You're starting to wonder about the balance between cost and benefit. A business deal is often no less dependent on faith than a visit to church, and it's not always easy to be a believer. You've got to believe that whatever you gain from an exchange is greater than what it costs you. That cost might be time, pain or effort. It might be smiling politely while you ingratiate yourself with repulsive people, or it might be dirtying your hands with the kind of stain that doesn't wash off. There are always costs.But the reward at the end has to be worth the cost, or there's no point at all to any of it.Right now, Bishop Faraday is playing his cards close to his chest. If you want access to the thousand year mirror in his possession, you're going to have to do him a little favour. If you want to unlock the secrets that Ibn'ah the Exile hid away in a secret Zenith observatory, you're going to have to get access to a thousand year mirror. Right now, you don't know what the costs are going to be, and you're not even certain what the benefit might be. All you have is faith, a gut instinct that everything will pay off in the end.There is one hint, though, as to what Faraday might want from you. In his message, he asks that you meet with him alone.So whatever it is, it's nothing good.
>>3063309>Twitter: https://twitter.com/MolochQM>Previous: http://suptg.thisisnotatrueending.com/qstarchive.html?tags=Into%20the%20Skies>Airship combat rules: https://pastebin.com/DTLDheZ6The moment you set eyes on Bishop Faraday, though, your attitude changes. His previously calm face is now seamed with stress, his vivid blue eyes clouded with the shadow of uncertainty. He's young, for a bishop of the church, and he looks younger than ever now. Right away, you form a theory – this favour isn't for his benefit, someone else is leaning on him and now he has little choice but to lean on you. Such is life, you suppose.“Here I am, alone as requested,” you tell him, sitting down in the chair he indicates. This is the first time you're seeing his office, and it's reassuringly normal. A few oil paintings of what seem to be family members, a thick rug underfoot, the smell of incense dancing at the edge of your perception...“Yes, so I see. What I tell you now, I will not demand that you share it with nobody at all. I merely want you to keep it from escaping into the public. Tell only those who you trust,” Faraday begins, “In return for allowing you access to the thousand year mirror, I'm going to have you to recover another item for us. A number of items, actually, all stolen from Senesca a number of years ago, and recovering them has not been... easy for us. I am told that you're good at finding things.”“Not always in one piece,” you admit, “But yes, I'd say so. Go on, give me the full details.”“I've prepared a file with the full story, but I'll outline the key facts for you now,” the bishop replies, “The items are mainly devotional texts, along with a sacred church bell. They were taken by a member of the church, and brought to an isolated village where we believe they still rest. A kind of... cult has built up around them, although we do not believe this cult to be explicitly dangerous. However, trying to retrieve the lost items could provoke a hostile reaction from them. You see now, the situation we're in.”“You can't get them back without dirtying your hands,” you agree, “Good thing you've got a freelancer on hand.”“Very good,” Faraday agrees drily, “As I said, I've prepared a file. It's next door, in the reading room. I must ask that you refrain from taking it away with you, owing to matters of secrecy. Take as long as you need – these items have been lost for several years already, another few days will hardly matter much. Come and find me again when you've reached your decision... unless you've already made up your mind?”The job sounds easy enough, but they always do. Maybe the others will have something to add.>Give Faraday your decision>Bring Faraday's offer back to the crew for discussion>Visit the reading room to study the full report>Ask a question while you're here... (Write in)>Other
>>3063311>Visit the reading room to study the full reportThen>Bring Faraday's offer back to the crew for discussion
>>3063311>So why not just establish a Church where the cult is? Surely you can do all your reading and studying with them?>Visit the reading room to study the full report
>>3063311>>Visit the reading room to study the full report
<3 moloch>>3063311>>Visit the reading room to study the full report
>>3063311>Agree on the spotRECKLESS
You might as well get the full picture before making your decision, both the official facts that the church is prepared to share with you and how your crew interprets those facts. Then, and only then, you can decide your next move. “The reading room next door, was it?” you ask Faraday, “I'll be sure to check that out. One question I had, though. If this cult isn't hostile to you, why don't you move out there to join them? You could do some group reading, maybe start a discussion circle...”Your question doesn't amuse Faraday in the slightest. “While it is true that they are not hostile, we're unwilling to do anything that might provoke them. We have, in fact, made cautious attempts to approach them in the past – our attempts were politely, but firmly, rebuked,” he explains, “The group seems intent on pursuing a policy of isolation. We would be content to leave them be, if not for the items in their possession. New books can always be printed, but certain other items... The details are all written down.”Leaving it at that, Faraday bows his head in a solemn farewell. Feeling strangely unsettled by the whole exchange, you let the matter rest and head next door. The reading room is small and neat, warmer than you expected, with a single chair set out in front of the writing desk. Atop that desk, a lone folder has been left for you. Sitting down, you flip it open and look down at the first page.“Jeremiah D'aubigny,” you mutter to yourself as you study the Imago pinned to the page. It shows a man, about middle-age with a neat beard and hair. To judge by his expression, you'd sooner consider him a soldier than a churchman. According to the file, D'aubigny was a provost of the church for some time, mostly operating down in Nadir. He was a hunter, to be blunt, known for his ability in tracking down those who attacked priests or missionaries. After his superiors grew concerned about what they saw as a growing instability, D'aubigny was called back to the lands above. After spending some time in Zenith – meditating, the file claims – he took up a quiet position in Senesca. An unremarkable job, by all accounts.Then, seemingly without any prompting, D'aubigny stole a number of church items and fled Senesca accompanied by a group of lesser churchmen. Tracked to a small village in the northern hills, and the file includes precise coordinates of this, he seemed to settle down there. The file mentions the church's initial attempts at communicating with him, just as Faraday described, but then there is something new. After official attempts at communication failed, the church sent an agent to infiltrate D'aubigny's group. By all accounts the attempt was successful, and for a while the agent was able to sent out brief updates.Until, one day, they fell silent.[1/2]
>>3063336For your convenience, the file includes copies of all the agent's updates. Flicking through them, you soon find that there isn't much to learn from them. Most of them contain the same general message - “no significant change”. Even when something does change, the news is unremarkable. Talk of a new arrival at the village, or something equally mundane. Overall, you're left wondering why they bothered to send reports at all.But maybe the others can find something you can't. A fresh pair of eyes can hardly go amiss.-Back at the guest house, you gather everyone together in the hushed tearoom and relay what the file said. You'll admit to cheating a little – you didn't take the file with you, as Faraday requested, but you did write down some notes of your own. Just to make sure that you don't forget anything important, of course. As you tell the story, you envision it in your own mind. A quiet, isolated village where D'aubigny preached about a coming miracle – a revelation from god, he called it, that would transform the world. His followers accepted every word without argument, taking the esoteric sermons as the absolute truth. A community without dissent or disagreement, all centred around one man.“I dinnae understand this,” Keziah sighs, “All this, and what they really want to get back is some prayer bell?”“I would expect that it has some abnormal properties,” Grace suggests, pinching her brow as she thinks, “Something that the church would rather get back. Do correct me if I'm wrong, captain, but is it not the case that the church is pursuing research into these Abrahad weapons... items, I should say.”“Captain, can I have a word outside?” Freddy asks, nodding towards the door. Excusing yourself, you follow her out and gesture for her to continue. “These reports you mentioned, I think they might be a kind of code. Informal, much like the cipher Faulkner and Carter used,” she explains quickly, “Which is difficult. We have no real way of understanding what they messages really mean. When they said... what was it? Sarah was sick today, that message could mean that someone was killed or punished for disobedience. They could mean anything.”That would make more sense than the reporting of utterly mundane events, but you get the feeling that Freddy isn't telling you everything. When you gesture for her to continue, she frowns a little. “I don't like to raise a theory like this, with no proof at all, but...” she mutters, “The way the church is standing by and observing this group, it makes me think of some kind of test.”“A test?” you repeat. If she's suggesting what you think she's suggesting...“An experiment,” Freddy confirms, her expression growing dark.[2/3]
>>3063354Oh boy, Pierrot #2 here we come.
>>3063354When you return to the group, you clear your throat to get their attention. “The way I see it, we have a number of paths ahead of us,” you begin, “First of all, we agree to the church's deal and recover this prayer bell. We bring it back, we get access to a thousand year mirror, everyone is happy. Second of all, we refuse the church's deal and go searching for a new thousand year mirror – the one down in Nadir would be the easiest one to find, presuming it hasn't been stolen or broken over these long years. Anything else?”“We retrieve this bell thing, then keep it for ourselves and go after the Nadir mirror,” Caliban suggests, “I don't know why, captain, but I don't feel very good about this little deal of theirs. I feel like we're just playing a part in some larger game. Safer for everyone if we keep it for ourselves.”“Steal it for ourselves, you mean,” Gunny counters, “That's dangerous stuff, brother. The way we are now, we're friends of the church. What you're suggesting could blow all our hard work out of the air.”“If they find out about it,” the hunter points out.“You two, enough,” you warn, gesturing for both men to settle down, “Does anyone else have anything to suggest?”“Walking away,” Freddy offers, “This whole thing seems like trouble to me, and we're just getting further and further away from our actual goal. For all we know, the church could just be leading us on for their own benefit.” Shaking her head, she gestures for Blessings – who looks unhappy with the suggestion – to relax. “I'm just saying that we can't discount the possibility,” she concludes, “Captain, it's your call. We'll follow your orders.”The rest of the crew murmur agreement to this, leaving the final decision with you.>Agree to the church's deal and recover the prayer bell>Reject the church's deal and focus on finding the Nadir mirror>Reject the church's deal, but recover the prayer bell for yourself>Walk away from the deal and return to your main mission>Other
>>3063373>Reject the church's deal and focus on finding the Nadir mirror
>>3063373>Reject the church's deal, but recover the prayer bell for yourselfthis reeks of Pierrot. If it turns out to be much less crazy, we can still give back the prayer bell and only look a LITTLE untrustworthy.
>>3063379If we aren't getting the mirror out of it, why take it?
>>3063382betting on the prayer bell actually doing something we can make use of.At the end of the day, we're lacking in god-bargaining options. If we can find something that controls mutations, gets us back into dreamoland, makes root gnawing without going insane possible, etc. We'd be one step closer to a better ending.
>>3063373They said we have several days. Let's try for Nadir mirror first before we decide yes or no on the bell retrieval.
>>3063373>Return, and tell the dear bishop that we can tell there's even more behind it, and that he is being pressured. Perhaps he doesn't know more, but you're sure someone else does. Tell him to pass "we don't want another pierrot" along.
>>3063391>>3063373+1This stinks something fierce. I'm curious about the bell but I don't have a good feeling about this.
Sinking back down into the overstuffed armchair, you think about the options laid out ahead of you. The more you think about it, the less you like the idea of cutting a deal with the church. It's not the deal itself that you dislike, but whatever might be doing on behind the scenes. If there is some larger scheme at play here, you could easily find yourself drawn into something unpleasant. If there's some alternative path ahead, you need to consider it.“We're in no hurry here. We can afford to take our time and approach this with caution,” you explain slowly, picking your words carefully, “If we go after the Nadir mirror now, then we might not need to take the church's deal. If the Nadir mirror has been destroyed or defiled in some way, then we still have an option to fall back on. Yes, I think that should work.”“And what about the bell?” Caliban asks, “What do you want to do about that?”“For now, we wait and see if we can find any new information. If we can get a better idea of what this bell is or what it does, we can decide how to approach it,” you reply, “According to the information Faraday provided, the cult is relatively stable. We leave it be, we shouldn't have any trouble.”“Well then, I suppose it's decided,” Grace sighs, “What are you going to tell Bishop Faraday?”Really, you feel sorry for the young bishop. He's not the one pulling the strings here, and he probably knows little more than you do. If there is some mastermind at the centre of all this, they're remaining in the shadows. “Stall for time, probably,” you tell her with a shrug, “I like to leave my options open.”-When you return to his office, you find Bishop Faraday reading on a low bench outside the manor. Closing his book with a soft thump, he rises to meet you and gestures for you to enter the manor. Shaking your head, you instead sit back down. “I'm afraid that I can't commit to this right now,” you begin, “This matter is more sensitive than it appears, and I think you know that.”Faraday pauses, then inclines his head slightly. “It's rare for the church to make these kind of deals, and to bring in outsiders like you,” he admits, “All I can do is relay the information that I've been given. As for my personal suspicions, I must agree with you – I feel like there are pieces missing from this puzzle. I don't blame you for wanting to tread carefully.”“One wrong step could lead to bloodshed,” you muse, “And the last thing I want is another Pierrot.” The words don't seem to mean anything to the young bishop, who raises a curious eyebrow in response. “Tell that to your superiors,” you urge him, “Those exact words. They will understand, I think.”“I always thought that this would be a simple post. Boring, even,” Faraday laments, “Now this. Trouble seems to follow you about, sir.”He doesn't know how right he is.[1/2]
>>3063429“Of course, I can't allow you access to the thousand year mirror without the direct permission of my superiors, and that permission is unlikely to come without any... results,” Faraday adds, his brow furrowing with genuine regret, “You knew this already, I presume, but I felt the need to be sure. Tell me something – you read the file, did you not? What did you make of it?”“It felt incomplete,” you reply, “I couldn't really get a clear idea of who Provost D'aubigny really was. Did you ever meet him?”“Once, and very briefly,” Faraday recalls, “He spoke little, and sternly. I never would have imagined him as they type to become the leader of his own sect. He seemed to be a man labouring under a terrible burden, although he had the strength to bear it. As for his motives, his aims or goals... as I said, he spoke little. Few people could really know what he was thinking. The report may be incomplete, but it has all the information we could give.”So he claims. Considering the infiltration reports, and their curious content, you're not sure if you believe that.“So,” the bishop concludes with a tiny shrug, “What will you do next?”Monotia perhaps, to use as a staging ground for your attempt at finding the Nadir mirror. You'll need to narrow down its precise location, but that should be easily enough done. There can't be that many convert villages in the Deep Forest, can there?Best not to tell Faraday that, at least. If he lets his superiors know that you're going after a second mirror, it could harm any bargain you might try to strike with them. So, aside from Nadir... the world is yours for the taking, at least figuratively speaking.>Head down to Monotia next>Pursue some other idea... (Write in)>Speak more with Faraday before you leave... (Write in)>Other
>>3063438>Tell him perhaps some light recon and research, but really head down to Monotia
>>3063438>>Head down to Monotia next
“I expect that I'll find something to do. Research, perhaps, or scouting out the land,” you reply vaguely, “There's always something to keep me busy, whether I like it or not.” Rising up from the bench, you dust yourself off and turn back towards the guest house. “You can contact me if anything changes here. The church has my radio, I'm sure,” you add, looking back over your shoulder, “I can't say if I'll be back any time soon, I'm afraid. Don't get too bored without me.”“No promises,” Faraday replies with a tired smile, “For now, enjoy what little Senesca has to offer you.”-You end up staying the night in Senesca, trusting the security of your lodgings despite your earlier misgivings. It's a quiet night, more quiet than you're used to, and the long hours of rest leave you feeling refreshed. Judging by how your crew look over breakfast, you're not the only one to appreciate some time off. This feels like the first chance to properly unwind since... since before the attack on Eishin's camp, certainly, and perhaps even longer than that. After breakfast, you ease the tension out of your body with a soak in a hot, scented bath, then it's back to work.“It was quieter than I remember,” Blessings muses as you're riding the carriage back to the Spirit of Helena, “When I was here with Aunt Miriam, I'm sure there were more people here. More, ah, more tourists I suppose.”“Maybe they should put the city back on the map,” you reply with a sluggish yawn, “That would be a good start, at least.” Blessings considers the idea for a long moment, then shrugs an ambivalent reply. “Listen, do you know where to find this convert village?” you ask bluntly, “If not, do you know who would? I figure someone down in Monotia has to know, but I don't know exactly who. Is there a bishop there or something?”“Err, well, not exactly. There should be a local head of the church, but not a bishop,” he explains slowly, “That's a fairly specific role, given to-”“Oh,” Branwen interrupts, leaning in, “We will be going to the Deep Forest? Good. I wanted to gather some herbs for the doctor. He said that if I brought him some samples, he would tell me an old story. That is how it should be done, the old tales passed from one to another.” She pauses here, looking at you with sharp eyes. “Something has unsettled you,” the young healer guesses, “There are herbs that help with that, to cloud the mind and bring restful sleep.”“Now now,” Grace sighs, giving the healer an indulgent smile, “Drugs aren't the answer.”A tiny bit hypocritical coming from her, perhaps.[1/2]
>>3063477The flight down to Monotia feels, as it always does, a little like returning home. Even before you've landed, though, you can tell that something isn't right – seen from the air, regions of the city looks blackened and pockmarked. The aerodrome is quiet as well, with only a few shabby traders sharing the dismal building with you. As Dwight releases the controls and leans back, he lets out a short laugh.“Looks just about normal to me, chief,” he remarks, “Saw the look on your face. You think something went down while we were away.”“I know something went down while we were away,” you correct him, “It seems like we missed all the drama, though. I don't hear any gunshots or explosions.” Glancing out of the observation window, you spot a uniformed soldier approaching your ship. Maybe you spoke too soon about that. Gesturing for Dwight to stay seated, you hurry down to meet the soldier. “Captain Vaandemere, of the Spirit of Helena,” you announce in greeting, “What's this about?”“Newly arriving ships need to be briefed on the current security situation,” the soldier replies crisply, not bothering to introduce himself, “There was an outbreak of violence, but we put it down soon enough. Until further notice, a curfew is in place – you won't be able to access the palace district after dark, and you'll see more soldiers patrolling the streets. No need to be alarmed, citizen, they're there for your protection.”“What's this about violence?” Caliban asks, appearing behind you and peering over your shoulder, “We didn't miss all of the fun, did we?”The soldier's face tightens a little at that – he likely doesn't share Caliban's idea of “fun” - but he makes no comment. “When the news of Eishin's defeat reached us, there were some riots. His loyalists throwing one last tantrum, that's all. There were a few fires, some that spread out of control, but the damage was contained,” he explains, “Seems like they mostly targeted Azimuth symbols – one of our guard stations was attacked, and one of them churches. At least they did one thing right...” Chuckling darkly to himself, the Iraklin soldier turns and hurries away. His schedule probably doesn't allow for much time spent gossiping.“Church got burned, huh?” Caliban muses, scratching at his scar, “That's not going to sit well with Gunny and the kid. You going to tell them?”>I'll tell them. They'll find out sooner or later, after all>No way. I don't need them getting distracted now>Other
>>3063524>I'll tell them. They'll find out sooner or later, after all
>>3063524>Yeah, might as well break it to them now. Can't be too bad, there are plenty of other churches out there.
>>3063524>>I'll tell them. They'll find out sooner or later, after all
>>3063534Depends if the priest and his flock were still inside or not.
“Yeah, I'd better tell them,” you sigh, “They'll find out sooner or later, after all. Could you find them both and bring them here? I'm going to see if I can the full story from someone.” Leaving Caliban to gather the two churchmen together, you hurry out and take a glance around the deserted aerodrome. The Guild office is still open, at least, and so you hurry across to speak with the clerk there. As expected, he has more information – but it isn't good.According to the Guild clerk, there had been a small gathering at the chapel when the violence broke out. When the mob started to converge near the church, the local priest confronted them with a plea for peace. A distraction, in other words, while his congregation fled to somewhere safe. As for the priest himself... you're told that there was enough left to identify him, but only just. With a heavy heart, you head back to the ship to join the two men.“Ah, captain, I was just thinking,” Blessings begins, “The best place to start, I think, would be the palace. Even before we founded our chapel here, the church has had a representative here. I don't mean to be too political about this, but I think it was to.. you know, to balance out the Iraklin presence here. I was thinking that we could-”“Hey,” Gunny interrupts quietly, immediately spotting the look on your face, “Maybe hold that thought, I think the boss has something to say.”Nodding your thanks, you take a moment to figure out how to start. “About that. The church, I mean,” you begin, “Apparently, there was some violence here in the aftermath of Eishin's defeat. Unrest, riots... that kind of thing. Eishin's remaining followers here in the city rising up in protest. Bad business all around. What I'm trying to say is, the chapel here got caught up in the violence. It was burned, and I've heard that the priest...”“No way!” Gunny groans, his reaction cutting off anything that Blessings could have said... although one look at the boy's ashen face is enough to tell you that he won't be saying anything for some time. Dark anger, the sort that you've not seen in quite some time, fills Gunny's eyes as he balls his hands into fists, but then Blessings surprises you. Grabbing Gunny by the arm, he cuts off the older man's protests before they can fully begin.“I... I think... the church's representative here will still meet with us,” the boy says quietly, closing his eyes tightly shut as he carefully forms the words, “Maybe not... straight away, but... yes. We should try, at least. That's all we can do.” Opening his eyes, then, he looks up and repeats those last words. “That's all we can do,” he breathes.“He's not wrong,” Caliban remarks from behind you, his voice as smooth as oil.[1/2]
>>3063572So, you head out to the palace. There doesn't seem like much else you can do, and it gives you something to focus on. Even though you're not much of a churchman, the weight of the attack seems to press down on you. Part of it, you think, is the idea of the priest sacrificing himself for the sake of his flock. If push came to shove, and you were put into that very same position, would you be able to do the same thing?You don't know.Gunny is still in a dark mood as you walk through the quiet streets, his head down and his fists balled. Caliban is silent, watching the streets around you for any sign of trouble. Blessings, by contrast, talks far more than you expected him to. Sticking to you like glue, he keeps up a continues stream of comments on this and that. “Freddy told me, you know, she told me that losses are inevitable in any war. That's what this is, isn't it? Well, maybe not now that Eishin is...” he pauses, looking away from you as he swipes at his face, “What IS going to happen to him, anyway?”“Taken out somewhere and shot,” Gunny mutters, “Shot until he STAYS shot.”“I hope that's right,” you agree, searching for any way to lighten the mood. Spotting a Carth-style teahouse ahead of you, you gesture towards it. “There's something else I wanted to tell you. Good news this time, or so I hope,” you add, “Come on, let's get off the streets and talk it over. There's nothing that a good drink can't fix, even if it IS tea.”-Perhaps because this is a slightly better area – an area with more armed guards, in other words – the teahouse was spared the worst of the violence. The uneasy looking girl working there serves you before scurrying away and leaving you in peace. Four glum men, all carrying visible weapons? You're surprised that she doesn't flee out the back door. Caliban excuses himself for a cigarette and so you bring up the subject of Dogma.“Okay, here goes,” you begin, “Dogma, as we understand him, is broken – fractured into several different minds. It... he... whatever. He's lashing out at any perceived danger, which includes us at the moment. With the power that the key fragments unlock, it might be possible to restore Dogma to his true form. What happens then... I'm not sure. What I'm saying is, there's a chance. What do you think?”“We bring Dogma back, he can wipe these bastards off the face of the land. That sounds good to me,” Gunny growls, ignoring his untouched mug of tea, “Eishin didn't do this, brother. The IDEA of Eishin did this. Pardon me for saying it, but some ideas need to swept away completely. If Dogma can do that, then I'm behind him all the way.”“Ah...” Blessings whispers, saying nothing more than that.Not quite the reaction you were hoping for.>You're wrong, Gunny. That kind of rule is dangerous for all of us>You're right, Gunny. We need that kind of power>I think... (Write in)>Other
>>3063611>I think you're still too worked up about the church. It's true that Dogma would prevent such acts, but the freedom that allows such evil to occur also provides the opportunity for similar acts of good. I was hoping there would be a way to merge Dogma and Impurity into a single complete being.
>>3063611>You're wrong, Gunny. That kind of rule is dangerous for all of usYou think the faith is hard to follow, dogma would make it pretty easy ether live 100% how he tells you to or dieHonestly helping ether of them dosnt look like a pretty good idea
>>3063611>You're wrong, Gunny. That kind of rule is dangerous for all of us"If you allow one idea to be wiped out you have to be prepared to lose even more than that for the sake of Dogma's 'safety'. Humans aren't perfect, but losing freedom of thought and choice isn't something I could stomach."
>>3063624I was of the same mind mybe that way it wouldnt be ether a free for all or living a jailed life but a happy midle.If they wont then fuck them distory them both.
>>3063634My only issue with destroying them is we'd lose a lot of the miracles and things that make this world unique (like flying islands, they might drop). It's selfish sure, but I don't really want the Into the Skies world to go mundane for a humanity fuck yeah ending. Just a personal opinion though.
