Selphina Reese, Vermillion Magnifico and Christian Hansson meet up with Augusta Trilling, a wealthy merchant who is hiring adventurers to help her find the lost city of Naras. She explains that she is looking for something that can only be found there, something that money can’t buy… but that she is afraid to travel alone. She tells them that they must first journey to the Grand Academy in Batra, where they may be able to find some information on the city.
With the help of a wayfinder, they begin their traversal of the Great Desert, soon encountering a group of bandits who are speculating over the ransom money they might be able to get from Augusta’s kidnapping. After a brief fracas, the bandits flee into the flux, but there is further trouble when our heroes come across a desiccated corpse in the process of being consumed by monstrous worms. The worms are easily despatched but Augusta is absolutely terrified. Panicking, she runs into the flux, closely followed by Selphina.
The others attempt to follow in their wake, but soon encounter a red scarf that they remember one of the bandits had been wearing. A little way further into the desert, they find a disquieting area of forest that their wayfinder assures them is certainly not flux. In the middle of the forest, they find Selphina standing next to a pile of… actually, they don’t like to ask what she’s standing next to, but it seems that the bandits may have, ahem, overreached a little in tangling with Selphina. For her part, Selphina neglects to mention the nature of the ritual she conducted, nor the tiresome part in which a flesh golem burst out of her chest and needed to be destroyed. Unfortunately, in spite of her onslaught, one of the bandits seems to have escaped with Augusta.
It seems that they will have to make a raid on the bandit camp to rescue their employer. Their wayfinder leads them to the nearest area of consensus, the ruins of a temple to some forgotten god. It is currently the base of operations of a large group of bandits, many of whom are now ranged around the camp in a rather inebriated state. Unfortunately, in their attempts to sneak past the sentry, the party wakes some of the revelers - they fight their way through swathes of drunken bandits, eventually entering the temple to face off against the bandit chief, who is unimpressed by their ransom offer. Upon executing the chief, however, they hit upon two problems: (1) they don’t know exactly where Augusta is being held hostage, and (2) a large force of rapidly sobering bandits is assembling outside the temple.
The discovery of a maze of catacombs under the temple solves their immediate worries. Heading down into these tunnels, they discover that the bandits have been using a section of the catacombs as a prison. Deep within, past a network of fiendish traps, they discover Augusta, who appears overwhelmed with horror - not so much by her predicament as the bandits’ hostage, but more at finding herself trapped in a tomb. She… really seems afraid of death.
Taking a secret passage out of the catacombs to a watchtower currently unguarded by the bandits (who have all flocked to the main temple), they find their way safely across the desert to Batra, stopping off at the Grand Academy. While the scholars are initially suspicious of them, the party’s focus on Naras piques their interest.
The scholars inform them that Naras is a sacred city, built around a temple dedicated to two gods - they can’t remember which ones, though. It’s weird, actually - looking in the archives, someone seems to have obliterated certain parts of every account of Naras in every relevant text. There has been scarcely any travel to and from Naras for many years, and nobody has managed to travel between Naras and the Serradic Empire since the Upheaval; the city is assumed to have disappeared into flux.
The archivist does manage to furnish them with a map from before the Upheaval. It shows the location of Naras, together with its shape - a series of concentric circles with a huge circular temple in the middle. The temple utterly dominates the city.
They decide to spend a few days enjoying the sights of Batra - there’s a beautiful mausoleum, and the museum has a fascinating display of funerary masks… oh, and of course it’s the Festival of the Dead right now. The adventurers take a well-earned break (Vermillion purchases some art to sell on when he returns to Acryn), while Augusta cowers under a blanket in her room at the inn. At last, refreshed for the journey ahead, they set out once more into the desert, this time towards Naras….
Caught in a huge dust storm, they encounter a number of huge inquisitive cats with human faces. These sphinxes ask question after question, refusing to let the travellers pass until every question has been answered and threatening to eat anyone who fails to answer. The questions gradually become more and more nonsensical (while probing the nature of mortality in a way that sets their employer on edge) until the party gives up and kills them all.
