This was all a formality. Guilt was a certainty, and guilt meant death. But there was a process that had to be followed, a proper way for things to be done. The outcome might be certain, but the process would be done correctly and to the word of the Law. That meant a trial, and good citizens coming from all corners of the land to bear witness. You're just one of them, attending the trial out of a sense of... what? Duty, perhaps. Although the courtroom is of good size, with a high ceiling and two tiers of balconies, it feels suffocatingly small. The trial has drawn a good crowd, with countless bodies packed closely inside. Sitting amidst the lower balconies like this, you can barely move for fear of jabbing an elbow into someone's vulnerable side. Stifling heat, the sour scent of dread... even without the trial unfolding below, this place would be unpleasant. As it is, you'd rather be anywhere else right now. A bang of the gavel, and the courtroom reluctantly falls silent. The wizened judge slowly takes his place beneath the golden icon of the Sun King. Even though you know exactly what he is about to say, you find yourself holding your breath. “You stand accused of the unlawful act of necromancy,” the judge announces, his voice cracked and strained, “What plea do you offer us?” “I offer you nothing,” the condemned man replies, “This court holds no authority over me.” The courtroom erupts in outraged jeers and shouts, bodies jostling you this way and that as men rise to their feet. You remain seated, frozen in place. The condemned man's words had been defiant, but his voice had seemed defeated. He knew, as well as anyone else, what awaited him at the end of the trial. Finally noticing the uproar around him, the condemned man looks slowly around the courtroom before his eyes fall upon you. Holding his gaze for as long as you can bear, you finally turn away with a grimace. It's a terrible thing, to see an old friend like this.
>>5656202“By all the gods and spirits, what is the world coming to when a young man – no, a boy – is dabbling in the forbidden arts?” Master Brehm mutters to himself, shaking his head in dismay, “When I was his age, the worst I could do was drawing dirty sketches! Something like this, one of our own...” You saw nothing, letting the old man think aloud. In all the years that he's been your mentor you've seen his face alight with wit and good cheer, but now his face is as cold and lifeless as a granite slab. His eyes, though, betray something else – something you can't quite name. Guilt, maybe, or some darker kind of shame. “Never mind me,” Master Brehm announces suddenly, as if only now noticing that you're sitting opposite him, “Put him out of your mind, my boy, don't waste another thought on him. By tomorrow evening this will all be over, and we'll have greater things to worry about than Nicholas Penrose.” The name hangs in the air for a long moment, the silence ugly and still. With a soft grunt of disgust, Master Brehm busies himself with rummaging in his desk drawer before drawing out three medallions and placing them before you. Each one is engraved with the seal of the Sun King, and on their reverse... “You know what these are, don't you?” Master Brehm murmurs, gesturing to the medallions, “What they mean?” “The sword means strength, both strength of body and strength of will,” you reply, pointing to the first medallion, “And the scroll means knowledge. Then...” You pause, the words dying in your mouth as you look down at the final medallion. “The crown represents the rule of law,” you say eventually, “The three pillars of our order.” “Exactly so,” Master Brehm reaches across, places a firm hand on your shoulder, “Go on, take one.” >The sword, representing strength>The scroll, representing knowledge>The crown, representing the rule of law
>>5656203>The sword, representing strength
>>5656203>>The scroll, representing knowledgeWelcome back Moloch
>>5656203>>The scroll, representing knowledgeAre you the OG Moloch?
Going to lock in the scroll, for knowledge.>>5656212>Unless there's someone else I don't know about, I believe I am. I had to take a pretty long break from writing, but I thought it was time to come out of retirement. I hope things go well
You consider the three trinkets laid out before you, and all that they represent. The academy draws in all types of people, those who were somehow sensitive to the work of spirits. Some were fighters, and some were born to pass judgement. Your time at the academy has been spent deep in study, contemplation of the other realms and all that churns within them. That means... “This one, here,” you decide, placing your hand over the icon of the scroll. Your hand, you note with some relief, doesn't tremble. “Excellent, excellent,” Master Brehm says with an approving nod, “But of course, knowledge alone is not enough. Knowledge without power is passivity, and knowledge without the rule of law-” “Is wickedness,” you finish for him, wincing slightly as you think of your former colleague. Oblivious to your grim thoughts, Master Brehm takes the medallion from you and weights it in his hand. “We might as well make it official then,” he remarks, clearing his throat before adding, “Lucas Hearne, I grant you this seal and the title of Exorcist. You're an apprentice no longer, my boy.” It should thrill you, to hear those words, but you feel hardly anything at all. With a numb nod, you let Master Brehm take the medallion from your hands and pin it to your jacket. “What next?” you ask quietly, “When will I start my duties?” “Eager to get started, are we? I'm glad to hear it, but there's no need to get ahead of yourself. Take some time to relax, let it sink in,” the old man urges, slapping you lightly on the arm and forcing a smile. The effort doesn't last, something in your face causing it to fade from your teacher's face. He leans back in his chair and tents his fingers, thinking deeply to himself. “It's still bothering you,” he guesses, “Isn't it?” The trial, of course. What else? “It seems...” you begin, searching for the right words. If there is such a thing. “It seems harsh, is that it? Well, perhaps it is – but the risks of leniency would be far greater. The terms of the Accord are clear, and it falls to us to enforce the laws of man,” Master Brehm says, his voice weary as he repeats the well-rehearsed lecture, “That, too, will be one of your duties. A rare one, thankfully, or at least-” But he cuts himself short here. “At least what?” you ask, leaning forwards slightly. There's something new in his expression, a fleeting look of fear in his eyes.
>>5656224“Forgive me, my boy, I was just thinking aloud. Thinking a little too much, in fact, and about the wrong kinds of things. I don't mean to burden you,” Master Brehm insists, forcing another smile. This one manages to stick, although it's still far from convincing. “At a time like this, you should be out celebrating,” he adds, “The first of your cohort to reach the rank of Exorcist, that's no small feat.” “I don't feel much like celebrating right now,” you admit. “Then take some time to think things over, at least. Let it all sink in,” the old man urges, “I mean it, Lucas. There will be plenty of time for stress and worry later – take it from someone who knows!” You can't quite manage to match his laugh, but you're able to work up a slight smile. Thinking things over is one idea but what you really need is a distraction, a chance to think about something else entirely.>Head to the common rooms, a good place to hear the latest gossip>Spend some time in the archives with something to read>Visit the training rooms for some combat practice
>>5656226>>Head to the common rooms, a good place to hear the latest gossip
>>5656226Let’s see what the lads are saying about our boy Nick
>>5656226>>Head to the common rooms, a good place to hear the latest gossip>>5656215No but there could be impostors
There's an unspoken rule around the academy – you don't bring work into the common room. If there's one place where you might be able to get away from the trial, it should be there. At least, that's what you hope. A few hours of idle conversation would do wonders for your nerves, and then you might finally be able to appreciate your graduation. But first, there's one last thing bothering you. The trial had been heavy on rhetoric and legal bluster, but strangely light on the specific details of it all. That, you assume, had all been decided behind closed doors. “The trial. Nicholas,” you ask, forcing out the question, “What did he actually... do?” Master Brehm considers the question for a long moment, tugging slightly at his moustache. “Better that you don't know,” he decides, the answer that you had been dreading, “He sought to disturb the spirits of the dead. I don't know why. He hasn't told anyone why.” Bitterness drips from these words, and he turns away so you can't see his face. “He had great potential, that boy, and to do a thing like this!” he hisses, “To throw it all away!” A silence falls. With nothing left to say, you murmur a farewell and make your exit.- The common room is bustling, as you expected – hoped – that it would be. A few conversations falter as you enter, a few eyes turning towards you before hastily looking away. It won't last, you try to tell yourself, give it a week and something else will be the talk of the town. Maybe. Ignoring the occasional fleeting glance, you spot a familiar girl sitting alone at a table and cross over to join her. Clarissa Lowe, one of the other members of your training cohort, has her gaze fixed upon the map spread out across the table and her brow furrowed with conversation. So much so, in fact, that she doesn't even notice you sitting down opposite her. “Planning a trip somewhere?” you ask, gesturing to the map. Not much of a joke, but at least it gets her attention. She looks up and frowns, her eyes flicking down to the medallion pinned on your jacket. “Congratulations,” she says simply, her voice low and calm. Then she looks down, back down to the map. “I receive a letter from father,” she adds, her voice hushed, “He says there's been fighting at the border. Not serious, but it's a bad sign. The situation might escalate.” “He's stationed down there, isn't he? At Ixtab?” you recall, peering at the map. You don't know the exact details, but you get the impression that her father is a military officer there, and not a particularly low one. “That's right,” Clarissa confirms, her lips forming a faint smile, “You've been paying attention. The others tend to look the other way when I talk about father.” The others. That might mean the rest of your cohort, the five of you, or it might mean the academy as a whole. The world as a whole, even. Not that Clarissa has ever seemed to care much about any of that.[1/2]
Is this another trans quest?
>>5656275“The Reivians have been making claims on the territory for years, skirmishing across the border and threatening all kinds of escalation, but our leaders do nothing. If they were to attack in force, the garrison at Ixtab would be overrun. We can't let that happen,” Clarissa says suddenly, launching into a sudden flurry of words, “Ixtab cannot fall into their hands.” The catacomb city of Ixtab. A sacred site, allegedly, the city where the Accord was first signed. Aside from the religious significance, though, the whole region is worthless – poor soil, barren mountains, and weakness in the Veil. It's hard to imagine blood being spilled over such a place, but the Reivans seem intent on taking it by whatever means necessary. If it came to war and Ixtab fell, then Clarissa's father... “Come on. Staring at a map isn't going to help,” you tell her, “You need some fresh air. It'll help us both think.” “What makes you think I need any help?” she shoots back, although she folds the map and tucks it into her pocket. Just as you're getting up to leave, though, you catch a whisper of conversation from another table. “I heard it was an instructor here,” the young man hisses, glancing around in fear, “Imagine doing a thing like THAT because you can't pass your tests!” Your jaw clenches tight in anger, but Clarissa touches your arm lightly and shakes her head. “Outside,” she reminds you, and this time she leads the way.- “They're wrong about him, you know,” Clarissa says as you walk out into the cold air. The late afternoon sun is just starting to tip below the horizon, but the beacon atop the Eternal Palace still shines brightly from the capital. “It wasn't anything to do with homework, or tests, or any of that nonsense,” she adds, “But they keep talking away. It's disgusting.” “But he must have done something,” you point out, “Something serious. Do you-” “I don't know for certain, but I have an idea,” she thinks back, frowning at the memory, “Not long ago, Nicholas said something to me. It seemed strange at the time, but now I wonder. He was talking about the old scholars, how they often died and left their works unfinished. It was a terrible waste, he said, to leave that knowledge incomplete. Ideas that were never written down, never passed down to the next generation...” And so he thought to get some of those lost ideas, straight from the original source. Clarissa falls silent, leaning on a low wall and staring out at the Eternal Palace. “I don't know what to think,” she admits eventually, “About the trial. About any of it.”>The law is clear – the Great Spirit Sheol holds dominion over the dead>Maybe Nicholas was right. If that knowledge is as valuable as he thought...>I don't know either. We don't even really know why he did it>Other
>>5656303>I don't know either. We don't even really know why he did it
>>5656303>I wonder - if he had succeeded in his attempt, whatever it was, would we be applauding him as a genius? It seems to me that his mistake was in his discretion, not in the seeking of knowledge itself…
“I don't know either,” you admit with a shrug, “We don't even know why he did it. Not for sure. From what Master Brehm said, Nicholas hasn't told anyone why either. If he really did have good intentions, surely he would have told them that!” “Maybe. Maybe he knew it wouldn't do him any good. Whatever the motivation, whatever the intentions are, the punishment for necromancy is death,” Clarissa scowls, “But if he hadn't been caught...” “We'd all be praising him for his genius,” you finish for her, “Maybe. The man who uncovered some long lost secret – great for him, until people start asking difficult questions.” “He wouldn't get away with it, would he?” she murmurs. Then, with a sudden snarl of anger, she slaps her palm down against the cold stone. “He KNEW that, damn it!” she snaps, “He KNEW that, and he just... just went ahead with it anyway!” The sudden flash of anger leaves you speechless. It's not like her to lash out like this. Although, given the circumstances... Something in your expression must give your thoughts away, because Clarissa waves a hand at you. “It's fine. I'm fine. Just... it's all come as a shock. Let's talk about something else for a while, okay? Like your graduation,” she purses her lips, looking you up and down, “You're going to have to cut your hair, you know.” “What?” you snap, reaching up to touch your fringe, “What's wrong with my hair?” “It's too long. It's not professional,” she explains, reaching up to tug at a few errant strands up hair, “If you were in the military, they would have cropped it right down to your scalp by now. Or at least given it a good comb – it's sticking up at the back there, see?” “I can't see it if it's on the back of my head!” you protest, batting away her hands “Mirrors are a thing!” Clarissa shoots back, smirking to herself as she abandons her efforts. Stepping back, her smile falters before dying completely. Fooling about like this just feels... wrong. You've got to wonder how long it might be before it starts feeling okay again, before you can allow yourself to have some fun. “I wonder if we'll get someone new in the cohort,” she adds softly, “It might be nice if Cloranthy could join us, but I think they like to keep family separate. Oh well...”- You talk for a little more, clinging desperately to the most banal topics you can think of – the ugly new statue unveiled in the capital, a missing book in the archives, other sorts of common gossip. Then a new voice interrupts your conversation, calling out from across the courtyard. “Hearne! You're wanted inside,” the student calls out. You glance across to Clarissa, but she just gives a shrug and a wan smile. No chance for any help there. Duty calls. [1/2]
>>5656335“Didn't you hear me?” Johannes growls, punching you lightly on the arm, “Master Brehm needs to talk to you. He didn't exactly imply you had any choice in the matter.” Another one of your training group, Johannes is a castle of a man – broad at the shoulder and as solid as stone, clearly resenting his job as errand boy. After glowering at you for a moment more, just to make sure that you got the message, he shrugs his shoulders and starts to wander off. “I'd better get moving,” you sigh, loud enough to make sure that Johannes can hear you, “Master Brehm won't wait.” “You know, something occurred to me,” Clarissa murmurs, lowering her voice, “If Nicholas really DID find some incredible secret and tell the world, they might kill him for it... but they wouldn't throw that knowledge away. Don't you think?”- There's a sword waiting for you in Master Brehm's office, with a holstered revolver sitting next to it as if it was the most normal thing in the world. Brehm himself is leaning back in his chair, deliberately watching the brass clock on the far shelf. “I came as quickly as I could,” you lie, pointing to the weapons, “I assume you didn't bring me here for some training, right?” “I'm glad to see that you're as sharp as ever,” the old man replies, “It's time for you to get some field experience. There's been a disturbance. A local guardian spirit has been acting up, according to the reports. It doesn't sound serious yet, so it's a good chance for you to see the real thing. Studying in the archives can only go so far.” The thought of going into the field hits you like a bucket of cold water. An errant guardian spirit could mean a lot of things – a breach of their inhuman laws, even a simple mistake in offering rites, or something more sinister. There would be no way of knowing for sure without going out and seeing for yourself. If the worst came to the worst, the spirit might need to be banished completely. Hence the weapons. “I'm not suggesting that you go alone. I'll be there to supervise, to make sure that things don't get... out of hand,” Master Brehm adds. The unspoken implication, of course, was that he'd also be there to judge you. If things were to get out of hand – as he put it – you might very quickly find yourself handing back your badge of office. Spirits can sense fear, sense doubt and hesitation. At least, that's what they say. It might be common folklore, but you've never read anything that actually disproved it. “Lucas,” Master Brehm continues, his voice softening, “If you don't think you're ready for this, just tell me. There's no shame in it.”>No, I'm ready for this.>I'm not ready for this. Not after all this>Other
>>5656347>>I'm not ready for this. Not after all this
>>5656347>>No, I'm ready for this.
>>5656347>No, I'm ready for this.
>>5656347>No, I’m ready for this.If we want to find out what really happened to Nickyboy we gotta impress the Master.Maybe we could even help Nick escape custody depending on whatever secret knowledge he obtained?
Reaching across the desk, you pick up the sword and carefully unsheathe it. The blade is slender, beautifully made from the finest steel and engraved with intricate symbols. A common weapon might not be able to wound a spirit, but this would cleave through their inhuman essence with ease. Only as a last resort, you remind yourself, you're supposed to be more than just an executioner. “I'm ready for this,” you answer, giving Master Brehm a firm nod. You mean it too, even if you're only just realising it now. You've spent years training for this moment. You're not going to back down now. “Excellent!” the old ma cries, “I knew you'd be up for it! The town isn't far from here – I dare say that we'll be back before next sunset. Assuming everything goes smoothly, of course!” He laughs as he says that last part, but you're not sure if he's really joking.- You're fortunate enough to take a carriage for most of the journey, but the horses start to take fright once you draw near to the disturbance. The carriage stops at a nearby waystation, and you're left to finish the journey on foot. The moon and the stars are bright, but the trees hide much of the light from view. Lighting the way with small lanterns, you march behind Master Brehm in a cold silence. “I hate travelling,” Brehm says softly, glancing around at you, “Do you know why?” “Your old bones?” you suggest with a sly smile. “No! Well, yes, but not just that,” he chuckles, “It reminds me of the old stories, from a time before the Accord. You know the ones.” “Men could never settle for long. The Veil was thin – if there was a Veil at all – and evil spirits would follow them wherever they went. If they stayed in one place for too long, the spirits would enter them and take the flesh for their own,” you dutifully answer, “So men kept moving, never staying still for too long. But that's no way to live.” “No, it's not. The Accord was struck, the Veil was drawn to separate the worlds of men and spirit, and our nation flourished,” Brehm nods to himself, “So you see, anything that threatens the Accord...” “I know, I know. You don't need to keep telling me.” This is starting to get annoying. Does he still doubt you, despite everything he's said? You're about to ask, no matter what the risks, but then Brehm holds up a hand to stop you. A few seconds later, you notice it too – there's something very wrong here. It's subtle, the kind of thing that might slip past the unguarded gaze, but the world before you is moving, squirming like a living thing. The trees seem to pulsate, and the light piercing through the canopy is strangely coloured. This is more than just a minor incident – this has all the signs of a serious risk to the Veil, the spirit world already showing itself. Then a growl, a low and feral sound, slips through the undergrowth.[1/2]
>>5656407A wolf is your first thought, but you change your mind as soon as the beast reveals itself. A normal dog, nothing more than that, probably a herdsman's pet from the town ahead. A second later and you change your mind again. It might look like a dog, but it's no normal beast. The light in its eyes are strange, and it stares you down with an unnatural stillness. It might be a dog's body, but there's something else inside it. Slowly, you draw your revolver before Brehm stops you with a gesture. He touches the gold medallion on his breast before tracing a glyph in the air with a trail of golden sparks. The glyph forms with a snap of light, and the dog recoils with a panicked bark. Just a dog once more, it takes flight and flees back into the forest. “Hm, a minor sprite. Not the man we're looking for,” Brehm mutters to himself, “But if lesser sprites like those are able to break through...” “It's worse than you thought,” you state. It's not meant to be an accusation, but Master Brehm turns to give you a withering look. Then he smiles, grinning broadly as you holster the revolver. “It's going to be more interesting than I thought,” he stresses, “Try to look on the bright side for once, would you?”- Things are worse when you reach the town. Ravensheugh, according to the cracked and faded sign posted near the border. A heavy mist has fallen over the entire area, the shadows of houses never quite seeming to remain still. Dull lights occasionally drift through the fog, wavering like fireflies and whispering out to you from deeper within. Your lanterns don't do much to light your way here, and you snuff out their impotent flame. “There,” you murmur, pointing to a larger silhouette ahead of you. The mist doesn't seem quite so heavy around it, and soon you're close enough to make out the doorway. A crude image of the Sun King has been painted on the door, yellow paint splattered across in obvious panic. Brehm wastes no time in knocking heavily, throwing the door open and boldly striding inside. The building is crowded, somehow reminding you of the courtroom back at the academy, and the sea of faces that confronts you is dizzying. All wide eyes and pallid faces, their expressions dull and uncomprehending. Simple folk, the salt of the earth – that's what Nicholas had called them, always with a faintly patronising smile on his face. “Oh Masters, you're here to put things right again!” one man calls out suddenly, stumbling forwards to shake your hand, “It all happened so quickly, you see, we weren't sure if anyone made it out. Then nobody came, and it seems as though we've been here for so long now...” “Slowly now. Tell us what happened,” Brehm urges, “Start from the beginning.” “The beginning?” the man stares at you both, “It just... happened.” This might take some time.[2/3]
>>5656442In the end, there isn't much to tell. The day seemed normal, just with a thin morning mist that wouldn't clear no matter how late the day grew. Then, with a sound like thunder, the outside world seemed to fall away as the mist grew thick and terrible. The townsfolk – or at least as many of them as was possible – crowded into the town hall for protection. Since then, nothing – just strange lights and noises from outside. “You'll be safe in here. The Sun King's benevolence shields you,” Brehm tells the man, raising his voice so the whole crowd can hear, “You have a guardian spirit here, yes? Where is your priest?” “We don't have one no more. He died sudden, a few years back,” a woman offers, “But we've been carrying on just fine without him until now. We knew how to say the words and do the rites just as he did!” “He never had a chance to train up an apprentice,” the first man adds, “We petitioned the capital to send a new priest, but we never got no answer back. You think that's what brought this down?” Brehm gives you a look, irritation creasing his brow. “We're not here to cast blame, just to put things right,” he insists, “Now, has there been anything else out of the ordinary recently? Anything at all?” A mumble runs through the crowd as they talk amongst themselves. “Man got maimed down at the old grain mill,” someone offers, “Lost his arm because of it. Doctor patched him up as best he could, then took him to the capital for better help. Now we don't got a doctor here on top of anything else...” “Your priest,” you suggest, “Did he have a house in town?” “Over on the east edge, furthest house out,” the woman answers, “Go past that, and you get to the standing stone. That's where we do the rites.” That's where the spirit's influence will be strongest, no doubt, but it might be too dangerous to march out and force a confrontation before you know what you're dealing with. “I tried going out there, see if there was anything at the priest's house. Nothing there. Place's been abandoned for years,” the first man grumbles, “Waste of time.” Master Brehm nods to himself, taking you by the arm and steering you away. “Damn amateurs. They think that pretty words and hand gestures are the sum total of what we do. Honestly...” he sighs, “I want to ask a few more questions here. Go out and take a look around, will you?” “Go... out,” you repeat, “Out where?” “That's your choice. I'm just here to supervise, remember?” Brehm gives you a firm look, “But we need to get a better idea of what caused this mess. It's more than a few botched rites, I'd swear my life on that.” So this is it. Your first real test.>Take a look around the grain mill, where the accident happened>Check the priest's house for anything the townsfolk may have missed>Visit the standing stone on the far edge of time>You've got some questions of your own...>Other
>>5656451>Take a look around the grain mill, where the accident happened
>>5656451>>Take a look around the grain mill, where the accident happened
A guardian spirit is linked to the land that it occupies and the people who live on that land. A sudden act of violence, of bloodshed, could have been the catalyst for all this. At the very least, it gives you an idea of where to start – to get a feel for the spirit itself. Brehm listens, nodding with approval as he considers your idea. “You should be safe enough – these letter sprites won't pose much danger to you, and if you see any beasts that have been possessed...” he taps his medallion, “You know what to do.” “I'll be back in a bit,” you answer, “Don't scare the people too much. They're trying their best.” Master Brehm lets out a snort of amusement, but says nothing to this.- Back outside in the deserted town, and alone this time, you feel the chilling mist draw close around you. The faint whispering sound in the mist seems louder now, loud enough that you can almost make out the individual words. Most of them are incomprehensible, spoken in some inhuman tongue, but some of them are more easily understood. Some of them, or so it seems, are your name. The spirits here know you. Drawing your revolver, you peer through the fog until you catch a glimpse of the grain mill looming over the town. There isn't a breath of wind in the air, but the blades of the windmill are silently churning through the fog. Shutting out the whispering voices, you put your head down and march towards the mill. Pushing through the unlocked door, you start to take a look around. The grindstone is the most obvious place to start, the few dark flecks of dried blood that still cling to it visible even from the doorway. The victim must've got his arm caught in the millstone somehow, caught under it and crushed. It's hard to see how he could've done it, though, unless someone held him in place. There's nothing for a loose sleeve to catch on, and even a blind man would be able to pull away from the millstone before it crushed them. It doesn't make sense. Pacing around the millstone, you examine it from all angles as you think. A mark on the stone itself catches your eye – a crude etching, shaped like a centipede. A shudder runs through you at the sight of it. You've seen that symbol before, from the long hours you've spent in the academy archives. The centipede is a symbol of corruption, of the forbidden arts. Of necromancy. Dreading what might come next, you close your eyes and envisage a sacred symbol. Opening your eyes once more, you see a changed world around you – a world swallowed up by the spirit realms that had, before, merely brushed against it.