“I think you're wrong, Gunny. That kind of rule would be dangerous for all of us. If you allow one idea to be wiped out, you'd better be prepared for a lot more to follow – all for the sake of Dogma's safety, not ours,” you argue, holding up a hand to stall his rebuttal, “People aren't perfect, but stripping them of their free will won't make things better. If you think it's hard to keep the faith now, just think about what it could be like – a system where you're a true believer, or you get removed from society.”“Ibn'ah was exiled,” Blessings offers slowly, “Grace told me about him. That's... I wouldn't want to be driven from my home like he was. Would you?”Gunny broods for a moment, staring down into his tea. “They burned a church, brother,” he mutters, “They killed the preacher! That's-”“That's a crime, yes, but I think you're getting too fixated on it. In a world ruled by Dogma, that kind of thing might not happen, but would there also be acts of great good or heroism? I'm not sure. Without Impurity's influence, there wouldn't be that kind of freedom to choose,” letting out a low sigh, you shake your head, “I just wish there was some way to unite the two, as some kind of... complete being.”This causes Blessings to blink. “Maybe there is,” he murmurs, “I mean, there has to be... right?”“Why?” Gunny snipes, “Because you want it real bad? Look brother, I ain't sure if I understand all of this talk of restoring gods or remaking the world, but when I see stuff like this going on... it makes me wonder what the hell we're doing, that's all. There's gotta be a better way than this, and Milos, brother, if you think you know what that is...” Hesitating, he takes his cooling tea and drinks half the cup in a single swallow. “Hell, I reckon you might be right,” he concludes, “At the very least, I owe you a chance to see it out. Just don't you mess it up, you hear?”“I'll do my best,” you assure him, “Now let's get back to work. We're not far from the palace.” Leaving a few coins to pay for your barely touched tea, you head out of the shop and look about for Caliban. It takes you a moment to find him lurking in a nearby alleyway, his eyes sharp with suspicion. “What's wrong?” you ask, immediately looking about for any signs of trouble, “Seen something you don't like?”“Maybe,” the hunter growls, “Thought I saw someone following us. Maybe nothing, though – bad sign, that, when you start jumping at shadows. Maybe I should see if Branwen can cook me up something nice.”“All things considered, I'd rather keep you alert,” you order, “Let me know if you see anything else. Hell, let me know if you get a bad feeling about anything.”“Sure,” he replies with a curt laugh, “How about I write you a list?”[1/2]
>>3063634I don't think we should murder them over a difference in opinion.
>>3063688The palace certainly has no shortage of armed guards patrolling the area, mainly Iraklin soldiers wearing dark red capes slung over one arm. A symbol of the Nadir royal family, you recall, used to indicate that the men are under the command of King Roegar. Usually there are Nadir guards about instead of these foreign men, but apparently the recent unrest has changed that. The locals were just a show, and now the real professionals have taken over. Despite everything, you feel more comfortable like this – you know how to work with Iraklin discipline.Although you don't really need to. Once you're shown inside the palace – along with an armed escort, of course – Blessings takes over. Feigning bluster, he hurries over to the gloomy looking clerk.“Now listen here!” he demands, channelling Miriam's spirit for one awful moment, “My name is Blessings Hawthorn, and I need to speak with the church's representative here. The chapel here – the Chapel that I raised funds for! - was attacked recently, and I... I was not informed of this outrage! I simply must have an explanation for this!”“Yes... yes sir,” the clerk stammers, bowing hurriedly before hurrying away. As soon as they're gone, Blessings sags like a puppet with their strings cut.“Oh, ah, I'm... I'm sorry about all that. Captain, sir, I... I thought that we might be kept waiting here if we tried being polite, so I thought about what Aunt Miriam would have done and...” wincing at his own performance, Blessings tugs out a handkerchief and mops at his damp brow, “Oh, I hope we don't get thrown out...” Straightening up abruptly as the sound of footsteps ring out, he turns to face the returning clerk.“Deacon Soteria will see you now,” the clerk pants, “Please, go. Down the corridor, and at the very last door. I apologise for the delay.”What delay?-Looking at him, you'd have to guess that Deacon Soteria has been living richly for far too long. Palace life must be treating him well, for him to be carrying so much extra weight. His hair is thick, almost certainly a wig, and his eyes have a watery gloss to them. He fits in well with his office, all thick fur rugs and lush curtains, and yet he still carries a vaguely uncomfortable air about him. When he speaks, though, his voice is surprisingly soft and musical.“A village of converts in the Deep Forest?” he asks quietly, “Yes, I know of it. If you wish it, I can provide you with its location. In fact, you've come at a convenient time. With everything that has happened here, I fear that they might have suffered... retaliation. It would put my mind at ease if you could travel there and check on them. We both stand to benefit from this, do we not?”It's a good start, but you're just waiting for the catch.[2/3]
>>3063764“If you give me their location, I can check on them for you,” you reply slowly, “Do you have a message you'd like me to bring?”“Oh, oh no, just checking on their welfare would be enough to set my mind at ease,” Soteria assures you, heaving himself out of his throne and searching through a stack of fat, leather-bound books. As he searches, you take another glance around the chamber. Hanging on one wall, surrounded by paintings and pictures of bland-faced churchmen, you spot a figure you recognise. Provost D'aubigny, looking wilder and fiercer than the “official” Imago you saw in his file. Before you can mention the picture, Soteria pulls out a book and returns to the desk. “We keep something of a... distant relationship. Part of that, of course, is their lack of a radio. No power out there, you understand?” he rambles, grunting softly as he sits, “And there are... differences in faith. Theirs is an old branch of the faith, a more savage interpretation about certain aspects of the church's teachings. Theirs is a true faith, of that I have no doubt, but... that can be a frightening thing, at times.”Nodding to yourself, you take the book he passes across to you. The village in question – Panagia, or so it is called – is marked clearly, and you copy the location down into your notebook. “Bad terrain around here,” you remark, “Is there a good place to land a skiff?”“I'm afraid not. That part of the forest is especially thick, like a shield protecting them from the depredations of their savage fellows,” Soteria explains, “But you look strong. You could likely reach it in two, perhaps three days of marching. Exercise is good, no? Although I rarely have the chance to get out myself...”That's his excuse.“Oh!” he yelps suddenly, looking around at Blessings, “We're getting distracted, aren't we? You came in with a complaint about the chapel, and-”“No no, I see now that you're, ah, you're not to blame. I apologise for losing my temper,” Blessings shakes his head hurriedly, “And for wasting your time. My business here is done. Captain, sir, are you...”>I'm finished, yes. Thank you for your help>There was something else... (Write in)>Other
>>3063808>There was something else... (Write in)"What can you tell me about this man? (referring to D'aubigny)
>>3063716But ist that what most fights haplen over.More like i wouldn't like the world ruled over by ether of them.I mean we could take tgat pwer for ourselves ether distroing them or absorbing them if they wont be nice to each other.
>>3063871I don't think we could take it for ourselves. Feanor did that and it didn't go well. It's beyond the capability of mortal men.
“There was something else, yes,” you reply, pointing up to the framed picture of D'aubigny, “Who is that man? He looks familiar, but I can't quite place it.” Privately, you wonder how honest the deacon will be with his answer. He doesn't seem much like the type to lie, but the best liars never do.“That, my friend, is an old associate of mine. Provost Jeremiah D'aubigny. He worked in Nadir for many years, doing work that... well, work that gentlemen ought not to speak of. This land is not welcoming to outsiders, as you might have seen, and our missionaries have often faced persecution. As a provost, Jeremiah was charged with bringing justice to those who would harm the church,” Soteria explains, a faintly boastful note in his voice, “He was good at his job. Excellent, in fact, one of the best. Too good, perhaps.”“Oh dear...” Blessings whines quietly to himself.“Even if it is for a just cause, spilling blood stains the spirit. In the course of performing his duties, Jeremiah grew... more unclean than most. It was a good thing, that he was recalled to the lands above, but I fear that it happened too late. There was an incident, you see.” Swallowing nervously, Soteria heaves his great bulk forwards as he leans across the desk. “It is hard, very hard, to do the right thing in this land,” he whispers to you, “A missionary, a woman, was attacked. Badly attacked. Jeremiah was able to follow her attackers to a small settlement, where they hid amongst the natives. The refused to give up the attackers, you see?”“I see,” you agree softly, closing your eyes as you picture the scene, “D'aubigny... he took action, didn't he?”“Later, he would argue that by sheltering criminals, the natives were complicit in the crime,” the deacon murmurs, “But still, to burn an entire town? Little wonder that he was recalled. I saw him later, after he spent time in Cloudtop. A broken man, truly. His only comfort was a gift he had been given by one of the other provosts, a small prayer bell. He told me once that whenever he felt... his old anger, he would listen to the bell's chime and all would be well. True enough, the man I met had been cleansed of any rage or fury. A miracle, truly.”Then,, as if realising how much he just said, Soteria claps a hand to his jowly mouth. “I've been down here for far too long!” he groans to himself, “No sooner do I see a friendly face, but I wallow in old stories and tawdry gossip. You must forgive me, I so rarely get a chance to speak with educated men...”Evidently, it's been so long that he's mistaken you and your lot for educated men.“Err, that was all some time ago. I'm not good with dates, so I can't be more accurate than that,” Soteria apologises, “Might I ask a favour, friends? I think... the church doesn't need to know about this talk, does it?”[1/2]
>>3063901Soteria is greatly relieved when you assure him of your discretion, wanton gossip apparently being frowned upon by his superiors, and his excessive thanks follow you all the way out of his chambers. He's a hard man to get a measure of – bluntly put, he seems incompetent, and yet the church has allowed him to remain in his position for many years. Either he has hidden depths, or important friends. Maybe both.Leaving the palace, your thoughts already filled with preparations for the long march out to Panagia, you don't hear Caliban's initial greeting. It's only when the tracker punches you on the arm that you jolt back to reality. “First of all, that hurt,” you complain, “Second of all, what's the problem?”“Got another bad feeling,” he tells you simply, “While you were off playing nice for the royals, or whatever it was that you were doing, I was trying to catch our stalker. We've definitely got someone watching us now. They hurried off when I saw them, and I wasn't able to catch the bastard. Had a trail, but I lost it in the marketplace. Lots of strong smells in that place, it gets confusing. Don't have much of a description either – pale guy, not large, brown hair. About as generic as it gets.”“Not making it easy for you, huh?” Gunny chuckles darkly, “So you're the expert, what now?”“Now?” Caliban replies, “Now, you lot just go about our daily business. I'll watch out for a chance to grab our tail. Might not happen eventually, but he'll make a mistake sooner or later. As soon as he does, I'll gut him.”“Ah, well, isn't that a bit excessive?” Blessings asks weakly, “That way, we won't ever find out who they are or why they're following us. I mean...”“Well I'll just gut them a little bit!” the hunter snaps, throwing his hands up in disgust.>Okay, I think I'm going to stop things here for today. I'll continue this tomorrow, although it may be a slightly shorter session than normal>Thank you for your contributions today!
>>3063958Thanks for running!Will Milos tell Grace how manly Blessings was getting them in the palace?
>>3063883He stole a power of the gods and used it as a men to make something outside the gods world.I mean if we could abosb the gods powers and become a god in our own r8ght then what happened to him shouldnt happen to us
>>3063958It's Dwight!Thanks for running!>>3063969Don't think we can.
>>3063964You know, I think he might just do that. I wonder if that's the sort of thing she likes?
>>3063983Only one way to find out. And its more of a last option if we dont like the otheres.
>>3063958Thanks for running!
“Excuse me,” Grace asks mildly, peering over at you, “Exactly what did you get up to at the palace? Caliban has been pacing around the ship ever since you got back, and Blessings is... well, he seems to be swaggering one minute and slinking the next. I rather wish he'd make up his mind, it's starting to get on my nerves.”“Ah, you should have seen him. He really managed to throw his weight about, getting the staff at the palace to follow his orders. He's got potential, that lad,” you reply with a laugh, “I think he surprised himself, you know. You really should have been there to see it for yourself!”“Hmm, I wonder,” Grace muses, her understated reaction coming as something of a disappointment. Playing it cool is one thing, but it wouldn't hurt her to show a little more enthusiasm. “He did mention something about the Deep Forest, I thought that might have been it. Eager to go exploring, and terrified of the idea at the same time. I must admit, the Deep Forest isn't the right place for him,” she shrugs then, giving you a vague look of amusement, “But then, is it the right place for anyone? Our target is the thousand year mirror, then?”Nodding, you take out your sketched map and point to it. “Panagia, the convert village. About two days march. Apparently, the village has gone silent recently,” you explain, “So, you know, that should be fun.”“There's something that's been bothering me about that, actually,” Grace thinks aloud, “This mirror is sacred to them, correct? Then... are they really going to just hand it over to us? They might not even be willing to show it outsiders like us.” Sitting down on a low cargo crate beside you, she idly traces a circle across the rough wood with one gloved finger. “We might be able to come to some arrangement, I suppose. A favour for a favour,” she murmurs, “Or perhaps you'd prefer to just take it from them? It would certainly be quicker than running some errand, especially considering the long walk.”“Knock it off,” you warn her, “You don't have to come along if you don't want to. In fact, if you can't handle the march...”“Oh no, I want to come along. I want to see this with my own eyes,” Grace insists, covering her mouth with one hand as she lets out a delicate giggle, “A village of converts nestled within the bosom of the Deep Forest? That sounds absolutely charming!”Now maybe you're not a scholar like her, but you know when someone isn't being entirely sincere. Before you can comment on this, though, Dwight appears and calls out to you. “Hey chief, you might want to hear this,” he announces, “Got something strange on the radio.”Glancing back at her, you see Grace giving you a pretty shrug. Letting the matter drop for now, you give Dwight a firm nod and follow him back up to the bridge.[1/2]
>>3065478What greets you, when you arrive on the bridge, is a hissing deluge of radio static and indistinct voices. Dwight shakes his head with an almost aggressive confusion, gesturing towards the radio in a silent plea for you to take over. “We got hailed a few minutes ago. I answered it, and THIS is all I got,” he explains, “Can't make out anything they're saying. I tried speaking back, but I don't know if they could hear me. This isn't just a bad channel, this is... I don't even know.”“I'll see what I can do,” you assure him, “Take a break for now. I think Blessings was looking for help with a spot of shopping, he could use an extra pair of hands.”“Got it, chief,” Dwight replies, nodding and hurrying out. Once you're alone on the bridge, you take a deep breath to steady your nerves before picking up the radio mic.“Captain Vaandemere,” you announce, “State your business, whoever you are.”The hiss of voices continues for a moment more before ceasing with an abrupt click. Then, one single voice takes over – a voice so distorted that you can't even tell whether it is male or female. “You do not wish to see another Pierrot,” the voice hisses, “Why do you say this?”“Because I've seen the kind of damage that can come from meddling in these things,” you answer, pinching the bridge of your nose to ward off a headache. You laid some bait, and now something has come out to nibble at the line. “I don't know why this bell is so important, but I don't if I trust the church's intentions here,” you add, “And I certainly don't like being kept in the dark about this.”A silence, broken only by the hissing of static. “Where are you now?” the voice demands at last, “We should meet.”An interesting turn of events. “...Nadir,” you admit after a hesitant pause, “Why should we meet?”“To bring you out of the dark. I have information,” your unseen contact replies, “Nadir. Monotia. Once night falls, come to the chapel. Bring only those who you trust, and make sure that you are not followed. You are correct – there are deeper plans at work here, plans that threaten to divide the church. I wish to avert that, and the chaos that it would bring. Can you say the same?”When you don't answer this straight away, the link is abruptly broken. Still holding onto the silent mic for a moment, you consider the offer. It could well be a trick, a plan to silence you after your mention of the Pierrot, or it could be a genuine offer of information. You'd feel a lot more comfortable if you knew who you had been talking to – someone within the church, most likely, but who? Bishop Rhea has helped you before, but...It would be a risk, this meeting, a risk of being drawn deeper into a plot that you want nothing to do with. On the other hand, ignoring this could be just as bad.>Attend the meeting>Ignore the meeting>Other
>>3065480>Attend the meetingWhat could go wrong?
>>3065480>Attend the meetingWe did do things like this partially so more info on the village and bell would turn up. We should take Freddy as support and Masque as hidden support at the very least. Maybe also Caliban as hidden support 2. No Kez or Branwen because the church doesn't like corruption. Anyone else?
>>3065480>>Attend the meeting
>>3065489Could take Blessings. If there is a potential schism in the Church, he'd want to hear about it first-hand.
>>3065494He also might take it poorly if he hears it directly, instead of us cushioning the news. Same with Gunny.
>>3065497That's fine. We should stop cushioning things for them if shit like this is happening.
No, this is too much of an opportunity to pass up. You're not likely to get a better shot at finding answers than this, and even if it IS a trick... that still pushes you closer to some eventual goal. For the first time in years, you remember something that Salazar told you – when people are trying to kill you, you know that you're onto something good. Dubious advice to give a young man seeking out a career in the airship business, but you can't deny its accuracy. As you're making up your mind, the bridge door opens. Freddy strides in, almost giving you a quick salute before turning it into a stilted wave instead.“The Chief Engineer was asking after you. Said she had some heavy lifting that needed doing,” the Iraklin reports, studying your face for a moment, “What's that scowl for?”“Oh, the usual. Someone might be planning to kill us,” you answer, telling her about the radio call. Freddy listens with a thoughtful frown, occasionally nodding to herself. “So?” you ask when you're done, “What do you think?”“Caliban still seems convinced that we're being followed. That could give us some trouble,” she reports, “I suggest sending out a small party beforehand. Gunny, maybe. He was with you before, wasn't he? So our tail might see him and follow along... in theory, at least. While they're away, you can head out to this meeting – maybe try to cover your face with a low hood just in case. This all feels familiar, doesn't it?”“Faulkner, right,” you agree, laughing humourlessly, “Except then, we knew who we were supposed to be meeting. This time, we know even less. Still, good advice. Will you be able to come along with me?”Without even hesitating, Freddy nods. “I'll be waiting. When night falls, just give me the word,” smoothing down her jacket, the Iraklin thinks for a moment more, “Is there anyone else you want to come along? I can spread the word.”“Masque, although I'd rather he stayed out of sight. Keep him as our ace in the hole,” you muse, “I'd like to have Caliban watching our backs as well. He should be able to tell if we're being followed or not. Other than that... I'll have to think about it. Marching up there with a large group might draw unwelcome attention to us. If our contact gets scared and runs off, we'll be shit out of luck.”With the tiniest of motions, something that might have been a shrug, Freddy turns and leaves you be. Languishing in the comfort of your captain's chair for a few minutes more, you heave yourself up and start down to the engine room. A spot of heavy lifting might be just the thing to clear your head... although it depends on the kind of “heavy lifting” that Keziah had in mind.[1/2]
>>3065504As it turns out, Keziah was speaking literally. Holding onto a heavy piece of the Helena's engine, you listen to the rattle and squeak of metal as she loosens the bolts holding it in place. “Careful now!” she announces cheerfully, a moment before the component comes free and nearly flattens you under its bulk. Grunting a curse, you crouch down and gently place the hunk of metal on the ground. The insides, you note, are caked with a thick layer of... something.“That's the only problem with the new condenser, it gums up the system a lot faster,” Keziah explains, wiping engine oil off her face – or rather, just smearing it about – and brandishing a rag. “It's the heat, I think, and the static charge. Pulls in the dust, you know?” she continues, scrubbing at the inside of the machine, “But it doesnae really damage anythin', not in the short term. So long as I clean it out every now and then, we dinnae have anythin' to worry about. C'mon boss, grab a rag and get stuck in, we'll get it done twice as fast that way!”She really is in good spirits today, you think to yourself. With her tangled hair sticking up in all kinds of wild angles and a faint triangle of sweat already darkening the loose singlet she wears, Keziah looks like she's been working hard ever since the engines were cool enough to be dismantled. “Maybe we'd have less problems if there was less dust around here,” you suggest, “Surely it would be easier to dust this place than to dismantle the entire engine when...” You trail off here, realising how futile your suggestion is. Dusting is a chore, but dismantling an engine is good fun... at least, that's what Keziah's expression suggests.“I prefer it this way. Gives me a chance to think deep thoughts – and dinnae you dare laugh, Milos Vaandemere!” she points a warning finger at you when she says those words, shaking her head before leaning back over the machine. The sides of her neck have a faint discolouration blossoming there, the dark patches spreading down onto her shoulders and upper arms. They look like bruises from here, but you know what they really are. How long before her skin starts to change completely, warping into mottled scales?“What I was thinkin' is, this divine power locked away... just what kind of stuff would that let you do? If you got hold of it, could YOU become a god?” the witch thinks aloud, “Feanor didnae do that, so I guess maybe not. Then again, maybe he didnae want to become a god. Sounds an awful lot like hard work to me. I reckon I'd rather leave that stuff to the experts.”“Are they really doing such a good job of it, though?” you counter, “Honestly, I don't know the limits of what can be achieved. I'm hoping that Ibn'ah's glass vial might hold some answers, but...”“No way of knowin' until we get that mirror,” Keziah agrees.[2/3]
>>3065531Oh geez her corruption is spreading? Also we could have Branwen dust.
>>3065540Considering her mother and grandmother it ain't going to stop for awhile.
>>3065542This must be hard on her.We should lewd her and in the process tell her how we like her scales or something. Offscreen is alright. Just don't leave her alone with her body betraying her.
>>3065531You chat for a while more as you work, and the tough work does do a good job of keeping your mind from wandering. By the time you've finished cleaning out the engines and putting everything back together, it's getting close to nightfall. As you're getting ready to leave the engine room, a thought occurs to you. “Hey, wait a minute,” you ask, turning to give Keziah a suspicious look, “Don't you have other engineers to help with this?”“Stafford, you mean? He wouldnae be able to do any of this liftin'. Poor guy would snap like a pencil!” Keziah replies with a laugh, leaning up and pecking you on the cheek, “Besides, I wanted us to do somethin' fun together – the kind of fun that doesnae involve gettin' shot at. Is that so bad?”“I suppose I'll let you off the hook,” you grumble, “Just this once...”-As you're heading over to the cargo hold, to meet up with Freddy and the others, Blessings steps out to bar your way. At least, to TRY and bar your way – you're fairly sure that you could have just kept walking and he wouldn't have been able to do a damn thing about it. Still, out of politeness, you allow him to have his way. Stopping, you give the boy a nod of greeting. “Blessings,” you begin, “If this is about...”“Miss Lhaus told me. I mean, ah, I overheard her talking to Caliban and then I asked... I made her explain the whole thing,” he interrupts, “This is about the church, isn't it? I know that it might be dangerous, I really do know that, but I want to come along. I want to be a part of this!”“Okay,” you reply simply, “Why?”Taken by surprise by the blunt question, Blessings flounders for a moment. “Because...” he stammers, “Because even if this is bad or ugly, I can't turn away from it! Because I'm a part of the church, and I have a duty to do whatever I can to help it. To help you, as well, as a part of this crew. That... um, that's why I want to be a part of this!”>Very well then, if you're sure>I'm sorry, but no. I can't risk it>Other
>>3065547We've already done that back when she was first getting them. Don't worry she's pretty comfortable with it. And it's not like Milos' arm corruption isn't spreading little by little too.>>3065550>Very well then, if you're sure
>>3065550>Very well then, if you're sure>Take a weapon, just in case.
>>3065550>Very well then, if you're sure>>3065551Such things require reinforcement.