It is difficult to see their way in the dust storm, and when their wayfinder suddenly disappears with a startled cry, they cannot at first work out what has happened. But then the wayfinder’s voice rings out from ahead and some way below: “I’ve fallen down some kind of… no, it’s a wall; it’s… it’s consensus. I think it’s Naras!”
It seems that the dust storm is centred around the city - sand has piled up around the walls on every side, but within the bounds of the city, the sand hasn’t intruded. Far below the tumult of the dust storm, the city is perfectly preserved.
Each adventurer makes their way down the edge of the wall into the city; they entirely fail to catch Augusta when she falls, but she seems unharmed. They wander along beautifully preserved streets, past avenues of statues and dry fountains. But then the desert wind stirs the dust in a vortex from the storm above, clearing at last to reveal a woman who smiles altogether too much; she seems emaciated and her skin is peeling. She asks them if they dance. When they ask for further clarification, she explains that all flesh must dance; to dance is to live, to wear one’s body truly. This is what life is: the wearing down of a body through usage and time. And, in time, the dance moves on through the flitting of flies and the spiralling of dust motes….
Augusta becomes terrified and warns the party that this person is dangerous - they have to escape. When Christian tries to talk to the smiling woman, she offers him her favour. The dust fills his vision; he sees an emaciated version of himself emerge from the haze, and then he is fighting himself as the copy decays before his eyes. It disperses into dust but he feels that same dust enter his lungs - he feels… odd. The others try to attack the smiling woman - she disperses into dust motes, summoning more dust to attack them. When they emerge victorious, they hear her voice on the air: “Well danced! You will return to me, in the end - I know it!”
Augusta urges the party towards the entrance of the temple - if the Yielding Breath has escaped, she explains, they are in great danger. The adventurers, however, want answers - what does she know, why has she really led them here, what is she really looking for? She is at first unwilling to answer, fleeing up the steps of the temple and begging them to follow if they want to live. Vermillion is no longer willing to trust her, but Selphina approaches and tries to persuade her to open up. Trembling, Augusta reveals the information she has been given by her contacts - this temple is a prison for the Yielding Breath, god of decay, the entity who attacked them. It is guarded by the Constant Stone, god of permanence. Only the Constant Stone can protect them; only the Constant Stone can protect her, Augusta, from dying, soon, to an ailment that even the Tender Church couldn’t heal….
Before she can reveal any more, a figure appears behind them on the temple steps. “You invoke me? Do you call yourself one of my devoted?” Augusta turns, startled. “I… I wish to become so.”
“Then eternal life will be yours.” As the players look on, Augusta begins to petrify. Realisation dawns too late - before anyone can react, there’s more one more motionless stone statue on the steps of the temple.
The Constant Stone turns to the rest of them. “And you? Are you all here to dedicate yourselves to me? All things strive to persist, to continue through the ages. I can offer you that - a gift that money cannot buy, the opportunity to live - in kind - for all Eternity.” As the god speaks, they notice shackles coiling up through the ground like snakes, ready to strike at them. Selphina fights her way past the shackles and into the temple, followed by Christian. Vermillion, meanwhile, challenges the god to a sculpting contest.
There on the steps of the temple, Vermillion and the Constant Stone compete to create the best statue. Each works according to their own sensibilities, but when their labour is complete, neither can agree on which is the greater. Vermillion’s piece is beautiful - a perfect, intricately detailed representation of himself. The Constant Stone’s statue, by contrast, is rough, undetailed, a simple monolith. While Vermillion argues that his work is the most aesthetically pleasing, the Constant Stone refuses to grant him the title of winner - beauty is fleeting, while the stone carved by the god will last throughout the ages. That, in the Constant Stone’s estimation, is the true mark of greatness. Nonetheless, the god accepts that there is something interesting about Vermillion’s statue….
Meanwhile, Selphina is standing in the entrance chamber of the temple. All around her, she can hear the sound of stone groaning against stone. Ahead, there is a number of doorways, although each of these entrances is constantly opening and closing again, now revealing a dimly lit room beyond, now a blockade of shifting stonework, and now a different room to before. Temple or prison, this building seems to be a great circular mechanism whose rooms act like cogs, spinning about one another in bewildering patterns as the whole internal construct rotates about a central axis.
