A job is advertised to a select few, though news of it spreads quickly.
Ghita Dharish, Dean of the School of Wounding, is seeking resourceful individuals to secure the grounds of a compound on the outskirts of Acryn, and to track down the whereabouts of its former occupants. It is rumoured that a generous sum and the Dean’s good will are being offered to anyone able to perform this task to the Dean’s liking. Further details will be provided to successful applicants, who should first introduce themselves to the Bursar at the College of the Stars.
Having had their application forms vetted and accepted, the party are invited to be interviewed in Ghita Darrish’s private lodgings in the College of Stars - Nice is stationed outside in a convenient quad, and can peer in when necessary. The room is not opulent, per se, but the voluminous bookcases, assorted magical curios, and sheer size of the room convey a sense of authority - a sense which becomes a certainty when the party meet Ghita’s hard gaze, face to face.
Ghita quizzes the party on their knowledge of Acryn’s justice system. There are three types of criminal sentences. For the worst type of criminals - executions. For the pettiest criminals - night in a small Watch gaol - or beatings, or fines for larger crimes - or more noble criminals. But the final kind of criminal - not so bad they merit execution, but not so petty that they can just be warned off - are problematic. For this third type, Acryn’s justices have been handing out absurd prison sentences: 20, 30 years. What is the problem with this? Why, the problem is where to put them.
Acryn has no large-scale system of incarceration: there are gaols, and then there are dungeons, but even amongst ambitious developments there has been nothing on the scale required. Ghita was tasked with providing the solution. She commissioned her protegé, Gerbera Unnuttum, to find a solution, and find one he did - The All Seeing Eye, a building which would, through its very architecture, contain the criminals and reform them - requiring only a handful of staff to operate. The building is circular, with an outside ring of cells looking on to a huge tower at the center of the construction. Ghita approved the plans and the Eye was constructed without delay.
But something went wrong. It has been months since Ghita received a genuine report from Gerbera, who was in charge of the Eye. She tasks the party with securing the building, finding the location of the prisoners (if they have fled) and bringing Gerbera to her alive.
She calls Darius in privately to explain that the criminals are likely to be docile as a result of the magic upon the Eye and that they shouldn’t pose a threat. She offers him a carrot - achieve this and never want for work or status again - and a stick - cross her and they won’t find his body. He takes this advice on board (as well as a small advance) and leaves.
The Dean also speaks to Leon, expressing that - whilst she approves of his disdain for playing the ‘noble politics’ game, she thinks that his actions in spiteing Olivia are monumentally idiotic given his status, and warns him not to screw up again. As a carrot, she offers to speak to Olivia on his behalf if things go well. Meanwhile, Karlos has been ordered by the White Duke to find and rescue an informant known as ‘Selena’.
The party set off to the All-Seeing-Eye, encountering a group of, would you believe it, bandits - who have just come from the building, having believed it to be full of hoarded treasure. Instead, the monsters within ripped their companions apart. Bardiche Opossum (gap-toothed bandit mascot; arsonist) and the adventurers try to cheer up Glaive Lynx (bandit leader) by saying that he just needs to focus on what he’s good at. So instructed, he orders the bandits to attack the party. They are decisively defeated for the second time that day, but rather happy about the whole ‘being alive’ thing, all told.
The party come up against their first real obstacle: a ring wall protecting the Eye, with no obvious method of ingress save for a small hole which was blasted in the rock…and which golems, clogged with weeds, are hastily repairing. After a serious kerfuffle (involving Jeremy being used to patch up the wall yet again) and prolonged argument ( resulting in Jeremy being pooped out of Nice) the party enter the Eye, and are immediately sickened by the building - they feel hunted, watched - and if something is whispering curses into their ears.
Following a scream from the cells, the party board a ladder up to the source only for it to be whipped away by a tree which sprouts from the earth. A creature in tattered robes screeches prophecies of their doom whilst the party desperately struggle to stop a cohort of shadow monsters from ripping them apart. Success! They force the device locking the doors and gain access to the monsters. But, here the first signs of the party’s disfunction are revealed as Nice and Karlos jump from the gantry rather than help their allies. Coming to in the cells after a moment’s respite, they find the strength to defeat the creatures and assess the situation. Darius stays behind to investigate, whilst Leon, Selphina and Jeremy follow the double-crossing duo to the mage’s tower in the center of the building. After finding the belongings of two former prisoners (Rhydian and Selena) and a gruesome etching of a set of jaws with a tower protruding from them instead of a tongue, Darius hurries to join the rest of the group.
