Maybe the leadership of the Marshguards
"Two things. First, our camp is full of scientific experts, who can take a closer look at that technology. Just as on example, we wouldn't have to just guess if they're using darkwood as a power source - we could work that out for sure. Second, if this group is after something in the Marsh Fortress, it seems to me it would be worth making contact with the Marshguards about them, wouldn't it? Tell them what they need to know to better fight it off themselves. If nothing else, that means there's less work for you do to over in the swamp. Or are you poking around there for other reasons?"

"Our leadership wants us to remain discreet," the figure says.

"Well. Too late for that. We've got contact with the Marshguards, thanks to some accidents with these gateways. And now we know you've been poking around in their swamp, without their permission. I'm sure they'll be very eager to hear about why you haven't informed them."

The figure sighs deeply.

"Because we have reason to believe there are spies among their number. And not merely among the lower ranks. I can believe you have nothing to do with this group, as you warned us of the wizard's arrival. But the Marshguards - we do not feel we could issue a warning without alerting our enemies. In fact, were I in your position, I would be very careful what I share with my contacts among them. For that matter, I cannot be sure that your camp has not been infiltrated; I am taking a great risk telling you even this much."

Hmm. They are telling you quite a bit, aren't they. Enough that it makes you wonder how much they agree with their leadership on the risks of looking for cooperation.

After all, if they hadn't answered a question you weren't really expecting them to answer, you wouldn't have gotten to this point. So maybe it's worth pressing your luck a bit with your questions.
What kind of magic causes these gateways to appear?
How many wizards are we talking about here?
What should we call you?

Oh...what do you know about the Maiden's Veil?
There's a point that's struck you as odd ever since you made contact.

"You seem to know something about how to make the gateways. Considering you've been using them, too."

"Not exactly," the figure says. "For the most part, we are only able to reopen gateways that have closed recently. Beyond that... our wizard has some ideas on how to change the destination of a gateway, but we've had few opportunities to test."

"Well, what do you know about them? In terms of how the magic works."

There's a pause.

"Honestly? We don't really understand it. When they're active, they produce lots of ether... but there's no noticeable buildup of ether before they activate, or after they close. Nothing else we know of works like that. We're only able to reactivate them by..."

They stop suddenly. This must be a big secret. But then, it's one you have a guess at.

"You use time magic," you say. "Move time for the gateway backwards to when it was active."

"Believe what you want."

You didn't expect it to be that easy. After all, you've been out here for years struggling to find scraps of evidence that time magic really existed. If these people have been using it, they wouldn't want to just tell you that. They've been keeping themselves hidden for a reason, after all.

So you leave that for the moment, and move on.

"There seems to be more than one wizard in their group. Any idea how many?"

"We believe we've seen six others, aside from the most powerful one. They usually don't send more than one of the weaker wizards out on a task, though. Our best guess is that they're doing a lot of magic in a lot of places at once, so they have to spread their wizards thin."

Seven wizards? In an age where wizards have all but disappeared? That's worrisome.

"Well. Thank you. I suppose that's all I have to ask for now... Do you have a name you'd like me to call you by?"

"Our leaders would probably prefer we not contact you again."

"Tough. Come back here tomorrow night, same time. Or send someone else if you can't make it yourself. We have a common enemy and if we don't at least stay in contact, we'll get in each others' way. So. Do you have a name?"

There's a pause.

"They gave me the name Ela. It means 'desert winds'. I suppose there's no harm in letting you know that. I wish you well, Director."

Unsettling that they know your title. But perhaps unsurprising, given that they've been hiding from you up to now.

"Good luck to you to, Ela. I'll see you tomorrow night."

But just as you're about to leave, you think of another question.

"Just out of curiosity. Do you have any idea what's happening with the Maiden's Veil?"

"The stars? We have noticed."

"I didn't ask if you'd noticed. I asked if you had any idea why."

Ela shrugs.

"The gods may know, but we do not," they say. "Farewell, Director."