>>5656485Every surface of the mill is coated in a thick, clinging mud. The mud sucks at your feet, threatening to pull you deeper into the churning more, while things grasp at you from below. The air shudders with a haunting groan, the groan of a man or beast in pain, and beneath it all you can still hear the sound of your name echoing out. The millstone itself has become an instrument of torture, caked in layer upon layer of ancient blood, while the writhing centipede reigns supreme over it all. You close your eyes in a panic and try to shut it all out, to close your inner gaze against the spirit world, but the filth still surrounds you when you open your eyes. Fear claws at your heart, and you nearly lose it completely before some half-remembered memory of your training fights its way to the surface. Touching the medallion on your jacket, you repeat the same gesture Master Brehm used earlier. The golden light of the Sun King snaps out, and the spirit world retreats once more. Or rather, it's no longer so visible. The filth and mud is still there, still all around you, and the feeling of being coated with the stuff won't go away. It's a feeling like you might never be clean again.- “Necromancy, you say?” Master Brehm muses, pacing back and forth on the upper level of the town hall. Below you, the townsfolk huddle in fear and whisper amongst themselves. “I doubt it was any of the locals. They're not... exactly the sort who would be dealing in forbidden lore. Then who could have been responsible?” he continues, “And why?” “What would they gain by... corrupting this town?” you wonder aloud, “What kind of reward could that possibly offer?” “I doubt that was their main goal, merely a consequence of their actions,” the old man scowls hard, tugging furiously at his moustache, “A necromancer pierces the Veil in order to call up the spirits they seek. They open a door, but that door cannot easily be shut. Any number of spirits could have entered our world through the gap they opened with their... their reckless acts! Even if there weren't other spirits involved, the mere ACT of these profane rituals is enough to pervert the natural order of things!” “This is serious, isn't it?” you ask, although you already know the answer to that, “Should we go back to the academy? Get some extra resources?” “No. No, that won't be necessary,” Brehm taps a finger against his temple as he thinks to himself, “We need to make contact with the spirit itself, figure out exactly how bad the damage is. If anything can be... salvaged. We don't have time to summon aid from the academy. We need to cut this infection out NOW. Come, boy, to the standing stone!”>I'm ready to go>There's something else...
>>5656502>There's something else...Lets check the priests home real quick. Give it a once over. Also mention the potential foul play with the grindstone instead of an accident quietly to Brehm.
>>5656509Backing this.Seems possible that the wounded man sacrificed his own arm in a profane ritual?
“The priest's house is on the way to the standing stones. We should take a look around,” you suggest, toying with the hilt of your sword as you plan out your next moves, “Rule it out, if nothing else.” Brehm considers this, then nods curtly. “It shouldn't take too long,” he agrees, although he sounds dubious. The townsfolk crowd around you as you're leaving, but Brehm waves them back with a gesture. He's already sick and tired of this place, of these people, and his patience is starting to wear thin. Or maybe it's more than that – even in dire situations at the academy, you've never seen him this tense. Field work is a different matter, of course, but... “I'm still trying to understand what happened at the mill. It just doesn't make any sense – it couldn't have been an accident,” you murmur once you're outside, the mist seeming to swallow up your words, “It might have been deliberate.” “Nobody actually saw the incident happen. Not completely. Everyone I asked, everyone I spoke with, was either busy elsewhere or didn't notice anything. If there was some kind of struggle, even these dullards would have noticed,” Brehm growls, “Some of the workers themselves were travelling labourers. They left town after the accident, probably scattered to the four winds. Damn!”- The ground sucks and pulls at your boots as you march towards the priest's house. It looks as abandoned as the townsfolk said, so old that even the spirits seem to have given up on it. Inside, the cabin is especially barren – any furniture that was once here has been “borrowed” by the townsfolk, and there isn't a hint of decoration. The priest should have had books, records of the spirit itself and its history, but those must be long gone by now. Pacing the room, you pause as the floorboards creak underfoot. There's a loose plank, and a slight tug is all you need to lift it free and expose a small hiding place underneath. Just a wooden scroll case, nothing else. All too aware of Master Brehm watching you from the entrance, you ease out a crumbling scroll and skim through it. “It's about the guardian spirit, I think,” you announce, “There used to be a folk hero who lived in this area, a wise man or scholar. He helped people in the area, healed the sick and warded off evil spirits. After he died the local guardian spirit took his form. That's what the priest seemed to think, at least.” “Interesting. I've heard of such things before, but this is my first time seeing it in person. You see? We're both learning something new today,” Brehm laughs bitterly, “Is there anything else?” “The wise man was said to have a burial mound nearby, but the priest never found out where,” you reply with a shrug, “That's all.”
>>5656537Disparate ideas swirl through your head, never quite forming the complete picture that you're looking for. A violent and mysterious act lay at the heart of this whole affair, you're increasingly sure of that, but the specifics elude you. Could the man have maimed himself on purpose, as some kind of blood sacrifice? It's getting harder and harder to imagine any other possibility, once you rule out accidents or a struggle. Brehm knows more than he's telling you. You're almost certain of that. At the standing stone, the distortion is so thick that you can barely walk in a straight line. Staggering like a drunk, you lurch towards a stone that seems to bend and sway like a tree in the wind. Purple lights flicker and flare around it, occasionally forming glyphs and sigils that writhe painfully in the air, while an inhuman voice barks out mantras in a language that no sane human has ever spoken. You shudder, easing a step closer to the standing stone and reaching out to touch it. Master Brehm, stubbornly unarmed, hangs back behind you and watches. There's just the barest sense of cold as you touch the crudely hewn stone before-- The whole world goes away, and a new one replaces it. Now the fog is gone, replaced by a driving rain that churns the mud around your feet. The town is gone too, replaced by an almost perfectly flat landscape that stretches out as far as the eye can see. There's only one thing to disturb that seamless horizon – a looming corpse seated upon a boulder, the mummified remains slumped over a cracked stone tablet held out before it. Despite the rain that falls all around, the stone tablet is coated in the same thick mud that tugs at your feet. Like nothing could wash it off. Like distant thunder, the sound of a voice chanting mantras continues to rumble away – almost, but not quite, drowning out that insistent voice that calls out to you. Reaching out again, you start to wipe mud from the stone tablet. It takes a lot of effort, prising the dried filth away in layers, but you slowly start to reveal carved letters. It's an old language, an old human language, but much of it has been destroyed by a hideously familiar carving. The mark of the centipede is here too, but- The mummified corpse moves, one withered hand lurching forwards and closing with an iron grip around your wrist. The copse, easily twice your size, looks up with empty, hollow eye sockets and howls the inhuman mantra from a mouth with no tongue. “Lucas!” Master Brehm calls out, his voice sounding as if it came from deep underwater, “You need to make contact! Make-” Contact. One of the first rituals you were ever taught. One of the fundamental tools of your order. Even as the withered hand closes around your wrist, you touch your medallion with your other hand and concentrate.>Calling for a dice roll please – a roll of 3D10, aiming to beat a target of 4
Rolled 10, 4, 7 = 21 (3d10)>>5656570
It's harder with just one hand, but you sweep your fingers through the motions of an ancient gesture and burn a glyph into the air. When the last mark is in place, the light flares out brightly before fading out. Even before the last sparks of light have faded, the spirit's hand has loosened its grip on your wrist. The howled mantra fades to a faint whisper, and even the rain seems to ease off slightly. Contact. “My name is Lucas Hearne,” you announce, forcing yourself to stare into the hideous hollow eye sockets, “I am a servant of the Accord. By Sheol, the Great Spirit of Death. By Adhra, Lord of the Barrier. By the nameless Sun King himself. I am here to help. Do you... understand me?” The spirit says nothing, but the withered hand moves one finger – it points weakly at the stone tablet, at the filth that encrusts it. Wasting no time, you return to clearing the mud away from the ancient stone. This time, though the mark of the centipede is nowhere to be seen. Once the last of the mud has been swept away, the carven letters squirm and reform themselves into something you can read. I AM RAVENSHEUGH. “Ravensheugh? The town was named after you?” you ask, “What happened here?” The spirit remains silent, but the letters move once more and take on a new shape – this time, forming the imprint of a hand. Hesitating for just a second, you place the flat of your palm on the stone tablet and gasp as a stream of distorted images flash through your mind. You see a dark place, the scent of stagnant water and mossy stone. The walls are tight around you, desecrated with bloodstained figures, childish in size, that have been strung up around you. Bile rises in your throat at the sight of them and you find yourself flinching back from the grotesque images. The last thing you see before you surface is-- “The mill!” you cry aloud, your eyes flashing open only to be greeted by the sight of Master Brehm looking down upon you. “The mill?” the old man asks politely, although he can't hide the concern in his voice. Slowly sitting up from the mud and staring mutely at the standing stone, you look back to Brehm. “I saw something. A ritual, something... terrible. Underground, under the mill I think. Something to do with the mill,” you stammer, swallowing hard and taking a deep breath to steady your nerves, “We need to go back there. What we're looking for, it's there.” Master Brehm looks back to the standing stone and frowns, then looks back to you. “Very well,” he decides, “Then we go to the mill.”
>>5656591Returning to the town you can see that the fog has already lifted somewhat, although it's clear that the spirit world still has a hold over this place. Stamping through the drying mud, you pause at the base of the mill and look around at the surrounding landscape. There's something nagging at you, something you can't put into words. It's like trying to remember a dream long after waking, but... But Master Brehm isn't in the mood to wait. He marches past you and into the mill, a few muffled curses drifting out of the structure as he takes a look around. He emerges from the mill a few moments later, his face set in a triumphant grin. “There's something here,” he announces, “Below, in the cellar. I think we've found what we're looking for.” A sick feeling settles in the pit of your stomach as you creep into the mill. Master Brehm leads you down the narrow stairs and into the cramped cellar, lighting his lamp to guide the way forwards. A pile of grain sacks lay scattered across the floor, pushed aside to reveal a small hole broken through the stone wall. Behind the wall is another set of stairs, this one far more ancient than anything else in the town. You've found the burial mound.>I think I'm going to pause things here for today – it's getting a little late on my end. I'm planning to continue things here tomorrow however
>>5656613Thanks Moloch. Same start time?
>>5656617I'd expect the same start time, yes. That works out about best for my horrible timezone and schedule
>>5656634Excellent work, you’ve built a great atmosphere in only a few short posts!
>>5656613OH SHITwhy didn't anyone tell me quest god moloch was back
so I'm guessing the priest was involved in the necromancy in some way, and that changed the basement of the mill.That went on undetected, until some of the laborers were contacted while they were working, and they struck some sort of deal that resulted in the ritual.
It's the smell – stagnant water and mossy stone – that really gets under your skin. The same smell from the spirit Ravensheugh's vision, but much stronger now, much more real. Master Brehm doesn't seem to notice, or doesn't seem to care, about the smell or anything else about the burial mound. His gaze is set straight ahead, his jaw tense with a quiet fury. This has turned into more than just a little bit of field work for him – this is personal. It strikes you, then, that you don't really know much about Master Brehm. Not really, not as a person. Not even much about his career, save for the occasional anecdote – often vague and deliberately ambiguous – that he used as part of his lessons. Seeing these marks here, the signs of necromancy and the forbidden arts, did it stir up some long-buried trauma? “Mind yourself now,” Master Brehm snarls, gesturing for you to half as the crumbling stone steps come to their end, “This place has been despoiled. Touch nothing until I tell you it's safe. Don't even LOOK at anything until I say so. These men, these... degenerates have been known to leave vicious traps and snares around their lairs. The culprits themselves may be long gone, but the danger remains.” He's treating you like a novice, like it was your first day at the academy, but maybe that's not too far from the truth. This is the real thing after all, not some dusty book or tedious lecture. Nodding silent agreement, you follow as Master Brehm leads you into the burial chamber itself. Despite his warnings you find yourself glancing back and forth at the stained stone walls. The diminutive figures are there, just as you saw in your vision, black smears of blood clinging to... Dolls. Straw dolls, twisted into vaguely human shapes and pinned to the stone walls with brutal iron nails. The sense of relief is so great that you almost laugh aloud, the weight on your shoulders seeming to lift somewhat. Master Brehm nods the all clear, and you start examining the chamber in more detail. Aside from the grisly idols nailed all around you, the walls have been stained with all manner of occult symbols – the mark of the centipede is everywhere, a nightmarish tangle of legs and jaws entwining the other glyphs. Taking centre stage is the mummified body itself, the ancient corpse laid out upon a stone slab and adorned with tarnished jewellery. No signs of looting, you note, so it wasn't the urge for plunder that brought the culprits here. No indication that the mummified body itself had been desecrated either, which gives you some faint sense of relief. As if that really made things any better.[1/2]
>>5657306 “What now?” you ask quietly, your words seeming to echo around the burial chamber. “Document everything,” Master Brehm replies in a tight voice, “Then destroy it.” He marches up to the wall and starts to tug one of the iron nails free. “There were rituals carried out here, that much is obvious, but we need to identify exactly what these bastards were doing. But that comes later – first, we must cleanse this place. The rest can wait until we return to the academy,” he turns, giving you a hard look, “But you can leave that to me. You needn't dirty your hands with this matter any more.” “I can help,” you insist, “I know the archives as well as anyone else, I can do my part. I'm not-” “No!” Master Brehm shouts, his voice hitting you like a closed fist. He seems just as shocked as you are, blinking in surprise before a grimace closes off his face. “This is no task for a young man like you. This is... I've already lost one apprentice to this filth, I won't have another walk down the same path,” he continues, lowering his voice, “You've got great potential, Lucas. Don't waste it like HE did.” “I'm not like him,” you assure him, “Whatever Nicholas did, I'm not going to repeat his mistakes.” Master Brehm just shakes his head, waving your words away with a weary gesture before turning back to the stone wall. Pulling another of the straw idols down, he casually crushes it underfoot before moving onto the next one. Scowling at his silent back, you start sketching out the profane glyphs with parchment and charcoal. After copying down each symbol you cancel it out with a thick slash of the charcoal. With each mark that you obliterate, the darkness that hangs over the burial chamber seems to lift somewhat. As you work, you feel a faint anger swelling in your chest. First treating you like a novice, now shutting you out of the investigation – Master Brehm is starting to piss you off. There are text on necromancy and the forbidden arts in the archives, you KNOW there are. If you wanted to carry on the research by yourself, you could find a way to do it. And anyway, how are you supposed to fight against this necromancy if you don't know a damn thing about it? There's not much you can do now, but you'll be back at the academy before too long. Then you can make your move.>Follow orders and let Master Brehm continue the investigation>Continue the investigation on your own once you return to the academy>Meet up with the rest of the cohort at the academy and discuss your next moves>Other
>>5657309>Meet up with the rest of the cohort at the academy and discuss your next moves
>>5657309>"Did Nicholas do what he did because you told him too much, or too little?">"I'll be following up on the previous priest and the doctor. They might have done something to cover this whole thing up."
Once you're back at the academy, you decide, you can meet up with the rest of the cohort and discuss your next moves. You've got all the time in the world to follow up on this, and you might need their help. There's a lot of ground to cover in the archives, after all, and a few extra pairs of hands would make it easier. Presenting a united front might help with Master Brehm as well, if he was to discover what you were up to, With your mind made up, you busy yourself with wiping out the last of the profane glyphs as Master Brehm gathers up the straw dolls. For burning, you hope. There's something particularly evil about those little idols, something more than just the blood they were smeared with. You're sure that they were more than just dolls in your vision, something far more... real. A symbolic sacrifice, perhaps, with the spirit world reflecting their true forms. Suppressing a shudder, you scratch out the last glyph with a violent stroke and snap the stick of charcoal in half.- Stepping out into the night, you take a deep breath of the cold air and let it purge the filth from your lungs. The last traces of the spirit world have retreated at last, and you can see a few cautious townsfolk emerging from their shelter. They look around in confusion as they step through the silent town, the realisation slowly sinking in. Then, finally, the first of them starts to laugh in amazement. “You see that?” Master Brehm murmurs, watching as the celebrations start to spread from one man to the next, “We did this. No, YOU did this. Never forget the good work that our order does, no matter how dark it might seem.” “Is that it then?” you ask quietly, “Are we finished here?” “Soon,” the old man assures you, starting off towards a small group of the jubilant townspeople. He claps his hands loudly together as he approaches them and calls out a greeting. “Gentlemen!” he shouts, “It's time for us to discuss our payment...” The men pale at this, their celebrations cut short in an instant before Master Brehm laughs. “A jest, a jest. Settle down now, there's no need to worry,” he assures them, “I'm not after your coin. No, I'm merely here to ask a few last questions and then we'll be on our way.” The shocked looks are replaced by something you like even less – closed looks, suspicious and guarded. Now that you've brought order back to the restive spirits, these people want nothing more to do with you. Such is the way of your order, of course, but it stings to see it so openly. “We'll help how we can,” one man offers cautiously, “But I'm not sure what-” “Those travelling labourers who worked at the grain mill. Tell me about them,” Brehm asks casually, idly stroking his moustache, “Where did they come from, if you can recall, and where were they heading when they left?”[1/2]
>>5657330Blank, uncomprehending stares. “We didn't ask them none of that,” another man states, as if it was the most obvious thing in the world, “They did good work while they were here, and they kept out of trouble when they weren't working. No drinking, no fighting, they just played their strange games in peace.” You both tense up at this. “Strange games,” you repeat, “What kind of games?” The man shrugs, shakes his head. “Only saw them at it once. Poking and prodding at this little wood plate, almost like they were stroking it. Asked them what it was, but all they said was it was a game from their home. Got the feeling that they didn't want to talk about it, and I didn't pry,” he stresses those last few words, looking between you and Master Brehm, “That it?” “Tell me more about your old priest,” you ask next, before the men can slip away, “What kind of man was he? Did you ever have any trouble while he was here?” The men mumble a few platitudes amongst themselves – a fine enough man, they say, but they never really talked much. Cutting through their babble, a woman steps forwards. “He was sad, I thought,” she says simply, her voice bright and clear, “Towards the end, I mean, the last few years he was here. He was a city man, and I think the peace and quiet got to him by the end. He spent more and more time out of town, looking around the hills for... well, I don't rightly know what he was looking for. He never said exactly.” Looking for the burial mound, perhaps, if the notes he left were any indication. All that time searching, and it had been under his feet the whole time! “And your doctor,” you continue, “He left just before the incident started, was that right?” “You're not accusing him of anything, are you?” one of the men snaps, his voice turning nasty, “He's a good man, he is. You won't get far making trouble for him, I'll tell you that.” “Nobody's making trouble,” Master Brehm assures the men, taking you by the arm and steering you away. “Master Hearne,” he announces, his tone grave, “Running an investigation of your own, are you?” For a second, you wonder if he somehow sensed your doubts. Impossible, surely, but you're not sure you'd put anything past him. “I'm just helping out. There's still a lot we don't know about these people, what they might have been doing here. The doctor, and the priest too. I'd like to follow up on them some more,” you explain, “That's all. Nothing forbidden about it.” Not yet, at least.[2/3]
>>5657342Master Brehm studies you closely for a moment, then lets out a heavy sigh. “Very well. I intended to look up this doctor when we got back to the academy. If he's still in the capital with his patient, we should be able to track him down. Yes, I said “we” - take that smug look from your face, please. I still don't think this is a good idea,” the old man warns, “Even a little knowledge can be dangerous, if it's the wrong sort of knowledge.” “Dangerous, like what happened to Nicholas?” you ask, a hard edge creeping into your voice, “Did he know too much? Or was it too little?” “We're not doing this here. Not here, not now,” he replies, frowning at your words, “I'm already going against my better judgement, don't push your luck even further.” You lock eyes for a moment, neither one of you willing to back down. Eventually, he sighs and throws his hands up in irritation. “Good lord, what a problem you've turned out to be!” Master Brehm decides with a bitter laugh, “You remind me of myself, back when I was young and foolish.” You're not sure if he means that as a compliment or not. “Very well Master Hearne, you'll get to play detective for a little bit longer. If you want to bother these good people any more, best to do it now,” he says eventually, “I'd rather not spend a minute longer in this town if I can help it.”>You've got everything you need. It's time to leave>You've got some other questions to ask...
