As Aquila and Morrigan strolled down the winding roads leading from Santim’s East gate towards the Valerius Farm, they were waylaid by Garmog and a panicked Mortain who had caught up with them. Mortain delivered the news he had just learned; Luna was gone, or more accurately, had been taken during their absence, some nights previously from Uriel’s Sceptre Inn.
The innkeeper had been able to describe the men that took her. Mortain recognised the description of the unicorn symbol bourn by two Angherse Knights of House Alcarin, although didn’t recognise the men themselves. It seemed Frederick had been able to locate them, and had sent his men to retrieve his sister. With them, Mortain learned, were three others. An Elf, a Halfling, and an old warrior. Garmog theorised that these three sounded like a group of old-fashioned adventurers, perhaps hired to assist in the mission.
While Morrigan went to purchase supplies, and Aquila continued to his home, Garmog accompanied Mortain around Santim’s city gates, in the hope of finding further information from any guards who may have seen this group leaving with Luna. After being brushed off a few times, they eventually had a stroke of luck when one guard told them he had indeed seen such a party leave the city through the West gate mere hours after he watched them enter that same way. With them as they departed was an upset looking woman they hadn’t entered with.
Armed with this news, and knowing time was off the essence, they returned to Aquila’s home. Mortain hoped Aquila would be able to pull some strings with Magister Tulio Romarso and secure them access to the teleportation ring they had used previously. Meeting Morrigan along the road heading the same way, they came to Aquila’s house and saw him investigating the ground in the yard where the previous week Garmog and Aquila had burned the corpse of The Fool. By way of explanation, Aquila informed them Juliana had been frightened by mysterious goings-on around the property, to the extent she had felt the need to leave in the night with the children and seek protection from her brother Marius.
A sinister voice interrupted the conversation, and as if out of nowhere, a frightening presence manifested in their midst. A man by appearance, but carrying a deathly aura, his visage seemed to darken the daylight around them and the air became cold. Introducing himself as Arkarel, Scion of Orcus, he explained that he had been watching the party with interest, as they had unknowingly disrupted his plans, before showing them an apparition of the Fool. Mortain deduced that this Arkarel must have been the Fool’s patron referred to by Ren, who had given him his powers. Arkarel confirmed this and proceeded to offer Mortain a deal.
Arkarel told Mortain that he had foreseen Luna’s imminent death at Frederick’s hands, and that he, Arkarel, possessed the power to prevent this. In return he offered Mortain a mysterious but beautiful blood red coin, as well as impressive arcane power, under the condition that Mortain continue to kill as he had done before. Mortain seemed to be tempted, with Arkarel going so far as to demonstrate his own power by silencing Morrigan and shattering her staff when she spoke up against him. Mortain ultimately resisted the offer, even when Arkarel told him the refusal would seal Luna’s fate. Mortain told him he would not be a servant of evil, and that he would find and save Luna himself. Arkarel, enraged, disappeared into the ether.
This situation was enough for Aquila to decide that the farm was no longer safe for his family and decided that they would go to Santim and stay with his parents who owned a blacksmith shop in the trade district.
The party set off and soon reached Santim’s trade district where Valerius Steel was located. As Aquila reunited with his parents and filled them in on everything that had happened since they last met, Garmog spied the Half-Orc stable master he had met previously. He struck up conversation with him, despite the stable master’s belligerence. When Garmog asked about the fate of orcs in Balta, the other stated he held no love for orcs. Garmog disagreed, citing his father’s vision for Azaroth and making a passionate defence of the idea that orcs and half-orcs could and should be one people, free from the machinations of Gruumsh. The other, hearing this, asked Garmog’s name, even though it seemed he already suspected Garmog’s identity. When he learned that Garmog was indeed Azaroth’s exiled chief, he introduced himself as Bradak and offered his friendship. He explained that he fled Azaroth several years ago to escape the tyrannical regime of Ikkol. He informs Garmog that Ikkol polices his people without mercy with the help of his lieutenants, specifically two fierce brutes known as the Brothers Grim. Bradak tells Garmog that when he chooses to go home and reclaim Azaroth, that Bradak would be his ally.