This looks complicated. Just as she did in the desert, Selphina invokes the power of Tuireann. With a growl of tortured stonework, the part of the mechanism she is standing in grinds to a halt as vines snake through the gaps in the walls. That ought to simplify matters.
Christian is having a hard time - while the others indulge their hobbies, he’s been left to fend off the bulk of the Constant Stone’s shackles. Overwhelmed, he falls under the onslaught, opens his eyes to see himself before himself, cast in stone, an immovable statue. He strikes at the thing but feels his own arms numbing as stone crawls up his flesh. His thoughts and motions become sluggish… but then he’s back in the entranceway of the temple having his wounds healed by the others. That was… rather too close for comfort.
Chased by dust and shackles, our heroes make their way through winding corridors within the bowels of the temple. At last, they find a room where a number of priests are gathered in a state of terror. The priests panic when the adventurers appear, at first mistaking them for emissaries of the Yielding Breath or the Constant Stone.
Still considerably agitated, the priests explain that they fled into the temple upon the escape of both the Yielding Breath and the Constant Stone. For this is the truth of the temple: it was built as a prison for both entities. Those are dangerous, greedy gods who once competed for numbers of followers and claimed each follower as their own a little too eagerly, to prevent the other from getting hold of all that delicious belief. The temple was built out here as a delicately balanced god trap, relying on the properties of each god to aid in keeping both of them contained.
This twisted mess of corridors and trapped rooms is designed to convince each of the two gods that its role is that of warden to the other. The Constant Stone believes the strong walls to signify her own domain, while the Yielding Breath takes the ever-shifting layout of the prison to be a sign that she is in charge here. The idea was for the two gods to pursue each other eternally through the huge temple, while the priests of Naras were to guard the place to ensure that the trap was never broken.
However, at the time of the Upheaval, most of the interior of the temple became flux. And with the associated shift in the temple’s internal architecture, the balance was broken and the gods were unleashed.
The priests believe that one area of consensus remains - the very centre of the mechanism, which every priest knew implicitly, even without ever seeing it. There, at the axle of the wheel, the whirling mechanism that is this temple, one may find the Still Point, the Turning Moment. From there, it is possible to see Eternity but remain separate from it. And this is the key to this temple’s mechanism - the Constant Stone and the Yielding Breath do not see each other as rivals because they are opposite and opposed, but because they are aspects of the same concept. They each represent Eternity, and the way to defeat Eternity is to occupy the present. The Still Point represents the present, and if one can lose oneself there, one may resist Eternity.
Well that’s good to know. The priests, alas, are rather on edge from their long ordeal inside the temple - they have sought the Still Point without success for longer than they can say, and the appearance of suspicious-looking newcomers is too much for them. One of their number begins crying that they just want this to be over - if the gods find them, they will pledge themselves to the Yielding Breath in hope of oblivion.
Of course, when dust begins to rise within the room, the general panic only increases. As they implore the Yielding Breath to let their deaths be quick, a few of the priests begin to decay, their extremities crumbling to dust… but the Yielding Breath does not let their bodies disperse yet - they reach out to the other priests, spreading the decay to them. The party beats the priests back before they themselves are afflicted.
After some time wandering through the maze of interconnected rooms, they come to an open section of the temple where a series of moving platforms can be made to bridge a chasm. On the other side, they can see a large dome-like structure around which everything else seems to be rotating. Braving a number of traps, they work out how to bring the platforms into alignment and cross the chasm, entering the central dome….
The Still Point, it turns out, has malfunctioned as a result of large areas of the temple becoming flux. From within the dome, they watch the internal machinery in the process of slowly tearing itself apart, as sections of the mechanism whirl and whip around dangerously. Assessing the situation, Vermillion decides that the Still Point must be repaired, and identifies three key sections to work on. Before he can begin, however, the Constant Stone and the Yielding Breath appear on platforms at opposite sides of the dome. Largely ignoring the adventurers, the gods proceed to challenge one another - it is clear that, to them, our heroes are merely a resource they’re competing for. They circle the encounter area, sending their minions to attack each other and the humans. Fighting back stone statues and dust zombies, Christian and Selphina cover Vermillion as he repairs the mechanism….
