Town of Pole
Adventurers including Gunnar Harlowe , Jane Doe , Sod , and Barnabus Blake assembled in the town of Pole on the shore of Lake Starshower in order to meet Grushenka Ivanovna , leader of the Silverwolf Wardens Mercenary Company , who had recently solicited new members to fulfill a task.
While waiting at the inn, Barnabus befriended a local blacksmith, Homas, who lamented that the upswing in business he experienced during the Quartermaine-Schoenberg Conflict acclimated his husband to a more lavish lifestyle than he can afford now that the conflict has ended. Deep in his cups, Homas shared the following information with Barnabus:
- Agents of the Black Lotus Thieves Guild had been spotted within Pole, a quite unusual circumstance for a small fishing town.
- The cousin of Janus Cassetta , the Duke of Villanelle , has died of "the festers," a highly contagious disease once thought to have been eradicated.
- The Bitterlands are in turmoil in the three years since the Schoenbergs were defeated and went into hiding.
- Strange sounds like cats screaming had been heard coming from the Bitterwood on still nights.
Following this exchange, a woman, later revealed to be Tortuga, left the inn while calling the other adventurers "amateurs."
Eventually, Grushenka Ivanovna, a corgi-demihuman arrived and introduced the party to their contract: they have been hired by Carson Warde to escort a wagon containing his brother Caedmon Warde 's tribute to the Holy Orders of Bitterwall Abbey , on the occasion of Caedmon's daughter Sable 's graduating into the Order of Zophiel .
The Road North
The party accepted the contract and departed the next morning, accompanied by Eustice Greenhill (the poet nephew of Bransworth Greenhill , who sought to prove himself worthy of a family stipend his uncle was otherwise inclined to withhold out of a distaste for Eustice's dandyish demeanor) and Carson's personal chef, Coriander.
The party encountered a group of thieves on the road north, but managed to derail their ambush through the magic and diplomacy of Sod and Barnabus.
That evening, Coriander began behaving strangely, and during the night, the party awoke to realize their meals had been drugged. While they were unconscious, Coriander had stabbed and killed Eustice and fled. While Barnabus magically preserved Eustice's corpse, Jane easily tracked Coriander, whose body they found in a tree, riddled with arrows. Coriander held two documents: one, a letter suggested that she had been contracted by Emilio Tarkin of the Black Lotus Thieves Guild to steal whatever was in Caedmon Warde's wagon, and two, a sealed letter addressed to Father Blackbird of Bitterwall Abbey, presumably taken from the wagon.
The party decided to open and read the private communique, which, once decrypted by Barnabus Blake, read as follows:
At great peril to myself, I hide this missive among the tribute my brother brings to you. My husband, Caedmon Warde, Duke of Westwatch, has made a pact with devils and found a way to neutralize Epiphany. Please stop him or we will never again know peace.
During the middle of the night, they heard a strange wailing from within the woods. Tracking it to its source, they found an abandoned cabin with a fire burning in the hearth, and discerned that there was a hidden hallway behind the hearth leading underground. Barnabus performed a divination and was compelled to enter the underground tunnel.
Following the tunnel, the party eventually came upon an underground complex where a number of people were found in a catatonic state, the subjects of magical experimentation by a group of black-robed cultists. The party managed to defeat a number of these cultists and rescued a catatonic-but-still-living druid. Through Gunnar's judicious disarming of traps, the party also recovered a sheaf of papers from the cultists's quarters, which contained the following information:
The cultists are a rogue group within the Holy Orders, committed to a series of experiments to synthesize Epiphany from wild magic users, using methods distinct from those employed by the church.
Moreover, the cultists appeared to have certain backers outside of the Orders, as they mention receiving funding for their research from a figure known as "The Old Coffer ." The documents went on to say that agents were out even now attempting to acquire "the stars ."
Returning to the wagon, the party continued on their way to Bitterwall Abbey. Wandering in the woods, Sod stumbled upon a surly gnomish ranger who went by the name of Garfield . After a brief exchange, Garfield agreed to accompany the party in order to provide additional support in case of further troublesome encounters on the road.
The Breakwater Furries
Moments after this introduction, Gunnar Harlowe blinded the affable cat-rogue with a cigarette and Jane attempted to decapitate him. Lucifer Sam narrowly avoided death but his ear and arm were severed by Jane's rapier. His compatriot, Milton , quickly erected a ward of protection and begged the party to leave them alone. The party did so, but not before looting the group's wagon and recovering the diary of Lucifer Sam, which evinced an ongoing obsession with Grushenka.
Arriving at Bitterwall Abbey, the party found trouble at the gate with guardsman Basic Bill when they attempted to lie about their business in the city and the reason for their carrying the corpse of a nobleman and a comatose druid. Basic Bill summoned his captain Winston, who took the party into custody until Carson Warde could be summoned to verify their identity.
While the party negotiated with Carson to receive their payout for the adventure, they also met Sable Warde, who expressed an interest in their background, and eventually invited them to her graduation ceremony the following day.
