- Plane Weaver
A last minute, urgent request for Good Citizens of Loyal Character and Much Experience to join a rescue mission sponsored by King Crescentius I of Telemere makes its way to Citizens of That Description. It is said that a Citizen of Great Importance has been kidnapped by the False Empire, and it is imperative that they are recovered before they come to any harm.
The King would be eternally grateful for interested individuals to meet him at Castle Telemere tomorrow to receive further details, that they might then depart for the False Empire with haste.
The party arrive at Castle Telemere and meet with the King, who explains that Richter, the Just - a highly respected, unquestionably loyal diplomat representing Rastaban to the outside world at Gateway - has been kidnapped by the False Empire. The party are offered the King's eternal gratitude if they can rescue Richter and bring him back.
The King provides the party with a map through the tunnels that criss-cross underground and will lead them to the False Empire. They are to follow the tunnels from Gateway to a small district in the north of the False Empire by the name of Boreus. Once there, they should locate the safehouse run by the Rastaban spy codenamed 'Setter', which is disguised as a jewellery shop. This safehouse has been set up as a covert forward base under the direction of Strategos Sofia, as part of the war effort. Setter will provide local intelligence and assistance in extracting Richter. To identify themselves to Setter, they are given a coded exchange to use.
As the party set off, the King has a quiet word with Mabel. Meanwhile, the Strategos intercepts Suprema and Selva for their own quiet word. The party then reassemble, and set off for Gateway. At Gateway, they find the entrance to the tunnels blocked off by a group of 'guards', who are definitely not bandits. Appreciating their hustle, Selva bribes the 'guards' with favour, and the party is allowed to pass.
Following the map's directions, the party travel through the tunnels. Along the way, they navigate through a section with strange crystal structures growing from the walls, forming in corrosive pools, and home to a variety of crystal-infected creatures, which attack the party endlessly. Frond takes a sample of the crystal substance. Eventually the party realise that the flow of monsters cannot be stemmed and they continue past this area.
Their way is then blocked by a cave-in ahead, seemingly caused by a swarm of burrowing Forest creatures. As the party fight them, a second cave-in occurs behind them as an immense burrowing Forest creature bursts through. More and more of the smaller creatures join the fight, but the party successfully defeat the larger creature, and the reinforcements cease. The party now seem to be trapped by the cave-ins, and consider ways to move the rocks, but then notice that the sheer number of burrowing creatures has opened up a new route out of the tunnel, into some caves.
Following this detour, the party arrive in a large cavern, lit only by a roaring fire in its centre. The outer edges of the cavern fade into darkness. A number of strange humanoid denizens lurk in this cavern, each with distinct outlooks on the world. As the party talk with these lost spirits, Frond extracts an artefact from the fire that seems to be the source of its eternal flames, and discovers that its purpose is to guide things to their destination. Meanwhile, Selva calls on the Shroud to provide solace and comfort to the spirits, while Suprema uses the sword Legacy to execute many of the spirits and absorb them - some of them agree to this willingly (more so after the power of the Shroud is envoked), while others flee into the shadows, refusing to be absorbed by the sword under any circumstances. Eventually, Suprema gives up hunting the last few spirits and she and Frond direct the Guiding Light to both guide people towards truth and individuals towards their destinations.
With the help of the Guiding Light, the party find their way out of the caves, back into the tunnels, and onwards to their destination: the district of Boreus, on the northern edge of the urban portion of the False Empire. They make their way towards a market area, where they discover that there are in fact two jeweller's shops in Boreus. The coded exchange conversation is tried in both shops, which allows the party to identify the correct one. After some faffing around in the other shops in the market, and some inadvisable threats from Thessa to one of the shopkeepers, the party assemble at Setter's shop and are guided into the safehouse.
Over lunch, the party talk to Setter. It quickly becomes apparent that the King of Telemere did not tell the party the whole story. As Setter explains, while Richter was indeed once highly loyal to Rastaban, it appears that he has in fact defected to the False Empire - they did not kidnap him. The Strategos was well aware of this, and the King should have known this too, but for whatever reason kept this secret. Setter explains that it is the will of the Strategos that Richter should be executed for his crimes - the party's job is an assassination mission, not a rescue attempt.
Setter further explains that Richter is currently located in a compound in another part of Boreus. The False Empire are not so foolish as to trust him implicitly, and have been interrogating him. Intelligence indicates that he will very soon be moved deeper into the False Empire for further interrogation and presumably more once he has gained their trust - once moved, it will be impractical for Rastaban agents to reach him. However, the compound is guarded by two planar defence mechanisms. The first is a Perfection ritual atop a bronze tower, named 'The Eye of the God Emperor', which can detect acts against the False Empire in the area it is aimed at; currently its sole focus is on the compound, but the potential implications for it later being used to uncover Setter's hideout are clear. The second is a Connection ritual covering the compound itself, which can be triggered to drop the whole compound into an impregnable labyrinth at a moment's notice, rendering both ingress and escape impossible. Clearly, both defences need to be taken out before any attempt to get to Richter is made.
