Our story opened with the party settling on accepting the less appealing aspects of Talia’s plan in favor of it being their best option to get deep into the city unmolested. They spent some time carefully preparing and coordinating what resources they might need to succeed once they were inside the city, realizing this might be the toughest fight they’ve encountered yet if things go awry. Satisfied with their planning, the group moved out from the remnants of the Imperial camp and rested. During the night, they spied a shadowy form observing them from the trees nearby, but were unable to learn more about it before it was gone. In the morning, Talia warned the party about the more capable priests backing up the Imperial forces- men called Warbinders. Even just happening nearby, one of these priests stood a good chance of feeling Talia’s presence and unraveling their ruse early, so they were to be avoided at all costs. With their cover story straightened out and disguises applied, the group headed for the city wall.
They met their first resistance at the farmer’s market along the road into the west wall of Haralin. Zayn took the lead in fast-talking their way through the soldiers there, and the group was led into the city by a marine officer named Cardiff. He took them to an inn inside the inner wall district of the city. The city’s original inhabitants had been entirely forced from this zone, and the only traffic on theo roads was occasion patrols and companies of marines moving here and there. Depositing the group in a room at the selected inn, currently in use as an officers’ barracks, Lt. Cardiff left to find the High Colonel commanding the garrison. As soon as they were alone, the group scoured the room for anything useful or magical, and then Finn connected with Blue via a Sending spell to tell him they were close, and to be ready. As usual, only part of what Blue had to tell them came back to Finn as his rambling response was cut off by the limitations of the magic. Zayn used her Communion Band to speak with her Asadin, Ahti Ato. She told Ahti that the occupation of Haralin was done by the Empire, not the Children of Ahriman, and that they were seeking evidence to return to the Asad. Zayn described the breadth of slaughter that had taken place on the island to hide the Imperial secret. Ahti carefully noted all her mistress said, and reported that there had been a little trouble at the Tulesti estate, but it was nothing the council there could not handle. In recognition of their status, a diplomatic spire was being erected there, identifying the estate and it’s town as the home of an Asad Sovereign.
Shortly after, Finn completed a Sending with Thuli Black, informing him of their progress and telling Thuli to move forward with his own plans. Thuli mentioned that the Blackjacks had reported much the same information that morning, but did not elaborate on who they were. He did mention they would be ready to assist when the time came. While all this was going on, Sindar set about forging a new set of orders to get the party through the inner city and into the courtyard of the Tidefall Fortress at the city center, copying much of the formatting of the orders drafted to get them this far. Collecting Talia’s unconscious form and disguising Zayn as an Imperial Lieutenant, the group slipped out of the inn and headed off.
Moving through the streets roughly in the direction of the fortress, the party crossed paths with several sets of soldiers without incident. Eventually, a pair of soldiers approaching them on the street caused alarm in the group as Finn realized one of them was a scout the group had encountered and subdued earlier on the island, but not killed. If he recognized them, the game was up in a very bad way. Thinking quickly, the group ducked into a large shop nearby, and ran headlong into a squad of marines busily looting the place. Feigning anger at such actions unbecoming of professional soldiers, Zayn played the part of a junior Imperial officer impressively. The squad dropped their loot and shuffled out quickly. Alone in the shop, the group re-arranged their disguises to match the original cover story and headed out to cover the last bit of ground to the fortress gates. They soon came across another pair of marines, but were challenged this time since they were in the streets without an escort. Presenting their forged paperwork, the group very nearly convinced the pair of their ruse. Instead, the soldiers decided to escort them the rest of the way personally, and ask the major commanding the gate guard about the unusual orders once they arrived.
At the gate they met Major Kendrick, the supposed author of the order that Sindar had forged. Luckily for the party, he had written many access orders that day and wasn’t entirely sure whether the order was genuine. Unluckily for them, he was a suspicious man by nature, and ordered the party placed in holding cells until he could sort the matter out. Finn talked the guards escorting them to the cells to allow him to respectfully store the body of the “diplomat” somewhere more suitable. They made a stop by the mausoleums on the fortress grounds, where the group respectfully placed the body before Finn snuck in a couple of sharp kicks on their way out, hoping to wake Talia from her torpor. From there, the party was taken to a small dungeon attached to the keep and left in two cells. The resident Imperial jailor was an excessively creepy and sadistic man named Junov Sinn, who seemed to take pleasure in tormenting his charges and made no exception for the diplomatic mission left in his care. After he wandered away to bother other inmates, the group made quick work of the shoddy door locks on their cages and commenced sneaking about the place to get stock of the prisoners.
