Chapter 1: The Journey to Nowhere

You find yourself, Portia, Viola, Aetos, and Gregorius, in a storeroom--a very large storeroom, in a very old covenant in Constantinople. Portia, who arrived a few weeks ago, stands face to face with the covenant's autocrat, attempting to stare down the very annoyed-looking middle-aged man. The rest of you arrived only within the past week, at the beginning of spring in 1226, answering a call from the Tribunal of Thebes for volunteers to establish a covenant that will act as a base camp for Hermetic expeditions north and east of the Euxine (as the Romans called the Black Sea). Having made the social rounds of the covenant for a few days, and been congratulated by its members in a grand feast at which your band was presented with the covenant's charter, you've arrived here to get down to the business of packing.

Since you arrived, the autocrat and Portia have been conducting a heated discussion in muffled tones. The autocrat, apparently close to losing his temper, raises his voice: "With all due respect, ma'am, we simply haven't the means to secure additional supplies. It's taken five years since the Tribunal of 1221 to gather enough contributions from the Thebes' covenants to provide you with what we do have--and you certainly didn't help matters by demanding the Tribunal supply you with 64 pawns of vis instead of lab equipment; I personally know a few glassblowers who are miffed at the loss of a potential commission. If you don't leave now, you'll still be preparing by the time the Tribunal of 1227 is held."

The autocrat gestures around him. "You've got enough food for 25 people for a year, building tools, and the beginnings of a decent library. We've arranged to send a dozen covenfolk with you, plus whatever shield grogs you've brought, and staked you to a queen of vis." He glances sideways for a moment to glare at Portia. "We've also hired a ship to convey you to the proposed site at the mouth of the Don." After giving a few orders to covenfolk, the autocrat turns to go, leaving you to begin your journey.

The trip around the eastern edge of the Black Sea, past the Kerch Strait (Cimmerian Bosporus) and its ancient Greek settlement, and up the Sea of Azov (Maeotis in Greek), finally alighting near the mouth of the Don River, at the ruins of the Greek city of Tanais--and of a previous covenant.

Your information on the location is disappointingly sketchy. History records that the site was settled first by the fierce Amazons, at the point where Tanais, son of the Amazon Lysippe, threw himself into the river, after which he was worshipped as a god. The city was later colonized by the Greeks and then Romans, who dwelled there until 330 AD, when it was sacked by the Goths, who destroyed a significant temple to Neptune.

The previous covenant was established in 1208, and seemed to be doing well. Surviving records indicate that a vast aura, extending for miles around, with a level of five at the center of the covenant and in a system of caves formed by underground rivers, as well a number of promising vis sources. Despite this promising start, the covenant vanished suddenly in 1211. A number of grogs and other covenfolk survived the attack that destroyed it, and reported an assault by raiders of uknown origin; the magi were never heard from again.

The Tribunal has suggested this site for the for three reasons. First, it's extensive aura in and of itself makes this location a reasonable one. Second, the magi of Thebes are eager to recover any ancient secrets of Tanais and its temple to Neptune, not to mention the earlier Amazon inhabitants. Third, the Tribunal would really like to know what happened to first covenant, and whether whatever it was poses a threat to the rest of the Tribunal, or indeed the Order.

Scouts sent by the Tribunal brought back both good and bad news. On the positive side, they discovered a single former grog living on the grounds; he's been living there since 1211, and has, entirely by himself, rebuilt several of the covenant's buildings (they were all ruined in the attack). On the negative side, the aura at the center of the covenant has somehow dropped to three, an unfortunate circumstance that led some of those organizing your expedition to suggest trying to find another site.

The ship disembarks you at a fishing village a little ways west of the ruined covenant, on the northern edge of the Don delta, where the locals regard you with considerable suspicion. Despite their unease, they agree after a little bartering to transport your party and its supplies by boat six or seven miles up a small distributary stream of the Don to the ruins of Tanais. The ground around is mostly marshy to the south, across the channel from the ruins, with drier plains and a forest to the north.

What happens next?

Scott

Aetos uses his birds to scout ahead and report back to him. He has them observe the site days ahead and particularly asks them to keep an unobtrusive eye on the grog that survived there. He feels very suspicious about him.

ooc: how many dice rolls do you want for that (if any)? It's all covered by formulaic spells.

Let me see what everyone else is doing before I answer that--I'm more interested though in Awareness rolls for the birds, since any spells aren't cast under stress conditions.

Scott

Don't have my books unpacked yet-- how difficult an Intellego Vim would it be to check the aura? Portia would probably wander around a bit and see if any of the outlying areas are any better, if she can do it without fatiguing herself.

