A Lantern Broken

Session #9: The Disappearance of Licentious
Ambrose's School Days Part 1

After meeting Chrysanthemum, Ambrose is reminded of his youth spent studying magic at the Triskelion; the world's last remaining arcane academy. When he was thirteen years old, Ambrose lost a dear friend in an accident beneath the school, and his path towards becoming a Magus began. 

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Session #8: The Mines of Grayditch
And the Man-Eaters

Ambrose jolts awake from another of his recurring nightmares. Clawing out of his tent, he sees that Karl is already partway through repacking his own. At the sight of his companions, Ambrose lets out a long breath and begins to repack his belongings. The act calms his nerves and he takes the opportunity to prepare his mind for the day ahead. Something he felt after his brief encounter with Alton the night prior has him worried, but he decides to keep the exchange to himself. 

Together the group begins to clear the forest into the sight of a small village. The buildings are squat and without any ornamentation; appearing to be masoned with rough stone. "Karl, do you know where we are," Ambrose asks. 

"If I had to guess, I'd say this is Grayditch. About a four days walk if we stuck to the road," he grinned as Ambrose rolled his eyes. Karl leads the way to the village entrance where the group encounters, unexpectedly, no one at all. "This is supposed to be a mining town, where are all of the people?"

Ambrose purveys the homes and shops nearby, "It doesn't seem abandoned. I -" Ambrose pauses as he hears the sounds of a congregation further into the village. A glance from Karl is all that is needed to approve a deeper investigation. Continuing down the path towards the village center, the trio approach a mob of villagers gathered around a makeshift stage. Upon it a man in a poorly tailored officiator's gown addresses the crowd.

"Please Cornelius, wait for some soldiers or mercenaries from Illivan before taking any more men into the mines. None of us can afford to lose any more family to these things."

"And how long will that take, Mayor? Nolic and Pherren are holding that barricade, but it won't last forever."

The crowd again starts to roar, causing Karl to pull Ambrose aside. "We should see if we can help these people."

"No, we should press on to find Veera's word of power. We should try to reseal the lantern as soon as possible." Ambrose motions to Veera but she is distracted by the crowd before them. 

"Unfortunately I lost the direction just before entering the town," her eyes do not break away from the mob. "It is odd, the feeling suddenly became… very dull, numb. It is as if it moved very far away very quickly. I do not know how long it will take to come back, if it does at all."

"Well that's just great. Karl, I guess it's up to y-"

"-irs? Sirs? Excuse me sirs, are you mercenaries from Illivan?" Karl and Ambrose turn to see the mob has begun addressing them. The Mayor speaks above the crowd, "We are in dire need of your assistance. Please, we can pay you if need be, but please help rid us of these monsters."

On queue Ambrose replies, "We can work out our payment later. Tell us what has happened to this town."

The man previously addressed as Cornelius pushes through the congregation as he speaks, "Two days ago we were expanding the copper mine north of town using dwarven blasting powders. One of the blasts opened an entrance to an existing cave system, and the… monsters inside. They attacked the workers that discovered the cave and those that escaped barricaded the mine entrance." Cornelius raises his voice and is visibly upset about the events, "Yesterday a second group of men went in to exterminate the creatures, but…"

"Forgive Cornelius," a woman steps forward. "His son was among those lost."

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Session #7: An Uninvited Guest
The Mysterious Girl

Two weeks pass while Karl and Ambrose live their lives out of Hart Manor. ’Master’ Karl tends to the daily business of his orchard. Ambrose, on most days, studies the books Uncle Hart’s library, and once briefly helped the laborers in the almond grove with their chores. One morning, Karl and Ambrose are eating their breakfast in the dining room when they hear a noise from the main entryway. In a moment Gerrick enters the room with a letter in his had proclaiming, “A messenger just delivered this Master Hart. It’s for you and Ambrose.” Ambrose raises his eyebrows in surprise. Karl lazily motions Gerrick to hand the letter to Ambrose who begins to open it.

ON BEHALF OF THE CROWN, COUNCIL, AND CITY OF ILLIVAN,
KARLADRON HART AND AMBROSE FRANCOIS
ARE TO BE HONORED IN CELEBRATION IN THREE DAYS TIME
IN RECOGNITION OF YOUR SERVICE TO THE CITY,
AND FOR THE ACT OF DRIVING THE WEREWOLF MENACE FROM ILLIVAN,
YOU ARE HEREBY INVITED TO THE QUEEN’S BALL,
QUEEN BELLAMY ALLENGAR

Ambrose seems elated, “Is this an invitation to a noble ball?” Karl sets down his food and groans, “Ow, no more nobles.”

“I take it you’ve had unpleasant encounters with nobles.”

“Ugh, well, on account of the orchard and my uncle’s wealth, the Hart family is considered a ’lesser house’ by the Noble Council. As a result multiple noble families have tried to curry favor with me in exchange for favors.” Gerrick comes to remove their dining plates. “I hate them though, the lot of them; they’re all greedy and selfish,” Karl ends rather tartly. Finished with breakfast the two begin to make their way to the parlor through the front room. 

“Well I don’t know about you, but I think I actually like to attend this ball. It would be nice to receive at least some recognition for what we did.” Followed by Karl, Ambrose opens the double doors to the parlor but stops. There a hooded figure seated in the parlor already. They have pulled one of the armchairs to the small table where Ambrose had left the lantern, sitting in the dark in silence. Frozen in the doorway, Ambrose calls to Karl behind him, “Um, Karl, where you expecting a visitor today?”

“No, why-” The two stand staring and unmoving; the blue-hooded figure perched in the armchair seemingly to large for their frame. Karl begins to push himself in front of Ambrose, “Who are you?” He raises his voice to a butler in another room, “Gerrick, did you let anyone into the manor today?” The figure, almost startled, turns their head slightly towards the two men. They raise their hands to their hood and hesitate for a moment before pulling it back; revealing what appears to be a young girl. Her head is bald and covered in some type of white makeup giving here a ghostly visage in the dark room; her ears come to slight points. Karl and Ambrose are taken aback by their new visitor. 

“So you two are the ones who found my lantern,” she says in a slow drawl. Ambrose and Karl are now standing fully in the parlor, light spills into the room from the foyer. Defensive, Ambrose asks, “What do you mean, ’your lantern’?”

She adjusts her head back so that she is again staring directly at the lantern. “Long ago there was a great darkness that was sealed away into this lantern,” she recites as she lifts the broken lantern, “And should the seals ever be broken, it would be unleashed unto the world once more.” Her small hand begin to follow a crack in the blue pane that Ambrose had never noticed. 

"How do you know this?" Ambrose slowly lowers his guard, Could she be?

Her head whips back towards the pair, “Because I was there, fool.” Those words hang in the parlor; she prevents baring her teeth. The girl stands out of the cushioned armchair and her height betrays her persona, as she barely meets Karl’s waist. Taken aback by her height, the men are reminded of the situation by the glare of her eyes. “I see you two have already destroyed the first seal.”

“So you must be the Blue panel…” Ambrose mutters.

“Veera.”

“What?” both men ask simultaneously. 

“I am High Priestess Veera of the Red Elf Empire.” Veera boasts with pride, but at the apparent lack of reaction from Karl or Ambrose she seems to deflate momentarily. “But alas, it appears the Empire is no longer. I suppose just Veera will do for now.” A quick burst and she is pushing past Karl and Ambrose into the lit foyer, clutching the broken lantern to her body. “What are your intentions with my lantern?”

Ambrose follows her into the front room, "We met another… apparition like you, Alton. We were helping each other find a way to restore the seals. Though since he was not so helpful, we hoped to release another guardian. One who I assume was meant to be you?"

"Yes. While I do not recall any by that name, he was right to have sought for me. Where is this Alton now? I wish to speak with him."

"I haven't seen him in weeks," Ambrose replies. Veera looks down to the lantern in her hands. She seems almost disappointed, does she really not know Alton? "Now that you're here though, what do we need to do?"

“While I appreciate your earnestly, I believe I need you to recite your experience thus far with the lantern.” Veera sniffs at the air catching the remains of breakfast’s aroma. “Perhaps over a meal, I feel I have not eaten in a millennia.” She quickly pivots on her bare heel and wanders into the kitchen. 

