The weather has been very odd for the last few weeks and the Steadfast has found itself plagued with rain storms rolling in from the South-East, over the Black Riage. The rain is unusual in that it leaves behind an extremely strong smell stained into everything it touches. The smell, while not particularly unpleasant, is quite pungent and naturally some people are worried by it’s effects, though no-one has reported anything untoward so far, bar being stained with the smell if they happened to be caught in a downpour.
Based on the opinions of several Aeon priests that specialise in the study of meteorology, it is thought the rains originate somewhere in the Beyond, and word has been sent to the enclave in Nebalich to ask them to investigate. However, the priests in Nebalich have their own problems and investigations to deal with and some smelly rain is not particularly high on their priority list. As such, a reward by the priesthood has been offered for those that can discover the source of the rain and, if possible, put an end to it.
The mystery is one just waiting to be solved by a plucky band of adventurers. The adventurers themselves might want to make a new discovery or they may be interested in the reward. It’s possible that the adventurers or one of their friends or loved ones may have been caught in the rain and have been permanently stained with the pungent odor - finding the source might allow for some kind of antidote to be developed to remove it.
Following the path to Nebalich, the reason for the local priests dismissal of the problem is clear. Everyone is gone. The city of Nebalich is empty, the once bustling bastion of the Steadfast in foreign lands reduced to little more than a ghost town. The few priests that remain where out on an expedition and when they returned a few days later, they found the city empty. Even the royal palace lies unoccupied.
Worse, in their absence, wild animals have started to make their way into the city now that it is uninhabited and the priests do not have the skills, equipment or man-power to deal with them. They’ve done what they can, setting up make-shift barriers and erecting some animal-repelling cyphers but it isn’t nearly enough. One of their number, a senior priest and close personal friend of Queen Sheranoa, went up the the palace to erect such a device to stop Rasters from turning the tower into a roost. He has not returned and they fear something may have happened to him.
In the meantime, the priests have been busying themselves trying to find out what has happened, where everyone has gone and, more importantly, how to get them back. They’ve been very quiet and secretive about the whole disaster because if anyone learns that 35000 people just up and disappeared, leaving a city full of belonging and valuables for the taking with only a handful of priests to protect it, well, they wouldn’t stand a chance and the city would be torn apart by looters, or taken by the armies of a neighbouring kingdom. They have managed to theorise that the people of the city might all still be hear, but have been rendered out of phase somehow, making them insubstantial and invisible, but the mechanism responsible for this they have yet to discover. If the people are out of phase, they may or may not be aware of what is going on in our ‘native’ phase and the priests warn the players that they should put any thoughts of theft aside, only taking anything from peoples homes businesses if absolutely necessary to complete their mission.
If the group can assist them in placing a number of triangulation devices around the city, the priests might be able to pinpoint the source of the phasing. With the wild animals roaming, it could take days to safely place and secure each device without the players assistance and protection, days they may not have because sooner or later the disaster that has befallen the city will be revealed. Already the priests have taken to bribing the traders arriving at the ports and canals and have set up warnings of quarantines and plague to scare people away, but someone will no doubt spill the secret for a few shins, or take it upon themselves to plunder the city - no doubt there are already bandits looting as they speak.
The final thing the priests have discovered is that the rain definitely has nothing to do with the disappearances. The rain storms do not actually pass over Nebalich and from what they can tell seem to be coming from the Salted Marsh. They are worried however that the smell might drive animals away from their native habitats and towards the city - they have some circumstantial evidence to suggest that this might be the case - they see many more wild animals coming into the city from the North-East than any other direction.
If the players decide to investigate the Royal Palace and look for the missing priest, like the rest of the city it is empty. At least, it was. It looks like some people may have found their way in and started looting the place, but is filled with more riches and finery than most people could carry away in one life time. While the King and Queen are not ostentatious, they do appreciate fine craftsmanship and high-quality and many of the items in the palace are worth a sizable sum to the right buyer.
The players can easily hear the noise of people looting valuables and if they go to investigate the sounds, they find a Lattimor with a face that droops on the left hand side and 5 humans, all dressed in bandit gear and collecting whatever looks expensive into large sacks.
Today is our lucky day. While the guards are away, we'll take our pay.
The lattimor laughs, his men and women laughing with him. If the players manage to stay unnoticed (a level 4 stealth check due to the eerie silence of the city without people), they notice the lattimor only every seems to speak in rhyme, ending every sentence in an ‘ay’ sound. His band of thieves don’t seem similarly afflicted, but they clearly respect him a lot and always refer to him as Captain.
