Monday 15 June 498
Before heading into town, the party discussed their plans for the day and what their objectives were. Orbin, of course, needed to deliver the boxes to his contact; hopefully, he said, he would be able to establish some kind of relationship. "Depending on what happens, we might be able to follow them," he said. "We may just have to play it by ear." Tagart suggested that other members of the party should be in the vicinity at the time, since Orbin might need backup.
But the appointment with the contact wasn't until 3:00 in the afternoon, so in the meantime they could explore the town. But everyone agreed it would be best for the whole group not to be seen together. Orbin already knew where he was going; he wanted to visit the brewer who made the excellent beer served at the Ridgeview Inn. "My plan is to go talk to this brewer and see if he's interested in selling some. I'll have the opportunity to talk to some people in town, find out what the business climate's like, and see if anything else is going on." He added that the Elf's diary had mentioned that he'd seen something interesting going on in Katon.
Nigel was interested to hear about the beer and offered to go along with Orbin. "My mother is a brewer. If it's as good as you say, I'm curious about how he's doing it."
Katra headed quietly into town by herself with no specific destination; instead, she just wandered through the main marketplace area, looking for signs of unusual activity. She did notice a few concerned-looking people bustling in and out of what appeared to be the local church. Katra could overhear someone asking "Where did you find them?" Another person responded, "They were lying in the street outside their house. I don't know what happened to them. I couldn't wake them up." Someone else said, "Let's go get Nora and see if she knows what to do." Katra then saw a couple of the people head for a nearby bakery. She followed them.
It appeared that Nora was the local priestess, and after speaking quietly for a moment with the locals, she announced to her customers that she needed to close the bakery for a short while. She headed back to the church in a hurry and disappeared inside.
Katra then headed to a nearby inn that had just opened. She took a table in the corner and sat quietly, listening for anything else of interest.
Meanwhile, Tagart, Janis, and Trelain were also exploring the town together. As soon as they entered the town, they immediately noticed a large and imposing house situated near the top of the Ridge, overlooking the town, and noticed signs of activity: smoke coming from a chimney and people moving around. They immediately suspected that this was Katon House, which the Elf had mentioned prominently in his diary. They decided to ask a local merchant about what was going on at the house.
Oddly, though, he didn't know what they were talking about. "What house?" he said. When they pointed it out to him, he furrowed his brow and said "That's funny ... I wonder why I never noticed that house up there before?" Another merchant reacted similarly. And when they returned to the first merchant, he remembered there previous conversation, but once again seemed surprised when they pointed the house out to him. Clearly the house was protected by some sort of magic that prevented the townspeople from noticing it.
Curious, Tagart, Janis, and Trelain decided to see if they could figure out how to get to the house. There was no obvious approach from town; the Ridge was a sheer slope there. They headed along the road north of town, and eventually found an area where the slope became more gentle; they thought they could see a path of some sort going up the slope toward the plateau where the house was located, but they did not see where the path connected to the main road. By this time it was nearly lunchtime, so they decided to head back into town; they went into an inn and spotted Katra in the corner, but did not approach her.
Nigel and Orbin meanwhile found their way to the home of Donald the brewer. He greeted them at the door and invited them inside, telling them he already had another visitor; they came into a den that was filled with old paintings, mounted swords and shields, maps, books, and other historical memorabilia. A woman they did not know was sitting there, and Donald introduced her. "This is Arbala," he said. "She had some questions about Katon House, and she heard that I was something of a history buff. So I was just filling her in on a bit of local history."
Donald explained that Katon had been founded before the War by an unusual man named Lord Katon; he pointed to a portrait of Katon on the wall, as well as a shield bearing a crest that looked like a sword crossed with a magic wand. Katon had been a powerful wizard, a prominent member of the Magicians' Guild, but he had chafed at the Guild's policy that prohibited involvement in political matters. He became the de facto ruler of the town that bore his name, even though this was frowned upon by Guildmaster Heyraud, and there were even rumors that he was plotting some sort of action against the Guildmaster. But then the Guild had vanished, and Heyraud's blast had destroyed the Kingdom. The Ridge apparently protected the town of Katon, although Donald wondered how a stone formation could possibly have done that.
Orbin and Nigel told him they were also curious about Katon House, and they asked him where it was located. He began to answer, and then looked perplexed. "I should know that," he said, but he couldn't seem to remember. Rather flustered, Donald offered to check in some of his books and get back to them with an answer. Nigel suggested to Donald that his inability to remember the location of Katon House was similar to the hiding of Stargald.
