Well-printed leaflets are circulated around the mercantile districts and those urban areas with lower crime rates:
“The College of the Stars invites Acryn citizens to an event fostering international relations. We are looking for charismatic, engaging citizens from everyday professions: traders, priests, alchemists, seamstresses, domestics, and so forth, to represent the good character of the Acryn people.
If your social standing is suitably mundane and you are interested in representing your city at the most sophisticated level, you are welcomed to the Celebration of Acryn Magical Aptitude, which will take place Saturday next at the National History Museum of Acryn. The soirée will comprise a drinks reception with string quintet, an exhibition of junior members' promising research, a guided tour of the museum, and dinner with eminent Strossbourg mages, culminating in a thaumaturgical fireworks display.
Would appropriate individuals please make yourself known to the College of the Stars Porters' Lodge by Wednesday noon.”
The following is printed on the reverse:
*The College of the Stars recognises your commitment and that the required dress standards may invite greater expenditure than usual in lower-class life, and is prepared to reimburse time and expense with a reasonable sum in addition to a FREE DINNER.*
*All applicants will be vetted by the City Watch, the Acryn Tax Office, and the College's own records, and by entering into the application process applicants consent to these checks. Please note that this event aims to represent the charm and character of the ordinary Acryn citizen and due to the import of dignitaries present, the invitation is ABSOLUTELY NOT extended to ANY manner of Adventurer WHATSOEVER. Please note cloakrooms will be provided.*
Various citizens present themselves on the Wednesday. After quite a large amount of scrutiny, particularly regrading their documents and shoes, the following party is cleared to attend the soirée: An aesthetic young Leader Priest; another, slightly-less-aesthetic part-time Leader priest; an apparently humourless clerk from the East Empire Company; a young fracturing mage from the College itself; an ordinary sort of man who apparently runs a community group on Tuesdays; a pitiful blind man; and a charismatic young woman who appears to not have a profession and whose address, on further checking, seems to not exist, must be a clerical error, she seemed nice. They are to arrive at 6.23pm promptly at the Porters' Lodge where they will be shown the way to the Auditorium.
On arrival, a Porter delegated to managing the cloakroom once again inspects their shoes before their weapons are deposited in the cloakroom, with appropriate tickets dispensed. They proceed to the Auditorium, where a string quintet plays and canapés are on offer. They are greeted by Professor Oppenheim Black, who explains that they are to mingle with the Strossbourg guests and demonstrate the better side of Acryn. With varying degrees of charisma and aplomb, the guests 'mingle'. They meet the Strossbourg Ambassador, several Strossbourg mages, and a few College of the Stars Professors: Philomena di Carta, Henry Blackheart, and the rather dysphonic Archdean Rath, of the Department of Inadvisable Experimentation.
They are informed of the schedule for the evening: an exhibition of junior mages' research in the main gallery, followed by a guided tour of the adjoining galleries, dinner, more 'mingling', and a fireworks finale.
The exhibition kicks off. The guests meet a proud Binding student who has made Bind Item work upwards, a DPhil student breeding baby clawfiends to be tame, a Scribing junior who has made Symbol of Warding emit pink bubble hearts, and so forth. Shortly into the exhibition, a couple of enchanted paper candle lanterns, designed for children's parties, spin out of control and set fire to the clawfiend enclosure. The guests grab weapons from the exhibit on the production of arms, and defeat the clawfiends, lanterns, and the clawfiends' irate keeper. Seeing their prowess and prompt action, Professor Black hurriedly renegotiates terms and hires the party as security. They collect their arms from the cloakroom, check out the culprit paper lanterns and a couple of surrounding galleries, and debate looking over the fireworks display for any potential shenanigans.
They are interrupted by an attempted theft on a prized diamond chandelier, on display for one night only, in an adjacent gallery. They deal with the thieves and Bobby deals with the diamonds. Chasing some thieves down passages of the Natural History Museum, they find them dead in a pit recently caused by Fracturing magic. Joshua shakes down Bobby and many missing diamonds are mysteriously retrieved.
The guided tour starts. The Strossbourg Ambassador listens politely to stories of geodes. The soirée, however, is about to become a political target.
The newly-formed Acryn Association for the Advancement of Anomalies' Rights, or AAAAR, bursts in through a window. They are lead by a streaker for maximal international attention. Activists, several naked, chant about the evils of the Wayfinders' Guild before being subdued. In the confusion, one bleeds out next to the World's Largest Iron Pyrite Formation. Bobby admits to the killing. A debate follows about whether Bobby could have resuscitated the activist. The Watch arrive and cordon off the area. The guests are shepherded to dinner.
At dinner, the guests 'mingle' with notable mages such as Ghita Darrish, Principal Francesco Fractura (who gives an inspiring speech) and Professor Dammerung, who seems to have a few really rather worrying stories. Half the party exclaim in horror and question him further, and half the party try to gloss over the stories to appease the Strossbourg guests.
Bobby and one of the Unification mages head to Dammerung's laboratory, where he seems to do nothing more evil than be strict about deadlines.
