Mauragaaqtuq: Murder of Crows

We’re getting ready to kick off The Situation in our next Mauragaaqtuq campaign, tonight. This one is centered on a group of Crow: a gifted child prodigy would-be-summoner, a vengeful necromantic sorcerer, a Crow who grew up thinking he was an Owl and wants to conquer his past and future, and a tomb-raiding relic hunter.

The Crow were a lost house of Elvoya for several generations, but they have been in hiding, continuing their work to understand and combat the things of the Deep. Recently, the great houses have become aware that they still exist in hiding. A Dawnbringer (think priest/paladin of the Sun) approaches the Rook, their hidden village…

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Upon hearing the news of the Dawnbringer’s approach, Alornek’s heart began racing. It was said that a Dawnbringer could look upon a person and know the Darkness within them. Alornek looked to his elders, hoping for any excuse to be far away when the Dawnbringer arrived. While his gift was encouraged in studies, he did not believe a paladin of the Sun would look with eyes of understanding, only those of swift judgment.

Cupun was the first to speak up, thankfully. “Alornek, go with Harald and tell Takret of the approaching Dawnbringer.”

Harald smirked as he looked at the boy, “Can you keep up?”

Alornek knew that the wings on Harald’s feet meant there was no chance, but he nodded all the same when he considered the alternative was to stay and await the light of the Sun.

Harald ran ahead, and the boy followed. He was panting and drenched by the time he made the rest of the climb to the Rook. Harald had clearly given the news, as Takret was already at the gate, waiting on Alornek.

“Boy, go to Panik and tell him of the approaching Dawnbringer. I need his help to hide the things which must remain hidden. Go… now!”

Alornek ran with all the haste he could muster. Harald disappeared in an eyeblink to warn others. Alornek gasped out the elder’s instructions to Panik.

Panik rocked a bit on his heels, “Well, it looks like I have a chance to call in the debt you owe me.” Alornek caught his breath and his gaze turned inquisitive. “In what way?” he asked.

“There is someone I need, and you will go and fetch them,” the old crow smiled.

Alornek looked puzzled, “That’s it?”

“Yes, that is it.” Panik chuckled inwardly. “Just go and summon Tanaraq. Just a few things first.” Alornek winced at the word summon, but listened intently.

The elder Crow held up fingers as he rattled off the instructions, “Go to their door, knock gently and step back. You will then wait in stillness. Finally, when Tanaraq emerges, you must Steel yourself. Do not panic and do NOT scream.”

Alornek felt his stomach lurching. If something could make one scream in the Rook, then it must be horrible indeed. But his pragmatic side won out. Cancelling a debt was nearly impossible with nothing but rocks in your pockets. He listened on.

“After he emerges, Tell Tanaraq that a Dawnbringer is coming and Takret needs a portal to hide everything.” Panik turned and started packing things away. Alornek ran to find Tanaraq.

Alornek approached the strange hut. It was adorned with symbols and totems. Some Alornek recognized from his training, most he did not. He reached a hand up to knock, not knowing when it had started shaking. He knocked loudly and stepped back, waiting. Moments later, the door began to creak open. Alornek studied the ground. The whispers were the first thing he noticed, they spoke of things dark and unknown. Alornek could feel the piercing gaze upon him. He waited without speaking. The whispers surrounded him, they spoke in a language he couldn’t understand, but he knew they were speaking of him.

“Speak, boy.”

“Tanaraq? Panik has sent me to find you. Takret needs a portal to help hid everything from a Dawbringer.”

He couldn’t help but bring his gaze up. He was struck by the strangeness of the person before him. Deformities weren’t uncommon among the Crow, and Alornek might have recovered from the sight with little reaction, were it not for the creature that followed behind Tanaraq. It was an enormous, feline creature. It stood upright with four arms ending in sharp claws. It had no mouth, but Alornek knew the whispers came from this horror. Somewhere in his mind he knew that he should not scream, so his mouth took the shape of a scream, but no sound emerged. Instead he stared, dumbfounded.

“Very well,” Tanaraq said to the insensate boy. “I will create the portal. Follow if you wish.”

It was several moments later when Alornek came to his senses again. He saw just the tail of the creature disappear down the street, then went about telling others nearby about the coming Dawnbringer. He saw a purple light and heard a sound like tearing fabric. He did not want to know what it meant. Some sights were better left unseen.

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The Dawnbringer continued to climb the switchback road as if he had not a care in the world. The Crow met him and held the pass, speaking with the Dawnbringer and allowing those in the Rook to make whatever preparations they needed to make. Takret later joined Nils, Tulok, and Cupun while they spoke to the Dawnbringer, Antti.