Arbala explained that she was a Druid from the northwestern regions of Ilvia, north of Gaither. Recently she had discovered that bands of Orcs, who sometimes appeared in that area, had been felling trees in her forest, but she didn't know why. She had heard them mention something about a place named "Katon House," which is why she had come to Katon.
Turning to the business that had brought him to Donald, Orbin proposed a business deal. Donald said that he did not have a very large brewing capacity and generally was able to sell everything he produced to the local market, but he was certainly willing to sell Orbin two casks he currently had on hand. They agreed on a price, and Orbin said he would return with an empty cart.
Nigel, interested in learning more about Donald's brewing (and also more about local history), offered to spend the afternoon helping him with his chores around the farm, since they had taken up a good portion of his morning. They all agreed to meet for dinner at the Ridgeview Inn at 6:00 that evening, and they invited Arbala to join them, since it seemed they had a common interest (finding out what was going on at Katon House).
At 2:00, Orbin returned to the Ridgeview Inn and ordered another mug of Donald’s excellent beer. Half an hour later Janis came in separately and took a seat on the other side of the room; a few minutes later Trelain also came in and sat at the bar. Outside, Katra had climbed a tree from which she could keep an eye on the approaches to the inn, and Tagart wandered casually up and down the road in the vicinity. Jalafin and Autumn went to the stable, where they kept an eye on the cart loaded with boxes.
At 3:00, as instructed, Orbin ordered a mug of beer and a glass of wine and waited for his contact to approach him. At about that time, an empty horse-drawn cart drew up outside, accompanied by three men. One of the men stayed with the cart; a second went to the bar; the youngest of the three scanned the room and came to Orbin’s table.
“Mr. Thomas?” the man said.
Orbin responded that he was not, in fact, Thomas, but was from Thomas & Tepworth. The young man was initially hesitant, but after Orbin explained how he came to be there – specifically mentioning the boxes and the “test run” -- he appeared satisfied. Orbin invited him to sit.
The young man introduced himself as Darnell, and for a few minutes he and Orbin talked casually about their backgrounds. Orbin explained that he was not originally from Kirvin but had recently come there to explore business opportunities, which was how he came to be working at Thomas & Tepworth. Darnell said that he was from Kirvin, and had recently been hired to do some “specialized calligraphy” for a local craftsman who was making decorative boxes.
After pausing nervously for a moment, Darnell asked Orbin if he’d heard what had happened to the church in Kirvin, though he seemed to be keeping his tone carefully neutral.
“Yes,” Orbin said. “It’s a real shame,” he added, watching for Darnell’s reaction. “I’ve been to other places out east where similar things have happened.”
“It’s sad, isn’t it?” Darnell responded, in a cautious tone. Orbin nodded in agreement.
Darnell then glanced at his companion at the bar, who was beginning to look impatient. Appearing to come to a decision, Darnell hastily ended the conversation. “Here is the balance of the payment for the boxes,” he said, handing Orbin an envelope that seemed to contain a few coins. Orbin accepted it, even though he knew the boxes had already been paid for in full; he told Darnell, “If there is anything I can do to help, just let me know. I’ll be here.”
As soon as Darnell and his companions had left, taking the boxes with them on their cart, Orbin found Tagart outside and handed him the envelope, asking him to see if he could detect anything suspicious about it before they opened it. Tagart muttered an incantation and reported that there was nothing magical about the envelope.
Orbin began to open it, commenting that Darnell had seemed nervous about something. “He might be on our side,” he said.
Inside the envelope, Orbin found a few copper pieces – apparently included just to maintain the illusion of payment – and a single sheet of paper, apparently a letter. Scrawled across the page was a message, apparently from Darnell:
I hope I can trust you. I found this copy of a letter. YOU MUST WARN THE CHURCH. The boxes are MAGIC.
I don’t think I can get away. They do not know how much I know – so I must continue.
I am sorry.
The letter itself read as follows:
To the Guildmaster:
Our allies have requested a small number of additional boxes with the glyph trap, apparently in support of their plans for Darian. I have decided to take this opportunity to try an improved version of my glyph, which should be even more effective than the first version, although the same conditions still apply (glyph is ineffective if subject knows its nature, etc.). We have retained a local magician, whom I have trained to transcribe the glyph in my absence. My arriva at Alvera will therefore not be long delayed.