Karlos and Nice enter the tower and start to ransack it; Nice chomps through an elaborate locked chest and takes the hoard of mana crystals inside - whilst destroying some sort of important-looking map. Meanwhile Karlos sets about unlocking the desk drawer. The rest of the party minus Darius arrive and begin searching. Finally, Darius turns up, realises with horror that they’ve tripped an alarm (a fine thread across the door now broken) and starts shouting at everyone to leave. The tower rumbles ominously. The party are reluctant to move. The party are forcibly ejected when the top of the tower detonates, flinging the party in all directions.
They awake surrounded by huge skeletons choked with vines, and some evil-looking skeletons bound into barbed wheels. It is perhaps unsurprising when the party are downed by these creatures. Slowly, inexorably, their bodies are smothered with vines, which form cocoons. Outside, all is still. Inside, the party do battle to keep control of their will against the might of the Dragon, Tuireann, which has become metaphysically entangled with the All Seeing Eye at a fundamental level. Selphina submits, Darius and Nice are defeated. They are given a choice: become Tuireann servant - or become his slave.
The party wake up outside, seemingly unharmed. First up: they report to Ghita what has happened, and their suspicions of Dragon shenanigans. Ghita looks at them severely and asks aloud why, if Gerbera is supposedly a cultist of this Dragon, that they are not out there finding him like they were supposed to - before he can do more harm? They leave. They make for Round Island, a place Gerbera talks about in his diary. It seems as though he believed the building cursed and has fled with the criminals to this uninhabited location.
The Town of Outset. Here, the party find it difficult to charter a ship from Galbadia Decor, shipping magnate, because there has been an embargo on visits to round island for several months, citing ‘Kraken worries’. Meanwhile, priests of the Beacon, a local god of flame, light, and finding one’s way home, ask Karlos to reignite their God’s signal fire on the island, which has been woefully untended since the embargo began. They hand him precious oils, instructions on how to combine them, and give him a painful lecture on fire safety. Meanwhile, the party have recruited former pirate Salty Peanut to carry them across the sea, in exchange for fighting the Kraken himself. Jeremy tends to the wounds of Mary, a recent addition to Outset found washed ashore, but cannot find their cause - there are a few scars here and there, but nothing debilitating.
After hiring some urchin swabbies, Peanut ushers everybody aboard the SS Margaret Deluxe (Peanut’s regular ship being too small for a tyrant lizard) and make good headway towards the island, before Peanut steers the boat around into a holding pattern. He starts to laugh. Tentacles tear at the boat, seemingly without end, but after the party make some brave forays into the water to engage the Kraken head one-on-one, it is slain. Or so they thought. Nice Lizard, ever helpful, brings it back to life as a zombie. The newly-christened ‘Betsy’ trails the boat slowly as Peanut resumes course for Round Island.
The SS Margaret Deluxe is moored. Tuireann manifests in the minds of Darius, Nice and Selphina, and makes his demand: extinguish the light that exists on this Island - the god called the Beacon. Before long the party find themselves on the perfect sandy shores of Round Island. It is peaceful here, and a trail of smoke from a nearby camp snakes lazily into the sky. The party decide to make for the settlement, Betsy the Kraken following in tow.
Thankfully, before the party arrive, the zombie horror vanishes. The party find the settlement - Gerberopolis, chief ‘city’ of the kingdom of Gerberania. Cheerful shacks made of salvage and driftwood cluster around a central square, in the shadow of some sort of temple. A fire is lit and the inhabitants are eating a meal; they insist that the party join them. Gerberopolis is a seemingly utopian place - no war, poverty or want; no money. Everyone is equal, and there is no nobility - though Gerbera is their leader and lives apart from them in his tower. Gerbera is held in esteem and awe by these people, who have clearly not been brainwashed or conditioned in any way.
Besh, the head of the temple, explains the community is joined in spiritual harmony with each other, and that they do not worship any particular gods, per se. Karant explains how much she loves singing in the temple choir, and, after having her arms burned off by Jeremy, Nice decides to cut out her ability to feel happiness using wounding magic. The islanders decide to leave immediately to go and tell Gerbera that there are some mainlanders in need of some serious help. The party decide to take a detour to the shrine of the Beacon before resuming their way to the tower.
During the meal, Darius has been craftily attempting to get his hands on the oils on Karlos’ person - but every time he fishes around he gets either something mundane - such as a handful of riel - or unpleasant - like live insects - or morsels of stale bread. So when the Beacon’s lighthouse looms at the top of the cliffs, Karlos has everything he needs to begin the ceremony. Rather than wait for the beacon to be summoned, Selphina and Nice take action to disrupt Karlos’ plans, attempting to fracture and shatter the ceremonial bowl filled with fuel - fuel which has now caught fire, spreading everywhere. A tumult of emotion - betrayal, panic, anger - but anger rises to the top, like oil on water, and a fight breaks out.