>>5657348>>You've got everything you need. It's time to leave
>>5657348>You've got everything you need. It's time to leave
>>5657348>You've got some other questions to ask...The mill was for flour, right? So uh....did anything strange happen to their food?
“I think we've got everything we need,” you decide, looking back over the town. From the priest's house to the standing stone, to the town hall to the grain mill itself, you bid farewell to the dismal place. Master Brehm nods his approval, and you start the long trek back to the waystation. It's only now that the fatigue starts to claw at you, the weight of the day falling across your shoulders. “They were grinding grain up there, right on top of that place,” you murmur, suppressing a yawn, “Do you think...” “Nothing to worry about, my boy. Well, aside from the rather poor job at cleaning they did,” Master Brehm slaps you on the arm and laughs, “Nobody ever got possessed from eating the wrong flour. At least, not as far as I know!” Not the most reassuring thing you've heard today.- The journey back to the waystation seems to take forever, but you're able to sleep most of the carriage ride away. Arriving back at the academy, Master Brehm makes his excuses and heads back to his quarters. Lots of work to do, he claims, sending word to the capital for your errant doctor coming at the top of his list. You head back to your own dorm as well, and while the promise of sleep is tempting you tell yourself to wait. The rest of your cohort – what's left of it – are just starting to wake up as you arrive back. Clarissa, of course, is already wide awake and preparing for the day. Johannes is still clattering about in his bedroom, although you can't even imagine what he might be doing to cause such noise. Finally, Persephone emerges from her room and squints at the medallion on your chest. “What time do you call this?” she asks, her voice an indifferent drawl, “Congratulations, I suppose. I assume you haven't been demoted yet.” “Not yet, but I'm making-” you begin, only for Persephone to vanish back into her bedroom before you can finish your sentence, “...a good shot at it.” “Don't mind her,” Clarissa whispers, “She's really upset about Nicholas.” “I appreciate the sentiment, but you don't need to lie. This is all just normal behaviour for her,” sighing, you sit down at the breakfast table and fight back another yawn, “We should talk, though, about it. All of us. There's something else I want to talk about too. I was out in the field and... and I don't even know where to start.” Clarissa grimaces at the sound of Nicolas' name, but she quickly hides the expression. “With breakfast?” she offers instead, “Always the best place to start, I find. Just sit down, I'll fix you something quick. I wouldn't trust you in the kitchen right now, looking like that.”[1/2]
>>5657381We're too late. The whole village must be purged!
>>5657375Sitting slumped across the dining table, you watch as Clarissa prepares breakfast with brisk, efficient motions. Not a hint of wasted energy there, even as she cracks eggs and cuts bread. There was a girl in your old village like that, you recall suddenly, but you're still trying to remember her name when Persephone sits down beside you and lets out a theatrical sigh. “You're going to talk about how hard your day was, and how terrible it all is, aren't you?” she begins, flipping a strand of her long, pale hair out of her eyes, “Well, just think how terrible it was for us! Sitting here and waiting, with no idea if you were dead or alive. It's awfully inconsiderate, if you ask me. Then you just come swaggering in here like you've done nothing wrong!” You scowl at Persephone for a long moment, but she just smiles sweetly back as if daring you to start an argument. “I don't swagger,” you retort eventually, your voice bland, “I might do a lot of things, but I'm fairly sure that I don't swagger.” “Fairly sure,” she repeats, lowering her voice in some lame attempt at an impersonation, “So you admit that there is some margin for error here. You're not definitely sure that you don't swagger, you're not completely certain of this. So, in fact, there is a possibility-” “Persephone,” Johannes interrupts, finally emerging from his room and glaring at her, “Shut up.”- Breakfast goes a long way to restoring your strength, or perhaps that's the cup of strong tea that Clarissa makes to accompany it. Pushing the empty plate aside, you start to recount your investigation. Johannes listens carefully, as impassive as always, while Clarissa keeps her eyes locked on you in an intent stare. She'd be taking notes, if only she had a scrap of paper available. Persephone just sits back and idly plays with her hair, occasionally tilting her head as if listening to something else entirely. On the whole, exactly what you'd expect from them. When you mention the mark of the centipede, though, the whole mood changes. Persephone looks sharply around at you, while Johannes looks away with a grunt of disgust. Even Clarissa flinches slightly, her eyes narrowing to vicious slits.[2/3
>>5657391 “I see,” Clarissa says quietly, thinking your story over, “And Master Brehm?” “He took over, more or less. The case isn't over yet, but I'm not supposed to have anything to do with it. Not the ritual part of it, at least. He won't even talk to me about it,” you answer, shaking your head in irritation, “It's too dangerous, he said. It's like Nicholas all over again. I don't know if he just doesn't trust me or...” “These ARE dangerous matters,” Johannes points out, “We have experts to handle these sorts of things.” “Experts had to start somewhere,” Persephone counters, “You know, Old Brehm doesn't get the chance to do much field work these days, and uncovering a gang of wicked men would really polish up his reputation. He could certainly use it, after what happened with Nic. He really ended up on the shit list after that little mess. Very important people at the capital are rather unhappy about it all.” “Oh come on!” Johannes groans, “What do YOU know about what “very important people” are saying?” “I couldn't possibly reveal my sources,” the pale girl purrs, leaning forwards as if suddenly fascinated by the conversation, “And I'm not saying it's true. Just... a big success like this, it would certainly help HIM far more than it would help YOU. As far as old Brehm is concerned.” That... had not occurred to you. Politics are far outside your area of expertise, or even interest, but you can't imagine that Nicholas' crime was a good thing for Master Brehm. Would he...>You're wrong. He's just being careful – he doesn't want to lose another student>Maybe you're right. This might just be for the sake of his reputation>I think...>Other
>>5657394>Maybe you're right. This might just be for the sake of his reputation
>>5657394>That would be better, frankly. Better than doubting his student on the first case with a whiff of centipede.
>>5657394>Maybe you're right. This might just be for the sake of his reputationand>>5657399This
>>5657394adding >>5657399 to my vote >>5657397 as well
“You talk too much, Persephone, and you don't even know what you're talking about,” Johannes insists, pointing a blunt finger at the pallid girl, “After everything that happened, you think Master Brehm is just trying to steal the glory for himself? You're full of crap.” “Johannes, I love you – I really do – but you're just so painfully naïve. Status is very important to these people. Old Brehm doesn't have much field work left in him, and then what? Retirement into a cushy position, if you've got a patron smiling down on you. If not...” she throws out a grandiose shrug, “Well, maybe you'll be banished to some backwater to play nursemaid to the most boring spirit in existence. It happens.” “I can't believe this...” the heavyset man grumbles, “Clarissa?” “No comment,” Clarissa replies, giving a tight shake of her head, “I'm not getting involved in academy politics. This whole thing stinks, but I don't think it's because of clout.” “Maybe it is,” you think aloud, “Even if it was just for the sake of his reputation, that might be better than doubting his student on something like this – the very first case I see with a hint of necromancy about it, and he just...” You halt yourself here, before you can say anything you might regret later. You remember how Master Brehm looked at the town, at how eager he was to leave it all behind. If he really was facing down a bleak future, living out his days in a place like that, maybe... “I'm not listening to this,” Johannes grumbles, gathering up some of the breakfast dishes and stalking away to start clearing up. Clarissa flashes you a quick look of warning before joining him, leaving you alone with Persephone. With a sweet smile on her face, she leans back in her chair and tilts her head again. Just beside her, just above her shoulder, you can see a slight shimmer in the air. With a slow blink, you awaken your second sight and take another look at the pale girl. Her guardian spirit sits upon her shoulder, a faint light glowing out from the oversized moth. It stirs as it notices you – notices you noticing it – and Persephone's smile grows a slight bit wider. “Don't you know it's rude to stare?” she scolds, reaching across to tap you on your shoulder, “Or can you just not help yourself?” “No, I just...” you shake your head, closing your inner eye with a snap. “Be honest with me. For once in your life, be honest,” you urge her, “Do you really think-” “Do I really think that old Brehm is willing to screw you over in order to help himself? Of course I do. It's only natural – that's just what people DO,” she replies simply, “The question is, what are YOU going to do about it?”[1/2]
>>5657425“I haven't decided that yet,” you admit, “I was thinking of carrying on the research.” “Behind his back?” she asks, raising an eyebrow in polite – and entirely fake – surprise. “Behind his back,” an awkward pause, “It sounds worse when I say it like that. I mean, I'd rather we do it as a team. That's what I said in the first place, and he shut me down. Too dangerous, he said, not a task for a young man like me. But it's okay for me to help with the heavy lifting, that's fine enough. I just feel like... like he doesn't trust me with any of this. With Nicholas, with this case, with anything.” A silence falls over the pair of you, stretching out for one painful second after another. You hadn't intended to say all that, to let it out like that, but you just couldn't stop it once it had started. You'll regret it later, but for now it feels good – a little bit – to unburden yourself. Not that you ever imagined unburdening yourself to Persephone of all people, but your life has taken a strange turn lately. “Well, if I was in your shoes, I'd... well, first I'd buy some better shoes. But then I'd go ahead and beat old Brehm at his own game. Solve the mystery before he can, and show the whole academy what I'm really worth. But that's just me,” Persephone lets out an airy laugh, waving the whole subject away with a gesture, “Anyway, that's not the only thing you wanted to ask me, was it?” How can she always tell? “When you... first knew you had a guardian spirit,” you begin, nodding towards her shoulder, “What was it like? I mean, how did you know?” “That's a tough one. If I really wanted to get the feeling across, I'd need to write you a poem and, quite frankly, that's a little too much effort for this early in the morning. In the most simple sense possible?” she taps a finger against her lips as she thinks, “It was like someone was calling my name. It seemed close, yet impossibly far away, and I couldn't ever block it out. It was a bit of a pain, if I'm being honest.” “That's twice in one day, if you are,” you point out, “And it's only breakfast time.” “It is! I must be turning over a new leaf. You're a bad influence on me, Lucas Hearne,” she agrees, favouring you with a delicate laugh, “So. You think you might have a guardian spirit too, is that it? You're going to have to tell someone about it. It doesn't have to be old Brehm, you know, it could be any of the instructors. I hear good things about, hm, Rosenthal. He's teaching Clarissa's little sister, I believe.” Sounds like one more thing you need to deal with. Later, though. There's just too much going on at the moment.[2/3]
>>5657437Before you can say anything else, a firm knock at the door causes you both to look around in surprise. A moment later, the old man enters. “Oh, Master Brehm!” Persephone calls out brightly, her eyes wide and shining, “We were just talking about you!” Brehm looks particularly unhappy about that statement, sparing Persephone only a faint glance before staring you down. “It's Nicholas,” he says simply, “He asked to see you. Alone. Before... tonight.” “He wants to see me?” you repeat, “To... talk with me?” “I would assume so,” the old man says bluntly. You've never heard his voice so cold. “Oh my,” Persephone muses, “Do you really think that's such a good idea? A dangerous criminal like that...” Master Brehm ignores her completely, his gaze never leaving yours. “It's your choice to make. I won't tell you what to do,” he declares, already reaching for the door handle, “I've give you a minute to think. I'll be outside.” The door bangs heavily as he leaves, and you bury your face in your hands. “I don't know if I can face it,” you admit after a second, “Seeing him like this, knowing that he's going to the gallows in just a few hours... But I owe him that much, don't I?” “You don't owe him anything,” Persephone says softly, “But... it might be better if you keep your distance. People might talk, if they learn about this. Of all the people that he decided to reach out to, it was you. What, I wonder, does that imply?” You look around to Persephone, a sick feeling forming in the pit of your stomach. A time like this, and she's talking about your reputation? The fact that she's probably right makes it all the worse.>You'll visit Nicholas. You owe him that much>You won't visit. You can't face him like this>Other
>>5657441>You'll visit Nicholas. You owe him that much
“I have to go,” you decide after a few torturous moments, “I owe Nicholas that much. To hear what he has to say, at least.” Persephone purses her lips as she considers this, then shrugs. “Do what you have to do, I suppose. Do tell me if he has anything particularly interesting to say,” she tells you, “But somehow, I doubt that he's going to say anything about me.” A faint smile flutters across your lips as you get up to tell Brehm your decision. Just as you're reaching for the door, Persephone clears her throat lightly. “Tell Nicholas something from me, would you?” she asks softly, “Tell him he's an idiot. Please?” “I'll... keep that in mind,” you sigh, gathering up your courage and throwing the door open.- The academy is built atop a vast network of natural caverns, all reaching deeper and deeper into the guts of the mountains as they go along. Some have been converted into tombs for the honoured dead, others have been put to a more sinister purpose. The dungeons, for example. Hardly ever used, or so you hope, but perfectly miserable. Damp stone seems to close in around you from the narrow walls, and the sound of your echoing footsteps seems to go on forever. If not for the soldier leading you forwards, you're not sure if you'd be able to find your way back up to the surface – the corridors twist and turn like an architect's lunatic nightmare. Eventually, you arrive at Nicholas' cell. The soldier unlocks the door and opens the door a crack, just barely enough for you to squeeze through. When the door closed behind you, you hear the heavy crash of the lock sliding back into place. The cell itself is larger than you expected – a slight mercy, perhaps – but with absolutely no concessions to comfort. Two flimsy wooden chairs and a table. A single candle. A half-eaten meal set by the corner. And Nicholas himself. He seems to have aged twenty years in the short space of time since you saw him last, and lost perhaps half his weight. His hand trembles as he gives you a nervous wave of greeting, and his thin lips can't quite form a smile. You find yourself looking him up and down, looking for any trace of injury or mistreatment. Nothing visible, at least. “It's okay, I'm fine,” Nicholas assures you, his voice reedy, “I mean... as fine as I can be.” Nicholas Penrose. The first friend you made at the academy. The one who always seemed to have money, but not enough for it to be obnoxious. The only one in the cohort who could match your skills as a scholar, even if he was completely hopeless at the physical side of the job. A young man with a bright future now lost to him. “Good god, Nick,” you breathe, collapsing down into one of the chairs, “Why'd you do it, huh? Why?” “That,” Nicholas laments, “Is a very difficult question to answer. I'm not even sure of the answer myself.”
>>5657480“How'd I do at the trial?” Nicholas asks, finally managing to form a sad smile, “Pretty cool, huh? This court holds no authority over me... I spent so long thinking about what I'd say. Being locked up in here sure gives you plenty of time to think about... all kinds of silly things. Maybe I just wanted to act like a tough guy for once in my life.” He's dodging the question, but that's fine – you'll do this at his pace. “You really shocked a few people, that's for sure,” you assure him, “This old guy – probably some fossil from the capital – nearly had a heart attack. How did you sleep last night? This place can't exactly be comfortable.” “Well, no. Not exactly. But I managed to get a few hours. Nightmares, though,” he shudders, “Centipedes burrowing under my skin, eating me up from the inside. What do you think that means? Guilt, maybe?” “Do you feel guilty?” “I don't know. Should I? I know how this is going to sound, but I really don't feel like a criminal. Certainly not the kind of criminal that they all made me out to be,” Nicholas leans forwards, cupping a hand around his mouth to whisper, “I didn't even do anything. They caught me before I had the chance. Caught me right in the act – I can't exactly plead innocent, can I?” “They're saying...” you pause, wincing at some of the crude gossip you've heard, “They're saying it was a teacher, or one of the ancient scholars...” Nicholas grimaces, his slender features twisting as if pained by the suggestion. “Nothing like that,” he insists, “Clarissa told you that, did she? She's got the wrong idea about all that lost knowledge talk. I mean, I DO regret it. When I think about how much we might have lost, just because some sage dropped dead with their work half-finished... But it was nothing like that, nothing so grand.” “Then what, Nick?” The young man hesitates, running a hand through his straggly hair. “Have you ever felt like you were searching for something?” he asks instead, compulsive tugging at a few strands of his hair, “I mean, living your WHOLE life like you were searching for something. Like you've been incomplete even from the moment you were born?” Somehow,you just can't answer him. Not even to nod or shake your head. After a silent pause, Nicholas lets out a weak laugh. “No, that's not fair. I shouldn't ask you something like that. I'm sorry, Lucas,” he concedes, “My mother died when I was just an infant. Did I... I told you that once, didn't I?” “You did. Back in the day, when-” you fall silent suddenly, recoiling back from him as the realisation dawns, “Nick, it was your MOTHER?” “Wait, wait! At least hear me out!” he pleads, lunging forwards to grab your sleeve, “Hear me out, won't you? Slowly, you let yourself sink back down into the flimsy wooden chair and gesture for him to continue.
>>5657493“They... I mean, my father... he always told me that my mother died just after I was born. It was a difficult birth, he said, and she just slipped away. I always hated to think about it, to feel like I was responsible. I didn't choose for it to be this way, did I?” Nicholas shakes his head furiously, “Then as I got older, I started to wonder. I spoke with my grandfather, just before he passed too. He said...” “He said he visited just after the birth,” the condemned man continues, swallowing hard as he struggles to keep his voice steady, “He said that she was fine. Happy and healthy, as strong as ever. But that's not what everyone else said – and they just said what father told them. He was the only one there when she went. So now I don't know.” “I remember. You needed to take some time away from the academy for his funeral. But when you came back...” you pause, “Nick, I thought you were doing fine, you never said-” “What was I supposed to say? How do you talk about a thing like this? All I had were unanswered questions, and no way to know the truth. The only way I could know for sure was... I needed to hear what really happened,” his voice drops to a grave whisper, “Even... if it meant... this. Going against everything we've ever been taught, doing everything we're supposed to protect against. I had to do it.” “A question like that, it eats away at you. It never really goes away,” he breathes, closing his eyes, “At least now I'll finally be able to get some peace, even if...” “Well, that's it. You can tell them everything now, the whole story,” Nicholas concludes after a long pause, “That's why you came here, isn't it?”>... (Write in)
>>5657501>... (Write in)"I understand why you did what you did. I can't condone it, but I understand. I just wish you told me or the others about this sooner. Maybe we could've helped you through it, I don't know.""Do you want me to try looking into it? Your mother's passing. I won't resort to necromancy, but I can keep an eye out even if the trail might have died with them."
>>5657501I'll back >>5657510well worded
“They didn't send me here, if that's what you mean,” you reply, wincing at how defensive you sound, “I came here to... I had questions of my own, and I wasn't going to let them go unanswered. You, of all people, must understand that.” Leaning forwards in your chair, you look Nicholas in the eye. “I understand, Nick,” you murmur, lowering your voice to ward against any eavesdropping, “I understand why you did what you did.” His eyes widen at this, and the flicker of hope that plays through them is like a knife in your gut. “I can't condone it, but I understand. I just wish you'd told me about this sooner, or any of the others. We could've helped you through it somehow, maybe. I don't know. We could have... tried,” you continue quietly, “Do you... want me to try? I can't go as far as you did, but I can look into it. Any hint that passes my way...” “You know I won't be able to-” Nicholas begins, only to interrupt himself, “No, it doesn't matter. If I'm here or not. If you can find out what really happens, even if you're the only person in the world who knows... at least that's one person. That truth will exist in this world, and that's good enough for me. Promise me one thing though, won't you?” “What? Just name it.” “Don't make the same mistakes I did. Don't you end up in a place like this too,” he urges, grabbing desperately at your arm, “I won't forgive you if you do, you hear? I won't forgive you!” Despite everything, you laugh. “I promise, Nick. I swear upon all the gods and spirits, I won't let you down,” you insist, “I'll-” Before you can finish that thought, there comes a harsh bang from the cell door. Visiting time, it seems, is over.- You barely notice the world around you as you numbly follow the soldier back towards the surface. Master Brehm is waiting for you when you arrive, his arms folded with the fury of suppressed impatience. He dismisses the soldier with a curt nod, then leads you down into a quiet hallway. Looking back over his shoulder, he leans closer. “Well?” he hisses, “Did he tell you anything? Did you get him to tell you where he learned that filth?” “No,” you reply bluntly, meeting Master Brehm's gaze, “He didn't.” The silence draws out, muscles tightening in Master Brehm's jaw as he grinds his teeth. “You damn fool,” he snarls eventually, turning on his heel and marching away.>I think I'm going to take a pause here for today. I'm planning to continue tomorrow as well, starting at the same sort of time, but it might be a slightly shorter session. We'll see what happens
>>5657537Thanks for running.
>>5657537Thanks for the run, and welcome back!
>>5657537Great work, Moloch.
