The following posters are seen around the city:
The Adventurer’s Guild of Acryn seeks brave, cunning and knowledgeable adventurers to investigate reports by concerned citizens of loved ones acting outside of their usual character.
Mission provided in conjunction with the City Watch. May involve complications and matters unknown. Logistical support provided.
Expected danger: 5/9.
Pay: 27R+ ea.
Those interested should gather at the Adventurer’s Guild, Mosia Lane, Merchant Quarter, at Noon of the fourth day of the month.
Brother Miller and Saul arrive at the tiny, purpose-built street that is Mosia Lane, home to the Adventurer's Guild, at the prescribed time. They are met by receptionist Elias Parr, who explains that people have reported loved ones seeming strangely distant, as though they are unable to feel emotions quite like they used to, and that the Watch have been busy with more tangible things and so have agreed to let the Adventurer's Guild handle it since they have contracts to investigate. Elias provides the pair with a stack of reports and statements, both their own and from the Watch, and addresses of those who filed them.
The party decide that the best first course of action is to check out one of the city's slums, where an unusual concentration of reports seem to come from. Dealing with some street thugs on the way, they reach a street party being thrown by a man attempting to cheer up his father, a formerly jovial man who has been distant lately. Saul senses some unusual background mana activity from the man, but otherwise there's no sign of what could be wrong. The party meet a local girl, Selphina Reese, who tells them of another girl from the area, Enna Walker, who suspiciously fled the city shortly after this started happening.
Selphina shows the pair to the house of Jay, a friend of Enna's, who himself is affected and whose mother was one of the people who filed a report. Whilst talking to the young man, he grabs a ball of string from the table and starts to work it. Objects around the room start to be puppeted and attack, and Jay takes on a much darker demeanour, shouting hatred towards the party and that they should not exist. After bringing him down and cutting the threads that seem to be forming around him, they check him and find a pattern embroidered on his arm. After getting rid of this he seems to return to normal, though he's confused and doesn't seem to recall much.
Jay shows the party to where he thinks he saw Enna last, where Brother Miller finds between some houses the entrance to a hidden den making up half of a collapsed basement. Despite Selphina's objections to him trespassing on their old hideout, he goes in and finds a note left by Enna recently for their gang indicating that she was headed for Riverbreeze, a small village about a day's travel out to the West. To gather more information in the city, the party check out the local orphanage, which seems to have suffered a break-in recently, after which some of the older kids in their care were affected. After checking over one of them, they find the sewn pattern again.
Selphina wants to join the pair in going to find Enna, so they send her to contact the Adventurer's Guild whilst they check out an address in the better-off parts of the city. Meeting a woman who is concerned because her wife seems unbothered by the fact that several of their businesses are failing and they're about to go under, and persuading her that it's worth the investment to buy a mana crystal, Saul tries a Wounding ritual to get some idea of what's going on. From his rite's understanding of matters of the heart, he is able to tell that at least on some level the woman's emotions are bound up somehow, and that her heart is party ensnared by vines. As he physically cuts away the pattern embroidered on her arm, the bindings fall away but the vines remain.
Miller and Saul meet Selphina and a Wayfinder/ranger hired by the Adventurer's Guild. They try to pass through when the guard suddenly takes issue with them and tries to arrest them. As he attacks he seems to be violently shouting something which does not match up with the words coming from his mouth. After knocking out him and most of the other guards that come to his aid and clearing up the misunderstanding, they head out to Riverbreeze, taking care of some local idea of how wildfires start in the savanna (large, horned fire-breathing sheep) on the way.
Selphina claims to hear Enna nearby and runs off, and they catch up and find Enna and some Flux-entity farmers. She claims that they shouldn't have come because she might hurt someone, but then her Wayfinding power seems to disappear and she is overcome with negativity in the same way that Jay was, instead using the chants of Manipulation. The party try to stop her and get past the Flux farmers trying to protect their friend, and eventually they manage to bring her down. She asks Selphina why she came, who reveals that she just wanted to make sure Enna was okay because she loves her.
Heading to the village for a rest and some lunch, the party quiz Enna about what happened to her; she has flashes of memory of someone doing what sounds like a Binding ritual to various people, herself and Selphina included, but otherwise is herself somewhat confused. As they eat, Selphina seems increasingly bothered by something before simply running off. Chasing after her, Saul and Miller find her a short way outside the village where she tells them to keep back, and that whilst she too has been affected, having some knowledge of Binding she's been trying to hold it back.