Chasing after her Karl erupts, “Wait just a moment. This is my home and you are an uninvited guest.  Don’t Just wander around like you are supposed to be here.” But it was too late, Veera was already scarfing down the leftover eggs and sausage that Gerrick prepared. “I am grateful to learn that human’s tastes never change,” Veera bows her head as she cleans another plate.

“In all time time I was with Alton, I never saw him interact with anything. How is it that you can eat, or move the lantern?” Ambrose asks while hiding his disgust at the sight before him. Veera replies after placing a quarter of a sausage link in her mouth, “A mystery we may never solve.” She swallows, “Now kindly fill me in on what has happened to my lantern.” For the better part of the morning Ambrose and Karl recount their adventures leading up to meeting Veera in the parlor. 

“I see.” Veera had finished eating halfway through the tale. “While it is unfortunate that is has come to this, I believe I know our next course of action. First, never cast that spell again unless you wish to ruin yourself.” Ambrose puts up no argument, the pain he felt in his arm is not something he will forget. “Second, the only way that the seals may be repaired is with the same ritual that created them in the first place.”

“And how could we accomplish that?” Karl interjects. “I hate to be the realist, but not all of us are ancient elven sorceresses.” The sting leaves Veera and Karl glaring at each other. 

“He’s right though; how do we finish this?” Ambrose eyes the lantern. 

“Ages ago I led the communion that sealed the darkness away; to do so I created an object of pure magical energy. A great word of power that we recited to create the final seals. I believe it still exists in this world and that I can find it.”

“How?”

“When you create something as great as it was, a part of you is left in it. I can feel it out there, like a hook on my intestines gently tugging me towards its location.” Veera turns to her right, extending her arm and pointing to the east. “It’s out there, waiting for me.”

Ambrose turns to Karl, “Will you come with us?” Karl gives Ambrose a look of incredulity. “Of course I will go, I feel obligated.”

“Then we shall leave immediately,” Veera leaves the room back towards the front of the manor. Both men stumble after her. “Wait, no,” Ambrose calls, “While I am certainly agreed to take this on, we both need to prepare.” 

It is at this moment that Gerrick enters the Foyer from a nearby side-room. “Master Hart, do you require that I prepare a new hunting pack?” He wrings his hands in that peculiar way that Ambrose finds uncomfortable. “For you and Mr. François, of course.” Karl and Ambrose glance at each other. Veera stands in the center of all three men, still clutching the lantern. 

“Yes Gerrick, that would be fine,” Karl accepts. So he can’t see Veera; just like how other’s couldn’t see Alton except Ambrose. I really am deep into this. 

“So it is settled,” Veera starts unfazed by Gerrick’s omission of her presence. “When your servant returns with your preparation, we shall depart.” She plants herself at the front entrance, clearly in denial of any attempt to dissuade her.  In short time, Gerrick reappears with Ambrose’s limited belongings and a traveling pack for Karl. Soon the newly formed trio were traveling to parts unknown; hoping that at the end they would find the solution to their woes. Not long after departing Hart Manor, Veera had led the two men to a curve in the road.

“Can’t we stay on the road,” Ambrose cried, “nothing good comes from wandering into a forest. Believe me, I know this from experience.” 

“We must follow in this direction, it is where we will find our goal.”

Karl nods, “And everyone know the shortest distance is the straightest path.” Dejected, Ambrose follows the pair into the trees. Night came and went and returned without incident. Karl made a few comments on how odd it was that they had not encountered any sort of wildlife so fat, but Ambrose considered it a blessing.

Ambrose wakes at their second campsite in the middle of the night with a powerful urge to urinate. Quietly he emerges from his tent, so as not to wake his companions. Karl had his own tent, but Veera had reluctantly taken to sleeping in the grass. She had begun to complain about a lack of arrangements for her, but it was reminded that she insisted that they leave immediately.  It must have been comfortable enough, since she only brought it up the once. Traveling a fair distance from the camp, Ambrose checks to confirm he isn't within viewing distance of the camp and sizes up a large oak tree. Relief spreads over Ambrose body, until he hears the snap of a branch on the others side of the oak. 

A figure suddenly steps out from the side, "Ambrose" Alton exclaims. 

Ambrose screams at the sudden intrusion of his privacy and attempts to cover himself as quickly as possible. "Alton? What are you doing here? Where have you been?"

"I'm sorry Ambrose, but I've been travelling." Still covering his eyes Alton continues, "Ever since you've broke the first seal, I haven't been tethered to the lantern. I've been all over the world, Ambrose."

"Where did you go, and why choose right now to reappear?" 

"I've been far away, Ambrose, and I've only just returned. Places I would have never dreamed of seeing in my first life. There is this place; a place with towers that reach past the clouds. Great chains are the only thing keeping them from floating into the heavens." Alton looks wistfully into the distance. "I came back to check on you, though. Did another guardian appear from the lantern."

"Yes," Ambrose replies still processing all that Alton had said. Where could this place be, I've never heard of anything like it. "A priestess named Veera is guiding us to a device to reseal the lantern."

"Veera? Amazing, you couldn't wish for anyone more suited to the task." Alton begins to slowly back away in the direction opposite of the campsite. "I suppose if you've got her, then you don't really need me hanging around. We'll see each other again, Ambrose. I promise, but until then there is still so much of the world left for me to see." Alton steps behind a tree and is gone as quickly as he appeared. 

"Damn it, Alton." Ambrose contains his fury on his way back to camp. Something seems wrong with how he reacted to Veera's name. When Ambrose reaches the campsite, he sees Veera and Karl unmoved from their positions. Perhaps this is something I'll need to bring up tomorrow. Ambrose slowly drifts back asleep, returning to another of his recurring nightmare. Again and again he is chased by the werewolf Giridharan until he wakes; just before being caught in wrathful maw of the cursed man. 

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Session #6: A Murderer in Moonlight
Flushing the Den

Karl leads Ambrose to the outskirts of Illivan, to a quaint and charming grove. In neat rows golden pecan trees stretch to the amber dusk sky. At the base of each sits a basket of shelled pecans only half-finished, left to sit in the peaceful orchard until the next day’s work begins. Through an iron gate and up a quiet winding path, the two emerge in front of an impressive manse. At the doorway, a dandy butler greets the two, showing proper routine concern towards Ambrose’s condition but letting slip no surprise at the situation, if any exists. The man takes Ambrose to sit by the fire in a large parlor room, with elegantly bound books adorning the shelves and agreeable high-backed chairs that Ambrose sinks so deeply into, he may never emerge. The butler excuses himself as Karl enters, making his way to the liquor cabinet and pours himself a sweet, pungent mead. 

“This is more than welcoming. Thank you,” says Ambrose, eyeing the tasteful room and the man who betrayed no hint of wealth before. “I don’t think this is something I’ll be able to spring back from quickly. I hope I’m not putting you out…?”

“Not at all,” Karl admits warmly. “Besides Gerrick and a few other serving hands, the place can be pretty quiet. Truth be told, I appreciate the company. You can stay in my uncle’s room. No, you’re not putting him out either; he’s been dead a while now. The house used to be his, actually, but when he passed it went to me. Not that I wasn't comfortable myself before. I used to be a tax collector.” He chuckles. “Not the most glamorous job, but it pays to have a little muscle when the tithe won’t come forward.” A sad smile flashes across his face, and he repeats, “It’s not a glamorous job. The nobles were the worst part. I only worked for them; I don’t have time for that kind of society. All that pomp and circumstance – it’s a façade; it’s never sincere. But here, the pecan orchard…” He extends an arm still holding his liquor and sighs deeply. “You’re just more in tune with the natural world out here. Keep to the land, make something for yourself. I can even work on my collection.” He gestures up above the mantel, where the heads of fierce game sit impressively mounted to the wall, their faces frozen in their last savage moments. Ambrose nods quietly, appreciating. What an interesting man; I’m glad Alton and I found him.

Days pass with mounting tension. Ambrose is still weak from the gnarled and corrupt wound, and it is only careful tending that keeps him in improving health. But every moment spent recovering in Hart Manor is a moment ofinaction; the full moon will not wait. Ambrose, frustrated and impatient, and feeling more than a bit guilty at the elegant hospitality, meets Karl at the staircase’s landing as the huntsman returns one afternoon from a trip into Illivan.

“We can’t afford to wait any longer. The full moon is tomorrow night. We have to do something, even if I’m in this state.”