At this point, with Aquila having finished speaking with his father, the party set off to speak with Magister Tulio. Arriving at the Imperial Quarter, they requested an audience with Tulio, but were turned away at the gate by guards, who explain that the Magister has requested not to be interrupted. Undeterred, the party insisted on seeing Tulio, but the guards were persistent. Eventually, after being intimidated by Garmog, one guard conceded to go and announce their presence. Instead of Tulio, it was another man who emerged from the Oficium Magistrate. A grizzled old Baltan warrior, an ex-legionary to Aquila’s eye, he stood and coolly glared at the group, apparently wordlessly declining their request of an audience.
At this point, Magister Tulio himself emerged with another man. Aquila immediately recognised Captain Satius Mereto, the swine who had sullied his name and stolen his title. Tulio paid no heed to the party, instead merely whispering something to the grizzled old warrior. As Mereto strode off with his men, his eyes met Aquila’s, and before taking his leave, the Captain gave a superior smile. Enraged, Aquila stormed away back down the hill. The rest of the party remained, attempting to persuade the guards, and the old veteran, to allow them audience with Tulio. When the guards attempted to shove Morrigan away, Garmog was incensed, and struggled once again to contain his inner rage. The old veteran seemed to be attempting to goad them into a fight, but after close consideration, they thought better of it, much to the apparent satisfaction of the old veteran.
The party reunited with Aquila at the bottom of the hill, and discussed their next move. During this conversation, Morrigan was convinced she saw some passers-by point to the group, speaking in hushed tones. Mortain proposed they travel at once to Serracia, where he believed Luna would have been taken. Returning to the trade district, Mortain hired a stagecoach and made other preparations for the journey. He convinced Garmog, and with some difficulty, Morrigan, to accompany him once again to rescue Luna. Aquila however would not be moved, adamant to protect his family. Leaving their Baltan friend behind, Morrigan, Garmog, and Mortain set off out of Santim, travelling west to Serracia.
The journey wasn’t to be uneventful. An hour or into the journey, in the dead of night, the stagecoach came upon a crashed carriage at the side of the road. As they investigated the crash, they sprung a trap from a group of would-be assassins, lying in wait by the roadside. Although outnumbered, the three were able to fight their way out of danger, thanks in no small part to Morrigan’s magic. Noticing that their driver had made his escape, the party believed this trap was left specifically for them. They couldn’t be sure whether these men were merely opportunistic bandits, part of a trap left behind for them by Luna’s kidnappers, or even assassins sent by Magister Tulio. One thing they did decide was that Aquila must be warned of the danger, and when they came to the next town they sent word back via a messenger, warning their friend that nobody was to be trusted.
Travelling with great haste, taking turns pushing the horses to their limits, the three pressed on to Serracia, knowing the odds were against them. As they went, so their messenger hurried back to Santim’s trade district and found Aquila, rousing him from his bed to deliver his friends’ warning. Perturbed by what he read, Aquila decided to try once again to visit Magister Tulio to seek whatever aid he could from his only ally in the city. He did so the next day, but was turned away once more by the intimidating veteran who acted as Tulio’s bodyguard. Aquila learned from a guard at the gate that Tulio was in grief over the loss of his brother, and Aquila realised that the man they had been unable to save from the Glittering Caves was the Magister’s brother, explaining his shock upon their return. Aquila returned to Valerius Steel and drafted a letter, offering his condolences for what happened, and expressing his sorrow he couldn’t have prevented it. He sent a messenger off with his letter and waited, hoping.
Later that night, Aquila answered a knock on the door of Valerius Steel to find the old veteran standing there. He bluntly instructed Aquila to follow, and Aquila obliged. Expecting to be led to Tulio’s offices, Aquila was surprised to find the Magister standing in a quiet courtyard nearby. Tulio apologised for his recent reticence, and told Aquila he didn’t blame the party for the death of his brother. He also eased Aquila’s mind over the meeting he had with Satius Mereto, explaining it was merely official business as part of his regular meetings with all of Santim’s Legion Captains. Aquila expressed his view that he didn’t trust Mereto and believed he was pawn of some larger plot, meaning that someone in a position of power in Balta wasn’t to be trusted. Tulio agreed with Aquila’s view that Seneschal Vicis was the likely suspect. Tulio explained that he had been of a like-minded view for some time, and told Aquila to rest easy that he had men he could trust working to expose whoever was responsible. Tulio also introduces, and apologises for the approach of, his intimidating ally, Jacius Lucinion.