The most interesting people they found were the son (Dunai Farindi) of the deposed governor of Haralin and his retinue (Rasia Farindi, his aunt; and Odesh Vliae, a favored stable hand and sometime playmate). Just as they were freeing these people, Junov Sinn happened around the corner with a start. Tarsus charged him to stop him from raising the alarm, but a stool flung from behind him nearly took the small man’s head clean off, ending his life in one blow. Odesh clearly did not like Junov Sinn. Guessing they had mere minutes before someone else might happen by, the party moved quickly to interview and free more important prisoners. They struck paydirt with Graja Helin- an engineer who had worked on the arcane core beneath the city and had been thrown in here until she became more cooperative in talking about it. Sindar was easily able to establish a rapport with her after showing her the transmutation control rod from the Tulesti estate arcane core. An idea occurred to Graja, and they developed a plan. There were functions of the city’s core that had never been deciphered because of missing pieces. Perhaps this rod would do something cool with Haralin’s core. The group agreed to let her take the rod and try, in exchange for information about how to deactivate the harbor defenses and release the ships being held in the interior waterways of the city. With that, Graja was off as the party ran for the harbor control console in the southwest tower of the keep.
Arriving at the console at the top of the tower, the party found a pair of guards that they quickly dispatched. Figuring out the controls took a bit longer, but they soon enough had them sorted. The loch gates and arch portcullis began to slowly grind out of the way at the same time that large spikes and the harbor boom retracted, clearing the way to the open ocean. Shots rang out below them as men on the deck of captured ship rose up together against their captors. In the distance, a short line of Imperial gunships closed on the harbor entrance, presuming the cut off any ships taking to opportunity to escape. The battle to liberate Haralin had begun.
The party did their best to smash the console and destroy its inner workings before heading to the keep’s interior. They hoped to see what they could recover, and see what they might destroy in order to further hamper Empire forces. Moving quickly through the keep, they found the lower floors deserted and not containing much of value. They came across the slaughtered corpses of house staff stuffed here and there in rooms that had been barricaded off, and eventually found the governor’s bedchamber. Within were the bodies of the governor and his wife, recognizable from the many painting and tapestries bearing their likenesses. They had been murdered in their sleep. The library produced a curious volume protected by an enchanted bookmark meant to hide it from scrutiny. Some damage had been done to the library during an earlier assault, and the bookmark was apparently malfunctioning. It hid the book well enough, but revealed its own magic, defeating the effort. The party decided to investigate more thoroughly later, and stuff the book and bookmark into the bag of holding for now. Noise from further upstairs drew their attention. A fight was going on somewhere.
Anyone fighting with Imperial soldiers was an ally in these circumstances, and the party got moving quickly to join the fray. They found none other than the engineer they parted ways with earlier, who had been cornered by a scout marine while sneaking through the keep. The group engaged and easily dispatched the single soldier, but reinforcements had already been on the way. In moments, they were surrounded and in a real fight. A few grenadiers, a warbinder, and another man cut off the party’s escape from the area. The grenadiers got in a few good opening shots against clusters of the party members before they spread out and took advantage of magical fire protection. Failing to adapt to that tactic, the grenadiers were all but ineffective after that, which turned out to be critical to the party’s success. The odd man out was soon identified as High Colonel Blackstone, commander of the Imperial garrison. Seconds later, the party learned at the point of his sword that he was a skilled magus as he forced the first of them to disengage temporarily with an electrical discharge from his weapon.The fight ebbed and flowed around the storeroom where Graja had initially been trapped, and into the hallway outside. At great cost to Finn’s healing reserves, the Black Fleet forces were eventually whittled down to just the Colonel, who fought to the death.
Though the party came out ahead in this encounter, it had cost them a lot and left their resources strained while still deep in enemy territory. The story closed as they rushed to pull bodies into the room and secure the scene, ensuring they would have the upper hand if another group came after them before they could figure out what to do next.
The vote has been tabled in the Asad while missing delegates are searched for and rescued. An automatic procedural clock of 60 days started when they went missing, with 11 days now remaining before the delegates are declared dead and replaced.
The Black Fleet has been spotted in Riyaqan waters, moving east along the southern coast. A secret Imperial occupation of Riyaqan territory has been discovered!