“Yes, and we’ll call together any men that will help. We’ll help organize some guardsmen, show them the tunnels, see if we can’t assemble a raid. But you’ve got to rest-”

“I can’t sit idly by while innocent men and women live just above those monsters; I’m going as well.”

The next morning as the sun crests, the two men make their way to a cobble tower on the Low-Town wall, one of the main barracks for the city guard. Worry spreads through the sentinels at the news of such a horrible organization conspiring right beneath their feet. By midday many of the town’s guards are surreptitiously stirring with quiet plans of a raid on the caverns of living rock. As the shadows stretch long in the twilight, Karl, Ambrose, a few watchmen, and a captain gather in a small alley within view of the squalid, shabby building of a half week earlier. As the sun meets the top of the city wall, the signal is given, and the posse storms the quiet building.

The tunnels are conducive to beasts, not heavily armored men, and the group pushes forward with uneasy thoughts. The cave twists and bends as if the party is descending into the gut of some horrible, gargantuan monster, until they find themselves at another ladder beneath a trap-door. A few of the guards break off as Karl, Ambrose, the captain, and two other men lift a heavy slate door and orient themselves.

The sun is gasping its last breaths upon the horizon as they emerge in a large lumber mill. Scaffolding hangs above their heads, gently shifting on thick, iron chains. The group climbs cautiously from the tunnel and only begins to adjust to their surroundings before a sharp bark causes all men to turn.

Across the warehouse in a windowed room is a terrifying sight. Three men, howling in agony, convulse in sharp spasms. Their flesh bubbles and rends itself from their bodies, their spines crack and burst from their hunched forms, and their hands, gnarled and crooked, twist and break unnaturally as their fingers extend into terrible bestial claws. They lumber towards the party, ineptly at first, but quickly evolving into an instinctive sprint.

The fight is one for survival, but the men are armed and prepared. A well-placed strike brings one of the foul beasts to its knees, and the two guardsmen take the opportunity to restrain him with heavy ropes. The other two monsters dart for the scaffolding, with Ambrose, Karl, and the captain in hot pursuit. On the hanging walkways, Ambrose, steeling himself inwardly, summons a patch of slick grease before one of the savage man-beasts, and it loses its footing. Within moments, Karl and Ambrose are upon it, tying it to the metal railing. The final untamed creature leaps from the scaffolding and bursts through a window, finding itself outside on a landing above the lumber complex. The captain vaults onto the roof in pursuit as the full moon in its glorious splendor emerges from behind a cloud.

At that moment, a cry from below pulls the attention of Karl and Ambrose. When they return to the windowed room, their souls sink as they find it empty, save for a pile of heavy rope on the cold stone floor.

At this moment, Ambrose catches sight of Alton, gesturing towards the heavy stone trapdoor covering the ladder to the tunnels. He cups his ear and nods knowingly towards the deep, dark cavern.

“They’ve gone back into the tunnels. Come on, Karl!”

In the tight cave, the walls echo with the sounds of snarling and howling, and Karl and Ambrose’s blood run cold. Whether those are cries of distress or cries of the hunt is a question one cannot dwell on in such a terrible moment.

Alton, several yards ahead, is excitedly leading the two men deeper and deeper into the cave. As Karl and Ambrose turn the last corner, they come upon Alton sitting knowingly upon the middle rungs of yet another ladder, glancing upwards. Not daring to speak to Alton in front of Karl, Ambrose only climbs the steel rungs and lifts the cover, to find himself in a small park garden tucked in a quiet alley behind some tall brick buildings. The moon sits quietly behind a small, wispy cloud.

Karl emerges next to Ambrose. “Where are we? What is this? What-” he begins, but Ambrose cuts him off as the sound of soft footsteps on the stone street seem to be approaching. The two men duck into a small shrub.

Strolling quietly along in the moonlit night is a tall, olive-skinned man. Long, jet black hair extends to the small of his back, and it is clean and dressed. His oddly cut, decorated robes exude a style and class of extreme sophistication. Fierce yellow eyes glow in the night, and his purple lips sit pursed in thought. His hands, with sharp black fingernails, lie clasped behind his back. Without speaking a word, he immediately commands the pair’s attention and fear. He turns into the alleyway.

“Why do you hide in the bushes?”

Ambrose is exhausted from the night and worried his wounds may have reopened. Hiding this as best he can, he emerges from the bush and takes a step forward.

Strolling quietly along in the moonlit night is a tall, olive-skinned man. The stranger pauses before stepping into the garden, seeming to check behind him for any potential followers. Long, jet black hair extends to the small of his back, and it is clean and dressed. His oddly cut decorated robes exude a style and class of extreme sophistication. Fierce yellow eyes glow in the night and his purple lips sit pursed in thought while his hands, with sharp black fingernails, lie clasped behind his back. Those eyes immediately lock onto Ambrose and he commands the pair’s attention and fear, “Why do you hide in the bushes?”

Ambrose is exhausted from the night and worries his wounds may have reopened. Hiding this as best he can, he emerges from the bush and takes a step forward.

“Well, so you’re not a coward. Just a fool.” The man’s voice is cold and enchanting; the same voice Karl had heard in the tunnels. Ambrose pushes down his fear and asks the man, “Are you the one they call Giridharan?”

“Oh? The fool can speak. I am Giridharan,” the man replies, eyes beginning to narrow. “Now tell me, do you know the two men who were in my tunnels just a few nights ago?”

“Perhaps,” Ambrose replies cautiously, “But what I do know is that you are wanted for the murder of eight people and it is my responsibility to stop you.”

Giridharan feigns shock, “Really? You? You plan to end me? You know nothing of what you are getting yourself into, do you?” Giridharan’s hands appear to ready themselves at his sides. Ambrose in an attempt to stall Giridharan, while he musters his energy, asks, “What do you mean?”

“What I mean is, you, a common bounty hunter wants to end the great Prince of Wolves!”

“Prince? Do you mean you’re noble?” Ambrose retorts.

“Well of course. Can’t you tell?” Giridharan chuckles as he waves a hand over his form.

“You don’t look like any noble I’ve ever seen.” Ambrose chides mockingly.

“I’m sure to you I must seem a fantasy. A handsome man from a faraway land,”Giridharan grins. “Come to change your world. I am a prince; Second Son of the King of Bhalrooz. Giridharan. Kalravani.” His head tips momentarily back as he basks in his own pride. “

”Isn’t this something most would keep a secret?“ Ambrose continues to chide, ”A murderer; of nobility?“

”I certainly make it no secret of who I am. As Tunak’s Chosen I plan to herald myself as I spread his gift and shepherd his followers north to the Call."

Ambrose nearly shudders beneath Giridharan’s words. ”Tunak’s… gift?“

”Tunak, God of the Hunt; he gave me this power. The divine right to hunt whomever I choose.“ As his voice begins to swell, Giridharan’s hands rise half clenched into fists as his bones begin to morph into more bestial claws and his gaze becomes more savage. The hairs on Ambrose’s neck begin to stand. "I think it’s time we end our conversation as you see I have other things to attend to tonight. But before we… part, I have one correction for you. You said I am wanted for the murder of eight people. That’s just not true. I’ve hunted dozens since leaving my homeland.“ Giridharan begins to lean forward in preparation of an attack. ”Goodbye ’Bounty Hunter’. Oh, and don’t worry about your friend in the bush." He snaps at Ambrose, "I’ll tend to him next." Giridharan begins to lunge towards the magus.

At this direct threat, Ambrose closes his eyes and thrusts his right arm forward. A searing, intense pain overwhelms him as he feels as if his arm will rend in two. He watches in horror as, from the fingertips down to the base of the elbow, a black, inky corruption snakes down through his veins and bubbles on his raw skin. His fingers curl involuntarily as the pain threatens to tear Ambrose apart, and a horrible sickness curdles in his throat.

Giridharan’s screams turn into howls of agony as the terrible spell consumes him. The black flames lick at his still changing form, and he throws himself to the ground in desperation. His skin warps and melts like wax, and his flesh peels from the sinew and bone. His eyes roll back and pop under the pressure, and his bones themselves shake and clatter as they too are devoured by the fiendish spell.