The Dawnbringer was asked not to approach the Rook, instead, the Crow would send a group to meet somewhere more neutral. So many decades of seclusion would not be doffed so easily. Tulok’s hatred of the Dawnbringer was not veiled, which was appropriate for the discussion in the light of day, if a bit inconvenient. They would meet the next day, at high noon, so that the sun could look down on their conversation.

That conversation was not to be. As they approached the camp, they found the Dawnbringer dead. Could it be another Crow’s doing? Could it be Roden from the surrounding hills? Could it be the Restless spirit that Alornek and Tulok summoned the night before?

Alornek had asked for a spirit that could look upon the soul of the Dawnbringer to learn his true intentions. The Great Seer answered, and a bargain was struck. Alornek’s talent for summoning was on display, he even struck a bargain that was cheap by comparison. Only a bedroll for the truth of a man. But Tulok had other plans. He attempted to capture the Seer for his own purposes. Alornek followed along, hoping to find a new master to learn from. Tulok failed to capture her. The Seer took the attempt in stride. She displayed no outward anger. She even returned later to tell the pair that the soul of the Dawnbringer was the most honest she had ever seen, though it was no longer in his body. The pair had no idea what that meant until they viewed the body of Antti the Dawnbringer laying unmoving next to the last embers of last night’s fire. Had they caused this? Was this the price of betraying the Seer?

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I don’t know why I’m writing this as we trek up the damned mountain. Probably because we’re just as likely to die going back up as we were coming down. I feel like a Raven with its wings clipped walking around with these inexperienced, loud, unguided fools. Between the whining of the man-child Alornek, the stomping and clanking of Cupun, and the staggering in pain of Tulok, we are more likely to draw the attention of more Roden than we are to scale the mountain successfully. Oh well, let’s assume this note will be found on my corpse at some point, and that what I am sharing will help those in the Rook pick up where we died.

It’s only been a handful of hours since we made it to the Dawnbringer’s camp. What follows is an accounting of what we witnessed there.

When we arrived at the small hollow where the Dawnbringer had made camp, it was immediately clear that he was dead. Even from a short distance I could see that he had been splayed open, something having rent his armor and carved out his innards. We approached carefully, and I examined the body more closely. He carried few valuables, but we secured what he did have in order to have it returned to his people when the time comes.

All evidence suggests that he made camp easily enough. He had a fire, managed to pitch a tent, and settled in to wait for us. It is unclear when his death occurred. If Alornek, Tulok, and the Seer spirit are to be trusted in their visions, the Dawnbringer was alive well after the Sun ceased its vigil for the day. This means that he was attacked sometime after nightfall but before he had retired to his tent. My skills in anatomy are lacking, so I was unable to tell the time of death any more precisely.

Upon examining the scene more broadly, I was able to discern that the attacker resembled a large insect or arachnid, based on the size, spacing, and shape of the wounds and tracks. This was confirmed through sorcerous means by Alronek and Tulok, who were somehow able to summon the restless spirit of the Dawnbringer. (This fact should be removed from any form of formal report to the Dawnbringers, as it would likely cause undue strife in our already fraught relationship. See the formal written histories of the rise of the Sun House and the banishment of the Crow for more context here.) The Dawnbringer’s spirit demanded payment in the form of an accounting of his deeds to be made to the Sun House proper. In return, he described his attacker in more detail, which further strengthened my theory of its insected nature. Though it is unclear whether the attacker was an aberration of nature, Crow sorcery, or Dvergar malignance.

Upon the release of the spirit, Alornek and investigated the Dawnbringer’s tent. He immediately fled in terror. I would later learn that this was due to the siting of “floating eyeball,” as described by both him and Tulok. Aside from this additional horror, the tend held little of interest or value. The source of the “eyeball” remains unknown, but Tulok claims that it vanished into the mountainside. I do not have enough information to make any sort of educated guess as to its nature, source, or purpose. This is an academic dead end, but it might be worth mentioning to more skilled sorcerers in the Rook.

As an olive branch to the Dawnbringer(s), Cupun and I made a pyre to match our understanding of the Sun House’s Rites of Passing. I believe this to have been successful, but I have no way to confirm my observations. There were brief words said to mark his passing, but as none of us were familiar with him, aside from his bravado, stature, and confessed need of House Crow’s wisdom, the words were without much weight.

The remainder of this account is a bit of a blur, due in part to the chaos and in part my limited perspective.

As we finished the ceremony, we were ambushed by the creatures known to us as Roden. There were four of them, I believe. They moved with speed and stealth and attacked us in close quarters with knives. Though they are small by the standards of men, they were fierce and tenacious. Within a few breaths, they managed to mark injuries to some of us, and do significant harm to Tulok, who did not appear to have any skill with blade or bludgeon. Once we got our bearings, we were able to force their retreat.