Before the party can get away, though, ethereal strings ensnare the party and Selphina turns, blood spreading across her body in the shape of a Scribing symbol. As the party contend with strange corn dolls that rise from the ground and various magics from Selphina, including the unleashed Symbol of Calamity, the girl struggles for control of herself as something dark and violent tries to take control at the same time as her body is puppeted. When she is finally stopped, Saul attempts another Wounding ritual using her hard-earned mana crystal to try to rid her of the vines and their influence. During this ritual, he finds himself in a battle of wills with something far, far greater: the draconic Entity in the Forest, who has come to claim Selphina. Eventually awaking from his ritual, blood pouring from much of his face, he finds that he has carved an enormous, beautiful dragon into the girl's flesh, but she seems largely cleared of any external influences. Selphina awakens and unsurprisingly isn't too pleased with what has happened to her, but given the circumstances is at least glad to not be a risk any more.
Realising that as well as the dragon trying to take control of her, her body was being pupetted by someone else, she realises that she could to some extent feel this second influence, that it came from the direction of Acryn and that she might be able to recognise it again in others. Returning to the city and stopping an adventurer who happens to be controlled as they pass a pub, the party are able to use this to trace the influence as coming from the College of the Stars. They head there, along with what seems to be quite a large gathering of people, many of whom are moving somewhat jerkily, fighting their way past a bunch of people who are being controlled to stop them, one of them claiming that they will not be allowed to stop the healing of the world.
Reaching and barricading the college, explaining to the porter that the magical experiment taking place there with all those people is dangerous, they rush off, fighting through some escaped alchemically-pumped, enormous, muscular falcons and reaching the hall the porter has been directing the people to. As they burst in they find a man surrounded by people performing Binding together, who seems somewhat perturbed when the participants in his rituals suddenly turn hateful and malicious. But then he, too, becomes possessed by the dragon, and surrounded by chains he cries “Fractura, Crack the Sky!” and attacks. They eventually stop the ritual and cut down a lot of the participants the College principal among them, Selphina desperately running around with a pile of mana she grabbed on the way to keep them alive. Saul attempts to learn a secret from the mage, but by this point he is enough dragon that the monstrous arcane entity simply mocks him for trying, so he settles for removing his still beating heart.
Brother Miller heads out to take a look around, and it quickly becomes apparent that the phrase “Fractura, Crack the Sky” was taken as a cue by multiple people in the room, as a large rent in reality is tearing open in the space above the College and huge vines are slowly encroaching through, descending towards the College. Without much they can do about this at this juncture, the party and Selphina settle for grabbing whoever they can and getting the principal out of there and to safety before the draconic excrement hits the fan of civilisation.
In the aftermath, the pair are able to locate the mage's room, which was fortunately on the opposite side of the College to the hall they were in, and recover some notes, delivering these to the People's College in case they can learn anything useful from them that might be able to help with the tragic situation that has regrettably befallen their bitter rivals. Returning to the Adventurer's Guild, they report on what has happened and are paid 36 Riel each for a satisfactory investigation and some efforts to remove the affliction, plus 27 Riel between them to cover the cost of the mana crystal used in Saul's initial ritual, despite the merchants falling on hard times having already paid for this. Though Miller does mention the possibility of the Adventurer's Guild striking a deal with said merchants to help them out and bring them more business, which Elias says that he will mention to the Chairman. Saul also tells Elias that Selphina might be someone to watch out for in the adventuring community in future.
The party visit Francesco Fractura to check that he is okay, and though a little shaken he is generally fine. He refers Saul to Ghita Darrish, who uses a 5-crystal Wounding ritual to learn what she can from the mage's heart. It seems as though this is not much, though. She arranges for some magical training for Saul, as he wishes to become more capable at the art in which he dabbles. Finishing up at the People's College again to see if anything useful was in the notes, they learn that the mage, Lhasya Esdras, was a Binding mage who was attempting to create some system of using Binding rituals tied up in peoples' emotions to be able to control and puppet them, and getting them to all duplicate the same actions in a ritual together to increase its power. The professor they speak to scoffs at their misunderstanding, claiming that this wouldn't actually work at all. The party are left wondering what the dragon had to do with all of this. From Lhasya's reaction during the ritual they decide that he probably wasn't quite aware of what he was dealing with, but was definitely crazy. They then go about their business, and Selphina returns home.
Saul later undergoes some magical tutoring, as arranged, but is eventually told that his lack of natural ability means that he is just unteachable. As an alternative, he is provided with a letter and an address to take it to; he goes, where as one who has taken down a dangerous rogue wizard he is welcomed to the Brotherhood of the Closed Eye and offered special training in their ways.
The tear in reality remains above the College of the Stars, Tuireann's vines reaching through and into the College, transforming some of it into a dense and primal forest. About a third of the College is affected, although the generally hostile environment means that the more sensible scholars have fled the building and keep away from it. Some of the more extreme members who are keen to see what a more exciting research space can bring do venture there, though those who venture too far into the forest don't return their usual selves, becoming snarling, hateful puppets of the dragon that wander the College. Saul, whose Arcane Library remains there finds that the vines take a particular interest in going for him specifically whenever he goes near them.