Ambrose blinks, finding himself on the ground, gasping for air. He hadn’t realized he was holding his breath. He thought he had caught a glimpse of Alton in the alley just as he released the spell. Before him lies only a pile of ash, with a modest silver amulet resting within. Karl, wide eyed and terrified, only stares at Ambrose’s form, sitting upright on the dirt. He approaches the ashen remains, and picks up the amulet which is surprising cool, turning it over in his hands. Its shape is that of a snarling wolf, eyes sharp and wide and maw open in a dreadful image. Glancing again at Ambrose, he slips the amulet into his pocket. Whatever the hell happened, there’s no trophy left. I’m owed at least this much.

Ambrose picks himself up. Before he can begin to explain himself, a voice calls from the ladder below. “Is anyone up there? What’s happened?”

The two climb back down to meet the guard captain and another watchman, both badly beaten and barely standing. They explain that many men are missing, but that many more terrible beast men have been captured or killed. "But the leader, Giridharan?”

“It’s finished,” Ambrose concedes wearily. “Tell your men to go home. Giridharan is no more.”

The captain starts to speak, but stops himself, studying Ambrose’s terrible expression. The straggling men trudge silently through the cavern, looking for survivors.

In the dim light of the guard’s torches, Karl, walking in the back, catches a glimpse of a shimmer of light from Ambrose’s pack. An ornate lantern clipped to Ambrose’s bedroll, seems to light itself briefly with some arcane power, its color an indescribable hue of magic. Karl watches as a crack forms itself down the pane of the lantern, until the glass shatters and falls with a delicate tinkling.

The Guard Captain and his troupe help lead Ambrose and Karl through the tunnels underneath Illivan. Both men are shaken from experience with the werewolf leader, Giridharan, but they insist to the guards that they ’are indeed fine’ and ’no, do not need an escort through the city’. As the two try to depart the guards, the Captain stops to tell them, “You two have done a great service to this city. I expect the Queen likely has a reward for you. Though it’s a shame Giridharan’s body couldn't be found. I know you were the one who drew his name at the Lottery, but unfortunately we are unable to pay out his bounty unless we see his body.” Ambrose, slightly peeved, turns to Karl who nods and shrugs. The Captain continues, “Ah, don’t worry. I’m sure the Gods will reward you for the good you’ve done today. May their favor forever be upon you.”

With that, Ambrose and Karl leave the town and arrive at Karl’s manor. Gerrick greets them in the night wringing his hands in worry over their worn appearance. The butler has already prepared the parlor for them and started a fire. Without words, Karl invites Ambrose into the parlor; they have a lot to talk about. He pours his favorite brandy in a snifter and takes to his cushioned armchair next to the already warm fire. His hands shake as he takes a sip. “What happened out there; with the fire, and the… screaming?” Karl’s eyes are locked onto the burning fireplace. 

Ambrose removes his pack and sits in the armchair opposite of Karl. He takes a long breath and sighs unclipping the lantern from his bedroll; placing it on the floor between the two. They stare at it together for a moment, and Ambrose begins to recount everything; the ruin, the lantern, Alton, the spell, the god. How he was looking for Giridharan to cast that spell on specifically; how he knew that he should only use it on one so horrible as him. The reason why he and Alton needed to release the next person from the lantern in order to save the world. After it is all said, Karl continues to stare at the lantern expressionless.

“I saw something… in the tunnels. As we were leaving. That lantern lit up and one of those panels cracked away,” Karl gestures to the lantern with a nod. Ambrose looks closer at the lantern as sees that, in fact, the white panel is gone. “Does that mean you succeeded,” he drinks again from his snifter, “y-y’know, with what you were trying to do?”

“I don’t know.” Ambrose shakes his head in exasperation. “I hope so.”

“Well where is this Alton fella? Can he tell you if it worked? Is he here?” Karl begins to look about the room.

“No,” Ambrose sighs again. “I haven’t seen him since I cast the spell at Giridharan.

”Well then shouldn't there be another person here? Is Alton gone?“ Karl asks. Ambrose’s eyes widen as he considers what might happen next.

 After another silence, Karl leans back in his favorite armchair and finishes his drink. ”You know, I usually tried my best to keep away from… mages. They usually seemed to bring up trouble. Uh, no offense.“ Ambrose simply nods, he knows this truth from experience. ”But, after what happened tonight I, uh,“ Karl breathes in and shifts his glass in his hand. ”I wouldn't mind if you needed to stay here at the manor for a while. Actually, I think I would prefer it if you did stay.“

Ambrose sniffs at the burning timber in the fireplace. ”I think I’d like that. Thank you, Karl.“ Two men share a silence together, now out of respect for one another. As the fire continues to crackle in the dark, Karl begins to pull out the silver pendant he picked out of Giridharan’s ashes. The fine, silver wolf’s head gleams in the firelight. He motions it to Ambrose to catch his attention, letting Ambrose get an eyeful of the pendant. ”I’m keeping this, by the way. I think I’ve earned it?“ Karl inflects some slight agitation as he thumbs the wolf’s head.

Ambrose holds his hands up, ”Oh, o-of course. I’m not- I didn't plan on taking it from you." Ambrose’s earnest reaction causes Karl to chuckle. The two sit in the parlor for a long time, exhausted from the day’s events. Sitting in silence, the fire dies and the men turn in for bed. 

That night and every night following, Ambrose is cursed by nightmares. Each night he hides in a field of wheat lit by the full moon. Each night he is being hunted by a towering beast that tears through the wheat to find him. 

View
Session #5: The Den
Baptized in Meat

The information Ambrose and Karl received from the alley attacker is unfortunately rather scant. Karl leads the pair to the Loom district, a more affluent part of Illivan, with white stone buildings gleaming in the sunlight; a stark contrast to the poor and downtrodden Low-Town just behind the two and beyond the city wall. At the gate, Karl and Ambrose turn to each other, unsure of where to start. However, a chance glimpse of another olive-skinned, robed figure leads the two to a quiet, modest home on the street. From a distance, Karl and Ambrose watch as the man checks his surroundings and then carefully slips into the building.

After some time, it seems clear that the man is not re-emerging. After waiting for what seems like the opportune moment, the two slink to the front door. As Ambrose peers around the side of the house, Karl tests the front door, finding it unlocked. The two quietly slide in and shut the heavy door behind them.

As their eyes get used to the darkness, Ambrose and Karl discover a squalid, unpleasant hovel before them. Dust stirs beneath their feet as the two walk through the front room, littered with overturned crates and broken furniture. In the back, a damp, untouched kitchen reeks of mold and rot. But the two men are immediately drawn towards a set of stairs leading down, unreasonably deep into the living stone. The old wood stairs creak under their careful footsteps, and at the bottom, a curtain, ornate but bereft of any style natural to Illivan, hides the next room.

Pulling it aside, the two find themselves in an airy stone room. Brass braziers hang from the damp ceiling, fires kindling and illuminating the gray floor and walls. The scent of incense is heavy, and the two catch their breath to keep from letting loose a betraying cough. Strewn across the floor are several cushions and rugs, beautifully decorated in the same style as the cloth in the doorway and at a stark contrast to the otherwise miserable room. The chamber hooks around both sides to behind the staircase, revealing a roughly carved hole in the stone floor nearly six feet across, and a ladder leading deeper into the earth. However, the two are not alone in this room. Laying across the cushions are two men clothed in fine silks with black, curly hair. Too concerned with their pipes and conversation to notice Ambrose peeking into the room, the loungers continue to debate an apparently heated topic in a foreign tongue. Wordlessly, Ambrose motions Karl to move further up the stairs as his hands begin to glow. After a moment a crashing noise comes from the far side of the room opposite of the hole. The two loungers abruptly halt their conversation to investigate the sudden noise. They pass mere feet from Ambrose and Karl and disappear hidden behind the wall of the staircase. Exchanging concerned glances, the two hurriedly creep into the room and descend the ladder unnoticed.

At the base of the ladder, the party finds themselves in a low, damp tunnel carved straight through the stone itself. Picking a direction, the two walk down a moldy, sordid corridor. As the tunnel twists and turns upon itself like a horrid knot, the two see the flicker of a flame ahead, and can almost make out the sound of some mechanical whirring. Before them, torches light some yet unseen room.

The two emerge from the cramped tunnel into a wretched, foul chamber. Piled haphazardly in heaps are mountains of rotting meat. The vile smell of the horrendous, stinking flesh sends both men's heads swimming, and Ambrose takes a knee before the intense scene. The whirring sound is louder now too, and to the pair, it seems as if, in addition to what they now realize is the scrape of metal upon metal, they also discern a careful muttering. Carefully, the two steal into the next room.