Professor Blackheart is concerned about mana crystals that have been stolen today from around the College, including from the fireworks ritual, although it is unclear whether any guests are paying attention.
Philippa waxes lyrical about all the good the research of the College is doing for Acryn.
Gerard tries to promote the quality of College teaching.
The Strossbourg Ambassador learns about the College of the Stars' ethical approval processes, or lack thereof.
A College mage activates the tracking spell on the stolen diamonds. There is a bright gleam from Bobby's pocket. She hurriedly dumps her loot in the toilet.
Joshua catches wind that there is a disturbance in the Mammalian Anatomy gallery and subtly herds the party out. They discover a group of thieves, recently returned from upstairs, plundering all the skulls, presumably for the underground Fracturing magic supplies market. They stop the thieves but note that the head of the blue whale, the largest skull in existence, is unaccounted for. Bobby and Ozymandias follow the trail up the stairs without stopping to help.
Through twisting corridors, dilapidated staircases, and dusty galleries they ascend. They hear rushing footsteps ahead and pursue. They fight their way through spine-shooting cacti and sharp antlers. The rest of the party catches up and Octavian informs them that they are in flux. This fits with Gerard's knowledge; he's never heard of anyone coming up here, even crumbly old professors. Bobby is ahead and recognises the fleeing figure from earlier. They fight through flux museum exhibits, including a display case of shrunken bear heads, and emerge onto the rooftops.
Over the side of the faux-crenellations, above one of the main quadrangles, is suspended the whale skull on a rickety platform. Mage Philomena di Carta, not looking entirely in her right mind, is in the middle of a large ritual.
Fortunately Joshua subdues her, but Gerard recognises that a large Faultlines spell has gone off, with the skull as its centre. He scrabbles furiously at the ritual. It is beyond his experience and ability, but he recognises a powerful Fault of Memory bound up with the Faultlines. Worried this could wipe the memory of Acryn, he tries to deactivate it. Philippa helps by using a Leader miracle to shout for magical aid, adding that everything is fine, really, they just need help RIGHT NOW. In response, bells start sounding in alarm all over Acryn. People from streets around start running towards or away from the College, depending on their levels of bravado, self-preservation and common sense. A collection of mages bursts onto the roof as Joshua, Octavian and Bobby lever the whale skull back to safety. Dammerung and a random first year Binding student help to stabilise the whale skull before Faults of Memory can detonate, and Gerard destroys the ritual.
Bobby searches Professor di Carta and discovers a love letter to Professor Blackheart. They wake her and she rants about how Blackheart has left her. She insists that her ritual was only to wipe his memory of her infidelities, nothing more cataclysmic, and is enraged to discover they have stopped it. Desolate, she hurls Crack the Fabric at the sky.
Already weakened by the prior Tuireann incursion - one of the things the College is trying to entreat Strossbourg to forget - reality rents. Draconic entities and the Keeper, the protector god from the other side, fall through. The Keeper and the party try to hold off the entities. Ozymandias swoons before the manifestations of his gods and Philippa sends out a further miraculous shout. The sounds of a disturbed mob drift up to them and some scared mages once again appear. Thinking quickly, Gerard uses Fault of Memory on di Carta, persuading her that her ritual went off as expected and this is the horrifying aftermath. Di Carta sets to fixing her Crack in reality.
Ozymandias tries to seek spiritual guidance from an attacking horrific three-faced skull entity, before being struck down by both confusion and physical blows. Waves of draconic entities flood in and look to overwhelm the party, before di Carta finally seals the Crack.
Alive and with varying degrees of confusion, the people on the rooftop breathe a sigh of relief. Ozymandias scoops up the fallen skull, wondering what he did to displease the Dragons.
The mages hosting the soirée, desperately trying to get the evening back on track and give the large crowd in the quad something to focus on other than Philippa's Shout and the very obvious aerial rent in reality, decide to set off the fireworks as planned. Except that Di Carta had stolen several of the mana crystals earlier in the day, and the party never got around to checking them. The fireworks don't ascend as planned, but start shooting over the rooftops, bringing jolly bouncing blazing fire in their wake.
The rooftop guests flee.
Fireworks cascade over the rooftops. Stray rockets and tumbling wheels singe their heels as the party inelegantly stumbles downstairs. Given that inadvisable use of magic is illegal, they agree to get Philomena somewhere safe, liase with Professor Black and call the Watch. Back on the ground they find the soirée concluding. There is quite a crowd, with waiters determinedly serving the last drinks, people applauding the fireworks, and at least two hundred random Acryn people who have responded to the shouting. In true Acryn style, these people are generally watching the shit go down rather than actively helping. The Watch officers, already there to investigate the AAAAR activist's death, have resigned themselves to another undoubtedly criminal fracas to investigate.
Professor Black, mortified, asks what is going on. Gerard explains what happened: Philomena stole the giant whale skull and was trying to do ritual based on Fault of Memory, and subsequently cast Crack the Fabric. Draconic creatures came through and attacked everyone. Thinking quickly, he used Fault of Memory to make Prof di Carta think her ritual had succeeded and the reality rent was a side-effect. She then scrambled to repair the Crack. Philippa tells the Watch of what happened, and they somewhat grudgingly cart Philomena off.
