. Only a madman would have done something like that, or someone setting a trap.

Or both, as it turned out. The thing that attacked us was mad. More than that, it was chaotic. It’s head was where it’s belly should be, and it had too many arms and legs. It kept rocking backwards and forwards, and doing crazy cartwheels. I was scared witless, I don’t mind telling you.

Luckily, all that cartwheeling had made it dizzy, so when Bzzzantine hit it, it fell over. In my witless state, I ran forward and jumped on it, in some crazy attempt to hold it down. I did hold it down, but it didn’t do any good. It just turned around and around and around, like Bzzzantine’s buzz saw, and ripped the poor coffin maker’s throat out. I never did get her name.

Finally, it was dead. The sprouts were saved! Young Wilbur claimed that Frank had made a pact with this crazy demon thing to hunt him down, and the sprouts were blighted because of it. Frank, of course, claimed that wasn’t true, but the fact that the sprouts were turning green again seemed to give the lie to that statement.

However, that wasn’t our business. We left Grantham to sort out what to do with star-crossed Wilbur and Frank. We had a dead crazy thing, a dead coffin maker (I never did get her name) and a very large box of luscious green sprouts in the back of the cart.

I hope those nasty Swords of Astrid are gone by the time we get back to Chuton.

- Porky

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The village plan
We have chosen to outwit the Crusaders.

Heroes of Chuton!

The path forward has been made clear. To fight is suicide but we will not flee and give up all we love! Instead, we will outwit the Crusaders.

As with each answer to the choice we were faced, there is danger. The Swords of Astrid are fanatics. They are staunch enemies of deviltry and If our ruse fails, they will not hesitate to put us all to the sword.

We cannot fail, and for that reason, it is important we outline the details of our plan.

If we are to contact the Fey and request their aid, I would have us decide on it now. There are certain preparations and rituals holy to the old faith that must be performed before we approach.

There are many other paths that can be taken. Whatever your plans are, outline them here. We must band together and choose a plan of action, otherwise, we will all be lost.

Speak quickly, the Crusaders are coming, and we are running out of time.

Izzy

Thanks for voting everybody! Please share your ideas before Sunday midday so that we can adequately prepare for the adventure. We need to know the nature of your clever ruses! – The GMs

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THE FIRES OF JUSTICE
LEVEL 2 (NOVICE)

The tales of woe from our most recent adventures have begun flooding in. From the boot filled adventures of Chrissie hunting Viktus, to the terrifying encounter with wicked fey by Henri and the Lion to Alaric’s Mechanical Misfortune at the railway , we are beset from all sides by tales of torment!

But the whispers of dark forces in Crossings, and wicked things in the forest must wait for a time. Retrieved from the body of Viktus was a commandment to the crusaders of the New God. Chuton has been marked! All citizens are to be put to fire and sword!

The town is in uproar, within the chaos, voices cry out “What now?”

How will you as a community face this threat?

1. NEGOTIATE: “We have nothing to hide. Our town is known for our tolerance, it is the basis of everything we have worked for. We should meet and talk with them, and share all of the information you have gathered. I am sure the Inquisitor will lend his power to our investigation against this terrible evil, once he is assured that we are doing the New God’s work.” – Izzy the Mayor

2. FIGHT: “Talk? With the Swords of Astrid? I’ve tried, they are fanatics! They only understand violence, so that’s what we should give them. Gather arms! Build barricades! They cannot take us. I did not serve in the Empire’s war to bow down before a zealous sect of the church. They are bullies who are used to roughing up farmers, we’ll show them how real warriors fight!” – Waylon the Teamster

3. OUTWIT: “Meet them in pitched battle? Or worse still, appeal to their reason? Foolish! Listen to Blys, and Henri, and the Lion. We need to outwit them. We can fool them that we have dealt with the problem ourselves, we’ll create new evidence, and even set the fey Red Leaf against them. We have books and learning to guide us. We are smarter than these zealots!” – Mrs Ellis, the Librarian