The players may also here the crew wondering where a fellow crew mate has gotten to. The captain remarks:
Where's that sailor gone today? Did anyone hear him say? Alone can put ye in a corpseful way.
Exploring further up the palace, as the players discover the royal bed chamber, they find a dead bandit one the ground, a burning hole in his face. Nearby is a numenera device laying on it’s side. On the bed are 3 rasters (Numenera Corebook, pg. 253), looking like they are tearing up the bed for a nest. The rasters are at a disadvantage in the enclosed space of the bedroom, but are still quite dangerous and clearly agitated by something, occasionally hissing at a wardrobe on th efar side of the room.
If the players manage to grab and activate the device, the rasters let out a terrible pained screech and flee, flying awayout of the window.
Examining the nest the raster were building reveals that among the shredded bedding is an Aeon priest robe and several fragments of womens clothing (presumably those of the Queen). None of them seem to have blood on them, but they have clearly been chewed on and clawed at during the construction of the nest.
Examining the wardrobe, they find a terrified, half-naked Aeon priest, who identifies himself as the missing priest they have been looking for. He is very quick to explain that the bandit snuck up on him as he was setting up the device and demanded he take of his robe to show he wasn’t hiding anything. He was prepared for the worst when suddenly the raster burst in and slew the bandit with their beams of force. He dived into the wardrobe for protection and prayed the rasters would either leave or help would arrive. Players trying to determine the truth of his tale that beat a level 4 difficulty know that it is a mix of truth and half-truth. Bringing up any accusations of lying or impropriety sends the priest flushing red, but he admits to nothing and merely says that, as a token of his gratitude for saving him, the players are welcome to have all the items he carries on his person, if they wish to retrieve them from his robes. He carries 3 random cyphers and 2 oddities. He doesn’t want to wear his soiled, ruined robes and asks the players to fetch him some clothing, perhaps from the servants quarters.
The players are given three devices by the priests and told that they need to be placed in three specific locations. The first is somewhere high in the East-side ports, a mast of a ship would do nicely. The second is on the bell tower of hall in the North-most market square. The final one is in the South-most edge of the canal docks. While there are no towers there, there are several loading arms that might be suitable, or a flagpole nearby that will do as long as the device can be safely secured in place. When all the devices are activated, a machine back at the priests enclave will start processing the data and display it on a panel there for them to interpret.
Several challenges with climbing ensue. The mast is a difficulty 2 to climb, the belltower can be reached by stairs, but climbing on top of the spire above it is a difficulty 3 task. The loading arms are a difficulty 3 task to climb and the flag pole is a difficulty 4.
Returning to the priests, the players discover that the source of the phasing is some kind of energy transmission from a large warehouse on the Southern docks. Finding the warehouse is easy with the directions generated by the Aeon priests machine and inside, they find it is full of crates, some very large. In the largest crate is an ancient looking stone cuboctahedron (a polyhedron with eight triangular faces and six square faces) that has strange lines and symbols all over it and is approximately 6ft high. The crate looks slightly damaged on the bottom as if it was dropped and is marked on the side in stenciled Truth that it is due to be shipped out to the Salted Marshes.
A numenera task of difficulty 4 identifies that the device can be disabled by very gentle force, such as swaying, stroking or rubbing, and that strong forces such as kicks, being dropped or having projectiles fired at it activate it up to a radius of almost a mile at maximum range, depending on the intensity of the force. The device will shut itself off after the power it gained from the force of the drop is used up in a few days.
Deactivating the artifact instantly phases back in the whole population of the city.
If the players un-phased the city it is very quickly apparent that the inhabitants were merely invisible and insubstantial, but could sense everything going on. If they didn’t do anything illegal, such as looting or doing anything untoward in the palace, they are summoned by the King and Queen along with the Aeon priests and thanked for their service to Nebalich, being granted a boon or favour from the King. If they they did do anything bad, they are still summoned but not treated nearly as nicely and are told they will be pardoned for their crimes, unless those crimes involved defiling or stealing anything from the palace, especially the bedchambers of the King and Queen.
The priest that went missing is found and immediately executed and the Queen seems fully behind the execution of her once close friend. No explanation is given beyond ‘crimes against the crown’.
If the city is not un-phased, the players are begged by the priests to stay and try to defend the city against the outside world until the priests can find a solution. Eventually the city un-phases by itself after 42 hours.