Suprema takes advantage of Setter's assistance to help prepare the party more thoroughly for what is to come. The party already have suitable disguises, but this won't get them past imperial guards. With their bureaucratic powers and the assistance of one of Setter's forgers, Suprema is able to create convincing paperwork that should allow one set of guards to be taken off duty. She also trades a bag of her Rastaban Mian for an equivalent quantity of False Empire Mian.
The party set off to deal with the Eye of the God Emperor first. A number of strategies for accessing the tower are considered, but the party elect to use Suprema's paperwork to dispose of the first set of guards and gain access to the inside of the tower - this seems most discreet. However, there are many more platoons of guards inside the tower - all skilled Perfection Weavers. The party have a tough fight against these guards, but eventually subdue them - at which point the door to the next level unlocks. There's little time to rest though, and the party fight another group of guards on the next floor. Suprema and Selva are killed, and the rest of the party comes very close to being defeated, but pull through. Through their Blessings, Suprema and Selva are resurrected, but neither seems to be taking their defeats well. The party press on to the next floor, where they find yet another platoon of guards; however this lot seem to be sitting around, never expecting any intruder to get past the previous three sets of guards. The party dispatch them, and head to the top of the tower.
The top floor is empty save for the ritual itself, which is built into a great burnished bronze mirror that is aimed out of the tower window at the compound. With some effort, the party smash up the construction holding it, dropping the mirror to the floor where it gazes up at the ceiling. Rekha takes the opportunity to carve something exceptionally rude into the ceiling upon which the mirror gazes, before the party destroy the mirror entirely.
With the Eye of the God Emperor thoroughly decommissioned, the party proceed out of the tower to the back of the compound. As indicated by Setter, there is an out-building here that pings Connection. The party enter, and find themselves thrust into Connection, into the centre of the labyrinth. A control panel on one wall gives a layout of the maze and some means to control it, but the party are quickly set upon by Fears of Being Eaten that try to consume them, and Maze Runners which attempt to maze-merise the party out of the maze. With minimal involvement of the Maze Runners, most of the party quickly relocate into the maze and become very lost. Rekha stays in the central area fighting the denizens, while Frond uses the Guiding Light to navigate the maze and rescue the others. This goes on for some time, as party members repeatedly get lost in the maze. Between bouts of monster fighting, Rekha examines the control panel, and realises that the maze can be reconfigured however she chooses. She starts building a straight corridor from the central area to the exit, allowing the maze to be trivially escaped, though has to pause this effort to fight off more denizens. Soon Rekha completes the escape route, and then - eventually - the rest of the party is all rescued at the same time long enough to use it to get out. Not only do the party escape the labyrinth, but the easy way out means that if it does get triggered later, they will be able to pass through it easy enough.
With the planar defences offline, the party proceed to the compound, which they infiltrate in disguise. They soon locate an office within, where Richter sits at a desk, flanked by guards. The party are faced with a choice: do they extract Richter and return him to the King of Telemere, or assassinate him as the Strategos demands? The guards are subdued and some attempt to negotiate with Richter is made as the party seek to gather more information, before Suprema spirits Richter and Frond away to the domain of shadows to begin the ganking. During this, Frond turns on Suprema. They both get the distinct impression that the Guiding Light does not believe Richter has been delivered to their intended destination as they return to the real world and Richter attempts to make his escape.
In the ensuing chaos, Frond and Richter consume Flee As Wind and escape the compound. Suprema is confronted by Thessa, Mabel, and a cohort of imperial soldiers attracted by the commotion. With the power of the Shroud she is able to disguise herself sufficiently to escape this sticky situation and sneak deeper into the False Empire: to Rastaban, Capital City of the God Emperor. Mabel gets Thessa out of the compound, but then abandons her in order to catch up with Frond and Richter, who escape back to Rastaban through the tunnels.
Meanwhile, Rekha - still fully disguised as a False Empire soldier - walks freely out of the compound and returns to Rastaban.
Back in the office, Selva searches the room while she waits for the others to come back. From the books Richter was reading, and notes in his journal, she gets a reasonably good impression of Richter's current beliefs and his motivations for defecting. When it eventually becomes apparent that the rest of the party are not coming back to the office after all, Selva sneaks out of the compound.
Selva returns to Setter's safehouse, and attempts to explain what happened at the compound to Setter - in particular, that the rest of the party have gone missing, and that she fears they have been captured or even killed. After initial confusion, Setter eventually cottons on to Selva's unique communication style, and suggests that before jumping to any conclusions that they should wait and see if any information from Setter's contacts comes in from further afield. Selva stays with Setter for a few days, helping out around the safehouse.
At night, Selva occasionally has dreams about the Lost Spirits she encountered in the tunnel under Rastaban - dreaming their memories, or their experiences, or occasionally feeling how they feel - loving, grateful, curious, hateful… Selva can feel with certainty the solace and comfort that she has offered them. For those spirits that were not absorbed into Legacy: although the fire has left them, they will not fade unless this is something they - or she - would choose. Additionally, Selva feels a strong sense of disapproval [OC: approval] from the Shroud.
