Earthdawn: Emergence

Beginnings

Fareth, Kurz, Laramanus, and Nimue are all on the first night of their week of guard duty. According to a briefing by Vunar, a burly and stern dwarf Warrior who is in charge of the guard patrols, they are to check the wards and seals, examine the Deeps for signs of trouble, and watch for any odd or troubling behavior among the residents. There have been no significant problems for many years, but Vunar is firm that this is no reason for reduced vigilance.

As they prepared for their duty, one of the guards from the previous week (a human Named Alvar) pulls them aside to warn them that he has heard scraping and banging noises from somewhere outside the kaer on several occasions over the past week. He heard the noises in both Shal’Minar and the Freedom Gate. None of the other guards heard them, but Alvar insists that he knows what he heard – and that something is trying to get into Kaer Siyar.

Early patrols through Shal’Minar and the Council Hall are uneventful. However, as they enter Okoros, the alarm bell in the center of the dome starts ringing, and an orkish voice begins to cry out, “Horrors! The Horrors have come!” The voice (and the mallet ringing the bell) belong to an ork fisherman Named Nago, who was doing some night fishing when Lake V’ross began to hiss and boil. As he backed away, Nago saw a “strange, scaly creature” emerging from the waters, and saw further movements in the water. He immediately sounded the alarm.

The residents of Okoros are waking, filled with fear and trepidation. The alarm bell in the Council Hall begins to pick up the alarm, and those in Khar Rhûz and Shal’Minar shortly follow suit. Some residents cower weeping in their homes; others grab whatever weapons they have and prepare to sell their lives dearly. Many of these, hearing Nago’s shouts, begin to converge on Lake V’ross.

There are, indeed, several hundred creatures emerging from Lake V’ross; however, they are identified as t’skrang before something regrettable happens. Y’bbn is among the first to ascend to the surface, but D’revos and the other t’skrang elders soon follow.

By this time, Vunar, Korun, and the other councilors have arrived. After some discussion (and more than a little shouting), the mob is calmed down and the alarm bells silenced. The t’skrang clearly expect the Scourge to be over, and are somewhat nonplussed when informed that they have apparently awakened over a century early. Korun invites the council of lahalas back to the main council chamber to discuss the matter. D’revos orders Y’bbn to accompany the PCs’ patrol in order to “begin learning about the kaer.”

The crowd begins to disperse; much good-natured (and not-so-good-natured) ribbing is given to Nago for raising the alarm. The t’skrang are somewhat at a loss as to what to do, they begin to disperse throughout the kaer, looking around and talking to people to learn what has happened. Vunar sternly urges the PCs to get back on their patrol, and not to allow another false alarm to be raised.

Later, the group hears a series of loud scraping and scratching noises from the direction of the Freedom Gate. When they arrive, they see that the kaer door shows many gouges and scratches, as though something was trying to claw through…from the inside. The seals seem intact so far, but the door clearly cannot stand too much more of this. The patrol contacts the Kaer Council and has a standing guard placed on the Freedom Gate.

The clear consensus is that a Horror (or something) has managed to breach the kaer. The gate is still intact, and the Deeps show no sign of breaching, so it’s initially unclear how the creature managed to enter. After some thought and investigation, the PCs realize that there’s another entrance to the kaer…the water gate, through which fresh water enters the kaer. It is warded, but an exploration into the tunnel reveals that the warded gate has been breached.

The kaer’s t’skrang, meanwhile, are in turmoil. Not only will the Council not open the kaer – despite the t’skrang’s insistence that Upandal would not awaken them before time – but the t’skrang will have no representation in the Council until the next elections, which are five years away (the last ones were only held a few months ago). Not surprisingly, this leads to a great deal of unrest and anger among the t’skrang, and while D’revos urges her people to remain calm, rumors of their discontent soon spread among the other Name-givers of the kaer.

Jurok Ghal, not surprisingly, takes this as an opportunity to lambaste the Kaer Council’s decisions yet again, proclaiming that the Scourge is over but that the Council is unwilling to set the people of the kaer free. More than a few young t’skrang seem inclined to join Jurok’s growing gang.

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Things Fall Apart

After a long day and a few hours’ rest, our heroes returned to Council Hall in a Kaer Siyar that has changed dramatically. News that the kaer has been breached has spread like wildfire, and more than a little panic has resulted. Suicides and assaults have taken place, while other citizens have barricaded themselves in their homes. The Council has ordered martial law, forbidding residents to leave their own domes without explicit written permission, calling up ten times the normal number of guards, and requiring the streets to be empty after dark. Windlings are hoarding food (some of it stolen), elves are preparing for war, and the entire dome of Okoros seems likely to collapse into anarchy.