4. EXODUS: “They do not know reason. Their intent is clear, they will attack at once. We must flee with all our goods. They are coming from the south, we must load up our wagons and roll north. Let’s go to Crossings, it is a free city of all creeds, they cannot touch us there. Yes, yes, I know the road there goes through the Barrows, but we have strength in numbers, and our brave heroes to defend us. Merchant caravans travel that road all the time, I’ve done it myself. We must hurry!” – Gert the Grocer

5. HIDE: “The haunted road through the Barrows, are you mad? Listen to what Jack of the Woods says! We must flee west to the forest, travel light, just take what we need. We can build a hidden camp there, the fey will surely help us, we have lived alongside them… I had a dream in which Chuton was empty, but flowers were blooming all around. The Inquisitors dare not enter the woods. Once we are safe, our heroes can venture forth, find the real cause of the demonic plague, and prove our innocence and our piety.” – Mae the Herbalist

It is up to the heroes of Chuton to decide on the wisest course. Cast your vote now, before all is lost!

VOTE NOW!

Please state your choice using one of the five options listed above in CAPITALS in a comment below before midnight Friday 26 May.

Hugolin-letter.png

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Henri's personal journal entry 428
not again

After returning from Ashbourne I spent two days immersed in research at the library. Trying to follow up the only lead we had to Red Leaf’s true identity was finding to be near impossible. None of the old records of town or that of the outer areas of the Soldier Forest helped me provide any resolve of the clue “you have walked past me before, may times each one of you, not beneath the trees”. Maybe I’m approaching this all wrong and, quite frankly, would knowing who Red Leaf is really make a difference. We know that the Fey don’t give care about who or why someone was engaging with demons in the village.

I’m quite concerned about he letter that was found. It has been three years and my fear had just started to reside… I came to Chuton as an outcast, someone whom the locals would scorn due to my heritage, but I decided to call this place home. Father Bert was the first one in town to show kindness to me and now I find out that, like Thalo, he too is being branded a heretic. Did he befriend me in order to use my blood as well?

I’m worried about the inquisition sending soldiers. They will be quick to judge me based on my appearance alone. Once again, I am afraid.

Some of the town want to go hide in Crossings but it doesn’t make sense for us all to flee as they will just hunt us down. A similar result would occur if we attacked them, they would come back in even larger numbers.

Seeking refuge with Red Leaf the Fey is a fatal choice unto itself.

Maybe Huve & Lion can spin a story about a cleansing, as there are many graves from the deaths after the Festival so maybe the outsiders will believe that the town has dealt with the evil presence and spare us… then again, these people can not be reasoned with.

The leaders of Chuton need to come up with a plan that will keep us safe.

I’m so confused and don’t know what to do. Maybe I should run away again… but even if I do, the shadow will just follow me.

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The man with many cheeses

Adeline Hart had been seen talking with Rusty, so she was clearly suspect in the trouble that we’ve had recently.

She was last seen on the way to Meriview, the hobbit town. So she was clearly suspect in that respect, too. More importantly, Meriview is where we get our best cheeses. So something clearly needed to be done. Besides, we had it on good authority that she was from Down South. What more need I say.

Coal the Tinker, Nodoun Fastcloak the Dwarf, Urrgghh (an Orc preacher) and I (Porky) made a motley crew, but we had a mission. This time of year, the hobbits would just be laying down the best cheeses for the year. If we didn’t do something, they would never get to mature.

We were off to Meriview to save the baby cheeses (see what I did there).

When we got close we realized that Adeline was already at work. All the animals were acting strangely. We found her horse and followed it back to the point where it had bucked her off. I would have, too, if I was that poor horse. She was clearly up to no good.

No wonder the animals were acting strangely – there was a huge boar in the middle of town that had a hobbit or a baby or something sewn to its chest. That probably explained why children had disappeared, too. Definitely up to no good.

Turns out she was a vivisectionist, and had an evil book that detailed how to cut people up. The surprise was that the book was clearly in Rusty’s writing. She was a spry thing, but we took her down in the end. Her and her evil laboratory.

