"I told you, there's something down there," said Rickard testily.

"And I told you to stop making so much racket you'll scare the fish," said Alum. He accepted the jug of sweet beer from Young Thomas, and took a long pull before prodding Rickard in the side and handing it on to him.

They'd all three risen when it was still dark, and not for the first time Alum wished they hadn't bothered. The morning had been cold, the last fingers of Winter making his hip ache. Dawn was still struggling to drag itself above the horizon, and he didn't blame it. Still, the early morning was the best time to catch the largemouth bass, and it took the better part of an hour to row out to the deeper waters east of Culwich, so an early bed and early rise it was. Rickard was still staring over the side into the water, his rod unattended in the rowlock on his side.

"The lake'll have that rod away if you don't keep hold of it," observed Young Thomas. The name was forty years old now, and entirely inappropriate for a man in his fifties with white hair and beard, but the nickname had stuck long ago, become something of a joke. Rickard muttered and grumbled under his breath, but put one hand on the rod as he drank. In that moment for no particular reason Alum was struck with a sudden rush of affection for his two old friends, he smiled into his beard, and when Thomas asked him what was so funny he just shook his head, still smiling.

"Let's not argue," he said instead, as Rickard passed the beer back to Young Thomas, completing the circuit. "The seneschal wants fresh fish for the feast tonight, and I've risked our reputation in the promise that we can deliver it. You know she doesn't take stuff like that lightly."

"Varushkans are like that," said Rickard.

"She's as Dawnish as you or me," said Young Thomas, shooting his companion a dark look. "Whichever side of the forest she was born on."

There was an awkward silence, and then Rickard leant forward suddenly, causing the little boat to rock suddenly.

"There it is again!" he said, wonder in his voice. "I think there's something metal down there. Mithril, maybe. Or ilium!"

"In these waters? I don't think so." Alum was skeptical, but Rickard would not be dissuaded.

"I think it is! The dawn light is coming in at just the right angle to make it glint, or something. I'm telling you it's ilium! Imagine what the seneschal will say if we turn up with a lump of lake-silver for the banquet! She can hardly complain about bigmouthed bass when we have star metal!"

"Sit down!" snapped Alum, reaching to grab Rickard by his belt. The boat rocked again, and suddenly there was a sharp jerk on Alum's line. Then another. The reel began to sing, and he had to take hold of the rod to stop it being dragged out of his grasp.

"I've got one!" he shouted. "And it's a big one! Thomas, grab the net, man!"

He stood up, balancing as the boat rocked again, and focused all his attention on the battle of wits between man and fish. It quickly became clear he had a wily customer on the hook.

"It is a big one," said Thomas in awe. "I'll need the big net. Rickard, pass us the big net over!"

Rickard didn't hand him the big net, and didn't answer. Suddenly Alum's line went slack. It hadn't snapped, there was just no tension on it. Alum stumbled back, nearly overbalanced, but Young Thomas caught him by the arm just in time and helped him get his footing as the little boat pitched and yawed dangerously.

"Rickard?" Said Young Thomas again. But there were only two of them in the boat, and no sign of their friend. The water was smooth as far as they could see, dark and clear, and empty of movement.

"Rickard?" said Alum again, and then shouted the name, his voice cracking with worry. But the lake drank his voice, and there was no answer.
A great freshwater lake with hidden depths
The Semmerlak and environs.
Click for audio version


This long Winter has seen not one but two grand construction projects conclude in Varushka. While the Blood Red Roads are being slowly dismantled by brambles and weeds, the Iron Roads have finally been completed, linking almost every major settlement in the nation. Work has also finished on Kostjyas Respite, the new port-town on the northern shores of the Semmerlak. Both projects promise to bring great Prosperity to the Varushkan people - and potentially their neighbours in Dawn and the League as well.

Unfortunately, grand construction projects are not the only things taking place beneath the trees and along the shores of Varushka. The monsters are also on the rise, and as the Spring Equinox approaches it becomes clear that one of the awakening sovereigns has a particular interest in the Semmerlak, and Kostjyas Respite.