Their meeting evolved into a lengthy discussion of how Horrors could be found, fought, lured, or detected…and found only more questions and conflicting stories. Vunar and Tyrnea of the Kaer Council offered what insight they could to the younger adepts, but there seemed to be no simple way to discover the Horror’s presence. With a little time before their patrol shift was scheduled to start, the heroes split up to confer with their respective mentors and contacts.

Fareth returned to Shal’Minar to speak to Bessamyn, the Scout who taught him the ways of the Discipline. She and many other elves were working near the main entrance to the Shal’Minar dome, setting up defensive positions and clearly expecting trouble. Bessamyn confirmed that she had been to (unofficially) observe the damage to the Freedom Gate. She did not observe any specific tracks or other clues, but did find it odd that the Horror was apparently not trying to damage the wards, but simply the door itself. It also ignored the opening mechanisms for the door proper; though they are both complex and protected, an intelligent Horror would certainly have been able to open the door more quickly with those than by carving through the stone.

Kurz went to the home of his mentor, Xabal. On the way there, he observed a gang of ork ruffians accosting passers-by and demanding a creative act, as it is believed that Horror-marked individuals lose the ability to do such things. Avoiding such trouble, Kurz reached Xabal, who had apparently been deep in study for much of the night. Xabal stated that the “creativity defense” was a myth, and also suggested that the Horror is likely to need a lair, probably defended by its minions, where its body (physical, astral, or both) would be safe while it uses Horror-marked victims to do its bidding. Xabal also loaned Kurz a book – well, most of a book – about Horrors and the places they might lair.

Laramanus spoke briefly (by obsidiman standards) with the wizard Imosor, who was clearly distraught by the chaos in the kaer around him. Imosor had had a small amount of experience with Horrors before the sealing of the kaer, and was able to confirm some of the observations made during the initial meeting in Council Hall.

Nimue had no particular plans to meet anyone, but went to the shrine of Garlen to pray, where he encountered a weary Tolooraateth, who had just finished spending multiple hours repairing the breached water gate. She mentioned that the broken edges of the ward screen appeared quite worn, as though they had been broken some time ago, perhaps even years in the past. This, of course, raises the question – what prompted the Horror to awaken now?

Finally, Y’bbn spoke with the watchful Sesta Kura Haital, t’skrang Taildancer extraordinaire. When Y’bbn presented his plan to single-handedly find and slay the Horror to improve relations with the other Name-givers in the kaer, Sesta seemed slightly nonplussed, but he was not reluctant to share his advice. He seemed to feel that Y’bbn’s vivid personality might well make him a prime target for the Horror, and also suspected that the windling houses near the roofs of the various domes might be desirable targets if the Horror could reach them.

After gathering what information they could, the heroes returned to Council Hall to begin their patrol, having been instructed by Vunar to be more concerned with peace in the streets. Extensive discussions about possible plans took up much of the patrol, which encountered little of interest until they began traveling the Deeps beneath the kaer. A series of loud thumps near the southern edge of Khar Rhûz led them to find a half-dozen orks busily hammering at the tunnel wall with mauls. The initial confrontation was tense but peaceful until a comment by Kurz apparently triggered one of the other orks’ gahad. Thankfully, Y’bbn and Laramanus were able to subdue the enraged ork without bloodshed, and a small amount of questioning revealed that the idea of breaking out of the kaer was inspired, if not directly ordered, by the ork firebrand Jurok Ghal, whose followers apparently include several t’skrang as well as an increasing number of orks.

The session ended with a return visit to the heavily-guarded Freedom Gate, where careful observation by Kurz revealed that the Horror’s scratches seemed to carefully avoid marring the actual wards on the gate. Kurz passed this information on to the wizard Arrick, who seemed unconvinced by his theory. The heroes also advised the guards of the attempted breach in the Deeps and the connection to Jurok Ghal. With Ghal’s followers involved in an attempted breach and also apparently a source of the sort of negative emotions that Horrors so often seek, the heroes elected to infiltrate his next gathering…specifically by sending in Y’bbn and Nimue.