“You might need to fight,” you warn the boy, “We don't know what we're walking into, after all. I can't promise that you'll be safe.”“I understand,” Blessings insists, laughing faintly, “I mean, ah, when can we EVER say that? Feeling unsafe is sort of starting to seem normal to me.” Glancing across to where Freddy and Caliban wait, he squares his shoulders and nods firmly. “Miss Lhaus told me the exact same thing when I asked her to explain. Only, she said that I might need to... to kill,” he admits, “I hope it doesn't come to that.”Weighing up these words for a moment, you consider refusing his request anyway – just on general principles – but then you dismiss the idea. He's made his choice, and coddling him won't help either of you. “Take a gun from the armoury, and make sure you can use it if you need to,” you tell him simply. Even before you've finished saying this, he lifts the long flap of his untucked shirt to reveal the butt of a revolver. “Well... get a proper holster from the armoury,” you add, “You'll shoot your parts off like that.”Chuckling nervously, Blessings very carefully shifts the revolver away from his crotch.-“A good night for shady deals,” Caliban mutters, looking up at the sky, “Thick clouds, no moon, hardly any light at all. Lhaus, did you bring a flashlight?”“Never go anywhere without one. I have some flares as well, just in case we need a little extra,” patting down her pockets, the Iraklin tugs at the hood of her rain cape. The good thing about heavy clouds, you muse, is that nobody will notice anything strange about the dark, hooded garments. Your own cape is slightly too large, the hood falling low over your face. “Gunny took Branwen out for a walk, to see the palace,” Freddy adds, “With luck, they'll draw any attention away from us. We should be able to make a clean break.”“Or so you hope,” Masque rumbles, causing you to look around in surprise. The daemon sits atop the Eliza, his sword resting across his crossed legs. Smoothly rising to his feet, he jumps down to join you. “I will remain at a distance, to approach at the first sign of trouble,” he continues, “This city is hard to read. The winds carry the scent of blood, but from all sides. Violence is the natural state of being here.”He doesn't need to tell you that. You lived here for five long years, after all. Nodding your approval, you gesture for the team to follow you and step out into the aerodrome. It was quiet by day, but now it seems as silent as a tomb. Underneath your cape, your weapons seem to lie awkwardly against your body. Just nerves, you tell yourself. Light rain taps against your oilskin hood as you leave the shelter of the aerodrome, and you hear Caliban grunting with approval.“Coast seems clear,” he growls, “Let's move.”[1/2]
>>3065594Blessings leads the way to the chapel, his shoulders shivering beneath the formless black cape he wears. It's cold, and the rain quickly grew from a drizzle to a powerful storm. The occasional bolt of lightning flashes, and Freddy lets out a low murmur of dismay at the sight. Bad memories, perhaps. You have to take it on faith that Masque is following you, as he melted away into the night soon after you left the aerodrome. He's good at that.“This storm should shut down any skiffs in the area,” Freddy tells you as you walk, “That could work in our favour.”“We won't need to worry about one shooting at us,” Caliban agrees with a hollow laugh. Clearly, he hasn't forgotten what happened the last time he butted heads with a skiff.-Despite being burned by an angry mob, the chapel is more intact than you had been expecting. The doors and windows yawn like toothless mouths, and large sections of the roof have collapsed, but what remains standing seems stable enough. Drawing your revolver and concealing it behind your back, you give Caliban a questioning look. He nods in response, your tail apparently falling for the diversion. With that confirmed, you make your way inside the gutted church.The whole place still stinks of fire and smoke, the rain that streams through the shattered roof doing little to wash away the pungent smell. Incredibly, one of the wooden pews survived the fire, and a dark shape sits there. Tentatively approaching them, you call out a soft greeting. The figure rises and turns to face you, then they throw back the hood of their rain cape.“Sandoval...” you breathe, surprised by the woman standing before you.“What?” she replies, “Were you expecting someone else?” Shaking her head and letting out a low, surprisingly dirty laugh, she gestures for you to approach. “My interest, Captain Vaandemere, is in defending the church against any threat – internal or external. When someone plots to destabilise it, I can't just sit by and do nothing. Good trick, by the way. Pierrot... I had to do quite some digging to find out what that meant. You're lucky that Faraday brought this to me, and not anyone else. Even so...” she grimaces here, “We'd best make this quick. I tried to cover my tracks, but someone might have been listening in to our little talk on the radio. These things are never as secure as you think they are.”“So talk. This bell...” you press, “Why does the church want it back so badly?”“The Bell of Avici. According to our early research, it has the ability to influence emotions. Not control them, nothing that blatant, but to quietly bend them to the wielder's will,” Sandoval explains, “Until now, it was agreed that we were better off without it – let D'aubigny keep his toy. Now, though, someone is making a play for it. You almost got caught up in the middle of it all.”You still might.[2/3]
>>3065649Somewhere out in the streets beyond, there is a crash of breaking glass. Sandoval stops talking abruptly and twists around, frantically looking for any sign of trouble. Drawing a small pistol of her own, she checks the magazine with trembling hands. “Who wants the bell?” you snap, hoping to cut through her distraction, “And what are they hoping to do with it?” You can imagine no end of uses for something that gave its wielder sway over emotions, but... this feels like more than that. There's a deeper motive here.“Hierophant Milleux's decision to ally with the Iraklins was seen by some as a step too far,” Sandoval explains quickly, “A faction within his advisors wishes to subvert him, to make sure that he follows their “advice” in future. The Hierophant speaks with the voice of the Lord of Rising Light, and to interfere with that... I cannot allow that to happen. I want-”Something above you cracks, a small section of charred wood breaking off and collapsing down. This time, all of you leap into action as you search for any sign of... anything. “I... think it was just the ceiling,” Blessings offers at last, hurrying across to Sandoval and grabbing her by the arm. “We have to do something about this!” the boy insists, “The bell... the Hierophant... what can we do?”Hissing as if scalded, Sandoval knocks Blessings' hand away and sends the boy stumbling back. “Listen to me!” she barks, “Whatever you do, do NOT bring the bell back to the church. Even if it was kept in safe hands for now, it would only be a matter of time before someone...” Sandoval doesn't need to finish that thought, letting her words trail off. For a moment, she looks older than ever – old and tired.As for you, you can't blame her for looking weary. Confusion still hangs over you like a cloud, unanswered questions nagging at you from every corner. Sandoval offered to bring you out of the dark, but things aren't looking much clearer from where you're standing.>Break the meeting off here. You've got what you need to know>Press Sandoval for more answers... (Write in)>Other
>>3065700>part ways. Send masque to shadow/escort sandoval, make sure she gets home safe.
>>3065700>Press Sandoval for more answers... (Write in)"So wait, you guys have just been letting D'aubigny play cultist leader on his own just because? Why did you send a spy then if it was Church sanctioned? Sandoval from my perspective this is looking more and more like you guys experimenting with the Bell's properties on a isolated village.""Why don't you just chuck the thing into the ocean if you all thought you were better off without it, artifact or no?"
>>3065700>>3065713This is fine
>>3065700Let's go with >>3065713
>>3065700>Who's backing this insurrection? Do you know?
“This doesn't sit right with me, Sandoval, not at all,” you growl, “You're telling me that you just let D'aubigny play at being cult leader for all this time, knowing what he was capable of?”“That's right,” Sandoval confirms, “While he had the bell, it was harmless. Taking it back would risk violence, a scandal, all kinds of trouble. Until now, nobody was willing to risk being tarnished by that kind of thing. Whatever else we think about D'aubigny, he doesn't cause any trouble for the rest of the church. He just wants to be left alone.”“But you didn't leave him alone!” you protest, “What about the agent sent in to spy on him? If that was sanctioned by the church, why the secrecy?”“The agent was sent to ensure that the bell remained within his care, and to watch out for any change in his demeanour. To keep the situation stable, in other words. They were sent covertly, under the guise of a simple pilgrim, to avoid provoking D'aubigny or his people. It was... until now, it worked just fine,” clenching her eyes shut for a moment, Sandoval gathers her thoughts before continuing, “Of all the contingencies we planned for, this was not one of them.”“Captain, sir, she's not to blame here!” Blessings cries out, only for Sandoval to angrily hush him. “This was all a mistake,” the boy continues, his voice lower this time, “And we almost made it worse. We have to...”“Sandoval,” you interrupt, “You have to forgive me, but this all sounds like you're covering for the church. Were you running experiments, using the bell on an isolated village to see exactly what it could and couldn't do?”Sandoval's jaw knits as she tries to summon up some comforting answer. “I will not deny that we gained knowledge from it,” she concedes, “But that was never the intention. D'aubigny stole the bell, that was not planned, but we decided that it was better off in his possession. Everything else came later, one step at a time.”“Damn thing should be destroyed,” Caliban mutters, “Someone tried using it on me, I'd gut them.”“He's got a point,” you agree, “Why not just drop the bell into the ocean, if it's really so much trouble? If you had done this a long time ago, none of this would ever have happened.”This suggestion causes Sandoval to laugh aloud, her laugh bitter and humourless. “Drop a holy relic into the ocean? No, that was never an option,” she laments, “The church could never have allowed it. Now, I wish we had. If I had the thing in front of me right now, I would destroy it in an instant. If only.”That, at least, you can agree with. There's just one last area you need answered. “You haven't told me who's behind all this,” you ask, “I need a name, Sandoval.”But this, she can't answer. Either she doesn't know, or she can't bring herself to betray them. How important must they be, to keep her cowed in this way?[1/2]
>>3065766Milleux could just be playing both sides, getting ready to escalate things enough to clean house.
>>3065766When her silence goes unbroken, you let out a soft grunt of disgust. “Fine then,” you mutter, looking away from the churchwoman, “I'll have one of my people follow you back, to make sure that you get away safely. You won't even know he's there. I certainly don't, and-It is then that the first shot rings out, cutting your words sharply off. Catching Sandoval square in the chest, it plucks her off her feet and spins her around in an almost elegant dance. Less elegant is the spray of blood that defiles the chapel floor, pooling out from beneath her almost immediately. It's a bad wound, almost certainly fatal if she doesn't get immediate treatment and even then... nothing is guaranteed. Before a second shot can hit her and finish the job, Blessings cries out and throws himself across the fallen woman, shielding her with his body. The next shot flies wide, the sudden distraction causing the would-be assassin to jolt their aim aside.Raising your revolver and spinning to face the shattered roof, you hear the crack of Freddy's flare. Blood red light floods over the scene, and you soon see the shooter. Like you, they wear a shapeless rain cape to hide themselves – and for the more mundane reason of shelter from the rain – but there is no mistaking the brutal rifle they carry. Freddy opens up with her rifle, peppering the roof with a volley of shots. The gunman ducks back, and you find it impossible to tell if they've been hit or not. From outside the chapel, you hear another sporadic burst of gunfire.“They come!” Masque bellows, his deep voice splitting the night, “I have them!”“No!” Keziah argues, her words stabbing into your thoughts, “There are more of them. Herod says there are two groups heading your way. Can't see how many... Masque has one group, but the other is closing. Get out of there, captain!”The assassin is fleeing, and you've got soldiers moving in to finish the job themselves. With Sandoval slowing you down, there's no way you can get away clean. Not much time to think, but...>Gather your team and pursue the assassin>Gather your team and flee back to the Helena>Gather your team and bring Sandoval back to the Spirit of Helena>Send your team to bring Sandoval to safety, pursue the assassin alone>Other
>>3065790>Gather your team and bring Sandoval back to the Spirit of HelenaFuck me, not a great situation.
>>3065790>Hole up in the chapel and call Helena here. It should be faster this way, and moving Sandoval might be dangerous.
>>3065797That's a pretty good idea. I'll second. We'll also have more cover than fighting through the streets.
>>3065790Send Masque to pursue the assassin, everyone else holds out for the Helena to arrive.Better that Masque isn't seen by a huge number of soldiers anyway, and it's no great loss if he brings the assassin sans a few limbs.
>>3065809I think this is a good idea
>>3065823>>3065809We will be dealing with two groups of assailants instead of one then? Can we handle that?
>>3065825We will have a defensible position. They'll have to mount a proper assault, and this takes time. Helena will relieve us.
>>3065828We are going to need to have our general crew with rifles on the deck as soon as they get here to provide air support.
“Keziah, get the ship up in the air,” you order, forcing your thoughts into a calm and authoritative tone, “We need you here as soon as possible. Until then, we're going to hunker down and keep them back. How quickly can you get over here?”“Ah...” Keziah pauses, “Engines need to warm up, so we can't be there immediately. Shouldn't be too long, but...”“Captain!” Blessings cries, his voice jolting you back to reality, “I don't know what to do!” You turn just in time to see him rolling Sandoval over, the woman's blood washing away in the heavy rain. Clearly trying to stay calm, Blessings stares into your eyes with an imploring look. The moment can't last any longer than a few seconds, but it seems to stretch out for far longer than that. Orders, he needs orders. Everyone needs you to do your damn job, and then they can do the same.“Freddy, do what you can for Sandoval. Keep her stable until the Helena gets here. We just need to hold them off until she arrives,” you bark, pointing at the former soldier, before waving a hand at Caliban, “Get ready to fight. We have more men inbound. I don't know how many or where they're coming from, so... have fun with that.” Then, turning your attention back inwards, you seek out Keziah's thoughts. “Keep talking to me,” you tell her, “What else can Herod see?”“Ah... I think...” Keziah flounders for a moment, “A group of six people, coming in from the north, and a single man running east. He's on the rooftops, moving quickly, I don't know how long we can follow him for. Should have seen him before, but it was so dark and this rain...”Silencing her with a curt thought, you call out into the night. “Masque!” you yell, “One man heading east. Catch him!”You don't know if he's in any position to obey your command, or even if he heard you. That's all you can do for now – a bullet slaps into the chapel wall and sprays you with splinters of charred wood. Cursing as you fall back down onto your backside, you push the hood of your rain cape out of your eyes and search for any sign of the church assassins. Illuminated by the fading light of Freddy's flare, you spot distorted shapes moving through the streets. One group circles around to block off the path back to the aerodrome – smart move, you think to yourself, but not smart enough – while the other comes straight towards you. A sporadic burst of shots ring out, and then you hear a coarse voice yelling out in some Nadir tongue. Local fighters too?No time for that. Ducking behind cover, you raise your revolver and search for a target.[1/2]
>>3065850It doesn't take you long to realise that these are no common churchmen, no volunteer militiamen armed with simple rifles and a few weeks of casual training. If you didn't know any better, you'd say that these were Iraklin special forces here to wipe you out. Moving from cover to cover, they never really give you a chance to fight back. Every time you try and get a shot at one of the exposed fighters, another is suppressing you with tight bursts of gunfire. All the while, they creep closer towards the chapel.Her rifle raised, Freddy slams against the charred wall beside you. “Blessings knows what to do now,” she barks, “He can take care of Sandoval. Not much we can do for her, anyway. She's dead if we don't get her to a doctor soon.”“Keziah, hurry up!” you snap, not caring that you speak aloud. Peering out of cover, you spot a dark-cloaked soldier breaking out from an alleyway. Hardly caring to aim, both you and Freddy blast him with a heavy spray of bullets. The man drops, crying out in pain, but two more of his companions are already there. Firing one-handed, they grab their wounded comrade and drag him back from the open ground. In the brief lull, you pat down your pockets and count your remaining ammunition. Enough shots for two more reloads – hardly anything at all.“Boss, got an engine problem,” Keziah explains, her report clipped and blunt, “We're almost ready to fly, but...”“Damn it!” you hiss, looking around at Caliban, “Ammo?”“I'm running close to empty as well,” Caliban snaps, raising his hunting rifle and angrily shaking his head, “Left my damn bow on the ship. Didn't want to go waving it here, with the churchwoman about. So much for being discrete.”“Enough complaining!” Freddy hisses, slotting a fresh magazine into her rifle, “What happened to that other group? I don't see them-”Her answer comes in the form of a ferocious volley, an overwhelming weight of rifle fire chewing through the chapel wall and sending you diving for cover. Flattening yourself against the rubble-strewn floor, you feel debris raining down on you as the flanking churchmen pour fire into your meagre shelter. Blessings yells aloud, still shielding Sandoval with his body, but you can barely hear his voice over the thunder of gunfire. It almost seems like they're trying to collapse the chapel down on top of you.Then, at last, their guns fall silent.“You're surrounded!” a hard voice calls out, “We just want the woman. Leave her and walk away – our squabble isn't with you!”Slowly looking up, you shake splinters out of your hair and peer out through one of the numerous bullet holes. Their weapons trained on the chapel, on YOU, the church soldiers wait – perhaps to put a bullet in you as soon as you step out into the open. No witnesses.Then another voice shouts out, another hard Nadir word, and the night comes alive once more.[2/3]
This is probably the Brotherhood of N, the Carth secret police
>>3065902From countless different directions at once, gunfire slashes out of the night to fall upon the churchmen. Caught out in the open, the tide quickly turns against the churchmen. To the sound of boisterous chanting and cruel laughter, the unseen gunmen cut down a number of the professional soldiers in the first few seconds, causing the rest of them to break and flee into the night. Before they can get far, a terrible light opens up from above as the Spirit of Helena directs spotlights down onto the scene. As if caught, paralysed by the light, the fleeing churchmen hesitate.And as soon as they stop, they die – punched off their feet by gunfire from all sides. Only dimly aware that you're laughing aloud, you look up as the Helena slowly descends, lowering a stretcher down to receive Sandoval. As Freddy and Caliban move to help her to safety, you raise your hands in a gesture of peace and step out of the chapel. Emerging from the surrounding buildings to kick and loot the bodies, the Nadir fighters mostly seem content to ignore you. A few of them glance your way, leering at you with malformed faces.Their ranks part, and you feel your jaw drop as an unexpected figure steps out into the open.“This is Monotia,” Mara hisses, sneering down at one of the dying churchmen, “This is OUR city.”>So, I think I'm going to pause things here for today. I'll try and continue this tomorrow, hopefully starting at the same usual time>Thank you for your patience today!
>>3065915Pfft. I was wondering if this firefight was going to cause some kind of commotion with the gangs, but didn't expect it so soon.Thanks for running Moloch.
>>3065915Thanks for running!What's Mara gonna say when she sees Caliban's face?
>>3065915Thanks for running!This engine problem sure came up in a plot-convenient moment, didn't it?
>>3065926I suppose it just goes to show, you should never clean anything!>>3065925Oh, she's definitely going to play it cool. She's going to be really smart about itProbably not
>>3065915Why does everyone have a SWAT team.>>3065902Wonder how many bullets Blessings took to the gut.
Strutting like a victorious general, Mara strides up and down the length of the disused slaughterhouse, occasionally looking at the row of bodies laid out before you all. The churchmen have been stripped down to their undergarments, any valuables disappearing into the pockets of their killers along with a few unsavoury trophies taken from the bodies. You don't like to look at the bodies with missing ears or fingers, but Mara seems delighted by the display. If anything, she looks like she might put those ugly teeth of hers to good use and cut off some trophies of her own.“You're lucky, you know. We weren't going to get involved until we heard you yelling. Not our problem, we though, but... we're friends, aren't we? Good friends, yes. Milos Vaandemere is a good friend of the Morey, and all in Monotia know it,” Mara mutters to herself, “We look after our friends here, and our friends look after us...”After the violence was over, Mara “invited” you to the outskirts of town to lie low and discuss the night's festivities, as she so gaily called them. Considering the circumstances, you hadn't seen much choice in the matter. So, sending the Spirit of Helena back to the aerodrome, you followed Mara as she virtually skipped through the streets. Her men took the bodies with them, and now here you are.From what you've been able to gather, the bodies were perfectly anonymous – no identification, nothing that proclaimed an allegiance to the church, nothing that would give a curious investigator anything to go on. The authorities have already written the incident off as one last spasm of violence between Eishin's supporters and the local gangs, which has a kind of dark irony that you can appreciate. You do wonder, though, how much the church had to do with that. Did they pull some strings to sweep the incident under the carpet, or are the local authorities just that disinterested in finding the truth?Either way, the end result is the same – you came out alive, and the church escapes with its reputation intact... at least until Sandoval wakes up. The last you heard, she was on the long road to recovery, resting in the Spirit of Helena's infirmary after Barnum worked his magic on her. The one loose end left dangling is Masque – you've not heard from him since you sent him after the church assassin. It's strange, but you're actually worried about the old monster.“Hey,” Caliban says, breaking the awkward silence that falls across the room, “We're all thinking it, but I guess I've got to be the one to say it. We appreciate the rescue and all, but... what's it going to cost us?”“Oh you!” Mara replies with a flat giggle, “There's no cost! We're friends, aren't we? And friends look out for each other – you WILL remember that, right?”Somehow, you get the feeling that she won't let you forget it.[1/2]
>>3068291A slaughterhouse is a cold place to spend the night, but Mara was thoughtful enough to bring something to warm you up. Sitting on the dank stone floor, with a row of cold corpses lying a few feet away, you drink cheap brandy from mismatched cups and talk in furtive voices. It was best, you all agreed, to lie low for a while. When morning came, you would be free to slink back to the aerodrome. Sleep, however, is the last thing on your mind.For one thing, your ears are still ringing from all the shooting. At least it gives you an excuse to tune Mara out, whenever she says anything too vulgar. Her initial attempts at poking fun at Blessings were met by a stony silence – the boy looks like he's still in shock, his expression blank and his clothes stained by Sandoval's blood. Entirely indifferent to whether or not anyone is actually listening to her, Mara rambles on.“It is always the same,” she thinks aloud to herself, “Whenever there is dirty work to do, they come here. Rude. Disrespectful. If they had told us of their plans in advance, perhaps we would have allowed it. A little courtesy... that is not too much to ask, is it?”“Outsiders. They don't know how things are done here,” you reply vaguely, pausing before grudgingly adding, “But I'm glad that you did step in. That was quite a tight spot we were in.”Fluttering her eyelids, Mara giggles. “Didn't we do well?” she gloats, “They never knew what hit them!”“Hey,” Caliban says suddenly, setting aside his cup and pointing a suspicious finger at Mara, “You lot, have you been following us? Maybe had one of your people keeping an eye on what we've been doing since landing here? Like you said, this is your city – seems to me like you'd naturally want to keep an eye on us.”“Well... we knew you were here, of course,” the Nadir girl replies, tilting her head to the side as she studies Caliban with curious eyes, “But that was all. We had no NEED to follow you.” Slumping forwards on hands and knees, she presses her face closer to his. “Did you think that I was following you?” she leers, “That's sweet, but I am far too busy for that kind of fun... unfortunately.”Grunting quietly, Caliban pushes the girl away. Pretending not to watch the exchange, Freddy coughs quietly to cover up a laugh before returning to cleaning her rifle. Shooting her a dirty look, Caliban shrugs and turns back to you. “So what now?” he asks bluntly, “When morning comes, I've got half a mind to march back to the palace and shake that churchman until he talks. He HAD to know about this.”Soteria? He doesn't seem like the type, but then again...>Just let the matter rest. There's no sense in causing more trouble>Visit the palace and see what Soteria knew about this>Question Mara some more... (Write in)>Other
>>3068293>OtherCheck Sandoval's status>Visit the palace and see what Soteria knew about this
>>3068293>Just let the matter rest. There's no sense in causing more troubleIt wont help anything at all.Time to leave
>>3068293>>Just let the matter rest. There's no sense in causing more trouble
>>3068293>Just let the matter rest. There's no sense in causing more trouble
“Just let the matter rest,” you tell Caliban quietly, “I can't see any good coming of this. If Soteria does know anything, and I'm not convinced that he does, shaking the answers out of him could just come back to harm us. Right now, we've got a chance to get away clean.”“No witnesses, after all,” Freddy adds, “We've both got deniability here.” Caliban scoffs quietly at this, stalking a few paces away and lighting a cigarette, but he doesn't protest the decision. “Maybe it's good that we're heading into the Deep Forest for a while,” the Iraklin mutters to you, watching Mara out of the corner of her eye as the Nadir girl creeps after Caliban, “We'll have a chance to let the dust settle. All these bodies... I never expected the church to send so many people. Whoever did this, they must have a lot of influence. You think Sandoval...”“I hope she'll have a change of heart and give us the name,” you agree, leaving out the unspoken addition – if she survives. Closing your eyes, you reach out to Keziah. “Sandoval,” you think, feeling her thoughts, “What's the situation?”“The doctor's still working on her, but he's hopeful. He was able to get her stable pretty quickly, this is just patching her up,” Keziah replies, “I think he's enjoying this – the chance to show off, I mean. He says he'll be done by morning, but Sandoval might sleep for a while more. He's planning to keep her on some heavy meds for now, just to make sure she rests. I'll let you know if anything happens – if her condition... deteriorates.”Nodding silently, you take another swallow of brandy and lean back against the wall, letting the cheap liquor warm you up from within. Still a few long hours till dawn, and sleep remains far out of reach.-A pall hangs over Monotia as you walk back to the aerodrome, a thin morning mist still clinging to the ground. Iraklin patrols are everywhere, with a few armoured cars rumbling down the widest streets. After last night, the occupying forces have increased security as a show of force. Leaving the slaughterhouse just before the markets open, you blend in with the crowds and pass unseen. Even so, whenever one of the soldiers turns to glance your way...Even when you were working for Morey, you never felt so much like a criminal.The first thing you see, as you arrive back at the aerodrome, is a line of empty cans set up in a row. Too tired to make much of the strange sight, you start to walk past them before a voice cries out. A second later one of the cans is smacked down by some powerful blow, and you turn to see Branwen squatting nearby with a slingshot in her hand. “Be careful!” she warns, “I almost hit you. Very sore, a shot from this thing. I could kill a rabbit with it – I have done it before, you know!”“Less messy than a rifle, I suppose,” Freddy yawns, wearily rubbing her eyes.[1/2]
>>3068371Jeez Milos, you should know better than to walk in front of an obvious target setup.Also back in Morey's debt RIP us.