Kostjyas Respite

  • Work on the new port on the Semmerlak, Kostjyas Respote, has been completed
  • Civil Servants are collecting proposals to improve the prosperity of Karov, Weirwater, Karsk, Semmerholm, and potentially Holberg
  • Taxation has increased in all six territories neighbouring the Semmerlak except Holberg

There is a new port on the Semmerlak. Kostjyas Respite was commissioned by the eponymous stzena, using an Imperial Wayleave. The first Merchant Boyar of the Bittershore is due to be appointed by Varushkan mine and forest owners during the Spring Equinox, ready to take advantage of the trade opportunities offered by the port. With the docks opened, the region of Bittershore is no longer under-developed, and with new ways to import building materials effectively the ability of Ossium to build new structures is now on par with the rest of the Empire (there is no additional cost in labour to commission things in Ossium).

Kostjyas Respite is well on the way to being the largest port on the Semmerlak, but there's certainly possibilities for Dawn and the League to follow suit if they wish - or for the Varushkans to further increase the size of the ports at Ivarsgard, and perhaps even Korotny. The civil service are already putting together proposals that might build on the success of Kostjyas Respite and benefit Semmerholm, Weirwater, Karov, and Karsk. It might even be possible to create a similar dock in Misericorde or Utterlund, allowing the wealth of Holberg to spread across the Semmerlak.

Even without additional building, the new port causes an economic boom along the shores of the great lake - or the freshwater sea depending how one looks at it. The taxation of every Imperial territory bordering the Semmerlak has been raised by 5 thrones a season for as long as the port remains open. Every Imperial territory except Holberg, unfortunately. The Sand Fishers control Misericorde and their ability to take advantage of new trade opportunities with Varushka are quite limited.

Unfortunately, the increase in water trade across the Semmerlak seems to have attracted attention, and in the worst possible way.

Dark and Lonely Water

  • Dho'uala stirs in the depths of the Semmerlak
  • Ships in Dawn, Varushka, and Holberg bring strange, dark tales of activity around the lake

It doesn't start with people disappearing, but that's where it ends up, Arguably, it may have started almost a year ago when the magical storm raged across the Empire and by all accounts churned things up from the bottom of the Semmerlak. Nikolovich Drakov reminded Varushkans that the Semmerlak is not to be trusted, and that they should leave any unexpected treasures for the lake to reclaim. Dawnish beachcombers on the other hand were happy to take advantage of the unexpected bounty from the watery depths. Most of the flotsam took the form of ingots of metal, or the occasional piece of jewelry. However there are reports of objects found on the beaches of Weirwater and Semmerholm bearing curses which caused those foolish enough to claim them to become unhealthily obsessed with the item, or seek to immerse themselves in the Semmerlak with tragic results.

In the months since, there have been other odd stories filtering into the wider Empire from communities along the Semmerlak. Odd lights seen in the depths of the lake on moonless nights. Weird things dredged up in fishing nets that scream with human voices, or bear aberrant alterations that mark them as fundamentally unwholesome. Fishing nets being torn apart, their catch lost. Fishing lines catching on something strong enough to wrench a rod out of the anglers hand. Odd knocking sounds at twilight, as if something below the waterline is knocking against the hull of a vessel as it makes its way across the lake. Even in Dawn, parents begin to caution their children about swimming in the lake.

And then people start to disappear. As work on Kostjyas Respite comes to a conclusion, the first stories of folk vanishing on the Semmerlak begin to circulate in the ports of Korotny, Ivarsgard, and Lacre. An angler fails to return home. A sailor spots something in the water, and despite the cries of their fellows dives overboard to get it, never to be seen again. The captain of a small trader out of Holberg report how two new crew members started throwing armfuls of goods overboard shortly after their ship left port, and when challenged by their incredulous crewmates, leapt into the water and disappeared. On foggy nights, voices beautiful and horrifying call out from the mist and nobody foolish enough to seek their source returns. A lone watchman on the deck of a vessel, late for its berth at Ivarsgard, abandons their post and cannot be found anywhere on the little ship. A sailor slipping and falling overboard never resurfaces, and nobody wants to dive in to look for them. Small trade goods, especially valuable items such as ingots, measures. jewellery, and herbs, disappearing from a ship's hold with no sign of pilfering from the crew. A Sand Fisher fishing raft disappears without a trace, save for the splintered head of a fishing spear found embedded in the beach of Misericorde. A crew returning to a ship they thought moored safely at the little docks of Lacre discover the first-mate has vanished, and there are wet footprints gently drying on the deck. The rowing boat of an amateur treasure hunter from Holberg is found upside down in the reeds not far from Culwich.

