In the deep woods, miles from the Striton river and its many dwellings, far from prying eyes and curious ears, a band of travelers has fought off an attack by bounty hunters. The hunters are killed or scattered. One of their mastiffs and one of their men lie on the ground, mortally wounded, but still clinging to life. Before the dying thug can be healed and interrogated, however, as his captors approach, his body shrinks down inside his clothes.
Scampering away out of a sleeve runs a brown rat, lost almost immediately in the underbrush of the forest floor. A strange bronze pentacle, like the one Aodh wears is found with the abandoned clothes. This one has the word “PHARROS” etched into the back. Aodh thinks this token—and the men sent after the group—may have some connection to a secretive clan of blackguards and spies who operate in the vast sewers of the ancient capital, Elansory. Bewildered by this, as Aelish puts it, ‘new devilry’ but aware there is little they can do to catch the retreating vermin, the party busies itself with the task of committing the dead men to their graves. Aelish blesses the corpses to prevent them rising again as vengeful revenants, or worse. Fendrys puts the wounded mastiff out of its misery and helps with digging a single, large, shallow grave. During the burial, a black and evil sigil of Gnost is found painted on the chest of the leader, causing Aelish’s blood to run cold. Perhaps this was the man’s protection against an Arch-Guardian.
Despite this interlude, the party’s goals are unchanged. With five new horses and two new guns, they head for Oldecha in search of the Duke Vercetin and his astronomer, the man who beat them to the fallen orb. Before reaching the river and the town beside, they use their magic scroll which places a lasting illusion upon the script of the official letter previously carried by the bounty hunters. The magic changes the ink, disguising it as a separate document from the one that has already passed through the duke’s court—as its signatures make plain. Whereas the bounty hunter’s held a dispensation from Beris Tanum, granting its bearers the authority to collect ‘Aelish and her apostles’, the newly disguised letter now reads like a charter in favor of the party and ‘their mission’, issued this time from Tanum’s fellow Prosecutor, Lukiria Vanator.
In Oldecha town, Aelish and Aodh greet a young Eladric cleric administering alms. They make arrangements to have supper across the river at the monastery on the duke’s grounds. The town is overrun with not only refugees from the disaster in Pallenever, but also with young men training for war; they loose arrows into packed straw and slowly twist and lock spear hafts in deliberate, meditative fashion. The town seems to be having a dissonant conversation with itself as hungry babes cry out to despondent mothers and veteran captains bark orders at nervous young men. The people of Oldecha look to be bending under this stress. Aelish trades some silver to a craftsman’s wife in exchange for her dress. Fendrys too spends some idle hours making himself presentable. Leonidas and Fendrys then sing songs to pass the time and are soon joined by glum refugees. A’Kelah elects to hide herself—and the horses—from anyone who might recognize them.
Supper at the monastery has Aelish surrounded by monks in awe of the elected Arch-Guardian before them. The next day, the party’s general haste concerning the orb collides with the plodding propriety of court life. Hours are lost simply traversing the long spans of formal gardens, corridors, and galleries. A series of formalities and introductions with valets and courtiers and footmen must be hurdled before reaching the final prize, the audience with the duke. The group dissipates and loses track of itself within the duke’s palace, only partially on purpose. Leonidas is summoned away with a missive by an unknown caller. Aodh slips himself away and steals down to the servant’s area, investigating the fishy tale of the Chancellor Rollo and his new mistress. While sneaking around the palace, Aodh sees something transpiring in a music room not intended for his eyes.
Sometime that afternoon, while A’Kelah crosses the river to examine the tollstone on the palace grounds, Aelish and Fendrys are called in to see the Duke of Vercetin in his study. He interviews them about the rumors he has heard regarding their travels. He is shown the mystically concealed document. Aelish and Fendrys are careful to say only what they must, stressing the importance of ‘a mission’ Aelish considers divine. Taras, a protege or Lord Almdor and guest of the duke is called in to verify some information. Sensing perhaps that he has been chosen to pick sides in a conflict he does not understand, Mr. Taras is noncommittal.
Suddenly, a boom is heard outside the palace, across one of its many well tended lawns. Another Fracture has opened up within Rustam’s carriage house laboratory! A swirling maelstrom of debris and gushing water surrounding the orb has taken hold. Within the maelstrom, the now familiar sight of an earth elemental forms. Rustam, the late possessor of the orb—has been turned into solid diamond. The astronomer’s many alchemical reagents have been mixed and corrupt by the orb’s magic. Pools of corrosive acid burble at the elemental’s feet. As the party rushes to their challenge, it’s plain to see the orb is seated within the elemental’s ‘face’. As the group moves to surround the creature, for a second time, Aodh is nearly smashed to death by the fist of an earth elemental. The acidic oozes are dealt with by arrow and spell alike. Leonidas casts a Bead of Force at an ooze but misses his mark. One of the oozes ‘climbs’ onto the spherical force-field near it, only to be Thunderwoven into the elemental’s behind; this action sends a deadly spray of acid in all directions as the ooze is whipped apart in mid-air.
The elemental, a dangerous and unpredictable visitor to this realm is distracted by the arrival of the duke’s guards just long enough for the party to access whatever quintessence they found within themselves at Imia. With focus and concentration, the Fracture is closed and the elemental collapses with it; the water gushing from the hole in space ceases to flow.
A’Kelah +1 — props for the Illusionary Script idea.