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Accusatory Oratory

While Fareth was away at a meeting of the elves of Shal’Minar and Laramanus was practicing his martial skills, Kurz and Nimue attempted to convince Y’bbn of the importance of foreign concepts like “sneaking” and “subtlety.” Eventually, they hit on the plan of convincing the t’skrang that he needed to be like an actor in a play, portraying an honorably spy in a delicate mission. While Y’bbn did not seem to take the plan entirely to heart, he did at least wear a voluminous black cloak over his stunning crimson-and-blue outfit (both borrowed from the extremely helpful t’skrang Troubadour Ssat’na).

Y’bbn (with Nimue concealed beneath his cloak) and Kurz went to Jurok Ghal’s nightly meeting, while Fareth and Laramanus waited outside in case of trouble. Before Ghal himself arrived, there seemed to be a good deal of general discontent, but no particular sense of focus or imminent violence (except from Y’bbn, who managed to restrain himself from the slanderous words of one of the orks the group had nearly arrested the day before).

Jurok Ghal, for his part, was revealed to be a fiery, charismatic speaker who was passionate about the plight of his people, but did not directly encourage them to violence or revolt. Indeed, one of his first speeches was to lambaste the “fools” who had attempted to breach the kaer walls. Ghal’s intent seemed to be to convince the Kaer Council to let those who wished to leave the kaer do so, but he did not want to put those who remained behind in any danger. He mentioned the awakening of the t’skrang and the obsidimen as two signs that the Scourge had ended, and stated that there was no clear evidence that it was not over. The only information on which to base knowledge of the Scourge’s end was the word of the Therans – which Ghal clearly distrusted – or the status of the kaer’s elemental clock, which Ghal said the Kaer Council was unwilling to show publically.

Meanwhile, a sizable patrol of armed dwarves and elves led by Vunar approached and entered the meeting hall, where Vunar announced that Jurok Ghal was to be placed under arrest for inciting treason. Violence seemed imminent, but Ghal urged his people to be calm, at least for the moment. Calming words from Laramanus (to Vunar) and Kurz (to Ghal) may have helped defuse the situation; regardless, Ghal eventually agreed to go peacefully, if not quietly, to the Kaer Council, and stated that he would not go in chains. Vunar, for his part, accepted this, and Ghal was escorted peacefully out. He went to the Kaer Council loudly proclaiming his innocence and encouraging the people of Okoros to remember his fate in case anything happened to him in custody. His followers, meanwhile, milled about, obviously angry and frustrated but not showing immediate signs of violence. He was brought to, and imprisoned beneath, Council Hall without further incident.

Our heroes split up again for a short time before their patrol was due to begin; Fareth returned to Shal’Minar, while Kurz delved into his studies and Laramanus spoke at length with Vunar to try to determine who on the kaer council had first suggested that Ghal be arrested (Vunar could not recall). Y’bbn and Nimue, on the other hand, went out drinking. Afterward, as the group gathered for their patrol duty, Y’bbn (who may not be as immune to alcohol as he thinks he is) made a rather loud comment about stealing the elemental clock, which caught the attention of Tolooraateth. A brief conversation between the windling and Kurz revealed that the clock was kept in Prime Councillor Korun Delx’s apartments, and had not been seen in some time, largely because no one had asked. Kurz suggested that a viewing of the clock by individuals both on and off the Council might help calm emotions in the kaer, and Tolooraateth agreed to get him on the following day’s agenda.

The actual patrol was largely uneventful; the Deeps were more or less empty, and the streets of Okoros were curiously quiet except for a brief encounter with Ka’gath, the last of the kaer’s trolls. There seemed to be a larger-than-normal number of humans in Shal’Minar, camping outside of the human dwellings there, but other than that matters seemed normal.

On the following morning, Kurz had a brief conversation with Ulag Tok, the only ork on the Kaer Council. Like Vunar, Tok could not recall quite who first suggested the arrest of Jurok Ghal, but stated that it seemed to be a clear option and was reached by group consensus.

When the party began to address the Council, Kurz’ suggestion that the elemental clock be displayed was met with general approval, though Korun Delx stated that he did not think that the clock would actually clarify anything. His words were made clear when he returned to the Council chambers with the clock itself, which appeared to be “stuck” at the same level it had been at for the past 80 years. Delx had several suggestions for why this might be so – Theran ignorance or duplicity, a defect in the clock itself, deliberate sabotage, or a genuine change in the mana cycle – but in any case was not willing to open the kaer without more definite information. Tolooraateth believed she could come up with a ritual which would duplicate the function of the clock, at least temporarily, so that its accuracy could be tested.