Deep within the trees, someone calls out your name. They call out desperately, but you can't reach them. You can't reach them, and the forest is burning. You can still hear the voice calling your name even as you jolt awake, clawing at the sweat-soaked bedsheets that cling to your body. Finally throwing them back, you lurch upright and lean against the wall until you slowly get your breath back. A faint ribbon of morning sunlight slips through the gap under your bedroom door, and a dull realisation sinks in. It's a new day, and that means- It's over. The verdict has been handed out and delivered, and Nicholas... No. You're not thinking about that. Not now, not this early in the morning. Focusing on the mundane tasks of washing and dressing yourself instead, you feel the last lingering remnants of the familiar dream nagging at you. It's been some time since you've dreamt of home, and to see it like this, to see it burning like this... it feels like a bad omen. There's an old phrase you've seen in the archives - a premonition following an evil deed – and your thoughts keep drifting back to it. If this is a premonition, then what was your evil deed?- There's breakfast on the table when you finally emerge from your room, with a portion set aside for you. The mood around the table is glum, with even Persephone maintaining a sullen silence. Nobody wants to start a conversation, because all of you know where it would lead. It's a long while before anyone takes a risk and speaks up. “I'm actually a little surprised that you're still slumming it with us, Lucas. I thought you'd get your own private quarters, now that you're a fully qualified Exorcist,” Persephone remarks, lazily studying her neatly trimmed nails, “I could use a little extra storage space, you see, so if you weren't planning on using that room of yours...” “Don't get ahead of yourself,” Johannes warns her, “Until Master Brehm signs the Writ of Confirmation, he's still – technically – an apprentice.” A silence greets this statement, and a sinking feeling starts to form in the pit of your stomach. It's just like Johannes to start quoting chapter and verse of the law like this, and it's rarely for your benefit. “It's a technicality, as I said. The paperwork would normally be signed right after the seal is handed over. Normally,” the heavyset man continues, “But circumstances haven't exactly been normal lately, have they?” “Shit,” you breathe, leaning back in your chair, “Just... shit. Really? There's no other way?” “I suppose it wouldn't need to be Master Brehm. Any instructor could sign the Writ,” Johannes reluctantly offers, “But it would be a significant breach of protocol. A real slap in the face. Good luck finding an instructor willing to cross THAT line.”
>>5658382With the excuse of “women's talk”, Clarissa and Persephone retreat from the dorm and leave you to consider your situation. While you remain an apprentice, at least on paper, you're bound by Master Brehm's instructions. You're not authorised to leave the academy and carry out your own research, or conduct your own investigations. Those restrictions never bothered you before, while you were undergoing training, but now... To think that a signature on a piece of paper is the only thing holding you back! It might be a breach of protocol, but you wonder if it might be worth speaking to some of the other instructors – maybe Rosenthal, the one Persephone mentioned. You've heard good things about him. It might be a slap in the face for Master Brehm, but that's starting to seem like a bonus. “Speaking of Master Brehm, he dropped off a note for you this morning,” Johannes announces suddenly, “That's twice I've had to deliver your messages. Once more and I'll expect a salary.” “Yeah, sure. I'll keep that in mind,” you grumble as Johannes takes out a folded letter and passes it across. The note is short, curt, and even the hard, blocky handwriting gives you a sense of anger. Master Brehm's sources have managed to turn up some information, concerning Ravensheugh's priest and doctor both. When the priest, Machen, died, his books and papers were gathered up and sent back to the academy. The books themselves were appropriated and incorporated into the archives themselves, but his private papers were boxed up and sent into storage. From what you know about the archives, it's likely that they were never properly examined – an errand like that would be far down on the list of priorities, and easily forgotten about. Meanwhile, the doctor has been located with his patient in one of the capital's wards, although the note doesn't say exactly where – likely, Master Brehm is keeping that little detail to himself for now. While the note itself doesn't exactly extend an invitation, Master Brehm writes that he intends to visit the capital – today – to interview the doctor. Looks like you're going to have to make some plans.>Visit the capital with Master Brehm to speak with the doctor>Search the archives for the priest's papers>Discuss your Writ situation with the instructor, Rosenthal>Other
>>5658383>>Visit the capital with Master Brehm to speak with the doctor
>>5658383>Search the archives for the priest's papers
Folding the letter up and tucking it neatly into your pocket, you consider the options Master Brehm has laid out in front of you. Whatever his motives are, you've got to give him some credit for keeping you informed. It would have been the easiest thing in the land for him to simply follow up on the leads all by himself, leaving you in the dark. Maybe... maybe you've been too harsh on him. Or maybe he needs an extra pair of hands in case of any heavy lifting. Maybe he's expecting trouble and wants someone to watch his back. You could spend all day mulling over the possibilities, and it wouldn't do a damn bit of good. In the end, Master Brehm's deadline has made the choice for you – the priest's papers have been waiting for years, they can stand to wait a little bit longer. The doctor, on the other hand... “I've got to go,” you announce, nodding to Johannes, “If anyone comes looking for me, just take a message.” “I'll send you the bill,” he grunts, giving you a particularly sullen look.- You arrive just in time, hurrying out to the academy gates just as Master Brehm is getting into a carriage. He stares you down for a long moment before shifting aside and gesturing to the empty seat beside him. You're barely settled before the carriage lurches into motion and starts down the wide mountain path. The capital isn't far – just as the foot of the mountain, in fact, close enough that you could walk without much trouble. You certainly could, as a fit young man. Master Brehm, on the other hand... Sitting in silence, you watch as the capital draws nearer. The Eternal Palace looms over it all, its beacon burning like a second sun from high atop the pagoda. Somewhere deep inside the labyrinthine building, the Sun King's Regent manages the affairs of the nation – not exactly a job you envy. You saw him giving a speech once, and the experience stayed with you for a long time. A youngish man, but aged before his time by the weight of his position. Thinking back, you can't help but compare the Regent's gaunt face with that of poor Nicholas. “I wasn't sure if you'd show up,” Master Brehm says suddenly, breaking the long silence. You look around in surprise, but the old man is still staring straight ahead. “I wasn't sure if you'd let me come along,” you counter. Master Brehm grunts. “I said I would, didn't I?” he points out, “I might as well put that mind of yours to good use, too. These interviews work better with a partner. Watch him when he answers my questions – watch his reactions.” “Of course,” a tight smile tugs at your mouth, “But I might have a few questions of my own.” “I'm sure you will,” the old man scowls, “Just make sure they're the right ones.”
>>5658383>>Search the archives for the priest's papers
>>5658411No matter how many times you've visited the capital, it always finds a new way to amaze you. From the number of people surging through the streets to the grimy smoke bleeding from factory spires, it's unlike anywhere that you're used to. The solitude of the academy, the simple life of your childhood village... the capital is a monster compared with these places, something swollen and deformed beyond all natural scale. You're not a fan, suffice to say. The carriage rattles down the wide streets, only pausing once to allow a long train of artillery guns to be drawn down a junction. Master Brehm watches the guns pass with a steely gaze, forming a symbol of good fortune with his right hand. Destined for the border, you assume, for the doomed city of Ixtab and the threat of war brewing there. If Clarissa was here, you think, she'd recite every single fact there is to know about those guns. Even if nobody wanted her to. Especially if nobody wanted her to. Leaving the carriage behind, you walk the narrowing streets until you arrive at the hospital. A small building in a mostly forgotten corner of the capital, the hospital feels like a relic from some distant age when the capital was smaller or quieter. Something left behind, or something yet to be swallowed up completely. Shaking off the disconcerting thoughts, you follow Master Brehm as he leads you through the hushed building. The doctor and his patient are on the upper level, kept far from any of the other patients. An old man with deep lines of weariness carved into his face, the doctor looks up from his book as you enter. His patient stirs slightly in his sleep but soon falls silent. The shape of his body under the crisp white sheets is hideously incomplete, and you quickly look away from him. “Excuse me, doctor? We're from the academy, and we'd like to ask you some questions,” you begin, nodding a greeting, “You brought this man from Ravensheugh, is that correct?” “Yes, I... The academy?” the doctor's eyes widen, “What would the academy-” “There was an incident. The spirit of Ravensheugh was disturbed, shortly after you left. All has been put right now, but we don't yet know what caused this. These things do not happen for no reason, of course,” Master Brehm continues, closing the door behind you both and stalking across to the bed, “Your man here. We'll need to speak with him too.” “Let him rest!” the doctor hisses, only to flinch back from the foul look that Brehm gives him, “I mean... there isn't much he'll be able to tell you. He's been delirious much of time, when he isn't asleep. I haven't been able to get much sense out of him. Just... let him sleep. Please.” Brehm's lips draw back in a thin grimace of contempt, but he glances your way and gives a slight nod as if inviting you to take the lead.>Wake the man>Let him sleep>Let Brehm decide>Other
>>5658441>Wake the man
>>5658441>Wake the manCan't hurt to try. If the man is indeed delirious and incomprehensible we can just let him rest again.
>>5658441>>Wake the man
>>5658441>Let him sleepI'm a contrarian
This man, or what's left of him, is your best lead on what really happened in that grain mill. Anyone else who might have witnessed the incident has long since vanished, and the townsfolk had no clues either. Whatever state he might be in, you need to hear what he has to say. Looking away from the doctor's pleading face, you reach down and gently shake the maimed man awake. He doesn't react at first, only for his eyes to fly open when you shake him a little harder. His eyes are very wide and very white, staring straight up at the ceiling as if you weren't even there. “It's not me,” he whispered, the words coming low and flat, “It's not me. I'm flying far above, flying over it all. I look down, but it's not me down there. I'm up here, flying over the forest.” “That's all he ever says,” the doctor sighs, his voice defeated, “I don't know what-” “It looks like me, but it's not me,” the sick man continues, his hoarse voice growing louder, “I'm here, I'm flying over the forest. The forest is burning. I'm up here... and the forest...” But here, his words trail off and he slumps back. The doctor lunges forwards, pushing you back as he fumbles at the man's neck. Master Brehm takes you by the arm and draws you back, casting a dark look back at the wounded man. “Did you hear that?” the old man whispers, although you barely notice his words, “He was possessed. I'm sure of it.” “Possessed...” you repeat numbly. The maimed man's words keep repeating themselves over and over in your head. “Yes... yes, it makes sense,” you add, shaking off your confused thoughts and trying to focus, “Something took hold of his body and forced him to maim himself. But that means there was a spirit loose even before the incident even began!” “So it would seem,” Master Brehm growls, returning to the wounded man's bed, “Doctor?” “He's gone again. Will you PLEASE leave him be now?” the doctor spits, “I'll answer whatever questions you have, but not here. Outside. I don't want to disturb him any more than you already have.” Brehm nods, stepping aside and gesturing for the doctor to lead the way. He shuffles out into the corridor, easing the door shut behind him and leaning heavily against the wall. “My name's Lucas,” you begin, hoping to try and mend some broken bridges, “What about you? I don't want to just call you “doctor” all the time, you know?” The doctor gives you a bitter look before sighing heavily. “Samson,” he offers eventually, “Answer me one question, at least. The incident you said – was anyone... hurt? The spirit itself?” “It's fine now. The people were scared, but nobody was hurt. Nobody except...” you nod back towards the bad, “And the spirit has been calmed. It won't cause any trouble.” A faint look of relief ghosts across Samson's face at this.[1/2]
>new Moloch quest>mfwI was around for Devil Summoner London, Second Cycle, Sleeping Gods, Northern Beasts, that tank one-shot, and the very beginning of Take to the Skies. Glad to see you back.
>>5658473And this was the face in question I forgot to post.
>>5658470“I understand that there were a group of travelling labourers in Ravensheugh before the accident. We'd like to know more about them. They are... of interest to us,” Master Brehm says, his voice low and slick, “Did you ever speak with them? Could you describe them to us, perhaps? Any features that you can recall?” “Their sort comes and goes, I never pay them too much heed unless they end up in my care – and these ones never did. Well... I do recall one man. He had scars on his face, you see, although he hid them most times with a low hood. I caught sight of them once when he let his hood down, thinking he was alone,” Samson recalls, gesturing to the side of his head, “Burn scars, I believe. His left ear was ruined, almost completely gone.” Just as instructed, you watch the doctor as he thinks back. He seems sincere enough, albeit still a little bitter about your rough treatment of his patient. He scowls often, when he thinks you aren't looking. Exorcists don't have a particularly good reputation even at the best of times, and you might have confirmed a few of his worst suspicions. That's too bad, but if it means you can finally figure out the truth behind the incident... “Joel – my patient – spoke with the labourers more than anyone else. He was one of the few local men left working in the mill, so I suppose it's only natural. He mentioned once, just before the accident, that he had spent an evening playing games with them. Some sort of betting game, I'm sure, but...” Samson throws his hands up in a desperate shrug, “I don't know what else I can tell you.” “Excuse us, please. One moment,” Master Brehm asks with a polite smile, already dragging you a few paces away. Once his back is turned to the doctor, his expression darkens. “I should have realised it sooner,” he mutters to you, “These games they played. It was staring me right in the face, but I didn't want to see it. Damn!” It takes a moment for you to realise what he's talking about. “Dho Games?” you whisper back. The Dho Games are a form of meditation, to help open a man's inner eye and peer through the Veil. But the Dho Games are dangerous – taken too far, they can even pierce through the Veil itself and open a man's mind to possession. That danger means that they're seldom known outside either the academy or the hermit monks based far above. If these men knew about the Dho Games, that means...[2/3]
>>5658500Master Brehm turns sharply on his heel and marches back to the doctor. Without breaking stride, he grabs Samson by the shoulders and slams him back against the wall. “Where are they?” he bellows, “We need to find those men, so WHERE ARE THEY?” “I don't know!” Samson wails, trembling as Brehm slams him against the wall again. “Stop LYING!” Brehm shouts, his grip tightening on the doctor's thin arms. You lunge in before he can go any further, pulling your former teacher back and dragging him away from Samson. The doctor wilts, collapsing down in a heap as you pull Brehm away. The old man throws off your grip, glaring at you with hate-filled eyes. “If he knows anything,” he spits, “If he's protecting them-” “Just back off!” You hiss, numbly wondering if this is really going to turn into a fistfight in a hospital corridor. “What's gotten into you?” you add, “What's WRONG with you?” Brehm clenches his fists before letting out a long breath and brushing down his coat. Turning away, he starts to march towards the exit without another word. You start to follow after him, before he can get too far ahead and vanish into the city, only to pause and glance back to the doctor. Samson is still slumped down, staring into the empty air with hollow eyes. What a damned mess.>Follow after Master Brehm>Stay and check on Doctor Samson>Other
>>5658507>Stay and check on Doctor Samson"I'm sorry about that. Something about this case and recent events has gotten under his skin, but that doesn't mean he should treat you like that. Are you hurt?"
>>5658507>Stay and check on Doctor Samson
>>5658507>>Stay and check on Doctor Samson
You hesitate for a moment, torn between chasing after Master Brehm and checking on the doctor. Even setting the choice aside, you're still shaken from his outburst. A foul temper is one thing, but you've never seen him lash out like that. Not at any student at the academy, not at a civilian, not ever. There's something seriously wrong with him, or with this case. Maybe both. “Damn it,” you whisper to yourself, turning back and creeping over to the doctor. He flinches back as you approach, and you hold your hands up in what you hope is a harmless gesture. Gently reaching down, you help him back up to his feet. “I'm sorry about that,” you offer, “Something about this case has really got under his skin. But that's no excuse. Are you... hurt?” Samson is silent for a moment, his glassy eyes staring straight ahead. “Greyridge,” he mumbles eventually, the word slurred as it spills from his lips. “What?” you ask, “Greyridge?” “That's what he said,” the doctor murmurs, blinking a few times before finally turning to look you in the eye. “The labourers. I remember... one night, I passed them in the street as I was going home. They were talking – quietly, but I made out a few words. They were talking about something “back in Greyridge”. A place, I assume, but I don't know the name.” Filing the name away in the depths of your memory, you give Samson a cautious look. “You didn't mention this before,” you say carefully, watching his reaction closely. Not a hint of guilt or deception about him, just shame and a lingering fear. “Greyridge. Right. Thank you,” you sigh instead, cautious about pushing the old man too hard, “But are you okay?” “I'm tougher than I look. It'll take more than that to get the better of me,” he lies, brushing himself down with a sudden burst of wounded pride, “But you'd better watch that one, young man, and watch out for yourself.” Easier said than done, in this line of work.- Master Brehm is nowhere to be seen when you make your way out of the hospital, and that's almost a relief. You don't want to imagine what sort of trouble he's going to get up to, out there in the capital, but it's going to be someone else's problem. For now, at least, you don't need to worry about him breathing down your neck. You can think things over as you take a nice slow walk back to the academy. As you walk, you find yourself repeating the maimed man's words under your breath. The forest is burning.>I'm going to bring things to an early finish here, but I'm aiming to continue this next Saturday with a longer session>Thank you for voting and reading along!
>>5658552Thanks for running!
>>5658552Good to have you writing here again
>>5658552Hmm. Maybe another forest was burning, And the laborers are going around possessing people with the memory of the fire in order to.....save the ones who died in it?Is the forest outside the veil?
I made a small doc to organize my thoughts for the quest and thought I'd share it. Let me know if I missed anything.>>The Ravensheugh caseSmall village was exposed to the Veil and shrouded in fog. Cause turned out to be the desecration of the burial mound of the village’s guardian spirit underneath the mill. Necromancers suspected. The mill was also the scene of an ‘accident’ in which a worker maimed his arm in between the mill’s stones. Talking to the injured worker later showed that he was very traumatized and speaking incomprehensibly. Brehm suspects possession caused the worker to maim himself which would imply a spirit was around before the accident. Current suspects are a group of traveling laborers that were at the village during the accident and left right afterwards. The maimed worker, Joel, spent the most time with them before his accident, playing ‘betting games’. Brehm suspects ‘Dho Games’ as they can breach the Veil if taken too far and open one’s mind to possession. This line of thought can account for Joel’s alleged possession and subsequent accident. The identities and descriptions of these laborers are unknown save one bit of information: One of the laborers has burn scars on the left side of his face with the ear destroyed. The last lead we have is that the doctor overheard the laborers talk about a ‘Greyridge’. Only Lucas has this piece of information at the moment.>Notes/Questions-Was Joel’s maiming necessary to the desecration of the burial mound? Blood sacrifice to complete the ritual or was it just a sadistic spirit?-Was Ravensheugh targeted because it had no priest? No one that could clue in what was happening below the mill before it was too late? Could possibly look into why Ravensheugh’s request for a replacement priest seemed to fall on deaf ears and maybe get one dispatched.-Priest’s papers are still back in the archive. Might give insight on why Ravensheugh was attacked specifically if it wasn’t just opportunism because it didn’t have a priest looking after it.-Joel’s mad mumbling talked about a burning forest, eerily similar to Lucas’ dream. Lucas mentioned the dream being about home. Possible connection. Is something happening in Lucas' hometown?
>>5658794>>Butthurt BrehmAccording to Lucas, Master Brehm had been relatively good natured and cheerful up until Nicholas’s trial. Even after that he seemed ‘okay’ relatively during the first half of the Ravensheugh investigation. It was only until necromancy was suspected that he started getting abrasive, impatient, and began trying to push Lucas away from the investigation. This very well could be Brehm dealing with some severe guilt/anger at letting Nicholas learn about necromancy enough to do the crime that he did and attempting to firmly close the door on any way Lucas could get involved with that kind of information even if it hinders Lucas’ growth so that there is no chance at Lucas making Nicholas’ mistake. Persephone offered a more cynical alternative: The Brehm was trying to take all the credit and slam dunk this case to get back in the good graces of the people in charge. After this last bit with the doctor I don’t really see this being the case. There is some deep seated anger there that doesn't yell out ‘political maneuvering’ to me, though I won’t discount the possibility that the stress of losing face after the Nicholas trial is making things worse on his mental state. It might be worth talking to the other instructor, Rosenthal, about this or any other authority figure at the academy that might’ve been close with Brehm. Or that might make things worse and it’s better to have a 1 on 1, heart to heart with the guy. I dunno, guy is a landmine. I *think* he means well though.>>Miscellaneous stuff/’Side Quest’-We offered to attempt to solve the mystery of Nick’s mother’s death if there is a mystery to even solve. No leads at the moment as they are currently in the grave. Just gotta keep an ear out if something comes our way.-On the geopolitical side, Reivians are border skirmishing for control of Ixtab, which holds the sacred site where the Accord was signed. Sounds like a plot point waiting to happen. Clarissa’s father is there.-Persephone says that knowing you have a guardian spirit is like ‘someone calling your name’. Well something is calling our name in our dreams with the burning forest. Might be something there.
There's something very special about the archives, something that makes them unlike anywhere else you've ever seen. They're always quiet, but never completely silent – there's always the scratch of a pen, the rustle of parchment, the muffled sound of footsteps to remind you that you're not alone. The light is low, low enough that the tops of the highest shelves seem to sink into the darkness above, but countless gas lanterns flicker and fill the void. No matter what might be happening in the outside world, the archives remain unchanged. You've spent countless hours here, pouring over all kinds of books between your lessons. Now, though, you're not here for idle reading – you've got a specific target in mind, and tracking it down is going to be no easy feat. “I'm looking for some papers. Should have been brought into the archives a few years back, name of “Machen”. Probably still in storage, but I don't know for sure,” you tell the sleepy-looking clerk, “Where can I find them?” The young clerk stares at you for a moment before letting out a weary sigh and opening a massive ledger. Leafing through the crumbling pages, he squints at the tiny script for an achingly long time. Watching him fumble his way through the catalogue, you have to fight the urge to drum your fingers on the desk. “Unsorted papers, one box, name of “Machen”. Here,” the clerk announces at last, pointing to the book, “Storage. Shelf sixteen, third level. Maybe.” “Maybe?” you ask, your eyes narrowing with suspicion. But the clerk just shrugs.- Shelf sixteen, third level, is stacked with boxes, but none of them are the one you're looking for. Shelf sixteen as a whole is a dead end, the thick waxed paper crates packed tightly together in anonymous rows. A rare few have labels pasted to them, but even these have often faded with age and damp. Most of the time, you have to take each box down in turn and skim their contents for any sign of what you're looking for. It's a laborious process, and there are a lot of other shelves left to search. Just as it's starting to seem like you'll be spending all day searching – and maybe longer – you get a lucky break. Low down on shelf fifteen, you can just make out the remains of the name Machen on a torn label. Easing the box out, you let out a quiet hiss of triumph. As you do, you hear a soft shuffle of footsteps behind you. Turning, you see a pair of beguiling amber eyes peering out at you through a gap in the bookshelf. You lock eyes for a long moment, the silence drawing out before- “Hey,” the girl says, her voice low, “What'cha doing?” “I just found what I was looking for,” you answer, feeling vaguely absurd to be having a conversation through a gap in a bookshelf, “Now I need to figure out what I just found.”[1/2]
>>5662860The girl seems to consider this for a moment before retreating, fading into the gloom behind her. Shrugging to yourself, you carry the box of papers over to the closest desk and start to take a closer look inside. Machen, it seems, had been a prodigious writer of letters in his time. Maybe just a prodigious writer in general, from the looks of it. “Want some help?” You look around to see the girl again, her wide eyes peering intently at you. Leaning heavily on a cane and dragging one leg behind her as she goes, she lurches over to the desk and helps herself to a seat. Without even waiting for an answer, she reaches into the box and pulls out a few of the letters. “I'm Cloranthy, by the way,” she says eventually, “You're Lucas, right?” “That's me,” you reply, realisation dawning at the sound of her name, “You're Clarissa's sister, right?” But she doesn't reply, already too focused on the letter she's reading.- You spent an hour together, hardly speaking except to announce a terse summary of each letter that you finish skimming over. Most of the letters are perfectly innocent, scholarly questions and comments about mundane things – medicinal herbs, usually. These letters can be quickly set aside, but anything concerning folklore needs a more careful examination. But progress is slow, and often frustrating. “Hey,” Cloranthy whispers, “Wanna take a break?” “Absolutely,” you groan, letting the most recent letter slip from your fingers. It's getting hard to focus, and harder still to make sense of what you're reading. Cloranthy slowly rises and starts to wander off back to her side of the bookshelf, humming softly to herself as she goes. It's strange, you think to yourself as you follow, that she recognised you straight away. Clarissa must have told her about you, but told her what exactly? You don't know much about Cloranthy – barely anything, in fact. Beyond occasionally acknowledging her existence, Clarissa doesn't really talk about her younger sister. As she sits back down at her own reading desk, your eyes fall on the book left there. “Sorry for disturbing you,” you offer, “What were you reading?” With a shy smile, Cloranthy lifts up her book so you can see the title. Tales of the Forest Kingdom. You've always hated that name – it's not a kingdom, for one thing, just a forest. A terribly vast, terribly ancient forest, but still just a forest. “You come from there, don't you? What's it really like?” Cloranthy asks, her eyes widening with a naïve wonder, “The stories make it sound so romantic, so free and passionate...” Just what kind of stories has she been reading?>The stories are right. Life is simple there, and beautiful>It's nothing like that. Life can be brutal there, and short>I was just a child when I left. I don't remember much>Other
>>5662863>I was just a child when I left, and anyone who survives can be considered lucky.>If that place is a kingdom, then humans are on the lowest rung.