>>3068371Leaving the others to discuss the finer points of murdering wildlife, you trudge into the ship and then... you pause, the hairs on the back of your neck standing on end. Slowly turning, you spot Masque lurking in the shadows. His chest is bare, and you can see a yawning wound in his chest. No blood seeps from it, his ancient body long past anything like that, but you can't imagine that it's comfortable – you can see dim light peeking out from behind him.“You, uh, you need any help there?” you ask him, gesturing down at the wound. A number of tools are scattered about the daemon, including a pair of thick leather patches. You don't need to be a doctor to understand what he means to do with those“Help,” Masque repeats, reluctantly nodding after a pause, “Yes. I cannot reach my back. Use the smaller patch, needle and thread.” With that, he turns away from you and allows you to get to work. The needle is more like a dagger, and he's using thick wire for his thread, but the daemon doesn't so much as flinch as you stab into his cold flesh. “I was able to catch the assassin,” Masque rumbles, “But he preferred death. Poison, a vial hidden in his sleeve. He died with a curse on his lips.”“Damn it...” you sigh, “Did he say anything at all?”“Only that the woman was a rogue, working to undermine the church. We should not trust her, he says,” looking around at your handiwork, Masque nods, “That will do. I will take care of the rest. We are heading into the Deep Forest soon, are we not? I will be ready by then.”So he's inviting himself along. Well, you won't complain about having an extra fighter along for the ride, and Masque can certainly carry more than his fair share of weight. Nodding wearily, you leave the daemon to his... repairs and head to get something to eat. On the way, you idly run through your list of preparations – you know where your destination is, you've got plenty of food and other supplies, you have an idea of what you should be looking for... that seems to be everything, unless you're forgetting something glaringly obvious. Raging gunfights don't exactly help you think, after all.“Oh, boss!” Keziah calls out as you pass by the engine room, “I'm sorry about the engines. I figured out what the problem was, and I dinnae think it'll happen again. Got it all fixed up now, and...” Whatever else she was going to say ends in a yawn, her own sleepless night catching up with her. “I better get some sleep before we leave,” she mumbles to herself, “Boss, we about ready?”Just the question you were asking yourself, in fact.>Rest up, and then begin your Deep Forest expedition>Attend to some last business before setting out... (Write in)>Other
>>3068439>Rest up, and then begin your Deep Forest expeditionDid any of the assailants have the Brotherhood of N sigil or did they get rid of any identifying features?
>>3068439>Rest up, and then begin your Deep Forest expeditionParty! Also Masque needs to stop taking hits, he'll be scraps if this keeps up.>>3068444They got rid of everything I think.
>>3068439>>Rest up, and then begin your Deep Forest expedition
>>3068439>Rest up cuddling with Keziah, and then begin your Deep Forest expedition
“We will be ready,” you reply, “Once I've had a good night's sleep. Day's sleep, whatever. I think we could all do with a rest.” Running a hand through your hair, you start off towards your quarters. Keziah follows, her expression hinting that the conversation isn't entirely over yet. Sighing again, you ask the obvious question. “So what WAS the problem with the engines?” you ask, “And how did you fix it?”“Ah, I'm glad you asked!” Keziah chuckles, “I dinnae ken why it took me so long to realise – I was so focused on the engines themselves that I didnae think of the cannon. See, when we started to warm up the engines, the Megiddo Cannon started drawing on them right away. Nae wonder it took them so long to warm up with that thirsty old thing sucking on them!” The witch nods happily to herself, openly pleased by the chance to show off. “So I was able to whip up a sorta... a sorta cut-out for it. Next time we need to fire up the engines, we willnae have anythin' to wory about,” she concludes, “Pretty smart, huh?”You understood some of that. “I'm going to bed,” you conclude, too tired to say anything more, “Are you coming?”-When morning comes – next morning, that is – you start out towards the edge of Monotia with your heavy burden. Supplies for several days in the Deep Forest aren't light, even with Masque carrying more than his share of the load. Caliban, by contrast, has hardly any baggage at all. He'll be scouting ahead for most of the trip, so he needs to travel light. Despite everything that has happened, and everything that might yet lie ahead of you, the mood is surprisingly light. Branwen in particular is happy to return to her homeland, and she hums softly to herself as she walks.“First off, little sister, we'll be taking an automotive out to the Iraklin base. Camp Prosperity,” Gunny tells her, “You ever heard of it?”“Sometimes I heard tell of an outsider settlement on the edge of the Deep Forest. Some of our men wanted to chase the outsiders away, but others wanted to trade with them. Their weapons were excellent, far better than anything we could make,” Branwen replies, smiling faintly at the memory and patting the slingshot in her coat pocket, “I had a sling just like this when I was younger. It came from the outside.”“Excuse me!” a breathy voice interrupts, a young woman bustling over to you, “I didn't mean to eavesdrop, but... are you going to Camp Prosperity?” You pause, looking her up and down. Cheap clothes dyed in gaudy colours, heavy make-up and a bold perfume... not exactly a churchwoman. “My man is stationed out there, but I've not heard from him in days,” the young woman continues, “So if he's not going to write to ME, I'm going to come visit!”“The camp has gone quiet?” Freddy asks sharply, “Captain, this might be bad news.”When is it ever GOOD news?[1/2]
>>3068503So we could refer to the Megido cannon as a thirsty boi?
>>3068503“Oh, well, if you've not heard anything...” the painted woman laments, “Sorry for bothering you good folks. I just hope he hasn't found some other woman. Some of these local girls, you know... I don't know why they're so popular! Skinny things, no curves at all. Honestly, it's a disgrace how-”“I hope you find your friend,” you interrupt, cutting off her rant before it can pick up too much momentum. Flashing you a quick smile, the woman backs off as the armoured car arrives. “Could be that some of Eishin's men attacked the camp,” you mutter to Freddy as you board the automotive, “But if they were able to hit it fast enough to stop any kind of message getting out...”“Gunny,” Freddy agrees, “Best be prepared.”Nodding, Gunny pats his jacket pocket – inside, the Abrahad medallion that once topped Saint Alma's staff. Hopefully, it still works.-Yet, for all your preparations, Camp Prosperity seems to be no different than normal when you arrive. The guard towers are intact, groups of soldiers are patrolling the perimeter, and lights burn in the windows of the central barracks. If anything, the base seems to be thriving – at least, compared with what you're used to seeing. You look about for the painted woman, but she's already left by the time you get around to her. Gone in search for her man, you assume. As you're setting out, you hail one of the patrols to get the latest news.“Things have been quiet here recently. We're starting to push deeper into the hostile territory,” one of the soldiers tells you brusquely, his expression reveal just what he thinks of civilians who take up too much of his time, “And yes, we lose men. The Deep Forest is full of traps, beasts, and wandering barbarians. Even with their leader gone, there are still dozens of different gangs searching for easy prey. If you're going in there, you do so at your own risk.”“This isn't our first...” Caliban begins, only for the petty officer to turn and march away, leading the rest of his men off along their designated route. Scowling at his retreating back, Caliban gives him a vulgar gesture before continuing on towards the edge of the Deep Forest. With soft mud squelching underfoot, you follow closely behind him. “He's not wrong, though,” the hunter muses, “Still likely to be plenty of dangers lying in wait.”“Hence the missing soldier,” you agree, “Everyone, I shouldn't need to tell you this, but don't let your guard down.”So begins the expedition.>I'm sorry about this, but things just aren't working today. I think I'm just going to close things here and continue them next Friday. Might have a bonus episode up midweek, if I can get something finished>I apologise again for the short session today!
>>3068669Thanks for running
>>3068669Thanks for running!If we're worried about Gunny's staff not working anymore, we could always do a test run on Masque or Herod. How cooperative would each of them be to that?
>>3068669Thanks for running!
>>3068686It might not be especially comfortable, but it wouldn't harm them. So, I'm fairly sure that they'd be willing to take one for the team
The crisp sound of boot heels clicking against sacred stonework rang out through the corridors of Cloudtop Prison as Bishop Rhea swept through her domain. Her eyes were fixed straight ahead of her, and the hands that reached imploringly out to her from rows of cells went ignored and unanswered. Even when she passed close enough that one of the prisoners could have touched her, their hand always stopped short as if flinching back from an open flame. Paying the wretches no heed, Rhea continued on through the frigid prison.It was always cold here, and that cold had long since settled into her bones like needles. Every day Rhea woke in pain, and every day she embraced that pain like a lover. One day, the Lord of Rising Light would decide that it was her time to join His side, and on that day she would be granted relief. Until then, that pain was simply one more thing for her to accept.When she arrived at her quarters, there was a woman waiting for Rhea. “Provost Trice,” she began, gesturing faintly for the younger woman to stand at ease, “You have returned.”“Yes Bishop, and I brought the reports you asked for,” Trice replied, holding out a sealed document pouch. Rhea took it, feeling the heavy weight of parchment within. The latest reports from the Vault of the Sun – a little project that she had started taking an interest in of late. One project among many. With her duty completed, Trice made a move to leave before Rhea shook her head slightly. “Was there something else?” the provost asked, furrowing her brow as if searching for something she had forgotten.“I had a matter that I would like your opinion on. A simple question, provost, one that you need not worry about,” Rhea explained, “Tell me, if you would – what do you think of this land, and the way that is is headed?”Trice didn't answer straight away, instead thinking about both the question and the context around it. Rhea liked that about Trice – while she was neither a fool nor a scholar, she was shrewd enough to know when there was something worth thinking about. Whatever she thought of the bishop's question, though, she kept to herself. “I think we're headed in the right direction,” Trice offered, “Things aren't perfect, and there are still a lot of dangers we must be wary of, but there are many people working hard to make the land a better place. The world is changing, bishop, and we're the ones changing it.”Rhea nodded, her expression revealing nothing. “And these people you speak of...” she mused, “Would you include Vaandemere among their number?”A change, too subtle to be really studied, came across Trice's face. “Well... yes, I suppose I would,” she replied slowly, “He's shown himself to be a friend of the church, and he can do the things that we can't. He's... flexible.”[1/3]
>>3074708These words hung in the air for a single cold moment, Rhea's gaze boring into the provost. “You think, then, that the church needs to be flexible?” she asked quietly, “That it cannot survive as it is now?”Here, some of the provosts that Bishop Rhea had in her service would have backtracked with a profusion of apologies. Instead, Trice tilted her head to the side for a moment before shrugging. “Respectfully speaking, bishop, Hierophant Milleux seemed to think that way when he assumed his position. Within a week of his coronation, he was already working on the first of his reforms,” Trice answered carefully, “And now the church seems stronger than ever. Considering that, I can only see the benefits of working with men like Vaandemere.”Allowing a tiny hint of a smile to show on her face, Rhea nodded her approval. Was it not said that Saint Alma herself had achieved great things with a Nadir-born man as her partner? “Meditate on this conversation, provost,” Rhea urged, “Develop your ideas further. If I have further need of your services, I will send for you. For now, you are dismissed.”Nodding firmly, Trice hurried off and vanished into the depths of Cloudtop Prison. With the document pouch held out before her like an offering to the gods, Rhea entered her quarters and started to read. A short while later, she admitted defeat and set the file aside – she felt uneasy, unable to concentrate on the words before her. Instead, she kept thinking back to her conversation with Trice. The provost was right – the world was changing, more than she could have guessed. Rhea was doing what she could to nurture the world, to guide it in a more acceptable direction, but... what if she was wrong? The world was resting upon a knife's edge, and it could fall either way.On one side of the coin, salvation. On the other, annihilation. For reasons known only to the Lord of Rising Light, Vaandemere would be key in deciding which path the world would take. He had gone in search of a thousand year mirror – a good omen – but too much remained uncertain. There was nothing else for it, Rhea decided, she needed to set her mind at ease. Smoothly rising to her feet, she swept out of her office and set off in search of peace. Her destination – the deepest part of the prison.Robed guards averted their eyes as Rhea marched through the corridors of Cloudtop Prison, pausing at the top of the dark stairwell for a moment before advancing down. The world seemed to drop away as she descended, darkness pressing in close to embrace her. Far below, the blue glow of purified Pleonite unfolded to guide the bishop towards salvation. With a free and uninhibited smile upon her face – a smile that no living soul had ever seen – Rhea hastened down to the chamber below.[2/3]
>>3074709The Immaculate was there to greet her, and Rhea wasted no time in sinking down to one knee before the Abrahad figure. Words drawn from some unimaginably ancient age welled up within her, and she heard herself whispering them aloud. Recognising her as the master of this domain, the prison reacted to her words and began to move, a new staircase opening up beneath her. It spiralled down into darkness, a sliver of blue light illuminating the single wooden chair that decorated the chamber. Allowing her eyes to adjust to the darkness, Rhea stepped down into the chamber and ran her slender fingers across the surface of the chair.In places, the pale wood was discoloured by dark stains. They were worst on the armrests, and the thick leather straps attached there. The metal buckles clinked softly as Rhea caressed them, her roaming hands moving up to the headrest and the ornate vice-like construction built there. Two metal plates, a faded velvet cushion covering each one, were placed there, with a screw to tighten them into place. Sitting in the cruel device, Rhea gazed straight ahead – with the screw still loose, she had the freedom to look wherever she pleased. Not all were so lucky. Facing the chair was a dark shape, a curtain of black velvet obscuring what lay beneath. Sighing wistfully to herself, Rhea leaned forwards and grasped one corner of the velvet curtain, pulling it away to reveal the secret that lay at the heart of this place.Her nerves trembling with anticipation, Bishop Rhea gazed deep into the thousand year mirror. Staring down into its near-infinite depths, she saw->That concludes today's bonus interlude! Into the Skies will return with regular updates on Friday>Thank you for reading along today!
>>3074710>she saw-Vaandameres sweat soaked hawt bodeh and couldn't help but bite her lower lip.
>>3074710Jesus fucking christ.The MIRROR does it? Draws out your impurities, no matter what else it has to pull with it? Even if it has you sweating and crying and pissing your pants?Eew.
>>3074710These frikkin mirrorsAlso >4 am postWORRY
>>3074710The mirrors are evil.
That first day, your progress is slower than expected. For all your recent work against Eishin, you're all unused to marching through this kind of terrain. Even Caliban looks like he's struggling, and his expression often darkens with frustration. You never really have a chance to find your rhythm, either because of a rest stop – necessary to keep the weaker members of your party from falling behind – or because of some obstruction. Thick terrain, signs of danger, or just areas that FEEL bad... they all force you to slow down or double back on your path.“Gosh!” Blessings gasps as he sits down on a fallen log and mops sweat off his face, “This is hard work. Grace, are you... I can carry your pack for a little if you want.” Too exhausted to talk, Grace just shakes her head and waves away his concern. Her eyes are reddened with a lack of sleep, and she looks borderline ill. Reaching the same conclusion as you, Blessings gives you an imploring look. “Maybe we should turn back,” he suggests slowly, reluctant to raise the possibility, “You'll be able to make better time if it's just-”“No!” Grace spits, her eyes narrowed to hard slits, “I can do this. Turning back will waste more time in the long run. If you want to turn back, that's fine, but don't use me as an excuse.”“Both of you, shut it,” Caliban snaps, gesturing at them with his hunting knife, “Hostile ground, remember?” Jamming the blade back into its holster, he looks around at the entire group. “Ten minutes more, then we move,” he orders, “If you're not ready, too bad.”This is his territory, and you're largely content to allow him to give the orders – but this is too far. “Hey!” you counter, “Nobody is getting left behind. We take as long as we need. Maybe I'm mistaken, Caliban, but I don't recall setting any deadlines here. Is there some reason why we should be hurrying?”His brow furrowed by a dark scowl, Caliban gestures for you to follow him a few paces away from the others. “I don't think we're alone here,” he states bluntly, “A few hours ago, I got a feeling – a feeling like we were being watched. You don't survive out here without getting a feel for these things. We were being followed back in Monotia, and we're still being followed out here. I didn't want to tell the others, but that's why I want to keep moving.”“Why keep it to yourself?” you ask, “One of the others might have seen something.”“Doubtful. Look, we're all tense enough as it is,” the hunter argues, “The last thing we need is a false alarm, someone shooting into the first bush that rustles. If we're too focused on what might be following us, we won't be able to see what we're walking into.” Caliban looks away here, setting his sights on the forest ahead. “We're not too far from an old settlement,” he mutters, “If we hurry, we should reach it by nightfall. If not...”[1/2]
>>3078314As the sun starts to slink beneath the horizon, and the promise of shelter for the night gets closer, your pace increases. Nobody wants to be caught out here once it gets completely dark, not even Caliban. Gunny constantly toys with his Abrahad medallion, and his restless fidgeting is starting to wear on your nerves. “Hey Gunny,” you whisper, your hushed voice causing him to jolt around in surprise, “Just try it out. It'll put my mind at ease as well. Masque, are you...”“I will tolerate it,” the daemon rumbles, nodding for Gunny to go ahead. Raising the medallion to his lips, Gunny whispers the words that activate its magic. Immediately, you know that the charm remains intact – you feel the power rippling through you, like a powerful wind that somehow leaves your clothes untouched. Masque is already gone by the time you look around, and it takes you a moment more to notice the daemon lurking in the undergrowth. “Then it works,” he hisses, “Just keep it away from me.”-“Wait,” Branwen hisses, pointing towards a large and especially broad tree. Saying nothing more, she hurries over and circles behind it, vanishing from sight. With a startled cry, she staggers back into view and waves a fearful hand at something yet unseen. Undergrowth crashes beneath your boots as you race over, already drawing your revolver in anticipation. What awaits you on the other side of the tree is a body – not a recent kill, but an ancient and mummified corpse. You've seen something like this before, you recall, a solemn body interred within a hollow tree. This time, though, the body has been defiled – decapitated, the severed head nowhere to be seen.“It is not right,” the Nadir healer whispers, her small hands clenching into tight fists as the others creep over to join you. Keziah mutters a low curse at the sight, while Caliban remains unmoved. Branwen starts to say something else, only for the words die in her mouth as the blood drains from her face. Slowly, she turns and gazes out into the forest. Somewhere out there the undergrowth rustles, and Branwen silently points.Following her gaze, you see what seems to be a greenish-grey shadow moving through the forest. It's tall, whatever it is, reaching up into the trees above and moving with a loosely swinging pace. It's not Eishin's smoke monster, but that seems like small comfort now – this thing is an approximation of a man, the limbs as formless as gel, but it towers over every one of you. An uncanny silence falls over you, as if your ears were suddenly closed shut with wax, and from high amidst the canopy above you see two orbs of fire roaming about... searching for something. The ones who defiled this sacred place, perhaps.>Run. Perhaps you can lose it in the trees>Take up arms and fight the daemon>Shelter behind the protection of Saint Alma's medallion>Other
>>3078317>Shelter behind the protection of Saint Alma's medallionThough it ain't attacking us yet. I'd say let it pass if it's unprovoked, but if it does come after us use the medallion.
>>3078317>Shelter behind the protection of Saint Alma's medallion>burn the corpse now. Don't pull it out, just burn the whole tree.
>>3078317>Shelter behind the protection of Saint Alma's medallionMasque is gonna be left high and dry though. I can also get behind burning the corpse. Can't go wrong with cremation.
>>3078324Remember the head is still missing so we wouldn't be able to get the whole corpse.And we are in a forest with other flammable materials nearby. Not sure setting a fire would be the best idea.
>>3078337forests are actually not easy to burn, especially swampy, boggy forests. Even if we can't actually get a fire going, the intent we are communicating is clear: we mean to treat the body with respect.
Turning to Gunny, you call out for him to activate the saint's medallion once more. At least, you think you do – in the uncanny silence that you've been plunged into, you can hear only the faintest murmur of your words. Whether or not he can understand you, Gunny reaches the same conclusion to you and holds the amulet high. Taking notice of this, Masque leaps back and away into the undergrowth a split second before the magic takes hold.Blasted away by the ancient charm, the silence that surrounded you is replaced by the last notes of Gunny's voice. Not a moment too soon, either – the giant daemon reaches down to you, the ephemeral substance of its shapeless hand squashing up against a dome of invisible force and spreading out. A different kind of silence falls over you all as the daemon presses against your shield, your team watching with unease. Slowly, the daemon withdraws its hand from you, only to lower its cumbersome body down to ground level. Where it meets resistance from trees or rocks, it simply flows around the solid obstacles.Two orbs of sickly yellow light lock upon you, those eyes the only detail in an otherwise formless head. It looks at you, and you look straight back. The stalemate draws out for a moment more before Keziah steps forwards, spreading her arms wide and saying a word that flows like oil against your ears. A greeting, a plea for mercy, a gesture of mutual respect... whatever it is, it's as ancient as the daemon itself, and the spirit recognises it well. Features push their way to the surface of its gelatinous head, the crude approximation of a human face, and the globes of fire that serve as its eyes take on a cleaner, whiter light.“Boss,” Keziah whispers to you, “I dinnae think it wants to kill us.”“You don't THINK it wants to kill us?” Caliban groans back, “You better be sure about that, because if this shield doesn't hold...”“We did not do this!” you call out, gesturing towards the tree as you step forwards and present yourself, “We are merely travellers, passing through these forests. We mean no harm or disrespect.” These words seem to fall upon deaf ears, or perhaps the daemon sees no purpose in replying. “Was this the one who summoned you?” you continue, once again pointing to the tree, “We can do nothing for them now, save for giving them a proper burning.”Finally, the daemon responds to this – responding with a deep and mournful moan like the lowing of cattle. The fire of its eyes flare brighter for a moment, burning with a clear meaning... a clear approval. Even before those flares of light have faded from view, the daemon vanishes into a thin, greenish mist and allows itself to be carried away upon the wind. Nothing more of it remains in sight, and a feeling of normalcy returns to the forest.“You're carrying the body,” Caliban mutters, the first one to risk breaking the silence.[1/2]
>>3078361Caliban pleaseproper etiquette is to say "not it"
>>3078361As it turns out, the mummified body is not unpleasant to carry. It feels as light as a bag of feathers, and it has the faint scent of spices. The worst part is making sure that the fragile thing doesn't collapse as you carry it the rest of the way to the old settlement. Easier to make a pyre there, and none of you wants to be out in the thick forest for any longer than absolutely necessary. Branwen walks by your side as you carry the body, murmuring soft prayers to herself or to the dead body.“Excuse me,” Grace asks carefully, tapping Keziah on the arm, “What was that you said back there? I didn't recognise the language, and I certainly couldn't translate it.”“Doesnae really mean anythin'. I'm nae even sure if it's a proper word,” the witch replies, “But it's old, whatever it is. Kinda like tellin' a daemon that you come in peace, that sorta thing. It's a tradition as much as anythin', witches have been doin' it since basically forever.” She shrugs, leaving Grace to silently mouth the witch-word to herself. A short while later, the forest opens up slightly and you see ruins awaiting you.-You have no idea how, but Masque is already waiting for you in the ruined village when you arrive. Whatever destroyed this place, it happened a very long time ago. Little remains of the buildings but overgrown rubble, and the distant sounds of animals are the only signs of life to greet you. Still, it feels safer than bedding down for the night in the forest itself, and you can see a reassuring sliver of the night sky through cracks in the canopy above.Once Caliban gives you the all-clear, everyone starts to work on their own separate jobs. The hunter himself begins to set snares around the ruins, simple alarms to warn you of anything approaching in the night, while Gunny heads back into the forest to gather wood for a funeral pyre. It won't take much, by your reckoning, but if you're going to do this than you might as well do it properly. Branwen raises her slingshot and goes out foraging, while Grace and Keziah get to work searching the village itself... although you can't imagine what they're expecting to find here. Unsure of what to do, Blessings lingers restlessly by your side.“Um...” he begins, looking between you and the decapitated corpse you carry on your back.“Don't worry about us,” you assure him with a wan laugh, “We're getting along just fine, aren't we? Don't take offence if my friend doesn't answer that, she doesn't talk much these days.”“I don't... really think you should joke about this,” Blessings says, wincing slightly, “It doesn't seem proper.”He's probably right there. Gently setting the body down, you go looking for something to do.>Search the village ruins with Grace and Keziah>Help Gunny gather the firewood>Assist Branwen with her foraging>Check in with Caliban>Other
>>3078379>Search the village ruins with Grace and Keziahphat loot and you ok grace maybe you should take a nap so kez and I can have some alone time hueee
>>3078379>Check in with Caliban
>>3078379>>Check in with CalibanHe seems a little rough
>>3078379>Help Gunny gather the firewoodNo going into the forest alone.