Gregorius had spent much of the journey to the covenant standing at the rail of the ship, and later boat, watching the waters and the landscape pass by. Most of the rest of the trip had been spent soothing Alcimus (who did not like being cooped up under-decks) or the crew (who did not like having a enormous talking wolf on board). He hadn't even tried to get the local villagers to include Alcimus in the boat to the covenant site. [If possible, I'd like to avoid introducing the villagers to Alcimus at all at this stage, but I'm not sure what the village's relationship is to wherever the ship docked/dropped anchor, and how likely the ship is to allow Alcimus to stay on board until nightfall.]

Arriving at the covenant site, he keeps an eye out for the grog reputed still to live there, intending to speak with him. Mindful of the reports of underground cave systems, he also finds a place with as good a view of the covenant site as he can easily get, and attempts to spontaneously cast the spell:

Eyes of the Treacherous Terrain: InTe (base 2, as high a sense as he can, then as high a duration as he can): Can tell intuitively if any natural terrain you see is treacherous. (probably won't work on the buildings)

(In 6 + Te 7 + Sta 1 + Aura 3 (?) + d10)/2 = (17 + 6)/2 = 12. (invisiblecastle.com/roller/view/2785134/). So vision target, but only momentary effect.

He'll also be watching out for anything he can see using his second sight:

(Second Sight 3 (regiones) + Perception 3 + d10) = 6 (regiones 7) + 2 = 8 (9) (invisiblecastle.com/roller/view/2785139/)

[Scott, is my second sight on all the time automatically, or do I have to be deliberately using it?]

Sorry I haven't posted earlier--today was unusually hectic. And yes, Second Sight works all the time.

The boats have lighted you at bend in the stream, where the flow shifts from northerly to the westerly channel you just traveled up. The ruins of Tanais lie directly to the north, though you can't see them at the moment: a dense ring of trees, its southern edge perhaps 100 paces distant from you, has grown up in the unfarmed fields that surround the ancient city (you surmise that the river was once wider here, and the city site nearer the shore than it is today).

The bank you're standing on is grassy, with a gentle slope down to the channel. Quick investigation with sponted InVi spells reveals that there's a magic aura of 2 here. Flavius' spell reveals no hazardous terrain, but Aetus' birds report that inside the trees lies a clearing filled with buildings, both ruined (some of ancient, some of recent vintage) and intact. The place appears to be deserted, save for animals.

Scott

Gregorius listens to Aetos recount the results of his birds' scouting [JeanMichelle: assuming you pass this on/everyone can hear it? If not, he probably does much the same thing next anyway], then turns to the other magi with a smile.

"Well, sodales, shall we investigate the site in more detail? And does anyone remember whether the last expedition brought the grog they found back with them to Thebes? I'd have thought we'd have been introduced to him if they had..."

Once any initial conversation has been had, he's ready to move on to the former covenant site. Unless Alcimus is still with him, he'll take a shield grog with him.

Flavius hasn't been along for most of the journey, as travel by boat generally disagrees with him. Instead he's been leaping in and out on occasion to ferry some forgotten odds and ends to the expedition. On feasts and holidays he's also brought various treats - from sweets to fine wine - with him to lighten the sometimes dreary mood of such journeys. He's made an effort to get to know the Magi and, companions, crew, etc. all. He keeps no secret of his family ties to Rodrigo 'the Quick' and the two are often laughing and joking over a mug of sweetened wine.

Now, at the new site he takes in the vista and helps out with the unloading of the vessels, making a beachhead as the rest of the magi enact what appears to be a very thorough sweep of the area. He will listen to Aetos recount his avian scouting efforts. Flavius, casually minding some spontaneous spells much like unseen porters that pause as he talks and then resume (he has sponted a few sun duration porters to help out), offers:

"Though I don't have eyes to match your aerial scouts Aetos, nor talents in the reconnoiter such as you Gregorius, I can render myself unseen and suspend myself above terrain. If there is a route you would have me take, I offer my aid in the search."

Flavius will go along with whatever search strategy proposed, going in levitating, warded against normal winds (spont - no books on me, but lvl 10 to 15 IIRC), seven league striding into the vast open space of the sky, and with his image cast afar (essentially invisible).

P.S. Major project due today, will post again within 24 hrs.

Tamura is helping get things ready at wherever the boats are / are to be unloading.

Detecting neither threats nor even anything particularly interesting, you begin the trudge towards the trees. Still you see nothing. Just inside the ring of woods, though, the cat that Viola brought along from Andorra spies a very elaborate and well-concealed pit trap.