Well. That seems to be it for that conversation.

What now?
You're now Marshall, Corvus just finished getting you caught up.
You suppose there's little to do except head back. You're overdue for finding out just what happened to that one-armed human when the wagon went missing.


You're now Marshall, and you're being debriefed. You feel like it would be more appropriate for Captain Long to do this, but for whatever reason Corvus has taken on the duty instead. Maybe everyone's busy again, or asleep.

"Before we get to the questions, I've got to make one thing clear," Corvus says. "There's a very powerful wizard doing stuff in this desert, not that we know exactly what he's trying to do. So that means we're probably going to need all the help we can get as far as magic is concerned. Which means, even though you haven't been at this wizard thing for very long, we might need your help."

That's a bit worrying.

"But there's also a lot we don't know. We just had a run-in with another wizard who claimed to be working against the first one. Then the super-wizard showed up and we had to get out, leaving our mystery wizard to fend for themselves. So there's a lot going on as far as magic is concerned and we barely know anything about it. Great situation to be in. You're probably going to wind up in the middle of it whether you like it or not, too."

He lets out a deep sigh.

"Sorry you got involved in this mess. I don't think it's what Rider wanted for you, either."

"It was my choice."

"It was, wasn't it. My choice too. So I guess we're stuck dealing with it," he chuckles. "Okay. So. Now that that's clear, you mind telling me where the hell you disappeared to with the wagon?"

You knew that question was coming. But where do you even start on answering it?
Mountain folk wagon-napped me. An old lady who could read my mind was nice, brought me back. Sounds like they were fighting against someone too. Maybe they're the good wizards?
You decide to start by explaining things as simply as possible. You can get to the weird details once you've cleared up the basics.

"The wagon was stolen. I just happened to be in it at the time."

"By who?" Corvus asks.

"By some people who live in the mountains. They used magic to do it, they might have something to do with this other wizard you ran into."

"Great. Magic wagon thieves. So they could grab it again at any time?"

"I don't think they will. I had a talk with the woman who grabbed it. She was nice, but strange. Seemed she had a spell where she could essentially read my mind, but only for things I was willing to tell her. Anyways, from the conversation, it seems they were just looking for the lodestone."

"Which we already took somewhere else," Corvus says. "And I suppose they know that now. And then what, she just let you go?"

"Well... more or less. Um, she said the village leaders wouldn't be happy about it, but she seems to be pretty important. Called herself Oracle of the Sands? And I think they've got something to do with those raiders we ran into when we found the wagon."

Corvus paces around for a bit.

"That's worrying, considering how things went with the raiders. Can't say I like the thought of their wizard keeping an eye on us."

You suppose he's got a point there.

"Oh, one more thing. When I first arrived, I kept hidden. I overheard the sounds of a battle before they found me and took me to the Oracle. They didn't really know who the attackers were, though."

"I hope it was just the wizard's cronies, this whole thing is complicated enough already without yet another faction getting involved," Corvus sighs. "So. Anything else to add? Or can we move on to whatever you wanted to talk to me about before this whole mess happened?"

Oh, that's right, the sketchbook. You'd nearly forgotten.

You should probably make sure there isn't anything important you left out before moving on to that, though.
There was a metal thing... something that flew, but which you knocked out of the air with your slicer. Seemed to belong to whomever the mountain-folk were fighting.
Oh yeah, have you heard of an arrrship?
"Well. One more thing. When the fighting happened... I couldn't see too clearly, but there was something in the sky. And, um, I hit it with my slicer. Heard a sound like it was hitting metal, and later I found my slicer next to a weird metal thing. It almost looked like a wheel."

Corvus just looks baffled.

"I think I heard one of the mountain people call it an arraship," you continue. "I don't know exactly what that means, but it's got the word 'ship' in it."

"So, what, you hit a flying metal ship with your slicer?" Corvus asks, startled.

"Maybe. Like I said, I didn't really see it."