“I'm going to check in with Caliban, see if he needs any help with the snares,” you tell Blessings, gesturing aimlessly towards the outskirts of the settlement, “Make sure our new friend doesn't wander off, okay?”Leaving him with a sour expression – and the hint of a smile struggling to force its way onto his face – you stroll away from Blessings and go off in search of Caliban. He's busy fiddling with thin wire and a stack of pebbles when you find him, and the chance to get some revenge is just too great for you to pass up. Creeping up behind him, you reach out to touch the hunter on his shoulder, and then-“I can hear you, you know,” Caliban remarks in a soft voice, “I know what you're going to do, and it's very childish.” Scowling darkly at his back, you tap him stubbornly on the shoulder. Sighing heavily, Caliban looks around and makes a very bad attempt at looking alarmed. “Oh no, what a surprise!” he drawls, “When did you get here, captain? And, getting straight to the point, what can I do for you?”“That daemon back there,” you ask, “Could that have been what was following us?”To his credit, Caliban considers the idea for a moment before shaking his head. “That thing didn't seem interested in creeping about and following us. Plus, we all felt when it was nearby. No, that wasn't our little spy. I won't rule out the possibility of it being a daemon, but that's because I'm not ruling anything out yet,” he answers, “In fact, if it IS a daemon, it might not come onto that giant's territory.”“Do daemons even have territory?” you wonder aloud. Something to ask Keziah, perhaps. She should be around here somewhere...“Who cares?” the hunter concludes with a shrug, “These trips won't do a damn thing against a spirit, but they'll definitely let us know if any people or wild animals – and sometimes there isn't much difference between the two in this place - come wandering into our camp. That's about all I can do. If you want anything spiritual...”“Ask an expert,” you agree, rising to leave, “But since we don't have one of those on hand, Keziah will have to do.”“Hey!” the witch snaps, her voice drifting to you from elsewhere in the camp, “I heard that!”-An air of excitement hangs over the pair of women as you find them, the sound of Keziah's voice leading you to a small clearing – certainly not large enough to allow a skiff to land, but large enough that the moonlight pools around you. Half-buried in the wet soil, you see dark stone peeking into view. The faint carvings in the rock are the source of their excitement, and you waste no time in kneeling down next to the fallen monolith. Of course, they just look like crude scratchings to you.“We can use this!” Keziah explains quickly, clapping her hands together with glee, “I think it's a rite, a ritual to call a daemon!”[1/2]
>>3078403“To be more precise, it seems to be an account of how someone else summoned a pair of daemons,” Grace continues, tracing her bare fingers across the worn stone, “One of them, I believe, was the spirit we saw earlier. Here, listen to this.” Clearing her throat, she begins to read from the stone – translating the words as if she had known them all her life. “Here, the sorcerer Bartzabel did summon and bind two spirits of the air – Golgoana, the walker in the mists, and Sullygrahn, the lantern-bird. Golgoana, he bound to the land so that it might watch over this place. Sullygrahn, he tasked to watch over those who walked here.”“We're still workin' on the rest,” Keziah adds, brushing some more dirt off the fallen stone, “But this here seems to a way of callin' out to Sullygrahn. Doesnae look too complicated, either. I want to take another wee look over this, okay? I'll let you know if we can figure anythin' out.”“Just don't go calling anything up,” you warn her, “Even if you're sure, no witchcraft without my explicit orders.”Keziah laughs at this, pretending that the thought hadn't already crossed her mind.-Leaving the two women to their research, you head back into the forest and look about for Gunny. You find him sitting beneath a tall tree, a stack of firewood beside him and a cigarette smouldering between his lips. “Yeah, brother, I know,” he sighs, taking a wistful draw on the cigarette, “I'll start a forest fire like this. Bad news...”“After that rain we had? Not likely,” you reply, pointing down at the damp soil, “You're more likely to get a wet ass, sitting there.”“I leave you people alone for two minutes, and you start talking about asses,” Freddy remarks, emerging from the forest and setting a handful of firewood down, “Captain. Here to help us carry this back to camp? It would be good to have someone willing to do a bit of hard work.”“Hey!” Gunny chuckles, “I was just taking a little break, sister. You gotta be careful with lifting and carrying when you're my age, you can put your back out.” Snorting with amusement, Freddy picks up a fallen branch and tosses it at Gunny. Fumbling it, the older man just about manages to keep the branch from hitting him in the face. Undeterred, Freddy continues to throw bits of wood his way, only stopping when he has his arms full of it. Picking the rest back up herself, she turns and marches back to the camp. “Iraklin discipline, huh?” Gunny groans, nodding for you to take some of the load, “But hey, that was a good thing you did back there.”“Sitting back and watching Freddy abuse you?” you ask, smiling at the idea.“No, brother, I mean with the body,” he corrects you, “Decent thing to do, giving the old girl a proper funeral. Most folk wouldn't have gone to the trouble, especially not carrying her all the way here.”Maybe so. But then, you're not most folk, are you?[2/3]
>>3078424When you arrive back at the camp, it's starting to feel a little more like a home – even if it is just a home for the night. A cooking fire is burning brightly, and Blessings is unpacking some of his supplies. Branwen sits next to him, working on a rabbit's corpse with a tiny curved knife. Judging by the bloodied hides lying within throwing distance, that wasn't the only animal she was able to catch.Out on the edge of camp, the sight of the burning funeral pyre reminds you not to relax too much. You're still in hostile territory, after all.“So, here's what we got,” Keziah tells you, holding out her hands to the cooking fire to warm them. “Callin' out to the big guy, that isnae gonna happen. You need all sorts of things that I havenae even heard of – a branch from this tree and that, mud from the bottom of a sacred lake, all sorts of crap. Now, Sullygrahn is a lot easier. A flamin' torch, a bit of chant and repeat, easy!”“This is the part where you explain why we would ever WANT to call one of them up,” Freddy points out, “And don't just say “for fun” or anything like that. I'm warning you, don't say-”“For the fun of it, of course!” Keziah laughs, causing Grace to smirk ever so slightly, “But really, Sully is said to protect those who walk through this region. I cannae see any real reason to turn down a little extra protection, can you? Especially when it doesnae mean we have to go out of our way at all. Hell, we could do the ritual right here and right now!”“It does require two people, mind you,” Grace adds, her sleepless red eyes narrowed into slight slits, “I volunteer, captain. I'm willing to assist in this ritual. I'd be fascinated to take part in a ceremony like this, and I know the old words perfectly well...”Throwing up her hands and letting the matter drop, Freddy stalks off to check on the funeral pyre. One corner of Grace's mouth twists down in displeasure, but she says nothing more. With that, the matter falls to you.>Forbid the ritual. You're not calling up daemons for no good reason>Allow Keziah and Grace to conduct their ritual>Assist Keziah in performing the ritual instead of Grace>Other
>>3078452>Assist Keziah in performing the ritual instead of GraceYou're looking pretty rough there Grace, and we're all already on shaky ground as far as corruption goes.
>>3078452>>Assist Keziah in performing the ritual instead of GraceYou look exhausted Grace
>>3078452>>Assist Keziah in performing the ritual instead of Grace
>>3078452>Assist Keziah in performing the ritual instead of Grace
>>3078452We should ask the spirit how this place was destroyed.
“Grace, I don't want you performing this ritual. You look rough – when was the last time you got any sleep?” you ask, studying the girl and her haggard eyes, “When you're tired, you're more likely to make a mistake. I think we both know how bad a mistake like this can be.” Holding up a hand to stall her protests, you look around to Keziah for a show of support. Nodding, the witch gives you a tight smile. “I can perform the rite in your place,” you continue, looking back to Grace, “A little extra protection won't go amiss.”“How about you watch and take some notes?” Keziah suggests, “I really shouldnae suggest a thing like that – me mam would kill me for sayin' it – but I dinnae see the harm in it.”It's hard to describe the exact expression that crosses Grace's face here – a mix of disappointment, understanding and sly humour. It's that last part that you really catches your attention. The idea of defying the long-standing tradition of shunning the written word has an appeal to her, you think, an appeal on some scholarly level. “You're right, captain, and I'm glad that you're willing to take my place instead of outright forbidding this rite,” she concedes, “As an aside, you two might be a better fit for the ritual – it requires a certain level of... cohesion. A connection, perhaps.”“Aye, well, we certainly have that,” Keziah agrees, giving you a meaningful wink.-Holding out the flaming torch before you, you follow Keziah into the clearing and glance down at the fallen monolith. Muttering softly to herself, Keziah indicates a place for you to stand and then takes her place opposite you. Lurking near the tree line, Grace watches intently with an open notebook sitting in her lap. To tell the truth, you're starting to wish that she wasn't here – it feels almost voyeuristic, performing in front of her like this, and the rapt look on her face hardly helps. Doing your best to put her out of your mind, you look back to Keziah... just in time to see the witch scooping up a handful of mud and daubing an occult mark on each cheek.“Now you,” she urges, reaching over and stroking her fingers down your face in a lingering caress. Then, she leans up and plants a quick kiss on your forehead. “That wasnae part of the rite,” the witch explains, winking at you, “That was just for fun.”“Get on with it!” Grace jeers from the sidelines.Laughing nervously, Keziah steps back and raises her arms far above her head. “Do you hear us, Sullygrahn?” she cries out, “Do you hear our voices?”“Hear our voices!” you call out, raising the flaming torch towards the sky. Somewhere far beyond the limits of your perception, you feel something stir. You've started the rite now – no going back.[1/2]
>>3078503An uncanny wind whips around you as you follow Keziah's unspoken orders, calling out the words she tells you to call out. It's not a hard ritual to perform, save for one issue – your arms are starting to ache from holding the torch upright, but you dare not lower them until the rite is done. Judging by the encouraging look Keziah gives you, though, that won't be long now. More convincing than her expression is the light above you – a soft gold light like a falling star, slowly descending from the sky.“Come to us, Sullygrahn!” Keziah cries out, thrusting her hands up towards the golden light, “By the sword, the torch, and the spell, come!”“By the sword, the torch, and the spell!” you repeat, finally allowing the torch to drop and reaching up with your own empty hands, “Come!”And so Sullygrahn the lantern-bird was called down.-The light shrinks, coalescing into an inhuman shape that reaches out towards you with rapidly forming limbs. Feeling no fear in your heart, you allow the newly created hand to close around yours and fill your body with a bountiful warmth. Keziah takes the daemon's other hand, uniting the three of you for a fleeting moment. No, uniting more than just the three of you – in those scant few seconds, you feel your essence brushing against that of all your companions as the daemon lays their blessing upon you all.“So I am called,” Sullygrahn intones, looking about them with their faintly owlish face. Withdrawing their hands, they call a long staff out of the air and sweep it over you in a wide arc. “Hardship is the essence of life, but so are comfort and joy,” the daemon continues, “One should not hold sway over another. So has been spoken, children of man.”You never actually thought this far ahead, to what you might do once the spirit was called. Neither had Keziah, by the dazed and awed look on her face. Before the daemon can slip away, you call out a question. “This place lies abandoned and ruined,” you ask, “What happened here? Was there a plague or a beast? Did another tribe raid and-”A gesture from Sullygrahn cuts your words off. Holding up a hand to silence you, the daemon sweeps their staff through the air. Embers fall from it, breaking apart mid-air and taking the form of... people. A family – the understanding comes easily, through an unnatural intuition bestowed upon you. The family lived well, leading several other families in a peaceful life... until avarice took hold in one branch of the tribe. Plots grew, schemes were formed, and secret alliances were drawn up – all leading to a single night of knives and blood. The rot started from within, and it destroyed the peaceful town. Grimacing, you turn away and look back towards Grace.But the young scholar is nowhere to be seen.>Allow the daemon to depart. This rite is over>Ply the daemon with more questions... (Write in)>Other
>>3078549>ask if we should do any specific rites with the body we found, and if the other spirit is sullygrahns twin.
>>3078549>>Ply the daemon with more questions... (Write in)Will you two continue to watch over the land even though the village is gone?
>>3078549>Anything we should look out for or do to stay safe here?
>>3078549Has someone or something been following us?
“Will both of you continue to watch over this land?” you ask the daemon, gazing up into its avian face, “Even though the village is gone?”“Kin Golgoana will remain here, for they cannot be separated from this soil so long as this world continues to turn. Perhaps one day a new world will be created, and they can roam free once again – but there is no sadness to be found in this place. The land yet lives, and that life defends a protector,” Sullygrahn answers, their voice almost raised in song, “But this one shall answer all who call – any child of man who knows the words and the old ways can call upon this one... yet few will do so. This one is no spirit of war and discord, and the world hungers for those vices.”“Then... we can call upon you again?” Keziah asks, her voice hushed with awe and a hint of sorrow.“So long as you know the words, daughter of man,” the daemon answers, placing their hand upon her brow in a gentle gesture. Warm gold light glows there, and you see her shudder – you feel it, in fact, feeling the words being burned into her. When the daemon turns to you, some instinct causes you to hold up a warding hand. Almost as soon as you've done so, you feel obscurely embarrassed. To dispel the feeling, you speak aloud once more.“We found a body one the way here. It was.. defiled,” you offer, “Should we perform any rites for them, or would a simple burning be appropriate?”“Sarinu, a daughter of man once like yourself. You found their remains,” Sullygrahn falls silent for a moment, and you find yourself wondering if it really understands you. An image forms in your mind, that of a man and a woman performing this same rite – Bartzabel and Sarinu, who first called up these spirits. “Give her to the Mistress of the Flames,” the daemon finishes eventually, “Reunite them. Part of their flesh has already been left this world. It is good that the rest of her will follow. Kin Golgoana will be thankful to you, children of man.”“Kin?” you murmur, “Are you siblings, then? Can daemons even be-”“We are kin in spirit,” Sullygrahn answers, and somehow you feel a hint of humour, “Kin Golgoana knows this land, and this one knows Kin Golgoana. This one... speaks for Kin Golgoana.”“Then, if you speak for... them, then answer me this. What can we do to stay safe in this land?” you ask, following the question up with another, “Are we truly being followed?”“Since you have left the city of men, you have been followed by a foe who wears many faces,” the daemon intones, “A follower of the pretender king and the horned swordsman, now a phantom seeking revenge. They too can call upon the spirits of the wind, and many cunning enchantments protect them. Yet, they will not enter this place – here, you are under the protection of Kin Golgoana.”[1/2]
>>3078591We have a changeling after us then?
>>3078591“They wear many faces...” you muse, “A changeling, then?”“The masks they wear are illusions, not masks of flesh,” Sullygrahn explains, “You have seen what they want you to see. Let it be know, you are hunted by a child of man much like yourself.”A follower of the pretender king and the horned swordsman... Eishin and Segharl, you figure. It's not all bad, though – at least you have a safe place to retreat to, and a pair of powerful daemons watching over you. Not a bad reward for performing a simple cremation. With no more questions, you humbly bow your head in a gesture of thanks. Before the spirit can depart, though, Keziah calls out to it.“Wait!” she pleads, “If this world can be remade, can that wipe away a prophecy?”Sullygrahn turns to her, their blank eyes settling upon the young witch. “Yes,” it answers eventually, “But prophecies have a will of their own – they will resist, forcing their way into being if need be. Beware, daughter of man. Beware.”With that last word echoing through the air around you, Sullygrahn shrinks back down into an orb of golden light and vanishes into the sky.-Neither of you says much as you walk back to the camp, but that seems okay. When you have something that needs said, you'll say it. For now, you're allowing the comfortable silence to draw out for as long as possible Even knowing that you've got a murderous witch on your tail, you feel uncommonly calm and at ease. Maybe this is the blessing that Sullygrahn had for you – peace of mind. If so, that's no small gift.A strong smell is hanging over the camp when you arrive back, radiating out from a pot bubbling over the cooking fire. It's not what you'd call a delicious smell, but it's not disgusting either. A powerful herbal scent, with the savoury hint of game meat and an earthy vegetable odour. Branwen stirs the cooking pot, nodding to herself. A short distance away, Grace sleeps on a bedroll – apparently exhaustion managed to win out over her curiosity.You can't help but notice that most people are eating out of cans or pouches, favouring prepared rations over whatever it is that Branwen is cooking up. As you lean over the pot and take another sniff, you start to understand why. The more you're exposed to it, the more sinister it starts to seem. “Say,” you ask her, “What is this, exactly?”“Stew. Rabbit. Soil vegetables. Many herbs, each one good for strength and vitality. Many of King Eishin's men would eat this,” looking around at Keziah for a moment, then looking back to you, she adds, “Good for male vitality, they said.”Keziah snorts with incredulous laughter, warding off the bowl that Branwen offers her. Taking the defeat in stride, Branwen holds the bowl out to you.>Accept the stew. It probably smells better than it tastes>Stick to canned rations for tonight. Better safe than sorry>Other
>>3078628>Accept the stew. It probably smells better than it tastes>“Wait!” she pleads, “If this world can be remade, can that wipe away a prophecy?”I honestly thought that sideplot got dropped.
>>3078628>>Accept the stew. It probably smells better than it tastes
>>3078628>Accept the stew. It probably smells better than it tastes
Oh what the hell, it can't be any worse than some of your attempts at cooking. It probably smells worse than it tastes, anyway. Accepting the bowl of stew from Branwen, you are rewarded by a bright smile in return. That, at least, you can enjoy. Taking a spoon from Blessings, you sit down on a blanket and take another cautious sniff of the food. “Don't laugh,” you warn Keziah, noticing how intently she watches you, “Don't even think about laughing.”“No laughing. I promise,” she assures you, pausing for a long moment before adding, “So... male vitality?”“Oh, probably just some old bit of folklore. A way to get growing boys to eat their stew,” you suggest with a shrug, digging in and taking a big mouthful of the hearty meal. For all your reluctance, it doesn't taste particularly bad. A strong taste of bitter herbs hits you, but the rabbit meat and a few pinches of spices from Blessings' supplies takes off the worst of the edge. It's certainly filling, the sort of thing that could keep you going for an entire day on a single meal. Swallowing, you give Keziah a shrug. “Not so bad,” you announce, “Want to try?”“My vitality is quite fine, thank you very much,” she replies, almost laughing before her expression darkens. “Actually... I don't much feel like eating meat at the moment,” she admits quietly, “Just the thought of it makes me feel sick. You can probably guess why.” Digging through her pockets, Keziah takes out a heel of bread and takes a disinterested bite. “It's been a while, huh?” the witch continues, “A while since I talked about that prophecy stuff. Honestly? I thought maybe I'd beaten it somehow. Like it was all a... a thing, you know?”“A metaphor?” you guess, skimming the meaning from the surface of her mind.“Sure, one of those,” Keziah says with a nod, “Like maybe I was “devouring” Maeve's knowledge or something. Only... I had a dream last night. I dreamed that I became a beast and...” Letting her words trail off here, she bares her teeth – teeth that seem larger and sharper than ever before. Barely tasting the stew now, you spoon down another mouthful and gesture for Keziah to continue. “That's... it, really,” she finishes weakly, “I had a dream – and I'm not blind. I can see what's been happening to me lately. I got a lead on it, but this prophecy crap is catching up on me at last.”For all your parental drama, you've never had to live with a curse like hers – raised with the belief that one day mother would devour daughter, or daughter would devour mother. “I didn't know,” you murmur. What else is there to say?Shaking her head, Keziah places a hand on your shoulder. “I didn't tell you,” she corrects you, “I didn't want it to get in the way. We're close to something, you know? If we keep moving forwards, that's good enough for me.”[1/2]
>>3078628>“Wait!” she pleads, “If this world can be remade, can that wipe away a prophecy?”Funny, I was just wondering if we could do something for both Keziah and her mother to remove the prophecy that connects them.
>>3078714When there are just the dregs of your stew left, you set the bowl aside and let out a soft grunt of satisfaction. You can't say that it was the best meal that you've ever eaten, but it was certainly one of the heartiest. Keziah excuses herself after a moment, slinking back to the monolith for – in her own words – one last final check. Leaving her too it, you bring the empty bowl back to Branwen. Despite the fact that only you and Gunny actually dared try her food, she doesn't seem dispirited.“This is good land,” she states, stamping one foot lightly against the ground for emphasis, “The game is plentiful. There are many herbs here, herbs that grow tall and strong. Healthy soil, and the beasts of the forest will not threaten us here. Yes – this is good land.”Before Branwen can continue on in this vein, you quickly speak up. “Segharl has... had a group of fighters. When you were in Eishin's camp, did you know much about them?” you ask, your question rewarded by a blank stare, “Was there a witch among their number?”“Segharl himself was initiated. Most of his chosen were,” Branwen thinks for a moment, “But perhaps there was one. She was... distant, she favoured the wilds over the encampment. Forlorn Ashtoret, I believe she was named. I did not ever meet her, although I have seen her before. Once as a child, before Eishin's encampment, she travelled to my village and performed for us. She took on many shapes, and showed wonders to the children. Then, two days after she left, several children vanished. In the forest, later on, we found... bones. Cracked to get at the rich marrow within.”Suddenly, that stew doesn't seem to be sitting quite right in your stomach.“Was she loyal to Eishin, then?” you press, “He was not kind to witches, from what I saw...”“She adored him, and loathed the Mavens. She believed that he was right to subjugate them, as he was strong and they were weak,” the Nadir healer explains, tilting her head to the side as she thinks back, “Yet, for all the affection she held for King Eishin, she was alone – she would not obey him, nor come to his aid when he needed it. She walked her own path, keeping the company of spirits instead of men. The Mavens were stronger than her, but she was... wild and unburdened. She will do things that no other witches will do.”“Things like..?” you prompt, but Branwen just shakes her head and refuses to speak. Silence falls, and a thick sense of nausea begins to climb the back of your throat.Maybe that stew wasn't such a good idea after all.>Okay, I'm going to pause things here for today. Into the Skies will hopefully resume tomorrow, starting at the same usual time>Thank you for your contributions today!
>>3078781Thanks for running senpai.
>>3078781You know speaking of Eishin and witches... what the hell happened to Caldwell and Gorgon? And Faulker for that matter, I might be mis-remembering but I don't seen to recall him being captured.
>>3078781Thanks for running!I had totally forgotten about that prophecy, we should ask our divine contacts about breaking those. I'm sure it can't be too hard for a god to manage. Maybe we can have them both get power from the heart of the world, then they won't ever be able to devour each other.
>>3078816I guess we need to figure out the 'Why?' portion of the situation. Why would either of them need or be compelled to devour each other?