Then, as people are making preparations to begin the long trek to Anvil, every living soul aboard the Lady Celementine disappears. The Dawnish trading vessel is found drifting in the waters near Kostjyas Respite. There is no sign of the sixteen crew and the five passengers - a small group of knights-errant heading out to explore the twisted woods - known to be aboard. There are no signs of violence, no blood splashes, no severed limbs. Venturing below decks, however, Everything is soaking, as if the ship has been turned over in the water for a week, but with no sign of any damage to the hull (and the ship was fine when it left Lacre two days earlier). Explorers splash through ankle-deep water, to find that the hold is empty despite a ship's manifest that claims the Lady Celementine was transporting Dawnish silk, wine and bread from Astolat, and spear-tips to sell to the fortified barracks in Nearwald. The sodden log book is found in the Captain's cabin, unintelligible except for the final entry claiming that one of the crew had reported "something glinting in the lake, like gold in sunlight, or a watching eye"

The militia called in to explore the scene are at a loss, but the magistrates take counsel with the wise ones of Kostjyas Respite. "'Dho'ulla will take her due," they say, shaking their heads. "Let us hope she is satisfied now."

Dho'uala's Tithe - Fleets

  • Fleets belonging to Dawnish, Varushkan, and Holberg characters have a -1 penalty to their production while the disturbances continue

Dho'uala is not satisfied, and will continue to extract her tithe. Given the Semmerlak is the most accessible body of water for Dawnish, Varushkan, and Holberg fleets, this may prove to be a problem. Going forward, every fleet in Dawn, Varushka, or Holberg will take a -1 penalty to its production. This can represent a number of things; dread of the lake discouraging crew from serving on a ship, disappearing crew members, or goods stolen from the hold in the night as the ship traverses the Semmerlak or the nearby rivers.

There are plenty of mercenaries, sell-swords, and wardens prepared to protect ships against the dangers of the lake but they do little to alleviate this penalty. Firstly, such additional protection does not come cheap (represented by reduced ranks), but more importantly most soldiers are out of their element aboard ships. Vessels aren't being attacked by hordes of monsters that can be fought off; they are being stalked by stealthy predators who strike the moment the Vigilance of their prey wavers for even an instant then disappear back into the depths of the lake.

Likewise, there is no enemy for warships to fight here. No giant monsters to be faced with harpoon and Courageous hearts. Indeed, the more fleets there are on the Semmerlak, the more targets there are for Dho'uala and her servants to prey upon.

Any Dawnish, Varushkan, or Holberg character is free to create their own eerie tales of brushes with the terror of the Semmerlak. The examples given above should provide enough inspiration for a ghostly tale; these are no incidents of glorious battles on the deck of a ship or hordes of horrors clawing up the side of the hull. Rather they are spooky encounters, weird lights, strange disappearances, feelings of being watched, and odd things seen in the depths.

Dho'uala's Tithe - Ports

The creatures of the Semmerlak - and whatever else is going on here - do not restrict their attentions to Imperial fleets. Traders from the Sarcophan Delves visiting Ivarsgard to trade with the Custodian of the Docks there have stories of their own, and are clearly a little spooked. "We're used to dealing with sharks and ghosts," says one worried captain. "Whatever is going on here is something else." The Sarcophan vessels are a little leery about making the journey, and regretfully they are going to need to increase the prices they are charging for Cerulean Mazzarine by about a fifth or else avoid the Semmerlak entirely until the situation is dealt with. This won't effect the deals with the Ketzov Mir Mozga; when they hear of the trouble in the Semmerlak, the newly-established Ketsov of Karsk reportedly shrug and say "That sounds like a southerner's problem; we stay away from the lake." It's easy to see why their neighbours do not like them.

The recently established Harbourmaster of the Semmerlak is also affected. The trade in weirwood continues unabated; most of it comes from within Varushka itself, or is brought north from Weirwater. While Dawnish traders may be loathe to trust their precious cargo to ships for the time being, the road up past Sentinel's Folly is still open. Unfortunately, with unpleasant things afoot in the depths of the Semmerlak, with nets being torn, and fisherfolk worried that if they stray too far from shore they may never return, there is a lot less ilium available to buy and the price has gone up.

The one place that hasn't been especially impacted so far is Kostjyas Respite itself. So far. The first Merchant Boyar of the Bittershore is due to be appointed by Varushkan mine and forest owners at the Spring Equinox, and so far the only ship berthed at the Respite or trading in its vicinity to be affected by the disturbances is the Lady Clementine. There's no guarantee that will continue to be the case, however.