"Gotta say, that sounds even harder to believe than the wizard. But then, with some of the stuff we've heard about... maybe they could make something like that." He shrugs. "Okay. So are you ready to talk about this whatever-it-is?"

"Oh. Right. It's the strangest thing, but I ran into this grebling kid earlier, with a package. And can you believe it, the thing has my family crest on it."

"No kiddin'," Corvus says, as you pull it out.

"So I thought I'd have a look. It's some kind of sketchbook. Mostly nobles. But, well, there's this."

You show him the picture of Captain Long shaking hands with your father.

"I think you recognize the man on the left. The one on the right is my missing father. And there's some notes underneath... probably in Kandrian. I don't suppose you can read that?"

Corvus shakes his head.

"Nope, never learned it. Not that I had the most formal of education." He pauses. "Do you mind if I have a look at that for myself, though?"

"All right. I think I saw Mudviper in these sketches, too." You hand the book to him. "If you have any idea what to make of it, I'd like to hear it."

"Sure," Corvus mutters.

You're now Corvus. And you don't know what in the hells to make of any of this.

Obviously this book is the package Rider wanted you to deliver. But you can't go revealing that, you'd betray his trust.

Still, you have to wonder why in the hells he was handing it off, and why he was so secretive about it. Maybe if you flip through, you can at least get some idea about that.

So what strikes you as you make your way through the sketches?
Another slicer.


It's weird how detailed it is. Rich folks only commissioned these things during important or significant events, weddings, treaties, etc. Artists of the caliber that made these sketches are few and far between. You've had to deliver a few parchments yourself. If you could find the artist, they could tell you more, but it's clear enough what this sketchbook is trying to document.

These sketches are a birth-certificate.
Whoever drew these sketches is real good. This wasn't some hobbyist, this was someone who made their living as an artist. Probably these were preliminary sketches before making full-on paintings.

And looking at the sorts of things in here... there's a lot of what looks like ceremonies. Medal ceremonies for soldiers, big banquets, this looks like a treaty signing... You've seen a few of these before, when making deliveries. They're very detailed, because they're meant to serve as proof. So they depict things as little as which finger a ring is on.

In short, this was the work of a royal artist. Which means the sketch at the end, the King of Kandria holding a child, can only be one thing.

A proof of heritage. A proof that the King of Kandria recognizes this kid as his own.

In other words, an heir.

Which is real funny, considering you distinctly recall delivering quite a few messages fifteen years ago debating which nobles the Guild should back after said king died with no heir.

And Rider wanted Marshall to have this, without being connected to the delivery. Could that mean...

...well, that might be going a bit far. The kid's missing father is in here, that's probably reason enough for Rider to hand it over. And the other stuff, especially the last sketch, would explain the ridiculous secrecy on its own.

Maybe that's all it is.

Maybe. Whether it's true or not, though, you sure as hell wouldn't want anyone of importance in Kandria jumping to that particular conclusion.

So that leaves the question - how much of this do you tell the poor kid?
Tell the kid the whole truth but make sure to do in a way that doesn't result in tears.
Well. You're not going to mention Rider. But you don't see much reason to hold back.

"Most of this is important events. Things that an artist's patron would want documented. And judging by how often he appears, it looks to me like this artist's main patron was the King of Kandria."

"How did it end up here, then? In a package with my family crest on it?"

You shrug.

"Maybe your wizardry drew it to you, how should I know. What I do know is that this sketchbook is really, really, really important. Because of the last picture."

"The one with the baby?"

"The King of Kandria died with no heir. Except, what we've got here is proof that there was an heir. Kings don't get their portraits drawn with just any old baby. He paid his artist to draw this, and then apparently didn't show it to anyone."

"But then how would anyone recognize the heir?" Marshall asks, confused. "They'd be grown up by now."