>>3078797It was all very hush hush, so word never really got out, but I can confirm that Faulkner was apprehended. He's not going to be causing any trouble any time seen.As for Caldwell and Gorgon, they're still out and about. Full disclosure - I hit a bad bit of writer's block with their side of things, which is why I've been focusing on other little side stories. I do want to get back to them at some point, ideally once I remember how to brain
You've had strange dreams before – you've dreamed so deeply that you tumbled into the Nightlands, and stranger still, you've dreamed of Bishop Rhea behaving in very strange ways – but this might be one of the strangest dreams you've ever had. Sitting in a dark void, sitting at one end of a long dining table that floats in the abyss, you look across and see Maeve's face lit by flickering candlelight. She smiles sweetly at you before dabbing her lips with a clean white handkerchief, staining the pristine linen with blood.“What is wrong, Milos?” she asks calmly, “Are you not hungry?”You won't look down at what's sitting on your plate. You won't do it – you simply refuse. “I don't understand any of this,” you admit bluntly, “This all seems too cruel to me. What kind of prophecy is this, that compels mother and daughter to...”“The strong will always devour the weak. That is simply the nature of the world, no matter where you go. Even in the lands above, in the churches and military bases that make up your civilised societies, what do you see?” Maeve spreads her hands wide, showing you bloodied palms, “Priests turning their moral authority into tyranny. Officers using their men as pawns in some greater game played out for their own amusement. Your own homeland, grown weak on enduring peace... and swallowed up in a single day. Why should this NOT be the case?”“Do you believe that, though?” you press, your hands clenching into fists beneath the crisp white tablecloth, “Do you actually WANT any of this?”Maeve says nothing to this, not for a long time. Dimly, you find yourself wondering if she was raised on the exact same prophecy – on the idea that Madame Lamia would one day seek her out as prey. “Perhaps we are being tested,” she muses at last, “To see what we are willing to abandon in favour of survival. Family, loyalty, friendship... love. What would you be willing to shed, if it meant living to see one more day?” Nodding calmly to herself, Maeve gestures down at the table stretching out before you. “Now,” she finishes, “Now you must eat.”This time, you can't help it. Looking down, you see the severed hand – still dark with shimmering scales – sitting in a pool of unclean blood. The fingers twitch, and--And you jolt awake, your heart hammering in your chest and the blood boiling in your veins. Sweat clings to your flesh like a second skin, and it feels like a lead weight is pressing down upon your chest. Looking down, you nearly cry out in revulsion as you see a hand lying across your body, and then you realise – with no small amount of relief – that it is still attached to Keziah's arm. Even so, the traces of your dream make it seem a horrible thing, and you can't help but swat it away.It's almost sunrise – about time for her to be waking up anyway.[1/2]
>>3080494That morning, you're not the only one who skips breakfast. Gunny looks pale and haggard, his eyes ringed with dark shadows and his lips often twisting with the beginning of a curse that never fully forms. He often lights a cigarette, only to take one puff before throwing it away, sickened by it. For your part, you're just not sure if you can stomach anything. You haven't felt this bad since you drank changeling slime, and that was pretty bad. Even without the persistent memory of that awful dream...“Don't know why I feel so rotten, brother,” Gunny mutters to you, wincing and shuddering as he bends down to try and tie up his boots. “Not like it's a hangover or nothing like that,” he adds, “Light, I don't miss those! Still, I wish I knew what-”“Oh, come now!” Grace sighs, “Isn't it obvious? Both of you have one thing in common, and you really shouldn't need me to point it out to you.” She waits expectantly, looking between the two of you before groaning in frustration. “Fine then, perhaps I DO need to point it out,” she laments, “What is that the two of you – and only the two of you – ate? Branwen's stew, of course!”“Wait,” Branwen interrupts, looking up from the knife she was sharpening, “Wait, what?”“If it was just one of you, I wouldn't have been willing to draw any conclusions, but both of you? I dare say, that's no coincidence,” the young scholar explains, tenting her fingers and leaning forwards, “Consider also – do either of you actually know what she put in there? Does anyone here, save for Branwen herself, know that?”Gunny frowns for a long moment before looking around at Branwen. “You do know more about herb and plants than any of us, little sister,” he states, “You would have known if you were putting anything dangerous in there, right?”“I... no! Yes! I would have...” Branwen blinks repeatedly, trying to catch up with what is going on – or to come up with a good excuse. The others have all turned to look your way now, and the Nadir girl shifts uncomfortably under their eyes. “This is not my doing,” she insists, pointing at Grace, “You saw. I tasted the food myself. You saw!”“Yes, I did,” Grace agrees gently, “You tasted it, then you asked me to stir the pot for five minutes while you got something else. I did just that, and you put something else in the pot when you returned. After that... I couldn't say what else happened. I was asleep.” The scholar turns to you, then, and you see a leashed anger in her eyes. “Someone is trying to stop us from reaching our goal,” she states bluntly, “Someone with access to our food.”Here, Branwen glares down at the ground and says nothing more. Is that guilt you see darkening her eyes?Either way, you sense trouble brewing.>Remain impartial. A captain can't be seen to take sides>Speak up in support of Grace>Speak up in Branwen's defence>Question the girls... (Write in)>Other
>>3080495"Enough. Being at each other's throats also hinders us getting to our goal too. That said Branwen, what did you put in the stew?"
>>3080495>Question the girlsWhat did Branwen eat?
>>3080519That's a good point. Why wouldn't she eat her own food after it was ready?
>>3080495>Gunny, what did you dream about? I know I dreamed something fairly important.>What did Branwen eat>I don't think the stew meant any harm. We feel awful, but we've voluntarily subjected ourselves to worse.
Hot blood pounds in your temples, and the thick taste of iron clings to your throat. Whatever was in that stew has, in a way, left you feeling hungover. Certainly, your patience is shorter than ever this morning. “Enough, both of you,” you snap, “I won't have this! Being at each other's throats isn't going to help anyone. If anything is going to stop us reaching our goal, it's infighting like this. So just settle down, and let me think.” Stumbling a little as your balance falters, you approach the remains of the cooking fire and kick aimlessly at the ashes. “Branwen,” you continue, “What was it that you put in the stew?”“It needed more salman root,” she explains, not entirely able to keep her voice from shaking, “I saw a patch earlier, so I went to get some. The pot would have burned if it was not stirred, and so...”“Salman root,” Keziah mutters, “I think I know that. Sort of a savoury herb. Not dangerous though.”“So did you eat any of it yourself?” you ask, crouching down and picking through the unwashed bowls. Only two of them have the tarry residue of the stew still clinging to them – it doesn't look like it would ever wash clean. When Branwen shakes her head, you heave a heavy sigh. It's not looking good for her. “Why didn't you?” you press, “What did you eat instead?”“I made pottage with the remaining vegetables and the scraps of rabbit,” the young healer offers, fumbling amongst the bowls, “It is not... that stew I made, it is for men to eat. Fighters, warriors, men who need to grow strong. Not for the likes of me.”This causes Grace to raise a doubful eyebrow, but the scholar holds her tongue for now. Keziah, on the other hand, protests this. “Hey, but you offered me some!” the witch cries, “I dinnae ken what you're implyin' about me, but I'm not-”“No, no! A joke, nothing more than that,” Branwen yelps, gesturing between Keziah and Gunny, “He... wanted some. Engine Oil, you see? And you, you smell of oil too. I... it was... a joke.” Her words trail off as the explanation is met by a stony silence, and she slowly sits down by the remains of the cooking fire. “I did not do this,” the healer states flatly, “I can think of no more explanation to give you.”You gesture for Grace to remain silent, and the young scholar seems happy to back off. Taking Gunny by the arm, you steer him away from the others. “Let me ask you something,” you begin quietly, “You had bad dreams, right? I did too – I know how this sounds, but they might have been important. What did you dream about?”“Hell, brother, which question do you want me to answer first?” Gunny rasps, taking out a cigarette before thinking better of it, “Sure, I had some crazy dreams, but I wouldn't want to attach any meaning to them. Frankly, this day is shaping up to be rotten enough. Don't need to see it getting any worse...”[1/2]
>>3080581“But fine, I guess you'd better know,” he adds after a pause, relenting with a sigh. “I dreamed that we were all here. Everything was burned, the trees were strung with bodies, and we were... hell, brother, we were dying. The rest of you were, at least, I was just standing by and watching. I tried to help, but I couldn't do a damn thing,” Gunny whispers, grimacing at the memory, “There was this wretched thing, and it told me that I was helpless – ruined, tainted, alone. The saint wouldn't answer me, it said.”“Did you see it?” you ask cautiously, “The thing that was speaking to you?”“Nope. Can't say I'm sad about that,” Gunny replies, shaking his head and fumbling in his pockets for the saint's medallion. Panic starts to form on his face as he searches for it, only to be replaced by a wave of relief as he withdraws it and clutches it close to his chest. “Worst thing about this thing is remembering which pocket I left it in,” he mutters, “Never had this problem with the staff. Never worried about losing it somewhere...”The sound of voices puts an end to this conversation, the conversation around the cooking fire picking back up again. Frowning, you hurry back to join the others. “Settle down!” you bark, “This is getting out of hand. I don't think any harm was intended, and nobody here is going to die. We've all eaten worse things, and by our own choice, so stop talking about-”“Captain,” Masque rumbles, “A fever, sickness, hallucinations, pain, nightmares... these are the symptoms you are experiencing, are they not?” Everyone falls silent, turning to face the daemon, and you slowly nod. “Devil's tongue, perhaps,” he muses, “A poison often used in rites. It is believed to rouse cursed blood and bring the imbiber closer to the Nightlands. I have heard tell of such a thing – of men being snatched from their beds and forced to consume the poison, subjected to visions that will either destroy them or uplift them. The herb grows near Eishin's territory.”So much for your attempts at calming everyone down. “Ashtoret!” Branwen hisses, “She did this! Her magic could have allowed her to slip into the camp, and she would have access to devil's tongue!” She pauses here, and you find yourself thinking that she herself would also have had access to such a herb.“The snares around camp weren't disturbed at all,” Caliban murmurs to you, “But a careful sneak could have avoided them. Still, blaming everything on a witch that none of us saw or met...”“I do not lie!” the healer snaps, “I will... Go without me, then! If you truly believe that I did this, then I shall remain here. This land will become my new home, if it must. There is food here, and the gods watch over this place, and...” Her words trail off here, and she turns her eyes away from you all.One way or another, you need to keep moving.>Leave Branwen behind>Bring Branwen with you>Other
>>3080628>OtherGoddamnit, just summon the daemon again and ask what she saw. I hate bothering her again so soon, but this is going to keep eating at us.
>>3080628Like at this point I can see Ashtoret grabbing Branwen while she was out getting herbs and changing faces. Grabbing Grace and changing faces while we were doing the ritual which could explain why she disappeared other than tiredness. Feels odd the enthusiastic scholar would just crash instead of watching the ritual considering she doesn't sleep that much when interested in something.Or it could be absolutely nothing as this is paranoid speculation that doesn't make anything better.Hopefully the daemon will clear it up.
>>3080647Though on second thought didn't the daemon say Ashtoret couldn't come here due to their protection?
>>3080628daemon said the witch won't intrude, but this is a witch of illusions. Maybe Branwen was magicked into misidentifying herbs?
>>3080628>Summon Sully again
>>3080628>>Bring Branwen with youThis is probably the witch's fault somehow
Except something isn't right here. According to the daemon Sullygrahn, Ashtoret would not come near this place – Branwen's excuse, then, just doesn't hold water. “Branwen, don't make yourself too comfortable here. I still want you to come with us,” you order, your words causing the healer to look up in surprise, “And just so that we can all put our minds at rest, I know how to get the answers here. Keziah, do you think we can call Sullygrahn back up again?”“Sure boss, that willnae be... oh!” Keziah's eyes widen as she realise your intent, “They know what happens here, so they should be able to tell us the truth!”“Exactly,” you confirm, “Now then, someone get me a torch...”-A nervous air hangs over the scene as you hold the burning brand aloft, repeating the words that Keziah chants. Torn between witnessing the truth – if Sullygrahn can truly grant that to you – and involving themselves in a profane right, Gunny and Blessings eventually decided to hang back and watch from afar. Caliban does the same, although for a more selfish, superstitious reason. Branwen sits in the dirt, nervously chewing at her fingernail as she waits for the light above you to descend.“By the sword, the torch, and the spell!” you call out as the rite reaches its end, “Come!”“So I am called!” the daemon answers, unfolding themselves from the globe of light and spreading their hands wide. It seems churlish to say, but the daemon looks rather less impressive by daylight – somehow faded, weakened by the sun's own glow. “What men call history has once again repeated itself,” they continue, “Discord has once again come to this land.”“Uh, yeah, that's... why we're here,” Keziah begins weakly, “Boss, can you...”“An attempt was made upon our lives, with poison and the threat of division,” you announce, “Spirit, can you tell us the truth of this matter? Can you show us who sowed these seeds?”Sullygrahn raises their staff high, shaking embers free from it. Though the figures formed by those sparks and licks of fire are crude, you find yourself understanding the scene that plays out before you. Branwen stirs the pot, scooping a small portion out and tasting it before shaking her head. Grace takes the ladle and continues stirring the pot. Then... she reaches into her pocket and casually drops something into the pot.“What?” Grace – the real Grace, the Grace standing beside you – cries out, “But I didn't... I don't understand...”Equally amazed, Branwen stares with awe. As you all watch, the scene reverses itself. Grace steps away from the pot and walks backwards, away from the camp and back into the forest. She returns to the ritual site, then time resumes its usual flow. Tucking her notebook away, the phantom Grace yawns and starts back to camp. Then she stops in her tracks, pausing and listening to some unheard sound.Turning, the image of Grace wanders deeper into the forest.[1/2]
>>3080715“This one can show nothing more,” Sullygrahn intones, “Whatever else happened, it happened outside of this protected land.” Sighing sadly, the daemon reaches out to Grace. She flinches away from the daemon's touch at first, before allowing their hand to rest upon her brow. “This daughter of man has been ensorcelled, compelled to action by a most cunning enchantment,” they continue, “But this seed could not have taken root, were it not planted in fertile soil.”“That didn't happen!” Grace protests, swatting away the daemon's hand and covering her face, “I don't remember-”“No,” the daemon whispers, “These moments have been taken from you.”-Sullygrahn retreats a short while after this, gifting you with a few last pronouncements. They can confirm that Grace is still Grace, and that Ashtoret's influence has ended. Though she might never regain the memories of what happened to her on the far edge of the area, Grace won't be lapsing back under the witch's control. Still, you feel uneasy about what the daemon told you. Fertile soil, they said...And that had been all they were willing to say on that matter. No matter what else you asked them, the daemon would say no more. Soon, they fled back to whatever place they call home, and you couldn't help but see a bad omen in that flight. For all their talk of blessings and protection, Sullygrahn seemed all too quick to run from you and the disasters that were – it seemed – never far behind you. With little else for you to do, and little will to talk to each other, you order Caliban to the head of your party and allow him to lead the way.Despite everything, you make surprisingly good time as you cut through the Deep Forest. With no casual conversation to distract you, and little desire to stop and look each other in the eye to slow you down, you keep a brutally efficient pace for almost the entire day. Although Grace never strays off on her own, she keeps her distance from the rest of you. Guilt, you assume, she had been the more direct in her accusations. Had that aggression been a part of Ashtoret's enchantment as well?You can't shake the idea that Ashtoret has been watching you for a very long time, studying your team for any weaknesses and failure points. She saw the uneasy relationship between Grace and Branwen, choosing that chink in your armour as the target for her first dagger.“Hey, brother,” Gunny mutters, grasping your shoulder with a trembling, sweat-slick hand, “The sky...”You look up at the setting sun, squinting as your head throbs with pain. “Right, it's getting dark,” you agree, “I hope Caliban knows a good place to-”“No,” the older man interrupts, his grip tightening, “It's like blood. Like a lake of boiling blood...”[2/3]>Sorry guys, I got hit by a power cut. Terrible weather here lately, that probably caused it.
>>3081013Hallucinations, Masque said, one of the effects of devil's tongue poison. You've been spared the worst of that, save for the previous night's awful dream, but Gunny is different – and there's a good reason for that.“Shouldn't have had that second bowl of stew,” he groans, slumping back against the cave wall and rubbing his eyes with the heels of his hands. Despite the bleak mood, Caliban lets out a clipped laugh.“You had TWO bowls of that?” he barks, laughing again, “You must be a glutton for punishment, brother... or just a glutton.” His words echo out through the cave, bouncing back at you in a hideous, distorted form.This cave was the best that the hunter had been able to find for shelter. It's not a large thing, with a wall of fallen rock blocking off any further tunnels that might stretch deeper down. It's not comfortable, but the cave will serve to keep you safe and dry until morning. Rain hammers down outside, and the fire Caliban built at the cave mouth splutters weakly with every cruel gust of wind. Definitely not the most comfortable place to spend the night.“Bloody cold,” Keziah mutters to you, saying aloud what everyone else is thinking, “I dinnae-”A blast of light and heat interrupts this, the fire bursting into new and violent life. You're on your feet almost immediately, drawing your revolver and pointing it towards the mouth of the cave as a blazing figure unfolds itself from the fire. Only dimly human, the figure spreads its arms wide in an imperious gesture. A daemon, that much is obvious, but... a messenger spirit, you guess, feeling wordless agreement from Keziah.“You are now trespassing upon the domain of Forlorn Ashtoret,” the messenger daemon intones, in a voice like roaring flames, “You have already felt her touch. But she is merciful, and she-”The daemon stops, only for it to soon continue in a sultry voice. “I will give you one last chance,” Ashtoret purrs, her voice coming to you from some other distance, “Leave. As the heir to King Eishin's legacy, the Deep Forest is mine. Outsiders are no longer welcome here, and if you do not leave now, then you will be the first ones to suffer my wrath. I know why you are here – your fool of a scholar was only too happy to tell me everything. If you truly wish to die, then continue on. We will meet in that heathen village... perhaps.”“You monster...” Grace hisses, raw anger shining in her eyes.“I say this again,” Ashtoret sneers, “Leave, and spare yourselves. I will permit you to leave unharmed. There is a whole other world outside this forest, and you are welcome to it.”>Very well. I agree to your terms>No, we're not leaving. Do your worst, witch>What do you want? Perhaps we can come to some deal>Other
>>3081015>What do you want? Perhaps we can come to some dealLet's not antagonize the hypnotist.
>>3081015>nuke the Deep Forestuh>What do you want? Perhaps we can come to some deal
>>3081015>What do you want? Perhaps we can come to some dealWe are going to have to get rid of her though. We have a deal with Nathair to make a place for her people and Ashtoret is in the way of that.
“What do you want?” you ask bluntly, your companions turning to stare at you in open amazement. “Perhaps we can come to some deal,” you continue, “Some way that we can resolve this... peacefully.”Even Ashtoret seems taken aback by this, as her answer takes a long time to come. “You are confident, to think that you can win my favour with some trinket or service,” she hisses, “What I want is not something that you can give me.” She falls silent, allowing the lively crackle of the messenger daemon's flaming body to fill the void. Then, she laughs – a rich, mocking laugh that causes the hairs on the back of your neck to stand on end. “But perhaps you can earn safe passage to this heathen village you seek,” she muses, “This, and nothing more, I would be willing to offer you.”Perhaps this witch isn't as unreasonable as she first seemed. Holding your tongue, you wait to see what else she has to say. “What I desire is a world where all things have returned to their most primal form,” Ashtoret purrs, and the flaming messenger daemon roars softly to match, “Men become beasts, and daemons are granted the freedom to roam the land once more. No rules or restrictions, no boundaries to constrain us. Wild and free and jubilant... this is the world that I desire. Have your civilisation, I care nothing for it. The Deep Forest will become MY kingdom!”Behind you, Blessings lets out a low groan. “But you don't have to be beasts!” he cries, “You can be better than that, you can be-”“What I ask of you is simple,” Ashtoret interrupts, cruelty dripping from her words, “A show of kinship. An offering of friendship. One little token to show that I can trust you. Grant me this, and perhaps we can deepen our friendship.” Once again, her rich laugh fills the gap in conversation. “Bring me the head of a churchman,” the witch concludes simply, her words causing Blessings to gasp, “Carry it before you like a banner, and you shall pass unharmed. This, I promise you.”With this final announcement, the flaming messenger daemon blows itself out and vanishes. As one last spiteful jab, it takes the entire campfire with it and a new blanket of cold falls over you all. Nobody says anything for a moment, and then Caliban lets out a humourless laugh.“So that's that,” he snorts, “What do you think, Blessings, fancy making yourself useful?”“What? No! How could you say something like...” the boy replies, his face showing open horror at the idea, “You... you were kidding, were you not?”The hunter just shrugs at this, his nasty smile hinting at either possibility.[1/2]
>>3081136>“So that's that,” he snorts, “What do you think, Blessings, fancy making yourself useful?”kek
>>3081136Not funny, dude
>>3081136So do we need to take this 'head' somewhere or just carry it with us?
>>3081136Can we bring the head still attached to the churchman?
>>3081185I don't think the witch would appreciate being loopholed, but it would be hilarious.
>>3081136Outside your cave, the rain keeps hammering down. Resigning yourself to be a sleepless night, and secretly wondering if that might be for the best considering your recent dreams, you hold your hands out to the rekindled campfire and listen to the sounds of the forest. Something out there is screaming, shrieking inhumanly whenever your taut nerves start to relax. Neither animal nor human, you can't easily imagine the sort of thing that might scream like that. Some minor spirit that Ashtoret has sent to torment you, perhaps.“Messed up, brother,” Gunny mutters, crawling across to sit beside you, “I thought the fire was talking to us for a while there.”“It was,” you reply, “Messenger daemon. Ashtoret wanted to give us a polite warning. Get the hell out or die, basically.”“Same old story,” he rasps, cracked lips tilting up in a smile.“Frankly, I don't know what you were expecting,” Freddy remarks, not looking up from the glaive resting on her crossed legs. She's polishing it with the same care she devotes to her rifle, although you're really not sure why. It seems like rubbing a sacred artefact down with an oily rag would make it perform worse, not better, but she seems to know what she's doing. “I think she's just leading us on, anyway,” the Iraklin continues, “Even if we had a severed head that none of us were using, I really doubt we'd be allowed to get what we want. She's toying with us, captain.”“Technically, she didn't say it had to be severed...” you point out, getting a wan laugh out of Keziah.“I wouldnae want to push my luck, boss,” the witch replies, “Seems to me like Ashtoret might not see the funny side of it. We play one wee prank on her, and she might end up tryin' to kill us!”Freddy starts to reply to this, only for a terrible crash of thunder to cut her off. “Oh really?” she spits, “Because we're on such friendly terms right now?”Outside, in the grip of the storm, something that is not human howls mocking laughter.>Okay, I need to pause here for today. Into the Skies will continue tomorrow, starting at the same usual time>I apologise for the unexpected interruption today!
>>3081136She never said a dead head, let's just carry Blessings on our shoulders.
>>3081258We gotta find someway to pin her down while she is toying with us and have Masque hunt her down.Thanks for running
>>3081258Thanks for running!How many people would it take to carry Blessings like a banner?