>>5662863>OtherI suppose it can be, specially compared to the capital. Still, its not the safest place to live as ancient forests tend to be.
>>5662863>Some of the stories are true - the land, the air, all free and beautiful. You smile grimly - the most dangerous part of the forest was the people living there…
Cloranthy's bright, eager eyes bore into you as you think her question over, trying to find an answer that might somehow convey the uneven tangle of feelings churning within you. Free and passionate? Maybe so, but probably not in the way that she's thinking of. Your village was, technically, on the border – the very edge of the forest – but that was more than enough for you to get a taste of their ways. “If you're comparing it with the capital, then I suppose you might be right,” you offer eventually, giving Cloranthy a thin smile, “People certainly are more free there, and the land is certainly beautiful. But it's not always the safest place to live. Those stories of yours don't mention the priests, do they?” Cloranthy looks down at her book, her expectant smile faltering slightly. “The... priests?” she asks, “Um, no. No, they don't.” “It's probably for the best,” you reply, your own smile dropping away at the unwelcome memories, “If that place is a kingdom, the humans like us are on the lowest rung around. The Veil is thin there, almost completely gone, and the spirits have free rein. I was young when I got out, and I was damn lucky for that. Most people aren't so lucky.” All is quiet for a moment. You can hear the distant sounds of the archives – a faint rustle of cloth, a muffled cough – before Cloranthy lurches to her feet with a clatter. “We should get back to work,” she announces suddenly, fumbling for her cane, “I shouldn't have... said anything.” Before she can limp away, you grab her lightly by the arm. “I just don't want you to get the wrong idea,” you stress, looking her in the eye, “These places are dangerous. Very dangerous. Better that you learn that now, okay?” She holds your gaze for a second more before slipping from your grasp. “Lesson learned,” she assures you, her eyes cooler than before, “But we've got a job to do, don't we?”- The most frustrating thing about your onerous task, you consider as you set one letter aside, is only reading one half of a conversation. You might read a letter thanking the priest for information on a certain discussion, without ever saying what that information was or what the discussion was about to begin with. The answer might be in another letter, buried somewhere in the box of papers, but... “Nothing here. If I read another description of some petty illness, I think I'm going to vomit,” you sigh, fighting the urge to crumple the latest letter up and throw it away, “Have you found anything?” “Um,” Cloranthy looks up from her letter, “Just another thank-you letter. Some alchemical society from Greyridge. I didn't even know there were any-”[1/2]
>>5662887But she doesn't have a chance to finish that sentence before you pluck the letter from her hands. Greyridge – just like the doctor mentioned. Maybe just a coincidence, but this is the closest thing to a lead you've found so far. The letter itself is short, just a brief note expressing gratitude for a book on folk tales that the priest had been able to suggest, but it has a return address written at the top. “Change of plans. Look for anything else that came from Greyridge,” you tell Cloranthy, digging out another stack of papers and quickly skimming through the first couple of letters. She stares at you in amazement before following suit, delicately plucking out a letter and squinting at the tiny script. Progress is quicker now, and it isn't long before you find what you were looking for. The original letter from Greyridge goes into a little more detail on their request. This alchemical society – the Golden Antler Fraternity – was looking for more information on “a wild healer beloved by the ravens”, apparently in the belief that it held the secret to some miraculous remedy. The letter asks for any help that the priest might to offer, as a renowned expert in both folklore and early medicines. A very polite letter, overall, the sort that is all too commonly exchanged between scholars. An alchemical society. You hadn't been expecting this. Alchemy has been out of fashion for years, decades really, and you're surprised to hear that some people still practice the failed science. Then again, an obscure alchemical society might provide good cover for anyone looking to ask a lot of niche questions. You might need to do a little more digging, to see if anyone has heard of this fraternity... “The priest suggested a book – Folk Tales of Inner Marusia,” you tell Cloranthy, “Can you check with the archivists and see if they have a copy?” “I don't know,” she replies, giving you a coy look, “Can I?” “Please?” you add, holding back a sigh. “I'll think about it, next time I'm over there. If I remember,” Cloranthy muses, idly twirling a strand of her long, curly hair around one finger, “What are you going to do about this anyway? Gonna go down there and start causing trouble?” A chance would be a fine thing, but without that Writ of Confirmation you're still bound by Master Brehm's instructions. “I'll still figuring that part out,” you admit, “I don't... exactly have permission to travel yet. Not on my own, that is.” “So ask your instructor. Unless... it's not that simple?” Cloranthy smiles at you suddenly, her eyes lighting up with a wicked sense of mischief, “He doesn't know you're here, does he? And you don't WANT him to know, do you?” This really wasn't where you intended this conversation to go. “It's complicated, okay?” you tell her, already knowing that she's not going to let it drop. “I'm sure it is,” she teases.[2/3]
>>5662892Against your better judgement, you tell her about your situation – a much abbreviated version of it, at least. Telling the story gives you a moment to consider your options, though. To weigh up your next moves. You're fairly sure that you've got a lead on the case, between what Doctor Samson told you and what you've been able to find in the priest's notes. More of a lead than anything Master Brehm has been able to dig up, you're sure, and that gives you a certain leverage. You could always offer him a trade – sharing your information in return for your Writ of Confirmation. It's a risk, and it might deliver a fatal blow to your increasingly strained relationship, but that might be worth it if it means Master Brehm is off your back. The alternative would be to share your information and trust in his good will, which is seeming tenuous. “You just need an instructor to grant permission, right?” Cloranthy suggests, “I could speak with Master Rosenthal, make an introduction for you.” “You know, that's the second time someone's recommended him to me,” you point out, “I'm starting to wonder if I should be suspicious.” “Oh, well, he's very popular with... ahem,” Cloranthy coughs delicately, her cheeks reddening somewhat, “Very popular with the students here. He's always been awfully nice to me. I'm sure he'd be willing to hear you out, especially if I put in a good word.” She manges to make it all sound rather unsavoury, but it might be your best chance to slip out of the academy without drawing too much attention to yourself – and certainly the only way to slip out without Master Brehm knowing about it.>Take the information to Master Brehm in return for your Writ>Take the information to Master Brehm, but offer it freely>Discuss an alternative Writ with Master Rosenthal>Other
>>5662901>>OtherWhy don't we try just talking to Brehm to see where he stands and whats going on in his head. If he continues to be a stubborn asshole we can move onto getting the Writ either through trade or through the other Master
As tempting as it might be, to go completely behind Master Brehm's back, it could just cause you more problems in the long run. A reputation for causing trouble would be hard to shake, even if you were able to crack the case right here and now. So if you're not going to go behind his back, where else does that leave you? Talking with him. Face to face. Bitter medicine, maybe, but he might be reasonable about things. And if not, you've still got other options. “I might need to take you up on that offer,” you tell Cloranthy, “But I'm going to speak with my instructor first. Oh, and... thank you. For your help today.” Cloranthy just gives you a lazy wave, wearily starting to pack the scattered papers back into their box.- When you arrive at his office, Master Brehm is looking surprisingly cheerful. Just for a moment it's like none of this has ever happened, as if he was still the gregarious mentor you've always known. He doesn't even react at the sight of you, happily gesturing to the usual seat opposite him. “Our work is never done, my boy. Take a look at this,” he announces, waving a very official looking letter at you, “A formal request from General Malinkov, about the potential use of spirits in warfare!” Your entire train of thought is knocked aside in an instant. “Excuse me?” you reply, silently repeating his words to yourself, “But that would be a blatant-” “Breach of the Accord. I know, I know. And General Malinkov should know that too. Oh, he insists that it would all be purely theoretical. Purely defensive, too, just in case the Reivians start getting any funny ideas,” he lets out a harsh, almost guttural laugh as he slaps the letter down, “This is the kind of foolishness we've got to deal with, as if we don't have enough work to do!” “What are you going to... do about it?” you ask carefully, looking at the letter as if it was a dead rat. “Oh, probably just give it to Lowe and see what she makes of it. She'd enjoy it, I think,” Master Brehm smiles, just like he always did, and shrugs, “But I'm assuming you didn't come here to talk about that.” “The Ravensheugh case,” you begin, cautiously choosing your next words, “I was wondering if you had any new leads.” Just for a fleeting moment, Master Brehm's face darkens. “Oh, I haven't had a moment to even think about that!” he states, almost shouting the words at you. He's got nothing, you guess, and he's not happy about it. “I've put out some feelers, looking for any other... incidents. But I haven't heard anything back yet. These things take time, of course,” he pauses, giving you a suspicious look, “What have you been up to, anyway?” This, you answer with a tiny shrug. “I've been in the archives,” you tell him simply, “Reading.” Which is, technically, not wrong.[1/2]
>>5662928Master Brehm considers your words for a long moment, his face almost completely devoid of expression. He's worried, you realise suddenly. Not just worried about this case, but worried about something far greater. The letter from General Malinkov? Perhaps, but you're not convinced. It could be any number of things – his face is a closed book, offering scant clues as to his true thoughts. Time for you to lay your cards on the table. “If I happened to find a lead, or even a possible lead, on this case...” you begin, “What then?” The old man tenses up, his eyes hardening. “Then I-” he starts, only to cut himself off. “Then we should follow up on it. We should follow up on it as soon as possible, in fact,” he continues instead, his tone softening, “What have you found, Lucas?” “If I found a lead on this case, I wouldn't be able to follow up on it. Not alone,” a pause here, broken only by the ticking of Master Brehm's brass clock, “You know exactly why not.” A muscle clenches in Master Brehm's jaw, tightening even as he spreads his hands in an open gesture. “The Writ, of course. Things have been so busy lately, so frantic with everything that's been happening. I simply haven't had a moment, but...” he remarks, his tone almost jovial, “But these are all just formalities. Ink on a piece of paper. We've got real work to be getting on with, haven't we? So Lucas, my boy, I'll ask you again. What have you found?” He might have a smile on his face, but his words feel more like a clenched fist.>I don't have anything yet. I'm still looking>I have a lead. An alchemical society in Greyridge>Other
>>5662944>OtherMaster, even just mentioning this case seems to get you wound up. We need to talk about what happened with the doctor. We both know that conduct wasn't acceptable in that situation and I worry any lead I give you, you'll run off with a hairpin trigger potentially getting yourself or others hurt in the process. So what's going *on*? I've never seen you like this before. Was it just the loss of Nicholas or something more that's eating at you?"
>>5662944>You haven’t been yourself, Master Brehm. Something is pressing on you. Perhaps I could be a friend to you as well as a student? After all, I have uncovered a lead in the case…Basically, tell me what’s going on and I’ll spill my clue, old man
“I've found something. It might be a lead, it might just be another dead end. But it might be worth investigating,” you tell the old man carefully, watching as eyes light up with an almost savage interest, “If I tell you what I've found, though, I need to know that you're not going to do anything... rash. Like at the hospital.” “That was-” Master Brehm starts, only to stop himself again. Narrowing his eyes, he gestures for you to say your piece. “We need to talk about this. This case, this... whatever it is. You haven't been yourself since this all started. Just talking about this case seems to get you wound up, and I need to know why. We both know that what happened at the hospital was unacceptable – I need to know that it's not going to happen again,” you say slowly, keeping your voice low and level, “Someone could get hurt, or worse. It could blow the whole case. Is it Nick? Is that what-” Master Brehm cuts you off with a curt gesture. “Nicholas... isn't the first student I've lost,” he mutters, his eyes drifting off to stare at the blank wall behind you, “This has all happened before. I've SEEN it happen before. I know how tempting it can be, to delve into this forbidden knowledge, but good men weren't meant to know such things.” “We're fighting a losing battle, my boy. Every year there are fewer and fewer of us, yet the Veil grows thinner and thinner. Each little crime leaves a wound, a scar, and we can't stop the bleeding fast enough,” he continues, his voice almost a whisper now, “And more and more, I see promising young students drift away from the order. When I was a young man, we saw perhaps... one or two students turn on us each year. This year – just this year alone – we've had seven, including Nicholas.” The blunt numbers hit you like a slap in the face. “That many?” you mutter, “But...” “We don't know. Where they learn it, what gives them the ideas, what drives them to abandon everything they swore to protect... We just don't know,” Master Brehm balls his fist, raising it to strike his desk only to hesitate and slowly lower it again. “All we can do is protect you from it. Shield you from knowing about such thing, or threaten you all with the consequences,” he sighs, “And even that doesn't seem to be working.” You don't know what to say. You're not even sure if there is something you CAN say. Master Brehm draws in a long, shuddering breath and looks back at you. He smiles, although there's no warmth in it. “I'm an old man. I won't live to see the day when it all comes crashing down,” he announces, “But for now, I can hunt down those who would threaten the Accord. Maybe, just maybe, I can push that day back just a little bit more. That's worth setting aside our differences, don't you think?” This question hangs between you for a long second before you nod slightly. “Greyridge,” you whisper, “I think they might be in Greyridge.”
>>5662974“The Golden Antler Fraternity,” Master Brehm muses, considering your lead, “I've never heard of them. Not that that's very much of a surprise. The last time I heard about any serious alchemical society was... well, I very much doubt you'd been born, my boy! And they were looking for information about the healer...” “Maybe the healer really did have some kind of potent remedy – or they thought he did – and they wanted it for themselves,” you suggest, swallowing a wave of nausea, “They wanted to get the knowledge straight from the source.” Master Brehm shakes his head slowly. “I don't think so,” he says slowly, almost reluctantly, “The rites they were performing in the burial chamber. I recognised some of those glyphs. Whatever they were trying to call up, it wasn't a man. They pierced the Veil, there can be no doubt about that, but they were trying to call up something... else. Something powerful enough that it demanded a blood sacrifice.” “But I don't know what,” he adds, throwing his hands up in frustration, “Some of those glyphs were new, something I've never seen before – nobody has, as far as I've been able to tell. If these men, these scum, are still in Greyridge, that might be our best lead on learning exactly what they were trying to do.” “The priest's letters mentioned a book that might have some more information about this “wild healer” that our alchemists were looking into. That might help – I've asked someone to look into it for me,” you add, “If they were interested in it, it's worth checking out. There was one other thing, though, that I've been thinking about. When Ravensheugh's priest died, they never got an answer to their request for a new one. Could that mean anything?” “It means we never have enough good priests to go around!” Master Brehm laughs, “But, hrm, it does seem strange. I still have a few friends in the capital, I'll ask some questions and see if anything was out of place. Having a priest around might have made things more difficult for our grave robbing friends, after all.” With an enormous sigh, the old man starts to stand. “I'm going to arrange travel to Greyridge. After I figure out where Greyridge even is. You, my boy, get some rest,” he urges, “That's an order, mind you. I know what hours in the archives can do to a man, and I'll need you sharp for this.” That's an order that you'll be happy to accept.>I'll be in the dorms. Send word for me when you're ready>I had some questions first... (Write in)>Other
>>5663011>had some questions first> What do you think about Master Rosenthal? I had multiple people suggest I ask him for my Writ, which could mean he is at least somewhat willing to go behind the back of other instructors
>>5663011>I'll be in the dorms. Send word for me when you're ready
>>5663011>I had some questions first... (Write in)"Has there been any news about the Forest Kingdom recently?"Between Lucas's dream, the worker's mumbling, and Cloranthy bringing it up, it's on the mind.
“There's something I wanted to ask. A passing curiosity,” you ask, hesitating at the door and looking back, “What do you think about Master Rosenthal?” Master Brehm pauses. “I try not to,” he replies after a pause, “Why do you ask?” “I... mentioned my Writ situation to a few people. They suggested that I speak with Master Rosenthal about it. I haven't, yet, but it got me wondering about him,” you admit, “He sounds like he might be willing to, ah, bend the rules slightly.” “Quite so,” the old man frowns, choosing his next words with care, “Master Rosenthal is young. The youngest instructor in the academy, in fact, and he has a... different perspective on many of our rules and traditions. Rather less strict than many would like, yet he has never actually broken any rules.” Nothing that can be proven, at least, his expression seems to say. So that's how it is. “I've been thinking about home lately,” you add, the question spilling from your lips without thinking, “Have you heard any... news?” “From the forest? The situation, as I've heard is normal – as normal as things ever are. The Woodland Church stays in contact, as they are obliged to do, and they insist that they are adhering to the terms of the Accord. The letter of the law, if you will, but perhaps not the... ah,” the old man pauses, wincing in advance, “The spirit.” No news. But that doesn't necessarily mean good news. - Despite your best efforts to clear your mind and relax, you can't seem to put a halt to your restless thoughts. You wish Cloranthy hadn't asked you about the forest, hadn't stirred up your memories of home. It's not something you like to think much about, even at the best of times. The forest, the Woodland Church, all of it – it's a chapter of your life that you'd rather leave behind. You still remember the time a priest from the Woodland Church came to your village. There were rites to be carried out, and all had to obey. There was a sacrifice – just a beast, thankfully, a deer – and sacred herbs were burned. The acrid smoke had followed you everywhere, even when you hid inside your ramshackle dwelling, and the whole village had suffered terrible nightmares that day. By the end of it, though, the priest declared that the spirits of the forest were satisfied. You never saw the priest again. But you still think about it. A knock at the door rings out and you practically leap up to answer it, grateful for the distraction. “I'm sorry about my sister,” Clarissa announces as soon as you've opened the door, “I heard that she was distracting you while you were working. I'm sorry. She can be... eager. Overly so. I'll have a word with her later, if you want.” “No, well, she actually helped out,” you reply, shaking your head, “I should be grateful, actually. I wonder, though – what exactly did you tell her about me?” Clarissa just looks away, pretending not to hear the question.[1/2]
>>5663040 “I didn't exactly... mean to tell her about you,” Clarissa says eventually, once she realises that you're not about to just drop it and move on, “But we were talking about other things, and I mentioned your name in passing. I wasn't expecting her to latch onto it quite so much, but she wouldn't stop asking. It all got a little out of hand.” “I see,” you nod grimly, “And these “other things” were the Forest Kingdom, weren't they?” “Well, yes. She's always been fascinated by them. I blame those dreadful stories she reads. When she found out that you were from the forest, or close enough to it, she wouldn't stop asking me about you. I never thought she'd actually go and bother you about it, though.” she sighs, running a hand through her hair, “I hope she didn't upset you. She said you seemed... tense.” Tense. That's certainly one way to put it. “Don't worry about it, I'm fine,” you assure her, although you're not sure how true that really is, “I think I ruined her image of the Forest Kingdom, though.” “It had to happen eventually,” Clarissa remarks with a faint smile, “It's probably better this way, coming from someone she-” A pause. “She what?” you prod, waiting patiently for the answer. “Someone she likes,” Clarissa finishes awkwardly, “She said she likes you. That's pretty rare, you know. She doesn't like most people. Ugh, that makes her sound terrible. You know what I mean, don't you?” Just as Clarissa is wincing at her own words, there's another knock – this time from the dorm door. Her turn to be grateful for the distraction, Clarissa hurries to answer it. A tall man with slicked back dark hair waits behind, a small chest tucked under one arm. “Ah. Hello. I'm looking for Lucas Hearne,” the man begins, his voice soft and musical, and his eyes soon flick over to you, “I don't think we've met. My name is Isaac. Isaac Rosenthal. I believe Cloranthy might have mentioned me? We were talking earlier, and your name came up. I've been meaning to visit for some time, actually, but I never quite had the chance.” Clarissa gives you a faint look of warning before retreating into her bedroom, leaving you alone with the instructor. Immediately, you can tell why he's so popular with the girls – he's got the kind of face, beautiful rather than handsome, that they seem to go for these days. Sitting down at the dining table, you gesture towards an empty seat. Rosenthal sits, placing the wooden chest down in front of him. It sits there like an ill omen, your gaze drawn right to it. “I'm sorry about Nicholas,” the young instructor begins, “I hope I'm not disturbing you at a bad time.” His words take you by surprise. This, you realise, might actually be the first time that someone has offered their sympathies. The first person to treat Nicholas like an actual human being.[2/3]
>>5663059 “I argued for leniency, you know, before the trial,” Master Rosenthal continues, his voice low, “I didn't think his crimes – such as they were – warranted such a severe punishment. Needless to say, they didn't listen.” He sighs quietly, looking down at the wooden chest for a moment before glancing back up. “These are his personal effects. They would have been sent home, but his father refused to accept them. They were going to be destroyed, otherwise, but I was able to sneak a few things out. I thought maybe...” He finishes this thought with a small shrug, pushing the chest towards you. Numbly opening the chest, you look through the sparse contents. A set of keys, probably for his old family home. A couple of necklaces and medallions, some ancient coins that he had liked to collect. Trinkets really, nothing of any serious significance. “Thank you,” you say at last, closing the wooden chest. Rosenthal gives you a nod, a sad smile, then gets up to leave. “I'll be around,” he remarks, just as he's at the door, “If you ever want to talk.” The door closes with a firm click, and a short-lived silence falls. A few seconds later, and Clarissa's door opens again. “What?” you ask sharply, looking around at her, “Were you listening in?” “Yes. I was,” she answers simply, honestly, as she comes to sit beside you. Opening the chest, she looks inside and grimaces. “I don't trust him,” she adds after a moment, “Rosenthal, I mean. He tries to be everyone's friend. It's not professional.”>I think you're right. Something's not right about him>Maybe being professional isn't always the best thing>I don't care. He's not my problem either way>I think... (Write in)>Other
>>5663069>I think you're right. Something's not right about him>Carefully inspect Nicolas's belongings for any weird runes and the like
>>5663069>I think... (Write in)"Just met the guy so I don't really distrust or trust him. Regardless of his intent, I do appreciate him getting this to us. I hate how everyone basically pretends Nicholas never existed now."