We left it up to the town to decide her fate. The mayor determined that she should burn at the stake, and the mother of the children that she had killed lit the fire. Can’t get more just than that.

The hobbits were right greatful for our help. They feasted us like heroes, and gave us wonderful cheeses for our reward.

And you know what they say about the man with many cheeses…

- Porky

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Henri's journal entry 427...
Fricken Faeries!

The mechanical imagination of the Clockwork mind never ceases to amaze me.

As the town gathered today outside the burned remains of the Town Hall for the funeral rites for those who died in the previous days, the Lion told me of their new idea of a “will”. After the mass killing in Chuton during the Festival of Forgiveness, there was a level of confusion among the families of those slaughtered as to who would get the belongings of the departed. Lion suggested the drafting of a legal document whereby a living person would decree how their worldly possessions are distributed after their death. Genius!

Lion engaged my services to document each “will” and the first person it wanted me to assist with possibly drafting a “will” for was Ruby the midwife. While the Lion was questioning Ruby to gain information for the “will”, I thought that I sensed a dark energy coming from Ruby and I’m not sure what it was at this point. I might be overly sensitive due to the recent happenings in town so will just observe from a distance as I might be completely wrong.

Shortly following that chat, we spoke with the coffin maker and she seemed quite keen on the idea of the “will” so I must remember to have a follow up conversation with her. The fee is only 1SP which I will share with the Lion.

Mayor Izzy came forward and spoke briefly and handed over the funeral proceedings to Huve. She has a very difficult role to step in the place of Father Bert who was such a charismatic and kind soul, but Huva’s message about community unity after such a horrific disaster was inspirational and well accepted. A true testament of her faith in the New God.

After she spoke, we heard a report from Vert, the Rusty Crown’s barman (now proprietor) who told of several surly characters that he observed connecting with Rusty, who we found was involved with the Festival Day Massacre. The townsfolk split into five groups each investigating the whereabouts of those who Rusty was seen speaking with. My preference would have been to stay at home in town to contemplate my new-found abilities, however the Lion suggested I come with it to Ashborne.

The Lion, Owen the Blacksmith and I started to travel the road to Ashborne to follow a man wearing a wide brimmed hat and a mask, when a young orcish girl called Raya decided to follow us. Lion rightfully challenged whether or not the child of only 12 years should be allowed to accompany us, however as it was established she had no local family, it would be ok. I am even still uneasy with that decision, even moreso after what I witnessed that child do.

When we arrived at the river crossing a very foreboding sign awaited us, the wooden planks of the bridge had all been removed and stood in a criss-cross manner along the river bank. I tried to sense in the shadows if I could see anyone but it appeared to only be us in the area. Carelessly, the child plunged into the river and quickly swam to the other side. Owen tossed over his rope to the child who tied it to a bridge post, and while this was going on Lion lept across the river. After tying down the end of rope on our side, I watched Own make his way across by climbing the rope hand over hand and then, reluctantly, I scurried across as well. Again, I scanned the shadows and although I didn’t see any forms, I had a feeling we were being observed.

Rather than take the road on to the town, we followed along the river and found a path leading up to the edge of the city. When we were in view I concentrated a moment to clear my mind and tried to sense any thoughts the area. Moving closer to the entrance to the town where the road entered I could feel that there were a few people there. We moved closer and saw a caravan and decided that Owen, being the only human among us, would approach the group of people. He did so, and must have been successful in his communication as the next thig I knew, Owen signalled for us to join him.

We met Suzanna, the mayor of Ashborn who told us of her city’s demise. Their village was being destroyed by vines (which ended up being the same type of vines used in the ritual that raised the shadow creatures at the Festival) and a Mr Attwood, who ended up being the man we were looking for, was acting as an emissary for a Fey who told them that they had to depart town or all die. Suzanna decided to take the villagers to another town to seek assistance to fight the faery that took over their town. She also asked us to bring Mr Attwood, a prominent villager and owner of the mill, back with us so he wouldn’t be left behind. We agreed, for a price negotiated by Lion.