>>3081288He's lost a bit of weight lately, so it probably wouldn't be too difficult for two strong pairs of arms to do the job. It would, of course, be utterly farcical, but that's neither here nor there!>>3081271No bully
As you wait for morning to come, you talk about whatever comes to mind. At first, you try not to talk about the obvious and imminent problems, but soon it becomes impossible to avoid them. Listening to the howling and cackling from outside your cave, you heave a heavy sigh and look around to Keziah. “Look, maybe you can answer this,” you begin, “Exactly what is Ashtoret capable of? She's powerful, sure, but what makes her so potent? Is there a way we could undermine her power?”Wincing at the bombardment of questions, Keziah takes a moment to come up with some kind of answer. “I dinnae ken exactly what she can do, so that's a bad start. As for how she gets her power... witches get it by learning rites to call up spirits, and sometimes makin' deals with daemons. It all comes down to the spirits they can call up, that's the key to all of this. Some daemons can teach you to summon even greater ones, although you cannae just DO most rites without some preparation – the right components, the right circumstances, the words themselves... it's hard, you know?”“Thing is, some rites arenae safe to use – they're carved into monoliths here and there, but the stonework might be damaged or just flat out incomplete. Your sensible witch – dinnae you laugh there, Caliban, I see that look on your face – willnae risk using them. Our girl Ashtoret, on the other hand, she might be willin' to do just about anythin' for power,” she continues, “So whatever daemons she might have called up, she might not have full control over them.”“Is that really something we can use?” Freddy remarks, “That just sounds like they'd be even more dangerous – like a rabid beast.”“Oh aye, it isnae much help at all!” Keziah declares cheerfully, “But it's interestin', right? I mean, me mam is a careful sort, doin' everythin' properly even if it means she's missin' out on some stuff.” Nodding slowly to herself, the witch thinks for a few moments. “Makes me wonder what she might do if her back was against the wall,” she adds, “When you're starin' down death, callin' up some spirit you cannae totally control might start seemin' a lot more tempting, you know?”You look up in surprise. Back in your dream, Maeve had spoken of something not so dissimilar – of the depths that survival could drive men to. Yet, you sense no special significance in Keziah's words. She's just letting her mind roam where it will, thinking aloud to pass the time.“She's playing with fire,” Caliban mutters darkly, “And I don't just mean that messenger of hers. Sooner or later, those pet daemons of hers are going to destroy her. I think she knows it, too, even if she won't allow herself to admit it.”[1/3]
>>3083671Once the talk of witchcraft came to an end, you turned the conversation to more practical matters – your destination, and how soon you can reach it. If you set off at sunrise, Caliban claims, you should be able to reach your destination by noon... assuming you don't run into any delays along the way. It's unlikely that Ashtoret will be merciful enough to leave you be, but you're still glad to see the end in sight. There's just one problem.That morning, the sun does not rise. If it does, it is hidden behind a layer of cloud no less formidable than a fortress wall. Faced with the choice of braving the weather or staying in this cramped cave for the rest of your life, though, it doesn't take you long to reach a decision. Pulling up the hood of your oilskin cape, you gesture for the others to ready themselves. It's time to see what Ashtoret has in store for you.-Rain lashes down at you as you slog through the boggy ground, lightning slashing at the sky like long knives. Each flash hints at the daemons prowling around you, illuminating misshapen figures lurking high up in the trees around you. What started as an orderly march soon devolves into something more desperate, mud and unclean water splashing underfoot as you run through the darkness. The ground is saturated and the rain keeps on falling, the water slowly creeping higher and higher around you.Then, streaking out from the darkness, something smashes into the ground before you and showers you with brackish water. A javelin of sharpened wood, thrown by some uncertain figure high up in the branches above. Glancing up, you see the vaguely human shape readying another spear to throw. It has a gnarled form, fused with the broad tree it clings to, and the spears it throws seem just much a part of its body as its arms or legs. Down below, on ground level, other figures emerge from the trees.More daemons, sent by Ashtoret. One of them walks like a man, although their head is a terrible thing, a sinuous tendril with a slavering mouth at the very end. Peals of hideous laughter echo out from the tendril turns skywards, the mouth quivering with mirth. From the rear, a clutch of shambling forms drag themselves free from the mud. Fleshy wires connect them, and they move with the cohesion of a single mind. Finally, a mote of reddish light hovers above and casts an eerie glow over the scene. It shows no sign of attacking, but that comes as little comfort. What else is it planning, if not an attack?“Gunny!” you snap, raising your weapons as the daemons approach. Nodding, he fumbles out the saint's medallion and raises it to his lips. That, at least, should offer you some vestige of protection.Or perhaps not, as the man's eyes widen with dismay.[2/3]
>>3083673“It's not working!” Gunny yells, clutching the medallion close to his chest, “She's not-”“Ruined! Tainted! Useless!” a mocking voice shrieks back, the forest itself seeming to pour scorn upon you. As Gunny groans, sinking down to his knees, the daemons begin to slink closer. Behind you, the muddy figures stoop for sharp rocks to use as crude bludgeons. You could five of them at a glance, with the fleshy cords that trail out of them leading down into the sodden ground beneath. Already, you can see new movement there. Ahead of you, the tendril daemon lurches forwards – although it carries no weapons, its hands reach out with long and flexible fingers. Strangler's hands, perhaps. Up above, the tree spirit draws back one gnarled arm and prepares to throw their next javelin.“Forget the saint!” Freddy snaps, igniting her glaive's blade with a flourish, “Focus on your targets, we'll cut our way through!”Caliban and Masque both ready themselves, while the rest of your party gathers close. Forming a loose circle around them, you prepare to fight.>Target the javelin throwing daemon>Target the tendril daemon>Target the mud daemons>Target the mote of light>Call out some orders... (Write in)>Other
>>3083675Aw damnit, the stew ruined Gunny's purity.>Target the mote of light>Call out some orders... (Write in)Caliban has the bow so he gets to deal with the javelin. Freddy can take the muds, and Masque can take tendril boi.
>>3083675Milos>>Target the mote of lightCaliban>Target the javelin throwing daemonMasque>Target the tendril daemonFreddy on point with Blessings, Grace, and Gunny supporting>Target the mud daemons
>>3083675>>3083680This seems about right.
“Caliban, take the higher target!” you snap, pointing with your revolver before hastily leaping aside, the daemon's javelin whistling out and stabbing into the ground nearby. It stabs deeply into the ground and spreads out knotted roots, spindly spears of wood that shoot out from the ground and writhe like probing fingers. Slashing out with the burning blade of Feanor's ancient sword, you hack the closest branches down to size before calling out your next orders. “Masque, the one with the tendril!” you order, “Freddy, take out those ones behind us. The rest of you, keep safe and help where you can!”Your orders ring out, and your companions leap to follow them. Aiming his bow, Caliban lets out a loud curse as his target vanishes, melting back into the tree it clings to. Whirling around, he desperately scans the area for it. As he searches for his target, Masque marches ahead of you and moves to intercept the tendril daemon, drawing both blades. Trusting the daemon to watch your back, you turn your gaze up to the sky and the orb of light that dances there. Never still for a moment, the mote darts away from you whenever you get a bead on it.Cursing, you allow your aim to drop at the sound of Caliban's warning, another missile signalling the daemon's appearance. Dashing clear, you look up as the hunter points. Squirming obscenely, it pushes its way out through the branch of a tree on the opposite side of the clearing and gazes down upon you. So it can move through them, always looking for an exposed back to strike out at...At least Freddy is keeping the swarm of mud daemons suppressed, cutting them apart with the killing light of her glaive. Yet, while the daemons cannot gain any ground on her, neither can she push them back. For every one of their number that falls, another of the filthy things is already pushing its way up through the surface. Blessings and Grace both take hasty shots at them whenever they can, but mortal weapons can only do so much against the inhuman targets.“You struggle and strive, but all for nothing,” Ashtoret gloats, her voice ringing out from all around you, “How can you fight against that which cannot die? These spirits, these daemons of mine, are tireless. They will grind you down like water eroding stone.”As she talks, the dancing mote above slows and glows brighter. “Keep talking...” you mutter to yourself, taking aim at the opportunity that presents itself to you. As you raise your gun, you consider the irony of the situation – if this wasn't so dark, the mote wouldn't make such a tempting target...>Calling for a dice check, that's 2d6 aiming to beat 9-10 for a partial success and 11+ for a full success. This will be at +1 due to our revolver, and I'll be taking the highest of the first three results
Rolled 4, 6 = 10 (2d6)>>3083721Ain't it a +2 since it's a daemon?
>>3083723Forgot to add the mod. That's an 11 (or 12 if the +2 is a thing)
Rolled 4, 2 + 1 = 7 (2d6 + 1)>>3083721rolling for additional success despite already succeeding
Rolled 5, 3 = 8 (2d6)>>3083721Hoping for a 12
>>3083723>That is true, it would be a +2 bonus all in all. I'm a professional, I promise
>Full success!Behind you, a grunt of warning causes you to look hurriedly around. Masque and the tendril daemon are locked in combat, with the nameless daemon's formless limbs splitting apart and ensnaring Masque's blades. Closer now, you can see that the daemon is no single being at all – its flesh squirms with countless worms that shape and reshape themselves to fit whatever purpose is required of them. Bits of shorn flesh have fallen away, only to creep relentlessly towards you.“Branwen, wait!” Blessings cries out, reaching out as the Nadir girl suddenly sprints towards Freddy. Ducking low under the reaching arms of the mud daemons, she collapses down to the ground and starts to dig at the soil. Hands grab at her before Freddy steps in to hack limbs from bodies, but with the Iraklin's efforts focused on Branwen rather than her own safety...“You see?” Ashtoret sneers, “Already, you are starting to falter. I was merciful, was I not? You should have-”“Shut your damn mouth!” you yell, snapping your revolver up and firing off a single shot. Even without aiming, your bullet flies straight and true – almost as if it had been guided to its target. When hit, the mote of light shatters like crystal and blasts out a wave of pinkish light. As the light fades, you realise that the daemons themselves have faltered. The tendril daemon grows slack, allowing Masque to rip his blades free and bring them smashing down onto the fluid flesh, splitting it apart and silencing the mocking laughter. Caliban's target stumbles and slumps low, hanging limply from the tree that it was about to escape through. A moment later, the hunter pierces it with an arrow of light.The explosion sends the top of the tree tumbling down, crashing into the mud and spraying you all with muddy water. Even before the water has settled, Branwen cries out. Her frantic digging has revealed something, a shrouded shape that lies at the heart of the mud daemons, connected to them all by their flesh cords. Almost as soon as it is revealed, Freddy splits the central mass with her glaive, and the daemons clawing at her melt away into mud.Silence falls. Dimly, you notice that the rain has stopped, and the sky is starting to clear.“Is that it?” Blessings pants, looking about him, “Was that-”Caliban silences him with a gesture. Somewhere deeper within the forest, beasts wail like hunting hounds. “More of them,” he curses, already gesturing for you to follow, “We need to keep moving. Come on, we're not far now.”“Far enough,” Gunny mutters, still holding the saint's medallion to his heart, “Those were just to slow us down. We're powerless against-”Freddy silences him with a punch to the shoulder. “She's just a human,” she barks, “We put a bullet in her, she'll die like anyone else.”Keziah, though, doesn't look convinced.[1/2]
>>3083762Demon summoning OP, please nerf.
>>3083762Once the storm is over, the sun soon burns through the clouds and starts to warm the land. Even knowing that more of Ashterot's minions might be close by, you can't help but take a moment to throw back your hood and turn your face up to the sky. Soon, the islands of Azimuth and Zenith will plunge Nadir back into the shade, but for now... you can enjoy the warmth of the sunrise.“What was that thing anyway?” you ask Keziah, gesturing vaguely at the sky, “That mote of light. A daemon?”“I dinnae ken, not sure certain. If I had to guess, I'd say it was like... a conduit for her power,” the witch replies, “Like she was keepin' an eye on things, makin' sure her daemons did what they were supposed to be doing. Once it was gone, they all sorta faltered a bit. She can lay enchantments on people, so maybe she was bindin' her daemons in the same way. There are a lot of tricks a witch can use, like-”“Like sealing memories away,” Masque interrupts brusquely, folding his arms in front of his chest. Startled, Keziah yelps quietly and flinches away from the daemon. Lapsing back into silence, you march on.-“Wait,” Caliban hisses, holding up a hand for you all to be silent. He listens carefully for a moment, then shakes his head. “Nothing out there,” the hunter murmurs to himself, sounding both suspicious and relieved, “I think we lost them, whatever they were. Don't let your guard down just yet, but-”“But we can take a break?” Gunny asks wearily. Not even bothering to find somewhere dry to sit, he slumps down onto a low rock and buries his head in his hands.Frowning, Caliban grabs Gunny by the arm and hauls him upright again. “But we can slow the pace a little,” he finishes, “We're close now. You can rest when we reach... whatever the fuck this place is called. It might be a nothing little settlement full of cultists, but at least we can rest with a roof over our heads. Besides, you heard that witch – she knows where we're headed, and I don't care for the idea of her getting there first.”“He's right, Gunny,” you concede, “We just need to keep moving for... what, another hour at the most? They're churchmen out there, maybe one of them can help you with the medallion.” This suggestion causes Gunny to perk up, and you feel obscurely guilty about dangling the idea in front of him. Still, if that's what it takes for you all to keep moving...“Okay brother, you've twisted my arm,” Gunny relents, shaking off Caliban's grip and taking a few steps forwards, “But I don't care how hospitable they are, I'm not eating anything they give us.”As if arguing with him, his stomach lets out a deep rumble.[2/3]
>>3083861Your estimate of an hour proved to be far higher than you imagined. You're barely walking for twenty minutes more before the trees open up to reveal a settlement – an intact settlement, with a few uncommonly clean looking locals milling about. You feel filthy just looking at them, your clothes stiff with mud and grime. Breathing in, you smell incense and the faint smells of food, a far more tempting scent than anything Branwen was able to cook up. Voices are raised in a prayer, although the words mean nothing to you – some local dialect, you assume, long since diverged from the common tongue. Gazing about you, you feel a sense of... amazement. You're finally here.Finally spotting you, a young woman hurries over. She has a basket of fresh vegetables under one arm, soil still clinging to some of them, and simple yet practical garb. Calling out a greeting in that same unknown tongue, she pauses before trying something else. “Hello!” she attempts, “You are... not here. New. Not often here, new people. Outsiders? Wait please!” Before you can say anything back to her, she shifts her burden and hurries away.“What the hell...” Caliban mutters, looking about for any sign of Ashterot. The village looks about as far from danger as it can get. Summoned by the young woman, an older man hastens over to greet you with a short bow.“My apologies,” he begins, “We don't often get outsiders here, so communication can be difficult. You look tired, travellers. We have many vacant homes, if you wish to rest for a while. Once you are feeling well, we can talk more. You came here for a reason, did you not?” Blinking suddenly, he winces at his own lack of manners. “Pardon, I am Noah,” he adds, “The... leader of this place. I can show you to an empty house, if you wish, or...”“Excuse me,” Blessings asks, “Is there, ah, is there anywhere to wash up around here? My clothes...”“There is a spring on the edge of town. The water is cold, but clean,” Noah tells him, “By all means, make use of it. It is secluded, if that matters to you. Here, we... we prize our privacy.” Blessings nods, pleased with the answer, and says nothing more. “So, I ask that you do not intrude upon any occupied homes,” the local leader adds, genuine regret in his voice, “If you wish to use a house, I will take you to one. Otherwise, please feel free to roam our village.”“You think we should ask him about the mirror?” Keziah thinks to you, “If he thinks we're here to steal it, he might drop the whole “friendly” act.”>Take up Noah's offer of rest and shelter>Ask directly about the thousand year mirror>Explore the village and search for the mirror>Visit the spring and wash up>Ask Noah some questions... (Write in)>Other
>>3083906>Ask directly about the thousand year mirrorI doubt it's in any unoccupied homes, so finding on our own would piss him off anyway. Might as well ask.
>>3083906>Take up Noah's offer of rest and shelter>Ask directly about the thousand year mirror
>>3083906>Take up Noah's offer of rest and shelterMirror later
>>3083906someone to accompany blessings so he doesn't get taken by the big bad witch
“We're here looking for something,” you tell him directly, “A sacred object that was brought to this place a long time ago. We know it as a thousand year mirror. Do you know...”“Ah,” Noah nods slowly, sadly, “I must ask, then, what you wish of it. We were given the mirror with a warning, a warning that many would covet it or seek to destroy it. We are peaceful folk, but we will not hesitate to defend what is ours.” Brushing aside his frayed cloak, Noah reveals an antique pistol holstered at his side. An ancient single shot piece, it paints a sad picture of the defences they can muster. “There is little we could do to stop you if you truly wished to take the mirror, I know,” he adds, noting your expression, “All I can do is trust in your good nature. Are you the type to trample over a sea of bodies to claim your prize?”An awkward pause descends. “We're... pilgrims,” you reply vaguely, shaking your head as your words fail you, “Perhaps we should discuss this later. If you're offering rest and shelter, I'll happily accept it.”“Pilgrims,” Noah muses, pondering on that word. Then, nodding, he gestures for you to follow him to one of the vacant homes. A few of the stone huts you pass have small white clothes hanging above their doors, perhaps indicating that someone resides inside. Picking one of the unmarked huts at random, Noah pushes the door open and gestures for you to enter. It's neat, although devoid of furnishings, and the faint smell of smoke hangs in the air. “It is not much, but I hope you will be comfortable here,” the Nadir man tells you, “Rest, and recover your strength.”-There are no beds here, but Noah spreads out a number of furs before he leaves you alone. Waiting a few moments to make sure that he's not lurking outside, you let out a heavy sigh. “So,” you breathe, “What do we all think?”“If you want me to wash anything, just leave your clothes somewhere,” Blessings replies, gesturing vaguely to a corner of the hut, “I'll wash them later. I think... I might have a little nap first. All that rain last night-” Shuddering, he hugs his arms around himself for warmth. For all Noah's efforts to make it hospitable, the hut still has the air of a place long abandoned – a dampness to the air, and a chill that lingers at the far reaches of your senses.“He's TOO nice,” Caliban grunts, taking out his hunting knife and checking the edge, “You don't survive long in the Deep Forest with an attitude like that. Either he's a fool, or they're got a trick up their sleeves.” Sheathing the blade once again, he lets out a curt laugh. “Maybe their god is protecting them,” he remarks, “I certainly hope so, especially if Ashtoret turns up on their doorstep.”“Huh,” you mutter, lying down on the bearskin rug, “I need to get some sleep. Masque, you keep a lookout.”“I will do so,” the daemon replies flatly, “Sleep is a human vice, after all.”[1/2]
>>3084087You wake some time later, the exact span of time unknown and unknowable, and your first thought is that you're alone. Certainly, your companions are nowhere to be seen, but there is someone still here. Noah sits in the far corner, calmly waiting for you to notice him. Once he sees that your eyes are open, he begins to speak. “Your companions are away. One of my friends is taking them to see the mirror now,” he explains, “They woke early, you see, far earlier than you. It must have been some journey, for you to be so exhausted.”Swallowing an acrid taste from the back of your throat, you take a moment to gather your thoughts. Something doesn't seem quite right here, but you can't put your finger on it. It feels like you're still half asleep, and you can't grasp the important – vital, even – thought that nags at you. Uttering a faint grunt, you nod for Noah to continue.“I can bring you to them, of course,” he assures you, “Follow me, please.” Smoothly rising to his feet, Noah sweeps out of the hut. With your own limbs tangling beneath you, you struggle to stand and lurch after him. Rather than the leader of some isolated community, Noah moves with the natural grace of a dancer as he leads you northwards. When you reach the edge of the small village – which does not take much time at all – he turns and gives you an apologetic look.“I really do hate to ply you with so many questions,” he laments, “Especially as we hold our own privacy so highly here, but... I simply must ask. What is it, exactly, that you're hoping to learn here?”Noah's innocent question hangs in the air for a moment, and his grey eyes shine with an almost boyish curiosity. Finding yourself smiling back at him, you prepare to give him your answer.>Answer honestly. You're here to learn about Ibn'ah's legacy, and the mirror may be key to that>Answer evasively. You're an amateur scholar, seeking to learn everything you can>Offer some other answer... (Write in)>Other
>>3084206>>Answer honestly. You're here to learn about Ibn'ah's legacy, and the mirror may be key to thatWhy not, it's not like they'll actually know who he is. And if they do I doubt they'll find offense to our curiosity.
>>3084206>OtherI'll answer if you tell me what you're doing to me. My friends wouldn't just leave me on the rug even if they got up earlier."
>>3084206>Answer honestly. You're here to learn about Ibn'ah's legacy, and the mirror may be key to that
>>3084206Did he trap us in some funky ass dream? >>3084217 is right.If he's truthful then >Answer honestly. You're here to learn about Ibn'ah's legacy, and the mirror may be key to that
>>3084206>>Answer honestly. You're here to learn about Ibn'ah's legacy, and the mirror may be key to that>>3084217and this
Your smile grows stiff and frozen as a nagging thought begins to take shape in your mind. Would your crew really just go off and leave you sleeping alone, especially after everything else that has happened here? Grace had been on her own when Ashtoret had lured her away, and you're painfully aware of how that ended up. The honest answer that you had been about to give Noah dies on your lips, and the man's expression changes ever so slightly.“Is there something wrong?” he asks softly, “We have a healer here, I can send for-”“I'll answer your question,” you reply curtly, your uneasy thoughts eating away at whatever politeness you can summon up, “If you answer one of mine first.” Noah's expression darkens at this, growing blank and lifeless, but he says nothing. Already wondering if you know what his answer will be, you put your question to him. “I want to know what you're doing to me,” you spit, pointing an accusatory finger at him, “My friends wouldn't just leave like that, no matter how safe things seemed to be, so answer me this... just what the hell are you trying to pull here?”Noah clicks his tongue in disgust, then thrusts their arms out wide. At his gesture, fire bursts out of the ground around you and begins to gnaw at the trees, the buildings, everything that it can touch. Even the man's clothing catches fire, burning away to reveal his naked flesh. Boiling smoke fills the air, the whole area burning to ashes in the space of a few short moments. “I suppose it couldn't last forever,” Noah laughs, “But no matter – I have you just where I want you!”Even the sky burns as the last of the illusion flakes away like ash. Where Noah once stood, Forlorn Ashtoret now faces you. Even with her deformities, the gnarled insect horns that thrust out from her skull, she has an exotic beauty about her face. Almost by contrast, the bare flesh that she flaunts for a moment is mottled and scarred with a thousand different wounds and occult brands. A gesture, a teasing pout, and the witch encases herself in a dark gown that has the lustre of insect carapace.“I warned you,” she purrs, strutting closer with no apparent fear, even when you draw Feanor's sword, “I told you to leave, did I not? But you wandered right into my web – do you yearn for death, Milos Vaandemere, or did you come in the hope that we might meet face to face?”Pointing the burning blade at her, you glance backwards. A tremendous wall of fire still encircles you both, sealing you within this small clearing. The village itself is nowhere in sight – did you ever really reach your destination, or was it all an illusion from the very start?When you look back around, Ashtoret is right inside your guard. Placing one finger on your blade, she gently pushes it aside and presses her body up against yours. “I answered your question,” she murmurs, “Don't I deserve an answer as well?”[1/2]
>>3084326No you don't.
>>3084326I think we're still in a dream.
>>3084326She doesn't deserve anything, you think to yourself, except perhaps a quick death. Yet...“I came seeking the mirror because of the secrets it might unlock,” you hear yourself say, “The legacy of an ancient man, Ibn'ah the Exile. I think... I think it might hold the key to everything.” Faltering, you fall silent here as Ashtoret reaches up and strokes your cheek with one clawed hand. The moment she touches your bare skin, you feel a jolt of power running through your entire body – a sickly power, like spoilt meat and decay. Control returns to you in a flash, and you grab the witch by the throat. Dragging her up and leaving her legs to dangle beneath her, you prepare to snap her neck.A smirk blights her features, and then she vanishes in an explosion of smoke. Before you can catch up with what just happened, a burning pain flares through your back and you fall forwards. Hot blood flows, and you roll over to see the witch standing triumphant, a long dagger in her hand. “I'm going to cut you open,” she declares, an almost conversational tone in her voice, “The entrails are especially useful in rites of divination. When I'm finished with you, I'll pick someone else to play with. Perhaps I'll start with that pretty little church boy, or perhaps the girl – she is so... obedient. I wonder if-”A shrill screech splits the air, and a blur hits Ashtoret with enough force to stagger the witch. Feathers fly, and you realise that the blur was Herod. Right behind the familiar, you hear Keziah crying out. “Hey!” she screams, her voice breathless from the strain of running, “Get away from him!”Without slowing, the young witch covers her face with one arm and hurls herself through the wall of fire. With tongues of fire still licking at her clothes, she tackles Ashtoret and knocks the monster down to the burned ground. Shaking off your amazement, you scrabble to your feet and raise Feanor's sword once more. Spitting a vile curse, Ashtoret bursts back into smoke and flits away, reappearing a few paces away. This time, she isn't alone – a pair of duplicates form along with her, each one bearing a long dagger of their own.“Ah, bugger,” Keziah pants, clumsily producing a knife, “The others... couldn't wake them... I didn't know...”Waving off her concern, and hopefully shaking off the last of Ashtoret's enchantment, you raise your sword and prepare to fight. >Order Keziah to stay back. You'll take care of this yourself>Keep Keziah close. You need an extra blade at your side>Call out to Ashtoret... (Write in)>Other
>>3084471>>Keep Keziah close. You need an extra blade at your sideWAIFU TO THE RESCUE
>>3084471>Keep Keziah close. You need an extra blade at your side>Call out to Ashtoret... (Write in)"You know I'm surprised you admire a man that surrendered the moment the going got tough. You sure his 'Legacy' is worth it?"
>>3084471>Keep Kez close.Ok, maybe we aren't still dreaming.
I'm slowly catching up. But i need to ask.Into the Skies #8“Down on the coast, amidst sand and rock, brave Rhore searched. His spear was sharp, and his will was set,” Yhulla continues, pacing back and forth as Lhuna scurries around him, “And then, from the northern islands, it came! Rising from the waves, it came!”Did we checked that this isn't the same spear that Maeve talk about, her demon killing spear?
>>3084507Not that I remember but it's been months. We don't currently have a demon killing spear. A glaive, bow, and sword though we do have.
Ashtoret isn't just any witch, you remind yourself, she was a part of Segharl's chosen few and she wields that dagger like an old hand. Not only that, but there's three of her now. The boundary between illusion and reality is blurred here, but you're not willing to take any chances with this. You need someone to watch your back. “Stay close,” you mutter to Keziah, “I'll try and keep them off you, but-”“I'll try and keep them off YOU,” Keziah interrupts, raising the knife as Ashtoret and her duplicates stalk closer.Laughing, you pick one duplicate at random and point at it. “You know, you're awfully keen to take up Eishin's legacy,” you sneer, “The legacy of a man who surrendered at the first sign of failure. Not exactly a worthwhile cause to die for.”“King Eishin will be avenged,” Ashtoret hisses, all three of the duplicates spitting out the words, “He is dead to us now. He died the moment he laid down his blade. I will pick up where he left off – I will surpass his vision.”“By doing what?” you jeer, “Surrendering even earlier than he did? Drop that knife and go home, you could do that right here and right now.”To this, Ashtoret replies with a simple and contemptuous laugh. You're not worth talking to, that laugh says to you, but it says something rather different to Keziah. “The one on the left. Our left, I mean, not hers. That's the real one,” Keziah thinks to you, her words tinged with urgency, “Trust me. I've used to listening to engines all day, I know how to tell where an annoying noise is coming from.” They all sound the same to you, but that's the closest thing to a solid lead you have. Nodding grimly, you keep the leftmost duplicate in the corner of your eye and lunge forwards.>Okay, calling for a dice check, so 2d6 aiming to beat 9-10 for a partial success and 11+ for a full success. This will be at +2 due to Feanor's sword, and I'll be taking the highest of the first three results>Target numbers lowered due to Keziah's assistance!