In the aftermath: the party splits - Karlos, Leon and Jeremy (Team Karl-Leon) go ahead, and Nice, Selphina and Darius (Team Tuireann) an awkwardly short distance after. Hopelessly lost, they stumble into clearing covered in a strange and intoxicating fog; they stumble forward, and find a path lined with strange granite blocks. Suddenly, *something* is ripped out of their mind and into the blocks, which erupt into statues - affecting strangely familiar, but alien, shapes. These statues loudly declaim the party’s regrets, greatest shames, and personal failings. Some embrace their past - others reject it - still others run away. These last few - pity them. They will always run away.
The two teams are then met by a delightful butler, Eins, who welcomes the party and offers them champagne. Eins urges the newcomers to sate their bloodlust and listen to what Gerbera has to say. Eins makes to tell both groups more about Gerbera - but they are gone, racing ahead to see who can be first to the throne room. He disappears in a cloud of sparkles and cherry blossom.
Leon and his team dash forwards but are blocked by phantoms that appear from the paintings - alumni from the College of Stars, led by a painted Ghita Darrish. Thinking the party are Gerbera, they all admonish him for his various failings - and raise their weapons to attack. After some unspeakable acts of artistic vandalism, the way is clear, and the race to the Court continues.
Team Karl-Leon are first, and are greeted once more by Eins, who congratulates the party on getting this far, and once more entreats the party to listen to his master. What Eins has failed to understand is that these are not reasonable people - they are monsters in human skin. Eins is poisoned by Jeremy, and then Karlos slits his throat with an axe - lest he provide nutriment to Nice Lizard. Karlos grabs the body and stuffs it into a commodius vase. Leon looks on with a mixture of doomed resignation and horror.
Gerbera greets team Karl-Leon, jolly on the outside, and asks them what they think of Gerberania - the country they are in. Jeremy is…not complimentary, and once more restates his desire to ‘destroy everything you know and love’. Gerbera then asks what became of Eins, who was supposed to lead them here? Karlos blusters, as Nice barges through the throne-room doors and accuses Karlos of murdering him. Gerbera, in denial, shakes his head: no no no. that could never happen. He clicks his fingers repeatedly but Eins does not appear. He tries to resume dialogue with the party, distraught, but they make it clear they will take the population of the island - former prisoners - back to the Eye. This is something Gerbera cannot countenance. He knows that place - that kind of incarceration - is an abomination. People should be free. He Dominates Karlos to attack Team Turieann and flees as his courtiers cover his exit.
Another massacre. Nice, Darius and Selphina wake up in manacles - Leon not too far from them, having been given the ‘Jeremy Special’ (though thankfully, not the Karlos Special too). The mages can sense immediately that something is very wrong - some huge magical rite is happening. Leon does not wake up. After some deliberation, Nice shows a worrying streak of pragmatism, if not morality, as the trio decide that sparing him is in their best interests.
Karlos can feel the rite too - something abhorrent and terrifying is happening - something back at the shrine to the Beacon. Jeremy and Karlos share a glance, and they begin running back to the SS Margaret Deluxe, where they convince Peanut to row them back to Acryn with all due speed.
You see, Gerbera has found Eins’ body - and is attempting to bring it back to life by ‘channeling the power of the Beacon’, a euphemism for his benefit, as what he is really doing is binding the god into the flesh of the former butler, using manipulation, binding and wounding magic. Team Tuireann look on but decide not to intervene - and so, though the Beacon desperately fights to be free - she is imprisoned in Eins, and made to believe that she is Gerbera’s devoted servant.
At this stage, Team Tuireann decide that maybe intervention could be necessary - this is after all the God they were told to kill - but also get the sense that Tuireann would approve of what has happened. Gerbera, with the last of his power, fights them, knowing word cannot get back to the mainland. He collapses as his strength fails him, and ‘Eins’ casts their baleful gaze upon those who would hurt their beloved, before picking Gerbera up and fleeing to safety.
“The problem”, Gerbera mutters, “is the outsiders…if only everything could be like Round Island”.
“It’s fine, Master”, Eins replies. “With my power, soon we will make everyone free”.
Jeremy and Karlos return to Ghita to be paid, they tell her about the Tuireann cultists, and submit themselves for mandatory testing. Karlos tells Ghita about the binding of the god of the island, the Beacon, and that Gerbera has still not been checked. She is furious. But - she also realises that the scale of the problem was far greater than she had imagined. She pays Karlos and Jeremy.