Before them is another abominable sight. A man, if he could described as such, sits upon the bare floor, sharpening a wicked and diseased jagged knife upon a whetstone wheel. The man is a mangled mess of hair, as wild as a rabid dog, with a snarl upon his face and seedy, yellow bestial eyes. Around him lie more rotting piles of flesh and meat, along with hunks of some unfortunate and unrecognizable prey hanging from hooks in the ceiling. He immediately locks eyes with the two adventurers, and a horrible, toothy snarl slides across his face, as he stands, brandishing the now razor-sharp weapon. A ghastly, meaty ooze drips from his blade as he laughs a terrible, coughing bark. 

"Fresh meat," he cackles, "and I didn't even need to hunt it."

Wasting no time, Karl and Ambrose steel themselves for a brawl. The man, however, is as animalistic in melee as he appears, and his aggression and ferocity shock the party. A particularly nasty swipe of his corrupt, toothed blade catches Ambrose across the collar, and he collapses in an unmoving heap. Karl, in a desperate fury, pummels the man, and his eyes widen in shock as, over and over, Karl's fists catch him in vulnerable places. His face turns from cocky, animal aggression, to concern, to terror, and as he realizes his fate and begins another barking cough, this time not of laughter but of desperation, Karl crushes his face in with a powerful, well-placed fist. The horrible man gurgles and then falls silent.

Before even catching his breath, Karl runs over to the still unmoving Ambrose. He slaps his partner's face and begins to dig through his pack for smelling salts or medicinal herbs, but a sound from deeper within the cavern causes him to freeze. Holding his breath, he listens intently as he discovers the sound of several other voices, indiscernible, coming from further into the earth. Wasting no time, Karl decides he must act. He drags Ambrose back into the room of stinking meat and places his unmoving form behind a particularly tall pile.

"Sorry Ambrose," Karl whispers while covering Ambrose with a few of the fetid chunks. "I'll be back for you soon, but I need to keep you hidden." Karl begins to slip off until he notices a bin next to a metal cutting table. Curiosity takes control of Karl and he peeks in at the sight of the skin of a woman's face staring back at him. His gaze darts back to Ambrose under the pile of meat, "Better keep this from Ambrose." Lurching, Karl continues deeper into the terrifying tunnels following the indistinct voices.

Deep within the darkening cave, Karl finds himself just outside a large, circular chamber, with a vaulted, echoing ceiling. The chamber barely lit, Karl is unable to make out the precise number of attendees of this secret meeting, but is able to make out the voices of over a dozen men. Holding his breath and only occasionally daring to glance furtively, he listens as the men speak.

"We should be expecting another five men arriving within a day," one of the men says in a gruff voice. "We'll have them stay through the moon, and then they can continue north with Fakhrul's group."

"Splendid. This month should be a particularly fruitful one." The man speaking has an air of grace and power behind his voice, and Karl steals another careful peek out of a terrible charming curiosity. This man's silhouette is tall and powerful, his long straight hair clearly visible in front of the dim candle light. It is clear the other men hang on his every word, as does Karl now. His allure is irresistible.

"For too long we have had to arrange our pilgrimage in this way, sneaking and creeping in the bowels of the earth like common rats. This time, things will be different. The tunnels are finally completed, and with them, we have complete reign over this pathetic city. No longer will we be confined to caves and hovels. No longer will we be forced to eat the filthy rats and cats and pigs. From this moon onwards, Illivan will belong to us!"

The room erupts in a horrible, screeching sound, which rings in Karl's ears for far too long before he realizes it is cheering. The men have the same appalling coughing, barking laugh as the butcher from before, and Karl's blood runs cold at the sound of it. A horrible feeling of despair clouds over Karl, and, taking several stumbling steps backwards, he finally turns and runs from the terrible men.

Before he realizes where his feet have taken him, Karl finds himself in the rotting meat chamber. A quiet shuffling comes from one of the piles, and with a wretched gasp of air Ambrose pulls himself up from under the pile of sickly wet flesh. Visibly shaken but steadier every moment, Ambrose turns to Karl and gives him a weak look.

"Why was I in all this?", motioning at the meat.

"We have to get out of here immediately," interjects Karl, ignoring the question.

Retracing their footsteps is relatively easy, as though the cave is dark and winding, the journey back to the ladder is direct, with seldom any branches. Ambrose, under Karl's arm, manages to hustle relatively quickly given his condition, only needing to rest himself once. As the two approach the familiar ladder, with brazier light shining from above, they immediately catch themselves with a start. Voices carry from the basement, idly chatting. The two share a knowing look, and Karl places Ambrose down to rest against the damp cavern wall, where he sits, breathing quietly. Karl clambers gently up the ladder and peers carefully into the room, where the two visible men sit among the rugs.

"I'm not sure we can go out this way," Karl whispers down to Ambrose. "How much further can you go? There may beanother way out of here."

At that moment, Ambrose's eyes widen in fear. From no more than a bend or two within the cave, several men's voices carry. "It sounds as if they may be coming this way."

Thinking quickly, Karl palms a loose rock and hurls it at a brazier. With a loud clank, the brazier swings violently on its chain, spilling ashen coals all across the linens beneath it. The men in the basement cry out as a flame begins to spread across the room.

"Now! Hurry!"

Karl scrambles up the ladder, dragging Ambrose behind him. The two men, olive-skinned and with the faint look of bestial savageness, call out as Karl half carries Ambrose past them towards the stairs, but their attention is diverted by the fire now rapidly spreading towards the other flammable linens in the room. Ripping aside the curtain, Karl climbs the stairs, crashes through the dilapidated room, and bursts out the front door, only collapsing in a gasping heap, several streets away, when he can literally run no more.

View
Session #4: Meeting the Hunter
And Searching the Town

"We wish you luck," a knightly guard says to Ambrose as he clenches hands, reading the bounty paper. Ambrose acknowledges the guard as he begins to leave the stage following the example of the volunteers he saw before. The elderly guard begins to address the crowds again, but Ambrose is too distracted by his thoughts to make out the speech.

A werewolf in the city, he thinks, and they leave it up to bounty hunters? I'm going to need to more information than this. Ambrose begins to leave the crowded square and motions to two guards, armored in polished brass and adorned with red-plumed helmets, at the mouth of a nearby city street. Before Ambrose can form his words, the nearest guard speaks, "Your first time participating with the Justice Tree?" "Yes. You can tell?", Ambrose replies. "I could see on your face walking over here that you wanted some explanation," the man grins, "I saw you on the platform, either this was your first ceremony or you are really confident in your skills."

"What do you mean," Ambrose begins to feel a bit concerned, what did I do now? "Well, you pulled your bounty from pretty high on the Tree, and typically those are known to be pretty difficult. Usually involves some beast out in the countryside." "Mind sharing your…" the guard motions at the paper still in Ambrose's hand. Obliging, he hands the piece off to the man before him. A dour look spreads on the helmeted man's face. "Oh."

Both guards are looking between each other, "Do you think you could handle this on your own? Giridharan's been connected to a murder every full moon for the last eight months. There's no shame in going into this with a team." Shit, make something up. " Of course, that's why I came up to you two. I'm looking for assistance, and you two look like you know how things run around here. I was hoping you could point me in the right direction." Relief showers the guards, "If you're looking for someone, I know some rough and tumblers at the hunter's lodge on the Brima Road east of the city. Someone there would likely be willing to help."

Ambrose thanks the guards and heads east out-of-town, through the markets of Low-Town, and contemplates on how unusually helpful the guards have been today. At the edge of the upcoming farmland sits a thatch roofed building; its grounds full of tanning leathers. Tall poplar trees shade a comfortable wooden lodge from the rest of the world, the perfect hideaway for hunters celebrating after a successful day. Nearing closer, Ambrose hears a chorus of merry singing from inside the lodge. Sure enough, as he enters Ambrose sees a group of men standing on tables leading a off-key, drunken melody. Alton is already inside, leaning against a table of gamblers and gazing across the crowd; surveying the room for potential. Alton walks to a man sitting silently in the corner who is toying a large hunting knife. He's in excellent shape, obviously capable of handling difficult prey, and an occasional scar that lies on his skin only serves to highlight his experience. His demeanor, in stark contrast to the rest of the rambunctious lodge, draws Ambrose instantly to him. He sits down across from him, orders the man a drink, and begins his proposition.