  • Flooding in Ossium has died down thanks to the intervention of Varushkan heroes
  • A month before the Winter Solstice there is extensive flooding near Semmer's Rose in Semmerholm
  • Beaver-like monsters attempted to dam the Ulvenwater but were dealt with my local knights from House Tamerlaine

There's an odd story drifting out of Varushka that has nothing to do with the Semmerlak as such, but there's a nagging suspicion it might not be unconnected. This story claims that a band of Varushkan heroes used the Sentinel Gate during the Winter Solstice to investigate flooding in Ossium, and found creatures that might best be described as "awful dire beaver horrors" trying to dam the Lanit River near where it empties into the lake in Nearwald. They were dealt with before they could start building their dam and risk widespread damage not only in the Nearwald forest but potentially to the town of Lanit and the marshes of the Drownbark Forest, depending on how long they'd been allowed to continue. Sensible people either raise their eyebrows at another tale of the weird monsters of Varushka, or scoff at the notion of giant beavers being a threat of any kind.

Then, a little over a month before the Spring Equinox, a particularly high tide leads to flooding near Semmer's Rose on the north banks of the Ulvenwater Estuary. Investigation discovers that the white granite bridge that crosses the Ulvenwater south of the town has been extensively blocked by trunks and branches, and that two dozen "awful dire beaver horrors" are hard at work expanding - and protecting - the dam. A call goes out for assistance - the beavers may look slightly comical but the same toothsome jaws that can tear down a tree can rip through a lightly armoured yeofolk, and with the aid of knights from House Tamerlaine the threat is dealt with. The dam is dismantled with minimal damage to the bridge and the waters recede - but it's clear that what happened in Ossium is not an isolated incident.

Participation: if you are a member of House Tamerlaine, you're encouraged to create a story of how you helped deal with the beaver threat. The creatures are large and hard to kill, with vicious jaws and vicious claws, and the fact they prefer the flooded, marshy ground near the river makes it dangerous to engage them in melee.

Dreams of Weasels

  • According to dream weasels, something related to the disturbances in the Semmerlak will happen at Anvil during the Spring Equinox Summit
  • The weasels indicate it will happen during the Hour of Smoke - between nine and ten o'clock - on Saturday
  • The weasels themselves are not coming to Anvil

Since the consecration of the Maze of Zoriah with true liao, pilgrims visiting that sacred site in Mieriada have been reporting very peculiar dreams. The Guardian and those who spend time working to support the Maze find their sleep is interrupted by bouts of lucid dreaming. In these dreams, they are walking in the maze, attended by the birds and other animals that dwell there, and the animals speak to them. Most of the dreams are nonsense, but some are considerably darker, and touch on the various sovereigns, particularly the most powerful ones that are capable of extending their influence beyond their vale to reach across Varushka. These dreams are invariably recorded, and in the months after the Winter Solstice, a particular thread has emerged that seems to be connected to Dho'uala and the Semmerlak.

Each of these dreams involves a weasel or otter, that warns the dreamer that Dho'uala is roused from her slumber. She seeks vengeance on those who have stolen from her, and those who have forgotten to show her the respect she is due. Something related to the disturbances in the Semmerlak will happen during the Spring Equinox summit, not on the shores of the lake but in Anvil. The sky looks the same way in each of these visions - draped in the twilight of late evening, and the little dream animals all use the same term "the Hour of Smoke when talking about... whatever it is that is going to happen. This is a term familiar to some stzena as a fanciful way of talking about the period between nine o'clock and ten o'clock when the family puts extra logs in the hearth to see them through the night, and sends clouds of smoke roaring up the chimney.

Participation: If you are dedicated to Wisdom, and likely to have spent time at the Maze of Zoria during downtime, you are welcome to say you have had one of these odd dreams. In each case, the meat of the dream is the same - a warning that the sovereign of the Semmerlak is roused and annoyed, and something related to the Semmerlak will happen at Anvil during the Hour of Smoke (or a similar poetic description of the hour between nine and ten on a Spring evening). You can create other details as you see fit - the dreams themselves are as individual as the dreamers. If your character has a particular small animal or bird they feel an affection for, it is perfectly fine to change what creature has delivered the message - weasels and otters just seem to be the most common creatures for some reason.

Further Reading