These are my conclusions from the encounter. First, the Roden seem to be venturing farther west than was previously known. All previous incursions had been east of House Fox’s southern outpost. Second, they are masters of stealth. For though it was daylight they managed to sneak in quickly and quietly. Third, they appear to be opportunists, seeking only for quick gain from easy targets. They were quick to flee once there was chance of harm to them.

After the fight, we patched up Tulok the best we were able, and we now move slowly back toward the Rook to him tended to properly.

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Growing up in Owl lands never prepared me for the…wonders of the Crow.

Trekking our way up the mountain, I decided that it would be best to attempt to get a healer to our location rather than further injure Tulok. Alornek attempted to do so, and apparently talking to himself was enough to get Tanaraq to come to our aid - this time joined by a large, lithe, creature (not the feline beast from before). We implored Tanaraq for help, and he bade the creature help Tulok.

The creature cut out a piece of his own flesh and applied it to Tulok. He gasped for breath and was once again amongst the conscious. It seems to have fully recovered him. Unclear what the long-term effects of such methods will be, but I will have to keep a weather eye for any changes.

We returned to the Rook to determine next steps and to get Tulok some armor. I attempted to get an audience with Takret to report on what happened.

We need to find the creature that killed Antti. The Crow cannot be blamed for his death.

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OOC notes:
Tulok asked the creature & Tanaraq what was owed, the creature said “The price is paid” in a soft, breezy, cold voice.
The skin graft is a trait and counts as 1D armor for torso (does not stack) and also opened Reach at B1. Tulok is now a Vector. (Reach). In addition, the Metamorphica rolls from Reach level identified another flaw and trait: that Tulok must bathe the graft in water from the fabled Deepwater Spring every two weeks, or become weak (lose a cumulative point of Forte). The fact that the Deepwater Spring is in the Rook area was unlocked by a great Wise test!
The way Alornek got aid was by summoning an ancient crow…actually in crow form…that carried the message.
One other update:
Alornek also summoned Antti the Dawnbringer again, but this time found his spirit smoldering. Antti was furious that he was trapped on the earth, cursed, and incapable of soaring to the sun. Negotiations on the price failed.

I was drawn by the raised voices and gathering crowd to find Cupun facing off against Takret Qaaqlax in an attempt to gain help in hunting the horror that eviscerated the Dawnbringer. Cupun appeared to have begun the debate well, strongly inciting Takret into making a mistake. However, the leader of the rook quickly composed himself and his rebuttal was without fault, but he was not without some understanding. In lieu of sacrificing much-needed resources necessary for defending Crow lands, he offered the assistance of the mountainous and voracious Elk Man to our cause.

Soon thereafter, I felt the gentle pull of the whispered mystical spring and, with Alornek’s help, summoned a spirit servant to help search for the spring. The casting took its toll and the summoning, while extremely successful, was too much. The last thing I remember is instructing the spirit and watching it drift away. I woke to the bemused and questioning looks of my new comrades who apparently had brought me home to recover.

Nils, Cupun, and Alornek apparently made it to the spring and Nils may have gathered some of the spring’s water. If I knew them better I would reveal the pull that the spring and its waters have for me, but I barely know this small gathering of outcasts. However, they’ve already saved me twice: once after the Roden attack and now, again, after my weakness during the summoning. Bah! Enough of this malding.

Nils assured us that he could track the jewel-encrusted beast and, armed and armored, our little group - joined by Elk Man, were eventually led to an outpost near the southern border. The lives of those manning the outpost have been threatened and it seems our group may tip the scales in their favor…

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From Nils Kaarne’s journal

Here I am, sitting in what passes for a tavern in this backwater outpost. My boots smell like the shit that seeped out of the Dvergar construct. Strangely, my breath smells worse. I think it’s the grog that passes for ale in this shit hole. At least the views are nice.

We made our way into town just an hour ago or so. Cupun is prepping for the trip back. I’m supposed to be trading these gems in. The ale seemed more pressing, but I might as well update my notes while I finish this last drink.

We left home a few days ago, following the trail of the strange creature that killed the Dawnbringer. It was easy enough. The creature didn’t seem concerned about stealth. We came upon it around midday, watching as it plodded mindlessly toward this very outpost. I was familiar enough with the area to know the topography and the route it was moving. This made setting an ambush a fairly straightforward task.