"Well, if it wasn't publicized, it would've been trusted to the artist," you muse. "Who would probably either keep an eye on the kid or have some way to identify them. But here's the important thing - somebody gets ahold of that, they'll wonder why you have it. And they might get it into their heads that you're the heir. So you gotta keep that book really safe, understand?"

"Me? I hope not. I'm still getting used to learning I'm a wizard."

"Could you say for sure?"

Marshall shrugs.

"Well, I can't remember anything clearly from before I was about three years old. So I suppose it's possible that Father and Henry kidnapped the lost heir to the throne while they were fleeing and raised the child as their own, but it's not as if I can just go home and ask that."

The kid's taking the idea surprisingly well. Probably doesn't really believe it, though.

"Well. Whether it's true or not, I'm pretty sure there are plenty of Kandrian nobles who don't want an heir turning up suddenly. So you keep that safe, okay?"

"Got it," Marshall nods. "But I still can't see how it wound up in the desert, of all places. Well, unless one of us brought it here..."

Damn clever kid. You promised Rider to keep his involvement a secret. So you suppose you should deflect this line of thinking somehow.
Just shrug it off with "maybe it came in with rubble from one of the portals, or the Greblings got ahold of it and had it in one of their libraries. You said you got it from a Grebling kid right?"

"Not to you."

"Who knows? With the gateways acting up, even if your dad brought it to the swamp it could have found its way here by chance. Or, heck, he was a scholar, he had connections, maybe he gave it to a grebling scientist for safekeeping and then they found their way here. Maybe it just got lost and Pubert snatched it at some point but never had a chance to look inside. Oh, wait, which side of the family is the crest from? I guess I just figured it was your missing dad because he was a scholar, and more likely to have one than a farmer..."

And Rider wouldn't keep it in a package with his own crest without mentioning that to you. He may be stubborn, but he's not an idiot.

"That's right, it's Father's. I never asked if Henry had a crest, I guess I just didn't think about it."

"Well. Point is, there's lots of ways it could have turned up here."

"Maybe. But the explanation that makes the most sense to me is that Rider got it from my father and brought it here."

Which is probably right, dammit.

"Yeah, I can see how you might think that. But didn't you say something about getting it from a grebling kid? I can't imagine Rider would be careless enough to let something that important get stolen."

"How did you know it was stolen? I didn't say that."

Oh hells. Better think of something fast.

"Oh, I guess I just figured it was the little troublemaker Rivers asked me to help take care of. I couldn't see Rider using that rascal as a deliveryperson."

"Oh, right. Rivers was there when it happened." Marshall pauses for a moment. "She didn't tell you about the package, did she?"

"Nope. Probably figured it was your business and not mine. That's how we do things in the Marshguards."

"I suppose you're right. Do you think I should ask Rider about it, though? Or Captain Long?"

No, definitely not.

"I wouldn't chance it. Tell you what, I'll worry about figuring out where it came from, you worry about keeping it safe. Okay?"

And take on the risks. Dammit, what was Rider thinking? Regardless, you hand back the sketchbook.

"I guess so. Thanks for the help. I was actually hoping for someone to translate it, though..."

"Can't say that's a good idea. Not only is it risky to talk about it, but you'd be getting the info secondhand. Better to learn the language yourself."

"You're probably right," Marshall agrees.

"Great. Well, you should probably be getting some rest. Me too, for that matter. It's been a long day."

Marshall nods, and puts the package away. You wish you had better ideas for protecting it.

You're going to need to have a talk with Rider when you get the chance, though.

As the two of you step out, you take a moment to think about if there's anything else you need to deal with, or if you can finally get some sleep.

sleeepy deep
[Image: Iv0bTLS.png]
You think that's everything. You'll have to pass along what Marshall said about the wagon theft somewhere down the line, but that's not urgent.

So you just head to sleep, glad that the long day is over at last.


You're Crosswinds now.

The stranger woke up a while ago. Unfortunately, you can't understand a word they say, and that seems to go in two directions. So the interrogation isn't really getting anywhere so far.