The bodies of Eustice Greenhill and the comatose druid were taken away to the Houses of Healing to be resuscitated by the clerics working there.
Released from custody, the party found the city of Bitterwall to be teeming with merchants and representatives of noble families who had descended upon the area after the Quartermaine-Schoenberg Conflict in order to share in the profits to be had from the city's port and proximity to a resource-filled mountain chain.
Jane split from the party in order to follow up on a disturbing lead she encountered earlier that day, but has not yet shared with the party.
The rest of the party ventured to the Warrens, a disreputable and poverty-stricken area of the city. Along the way, they encountered:
- An incredible number of rats teeming in the gutters.
- A puppet show critiquing the idea that the governance of the region is truly "neutral" under the Holy Orders, as the church seems to be profiting handsomely from infusions of capital from the Quartermaines and other noble families.
- A young girl handing out flyers bringing attention to Yevgeny , a popular young cat-man who had publicly resisted the idea that Bitterwall's economic situation was a real improvement for everyone, and who had gone missing three days ago.
- The party then retired to The Hide and Tallow, an inn. Speaking with the innkeeper Aston and his disfigured daughter Tilda, Barnabus learned that:
- Tilda had been wounded by a noble's speeding carriage, but had not yet been able to gain access to the Houses of Healing, which have now begun to prioritize noble complaints.
- A traveling theater troupe had been putting on a play that is said to drive audiences insane. The play is called "The Emperor of Mustard Seeds ."
- Miners stumbled across a forgotten vault of the Thieves Guild in the mountains to the east.
- Recently, a ship bringing in tobacco was turned back because some of the crew had come down with the Festers, the same disease that Janus Cassetta's cousin died of.
- Sex workers have been disappearing from the Wardens at an alarming rate.
Barnabus promised Tilda and Aston that he would personally see to it that Tilda got the healing she needed -- a promise he would later break.
Meanwhile, Gunnar, Sod, and Garfield intervened in a discussion between a local man, Hiram, who had found profitable work as a functionary in the newly-established headquarters of one of the many recently-arrived noble families. Hiram called his compatriots in the bar lazy and useless, decrying their claims that they had been priced out of their own homes by the economic transformations going on in the city. Gunnar, unable to contain his ire, struck Hiram a savage blow, knocking him unconscious.
Sod and Garfield noticed a belligerently drunk half-orc, Argus, drinking in the corner of the bar and joined him. Drinking with him, Argus also complained about the state of things in Bitterwall, and insinuated that the Thieves Guild was probably responsible for the disappearance of Yevgeny, likely having been contracted by the nobles whose station he threatened.
The party awoke in the morning after a long night of drinking (except for Barnabus), and headed directly to the graduation ceremony being held in front of Bitterwall Abbey.
After sitting through a number of long speeches by church functionaries, the party was surprised by the sudden appearance of a number of demons, a phenomenon that should not be possible in a region protected by Epiphany.
After slaying one of the demons, the party was blamed by Carson Warde. Carson had since read the encoded message sent by Greta Warde, and claimed that the party must be in league with his brother, and that by bringing the wagon into town, they had bypassed Epiphany and enabled the summoning of demons.
The party was arrested and taken into the dungeons below Bitterwall Abbey, where Father Blackbird explained that, guilty or not, the incident today demonstrated a flaw in the Holy Orders' capacity to protect the populace through Epiphany, and that someone must be held accountable.
At some point during the night, Sable Warde appeared and agreed to free the party if they would accompany her back to Westwatch so that she could talk to her father Caedmon and confirm for herself that he was not in fact responsible for the appearance of the demons. Resigning themselves to leaving Eustice and the druid (along with whatever they knew) behind at the Houses of Healing, the party agreed and Sable led them through the sewers to the docks west of the city where she had arranged passage on board a ship.
That evening, the party debated about where to dock, and Gunnar Harlowe offered up the information that his family's ruined castle, Tessaway Keep , lied to the Southwest, and would make a convenient port at which to anchor and then march west on foot to reach Westwatch .
Agreed upon this course of action, the party retired. In the middle of the night, however, Gunnar was awakened by a rat crawling on him, to which was tied a small scroll. The scroll complicated what was already a complicated matter for the new fugitives, offering them an alternative path forward by betraying Sable Warde:
Did you know that you are difficult people to find? Would that you had remained patient in your cells. I might have secured your release in a less… fugitive manner. In any case, I sense that you are allies to my cause. There is at least one among you who is no friend to the Holy Orders, and the rest of you are not what I would call pious. As you’ve seen for yourself, a tectonic shift is underway and the re-ordering of our world is at hand. Is there a part to play for a few vagabonds, desirous to do their part in service of FREEDOM?
Well, I’ll come to it: I have the eyes to see that you are now with the Warde girl, who no doubt travels to visit her father, the accused. His guilt is plain, but a protracted struggle with a High House would not be good for our Cause of Greatness. But in the struggles to come, if Caedmon should happen to have an accident, and five nobodies were to suddenly receive titles and lands, I don’t think anyone of consequence would take notice. Think about it.