Ambrose approaches the man and introduces himself, "Hello. I hope you don't mind my forwardness, but I'd like a moment of your time. I've a particular prey to hunt, and was hoping you'd be interested in helping me. I'm Ambrose François."

"Well hello, Ambrose. My name is Karladron. Those from the lodge call me Karl." The two acquaint themselves and Ambrose explains his situation with the bounty of Giridharan.

"Would you be interested in joining me hunting down this man?"

"A werewolf huh? I'd certainly love to have that trophy on my wall. I tell you what, I'll help you track this beast down and we split the bounty. Agreed?" The two shake hands and Karl begins to gather his things to leave, but Alton leans into Ambrose's ear and chides, "He's probably not going to be happy when you burn Giridharan to nothing. What are you going to do?" Ambrose turns to whisper back but Alton is gone. Why does he do that? Regardless, all those issues will be addressed once we get to them.

Karl and Ambrose set off from the merry lodge together. They've more information to collect, and only a few days to do so before the full moon rises over the white walls of Illivan and the werewolf claims another innocent victim. The two head to a busy street in Low-town outside of Illivan, and begin canvassing the streets. The citizens know very little, only offering what amount to no more than local gossip and rumors. The name Giridharan clearly isn't of the area, though, and a few people suggest that perhaps he comes from a land far away to the south. Ambrose and Karl piece together that they are perhaps looking for a tan skinned man with long, jet black hair. A helpful piece of information in fair-skinned Illivan, but an unfulfilling one nonetheless.

While the two split up to cover more ground, Ambrose steps aside to take a break from asking passersby about Giridharan and glances over to Karl further up the street. Karl is turned away by a young, olive-skinned man. Karl moves on to the next passerby, but Ambrose can't help but watch the stranger walk through the crowd and meet with a similar appearing, older man. Both men whisper to each other and both look back to Karl before ducking down a nearby alley. As the men leave the crowd, Ambrose realizes Alton was standing right next to where the men were speaking. Alton seems to feign shock to Ambrose, seeming having over heard the secret conversation, and follows the strangers into the alley.

Ambrose doesn't hesitate to follow after Alton and the two strangers into the shadowed alley, but as he leaves the crowded street he finds himself alone. Ahead of him, Ambrose sees an alcove dipping between the wooden walls of the buildings around him. Ambrose hears light footsteps from the alcove and draws his sword and edges to the corner to listen, but the two strangers are convening too quietly to be heard. Ambrose shifts his weight and leans around the corner slightly, hoping to get a better vantage, but he immediately catches eyes with the farthest man. He darts his head back around the corner, hoping the mystery man missed him. A harsh yell dashes his hopes, so Ambrose, ever quick-witted, drops his sword on the ground. As they approach me and demand to know why I'm here, I can say I've just dropped my sword down this alley and was bending to pick it up, he thinks. Foolproof! Strangely, the two aren't buying it.

"You! What did you hear?" The younger asks. Ambrose attempts to explain his situation involving his sword, but he his cut off. "We'll make sure you never heard anything," the older man interrupts with an odd accent that Ambrose can't place. The two approach Ambrose while beginning to brandish daggers that were hidden at their waists. As a clash begins in the alley, Karl has doubled back up the street looking for his new companion when out of the corner of his eye he catches the sword fight developing. Karl instinct take over as he barrels down the alley to support Ambrose in the uneven fight. A mountain of muscles and bulk, he reaches the conflict with such velocity that he takes the younger combatant by surprise and knocks him out with a single punch to the face. Karl begins to restrain the attacker while Ambrose continues his scuffle.

Through his deft maneuvers, Ambrose is able to wound his attacker and bring him to the ground. The stranger is on his back, sword to his chest, as Ambrose begins his interrogation, "Who are you? Do you know Giridharan?" The man denies any connection to the werewolf, while vehemently proclaiming that he will kill Ambrose. Before Ambrose can give his retort, the man knocks away the sword and begins to crawl away. Startled, Ambrose watches the man for a moment as he tries to come to his feet until Alton calls to him. Standing above the struggling attacker Alton says in a cool, short breath, "Stab him."

With slight hesitation, Ambrose drives his sword down through the man's back. His final breath leaves his body as it falls to the ground, pulling itself off of Ambrose's sword. Ambrose steps back to turn to Karl as a blood pool begins to form. I needed to kill him. He already said he would kill me. Was Alton smiling? 

Karl is standing close by, the young, would-be-attacker behind him. "All you Alright?" Ambrose asks Karl. "Yeah, I knocked the other out on the ground over there," Karl turns to point at the other man where they see him crawling across the floor attempting to get away. "Oh no you don't," Karl steps on the mans back keeping him prone. Ambrose walks to be in front of the young man who is near tears.

"Please don't kill me!" As Ambrose gets a better look at the man's face, he realizes that he is more of boy and must be nearly half of Ambrose's age. "What do you know about Giridharan," and the young man spills his guts. "I've only met him the once, honest! He hired me and the some others to help him sneak people into the city."

"How? What people?"

"I don't know who they are, they never told me. We use underground tunnels from Low-Town to get through the walls."

"Where do you take them all?"

"There's…  a house in the city. Near the Loom's Street gate close to Low-Town." Ambrose looks to Karl who nods, "I know how to get there." Karl picks up his foot off the man and the man pulls himself to his seat. "Ambrose, it sounds like we got a stake out." 

"So, uh… Can I go?"

"You should run." And the man ran back into the street as fast as he could. 

View
Session #3: The Justice Tree
Reason Enough

Ambrose looks at Alton expectedly. Something isn't right about Alton and he wants answers. The waitress looks a bit upset at Ambrose. "I'm sorry. That will be all for now," he says to remove her. She nods hesitantly and walks away. "She probably thinks you're crazy," Alton chimes. "I might be crazy unless you can explain yourself" Ambrose starts to eat his food to calm suspicions. "You shouldn't sell the lantern." "You've said that." "Aye, but let me explain. The lantern holds a dark secret that you need to know." Alton seems uncertain on how to proceed. "You know that the lantern has four colored panels, aye?" Ambrose nods, while Alton seems uncomfortable. "Well. Each panel is like a ward, or barrier. Each one holds back someone sealed inside a long time ago. "How can you know all of this," Ambrose asks quietly, looking around at the tables near him. Alton shrugs and gestures towards himself. "I… you could say… am the white panel."

Ambrose's eyes widen in disbelief. "How is that possible?"  Alton looks to the table, "The lantern was made to seal away powerful god, and to do that they had to sacrifice three others. I was one of the three. They put me in last, so I suppose I'm the first one out. I'm supposed to help keep the lantern from falling into the wrong hands, and letting the evil out." Ambrose takes it all in and looks to Alton, "And how do you plan on doing that if only I can see you, how can you keep the lantern safe?" Alton shrugs, "I don't know." "Did you give me that terrible spell?" "I suspect that was a piece of the dark god's power that slipped out." "Did it cause the lantern to crack more?" "Probably, it's likely. But I expect the lantern to slowly deteriorate away. The world you live in now is much different from my time. The lifestyles of the people I've seen would be enough slowly break away at the lantern." "So even if I hide the lantern away from everyone, the seal will still break?" "It might take years, or maybe decades. But I believe that eventually the seals will vanish on their own now." "Is there a way to stop it?" "I don't know. But I might know someone who might." "Who could possibly know that?" Ambrose scoffs as he finishes off his meal. Alton pauses,"I don't know their name, but they're inside the blue panel."  

Ambrose nearly chokes on his wine, "The blue panel? You want me to break another panel to stop the lantern from breaking?" Alton leans forward, "It's the only way I know of." "So I need to crack the blue panel? And that's it?" "It's not that simple, there is an order to it all. White, blue, red, black. The lantern was designed to break away in that order." "You sure seem to only know something when its inconvenient," Ambrose remarks. Alton chuckles, "But whatever you choose to do, I can't do anything to stop you." 

Ambrose decides he needs to sleep on all he's learned. Alton stays at the table, and watches Ambrose climb the stairs up to the room he rented. It's difficult for Ambrose to fall asleep, and when he finally does it's a restless sleep. Again, he dreams of the black skeleton. The sun hits Ambrose and he wakes up, he looks around his empty room and decides to prepare his spells for the day. After finishing his meditation, Ambrose feels it's time to find where Alton has gone off to. "Are you ready?" Alton's voice comes from the corner. Ambrose turns to see him leaning on the wall in the corner. Ambrose doesn't visibly react, but he is startled. Another reminder that Alton isn't real. Ambrose tells Alton that he's decided to go to the mages like he planned, but he wants to see if they can help him learn about Alton's civilization. 