And you've more or less got to handle it alone right now, since Mantis is doing some kind of purification ritual on the mask. You don't really get the details. But if it stops the thing from doing any more magic, you're all for it.

At least you got the longbird back in its cage. This whole mess could only get worse with that thing pecking at you.

Well. What do you do now?
Better bring the stranger to the prison cells. Probably won't hold them, but hopefully along the way you can find some backup. (Backup that you can boss around... unlike Mantis.)

Maybe you can get Clams or somebody to can act as a runner and find out what Stinger's condition is. You also want someone to check out Stinger's quarters to see if there are any clues, like signs of entry or tampering; that someone can be you, if you can find someone to foist the prisoner onto.
Well. Step one, get the prisoner to someplace more secure. You're not sure what they can do without the mask, but you're not one to take chances. You start dragging them towards the cells.

"Wait," Mantis says suddenly. Oh, hells. Is he going to do one of his weird religious things again?

"What am I waiting for?"

"It will be much easier to sever the link between mask and wearer if the wearer is nearby. I will tell you when I am done."

Okay, it's *something* weird all right. But at least it's a weird thing that sounds good.

"Well. Why didn't you say so before?"

He's already gone back to whatever he was doing. If he did answer you, though, he'd probably say something like "there wasn't any need until you were about to move them". What a pain.

Too bad there's no one here you can give orders to. You want to know how Stinger's doing. Hells, maybe you're very lucky and this intruder is from his homeland and he can translate. You're not going to find out any time soon while you're stuck here.

Well. While you're mulling over that, Bigfoot walks in.

"What's the delay, Mantis?" she asks. "Where's the..."

She glances at you and the tied up intruder, and then back at Mantis and whatever he's doing with the mask.

After about a minute of trying to figure out who to turn to, she settles on you.

"Crosswinds. You mind telling me what in the hells is going on here?"

"Someone with a magic mask attacked Stinger," you say. "I chased them over to here and caught 'em. Can't understand a word of their language. Mantis is doing something with the mask and says I shouldn't take the prisoner too far away until he's done. So that's where we are."

Bigfoot doesn't look very happy.

"How long's that going to take, Mantis? We need you back at the meeting. Come to think of it, Crosswinds, you ought to be present for this part too."

"Find somebody to watch this fool and I'll be happy to come along," you grumble. Except, you'd really rather not. Even if it does turn out to be important.

"That might not be so easy," Mantis says. "It is difficult for untrained minds to resist a sleeping spell this potent."

"A what now? Maybe you should just explain the whole damn thing already," Bigfoot sighs. "I know you like being cryptic and all, but I've never been good at riddles."

"The mask has no magic of its own," Mantis continues, barely acknowledging the question. "Rather, it stores a few specific spells. Evidently, this consists of a sleeping spell which has somehow been augmented to cover most of this wing of the fortress, a transformation spell which requires the presence of a nearby animal, and a few defensive spells. I believe the sleeping spell was intended to cover some other objective - perhaps the attack on Stinger, perhaps something else. Everything else I've found simply seems to be oriented on defense. I would guess it is entirely contingency plans in case someone evades the sleep spell."

"Well, hang on," you say. You haven't quite grasped the whole thing but you don't want to get into that. "Didn't you wake up? Shouldn't the sleep spell be broken now or something?"

"Not precisely. The transformation augmented the spell's power. When that was dispelled, it was not strong enough to hold me any more. But anyone who was asleep before then would likely still be under its influence."

Wonderful. That's... hang on a second, Mantis just reminded you of something. You turn to the prisoner.

"You know the word 'sleep'," you say.

They react to the last word a little, but otherwise seem confused.

"Most likely, they were told that as an activation word and nothing else," Mantis says. "They may not even really understand what it means."

"I think I liked the riddles better," Bigfoot grumbles. "I'm barely following this. Are you saying everyone in this part of the fortress is asleep, and they're not waking up until you finish messing with the mask?"