Prof Black tells them that they need to go to the Quad and explain what happened to the Strossborg mages “in excellent terms”. Gerard insists they tell the truth, whilst Prof Black suggests they say it was a training exercise. He insists that at the very least they do not use the term “rogue mage”. Bobby tries to get more money out of the professor in exchange for explaining in “excellent terms”, whilst Ozymandias raves about the dragons. The argument continues, Octavian storming off and out of the College. Joshua slips away and explains to the gathered crowd what actually happened, quite frankly and using the term “rogue mage”. Meanwhile, the argument moves on to the matter of Bobby and the earlier death; Professor Black insists that she be sent to the Watch. Finally compromising to explain the events in the best possible light for the College whilst sticking to the truth, Gerard and Philippa go to join Joshua. They 'mingle'. The Strossbourg Ambassador, in a generous spirit and ruminating on certain failings of the College, offfers the party and College students the opportunity to attend the University of Strossbourg's Ethics course.
Afterwards they return to the Professor, where he is handing out discrete envelopes containing 30 Riel to each of the party (not Octavian, who has left, nor to Bobby, who must face the verdict of the law first; Prof Black is mortified enough that someone was murdered during the soirée, let alone paying a possible murderer). The party proffer a forwarding address for Bobby. Prof Black also agrees to reimburse Gerard for the two mana crystals used to prevent Philomena's ritual.
Octavian reports back to the Company with details of everything awful that happened. He ensures to mention Ozymandias as a Dragon Cultists that they should keep an eye on, and some horrible things that Dammerung described doing in the past. He tells them about the anti-Wayfinder's guild activists. The Company agree with them in general, though not so much with their anti-anomaly-experimentation stance. They pay Octavian 20 Riel for the information.
He then goes to talk to his superior, Branch, telling him of having stopped a Tier 5 Red Threat. He asks if Hugh was aware the College of the Stars had a floating skull; Hugh replies that he's great. Octavian gives his report. There is discussion of the bookshelves' filing system, which doesn't make sense, and Octavian's impending date with one of his crew, Stefano.
Octavian writes to Joshua apologising for going on the adventure to spy. He sends another message to Philippa who, as a priest of Leader, he entreats to consider getting in touch with the East Empire Company. He then goes on a date with Stefano. This goes… well.
Gerard Vidati sends a write-up of events to contacts in the Closed Eye, fleshing out his involvement in fixing the rogue mage problem, and warning about Ozymandias as a potential misguided Dragon cultist. He hastens to add that Oxymandias is probably actually less bad than he sounds. He flags Octavian as a potential recruit.
Joshua has been ruminating on a notion which came up earlier in conversation: that of being betrayed by the people you trust. Joshua investigates Hugh's boat. He trails Hugh from the Company to the docks, clings to Hugh's rowboat, and, wet and dishevelled, sneaks on board. He overhears Tabitha and Hugh talking about dumping the children – his children – on an island. He kicks the door down, attacks Hugh and is trivially dealt with by him and Tabitha. Whilst Joshua is unconscious, Tabitha and Hugh frantically plot. With a Traitor miracle Tabitha erases Joshua's last half hour of memory, they dump his wife and kids on an island, and then wake Joshua up on the boat. Tabitha and Hugh also appear to be just waking up, and they explain that their boat was attacked by the Pivot of the World, and that Joshua arrived just in the nick of time to help. They also claim to have lost some memory, and ask what Joshua is doing there.
Joshua, waking up bruised with amnesia of events since deciding to plunge after Hugh's rowboat, is incredibly suspicious.
Hugh tells Joshua that they were investigating his missing kids; he tells him that there is an island that is a possible lead, and he'll investigate it. They leave Joshua back on land and sail off again.
Ozymandias takes the dragon skull, puts it in a shrine in his house and worships the fuck out of it.
The Watch take evidence regarding Bobby and the murdered protester. She argues self-defence. Gerard, keen to state the truth, confirms that, during the chaotic events, the killing could feasibly be self-defence. Bobby is aquitted on the grounds that she was too busy dealing with other protesters to keep the dead man alive.
Philippa has decided that her fabrications about priests and mages working together is a thing which actually should happen, and tries to encourage that to happen by contacting the College. She gets put on a long list of possible projects for students, to partake in some sort of divine/magic combined projects which definitely won't end in horrible explosions.
All (including other associates, members and 'Contacts' of the College of the Stars)
Skull From Outside Reality Quirk: This skull feels powerful when held, and harbours faint traces of mana. By worshipping it over time, you begin to get a subconscious idea of the skull's will. Once per adventure, you may call on it for wisdom in a situation and gain some sense of its thoughts on the matter. You also have a strong sense that its power can be grown…
Guide for GMs: this Skull is able to provide insights into magic from Wounding and Consumption, and its intentions are malevolent but will present as benevolent.