We decided to attempt destroying it without engaging, by dropping a large boulder on it from the slopes above. Beforehand, though, Tulok and Alornek crafted another one of their summoning circles; this one to trap the creature if it came too close to us. Once the preparation was complete, our companion Graak did the hard work of pushing the rock from its perch above the creature.

There are few things more satisfying than watching the inevitable come to pass. As the stone gained speed, it proceeded down the soil-covered slope with the steadiness and ponderousness that only nature can provide. It slammed into the creature with improbable force. I was reminded of the cracking of an egg…

My satisfaction was short-lived, however. This particular egg’s shell was made of stern stuff. The creature wobbled and toppled. Its carapace seemed to shudder and crack a bit, but it was soon to recover. We did not give it much time to do so, as we began raining arrows down upon it. Cupun’s aim was faulty on most shots, but the creature was large enough that even he couldn’t miss every time. I managed to land a few good shots between the creature’s chitinous plates.

After several moments it made a full recovery and began ascending the hillside. We maintained a safe firing distance for a time, but eventually closed the gap. Cupun and Graak attempted to draw its attention as Tulok and I stayed at bow range. Its central eye, which appeared to be similar to the one in the Dawnbringer’s tent some days earlier, seemed to fixate on the two, causing the two some confusion.

This distraction was all I needed to fire a felling shot. The creature took a final arrow between the armor plates in its front quarter, which must have hit some vital organ. A few moments later, we were upon it with swords and antlers (from Graak, of course).

After removing the creature’s central eye and head, Tulok seemed to call its spirit (souls?) just as it was passing. Though I know little of what it is that Tulok and Alornek do with their sorcery, it seemed obvious that he was somehow preventing the creature from dying. Its spirit, which was really more of a misty amalgamation of ghastly voices, was forced to remain behind.

Tulok spoke to it audibly, and at my urging, asked, “who created you?” It responded with a cacophony of muffled and strange voices. It was indecipherable. He followed up, demanding “how do we put you to rest?” This time, a single voice seemed to hush the rest, and it said, “we are now released, but to put us to rest you must kill those that created us and destroy the method of our creation.”

I couldn’t make this up if I tried.

After that, we examined the corpse. It was little more than a skin of chitin, a tarry goo, some loose organs, and strange metal and gemstone ornamentations. It appeared to me as if the Dvergar had taken the corpse of a giant arachnid, stuffed it full of other living things, then armed it like a warhorse.

Cupun and I then made our way to the outpost (this town really needs a name) to warn them, get some supplies to help us transport the creature, and get a drink.

Cupun and Nils went down to the Outpost , while Graak, Tulok, and I waited behind in the foothills. Our time passed rather dully. Graak is a voracious eater and rarely has anything to say. He ate every nut and berry we could find while we waited for the others to return. Tulok stayed with the… thing while I went to forage for more to keep Graak satisfied. It was an uneventful evening, which was a welcome change from the day before.

Cupun and Nils told me a little about their visit to the outpost. They bartered away the gems for an ox and cart, so we were able to take the beast back. Nils bartered with a Seal, Kallik Natchik, and came back with his soul, so he must have done well. (Other notable meetings were Thain Raev and Sigevi Lox). They apparently attracted some attention because we were followed on our trail home.

We continued on our way, but when it was clear that they were trying to follow us when we started the climb into the mountains. Cupun thought that he would stall the interlopers to buy us enough time to escape without giving away the location of the Rook. Nils talked him out of that. We were low on options that didn’t involve turning and fighting.

I summoned another spirit. I know its dangerous, but sometimes it seems like the only option. Maybe my former master was right, if I just took the time to master some of the other skills, maybe I could be of some use without so much risk. It worked out well, though I’m fairly certain that Altrax slaughtered the lot of them behind us. Maybe that’s for the best, though it weighs on me a bit. And if the bear spirit didn’t kill them all, do they come back with more next time?

We made it back to the Rook to find others in the middle of packing. Apparently the death of Antti was somehow signaled to the rest of the Dawnbringers. They are on their way here, now. Takret has asked Cupun and the rest of us to take those that need to stay hidden, away from the Rook, and establish a camp for them. It may be temporary, but it sounds like we’re being asked to form a colony, a safe haven for those that can’t blend in the rest of society any more. Now we’re supposed to make preparations for the journey. Tulok has barely spoken a word the whole time.

Oh, Cupun is a Captain now, and I’m officially a member of the guard! I even got a set of armor, though the stuff is heavy an uncomfortable. He and Nils said they would work on my training while we travel. I have to talk to Tanaraq before we leave, though. Takret said that the wizard could help me with Pana’s essence. Some day I’ll be able to look Tanaraq in the eye, but for now I just need to keep my knees from shaking when he shows up.

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