After some investigation in the street to learn the location of the library he heard of the day before, Ambrose learns that the library is in the Queen's castle. Hopefully he can get in. It's easy to find the castle, it's visible from nearly any street in the city. The white-stone keep looms over Illivan from the center of the city, atop a hill. He approaches one of the castle's public gates and sees a guard in polished armor who carries a gilded halberd. Before he can pass the gate the guard questions him where he's going. A brief conversation occurs, and the guard explains that the library is the only public area of the castle and not to wander. Ambrose affirms the guard and passes the gate and enters the walls. After passing through some luxuriant gardens he enters the castle and finds the library. He enters into the presence of three bespectacled, owl-eyed men. Odd in their years, the men are delayed in they way the react and are speak. Ambrose requests to see the oldest manuscripts they have about the civilizations from before the founding of Illivan. There is some argument between the library's keepers until they agree to show Ambrose to the section he seeks. As he is ledthrough the library, Ambrose looks to see if Alton is nearby. He tries to get Alton's attention without alerting the owl-eyed men. 

The librarian reveals the alcove that contains the oldest manuscripts, Alton is already there pointing to the scrolls. Ambrose pulls it out and opens it. DVNO. Four capital letters, printed in gold. The manuscript is written in an old language unknown to Ambrose. He asks the owl-eyed man if he could read it. "Certainly". The man hunches over the scroll and begins to slowly read pieces. Alton is shaking his head, "He has no idea what that says." Ambrose tries to motion to Alton to read the manuscript while the owl-eyes man isn't looking. The man stops reading, "Did you find my translation satisfactory?" "It was very insightful, I'd like to take some time to look over it myself some more." The owl-eyed man backs away and Ambrose returns to the scroll with Alton. The apparition reads over the scroll, "That's wrong… that too…" Alton tuts. "What is it?" Ambrose whispers, attempting to keep attention away from himself. "It's a history of my culture. It appears someone had found some artifacts from my time and made assumptions on what they were for. The language it's written in is similar to mine but it's off. I'm thinking it's from a descendent of the survivors of my home. So my time is lost even to the oldest records." Alton appears upset. 

It's clear the scroll won't be able to help Ambrose find a way to control the lanterns deterioration. He thanks the owl-eyed man and leaves the castle. "What can we do?" Ambrose asks. "The only thing that's made any noticeable change in the panels was when you cast that spell." "No. I don't ever want to go through that again." "It's all there is to go on." Ambrose sighs, although he can't find the spell in his book, the memory of if it etched into his mind. He feels he could cast it at any moment he needed. Ambrose looks to Alton then around him. They are alone near a park, "I'll see if I can cast it on that tree." Ambrose braves himself and focuses on the tree. Nothing. 

Ambrose remembers the entry from his spell book. For use on enemies. "I guess it only works on people," Alton surmises. "Great, where am I going to find someone vile enough to be sentenced to death by black flames?"  They continue down the path into a square. There appears to be a rally; nearly a hundred people have gathered together, cheering and joyous. At the center is a platform, backed by the waving, red and gold banners of Illivan. A circle of guards surround and branching iron pole that beaches into many smaller limbs. At the end of each limb is a strip of paper tied around its end. An elder guard, white-haired with Illivani styled mustaches, approaches the edge of the platform, "Are there any who might take up the tasks of justice? Any who might do good?" Ambrose taps the shoulder of an onlooker at the back of the crowd, "Excuse me, what is all this?" Men and women climb the platform and begin to pick papers off the tree. "Not from here? It's the lottery!" The man is excited. "Lottery?" Ambrose relies, confused at the explanation. "Yeah, they decorate the Tree of Justice and hold the lottery. The papers are the names of murderers and evildoers. When you go up, you pick your paper and," the man the puffs up a bit and seems to impersonate the guard that spoke before, "Are tasked with enacting rightful justice upon the guilty." A bounty lottery, what are the chances.

The volunteers on the stage start to dwindle, but many papers remain on the tree. Ambrose looks to Alton and they share a nod. Ambrose takes to the stage down the large row that divides the crowd. By the time he is on the platform it is just him and the guards. "Thank you, kind son. Take your time and choose," the elder guard speaks to Ambrose. The magus approaches the tree and selects a paper from higher on the tree. He unties it from its branch and unfolds the paper to read it. 'GIRIDHARAN. MURDER. WEREWOLF." Great. 

View
Session #2: An Unassuming Spell
And a Traumatic Experience

Ambrose and Alton take a nights rest before reaching their destination. In the morning Ambrose prepares his spells while Alton watches. “That one looks interest’n”, Alton points out as Ambrose dips through the pages. “Which one?” He turns a few pages back and finds a spell he’s never seen before. It’s undeniably his handwriting, but where did it come from. All it reads: dark flame, for use on enemies. Curious, Ambrose keeps the spell at the back of his thoughts. They approach the town creeping closer in the distance. A donkey cart driven by a couple makes its way towards the hero when he notices a rustling in the bushes. Two highwaymen jump out of the foliage and take the cart drivers hostage . 

The husband is pressed to the ground with the highwayman’s short sword, the wife held against the others knife. Ambrose attempts to take advantage by trying to daze the short sword but failed. This alerts the highwaymen and puts them on edge. “Don’t come any closa! I’ll gut imm I will.” Ambrose takes a step closer and the highwayman kills the husband. 

After witnessing highway murder, Ambrose decides to unleash his new spell. The highwayman taunts, “What do ya plan on doing by yaself?” Ambrose points his hand instinctively at the short sword and the man bursts into black flames. Completely enveloped in dark inferno the man’s flesh begins to drip from his body. His screams transition from the horrid to a gurgle as now his skeleton stumbles across the ground until it breaks apart and burns to ash. The spectacle last for just a few seconds. Stunned and absolutely horrified, Ambrose turns to where the man with the knife stood only to see the wife cowering on the ground in terror and the back of the highwayman running through the trees. 

“Stay away from me! Stay away!”  The wife pulls the husband’s body onto the cart and rides away as fast as possible. Alton pops his head out from a bush and comes over to Ambrose, still petrified by his own actions. Both loom over the charred ground where the only remains of the man is his sword. Alton whistles in astonishment and suggests they hurry to town before anyone else shows up. They walk as calmly as they can up to the town gate. The wall reaches nearly two stories and looks like logs driven into the ground. Two guards stand outside the open gate and eye the Ambrose who is acting is best version of inconspicuous. They let him pass without any resistance. 

Entering the town, Ambrose informs Alton that he needs to find an inn so he can recoup from his mental exhaustion. Ambrose extends his friendship and asks if Alton needs help getting a room. Alton declines and says he can find his own place to sleep for today, and they split. On his way to find his inn, Ambrose notices the crowd spitting to make way for three armored men, walking abreast. These men are known as Whitecloaks. A self-serving police force, the Whitecloaks hold their own country far away to the south but make it an effort to extend their reach to as much of the world as possible. The Whitecloaks often take it upon themselves to enforce their strict code on others and it’s rare that the local governance takes actions against them. Even rarer that the populace breaks the Whitecloaks laws.

The Whitecloaks main goals are to hunt down devil-spawn and their ilk and to stop the use of evil magic. After his recent actions, Ambrose thinks it best to make way too, and let the Whitecloaks carry on without incident. He is able to make it to The Elk’s Hole, the inn’s sign depicting the rear end of an elk, and takes himself inside. There he sleeps for the night. His dreams haunted by the imagery from that day. A Skelton in black flames screaming in a field of wheat. Edging closer until face to face. Ambrose wakens in a hurry that morning and decides it’s time to find Alton. 

He makes his way back to where he last saw Alton and carries after the direction he left in. The town becomes poorer and dirtier the farther Ambrose goes until Alton emerges from an alleyway, clean as ever. It makes Ambrose think on how long it’s been since his first bath. There is an awkward moment when Ambrose asks if Alton slept in the alley, “don’t be ridiculous”. He quickly changes he subject to leaving the town and heading to Illivan, the next stop. It’s a three days walk from where they are so they stock up on rations and set out. Each night Alton offers to take watch ,“ I don’t carry much and I need you well rested in case something attacks.” That’s reasonable. 