Rolled 6, 6 + 2 = 14 (2d6 + 2)>>3084572
Rolled 2, 5 + 2 = 9 (2d6 + 2)>>3084572Why not!
>>3084583That's a pretty good roll indeed sir.
Rolled 4, 4 = 8 (2d6)>>3084572
>>3084582How many double 'crits' have we gotten in this quest?
>>3084618Less than 5 I think. I know one of them was on that poor Church member we kept saving in the Eishin fight, during a spar afterwards.
>>3084629Old Khusraw? I think that's how it was spelled...
>Full success!Lunging forwards, you drive a powerful thrust at the middle duplicate with your sword, the sheer momentum of your charge causing the flanking figures to stumble backwards. The leftmost witch retreats slightly more – a good sign, perhaps – while the right witch pounces at what she mistakes for an opening. Smoothly turning on your heel, you grab the Ashtoret-copy's wrist and pull them forwards onto the tip of your sword. You feel your blade meeting a fleeting moment of resistance, and then she bursts apart into inky black smoke. One down.“Boss!” Keziah cries out, surging forwards as one of the other witches – and you're starting to get confused about which one is which now – slashes out at you. Steel rings against steel as Keziah fumbles her own knife in front of the long dagger, not quite parrying it but directing the blow up and away from either of you. “The real one is still hanging back,” she thinks to you, her eyes briefly flitting towards the second witch, “She's gotta be planning something...”True enough, the “real” Ashtoret is keeping her distance from you, waving her knife through the air in a vaguely hypnotic pattern. You've seen trained knife fighters do the same thing, to distract their opponents and dazzle the watching crowds, but this feels different. Her gestures have a weight to them, a meaning, and you don't like a single thing about that. While the real witch works her magic – or whatever it is that she's doing – the remaining copy hurls itself at you in a furious attack. Provide a distraction while the witch pulls a fresh trick out of her hat...But you can plan too. Swapping a few quick thoughts with Keziah, you launch into the first phase of your hasty plan. Lightning fast blade strikes rain down upon you, forcing you and Keziah to focus on defending yourself. As soon as the copy slows its attack, though, you send a jab of thought into Keziah's mind. She pivots away from the murderous copy, instead hurling her knife straight at the real witch.You had planned for her to impale Ashtoret, but life is rarely so convenient. Instead, the dull hilt of the hunting knife smacks the witch right in the nose, causing her to blurt out a startled curse and stumble backwards. Distracted, the copy hesitates for a split-second, and you waste no time in splitting them open with your sword. Even before the body has finished breaking apart into smoke, you turn and dart close to the remaining witch.Just before your blade meets flesh, Ashtoret spreads her arms wide once again, a rapturous expression upon her face. Sensing danger, but realising that it's too late to hold back now, you watch as your attack finds its mark. Killing light slices into flesh, and this time Ashtoret does not vanish into smoke. This time, she shudders and gasps as a ribbon of blood leaks from one corner of her mouth.[1/2]
>>3084752Exultation but also apprehension?
>>3084752>Instead, the dull hilt of the hunting knife smacks the witch right in the nose, causing her to blurt out a startled curse and stumble backwards.kek
>>3084752Slowly, Ashtoret's body slides free from your blade and slumps down to the ground. When a soft, faltering breath escapes her, you realise that her death was not clean. Grimacing, you kneel down and roll her body over. The crystal, once held aloft between her crown of horns, now lies dead and shattered beside her, and the fading light in her eyes tells you that she will join it soon. All around you, the world begins to change. To revert back to normal?If so, “normal” is a bleak thing. The trees look dead and lifeless, old ropes dangling from some of the branches, and the town itself lies in ruins a short way behind you. It was destroyed long before you ever got here – now you recall, there was talk of the village going silent. Now you know why. You might never really learn who was responsible, but you have a good idea of who it might have been.Beneath you, Ashtoret lets out a shuddering laugh. “I... knew... this was... coming,” she gasps, blood bubbling out of her mouth, “I made... a... deal.”“A deal?” Keziah whispers, kneeling down beside the dying witch and shaking her roughly by the shoulders, “What did you do? You... you damn fool, what did you do?”But Ashtoret just smiles. She smiles, even after the last breath has left her.>Okay, I'm going to close things here. I think I'm going to see about running tomorrow as well, probably at the same sort of time. If I can't, I'll post an update to twitter>Thank you for your patience today!
>>3084813Thanks for running.
>>3084813Thanks for running.What horrors would have awaited us if we bathed in the spring?
>>3084813APPREHENSION MAGNIFIESThanks for running! She seriously illusioned us all into a fake town? Damn, witches with nothing to lose are so OP. I guess if we had chosen to explore we would have picked up on inconsistences.What could Nathair do if she was that reckless?How likely is it that the mirror is gonna be safe and sound in the ruins?How ashamed would Maeve be knowing her daughter didn't inherit her dope ass fighting skills? What a blunder on that knife throw.
>>3084834Knife throwing is fuckinghard unless you have a knife made for it in hand. Hunting knifes are not made for it. The fact it did not veer off and miss was a minor miracle in of itself.
>>3084852Maeve coulda made it a major miracle, or at least a normal one. She doesn't settle for minors.
>>3084829Have you ever been swimming, and then someone grabs your leg from underwater? It's not nice, and that's when it's a person doing it instead of some kind of leech monster!>>3084834Ashtoret is very powerful, but that power came at a pretty steep price. Even if we hadn't gotten involved, she might not have been able to hold on for very long. Certainly, she never had a realistic chance of seeing her ambitions realised.Ultimately, though, an older and more powerful witch like Nathair wouldn't stand to gain much by being reckless. It's very much a shortcut to power, although there may be a few secrets that "conventional" rites can't unlock. Worth the price, though? Maybe not!I wouldn't worry about the mirror. It's not like they're not incredibly delicate objects or anything like that... right?And really, I don't think Maeve needs any more reasons to be ashamed of her daughter!
>>3084910>And really, I don't think Maeve needs any more reasons to be ashamed of her daughter!oof
>>3084910So, when are we strapping Gunny to a torture chair and sucking out all the soup outta him with the mirror?
Not even a full minute after Ashtoret dies, Keziah jolts back from the corpse and starts to look around in fear. “We need to burn this body!” she hisses, her inhuman eyes searching for anything that might serve to create an instant fire, “We need to burn it right now! Right this instant!”You don't need to ask why – the simply urgency in her voice is almost entirely enough to convince you, and your imagination is able to fill in the rest of the blanks. Whether true or just another bit of folklore, dead flesh is usually cremated so that a daemon cannot take residence within it. Masque, a familiar daemon bound to a human corpse, was created deliberately, crafted through the careful work of some long-dead witch. Could a daemon crawl into Ashtoret's waiting body with no such preparation, no such work?But perhaps the preparations were already made, part of the “deal” she mentioned. Either way, you won't be happy until you see the body reduced to ashes. “The others!” you snap, pointing to the ruined settlement. Keziah nods and follows you, although she repeatedly glances back over her shoulder. Neither of you want to turn your back on the corpse for any longer than absolutely necessary.-When you arrive back at the village, you find that the layout is roughly the same as in Ashtoret's vision. The whole thing is smaller, the remains of the huts placed far closer to each other than your dream had suggested, but the general idea is the same. Similar enough, in fact, to leave you with an uncanny feeling gnawing at the back of your mind. That's the thing about visions – all too often, you can't shake the feeling that you might still be trapped within an illusion.Clearly, you're not the only one to think that way. The others have scattered, although none of them drifted too far from the ruined hut you had – apparently – been sleeping in. Masque is more alert than anyone else, his anger cutting through the lingering influence of Ashtoret's magic.“The witch placed a hex upon us all,” the daemon snarls, brandishing his swords, “Upon ME. I will break her open, and-”“Bit late for that,” Keziah interrupts, “We need to burn the body. Fuel, somethin' to light a fire, uh...” The sound of footsteps causes all three of you to look around, and you see Branwen holding up a small flask. “Good girl!” the witch cheers, snatching the flask out of Branwen's hands and turning back towards the edge of the village. You start to hasten back to the body, only for a tremor to shake you to your feet.“Come on!” you hiss, grabbing Keziah by the arm and hauling her upright again. Already fearing the worst, you race back towards Ashtoret's body.[1/2]>>3085533>That sounds pretty cruel, so... soon?
>>3086778The tremors only get worse as you run back to the corpse, but you never manage to reach it. You close to within a handful of yards, only for the ground to explode up from underneath the corpse, the convulsion throwing you to the ground and showering you with soil. Although your vision is obscured by the cloud of debris, you could swear that you see something – a vast and gnarled hand, perhaps – reaching out to seize the corpse and drag it back beneath the surface.When the dust settles, Ashtoret's body is nowhere to be seen. Where it had been, there is now a crumbling hole leading deep down beneath the land. Creeping towards it, ready to leap back at the first sign of movement, you peer down and see an inky blackness below.“Oh,” Branwen mutters, staring down in numb disbelief, “Does this mean I can have my flask back?”-One by one, drawn by all the noise and chaos, your crew drift over and gather by the hole. Behind you, you can hear them comparing their visions in hushed tones, but you barely pay any attention to what they're saying. Your focus is still directed at the hole down below, and what might wait at the bottom of it. Slowly, Freddy approaches you.“The way I see it, we have two choices,” she says slowly, rubbing her brow as if to ward off a headache, “First, we can find that mirror and then get the hell out of here while we can. I don't know how long it'll last, but I think we have an opportunity here. Second of all...”“Don't say it,” Gunny groans, “Don't you say it, sister.”“Second of all, we go down there and take a look around,” the Iraklin continues, kneeling down and pointing her flashlight into the cavern, “I've got some rope, and those trees should be able to hold our weight. It doesn't look too deep, so...” Her words trail off here, reluctance gradually winning out over her sense of duty.“What fun...” Caliban sighs, looking around at you as he awaits your orders.>Focus on searching for the thousand year mirror>Delve underground and search for Ashtoret's remains>You've got some other plan... (Write in)>Other
>>3086780>OtherKez are we on a time limit? Does whatever you think is happening take time to do?If yes,>Delve underground to prevent itIf no,>Quickly search the ruins
>>3086780>>Delve underground and search for Ashtoret's remains
>>3086780>>Delve underground and search for Ashtoret's remainsor>> Bring in the airship for a mega blast into the hole.
>>3086780>> Bring in the airship for a mega blast into the hole.Then go in and take a lookyloo
>>3086800>>3086780Actually reverse this. Let's instead try to bait whatever is in there out, and have the airship ready to blast it.Or could we take some missiles, roll them into the hole, and then detonate them?
>3086800>3086795Couple of things. It'll take awhile for the airship to get here, during which time the daemon or whatever can do what it wants to the corpse.Blasting the Deep Forest may piss off the spirits and denizens native to here giving us more trouble.Blasting it may just cause a cave in or not even hit what what we want since it the hole might not be straight down.Shit that was three things.
>>3086806How did those arrows disappear from the links...Oh I also forgot another point that makes this all moot.We can't signal the ship. Keziah and Herrod is here with us.
“Keziah, how long do we have?” you ask sharply, “Whatever it is that we're dealing with, how long do you think we have to stop it?”“I don't know,” she mutters, hands kneading at her hair as she tries to think, “I don't even know for sure what's going to happen. Might be too late already...” Clamping her eyes tightly shut for a moment, she bites down hard on her lip before spitting out a quiet curse and shaking her head.“It will not be long. I sense something stirring below us, as plainly as you might feel a change in the wind,” Masque states firmly, looking dead at you, “Witch. Your voice.”Slapping both hands over her mouth, Keziah lets out a soft yelp. “Don't you... Dinnae you say a damn thing!” she snaps, “What are you feelin'?”As Masque shrugs at the contradictory orders, you grab the spool of rope that Freddy takes out of her pack and holds out to you. Lashing the rope around the closest tree, you trail back towards the hole and let it drop down. Somewhere deep below you, the soft thump of the rope hitting stone reaches back up to you. Freddy follows it with a lit flare, allowing the hazy red light to fill the cavern down below. “Here,” Branwen tells you, holding across the flask, “Use it sparingly. Resin – it burns bright and quick. King Eishin's raiders would use it to destroy bodies and cover their tracks.”“Probably used it to burn this whole damn place,” Caliban mutters as you slip the loop of rope around your waist and ease yourself down into the cavern below. Between Freddy and Gunny, your descent is mercifully slow and controlled. The nightmarish glow of the flare casts wild shadows about you, and it's not hard to imagine some other man down here with you. Drawing Feanor's sword, the blade ignites and casts a whiter light upon the scene. “Well?” the hunter calls down, “Do you see anything?”“I can see a lot of rubble,” you shoot back, “Masque, talk to me. What's happening with that stirring?”“It pulses like a heartbeat. Slow and purposeful,” the daemon helpfully tells you. When he says nothing more, you shrug your shoulders and crouch down to take a closer look at the ground. The rock here is dark, but a few parts are darker than others – blood, tacky when you dab your fingers in it. Picking up the flare and carrying it with you, you follow the spotty trail deeper into the caverns. There, as the cave grows so narrow that you have to crawl forwards, you spot pale flesh. Ashtoret's body lies slumped on her back, her head tilted back and facing you. Her lower half is lodged within a tight crevasse. Dragged there by some scavenging beast, perhaps?Either way, you have what you came here to find. Now to set a flame to it and get the hell out of here.[1/2]
>>3086814Sheathing your sword and carefully setting the flare aside, you tug out the flask's stopper before taking a tentative sniff of the contents. Recoiling at the violent scent – pungent and herbal, worryingly similar to a liquor you tasted once – you stretch forwards and shake the flask at the body, splashing a few drops of the dark resin over it. As soon as the first drops touch it, the body convulses. Ashtoret's glassy eyes snap open, pink light flaring into life there.An inhuman hiss leaks from the corpse's open mouth, and it begins to thrash its arms aimlessly back and forth. Crying out in revulsion, you jolt up and away only to be rewarded by a flash of pain as the back of your head cracks against the low cavern ceiling. Dizzied by the blow, you hesitate just long enough for the corpse's grasping hand to close around the front of your shirt. Cloth rips as you pull away, daring to take your eyes off the corpse just long enough for you to find the flare once more. Desperately clawing for it, you hurl the burning flare at the body.Branwen's resin lights with a flash like a bomb going off, a wave of hot air blowing back against you with enough force to burn the back of your nose and throat. Howling like a beast, Ashtoret's corpse lets go of you and shrinks back away from you. Even over the screaming, you hear bones shatter as the corpse is cruelly dragged through a space too small for it. As the body vanishes down the narrow crack, you hear screams echoing out for a moment more, and then... silence.“Boss?” Keziah thinks frantically to you, “Boss, did you...”“Not exactly your average cremation,” you rasp, falling back and gasping for breath, “But I think I got it. That resin stuff really burns. Masque... Masque! What do you sense?”There is a long pause before the daemon replies. “Nothing,” he answers, “The stirrings have gone – either they have ceased entirely, or they have travelled far from this place. I can sense nothing more.”That's good... isn't it? Tentatively crawling back towards the hole, you soon confirm what you already knew – there's no way that you're getting down there without breaking both arms off at the shoulder. It's possible that Branwen, the smallest of your party, might be able to squeeze down there, but getting out might not be so easy. Judging by the guttering light of the flare, the passage turns sharply a few yards in, turning into an almost vertical drop. Ashtoret's corpse left a charred trail, but it's definitely not a trail that you can follow. Neither can you hear anything from down below, no matter how hard you strain to listen.Time to get out of here then, before the flare dies entirely.[2/3]
>>3086845“And you're certain that she's dead?” Grace asks you, not for the first time since you emerged from the cramped cavern. By your count, this might be the fifth of sixth time she's repeated this question. Ashtoret really made an impression on the girl. Giving her cautious answers doesn't seem to be making any difference, so this time around you just sigh and nod. “Good,” the young scholar states, nodding firmly, “Very good.”Hopefully, that'll be the end of it. Looking away from the scholar, you see Caliban hurrying towards you. With a curt gesture for you to follow him, he turns away and hastens back into trees. Curious now, you chase after him and soon emerge in a small clearing dominated by a slate-grey stone monolith. “So?” you ask after a moment, “We've seen stones before. Is there anything that Keziah can use here?”“Not her, no,” Caliban grunts, wiping moss from the stone and pointing to some of the markings carved there. They have a blocky, angular look to them. “Zenith, I'd wager,” he continues, before running his fingers up a crack in the rock. Not a crack, you realise, but a seam. The stone has been carefully crafted to hide a compartment inside it, the fit close enough that you need to strain your muscles to open the monolith up. Inside, wrapped in the pristine white hide of some divine beast, a round object rests upon a petrified wood stand.Reaching out, you delicately peel back one corner of the white hide and wince at the polished mirror glass beneath. Your reflection, the quick glance you snatch, is hideously smeared and distorted.“That's it, isn't it?” Gunny whispers, his sudden arrival causing you to flinch away from the mirror. “I... I gotta ask something,” he asks, “Milos, brother, would you... would you give me a moment with it?”His expression is earnest, strained with nervous energy. “You're going to look,” you state flatly, “Aren't you?”Gunny hesitates, but then he nods.>Allow his request>Refuse his request>Other
>>3086878>Allow his request
>>3086878>>Allow his request
>>3086878>Allow his requestDon't break it, we do not need 7 years of bad luck
>>3086878>>Allow his requestHe follows our crazy plans, so it seems fair.
The idea causes you to shudder, but you slowly nod. Before you leave Gunny alone with the mirror, though, you sketch down the angular carvings to show Grace. Perhaps she can get something useful from them – at the very least, it'll give her something to do while Gunny... does whatever the hell he's going to be doing. “Just don't break it,” you tell him firmly, “We've got enough bad luck as it is, and I really don't want to go crawling back to the church.”Waving away your concern, Gunny steps closer and gently strokes the mirror's hide wrapping. Turning away and gesturing to Caliban, you lead the hunter away from the small clearing. “You think this is a good idea?” he mutters to you as you're leaving, “I get a bad feeling about that thing.”“It's his choice,” you reply with a shrug, “I feel the same way, but... maybe Gunny needs this. Either way, I trust him enough to let him take a little risk.”Grimacing, Caliban digs out a cigarette and jams it into one corner of his mouth. That puts a quick end to the conversation.-“It's not a Zenith script exactly, but it's strongly derived from one. A church cipher,” Grace explains quietly, lazily skimming over the notebook page you show her. “Let this gift remind you of what you really are, and the place you hold in this world,” she translates, following the words along with one gloved finger, “Let this gift remind you of what you must do, and the reward that awaits you at the end of your path.”“Um...” Blessings begins, only for Grace to cut him off with a gesture.“Rough translation, but that should be the general gist of it,” she adds, “What a charming little message. Don't forget, you're little better than beasts. Now spend the rest of your lives apologising for that.”“I don't think that's... quite what they meant,” the boy suggests, wincing a little at the idea, “I think it was meant to say that they could be better, that they didn't have to be constrained by their heritage. If they led good lives, they could... ah, well, you know what I mean. If the church really had such a low opinion of these people, they wouldn't have given them a treasure like this. I wonder what they used it for...”“Who knows?” you add with a shrug, “The stone it was hidden inside was overgrown with moss, it didn't look like it had been opened in quite some time. Maybe they forgot about it over the years, or they decided to seal it away. Perhaps-”A harsh, grating scream cuts you off here, and you jolt back around towards the clearing. That scream was so pained, so terrible, that it was barely human, and yet you recognised the voice all too well.Gunny.[1/2]
>>3086932Dropping the notebook, dropping everything, you leap up and race for the clearing. Crashing through the trees, you feel a distant pain as the low branches scratch across your cheek like claws, but that little pang barely registers. Leaping over a fallen log, you stumble into the clearing and look out at Gunny and the monolith he has prostrated himself before. Panting, you wince as you catch a glimpse of your distorted reflection in the thousand year mirror. With your mouth as dry as a bone, all you can manage is a hoarse approximation of Gunny's name.If the man hears you, he gives no sign of it. Instead, he slowly sits up and raises his hands above his head, the saint's medallion held in a tight grip. Bushes rustle as the others approach to join you, with Masque faltering and stopping a few paces away. The magic of the saint's medallion has been roused, preventing the daemon from approaching. Leaving Masque to skulk behind you, you tentatively approach Gunny and reach out towards him. Just before your hand touches his shoulder, you find yourself hesitating. For fear of what you might find, perhaps.“Gunny...” you breathe instead, “What did you-”Lowering his arms, Gunny clumsily turns and looks at you... no, he stares right through you. Recoiling at the sight of him, you stifle a cry of alarm with the back of your hand. His eyes are glazed over, their humanity burned away until nothing remains but two perfectly formed Abrahad orbs. Even the skin around his eyes has been taken, angular tendrils of the white stone creeping out across his temples. His brow furrows with faint confusion, and his lips silently work as he tries to form the words. Then, finally, he manages to speak.“I did what I had to do, brother,” he whispers, “It was... sacrifice.”In any exchange, there is always a cost.>Okay, I think I'm going to close things here for now. I'll continue this on Friday, probably starting a new thread>I apologise for the short session today, but I was feeling a bit off today
>>3086974Thanks for running.
>>3086974Man you dumbass. The fucking medallion isn't worth your humanity. I honestly thought he was going to check if he was corrupted or not like how we see ourselves as smeared.Thanks for running.
He did everything he could, and gave a pretty big sacrifice so he could stay useful to us and cleanse his soul. As long as he isn't completely against the mission now, we should do our best to keep his spirits high and let him know it won't be in vain.
>>3086974Christ on a stick Gunny, the fuck was wrong with him that he had to give up his own eyes?Just hug the man already, a real manly hug that communicates everything we don't have the words for.
>>3086974So let me get this straight. Gunny getting tricked into drinking poison was enough to corrupt him spiritually even though it was no conscious decision on his part.And in order to 'fix' this he had burn his eyes out instead of just throwing up or something.This religion and medallion are incredibly fickle. Fuck Dogma
>>3086993A punch first for doing something so reckless and stupid and then a hug.
>>3086995Yeah. If we hadn't already met him, this would definitely reveal Dogma's dickish nature. I'm concurring with the punch and hug approach. Gunny worried us to death, even if we love him.
>>3086974Goddamnit Gunney, how are you going to . . . well, GUN for us if this is what you did to yourself.Thanks for coming this far with us, but I think Gunny is ready to retire to a life of quiet contemplation.
>>3086974Gunny you stupid son of a bitch.
>>3086974Gunny has henshined into a warrior of justice
>>3086932Whaaaaaat. Someone lost an eye (or two) in a Moloch quest? Nooo.So if this was a necessary sacrifice, what did Gunny make the sacrifice FOR.We know Abrahad stuff fucks with people's minds. He's still Gunny, yeah? Not a soulless puppet of Order?
>>3086974We already have several nadir mutants why not get some part-abrahad mutants as well? Make a freakshow out of our crew!
Fuck, I missed a Monday run? God damn job.
>>3088220>Someone lost an eye (or two) in a Moloch quest? Nooo.Man I didn't even think about that. Add another two to the tally.
>>3088961Two to compensate for his failure in Heavenly Child.
>>3089036He made up for his inability to permanently maim the regenerating girls with a lot more horrible, debilitating, yet temporary wounds than he normally would.
>>3089055Being turned into ribbons by a heavy caliber Gatling gun and regularly break several bones once or twice per fight... Yeah they had it rough.They probably wished they had lost their eyes considering some of the monsters they fought, so I'm sure it was deliberate
>>3089383Probably one of my favorite moments from that quest was 'calmly' sitting down in front of the Illuminati, coated in our own blood and missing a lung and asking what the fuck went wrong with their tank.