It always comes down to professionalism for her – probably some kind of military thing, you expect. Still, it seems more than just a passing distaste. There was almost something visceral in the way she looks, just from thinking about the young instructor. Her sister, you realise after a moment, that must be it. “I don't know. Something's not right about him...” you murmur, trying to put your words into feelings, “I've just met him. We've barely traded a few dozen words. That's not enough to say if I trust him or not, but... I appreciate this, bringing me this. I feel like everyone just pretends that Nicholas doesn't exist now, and I hate it. It's just... I hate it.” Clarissa starts to say something, then reconsiders and falls silent. Touching you lightly on the shoulder, she gets up and heads into the kitchen to busy herself with making tea. While her attention is elsewhere, you turn your attention back to the chest and take another look at the contents. The keys are engraved with a tiny address – a town called Penn's Garden – but are otherwise unremarkable. Taking each of the necklaces out in turn, you examine them carefully. Nicholas always seemed to have a lot of necklaces, other bits of jewellery like that. A strange habit for a young man, you always thought, but he seemed to like them. Nothing seems out of place. Last, you sift through the antique coins until one catches your eye. One of the coins is scuffed and scratched, the only one of them that's in poor condition. Nicholas, you recall, only collected pristine coins. He was very particular about that. Turning the coin over in your hands, you take a closer look. One face displays the Sun King's seal – as expected – while the other side shows what seems to be an odd monument. A watchtower, maybe, or a lighthouse. Glancing cautiously back into the kitchen, you slip the coin into your pocket. You're going to have to do some research.- Halfway through your cup of tea, Master Brehm sweeps into the dorm with a triumphant gesture. “Greyridge. Small town in the north east, mostly for logging and some small-scale mining. Very new settlement, too young for any guardian spirits to have taken root. About eight hours away by carriage – time enough for a quick nap,” he announces quickly, slapping his fist into the palm of his hand as he talks, “Ah yes, Lowe. I've got an assignment for you. Homework. Something to keep you busy.” “Yes sir,” Clarissa replies with a wince, “I'll get it done.” “Good girl, good girl. Lucas, my boy, get your coat – it might be cold up in the mountains,” Master Brehm orders, “You feel it, don't you? The thrill of the chase?” You're not sure about that, but it feels good to be making some progress. To be moving forwards. “Just don't get carried away,” Clarissa whispers to you as you're leaving.
>>5663105“No record of any organisation called the Golden Antler Fraternity, but that's not surprising. Any two-bit, small time group of idiots can get together and think up a grand name, but that doesn't mean shit in the grand scheme of things,” Master Brehm explains, his voice raised over the clatter of the carriage's wheels, “For now, it's just a pretty name.” You murmur a vague agreement, you gaze fixed on the scenery passing you by. Although you don't want to admit it, you're looking out for anything that resembles the monument on Nicholas' coin. It's hardly likely that the answer is going to come and slap you in the face, but you can't help but hope. There has to be a catalogue for coinage somewhere in the archives. Maybe Cloranthy could be persuaded to lend a hand again... “Now then. Make sure to keep your badge out of sight when we arrive,” the old man continues, “No sense in spooking anyone before we're ready. Anyone, anyone at all, could be a potential enemy.” “Don't get carried away,” you mutter, repeating Clarissa's advice, “Anyway, what's our cover story? Do we have a cover story?” “Hm, good question,” he thinks for a few seconds, “We'll be surveying the mills for new mines. How about that?” “But you don't know anything about mines,” you point out, “Neither of us knows anything about mining. What happens if someone tries asking us about... about anything?” “We'll cross that bridge when we get to it. It doesn't need to be a perfect disguise – we just need an excuse to go poking around. We're not going to be here long enough to warrant a flawless cover story,” Master Brehm waves away your concern with a gesture, “These country yokels will believe anything we tell them, anyway. The natural trust for authority is one of their only redeeming qualities.” He always seems to forget that not everyone was born and raised in the capital.>I'm going to take a pause here and pick things up tomorrow, same time and same place.>Thank you for reading along today!
>>5663142Many thanks, Moloch, this is good stuff.
There's a chill in the air when you arrive at Greyridge. Nothing unnatural about it, so far as you can tell, it's just a cold part of the land. It's an ugly town, and there's no way to hide that – the ragged stumps of felled trees surround the town, while the nearby hillside shows scars from mining work. Clusters of wooden shacks and log cabins huddle together in loose groups, with a few larger structures ruling over them. Most of the timber is moved south, where it gets turned into rifle stocks. That's what Master Brehm said, at least, one of the fun facts he had been able to dig up before you set off on your travels. Eight hours is a long time to spend in a carriage, and you probably heard each bit of trivia at least twice each. Maybe he plans to test you on it later. An unsettling sight on the way into moonlit town. Just on the outer edges of the town, a few sullen townsfolk stand by a burning funeral pyre. The mourners – women, mostly, older women - don't seem to pay any attention as your carriage slowly rattles past, but Master Brehm watches them sharply. If they're going to the trouble of burning their dead, they must be having some kind of trouble. You take rooms at a small, dismal guest house, the sort of place that actual mining surveyors might stay at. Master Brehm lets out a disgusted grunt at the sight of the thin doors and flimsy locks, but says nothing else and vanishes into his room. Sitting down on the edge of the hard bed, you take out your revolver and check the cartridges. It occurs to you, then, that you might actually need to use the weapon here.- You're not sure what wakes you, if it's some noise or just a bad vibe in the air, but you find yourself jolting awake in a dark, disorientating room. For the first few seconds you're not sure where you are, but then your thoughts catch up with you. Looking away from the unfamiliar ceiling, you rise from your uncomfortable bed and pace the room for a moment. No use trying to get back to sleep just yet, not until you can shake off this restless feeling. Throwing on your coat and slipping your revolver into your deep pockets instead, you creep from the guest house and look around the silent town. The moon is vast, grotesquely swollen, and the silver light it casts gives the whole town a dream-like feeling. You wander, searching for any sign of the alchemical society but not really expecting to find anything. Just learning the town is good enough, getting a taste of the air and a feel for the mood. Listening to the land – that's what Master Brehm calls it. The land isn't saying much at the moment, but you know better than to rush things. It'll take as long as it takes.[1/2]
>>5663785Two large buildings sit in the middle of the town, the town hall itself and some kind of communal kitchen for the workers. Pausing outside the town hall, you glance down the noticeboard for anything of note. Warnings against drunken behaviour, pay rates for various jobs, but nothing to indicate life is anything other than normal. It mentions the post, however – this must be where the workers send and receive their letters. Moving further out from the town centre, you steal past the rickety wooden shacks. Most of them have name tags pinned to their doors, with enough scars in the wood to suggest the tags are changed regularly. Not too surprising – you can't imagine anyone wanting to stay here for very long, even with a generous wage. Before you realise it, you've reached the far edge of town and the remains of the funeral pyre. Grimacing slightly at the bitter scent of smoke that still clings faintly to the ground, you tentatively approach the charred remains. It was a careless job, indifferently done, with the bones left out for whatever passes for wildlife around here. Swallowing down your nausea, you reach into the ashen remains and lift out a blackened skull. Turning it over in your hands, you look down at the shattered hole left in the back of the skull. Well now.- Morning. Just slightly warmer than the night before, with the sun barely seeming to pierce through a layer of misty cloud. The working day hasn't yet started, but you can already see small groups of workers filing towards the communal kitchen for their morning meal. Elsewhere, a few women – a rare sight, it seems, in Greyridge – are going about their chores. “Why would anyone want to hide in a forsaken place like this?” Master Brehm grumbles, rubbing his reddened eyes. He slept poorly, you guess, if he slept at all. “Because nobody would look for them here, of course,” he adds, answering his own question, “Nobody would want to look at this place long enough to find them.” “What's our plan?” you ask, quietly ignoring his complaints. “Still a work in progress. Give me some time to think, would you?” the old man replies, giving you a stern look, “If you want to get started, by all means go right ahead. But I want to take a walk first. Listen-” “To the land, right,” you finish for him. It looks like you're going to be taking the lead on this one.>The letters were sent from the town hall. You'll start there>The kitchens will be busy now, perfect for listening in on the town gossip>The funeral pyre is worth investigating. Maybe you can find some of the mourners>Other
>>5663786>The funeral pyre is worth investigating. Maybe you can find some of the mourners
Ever since arriving in Greyridge, the image of that lonely funeral pyre has been stuck in your head. Searching the remains, finding that broken skull, has only made it worse. It's getting harder and harder to imagine an innocent explanation for it, but would they really be so open about trying to cover up a crime? Whatever their reasons for the pyre, one thing remains the same – there was a body. Blood has already been spilled. Stalking off through the town, you cast your eye about for any of the mourners. There aren't many women in town, and it isn't long before you spot one of them. She looks younger by daylight, but ground down by life. Watching her from a distance, you follow the woman as she carries a basket to the river. She stops at the sluggish waters, setting the basket down but making no move to start washing. “Are you going to stand there all day?” she calls out suddenly, without even so much as looking around. Jolting in shock, you very nearly turn tail and flee before composing yourself. Touching the revolver in your pocket for reassurance, you slowly approach the woman. “You're not here to work, are you?” the woman adds, finally glancing around at you, “What, then? The scenery?” “The people,” you reply, “Sorry for startling you, ma'am.” She laughs, although there's no humour in it. “You didn't startle me one bit, so skip that talk,” she states bluntly, “What do you want?” “Saw you last night, by the funeral pyre,” you tell her simply, matching her direct tone, “You burn a lot of bodies around here, do you?” “It's easiest. Ground here is too hard for a decent burial, most of the year. Top layer isn't so bad, but you can't get down deep and a shallow burial is just going to attract pests. So, we burn them,” the woman explains, finally kneeling down to start unloading her laundry, “Horrible thing, though. That boy couldn't have been any older than you are.” “What happened to him?” you ask. The woman just ignores this, acts like you didn't say a thing. Holding back a sigh, you take a few steps closer and sit down by the riverbank. “My name's Lucas. I'm not here to make trouble, if that's what you're thinking,” you assure her, “Just trying to figure a few things out.” “Brianna,” she answers, with a certain reluctance, “They're saying it was an accident at the mines. Boy was fooling around, showing off, and he fell. Didn't fall far, but he cracked his head right on the rocks below. Quickest thing in the world, they way they told it. Here one second, gone the next. But that's the way life is, isn't it?” No kidding. “They're saying it was an accident,” you repeat, “Any chance that it wasn't?” Brianna doesn't turn around. “Just telling you what I heard,” she replies, her tone deliberately indifferent, “Got no reason to think anything else of it.”[1
>>5663807“They laughed at first, you know? Before they realised how bad it was. The other men, they saw him fall and thought it was just the funniest thing around. Just the kind of place this is, I suppose. There was one thing I heard. One thing that seemed strange,” Brianna pauses to think, “After the boy fell, one of the other men came down to check on him. Didn't call out for help, just seemed to sit with him for a while. Like they were talking back and forth, only that boy was dead the moment he hit the ground.” Closing your eyes for a moment, you picture the scene – a young man lying splayed out on the rocks, blood oozing from his shattered skull as another man sits beside him and merrily chatters away. A morbid, ugly scene, but as Brianna says, that's just the kind of place this is. Or maybe it's something more. “Who was he?” you ask quietly, “This man. The talkative one.” She purses her lips, caught between a natural caution and the need to unburden herself. “I think they said it was Booker. I don't know him much – keeps himself to himself, mostly. This time of day, he'll probably be up in the hills if you're looking for him,” she tells you, “Although if you're not looking to cause trouble like you said, you might think twice about that. Seems awfully particular about his privacy, that one.” “This Booker. Has he got any scars? Burns, around his face like this?” you ask, gesturing around your ear, “Anyone else in town like that?” It only takes Brianna second to think it over and shake her head. Someone like that would be memorable, you suppose. “What about the Golden Antler Fraternity?” you try next, “Name ring a bell?” “What, are you looking to join up?” she lets out a contemptuous laugh, “No, that all sounds like fancy capital business to me. Nothing like that around here, I'm sure of that. You've got some funny ideas about this place, Mister Lucas, I'll say that much.” So much for that. The whole alchemical society might as well be a name on a letter and nothing more, so far as you've been able to tell. You've got a new name, but how much is that going to be worth? Either way, it's time to plan your next moves.>Regroup at the guest house with Master Brehm>You've got other plans... (Write in)>Other
>>5663826>You've got other plans... (Write in)Let's give the town hall a once over
>>5663826>You've got other plans... (Write in)Yeah, quick town hall investigation
>>5663826>try to find Booker at the mines, or someone who knew the dead guy
>>5663826We don't have to go yet, but I doubt they cleaned out the blood wherever the boy fell. Might be able to find it with smell alone.
It might just be a name on a letter, but that letter had to be picked up by someone. That means someone, at some point, must have visited the town hall. It's a long shot, expecting them to know about a few letters from way back when, but you're feeling lucky. Rising to your feet with a soft grunt, you give Brianna a nod. “Thank you, ma'am,” you tell her, “Thank you for-” “Oh, knock it off with that “ma'am” stuff, will you?” she sighs, rolling her eyes, “And don't you go bothering hard working folk, you hear?” “Got it,” you assure her, “I'll just bother the slackers.” Her laughter is still ringing in your ears as you walk away.- The town hall is surprisingly busy when you arrive, with a small cluster of clerks feverishly writing at their desks while a large man looks out over them from the second floor. The clerks don't even look around at the sound of your entrance, and nobody moves to stop you as you climb the stairs to the second level. The large man is already waiting for you there, an expectant look on his face. “Good morning,” he begins, his voice flat, “You're from the capital, aren't you? Tell them that we'll make our quota when they send us some decent workers. These oafs are either sneaking away in the middle of a shift or... or killing themselves out there!” “I heard about the accident, yes. But I'm not here about your quotas,” you assure him quickly, “I'm just here to-” “So it's NOT about the quotas?” he stresses, his shoulders easing slightly as he relaxes. Turning his back on you, he lumbers away and collapses down into an oversized chair. “If it's not about the quotas, then what is it? Why would the capital send a man like you?” a snort of laughter escapes him, “You're not here to work, that's for damn sure.” You might not be as big as someone like Johannes, but you're not exactly scrawny either. “I've been tasked with writing a report on the region. Primarily concerning the mines, but in a more general sense as well,” you lie, grasping at Master Brehm's cover story, “Why exactly are you so struggling with meeting these quotas?” “Because these brutes the capital sent me won't work hard enough, obviously. I've had to hire in travelling workers just to make up the numbers, and those lot are HARDLY reliable. Short of picking up a pickaxe myself, I'm not sure what else I could do,” he sighs angrily, flapping a hand at the papers scattered across his desk, “Write THAT in your report, if they're thinking about replacing me.” “Nobody's talking about replacing you,” you promise, hoping to calm him down before he throws a full-blown tantrum, “I'm just curious. Just trying to get all the facts. I might be able to make a case for a few extra workers – good ones, too – if you help me with that.” The foreman's eyes narrow with suspicion, even as a faint hope glints deep within them.
>>5663867 “I've heard some interesting things about this town, actually. They're saying there's an alchemical society here, of all things,” you remark, sitting down without waiting for an invitation, “The Golden Antler Fraternity, they're calling themselves. I'd be fascinated to learn a little more about them. Do you know where I can find them?” He gives you a blank look. “Never heard of it,” he replies eventually, “Maybe you haven't noticed, but we're not exactly big on scholarship out here.” “Interesting. Their letters certainly came here,” you point out, raising a curious eyebrow, “They were sent from here too.” “We get a lot of letters. I don't concern myself with each and every single one. Maybe someone has been joking around, sending letters under a name like that, but I've never seen any sign of a club like that here. Unless-” his eyes widen with shock, “You think our numbers are so low because the men are too busy with this... this fraternity thing!” You're not sure if he's mocking you or not. “That, uh, remains a possibility. But it's not our main concern at the moment,” you reply, struggling to keep a straight face, “Forget the alchemists for now. I wanted to know about the accident. A worker fell to his death, wasn't it? It sounds like working conditions aren't very safe around here...” “He wasn't working!” the foreman blurts out, jolting upright in alarm, “He was playing around on the edge of the cliff, trying to act tough in front of the other men. Damn fool thing to do, but it had nothing to do with the work here!” Just listening to this man is starting to stress you out. “Of course, of course. I'll need to include it in my report regardless, but I can't see why we'd hold you responsible. There were a number of witnesses to the accident, I believe. A man named, ah, Booker was among them, yes? I might need to speak with him, just to get his version of events.” “Be my guest,” the foreman mutters sullenly, “He's got a shack in town. If he's not there, he'll be at the mines. Maybe.” “I see,” you give the foreman your most officious smile, “Thank you for your cooperation. I might be back with some follow-up questions, if anything else comes up.” He just nods slowly, gesturing towards the door.- You keep an eye out for Booker's shack as you walk through town, eventually finding it near a cluster of other buildings and a few crumbling stone walls. There's hardly anything left of them – barely anything higher than your knees – but it looks like there were other buildings here once, much older buildings. Knocking lightly at the door gets no answer, and the lock rattles in place when you try the door. But the door isn't especially sturdy. It might not be subtle, but...>Try breaking the door down and searching inside>Try searching for Booker at the mines instead>Other
>>5663895>Try searching for Booker at the mines insteadI don't think his neighbors and by extension the town would appreciate us kicking down doors just yet.
>>5663895>Try searching for Booker at the mines instead
>>5663895>Smell the air or poke around with spirit sight from the windowsWe don't need to look too closely yet.>Try searching for Booker at the mines instead
You consider the door for a good long moment. If it's about as sturdy as your bedroom door back at the guest house, a single good kick would be enough to get it open – and probably leave it hanging off a single hinge. While it might be satisfying, and you've always wanted to try it out, you're not sure how the neighbours might take it. It's not exactly something you could just hide, is it? “Another time,” you promise yourself with a sigh, stepping away from the shack. You settle for a quick circuit of the shack instead, trying to peer through the grimy windows for any clues. There are thick cloths hanging in place, but you can just about make out a bookshelf on the opposite wall. You'll check for Booker at the mines, or maybe see if any of the other miners have anything to say for themselves. As you walk out towards the low hills, you spot Master Brehm standing silently by the broken ground. You start to call out a greeting as you hurry over, only for the words to die in your throat as you realise what he was looking at. The rocks are still stained deep red in places, with faint smears to show where the body was dragged away. Hardly any effort at all was given to cleaning up after the accident, the townsfolk simply leaving it for time and rain to wash away. Looking away from the blood, you gaze up at the hillside instead – a sheer drop, a thin ledge, and an unforgiving wall of ragged stone. It's not hard to imagine the young man shimmying across the narrow ledge, but it's harder to imagine WHY. Just fooling around, Brianna had said, just playing up for his audience. “I heard about the accident,” Master Brehm says quietly, “What a pointless mess.” Kneeling down by the jagged rocks, you touch the bloodied stone and close your eyes for a long moment. Tentatively opening your senses up to the spirit world, you search for any imprint left behind – from the death itself, or from any profane acts carried out afterwards. But there's nothing. For now, at least, the spirit world remains quiet.- “You won't believe this, my boy, but I found someone who's heard of our alchemical society,” Master Brehm remarks, a triumphant smile creasing his lips, “An old man – and that's old by my standards. He said that there was another town here once, long before this one, and this Golden Antler Fraternity had an office there. He was just a child, then, and he didn't know anything more than the name. Oh, there was one thing he mentioned.” “What?” “He often saw fires burning up in the hills,” Master Brehm answers, dropping his voice to a ghoulish whisper, “And heard the most terrible chants.” That all sounds far too familiar for your liking. “It sounds like these new men might be carrying on their work,” you suggest, “Whatever that was.” “Maybe. Or they borrowed the name for a veneer of legitimacy,” the old man lets out a nasty laugh, “As legitimate as any of those old lunatics ever were!”