Scott

Aetos suggests walking around the trap and sending ahead a grog with a polearm to poke the ground in front of them.

Gregorius politely thanks the cat, and compliments it on its keen eyes.

"A grog with a polearm is a good idea - where there's one trap, there's likely to be more. Possibly other types of trap, as well. I'm curious how long this one's been here for, though - is it part of the original covenant's defenses, or something more recent?"

With that, he carefully approaches the pit, testing the earth before lying down to peer into it. He tries not to disturb the pit too much, and only in ways that can be easily repaired later - properly mapped, a set of pit traps could be a useful defensive mechanism.

[I'm not sure what information he can discover mundanely, and what the relevant abilities and stats are. Of the potentially relevant ones, he has awareness 2 (searching), hunt 0 (I knew there was something I forgot), Int +1 and Per +3. Die roll is 8 ([invisiblecastle.com/roller/view/2787741/](http://invisiblecastle.com/roller/view/2787741/)).]

If and only if he gets no useful information from mundane inspection, he'll try sponting a touch range variant of Eyes of the Eons on the pit wall:

[(In 6 + Te 7 + Sta 1 + Aura 2 - no gestures 5 + die roll 4 (invisiblecastle.com/roller/view/2787744/))/2 = 7.5, so the spell goes off.]

The cat rubs against his legs, purring contentedly.

The trap appears to have been maintained actively--there's no way to tell how long it's been there, though.

Scott

"Hmmm. Someone's around and hunting. It could be the local villagers, but it seems unlikely - I'd expect them to avoid the covenant site. Shall we move on? Carefully, I think."

Once they start moving, Gregorius will travel slightly ahead of the other magi, with (but following the path of) the spear-grog. If there's a convenient stick around, he'll take it to use to test the ground.

A little more description of the terrain, while I'm waiting to see if anyone has anything to add:

The bank of the stream here is fairly steep; beyond the bank, the land slopes upwards towards the site of the ancient city. It's mostly farmland, but the fields are cut by many gullies and ravines. As the plateau nears the ruins, the slope becomes more gentle--it's almost horizontal by the time you're in the trees.

In ancient times, this was the principal port at the mouth of the Don: not only was this channel at the time the main channel of the river, but the sea came right up to here; it's since receded 6 or 7 miles to the west.

Scott

OK, moving on, you proceed up the gentle slope through the trees (there are just enough of them to call the area "woods", but it's not a substantial forest, more like a thin ring). Checking the aura, you discover that it's level 3 here. Now forewarned, you manage to spot a few more traps: deadfalls and snares as well as another pit, suggesting that someone is really trying to defend the area, not just capture the odd animal for food. You quickly reach the trees' other edge, and look out upon the site of ancient Tanais.

The open area is a rough square perhaps 200 paces wide, with a large ditch, apparently man-made, on its western edge (that is, to your left). If you had to guess, you'd say you're now about 20 paces above the level of the river. Before you lie ruins of both ancient and modern vintage: the ancient ones are mostly stone foundations one ancient stone tower, a two-story structure overlooking the southwest corner, looks like it may have been inhabited recently; the modern buildings must have been those erected by the defunct covenant, and most are in disrepair, but three near the center seem to have been rebuilt. The place appears deserted.

Scott

Gregorius pauses and waits for the other magi once he reaches the tree line.

"Someone's certainly been putting a lot of effort into mundane defenses. Not quite on the level of the packlands around some of the Translyvanian covenants, but certainly trying. Alcimus will feel right at home. Probably that grog, but does he have reason for more than a general fear of the return of the attackers? Given Aetos' birds didn't find him in several days of observing the site, he's probably living in the cave system - but the reports we had of him previously were that he'd been repairing some of the houses, which suggests he hasn't always been.

Shall we make an initial circuit of the covenant site and attempt to determine any particularly interesting buildings - and an entrance to that cave system - before starting to explore individual buildings in detail? We should be careful entering them when it comes to it - if the grog's trapped the forest, he may well have trapped the caves and the houses as well."

Portia nods. "That seems reasonable."

She then goes back to the wax tablet upon which she has been scribbling furiously with a small wooden stylus. (She is working on a diagram of the aura-- only partly because it benefits the covenant, but primarily because it's the focus of her research.)

Aetos asks who is best suited to look through the walls.

ooc: spell, see HoH:TL, Tremere section, modified for herbam

Gregorius replies to Aetos,

"Outside my abilities, I fear. I should be able to cast a spell to tell if a building is inherently unstable and likely to collapse on us, but that still leaves a lot of possibilities."