The four of us decided to not head through the middle of town as it was slowly being decimated by massive vines growing through the buildings turning them to rubble and we followed the treeline on the outskirts of the city. We found an entrance that lead towards the mill which seemed to be the epicentre of the vine activity, and where Mr Attwood was meant to be. As we started in towards the mill I had a feeling of unease as the vines started to part before us making a clear path to our destination.

When we approached the building the doors slammed open and we could see some forms inside. I cleared my mind once again and tried to sense how many people were in the building before us and there seemed to be only two intelligent lifeforms inside.

As we entered, the Lion used her chest light to scan the building and we saw a majestic oak with red leaves coming out of the middle of the mill floor, and seated next to it was a human form. As Lion’s light passed over what appeared to be Mr Attwood we noted that a huge thorn seemed to penetrate from the back of his skull through his mouth.

Frighteningly, Mr Attwood ‘waved’ at us and seemed to speak and asked what we were doing there. Obviously, his animated form was controlled by what we thought was a tree but was a powerful Faery.

The rest of the time spent in the mill confounded me. Each of my companions struck bargains with the Fey, whom we found was nicknamed “Red Leaf”. I was so troubled by the fact they were sharing secrets or gaining favours with Red Leaf that I have blocked out most of what transpired. I do remember sensing magic on some trinket given to the Orc child, and also some further information on who the ancient Fey really is which I must research further. Lastly, I remember Owen and Lion thinking they tricked the Fey by agreeing to burn a body of one of the villagers in return for information, knowing that we’d be returning with Mr Attwood who was obviously dead and using his body to fulfil the requirement. Don’t they know you can’t trick a Faery and this one is making claim to lands she says belongs to her, the entire land that is and was the Soldier Forest!

We were granted leave and took Mr Attwood back to entrance of the town and there were four men waiting as the caravan had left. One of the men had wandered over to the wood’s edge so Lion and Owen presented the body of Mr Attwood to the remaining three and advised that they needed to leave immediately (I remember now that “all the villagers must go” was part of the requirements Red Leaf stated). They were hesitant to follow on and so I decided to try something out and cleared my head and focussed on projecting a voice of the faery into the mind of one of the men saying, “I told you that you must go and now my vines will rip through your body and you will suffer a painful death”. Needless to say, he turned and ran down the road and the other two seeing him bolt left quickly after. There was still a bonfire going so we placed Mr Attwood onto the fire, may the profit guide his soul.

I turned to look towards the man who went near the woods (maybe he was relieving himself?) just in time to see what appeared to be the Orc child smashing into his skull knocking him to the ground. I feel that the words of the Faery somehow got to the child and I will not be involved. I do not trust this child.

We quickly caught up to the slow-moving caravan and Owen and I went to see Mayor Suzanna by ourselves as Lion felt obligated to follow the Orc child who went running off.
We advised what happened to Mr Attwood and requested payment for returning him as requested. Suzanna wasn’t pleased he was dead and refused. We spoke of the deal we struck and in turn she acquiesced. Because of this the four of us returned to Chuton with a gold coin that we have decided to donate to the rebuilding of the town hall.

Out of the five groups that travelled off, I had to follow the one that encountered a damned faery! I didn’t want to even go in the first place and now I must deal with the nightmares that will likely ensue. I escaped the clutches of the fey after they cut my horns off only to be confronted by them again. I chose Chuton as a quiet place to seek refuge from my past and I hope the recent problems are over soon as I don’t want to have to search for a new home. Why did Father Bert need to die, he was the only one who I truly trusted after what happened in Burxton three years ago.
Henri

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Steam and Blood
Alaric's account of the fall of Oldoak

From the journal of  Alaric Clay:

I had hardly left my books and workshop in the few days since the demon shadow pronounced its curse on Chuton: the night of the Festival of Forgiveness, when the Town Hall burned down, the bells tolled for us, and our very shadows rose up against us.