>>5663937“Booker? He was here this morning,” the miner says, looking around at the craggy hills and trading glances with a few of his colleagues. They either shrug or shake their heads, turning back to the hillside and resolutely ignoring you both. “If you find him, tell him he's a scumbag for skipping out on another shift,” he adds, scowling immensely, “Bastard. Him and all his shitty friends.” The foremen mentioned something about this, you recall. “What, you mean he just turns up and goes straight back home?” you ask, gesturing back towards the town, “And he still gets paid?” “Nah, he's not back at home. I already tried that once, to drag him back here and force him to work. Either he wasn't home, or he was doing a damn good job at hiding and staying quiet,” the miner clenches a fist in anger, “No, he turns up. He makes a good show of working for a while, and then he's just... gone. Nowhere to be seen. First time it happened, we thought he got hurt somewhere. Searched all over the damn hills but couldn't find hide nor hair of him.” “But it's a maze up here, some places,” another man points out, gesturing to a tangle of uneven ridges rising up from the hills, “You could search for days without covering even half of the ground. He always shows up by the end of his shift, making some lame excuse or pretending like he was here all along. We just “didn't notice” him, he says!” “I see,” Master Brehm murmurs, letting the burly men go back to their work. “Things are starting to come together, my boy, the pieces are starting to fall into place! You know what I mean, don't you?” Before the miners can turn away completely, you call out to them. “Hey, one more thing!” you ask, “Do you ever see any fires burning out here in the hills?” The miners fall silent, a cold air descending over the conversation. “Nope,” one man says bluntly, “But sometimes we find the signs of them. Ash and charred wood, like a big bonfire was burning. You wouldn't see the light much from down in town, though. Line of the hill would block it, see?” He gestures, pointing to the raised ridge looming over the shallow bowl of the mining site. “One time, a buddy of mine said he was going to find out what was going on. Said he'd spend the night up here, get a proper look,” he continues, “Found him the next morning, neck broke from a bad fall.” “Dangerous place to go wandering around at night,” the first miner points out, “Wouldn't recommend it to anyone.” “Mm, I see,” Master Brehm nods wisely, letting the miners retreat out of earshot. “What do you make of that, eh?” he whispers, giving you a daring wink, “If we wait until the end of the shift, we might be able to spot your man here. But if we wait until nightfall...” “We might be able to catch him in the act,” you finish. It looks like it's your game – but how are you going to play this?>Here's the plan... (Write in)
>>5663964>Here's the plan... (Write in)Primarily lets wait until nightfall to catch him in the act, but before that we should at least be around at the end of shift to actual get a visual ID on Booker so we know who to look for at night. Don't talk to him at the end of the shift so we don't tip him off, but just get a look at him.
>>5663964>Wait until nightfall
>>5663964>Try and catch him and the end of the shiftSafer and more reliable than trying to find him at night.
“I say we wait until the end of shift and keep an eye out for Booker. Just watch, don't do anything to spook him. Then we'll make our move at night, see if we can catch him in the act,” you suggest quietly, tapping one finger against your chin as you think, “If nothing happens, fine. We can change our plans for next time.” “But you think it'll happen tonight, don't you?” Master Brehm asks quietly, his face deadly serious, “That's good. Learn to trust your instincts, my boy. They say that the guardian spirits speak through them.” Sitting down on the low rocks, you think back to Persephone's words. “I think... I think I might have a guardian spirit, actually. Back in Ravensheugh, I felt something strange. Like something was calling my name, calling out to me from the spirit world. That's what it feels like, isn't it?” you ask, “That's what Persephone told me, at least. What do you think?” “I'm inclined to disbelieve it, purely on the basis that Persephone told you that,” Master Brehm admits with a short laugh, “But I think she might be right. We'll discuss this back at the academy, my boy. If it's true, I'll need to make some arrangements. There's a process to follow, you know.” “Paperwork to sign, you mean?” you joke. “Not quite, not quite,” the old man says with a rueful expression. But he doesn't say anything more than that.- You pass the rest of the shift in relative quiet, wandering about the hills and trying to learn the lay of the land. If you're going to be creeping around by moonlight, you want to be sure of your footing. A few miners start talk briefly with you, although they tend to lose interest after you mention your cover story. None of them have much hope for the mines here, once the easy pickings have been stripped away, but they don't ask any difficult questions. They don't really care much, anyway. By the afternoon, the shift seems to be coming to an end. With a tiny nod, one of the miners points out Booker to you – a surprisingly slender man, given his trade, with very pale hair and eyes. An easy man to recognise, even by night. He doesn't look much like a hardened criminal, though, but you weren't expecting him to. He passes you close by as the miners are leaving, but he never even glances around at you. Waiting a while, you join the last of the miners as they march silently back down towards the town. You try not to show it, trying to keep your face as blank as possible, but your heart is hammering in your chest all the way. It only starts to slow once you're safely back in the guest house, preparing for nightfall. “These men might be dangerous,” Master Brehm warns, slowly loading cartridges into his revolver. “I know.” “They won't just go quietly,” he adds grimly. “I know.” “Be ready for anything.” 
>>5663987Another night with a bright moon, thankfully leaving you with at least some light to work with. You take your pocket lantern just in case, leaving it dark for now. The revolver feels impossibly heavy in your hand as you walk, the weight of the cartridges seeming to drag your whole arm down. You've fought before, in the sparring rooms and training halls, but this different. This is real. Master Brehm doesn't seem to notice anything out of the ordinary. He could be out for a pleasant stroll, for all his expression shows. The only time when he seems concerned is when the ground starts to grow harsh underfoot. You have to slow your pace to match his, picking your way through the loose pebbles and broken rocks of the foothills. And all the while, you can hear the faintest sound of whispering coming from some impossible distance. Eventually you reach the ridge, dropping low and creeping the last few feet before peering down into the lowlands beyond. A reddish glow burns from within the maze of broken rocks, the light burning like the beacon atop the Eternal Palace. Master Brehm gives you a firm nod, and you continue your advance. As you get closer, you start to make out the sound of chanting – strange words, inhuman words, words that ought not to come from human mouths. With your heart pounding in your chest and the inhuman words burning in your ears, you squeeze your way through the narrow rocks and stare up at the bonfire burning ahead of you. The fire itself writhes like a living thing, sometimes forming something like a human silhouette before breaking apart in a flurry of sparks. There are several figures surrounding the fire, at least five that you can see, and they- A deafening bang rings out as Master Brehm fires his first shot, a warning shot perhaps, and the cultists flinch down in a flurry of panic. The fire flares brighter and brighter as the incantation is broken, the wind suddenly rising into an animalistic howl. A second shot rings out as the cultists break and flee, with Master Brehm lunging after them. Before he can get more than a few paces- The world seems to explode around you. White light and heat rips out, almost knocking you from your feet. When you recover, the bonfire is gone and a near complete darkness had swept in to engulf you. Even the light of the moon barely makes a difference, barely manages to reach you. It's enough, just enough, for you to spot a single familiar figure fleeing the scene. Not thinking, you chase after the slim man. He stumbles as he runs, and you shout a warning after him. At least, you think you do – your ears are still ringing from the blast. You shout, maybe, and the man slows. Then-[2/3]
>>5664001The man stumbles again on the uneven rocks, lurching around to face you. It's definitely Booker, his pale eyes seeming very wide and very white in the moonlight. His expression is twisted into a rictus of fear and hatred, the kind of expression that you've never seen on a human face. You aim the revolver at him, but he hardly seems to notice the weapon in your hands. You shout an order for him to kneel, or you think you do, but he doesn't obey. He's not that much older than you are, you realise, maybe a year or two but not- He moves, suddenly, as quick as a viper. Not to draw a weapon, but to sweep his hands through the air in the first stages of some occult glyph. A hard, flat crack rings out as you squeeze the trigger, your revolver discharging with a flash and a kick. Your shot goes a little high, a little wide, but it still finds its mark. Booker drops in an instant, his hands flying to his neck as he falls. Hastily lowering your revolver, you hurry over to the young man. His legs kick spasmodically against the rock as he struggles, blood seeping out through his clenched fingers and pooling beneath him. Rolling madly in their sockets, his eyes lock onto yours as you kneel beside him and he grimaces, showing teeth that glisten with a sheen of blood. Abandoning his attempt at stopping the bleeding, his hand falls limply to his side. “This... means... nothing,” he hisses, the words gurgling out of him as a reddish froth gathers at the corner of his mouth, “There will... be... more.” “What are you talking about?” you snap, “More who? More of your kind? More-” Then you see it. His hand jerks as he talks - as he distracts you - his trembling finger sketching out a hideous symbol on the bare stone. You lash out without thinking, striking his hand with the butt of your revolver and feeling bones break. Booker howls, throwing his head back and letting out a long scream that tapers to silence. He's gone.- You sit by the corpse for a long time until a shuffling noise from behind causes you to jerk around. It's Master Brehm, and the rather miserable looking captive he drags alongside him. They both look at the dead body, and the captive lets out a long groan of dismay. “Good work, my boy,” the old man announces, although there's no pride or glory in his voice, “I managed to catch this one before he fled.” “The others?” you ask softly. “Dead, mostly. One of them fled, I think. I was sure that I managed to hit him, but I haven't been able to find a trail. Or a body,” Master Brehm sighs, “Oh well. I've very much looking forwards to see what THIS specimen has to say for himself.” It's almost enough for you to feel sorry for him.>I'm going to draw things to a close here for tonight. I'll be aiming to resume next Saturday>Thank you for reading along
>>5664012Thanks for running!I will endeavor to wake up earlier on weekends
>>5664012Sad to miss this. TFR!
>>5664012Thanks again Moloch, your output is impressive
You both stare at the shattered door and ransacked shelves in sullen silence, the mood slowly darkening. Finally, Master Brehm takes a step forwards and nudges the door open a little wider, revealing more of Booker's dishevelled shack. Books have been torn down from the shelf and scattered about, their pages ripped out and crumbled up, while anything that could be broken has been. “Bastard,” Master Brehm says simply, kicking at the debris littering the floor, “He must have come back and cleared the place out. They must have had something here, something they didn't want us to find...” Something important enough for the surviving cultist to stop and thoroughly trash the place, even though he knew you would be following him. As you're crouching down to sift through the debris, a thought occurs. “Why trash the whole house?” you wonder aloud, “If he didn't want us to find something, why not just take that one thing with him? Why take the time to tear up every last book and page?” Master Brehm lets out a snort of contempt. “Spite,” he decides, “When faced with defeat, these people revert to their true nature – mindless, bent only on destruction.” That doesn't sound quite right to you, but a stray page catches your eye and stills your tongue. Picking up the crumpled page and smoothing it out, you look at the sketched drawing for a long moment before glancing across as Master Brehm. The old man paces back and forth in front of the shack, tugging at his moustache as he thinks to himself. Quickly, quietly, you fold the page in half and tuck in away in your pocket before Master Brehm returns to the ransacked hut. “Just leave it, my boy. It'll wait until the morning,” he urges, reaching down to help you to your feet, “We'll have plenty of time to tie up any loose ends later, and I'll want you thinking sharp for that. Get some rest, and we'll pick this up by sunrise.” But the first hints of dawn are already creeping into the sky outside. You won't be resting for long.- You don't sleep, instead spending your time staring at the crumpled page you retrieved from Booker's house. It's nothing much, nothing that would've caught your attention at all just a few days ago, but now you can't stop thinking about it. The sketch itself is crude, a quick and scratchy image of a watchtower, or perhaps a lighthouse, but you've it before – on the antique coin found in Nicholas' belongings But why? Twice now, you've seen this tower connected to the forbidden art of necromancy but the real meaning eludes you. It's maddening – so much so that even if you did sleep now, you'd likely see the damn thing in your dreams. You don't get a chance to find out, though, as a harsh knock on your door signals your return to action.[1/2]
>>5668710“You don't need to worry about that cover story now, by the way,” Master Brehm begins, savouring the steam rising off his cup of tea, “I've pulled rank. Had the foreman here put his boys to work on handling some of the heavy lifting for us. Had them out searching the area overnight, looking for our missing suspect.” “Any luck?” you ask, prodding listlessly as your unpleasant breakfast. “Not a bit,” he replies cheerfully, “He's probably out dying in a ditch somewhere. They did find something, though – a cave, out in the hills. Seems like someone was living there recently, although the men didn't look around very much. Leaving it to the experts, they said, but I suspect they just got scared off. You know what these country folk are like.” Murmuring a vague agreement, you gesture for Master Brehm to continue. “And I had the foreman dig out everything they knew about Booker and the other men. It's not much, and I doubt there's anything incriminating there, but it's something to check over. It's not all glory and adventure, my boy, there's always plenty of gruelling work to do!” “What about the other homes?” you suggest, “Were any of the other homes searched?” “You mean by our runaway? Not that we can tell. I had the men search over the other homes, but there was nothing abnormal. If I had to guess, I'd say Booker was their leader – or at least the only one of them with a hint of education. I certainly wouldn't say that Siddal is any kind of thinker, from what little he's been saying.” “Siddal?” “Our prisoner,” the old man explains, flapping one hand in an impatient gesture, “He's over in the town hall. They have a quaint little jail cell there. Usually for the town drunks, but it'll do for holding our man until the carriage is ready and we can drag him back to the academy. We should be ready for a few hours, by the by, and I don't want to linger for too long.” “Getting tired of the scenery around here?” you ask. So much for having plenty of time to tie up the loose ends, you think to yourself. “I was sick of the scenery before we even got here,” Master Brehm growls, shaking his head, “No, I need to go back to the archives to do some research. Fires in the hills... it all feels familiar somehow. I've read about this before, I'm certain of it. Well, it'll have to wait a little. I'll handle reading the reports on the local men – it's drudgery, I'm sure, and there's no sense in wasting your time on it too. What do you want to do?”>I'll stay and help with the reports. It'll be easier with two of us>I want to have a look at this cave in the hills>I'd like to speak with the prisoner, see if he's willing to talk>Other
>>5668712>>I want to have a look at this cave in the hills
>>5668712>Speak with the prisoner
>>5668712>I want to have a look at this cave in the hills
“I want to have a look at this cave first of all,” you decide, finally risking a mouthful of your meal. Bland, but unlikely to kill you and better than nothing at all. “You said that the miners didn't look around very much, right?” you add, “It should be just like they left it, then.” “I'd expect so,” Master Brehm nods, reaching for his tea before pausing. He seems to think for a long moment before taking a drink. “I dare say that I shouldn't need to tell you this, my boy, but do be careful up there. If those men really did get scared off, there must be some reason for it,” he warns, “Maybe they're just the superstitious type around here, and they're getting worked up about nothing. But maybe not.” “I'll be careful,” you assure him, “I'd like to speak with the prisoner as well, if we've got the time.” Master Brehm doesn't reply to this straight away, and even when he does answer it's just with a shrug. Taking that as your cue to leave, you quickly finish the last of your meal and ready yourself for the hike. Outside, one of the miners is waiting for you – to serve as a guide, apparently. Letting him lead the way, you find your thoughts creeping back to the watchtower. - “It's just in there,” the miner announces, pointing towards a narrow fissure in the rock, “But I'm not going in there. Took one look inside before, saw something on the wall in there. You're the expert here, they say, you can go first.” “Just wait here, then,” you agree, although you can't completely keep back a smile, “And get ready to run.” It's worth it, just to see the look on his face. The smile soon falls from your face as you squeeze into the dark cave and ready your pocket lantern. Just up ahead, the cave walls have been decorated with splashes of paint and swipes of chalk. Not exactly the kind of glyphs that you had been expecting, more like an attempt at art. A landscape, a sunset, a night sky that was alive with stars... Not just a random scattering of stars either, you notice. A constellation, the Silver Chariot, has been carefully sketched out amidst a sea of other stars. Taking charcoal and parchment from your pack, you sketch out a rough version of the landscape scene before moving on. Deeper inside the cave, you spot the first signs of recent life – a crumbled pile of bedding, stained and filthy. Other things too, further in. Remnants of some preserved food, and a number of empty glass vials that smell strongly of medicine. Some kind of analgesia, maybe. Chalked at the bottom of the wall, where it would be seen by anyone lying on the bed, is a line of shaky script written in a crude, ugly language. Aklo – the clawmark script of ancient heretics. You read it a few times, struggling to parse out the antique language until you're sure of the translation. “Have we no choice,” you whisper aloud, “But to burn it all to cinders?”[1/2]
>>5668744You sit for a while, considering the phrase. By itself, it doesn't mean anything to you – it doesn't seem like a quote from any text you've ever read. It feels more spontaneous than that, like a note you might leave yourself as a reminder of some trivial task. But to use the Aklo script for a commonplace thing like that! Whoever wrote that would have been educated, you reason, probably from the academy itself. Well educated, and very much interested in keeping their thoughts a secret. In the olden times, Aklo was used by scholars who threatened the orthodoxy of the time and wished for their writings to remain obscure. As a language itself, it was nearly wiped out – it reached the point where writing anything in Aklo was seen as a sign of guilt, and punished accordingly. And the words themselves – the mention of fire again, like so many other things you've seen lately. You move to shift the rancid bedding, looking for any other writing that it might conceal, but you find something else entirely. You find a Dho game, or a debased version of a Dho game at least. The wooden board has been crudely carved into shape, metal wire pressed into the wood to form the shape of the maze. The shape itself is abnormal, the path slashed out with sharp and abrupt angles that seem almost impossible to follow. A normal Dho game would be used as a tool of meditation, to open up the mind and peer into the spirit world. Safe enough for a trained student like yourself, but a risky thing for novices to play around with. At worst, it could invite possession – as Joel was possessed in Ravensheugh, and driven to mutilate himself. Could this be the same board? If so, it might grant a glimpse into the spirit that caused that gruesome incident. A chance to learn more, perhaps, but...>Play the Dho game>Leave, but bring the game back>Destroy the Dho game>Other
>>5668754>Leave, but bring the game back
>>5668754>Play the Dho gameSafe enough for our expert skillz
You've played a Dho game before, true, but not like this one. There are better men for a task like this, and you're not too proud to admit that. You'll bring the game back to the academy, and then it can be given a proper examination. For now, you push down your curiosity and tuck the malformed thing under your arm. Maybe you're imagining things, but even the wood feels unpleasant – soft and almost spongy, like it was rotting from within. Giving the cave one last look over, you squeeze back out into the morning light and give a nod to the miner. With an obvious sigh of relief, he turns to lead you back into town. “Say,” you ask him as you walk, “Do you know much about the stars?” The miner hesitates, as if you were trying to trick him somehow. “A little,” he offers at last, his voice guarded, “Not as much as a scholar like you, I expect.” “The Silver Chariot. The constellation,” you continue, “That rises to prominence in midwinter, doesn't it?” He thinks again. “I think so,” he says slowly, “Midwinter. That sounds about right. Not for a few months yet, if you were hoping to catch a good look of it.” Then you've got a few months left, you think to yourself, a few months to figure out the next move.- “By all the gods and spirits, that thing is ugly!” Master Brehm remarks, peering down at the malformed Dho game with disgust, “You didn't try playing that thing, did you?” “No, I didn't,” you assure him. “You didn't THINK about playing it, did you?” he presses, frowning hard at you. “No. I mean, of course I didn't,” you lie, handing the board over. Master Brehm takes it with distaste, listening as you tell him the rest of what you found in the cave. “Aklo script – that has to narrow things down, right?” you ask, “There can't be many people around who know how to write that stuff, and most of them-” Master Brehm holds up a hand to silence you, glancing meaningfully at the workers milling around nearby. “You wanted to speak with Siddal, didn't you?” he asks, pointedly changing the subject, “We've got time, if you hurry about it. He might not be so talkative when we get back to the academy – it has that effect on people. But here, alone... Just don't let him rile you up. He's not worth losing your temper over.” Nodding your thanks, you hurry over to the town hall. The jail, or what passes for it, is a small shack behind the larger building. It doesn't exactly look the most secure place in the land, but it would serve well enough for a few miserable drunks or self-pitying rogues. It seems to be holding Siddal too, at least. The guard at the door steps aside as you approach, opening the door for you and stepping well back.[1/2]
>>5668754>play the Dho boardNothing ventured, nothing gained
>>5668790Whoever was in charge of restraining Siddal, they weren't messing around. The man's hands have been bound tightly at the wrist, his thumbs bound separately to prevent him from forming even the most rudimentary of arcane gesture. Even at a glance, you can tell that it's a wasted effort – he's not going to be pulling any kind of crafty tricks in here. He looks dull, defeated and exhausted. “You're the one who killed Booker,” he says suddenly, looking you up and down. You have to fight back a flinch at this. His is low and flat, toneless, but the words feel like a vicious accusation. “That's correct,” you answer simply, keeping your face blank as you sit opposite him. A second chain runs from his wrists to an iron ring set in the floor, keeping him from moving far at all. Even so, you feel oddly vulnerable to be sitting so close to him. “Booker was your leader, wasn't he?” you continue, “He did all the thinking. You just followed his orders... right?” “Booker said-” Siddal starts, only to cut his words short. Slumping back in his chair, as best as he can given his bonds, he gives you a sullen look. You wait a moment to see if he's going to say anything else, but he maintains his stubborn silence. You're not going to get much out of him like this – you need to get him to open up somehow. Leaning forwards slightly, you consider your approach.>Threaten him. He has no idea how bad things could get if he doesn't cooperate>Reason with him. If he explains what really happened, you might be able to argue in his favour>Sympathise with him. You know what it's like to be caught up in a bad situation, and he needs all the help he can get>Leave. This is pointless>Other
>>5668802>Sympathise with him. You know what it's like to be caught up in a bad situation, and he needs all the help he can get
>>5668802>Sympathise with him. You know what it's like to be caught up in a bad situation, and he needs all the help he can get.Good cop might be the most productive approach here
>>5668802>Sympathise with him. You know what it's like to be caught up in a bad situation, and he needs all the help he can getWe all know that Brehms will default to bad cop if he talks to this guy.
