Upon returning to Septia, Nero found her personal fortunes significantly diminished. While he had been successful in his counter espionage efforts, payment from Lord Colovius for those efforts might be long in coming for the lord was leading his soldiers in the field to lift the siege on Errana and it would be months before he was in a position to take his claim to the lord assuming the blessed lord survived the conflict at all. A disturbing possibility, as covert service by it’s very nature is often poorly documented, it was highly questionable if the lords family and heirs would be able to verify and honor the debt. Worse he’d gone out of pocket to bribe the Plague knight and while he was reasonably hopeful the lord would reimburse him his family very likely would not.
In the meantime his noble born wife was trying to maintain respectable appearances and social standing in their palatial new home (mostly purchased on credit). If his new family was to avoid the humiliation of public poverty, or begging his father in law for money, Nero would need an almost immediate infusion of cash.
Fortunately his wife, ever seeking social connection had a potential solution. She knew a distant cousin by marriage of the exalted lord Novinia who feared there would be action taken against her soon and wanted a capable man for protection as her own husband was well into his dotage. One potential snag however, there was a teensy possibility that the people she’d need protection from was the Seekers of the Arcane Council who are tasked with enforcing imperial law as it pertains to spell casters within the empire.
Undaunted and desperate Nero took the job and persuaded his faithful companions to come with him. The journey was short and uneventful but upon arriving they learned the seeker had arrived before them and was beginning his investigation. It turned out he’d been called because servants and farm hands from around the estate had been vanishing and the local serfs and peasants had pointed the finger at the lady and lord of the house as being heretical unbound spell casters.
With careful investigation the party discovered that deep beneath the manor house was an elaborate alchemical laboratory where the missing victims and a number of animals had been subjected to exposure to a strange substance that had warped and mutated them into terrifying abominations. Including a mouse who’s front paws had warped in crab claws and eyes now extended on stalks from its sockets.
There also was a massive metal sarcophagus with pipes and tubes pumping the strange substance into it and something VERY strong banging on the inside attempting to escape. The ranger Kinitas horrified at the unnatural creatures destroyed all the lab experiments except the crab mouse which was keep by Gaius as a pet.
Confronted with what they’d discovered the lady upped her payout offer and the party was given an alchemically animated head, and enough alchemical apparatus to frame someone for her crimes. After due consideration they decided to frame her steward. Hiding the head in his chambers and setting up a decoy laboratory in a cave near the estate. They then had a party member seduce the steward then killed him under an accusation of rape.
They then stood back and allowed the head and lab to be discovered in the follow investigation in the wake of the killing. The seeker seemed to accept the narrative but was concerned by the animated head. By imperial law he couldn’t take it into the an imperial city and so sent for an expert from the council to evaluate it.
Before the expert could arrive however someone slipped into the seekers bedchamber and murdered him in the night.
The expert upon examination declared that the head had been animated with Dallonite a mysterious new substance the Empire and council jealously controlled the only source of. It’s presence here indicated a hole in their security and so they send for the high seeker and began preparations exhume and question the body of the steward who his source was.
They were surprisingly unconcerned about the assassination, as such things had become depressingly common since the onset of the civil war. The party desperately needed to keep the body from being questioned as it would rapidly destroy their narrative. So Mortases and the lady worked late in the lab cooking up an alchemical solvent that would destroy the body completely. Then in the late hours of the night under a hat of disguise they exhumed destroyed and reburied the body.
The next morning the seekers had the exhumation carried out and were angry to discover the body had completely decomposed in the short time it was underground. Stymied they opted to wait for the high seeker.
Upon his arrival, the high seeker Dallon Lyceren arrived and began his rambling cordial questioning of the party. Despite his apparent distraction he noticed everything and swiftly deduced the rest. Taking Martases aside he explained that, as these murders were alchemical and magical in nature they did not fall within the purview of council justice. More over he, as the high seeker, really didn’t care about murdered peasants on the ass end of the empire. What he did care about was the breach in his security, he was going to find it and plug it, and strongly suggested that Mortases should provide him with the name of person who sold them the dallonite crystal.
Mortases, eager to avoid being mindraped and destroyed went to Nero and the lady and explained that snitching was probably the only way to live through this. The lady reluctantly consented and gave the name of a man with connections to the council and blessed officers in the legions but not much money to speak of.
True to his word the high seeker took the name, closed the council investigation, and left them in peace. The party turned for home triumphant but were disturbed in their travels when the skies above them were darkened by the wings of vast swarms of locusts arising just in time to destroy the budding spring planting…