In the middle of these conversations, however, Y’bbn pointed out the odd behavior of Kurz, who had been staring intently at Delx for several minutes and occasionally whispering to Nimue. When asked about his behavior, Kurz turned the topic to the detection of Horrors and their marks. Tolooraateth immediately began scrutinizing Kurz carefully, at which point Kurz suggested that she turn her gaze on the Prime Councillor instead!

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Double Exposure

We return to our heroes standing in the Council Hall, where Kurz has more or less directly accused Korun Delx of being Horror-touched. The spellcasters on the council (Tyrnea, Phanduur, and Tolooraateth), immediately began using Astral Sight to scrutinize both Delx and Kurz himself. Phanduur saw nothing out of the ordinary at first, but both Tyrnea and Tolooraateth eventually detected the same oversized aura that Kurz saw. However, neither of them could identify an actual Horror mark, nor did either one know the significance of the unusual aura.

Unsurprisingly, Delx protested his complete innocence, hinting that Kurz may have accused him as a political response to Jurok Ghal’s arrest. Delx is was unwilling to accept the word of a “mere apprentice” as cause to arrest him, and Kurz’ book was not sufficiently clear regarding the nature of the unusual auras it described. After some discussion, Vunar agreed to place Delx under house arrest in Vunar’s own home, while Kurz and Tyrnea went to seek out Xabal for a more experienced viewpoint. Fareth, Laramanus, and Y’bbn accompanied Vunar and his guards, while Nimue returned to her home (from which she could keep a distant eye on Tolooraateth as the latter tried to replicate the Elemental Clock).

When Kurz and Tyrnea arrived at Xabal’s home, the Nethermancer was missing; there were no obvious signs of foul play, but Kurz thought his disappearance to be both out of character and entirely too convenient for Korun Delx. Inquiries to Xabal’s neighbors revealed that a dwarf had visited Xabal the evening before, and was let in without incident; no one was certain when, or whether, the dwarf had left. Interestingly, one of Xabal’s rats (kept for experimental purposes) seemed highly alert and agitated, not to mention curiously intelligent.

Meanwhile, Fareth and Laramanus took up positions outside Vunar’s home; the suspected Horror was within, guarded by one of Vunar’s men. Y’bbn, certain that some trickery was afoot, spent a good deal of time arguing with Vunar about precautions that should be taken against Delx, until Vunar had apparently had enough and elected to change places with soldier inside. When that soldier came out, Y’bbn proceeded to grill him closely on Delx’ activities; when learning that Delx had been writing, Y’bbn grew convinced that the High Councillor was devising some sort of arcane trap or bomb. Eventually, his assertions about there being a Horror in Vunar’s home began to attract the attention of passers-by, and Y’bbn was bodily bundled up the stairs and into Vunar’s house.

Kurz, with the help of Tyrnea and the curiously intelligent rat, discovered some recent bloodstains concealed under a wardrobe. Knowing that Nimue had some experience evaluating such scenes, he found another windling to go seek her out; they returned, mildly drunk, some time later. Nimue’s conclusions matched Tyrnea’s, but no one could find any sign of further bloodstains or any trail leading away from the hut. The rat was becoming increasingly agitated, and it was decided that the talents of a Beastmaster might be beneficial, so Nimue flew off to find one.

In Vunar’s home, Y’bbn discovered that Delx was indeed writing several pages of text, and began implementing a (for him) cunning stratagem to get a glance at his work. Delx, however, quickly seemed to catch on to the t’skrang’s plan, and covered up his writing. Vunar, for his part, seemed quite perturbed that Y’bbn was basically announcing to the population of Khar Rhûz that there was a Horror in Vunar’s home; while this might be true, it would certainly do nothing for Vunar’s own reputation. Fareth and Laramanus kept up a watch outside, seemingly not overly concerned about Y’bbn’s fate.

Nimue returned to Xabal’s hut in the company of Uthwyn, an elven Beastmaster. After communicating with the rat for a few minutes, he states that the rat claimed to be Xabal, or at least Xabal’s spirit, possessing the animal as the result of a dying spell. The mysterious dwarf (who Xabal did not recognized) had apparently come in last night and murdered him, then covered up the bloodstains and taken the body elsewhere. Through Uthwyn, the rat directed Kurz to a text which included a section on lesser Horrors known as ketzsers, the kaer’s apparent enemies. In addition to providing some more information about the methods of the creatures, the book confirmed that they possess an oversized aura like the one seen on Korun Delx. The rat, not knowing how long the spell would last, directed Uthwyn to find a small box and give it to Kurz; it contained a single orichalcum coin. With that, Kurz, Nimue, Tyrnea, Uthwyn, and the rat begain heading towards Vunar’s home, with Tyrnea contacting the other adepts on the Kaer Council as she went.