Back on the island, Nice gives Selphina a mana crystal for a binding ritual to create a boat capable of getting them back to the mainland. The journey takes some weeks, during which Leon finally awakes.
When they make land, Leon visits Ghita to report the awful actions of the party - the murder of the butler by Karlos and Jeremy which caused Gerbera to lose his grip - and then the binding of the God. Ghita is grateful for the extra information, but nonetheless very frank that this cock-up was an order of magnitude greater than the one which caused the party to be hired in the first place. Leon submits himself for ‘mandatory testing’ and gets paid.
Team Tuireann decide to return to the Evil Eye, and find their path back strangely straightforward - crows bound to the ground by vines, and even a trail of blossoming creepers which forms a path guiding them to the entrance. Once inside, they wait for…something. It does not come. They stare up at the ruined tower, and notice how curiously branches and vegetation have started to grow to replace the top - like they are expanding inside an invisible mould.
They sleep. They see a blue-eyed woman, and a steely eyed woman. They are destroying your forest. They are destroying your home.
When they awake, the group decide that this is a sign of what they must do in future, but for meantime resolve to live in the building. Selphina sends word to Enna Walker, who is delighted to see her, and Enna joins the budding Tuireann community.
Meanwhile, in Acryn, the Watch are searching the city for Nice Lizard, Darius, and Selphina. Senta Fernbach, Nice’s legal guardian, is taken in by the Watch and interrogated about the lizard’s whereabouts. When she asks what has happened, she is told that Nice is suspected of being a cultist of Tuireann, a Dragon which seeks the destruction of Acryn. Senta is horrified. Her hand, gripped tightly around the badge she had made for Nice’s return, goes slack. The badge clatters on the Watch-house floor.
Not too far away, in a grimed and run-down warehouse off the backstreets, Karlos hauls in the trophies from his latest job - a starter set of human parts, bequeathed from various people. Jeremy stands there, excited, and anxious, breathing vapour into the fetid atmosphere. Karlos moves the parts about into four neat piles, and paces around them, nodding approval. He then motions to Jeremy, who passes him two shining crystals. Chanting something, Karlos begins.
First he leans down, plucking something from each pile, and adding them to a worn wooden bowl. He mashes these together with his thumb, breaking a crystal and working it in until his ingredients become a coarse paste. Using a bone to apply the grisly mixture, he anoints Jeremy: a daub on his forehead, a line on the back of each hand, a star on his torso, and a wavy line on both legs. The bone sputters and melts as it makes contact with Jeremy, whose green body seems to pulse and pale as more of the mixture is applied.
“Now, you feast”, says Karlos, smirking. He indicates the top left pile. Jeremy dives on it like a starved man might attack a hock of ham, obscene popping and burping sounds pricking the air as the gut-churning stench of seared flesh establishes an unmistakable presence in the room. “Next!” Karlos barks, indicating the top-right pile. The grim banquet continues, each successive course causing Jeremy to become….more substantial. More well defined. Less green.
Finally, dessert is over. His hand slick with some kind of oil, Karlos roars, gripping a mana crystal and thrusting it directly into Jeremy’s head - where it shatters and dissolves. A weird light suffuses the outline of Jeremy’s body. He starts to scream and stagger as his body stiffens - enveloped by a hard, crisp, skin which appears first from where he was anointed. This skin quickly covers his entire body - until Jeremy can scream no more.
All is silent. And for one, horrible moment, Karlos looks aghast - has he turned the man into a statue, frozen in agony? Surely not! He’s a far better mage than that. Oh gods. If his fellow mages from the tower could see him now…they’d be laughing.
It is then, with a wave of arcane energy, the skin shatters, flying in all directions, and Jeremy is born anew.
Back at the Evil Eye, it is a week or so since the cultists moved in, and the three have ventured outside to shore up the building’s defences. They do not see the oncoming warband - led by Ghita Darrish - until it is too late. They fight bravely, desperately - but they are outnumbered, and overpowered.
And then…they wake up. Wait. The sky? Groggy and uncomprehending, the party realise that they are back where they were outside the building, completely unharmed, with no army in sight. Perhaps that was a dream? Or maybe - a vision from the future, a warning sent by Tuireann? Something isn’t right.
It is about a week or so after that, that a letter arrives for Nice. There is no sender, only the words: “WELL DONE. YOU ARE FINALLY STARTING TO LIVE UP TO YOUR POTENTIAL.’