The College of the Stars has put out a call for adventurers to assist with the location and recovery of items stolen in a recent break-in. Some travel and risk may be involved, but a sizable reward is offered. Those interested are asked to report to the front desk of the College for more information.
The party go to the College of the Stars where they are briefed by Francesco Fractura himself. It seems that in the last week the college has had a break-in, the thief or thieves getting into one of their arcane storage rooms and escaping with a sizable cache of mana and a mysterious box the college had acquired from the excavation of some ruins recently. Though they hadn't yet managed to get into the box as it was protected by a powerful Binding ritual, they at least had managed to get enough of an understanding of the flow of mana through it to carry out a ritual variant on the Mind's Eye to create a compass capable of tracking the box. Concerned that it might contain some dangerous magical artifact Fractura requests that the party use the compass, which points out to the West, to track the thief down and recover it. He offers them 60 Riel each, with 18 of that as an advance.
The party head West, defeating bandits, escaping a Flux river-kraken and getting pecked at by some angry Flux ostriches on the way. From time to time the compass seems to just start spinning, or point vaguely but inconsistently West, which they assume is down to some combination of them or their target being in Flux. Eventually they reach Liarus, where the compass seems to be spinning faster and faster as they approach. Lionel attempts to understand what it is doing, and gets the impression that it's trying to lock onto a mana signal which is no longer consistently in one place, which doesn't exactly bode well.
In the city the owners of an inn are complaining about some previous guests leaving the room in a state, and through checking the compass to see when it speeds up or slows down, Vincent finds it seems to spin faster as he nears the alley next to the inn, where they've thrown out their rubbish. The party head into the inn for a drink and wind up inspecting the room the previous guests were in. There are marks carved into the floor, lines of varying thickness. One particularly thick one reaches a wall, where a crack runs up the wall. Lionel, examining the marks, can't find any meaning to them, but gets the distinct impression that these marks are in some indescribable way writing. Not noticing a faster response from the compass here, Vincent decides to raid the trash, finding what seems to be the box, opened and empty. The compass breaks from spinning too fast as he picks it up.
Meanwhile Vermillion is using the power of the Builder to fix up the room. Whilst this is effective at repairing the wall and manages to fix up the stairs and furniture, the marks on the floor remain. The inn owners thank him but accept that some magical stains can't be easily removed. Lionel looks for weak points in the marks, finding none. Concerned by this, he checks a nearby table and finds that whilst well fixed up by the Builder's power it does still have a weak point, and is relieved that this means he probably isn't in some weird virtual world. Again.
The party get descriptions of the previous guests in the room and learn that there were two of them, seemingly Liaran, and they left in something of a hurry, getting an express caravan to Tovis. They hire a local Wayfinder to take them across the desert and back for 30 Riel and give chase. After dealing with some Flux cannibals they meet a Serradic patrol who aren't too happy with them just heading right into the Empire's territory. After explaining that they're chasing a possible rogue wizard who may be up to some misdeeds, the patrol escort them to Tovis, sending a runner to their general.
After a quick meal in Tovis, during which they arrange for their Wayfinder to accompany them as far as necessary in the Empire for a further 30 Riel, they follow the people described to them who were seen oddly heading South, where there isn't really anything there. The Serradic soldiers do not go with them, but state that their general has been informed and will be arriving to oversee things, and will find them.
On the edge of Consensus to the South they find what appears to be part of a large circle carved into the ground. Lionel is immediately concerned, not only seeing that it is like the marks on the inn floor but also recognising it as Scribing magic and the meanings of some of the symbols: devastation, ruin, Calamity. The party quickly determine that this is a ritual along the lines of the Symbol of Calamity and from the curvature estimate it to be so huge that it probably circumscribes the entire lands of the Empire (Liarus and such captured territories not included). They try to mess up the circle to no avail, even attempts to fill in the circle or dig it out causing the dirt to quickly shift such that the markings are still there.
Before long, some other symbols on the ground nearby seem to activate, pulling themselves up into Scribing dirt golems. However, these seem to have inherited the indelible nature of the markings and try as they might the party are unable to permanently put a stop to them. Vermillion instead runs around using the power of the Builder to join them together, eventually tying them all into an inward-facing circle and allowing them to make a getaway.
The party decide to follow the circle in the hopes of catching up with the one drawing it, eventually reaching a point where it just seems to disappear. Marcos, their hired Wayfinder points out that this is Flux, but Lionel notes that the edge of the circle seems to have a slight flourish which, whilst he doesn't understand the exact workings of it without detailed study, suggests that the one responsible may have taken the Flux into account in some way.
As they travel on they are stopped by more Serradic soldiers, led by General Adraston, the one they were told to expect earlier. They berate them for coming into Serradic territory and bringing dangerous wizards with them, though the party remain diplomatic and insist that the dangerous wizard was not their doing and that they are here to put things right. They eventually allow the party to pass after they have sworn to two conditions: that the culprit be brought to Serradic justice, and that whatever fell artifact they have be turned over to the general to be destroyed.