Upon reaching the city’s outer border they duo enters Low-town, the poor district surrounding the city proper. Every building in Low-town is built from wood, and gently sway in the wind. Ambrose attempts to find a place where he can sell off his treasure, the lantern, but instead finds that he has lost Alton. Searching back through the crowded streets, he catches sight of him. Alton’s typical happy demeanor is missing and is replaced with a stoic gaze. Alton hasn’t noticed Ambrose so Ambrose decides to watch Alton for a moment. Alton meanders through the crowd easily, never making contact with anyone while he surveys the area. Ambrose notices that Alton is making circles around him, but thinks nothing of it when Alton meets eyes with him. The smile returns to Alton. “What were you looking for?” Ambrose asks. “I was looking for you,” Alton replies, “I don’t think we’ll find what you want here.”  

Both agree that it would be better to head into the main city. Ambrose’s search narrows as he hears rumors of an old man paying for mysterious objects of unknown origins. Perfect. Outside the address they were given, Alton announces he would prefer to stay outside, noting the door covered windows. Nevertheless, Ambrose knocks and is greeted by a bearded old fellow. He invites Ambrose in and guides him to a parlor filled with beakers and burners and twirling glassware. Ambrose tells his story and presents the lantern to the man. The crack has grown. They elder inspects the lantern and suggests his price, 10 gold. “I nearly died for this, I think it might be worth a bit more than that.” They argue until the man gives his ultimatum, accept his offer or leave. Ambrose gladly retrieves his lantern and meets Alton on the street. 

The two explore again, hoping to find somewhere worth his time, Ambrose finds a small, alley shop devoted to odd magical trinkets. The shopkeeper informs that he cannot buy the lantern without knowing what its magic is. He suggests Ambrose take it to the arcane library in the city to have it studied. The portly shopkeeper bids Ambrose safety on his journey alone to see the arcane professors. Ambrose attempts to correct him but notices that Alton isn’t in the shop. Honest mistake. 

Ambrose finds Alton alone just outside the shop. He suggests to Alton that they get a nice inn to stay at, as a preemptive celebration for getting to sell the lantern soon. They reach The Queen’s Grace, I quality inn with musicians and a bathing room. Ambrose pays for a room, with dinner and a bath. He takes his bath while the food is prepared. Re-entering the common room he sits down at the table where Alton is waiting. The waitress brings Ambrose his food. A platter of steaming, thick sliced beef dripping with fats, rich marbled cheeses and a short decanter of punch wine. “This is excellent, please bring some for my friend.” The waitress eyes him for a moment then leaves. Alton has a serious expression on his face, “I don’t think you should sell the lantern.” Ambrose is confused, “Why do you think that, the only reason I took it out of that ruin is to sell it!” The waitress returns, concerned, “Sir? Is everything okay?” “Why do you ask?” Well it’s just that you’ve been talking to yourself for a while…“ Ambrose looks Alton in the eyes, he’s pan-faced. Sudden realization fills Ambrose. He’s never seen Alton interact with anyone other than himself, he’s never seen Alton sleep or eat or bathe, and no one had ever seemed to acknowledge Alton’s presence. Ambrose slaps his hands to the table and points at Alton, ”Explain what’s going on! Right. Now.

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Session #1: Outside the Frontier Village
A Mysterious Ruin

Ambrose Francois spent his younger years as a student of an prestigious arcane academy, but decided after completing his qualifications to strike out on his own. Since then he has been a relic hunter, delving into ruins to find valuable objects to sell to researchers or collectors. 

20 years ago, a new frontier town settled between the northern borders of Illivan and its neighbor. A group of exhibitioners soon started to scout the nearby forest to see if they could find anything useful; a lake, some rivers, local wildlife. They happen upon an ancient ruin…

The ruin is unlike any known civilization. It’s unique style of architecture is foreign, and any designs that may have been present had eroded away centuries ago. The first and second foray into the ruin were failures, the explorers driven away by a population of forest goblins. Short, black-skinned burrowers that have made the ruin their own. 

Now, rumors have spread about a mysterious ruin and they have reached Ambrose’s ears. Ambrose has arrived at the frontier village and has spent a few days gathering information from the locals about the location of the ruin. 

Ambrose rises for the day and meditates as dictated by his morning ritual.  He sets out into the forest, a tangle of vines and roots, until he finds a riverbed. The banks are rocky, but clear of obstructions. He’s right on track per his investigations, and continues up the bank. He’s able to make it to he ruin, but not without an odd encounter. A number of dead deer have been left strewn across the rocky banks decomposing for no more than a day or two. Their bodies only partly eaten. Chunks of hide are cut away and the rest is left in the sun. Must be goblin work. 

After arriving at the ruin, Ambrose circles around it to find an ideal entrance. There are many holes where the ruin has collapsed, but Ambrose stops when he sees two goblins emerge, bickering. The fighting escalates until one goblin hits the other in the head with a rock. The collapsed goblin wails in pain until a third emerges that takes both inside. Taking the opportunity for a distraction, Ambrose sneaks in.

The goblins have burrowed deep beneath the ruins. The deeper Ambrose delves the worse the stench. In trying to save his nostrils and avoid detection, he stays close to the surface. A tunnel opens into a vestibule inside the ruin,  major openings in the walls light the room with sun. Two goblins sunbathe while napping. Ambrose is able to sneak by but is startled when directly in front of the napping monsters when he hears a deep growl from behind him, deeper in the tunnels. Something much larger than a goblin. 

Ambrose hurries along into a tunnel that was a part of the original ruins. There are murals in here, safe from the weathering effects of the world. They are simple, depicting a crowd growing until it surrounds an object or maybe a person. Strangely the subject in the center is too worn away to make out. Ambrose continues to the end of the passage where it ends in a small room. A slight crevice in the wall lets in enough sunlight to light the pedestal in the center. Upon it sits an ornate, bronze lantern with four opaque, colored panels; white, blue, red, and black. 

Sensing the ominous atmosphere of the room, Ambrose steadies himself to lift the lantern; nothing happens. He briefly inspects it and places it gently in this backpack. As he make his way out the way he came it is immediately noticed that the murals have changed. Instead of people crowding there are now rough, black strokes. In the center before is now a single large eye. 

The paints seem the be as old and weathered as the old murals and not fresh in any sense. Concerned, Ambrose hurries to the vestibule. The sun outside hangs far lower than it should, something is wrong. He is suddenly made aware of a man-sized monster on a ledge above where he first entered the room. How long has it been there? The beast heaves with its breath. Inhaling deeply and aggressively. Ambrose books it for an exit in the wall, jumping out just in time to avoid the monsters charge that follows him through the exit  

Outside on the edge of the ruin, Ambrose begins a fight for his life against a monster unfamiliar to him. The creature reminds Ambrose of a goblin, but it is much too large. The beast breaks its club on the ground when he misses Ambrose with his swing. Tossing it aside the monster draws a nasty, broken blade. It drips a horrid black ooze. Ambrose sidesteps and gouges deep into the monsters abdomen with his longsword, but the beast is able to make a cut on Ambrose’s shoulder. 

The beast staggers to the ground, roaring, while Ambrose makes his escape, certain that the beast is too wounded to follow. Running through the forest, he starts to feel slow and heavy. Ambrose has been poisoned, though he struggles to keep going. He makes his way to the dead deer he saw earlier; they are now half-rotten. Ambrose collapses. 

He wakes with a jolt under a small hunter’s shelter. A man is sitting on the ground nearby and is happy to see Ambrose awake. He introduces himself as Alton. He tells Ambrose he found him passed out in the forest and brought him near the town. To thank Alton, Ambrose offers what he can to make even. Alton suggests he let him travel together to Illivan. Ambrose agrees, no harm in that. 

Ambrose heads to the inn to retrieve it he rest of his items. The townsfolk are worried when they see him, alerting him that he’s been gone for several days. Ambrose collects a crowd of locals as he explains what happened and reveals the lantern. There is a crack formed on the white pane, it stretched all the way across, branching once. Was that there before? When asked who found him, Ambrose remarks Alton. The townsfolk aren't familiar with the name and don’t know whom he means, but attest that there are many hunters who come and go every few weeks. It’s not uncommon. Ambrose leaves the inn with the good faith of the townsfolk. He meets up with Alton and takes off to the next village, a day away. 

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