By now you are aware of the Darabont situation. I do not think we need be concerned. The attackers (whoever they were) may have learned something, but that knowledge would not have left with them. At any rate, Phase One is essentially complete, and the Ilvian church has been weakened as we hoped it would be.
“I did read him right,” Orbin said.
Reuniting with the rest of the party, Orbin recounted his meeting and read the letter to the group. Tagart, Janis, and Trelain described their experience of seeing Katon House but finding that no one in town seemed able to perceive it; the others found this strange, since they had not noticed the house either. Orbin also introduced Arbala and described their conversation with Donald the brewer. Katra told the others of the strange incident she had seen at the church, and what she had overheard about someone being found unconscious.
There were a great many questions to be answered, but first they focused on the question of Katon House. It seemed clear that some kind of magic was hiding the house, but why had some of the party members been unaffected by that magic? They decided to conduct an experiment: spreading out in a long line, they walked down the road toward town, trying to determine one of them might be surrounded by some kind of magical aura that made it possible to perceive Katon House.
They soon determined that Tagart was at the center of such an area: anyone standing near him could see Katon House without difficulty. Tagart then remembered that he was still carrying the magical lantern they’d recovered from the dead Elf they’d tried to rescue in the woods.
Back in private once again, Nigel spoke to the group. “I hope you all understand the significance of this,” he said. “The spell keeps us from noticing the house even when it’s in front of us. It’s not just a memory effect; it stops us from perceiving things. And even after you’ve seen the house, you can’t remember where it is. Where have we seen that sort of thing before? Two places: first, the effect that took place after the War that made everyone forget where Stargald was. Second, the people who went to Darabont. This sort of magic is almost like the signature of the people we’re up against. It’s their calling card. And it’s the most blasphemous kind of magic – erasing knowledge.”
The others agreed that the similarity was significant. Autumn suggested that perhaps even Stargald itself might be visible to someone carrying the lantern.
Turning now to the letter, Nigel pointed out a couple of clues. “It’s addressed to ‘the Guildmaster’ ... what other Guild could it be besides the Magician’s Guild? They must still exist, and they are behind all of these magical memory effects. And notice the reference to Alvera: We know that Alvera was once a Guildkeep, and it evidently is still a location used by the Guild. But remember the Edicts? The seat of the Church has been moved there. And the people who are behind what is being done with the boxes, which is a direct attack on the Church, some of them are at Alvera.”
Orbin suggested that, like Katon, perhaps Alvera was also somehow protected from Heyraud’s blast.
Looking again at the journal they’d taken from the elf, Nigel concluded that his group (apparently called the Keepers of the Prophecy) were potential allies. Hearing this name, Arbala said she knew of them, having sometimes encountered them in the woods closer to her home.
The group turned now to the question of how to proceed. Autumn wondered whether it might be possible to get into Katon House and help Darnell; Janis believed that they had sufficient strength to do this. But they needed more information, so Tagart and Katra (protected by the lantern’s aura) agreed to climb to the top of the Ridge and watch Katon House for a while, hoping to discover more about what they might be facing, and to see if anyone was coming or going.
Meanwhile, Orbin wondered whether it might be necessary for some of the group to head back to Kirvin with Thomas & Tepworth’s cart, since an extended stay in Katon (even after delivering the boxes) might appear suspicious. Eventually they decided that another day or two would not be too risky, particularly if the cart happened to need repairs for some reason.
Tuesday 16 June 498
The next morning, the group convened again. Tagart and Katra reported what they had learned: there was little sign of activity at Katon House, but the building was guarded by soldiers in orange tunics. The guards appeared to observe six-hour shifts.
They’d seen no sign of a shimmering magical field or anything else, and the guards had appeared to walk around quite freely. In fact, the guards had appeared somewhat bored, since the house was well protected by magic and nobody ever came there. They saw only six guards on each shift: two in the front, two in the back, and two making regular perimeter sweeps. It seemed reasonable to suppose that a straightforward frontal assault would have a good chance of success.
It was decided that an assault on the house was best left until after nightfall, which left the rest of the day to draw maps and plan the attack. Meanwhile, there were other matters to discuss, such as the mysterious events Katra had seen near the church. It looked like it was going to be another busy day.