The party fight some Flux lions. Lionel is happy. They then encounter more of the symbols on the ground which caused them so much trouble earlier, and attempt to quickly make their way past the resulting dirt and rock golems which form, but are hindered by various members of the party falling as they try to make their escape. In the ensuing struggle Vincent is left down and the party are forced to abandon him as they escape, Vermillion determining that he seems to have perished when he can feel no sign of life.
Their morale running low after a long and arduous journey with their numbers wearing thin, the party press on because they don't have much other choice now. After a narrow call with a ravine their Wayfinder points out that somebody seems to be making the going more difficult for them, implying that they are more skilled than them. They press on, but Aegir is starting to have doubts about all of this, wondering whether they should just escape now, because screw Serradis, they might at least get out of the blast radius in time.
As he and Lionel are arguing, though, they see two people up ahead. One has a shimmering barrier around them and the other appears to be walking along, carving into the ground with what appears to be a small stone cylindrical object. Noticing the party approach, the latter stops and tells the party to go away. When they refuse and Aegir attempts to mesmerise her with song, she seems to instinctually release strange inky, fleshy creatures from her own body. A fight ensues, during which she uses the object to mark Symbols of Entrenchment and to quickly tear up the ground to knock the party down. During this fight Vincent eventually shows up, apparently having not died but in fact regenerated due to undeath before being promptly cut down by the golems again, repeatedly, in a continuous loop until he managed to get far enough away that they wouldn't follow.
Vermillion calls on a Miracle of the Builder to imprison her, and a gothic-looking stone prison quickly forms around the mage, trapping her and the object she wields inside. Aegir hears a whispering voice telling him that his vengeance on Serradis can be had and all he needs to do is complete the circle, but he is unable to get into the prison to get at the thing she was using to do it. The remaining creatures and the Wayfinder are dealt with, and the party are left with, as it turns out, a circle only a few meters away from completion and a mage in a box with a mysterious object.
After a bit of a wait in which Lionel ponders doing a ritual to try to prevent the circle from being completed, General Adraston and their soldiers arrive. The party report the situation and the general claims that they and their people will take over things from here. After Vermillion digs down in an attempt to move the prison and finds it extends quite some way down to ensure that someone trapped within cannot tunnel out, the decision is made that the Serradics will build a fortress here around the prison and ensure that things are well-guarded. The General thanks the party for what they have done and insists that they now leave.
The party are escorted by Serradic soldiers to an embassy in Serradis for a more thorough debriefing and from there back to Tovis. Whilst they're in the area Lionel goes to see some fights and Vermillion checks out the local opera as they generally try to see all the sights which they feel are at risk of being exploded shortly. In Tovis Lionel tries to arrange his own makeshift version of the Xtreme Battle Arena but finds relatively little interest, with the fighters there more keen on bettering their skills than on what they see as drama. Vermillion finds a local art lover who is high up the social ladder and produces some fine statues for them. They are particularly keen on his aesthetic, and agree to keep him updated on the status of his prison.
The party eventually travel back to Acryn and report back to College of the Stars. The report is somewhat lacking as they still don't really understand what the object was, but covers all they know and establishes the permanent nature of the marks that the item made. Aegir suggests that the item will likely end up in the hands of the Penitent Damned, which clearly means that it will be used against Acryn in the near future. Concerned but content that they have at least prevented any immediate disaster and likely diplomatic incidents, Fractura arranges for them to be paid the full 60 Riel and passes on details of their report to the Council. At Vermillion's request he make inquiries with the bursar regarding reimbursing some of their expenses.
In lieu of payment Aegir, having just about had enough of all of this, requests passage through the Dragon Gate in order to go home. Fractura makes arrangements for his travel as well as some subtle guidance back to his home on the other side without too many questions asked. The bursar is apparently not too keen on the amount the party paid the Wayfinder, but reimburses half of it. Vermilion implies that he’ll sell the college out to the council with regards to their close call with a massive catastrophe.
Lionel performs a ritual to try to understand the “arcane symbols” inside the shattered box and on the Liaran inn floor, giving himself a hangover as he attempts to understand the logic behind a series of scribbles caused by storing a small pen in a large box and a set of marks that were effectively someone testing out a pen.
Vincent reports details of the ritual and the mysterious object to the post office, causing a large document labelled “plan B” to be prepared.
Aegir heads through the Dragon Gate, and heads home.
Vermillion serenades his Dark Mistress about his sadness of not acquiring a doomsday weapon for her, but that it would have resulted in the destruction of several cultural artefacts. She is somewhat displeased at the prospect that she could have had a doomsday weapon but didn't.
A large raised “ring” Road is built around the Serradic Empire, limiting access to the indestructible magical circle, while a large fortress is built just north of Tovis, where the circle doesn’t meet and the prison sits. Within awaits Amara Costa, a vengeful Scribing/Fracturing mage who wants Serradis to suffer for killing her lover back in their invasion of Liarus. Though the party did not identify it, the item she holds in there with her is the First Pen, used to carve the first writing into the ground and capable of making what is quitessentially the epitome of writing. Things written with it are completely indelible, so whilst it is not inherently magical it synergises extremely well with Scribing magic.