Soon, Vunar’s home was playing host to all five of our heroes, a half-dozen other adepts, several kaer soldiers, the accused Korun Delx, and one very annoyed rat. With the combined testimony of Kurz, Tyrnea, and Uthwyn, plus the book from Xabal’s home, the council felt that they had enough information to convict Delx, though there was some discussion of needing a quorum from the non-adept members of the Council. After a brief debate, Vunar moved forward to execute Delx; the creature revealed its true nature (and its deadly sting) to fight back, but the skilled Warrior triumphed quickly and the Horror soon lay dead.

The group then returned to the Council Hall, where there were still many decisions to be made. Kurz’ seat on the council would need to be filled; Jurok Ghal was suggested as a replacement, but the council seemed troubled by the political ramifications of appointing someone rather than holding an election. Tolooraateth confirmed that the Elemental Clock still seemed to be accurate, and that the mana level was apparently “frozen.” With that knowledge, and the certainty that at least one more ketzser still lurked within the Kaer, the Council requested that Fareth, Kurz, Laramanus, Nimue, and Y’bbn attempt to leave the kaer and determine whether it would be safe to leave, while the more experienced adepts tried to keep the remaining kaer residents safe and find the remaining Horror(s). At the PCs’ suggestion, Ka’gath was also invited to accompany them. The council provided what equipment they could, as well as an enchanted crystal that our heroes could use to communicate with Tyrnea (one-way, one-time) from outside the kaer.

After gathering their equipment and their resolve, our heroes, Ka’gath, and the rat went through the caisson gate beside the Freedom Gate and into the outer world. It was twilight when they emerged into a world that few of them remembered; stars sparkled in the dome of the vast, distant sky, and a fitful breeze blew. The slope leading down to the Serpent River – which was somewhat lower than Laramanus and Y’bbn remembered, but still very navigable – was rocky and dotted with scrub brush; not the lush greenery they remembered, but not as devastated as they might have feared. To the north and across the river were the dim lights of some sort of settlement, and after a few moments to try to acclimate to the world outside the kaer, the small group elected to head towards those lights. They soon found themselves following a well-marked and well-trodden path along the riverbank, yet another sign of civilization.

As they drew closer, it soon became apparent that the lights were those of a small town, and that a significant construction project was underway – a bridge across the Serpent. To Y’bbn’s great dismay, the once-splendid towers of the t’skrang village of Damritsar were being used as footings for the pillars of the bridge. On their own (west) side of the Serpent, the travelers found a small house next to a ferry dock, and awakened the dwarf ferryman. He seemed pleased to learn that a kaer had opened, though the heroes were very cagey about its exact location. He identified the town on the opposite bank as Tansiarda, stating that it had sprung up around the bridge construction site. He was happy to talk about the town and recent history as he rowed the travelers across to the town free of charge, though he seemed curiously reticent to talk about elves, despite Fareth’s frequent questions.

Once in Tansiarda proper, the group made their way to the Arch Barrel, the town’s inn. The innkeeper, a human named Elwyn, was pleased to have new customers, despite their admission that they had no coin. Like the ferryman, he seemed pleased to know that another kaer had opened, and was happy to talk about recent history. The gates of Throal had been open for about 75 years, and while the Horrors were not completely gone, most of the lands were considered relatively safe. The Therans had returned to Barsaive, but have as yet been unable to conquer it, though they did have a significant military presence at Vivane, in southwestern Barsaive. The former capital city of Parlainth, to the north, was now a ruined wreck, full of Horrors and treasure-hunting adventurers. Elwyn also told the heroes about the Mad Passions, a disastrous turn of events which had had little impact on life in Kaer Siyar.

Finally, Fareth asked again about the fate of the elves and the Elven Court, and Elwyn stammered uncertainly until another voice offered to take over the explanation. The face belonged to an elf…an elf with bloodstained thorns poking through every inch of his flesh. Despite his appearance, the newcomer insisted that he was no Horror, and offered to explain matters to Fareth and the others.

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