On one of my few forays into the streets, I saw an unusual figure: a man in a battered straw boater, clearly not a local, heading towards the cemetery. I wouldn't normally worry about a stranger in town – I'm used to all manner of folk after years studying in Sixton – but after recent events…I made sure to mention it to others after the memorial, especially when it seemed he might be one of the suspicious folk Vert had spotted in the Rusty Crown over the last few weeks.

Roach had seen the same man, and I considered going with the goblin to look for him, but I've felt the need of late to keep an eye on Bzzzantine; I can't help but feel somewhat responsible for the little clockwork's actions since I reactivated it. It's one of the reasons I've made a study of technomancy; I need to understand better how clockworks function. Bzzzantine had discovered strange trail of maggots crawling from the earth in what looked like the tracks of small wheels, heading out of town past the Bailey's farm. The tracks headed towards Oldoak – home to the nearest train depot. Smelling a whiff of magic, and the chance to see some trains up close, I decided to accompany Bzzzantine and the others seeking to follow this lead. Along with Sister Hüvje, Branka the farrier dwarf, and Tonk the goblin – who it turns out has also been learning the magic of Time – we set off on foot following the tracks. Using my newly mastered ability to sense magic, I confirmed that the maggots were unnatural – most likely an unintended side effect of some other magical phenomenon.

Along the way we encountered a pair of city toffs headed to Sixton; despite our best efforts, the man of the pair insisted on heading in the wrong direction, towards Chuton. They were walking from Oldoak because the trains had stopped running, and indeed we hadn't heard their rumbling during the journey. They told us they'd encountering a woman in an elegant dress, dragging a large suitcase – likely the source of the tracks we were following. She gave them wrong directions, and we realised her description matched another of the suspicious customers of the Rusty Crown.

Further on we encountered an enormous boar in the middle of the road, wearing an iron collar but with its chain unlocked. While the rest of us wondered how best to get past it, Tonk fed it some biscuits and it took a shine to the goblin, following us for half an hour or so along the path. In truth I think Tonk had taken a shine to the boar as well, because when we met its owner, the boar breeder Giovanni, he seemed disappointed to hand it over. Giovanni was extremely grateful, and told us how a woman with a suitcase had frightened all his boars off to clear the road by firing a gun into the air. As thanks he told us to drop his name at the hotel in Oldoak so we could secure a room at no charge.

When we eventually arrived, the depot was a sight to behold – not least because of all the trains stood there, unmoving, filled with passengers growing more agitated by the minute. I've seen steam works before, of course, but even to a student of technomancy like myself the depot at Oldoak seemed something of a monstrosity: inefficient and poorly planned. We talked to the ticket clerk, discovering that the trains had stopped because the Controller had walked off the job and gone missing. With no-one to direct them, the conductors and engineers had grown restless and eventually started a strike, leaving the passengers stranded. Bzzzantine spotted an unusual robed and hooded figure walking through the station, and before I or Hüvje – who had a sense of foreboding about the figure – could stop him, flew off to pursue it. He tracked it as far as the striking purple VIP train, a private locomotive on a private track which the clerk had told us had been bought out by a single investor - the same woman we had been following. Before he could find out more, though, Bzzzantine was deactivated by a workman wielding an electrical technomantic device, though we were able to revive him before he was sold off.

Tonk meanwhile visited Oldoak's twelve-storey hotel, owned by the same company who ran the rail depot, and pretended to be a servant to the woman with the suitcase. He was convincing enough that the concierge revealed her room number – 66, on the sixth floor. When we went to check in – without Tonk, in case it was handy to have someone not obviously part of our group – we requested and got the rooms flanking hers.

Heading up in the lift, we could hear water running in the communal bathroom shared by our rooms, but were unsure how to proceed. Tonk and Bzzzantine decided to stay in the rooms upstairs, while the rest of us descended to investigate the Controller's room on the first floor. The lock had been broken, and the room itself ransacked; clearly he'd been the victim of foul play. We took a photo of the Controller, and I tried to detect magical influence, which was present – but drowned out but the much more powerful presence of the woman, which I could feel even five storeys below!