And not a second too soon! As the Still Point reactivates, the gods are caught in the moment, trapped in time by the temple’s greatest defense mechanism. Our heroes flee the temple.
Pausing only to loot the lost city and then to construct a large pulley to transport Vermillion’s statue up over the walls, the adventurers escape Naras. Vines are spreading across the temple, and none of them wishes to discover whether the intruding vegetation will break the mechanism and release the gods once more. Having buried the statue in the desert just outside the city, they make their way back to Batra. The scholars at the Grand Academy are interested to hear what they have to tell them, and pay them for the information.
Back in Acryn, they pay a visit to Augusta Trilling’s offices. They explain the situation to a rather bewildered secretary (who knew nothing of Augusta’s terminal illness or of the contract she made with the party, and seems unsurprisingly concerned about her own career). Uncertain whether to even believe them regarding the death of her employer, the secretary shows considerable hesitation over giving them any money. Vermillion leaves in frustration, but the secretary eventually furnishes Selphina and Christian with 12R apiece from the staff biscuit fund. Christian departs, while Selphina decides to torture the secretary emotionally, leaving her utterly broken with no remaining sense of self-worth.
Vermillion, meanwhile, is busy reporting Selphina to the watch - it’s rather abundantly clear that she’s a dangerous Tuireann cultist. A few rather apprehensive grunts head out to, well, apprehend Selphina; she has already left Trilling’s offices at this stage, but they are able to interview the sobbing secretary. The incident is added to Selphina’s file.
Having sold several paintings from Batra for a tidy profit, Vermillion returns home. His statue is… waiting for him. Doing his best to appear nonchalant, he begins reorganising the room. The next time he looks, the statue’s pose has changed….
It is only right that all things should move; stillness is abhorrent. With ten seconds of dance, you may call MESMERISE against a target capable of dancing. While mesmerised, they must dance towards you. The effect will end if they are damaged, or shaken out of it by physical contact. You must brief these rules at the start of any adventure.
With ten seconds of dancing, you reduce some minor possession to dust and fling it in the faces of your enemies. BLIND 5
Alternatively, you may shatter a superior or mastercrafted item you are wielding to call MASS BLIND 10
By taking your own equipment towards its final state, you show the true worth of your enemies' possessions. With ten seconds of dance, you can reduce your maximum armour hits by 1 for the rest of the adventure to call a SHATTER against an enemy within 5 metres. If this is done in the last three encounters of the adventure, then it applies for the first three of the next adventure.
The reduction in hits will apply to any armour you wear while under the effect, even after you have taken it off. For example, if you use this miracle when in light armour (with no other skills), then it is reduced to 1 armour hit until the end of the adventure, whoever wears it. If you take it off and put on another suit of light armour, then that suit is also reduced to 1 armour hit until the end of the adventure.
If you reduce your armour hits to zero with this miracle, then you may call an additional two SHATTERs in that encounter (this does not apply if the act of putting on armour causes it to drop to 0 armour hits). The armour is permanently destroyed.
If you are inorganic and reduce your armour hits to zero with this miracle, then you and everything around you crumbles to dust. Call EVERYONE SHATTER. Your body and possessions are reduced to dust and blow away in the wind, which will make it very difficult to be revived. This may have further effects at GM discretion.
Your vitality becomes pure motion, showing you what true life should be. With twenty seconds of dance, you may lose up to 4 body hits (4 armour hits if inorganic), gaining a DODGE for each hit lost.
If your maximum body hits become zero as a result of this, firstly, you have made some very poor choices somewhere along the line, secondly, call MASS SHATTER. Your body and possessions are reduced to dust and blow away in the wind, which will make it very difficult to be revived.
The power of the Yielding Breath saps away at your enemies. Everyone in the party gains a WEAKEN, which may be called on any weapon strike (including archery and throwing weapons)