"Not everyone. But most of them, yes. And there are other ways to break the spell, but this is the easiest short of killing the caster. Which, even laying aside the moral objections, would prevent us from questioning them."

"Not that we're having much luck with that anyways," you grumble. "Still, this whole mess gets easier if we've got more people around to clean it up. Do we have any options for just waking up specific people?"
Bang pots and pans in the largest room, for the echo effect.
"Well, despite the magic, it's just a very deep sleep," Mantis says. "So it's not as if the normal methods for waking someone up won't work... water, loud noises, causing pain. But you need to put a lot more force behind it than usual. So you'd need a really loud noise, for instance. Which is still a good deal more dangerous than directly removing the spell - noises that loud aren't good for the ears, you know."

"And how long is that going to take?" Bigfoot asks.

"No more than an hour."

"What! We can't delay the meeting that long."

"Well, if we had a wizard to do direct ether manipulation, it could be sped up considerably. But we don't, so we have to rely on less efficient methods."

You don't get what he's babbling about. But you do have a thought.

"Hang on," you say. "Those flames act up when there's music around. Don't suppose that could help with this problem?"

"Aha! That's it!"

You and Bigfoot just stare at him.

"That's why this has been so hard. This isn't fire, it's light. Which means it's in conflict with sound. Thank you, that was very helpful."

"What the hell does that mean?"

"Magic types. The green flames are meant to suggest fire magic, but they're actually an illusion created with light magic. Sound magic counters that, and any song carries at least a little bit of magic in it. Which means you shouldn't need the noise to be quite so loud as long as there's a good melody to it. It will still need to be fairly loud, however."

"Whatever. Is this going to speed things up?" Bigfoot asks.

"Again, I must stress that it is difficult to manipulate ether indirectly. But you should be able to wake up individuals. And if you were to wake everyone up, I could skip dispelling the effect, which would be the most time-consuming part."

"Great," you say. You turn to Bigfoot. "I'll get right on that, unless you'd rather do it while I watch the prisoner?"

"Urgh. It's bad enough being stuck on messenger duty. On the other hand, I've got no knack for music. At least you hang out with the performers sometimes."

"Yeah, I'll get them on it," you agree. "Anyone I can find awake, at least."

Ringer should be at the cells, which are far enough away that they might not have been affected. Or you could see if Quill's awake. Then again, neither of them really specializes in music - you could look for someone who does. Might even be worth the trouble of waking them up if they were affected.

So who are you going to look for first?
quill might know someone who specializes in music. wake him up.
[Image: Iv0bTLS.png]
Well. Quill's more likely to know where the musicians are, if anyone's not in their room. Ringer tends to come and go, and not be especially sociable.

So even if he's asleep, it'll go faster. Besides, there's a piano right there.

You head over to the storeroom. Quill's rubbing his head. You note that the glow outside seems a little more faint.

"What? Oh! Crosswinds. I seem to have dozed off. Can I help you with something?"

"Yeah. We need some loud music. You know anyone good at that who'd be off in some other part of the fortress at this hour?"

"Loud music? Whatever for?"

"To wake people up. Mantis' orders." Maybe not orders, precisely, but you really don't want to go explaining that it involves magic. And people are used to Mantis asking for weird stuff.

"Oh. Mantis, of course. Why does it matter where they are, though?"

"Because it's easier if they're awake. And I haven't found anyone awake and on-duty over here. So if you know they hang out elsewhere, then they're probably still awake, right?"

"Fair enough," Quill says with a shrug. "Well... Brass did say she was working on a special project with Feldspar that was probably finishing up tonight. And she can certainly manage loud. Now, the question of whether it's music is up for debate..."

"Good enough for me. Over to Feldspar's, then."

You start heading over. Or perhaps "under" is a better way of saying it, considering your preferred method of travel.

But as you're getting close, you think you hear a loud crash of some kind somewhere overhead.

Wonderful. If it's not one thing, it's another. Where's that even coming from?