At around that time Tonk and Bzzzantine came running down the stairs to tell us they'd seen the woman – she had jumped out the window of her room and transformed into a bat, flying to the depot! What's more, Bzzzantine had flown in through her window and let Tonk in, and they'd discovered not only her bag, full of alchemical materials, but a body hanging upside down in the bathroom, its throat cut and its blood drained into the bath.

Realising our quarry was making her escape, Tonk and I used Time magic to speed up Branka and myself so we could reach the VIP train before it left. We were successful, arriving in time to see the woman on the engine, disengaging the carriages by snapping the coupling with her bare hands. Three cloaked figures like the one Bzzzantine had already seen stood in the carriage, and begged her not to leave them behind; a quick thinking Branka encouraged them not to let her do that, and they grabbed her, slowing her escape, though she used Air magic to try and break their grip. Their hoods blew back, revealing not faces but crystal orbs, filled with mysterious liquid – these were magical constructs of some kind!

The woman used her gusts of foul wind to try and smash the automatons, but they held fast as Branka and I neared the train. I tried to wound her with my newly learned magic dart spell, but she suffered barely a scratch. She finally broke free of the creatures, only one of which survived, but I hit upon a plan. Knowing my friends were counting on me, and bolstered by their faith in my engineering knowledge, I concentrated and quickly worked out which was the break lever; I then constructed a magic wrench, one of the basic tools of technomancy, and used its magic to throw it into the mechanism, jamming on the brake.

As Branka drew near and readied to smite the woman with her hammer, Hüvje commanded her to stay, brandishing her symbol of the New God – and to all of our surprise, a beam of shining bright light shot from it, seeming to sear the woman's arm! Though she seemed mostly unhurt, the experience seemed to strike fear into her heart, and she enacted some kind of foul ritual; I didn't hear the words she spoke, but she removed a glove, revealing that she was missing a finger, and before our eyes cut off another digit, summoning somehow a black portal which enveloped her. We had stopped the train, but our quarry had still escaped.

The remaining automaton appealed to us for help in an uncertain voice. We followed it onto the train, where we discovered an astounding sight: an advanced alchemical laboratory, fully mobile, along with detailed notes making it clear that the woman and other occupants of the train had been deeply involved in the events of the Festival of Forgiveness! But weirder things were in store: concealed in the train was a large basin, filled with unusual purple liquid, and submerged within was a wizened old man, barely alive but clearly possessed of great magical power. It seemed the automatons served him, and spoke on his behalf; he had used his alchemical prowess to make concoctions for the woman, including some which could bend others to her will, controlling their actions. It was this she carried in her case, and which caused maggots to sprout from the earth in its wake. The automaton and the notes also revealed to us that we would find the answers we seek in Crossings – and that this was where the woman was headed, "when the stars were bright".

The wizened old man and his servants feared for their lives, but he could not be moved with the train system in deadlock. He instead extracted a promise from Branka that she, still vital a century from now, would return to this spot – and it became clear the old man was a time wizard of much more advanced skill than Tonk or I! Before our eyes, he and his servant vanished into the future, and only the passage of a century will reveal his fate. I gathered up the evidence from the train, and at Hüvje's request also procured some of the more expensive alchemical equipment to help replenish the town's coffers – though I confess I am finding it far too fascinating to sell immediately…

We spent the night in the hotel after cutting down the man in the bathroom – who was of course the Controller – and laying him to rest as best we could. We stayed in one room and kept a watch, however, because by now the frustrated passengers, rail workers and hotel staff had fallen in to anarchy and looting. As we left the next day to return home, taking the woman's case along with our other spoils, we were left with the depressing certainty that Oldoak was no longer a civilized place – and that soon it would probably vanish from the map altogether.

Since then, Tonk and I have been trying to make sense of the alchemical notes, supplies and equipment, and with his help I believe I have grasped the basics of the art. Perhaps this will prove useful when we confront the woman and he co-conspirators in Crossings – for surely that is where we must go next. I pray to the Maiden in the Moon that the sign will be obvious when the time is right, because I fear to take up the art of astrology again…

Alaric Clay

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