As this unfolded, so did days of travel for the rest of the party. Arriving in the city of Serracia, they made their way to the harbour, a hive of mid-morning activity. The Harbourmaster quickly grew tired of their vague questioning and lack of information, and was unable to provide insight into whether the kidnappers had passed through, let alone departed. Thanks to teamwork and magical subterfuge, they were able to distract the disgruntled man and steal the appropriate page from his log for further study.
Asking around the local shops, they eventually found a welcome clue. One shop-keep recognised the description of the three travellers accompanying the Alcarin knights, and was even able to remember their names, Phantasm and Longshot, due to their unusual nature. However, the woman said she had seen these two several days before, implying that they would be long-gone by now. Regardless, the three were spurred on by the clue. Exiting the store, Mortain’s attention was drawn towards a side alley, away from the crowded thoroughfare, though he was not sure why. Unable to resist the urge, he cautiously made his way down the alley to be met once again by Arkarel.
Arkarel repeated his earlier ‘tale of woe’ concerning Luna’s death, warning that that the sand of time was running out quickly for her. He reissued his offer, further showing Mortain through abrupt visions the type of arcana power he could offer him. As Arkarel offered the red coin once more, Mortain struggled to resist, gripped with desperation to save Luna. As he reached his hand out to accept the coin, he was able to repel the desire at the last moment, and retreated from the alley. Arkarel left him with the promise he would return with his offer one final time, which would be Mortain’s final chance to save Luna before her time ran out.
The three decided to head to the large inn by the harbour to see if the proprietor had any information on the peculiarly named travellers or the Alcarin knights. The innkeeper didn’t have any knowledge of the group, but when asked if he knew of anyone that had knowledge of such goings-on within the city, he advised that a local Advocat was known for being such a man, well-versed in business both ‘official, and less official’. They waited for the Advocat who was a regular in the inn, and soon he arrived. He introduced himself as Cailus, and for a hefty fee he was able to provide a great deal of information on the travellers. Phantasm and Longshot, he told them, are part of a group of famous adventurers known as The Regulators, also known as the Summermount Adventurers Guild. The older Angherse warrior with them goes by the name of Youngblood, or Oldguard. Cailus, showing why he has his reputation, was able to quickly work out the party, cannily identifying their purpose. He warned that while the Regulators were involved, their cause would be near hopeless. He bid them good luck, instructing them to call upon him if ever they were in the city again.
Feeling deflated, the three were unsure what to do next. Having been unable to find any clues on the page stolen from the Harbourmaster’s log, it sat discarded to the side as they tried to think of any idea. By sheer chance, while lost in thought, Garmog happened to spy a name on the page they had previously overlooked. ‘Fyste’, he remembered, was the name of the fat merchant Aquila had been posing as in Silverhill. The ship registered to Fyste Enterprise was destined for Port Venture, and had set off two days before. With renewed energy and purpose, the party made hasted for the harbour where they secured the services of a hubristic Tarsusian captain by the name of Siverio Assos. Siverio assured them that his ship, The Acasta, was as swift as any vessel in the world.
The Acasta was made ready to sail, leaving just enough time for Morrigan to be accosted by a familiar merchant, from whom she purchased, and was disappointed by, a magical ring. Soon their ship was ready and the party boarded. As they did so, they shared a reluctance to say goodbye; not to Balta, but to their friend Aquila with whom they had been through so much in so short a time. Knowing that they had to go to prevent Arkarel’s tale of woe from coming to pass, and hoping they would see Aquila again, the Acasta swept out of Serracia Harbour towards the Bornian Ocean, and towards whatever awaited them in Port Venture.