Sure enough, word eventually comes through that Frond, Mabel, Thessa, and Rekha are alive, well, and have made it safely back to Rastaban. It is unclear what has become of Suprema, who seems to have done such a good job covering her tracks that Setter isn't able to figure out what's become of her. There is little else to be done at the safehouse for now, and Selva departs for Rastaban.
Meanwhile, deep within Rastaban, Capital City of the God Emperor, Suprema is busy putting the finishing touches on her newly established safehouse, certain to be an important asset in securing victory over the False Empire. Reinforcements are called in from the True Imperial Bureaucracy to take over the day-to-day operations, allowing Suprema to return to True Rastaban; while waiting for their arrival she uses the Dreamer Skulls to send a full report of the operation to find Richter to the Strategos. When the reinforcements arrive, Suprema leaves behind one of her Dreamer Skulls to facilitate communications.
Once returned, Suprema seeks out the Imperial Bureaucracy, and gives the same full report to them. While most of the report details remain private, in both reports she particularly expresses her dissatisfaction with with the 'idiotic' Thessalia, for poisining her and for nearly jeopardising the operation multiple times due to her inability to maintain cover in the face of the weakest of slights. Suprema suggests that future gratitude toward Thessalia should be greatly reduced.
Frond and Mabel courier Richter back to Rastaban. Along the way, they both try to extract information from him. Frond wants to know everything Richter has learned about the False Empire, however there is very little to be told that they don't already know: the Empire were not yet at the point of trusting the defecting Richter with much, so he hasn't learned anything that could not be picked up simply by observation. Mabel meanwhile is interested in Richter's relationship with the King, and why he chose to defect. On the latter point Richter says only that his sense of justice is stronger than it has ever been before - he will always be 'the Just', but he cannot simply tell Mabel and Frond how to 'open their eyes to the reality of things'. As to the King, it seems that Richter is not his greatest fan, which makes it interesting that the King would wish to go to so much effort to see him rescued. When pressed, Richter mumbles something about the King probably feeling 'guilty' for 'what happened'; when pressed further, he says only that they should ask him themselves what happened to 'Ariet'. All-in-all, Richter does not seem to be overly cooperative, but in the circumstances that is perhaps unsurprising.
Upon arriving at Castle Telemere, Frond and Mabel recount everything that happened to the King, who is very pleased to see Richter's safe return. Richter is quickly spirited away away under very close guard. Frond impresses upon the King that Richter's defection was entirely real (though, judging by the security under which he was taken away, one might infer that the King was already well aware of this), seemingly driven by an irrational hatred of Erosion. Frond recommends that Richter undergo counselling for this - a suggestion that the King strongly agrees with.
Mabel raises the question of the 'Ariet' that Richter referred to. With some coaxing - it seems he is trying to keep knowledge of this matter quite tightly controlled - the King eventually explains that Ariet was Richter's sister, of whom he was quite fond. She recently took part in a failed expedition into Erosion - her party never returned. The only reasonable assumption is that the group was lost to Erosion, and this seems to have hit Richter particularly hard. While certainly not the sole factor contributing to his defection, it does seem to have pushed him over the edge, and at the very least would explain his hatred of that Plane. It would seem that the King was well aware of these events prior to Richter's defection.
Their business concluded, Mabel departs. Before also leaving, Frond points out to the King that while fighting the False Empire was a given for this quest, crossing the Strategos categorically was not. After some discussion, the King accepts this point, and is additionally grateful to Frond for still bringing Richter back alive in spite of this.
Frond visits House Keelen, and makes them aware that the 'guards' ruse at the Gateway tunnel is foolish given how frequently that tunnel is used by heavily armed adventuring parties. They also suggest that House Keelen might be grateful that they and Selva deescalated the situation, and that the party did not beat them into the floor. House Keelen suggest that Frond might be pushing their luck with this suggestion.
Frond also visits the Imperial Commission. They report that the secrets of ichor remain safe from the False Empire, and what few witnesses there were to it were swiftly eliminated. They also hand over the yellow crystals gathered from the tunnels for further study. If the Commission are able to determine anything about the samples, they'll be sure to let Frond know. Frond also stresses their renewed wish to return to actively furthering the good work of the Commission after the upsetting events of Imperial Justice.
Mabel visits the Strategos, and explains that her and Suprema's attempts to assassinate Richter were foiled by Frond. She also says that despite catching up to Frond and Richter, Mabel was unable to overrule the will of an Imperial Commissioner, and thus Richter is now in the hands of the King. While the Strategos is disappointed that the defector's treason has gone unpunished, and that the King's apparent scheming against her seems to have succeeded, Mabel is able to persuade her that she is at least grateful that a highly valuable source of information has not fallen into the hands of the False Empire (for long enough to do any real damage, at least).
Rekha cannot quite shake the feeling that out there, somewhere, the God Emperor has received her ceiling-carved message, and is displeased. Rekha smiles.
Not quite finished yet - still a couple of bits left to finalise.