>>5668802>>Threaten him. He has no idea how bad things could get if he doesn't cooperate
“You're in a bad place right now, Siddal. That's your name isn't it? Siddal?” you begin, softening your voice as you idly look away, “You've been caught up in a bad situation, that's all. I know how that feels.” “You don't know shit,” Siddal spits. It's not much, but at least you've got him to open his mouth. Turning your full attention back to him, you lean a little closer. “I know exactly what it's like to find yourself sitting in a cell like this,” you insist, borrowing a little of Nicholas' experiences to lend weight to your words, “It hasn't sunk in yet, has it? It doesn't feel quite real yet. It takes some time, but you don't have time to waste. You need all the help you can get, and you need it now – not later.” He scowls at you for a moment, but he doesn't curse you out again. Better and better. “So what?” he mutters, “You're going to help me out of here, is that it?” “We can help each other,” you correct him, “Help me to understand, Siddal. We just want to understand what happened here. Booker told you something, didn't he? Something that brought you up to that hill, that bonfire.” Siddal looks long and hard at you, cogs turning in his head as he considers your words. Then, with the slightest of shrugs – the most that his bonds will allow – he begins to speak. “We just wanted to know,” he begins, a weary defiance in his voice. “Know what?” “Know the truth,” he explains, shaking his head slightly, “We just wanted to know how things really are. Booker said that the world was bigger than all this, bigger and better, but it was all hidden from folks like us. That's what the Veil really does, it just keeps the little folk from knowing what the world is really like. You can't explain it, Booker said, you can only see it for yourself.” How convenient. “And that's what you were doing on that hill,” you state quietly, “You were calling up a spirit that would show you the truth.” “It would guide us, show us the way...” Siddal draws in a shuddering gasp of air, “All we had to do was repeat the words Booker told us, and do what he did. I didn't understand none of that stuff, I just... I know there's got to be something more than this! Breaking rocks and felling trees all day while the folk like you-” A sudden silence, sharp as any blade. “Folk like me,” you prod, “What about folk like me?” “You all just laugh,” he hisses, “Because you know something we don't. Something we live our wholes lives searching for, never finding. And you and your Accord, you just hide it from us. Well, maybe we SHOULD burn it all down!” “And do you really think that's going to make things any better?” you ask softly, meeting Siddal's reddened eyes. “I... I don't know!” he splutters, thrashing at his chains in a sudden burst of energy, “But what have I got to lose, huh?”
>>5668842Neither of you says anything for a long moment. You've got questions that you want to ask, but you hold your tongue and leave Siddal to sweat. His burst of energy is short-lived, and he soon slumps back again. “Man, I never had a chance, huh?” he says at last, “None of us do. Not if we stick with a “good” life, not if we try and fight back against it. We just get hammered down all the same.” “Booker lied to you, you know. There isn't some great truth hidden behind the Veil. I've seen beyond it, and it's nothing that you want to go searching out,” you tell him, “But-” “Yeah, yeah. I knew you'd say that. Booker said people like you always say that,” Siddal grumbles, although he doesn't sound fully convinced, “I don't even care, man. No matter what I say, it's not going to change anything. Just leave me alone, would you?” He's about at his limit, you sense. He's had his little outburst, and now a more cautious mood is creeping in to silence him. You might be able to squeeze a few last answers out of him, but even that might be pushing things.>Leave Siddal alone>Try some last questions... (Write in)>Other
>>5668855>Try some last questions... (Write in)Booker's home was ransacked, probably by your missing friend. Any idea what was taken?
“Booker's home was ransacked last night. Probably by your missing friend. We're all wondering why they would go to all that trouble,” you ask, your voice firm but quiet, “Have you got any idea what they might have taken?” Siddal looks at you with weary irritation, shaking his head slightly. “Don't know,” he mutters, “Booker had lots of... uh...” “Books?” “Yeah. Books. We used to poke fun at him for that. Booker and his books. I don't know, he was really precious about them – wouldn't let anyone poke around in his place, even us,” Siddal recalls, his mouth twisting into a grimace at some unspoken, unpleasant memory, “But if anyone DID break in, I don't know what good it would do them. They wouldn't know what to take. Although...” A pause. “There was one book he mentioned. He was real proud of finding it, said it was as rare as any book can be. Expensive too, although I never figured out where he got the money for it,” Siddal furrows his brow, “Something about folk tales, he said, although he acted like it was far more than that. Like his whole life depended on it.” Folk Tales of Inner Marusia. You're sure that must be it – the book mentioned in Machen's letters, the book hinting at the wild healer of Ravensheugh. A rare book, and now it might be out there rotting in some ditch. It's like a bad joke. Finally allowing yourself a scowl of frustration, you start to get up before Siddal calls out to you. “Hey!” he calls, his eyes flashing wide, “Hey wait! You said we'd help each other!” “I'll put in a good word,” you reply, leaving him to his cell. - Master Brehm listens to your report in silence, mulling over Siddal's words with a grim look as the carriage rattles away from Greyridge. “Hm,” he mutters at last, when you're finished telling your tale, “I've heard that before. Some grand story about a hidden truth, something that the common man isn't allowed to know. A common enough lie, and sadly quite effective at luring in the easily duped. Not just fools either – even scholars and powerful men can be lured in with the promise of a secret.” “I know something you don't know,” you remark, “One of the most powerful phrases in existence.” “Exactly so, my boy, exactly so. And even if there was some grand truth, well... maybe it's been hidden for a good reason,” the old man laughs, “I'm old enough to prefer it that way. Life is complicated enough for me, thank you very much!” “But you see how men like Siddal allow themselves to be used, lured in by these sweet promises,” he adds after a long pause, “A man like Master Rosenthal might argue that men like Siddal are innocent – victims, essentially, or at least unwilling participants in the crime. That kind of laxity will be the death of us, Lucas. It would be the first of countless cuts that would bleed us dry. So you see, justice must be carried out – swiftly, and without mercy.”
>>5668887 The carriage ride is long and awkward. You were constantly reminded that Siddal was riding with you, secreted away in a locked compartment behind the main body of the carriage. You've seen the compartment before on the academy carriages, but never asked what it was for. Luggage, had been your assumption. In a way, that isn't so far from the truth. Master Brehm assured you that Siddal wouldn't be able to hear anything, but you're not so sure. So whenever the old man starts talking about justice or punishment... You're able to sleep after a while, thankfully, and you don't dream of anything. By the time you wake up, the carriage is just starting to rattle up to the academy. For whatever it's worth, you're home.- Persephone and Johannes are busy with a game of Kingmaker when you arrive back at the dorm, both staring at the board with intense concentration. “Lucas, come over here and take a look at this,” Persephone calls out, not even looking up at the sound of your return, “Look at this and tell Master Stubborn over here that he can't win.” Sighing inwardly, you look at the pieces scattered across the board. “I have no idea what I'm looking at,” you admit after a while, “You know I'm terrible at this game.” “Yes, I KNOW that. But it should be obvious, even for you!” she rolls her eyes, “I'm trying to convince our dear friend to just concede and save us all the time, but he won't do it!” “Technically speaking, I'm still in the game,” Johannes warns, nudging one of his pieces across the board, “Victory is unlikely, yes, but not impossible. So no, I'm not going to just let you win. If you want to win, you're going to have to put in the hard work. You ARE familiar with the concept, aren't you?” “She knows enough about it to know she doesn't like it,” you remark. “Exactly!” Persephone agrees, moving one of her pieces with a flourish and clapping her hands together lightly, “So really, you're just being incredibly selfish by making me do this. Selfish, heartless, and-” This could go on all night. “Excuse me,” you interrupt, “Isn't anyone going to ask how MY day was?” “Later. This is important,” Johannes rumbles, staring hard at the board as he plans out the best way to delay the inevitable, “This is a matter of principle.” “First hard work and now principles? Those are two of my least favourite things!” Persephone groans, giving you a pleading look, “Talk some sense into him, won't you?”>Persephone's right. This is just wasting everyone's time>Johannes' right. You need to see this through to the end>You're both stupid, this game is stupid, and I'm stupid for humouring you>Other
>>5668909>Persephone's right. This is just wasting everyone's timeWouldn't you rather just start a new game fresh with what you learned from this last one instead of drawing out a defeat?
>>5668909>>Persephone's right. This is just wasting everyone's timeGotta learn how to take the L and try again homie. Watch the guy equate this Exorcist work and lecture about self discipline or something
“Persephone's right. This is just wasting everyone's time,” you point out, “Look, isn't it better to take what you've learned this time and try again later? Start from a clean slate instead of dragging this defeat out?” “Exactly, exactly. You see? Lucas knows what he's talking about – that's why he got promoted,” Persephone nods eagerly, reaching across and knocking Johannes' king over, “And have I mentioned how delightful it is to hear you say that, Lucas?” “Say... what?” you ask, almost afraid of what her answer is going to be. Seething quietly to himself, Johannes packs his remaining pieces away and stomps away to his room. “That I'm right,” she purrs, watching her opponent retreat. Patting the chair opposite her as an invitation, Persephone leans casually back and studies her fingernails. “So, how was it?” she adds, “Your day, I mean. Since it's so terribly important that it had to interrupt our game.” “Interrupt! But you-” you begin, only to give up with a sigh. Some fights, you know you can't win. “My day was fine. We saved the day, in fact. I, um, I shot someone,” you pause, not quite sure why you just said that, “In the throat.” “Nice shot. Clarissa would be proud,” Persephone nods slowly to herself, “You know, the word on the street is that she's going to be promoted soon. So you'd better make the most of your time being special here. Oh, and there was a particularly unkempt girl here asking after you, but she didn't say what it was about.” That... sounds like Cloranthy. Maybe she found a copy of Folk Tales and wanted to tell you. She'll probably be in the archives, but- “Lucas?” Persephone asks, her voice softening, “Did you really shoot someone?” “...I did,” you reply, nodding slowly, “He was leading some kind of rite, calling up some kind of spirit. I told him to stop, told him to back down, but he wouldn't do it. He made a move, like he was going to call up another spirit, and I just... shot him. I didn't really have time to think about it.” She considers this in silence for a moment, her pale eyes gleaming straight into you. “I see,” she murmurs, “But... the throat?” “I wasn't aiming for his throat!” you snap, letting out a groan of disgust as she laughs. Just for a moment, just for one single moment, it seemed like she was taking this seriously. But of course not. You're about to lay into her for real, but then she holds up a single slender finger and lets out a soft gasp of surprise. “I forgot! We might be getting a new member of the team soon!” she announces, “Isn't that exciting? I just finished moving some of my things into the spare room, and now I'll have to move them back out again. You'll help me with that, right?”This woman is impossible.[1/2]
>>5668950She's a little shit ain't she? And I mean that completely endearingly.
>>5668950“I saw a dead body once.” Persephone announces this, almost casually, as she's packing spare clothes into a case. You look up from the box you had been about to carry out, waiting for her to say something more. But she doesn't. She doesn't say anything after that, just staring down at the pile before going back to her work folding clothes. You don't know much about Persephone, about her life before coming to the academy. She never mentions any family or sends any letters home, but that isn't uncommon around here. The few things that she has mentioned about her previous life have usually been exaggerated or contradictory, things that you've never paid much attention to. This feels different, though, this feels... real. “Anyway, I've got it from here. I can finish off the last of this,” she declares, looking up from her spare clothes, “Thanks for being a sweetheart, Lucas!” You look back at the stack of boxes in confusion. “I haven't actually done anything yet,” you point out, “I don't even know how you talked me into helping you in the first place.” “That doesn't matter. Don't get so hung up on the little details. You have my undying gratitude, and that's the important thing,” Persephone tells you, coming over and giving you the slightest hint of a kiss on the cheek – her lips barely brushing against you before she pushes you a step back. “Now go on, go and save the day or whatever it is you do around here!” she scolds, “I've got to pack my unmentionables, and I shan't be doing THAT with an audience!” Still struggling to catch up with the conversation, you simply leave with a sigh and a shrug.- Later, in the relative safety of your dorm, you sit and write notes about your recent investigations. You've got a few hints to go on, and Master Brehm might be able to dig up some more information about the rites that were taking place, but aside from that... it feels like things have come to a dead end. For now. Reaching into your pocket, you take out the sketch of the watchtower and smooth it out on your desk. “I'll be keeping my eyes out for you,” you murmur, pinning the sketch to your wall, “Just you wait and see.” Talking to a crumpled piece of paper. You've really reached a new low now, and this is only after two investigations. A whole lifetime of this work might explain a thing or two about Master Brehm. Soon enough, you might be getting a new member in the cohort – a newcomer to this strange life. Fresh meat for the grinder, maybe. Best of luck to them, then.>Okay, I'm going to take a quick pause here and pick things up tomorrow. It might be a shorter session, but I'll see how things go.>Thank you for reading along today!
>>5668989Thank you for running!
Sounds like breaking the veil is just a secondary task to the main goal.Might be some greater spirit who won't care about the veil once it's in full power, or an ongoing crisis or disease as a side effect from the veil. The modified dho might be an attempt to reach that greater problem without destroying the veil.The kicker is that these guys don't seem to care too much about dying. They're willing to give their lives and those of innocents, and for what?
“Lucas, my boy, this is Harriet Maxim. She's going to be joining us for a while,” Master Brehm announces, nodding to the young woman by his side, “We don't have enough cadets to form a new cohort yet, so I was asked to take her in for a while. Keep an eye on her while I run some errands, would you? I have complete confidence in you, Lucas!” With that, he pushes her a step forwards and marches out of the dorm. Harriet herself – a charming young woman in expensive clothes – looks around in a kind of daze before hurriedly bobbing her head in something like a bow. “Harriet please, just Harriet. I'm just... oh gosh, I'm excited to be here,” she begins, her words falling out in a rush, “I hope I'm not imposing!” “Not at all,” you assure her, hoping to calm her down a little. It's pretty rare to see someone joining the academy at her age, but not unheard of. “So, ah, tell me about yourself,” you add, hoping to find something to hang a conversation on, “What were you doing before this?” “Well, I was expecting to help with my father's business out west in Dacia, maybe even take over one day. He's in the silk trade, you see, and quite... um... successful,” she flushes a little, nervously tugging at the collar of her richly decorated blouse, “He didn't actually want me to come here, but I finally convinced him. Well, actually, I just told him I was doing it anyway. So, um, I might be disowned now? I don't actually know yet.” Oh dear. “Dacia, you say?” you repeat, catching onto the name of the wealthy port city, “Johannes is from Dacia as well, I think, I'm certain that he mentioned his parents working there. You'll meet him sooner or later, I'm sure.” “How delightful!” Harriet remarks, her eyes widening, “I wonder if I know his parents at all. I've met a lot of the families. You know, through the business.” “No, ah, I think they were... dock workers,” you explain awkwardly, “You probably didn't meet them.” “Oh,” a pause, “Probably not, then.”- Eager for the opportunity to escape, Harriet carries her suitcases into the spare room – her room, now – and busies herself with unpacking. You wait for her to finish, listening to the various crashes and yelps of alarm as you try to think if you own anything fragile. When she finally emerges with a sheepish grin, you gesture for the empty seat opposite you. “So,” you begin, spreading your hands in an expansive gesture, “What do you know about all this?” “All... this?” she repeats, looking at the dormitory around her, “Exorcist business, you mean. Well, um, I know about the Accord – people shouldn't mess around with the spirit world, basically, and spirits shouldn't mess around with our world. That way, everyone stays happy and business stays good. Close enough?” “Close enough,” you sigh. She's got a lot to learn.[1/2]
>>5669740As you talk with Harriet, you really start to notice how different it was for you. When you first came to the academy, you were scared – scared of what you were, scared of how large the world seemed all of a sudden, scared of... just scared, really. There was none of the giddy excitement that Harriet seems to feel, the same energy that threatens to bubble over at any minute. True enough, you were much younger than she is now when you were brought to the academy. Disagreements with her father aside, her arrival here also seems reasonably free from trauma. Between them, those two aspects could account for a lot. Even so, there's something that just doesn't feel right to you. Maybe this is some kind of test, something to teach you about handling a new novice – one day, you might have a cohort of your own to guide. That's a terrifying thought. You have enough trouble looking after yourself, let alone five apprentices. Where would you even start? The first thing Master Brehm did, when you were placed in his care, was to take you on a tour of the academy. A long, boring tour that only served to impress upon you the importance of your work. The sort of tour that would have given you good reason to abandon joining the academy, if only you had the choice. That... might not be the sort of thing she needs to hear right now, although it might help to calm her down a little. “The grand temple of Sheol is just down in the capital, isn't it?” Harriet asks suddenly, “I've heard that they've got a magnificent clock inside there, it's supposed to be bigger than a house!” “So they say,” you reply carefully. You've never actually been to the temple – it always seemed like a rather gloomy place, even by the capital's standards – but you've heard it mentioned now and then. It certainly brings in the tourists, although the temple prefers to call them “pilgrims”. “I'll have to visit it later,” Harriet muses, “Maybe when I get a day off, I can... hey, what are you laughing at?” “Sorry, sorry. It's just, you're not going to have many of those once your training begins properly. You'll have a lot to catch up on, starting this late. They're not going to be wasting any time on little things like days off,” you explain, smiling ruefully at her comment, “I hope you're ready for it.” “I'm not afraid of hard work!” she insists, slapping her hand on the table, “Just, um, does it have to be right this instant?” You shrug. “Don't look at me. I'm not the one who decides your training,” you explain, “I'm just looking after you for a bit, that's all.” “Oh,” Harriet pauses, “So what do you want to do, then?”>You should give Harriet the tour. It'll be a good start for her training>Cloranthy was looking for you earlier. You should visit the archives>You could take Harriet to the capital and see the grand temple of Sheol>Other
>>5669741>You could take Harriet to the capital and see the grand temple of SheolMight as well use the little free time you have now.
>>5669741>tell her about guardian spirits, along with checking on your own.She should know what it means when something is calling her by name
“Well, I was thinking of taking a stroll down to the capital. Maybe see some of the sights – I hear the grand temple of Sheol has a particularly interesting clock,” you answer, keeping your face blank and neutral, “You'll be okay on your own for a few hours, won't you?” “Aw, c'mon!” Harriet protests, “You're not-” “I'm not,” you assure her quickly, “Want to come with me? You might not have much free time from now on, so you should make the most of it while you can. Anyway, it'll be educational. Probably.” Grinning from ear to ear, Harriet leaps to her feet and practically drags you out of the dorm. Once outside, though, she slows down enough for you to take the lead and guide her through the academy hallways. The place can feel like a maze at times, even for someone with years of experience, so you hardly blame her for hanging back. Nodding greetings to the few familiar faces you pass on the way, you soon emerge into the morning light. “We've still got a decent walk before we reach the capital,” you warn, “Got anything you want to ask me about?” “I've got plenty of questions, don't you worry about that, but I'll save them for later. When we're doing the proper training stuff,” she replies, shaking her head and flashing you a quick grin, “This is still free time, remember?” “I'm just saying, we've got to pass the time somehow,” you explain, gesturing to the winding road leading into the city, “Tell me about yourself. I don't know, when did you get your first experience with the spirit world?” Harriet thinks to herself. “I don't really know,” she admits after a while, “There wasn't really some big special thing. I just heard things other people couldn't hear and talked to things they couldn't see. For a long time, my folks just thought I had an invisible friend. They only started taking it seriously when I was older, and... well, you know.” You consider this with a sudden wariness. If she was open to the spirit world from such a young age, she should have been brought to the academy for training. It's not safe for anyone, let alone a young child, to be walking around unprotected. Learning to close your inner eye was the first thing they taught you when you came to the academy. There's definitely something strange going on with her. “Did you even hear anything calling out to you?” you ask carefully, “Calling your name, I mean. Calling out to you in particular.” “I don't think so. Why?” Harriet tilts her head, giving you a curious look, “Was that what it was like for you?” “Not at first,” you reply, “Do you know about guardian spirits?” “I know a little. You get them in towns and stuff. Forests and mountains. I think my house even had one, but it's a super old house,” she explains in a flurry of rapid-fire words, “I mean, it's the oldest house in the city AND it was built on something even older. Pretty cool, huh?”
>>5669765“I don't really get it though,” she adds after a moment, “I mean, why is that allowed? If they're spirits, they should stay on their side of the fence, right?” “It's... complicated,” you answer, the question taking you by surprise. This is pretty basic stuff, even for someone outside the academy. “When you call up a spirit, you have to pierce through the Veil. It's forceful and it leave a lasting wound. That's why it's forbidden. But a guardian spirit doesn't pierce through the Veil like that. It's more subtle than that,” you continue, “It happens over time, years or even decades. Think of it like a farm – the people work the land for generations, all the while giving thanks to the land itself for their livelihood.” “Over time, the spirit world reacts. It hears those thanks, essentially, and a benevolent spirit is drawn to them. It's a long, slow process, but the spirit can be drawn into our world without damaging the Veil or breaching the terms of the Accord,” you finish, adding as a careful afterthought, “But people can have guardian spirits too.” “Really? That's cool!” Harriet hurries forwards a few paces, spinning around and looking you dead in the eye, “Can I have one?” She's acting like it's a new puppy or something. “It's not as easy as that. Nobody really knows what attracts a guardian spirit to a person. Not for sure, I mean – we'd be here all day if I told you about the theories,” you shrug again, “Anyway, I thought you didn't want to talk about work.” “Hmm, maybe. But it doesn't sound like work, listening to you explain it,” she remarks, smiling brightly at you, “Maybe it won't be so bad, if you're the one who'll be training me up.” Answering this with a non-committal murmur, you let Harriet rush off ahead towards the city limits. As she moves on ahead, you allow your inner eye to open ever so slightly. Immediately, the world takes on a ghostly hue as the spirit world spills out and overlaps it. The Veil is strong here, thankfully, but you soon hear an insistent whisper reaching out to you from the depths. There's certainly something out there that knows you, and Harriet herself... It's like a dark cloud is following the young woman, hanging thick and heavy around her head. It's so dense that it seems impossible for it to go unnoticed, and yet she skips ahead without a care in the world. If that's a guardian spirit, it's nothing like Persephone's ghostly companion. It's not trying to possess her either, or doing anything as far as you can tell. Just... following her. Slamming your inner eye shut, you hurry to catch up with her. Even with your eye closed, though, you just can't look at her the same way.[2/3]
>>5669786You've got to admit – it really is a big clock. Maybe not quite as big as a house, but certainly as tall as one. The intricate clockwork device ticks away the hours and minutes, all while boasting dozens upon dozens of articulated figures that endlessly turn the decorative cogs. The rest of the temple is equally impressive – a great wide dome of white marble – but the clock is the real attraction. “I heard that it represents Sheol himself,” Harriet whispers, leaning close in to you, “But I don't really get it.” “When a man dies, they say his soul goes to Sheol's machine where he works away his worldly burdens,” you whisper back, “His sins, his triumphs, everything that made him the man he was is worn away, and then the newly cleansed soul can be returned to the mortal world as a new life. That's why disturbing the dead is such a serious crime – it doesn't just breach the Accord, it goes against the order of life itself.” Harriet considers this for a long moment. “If it's true,” she replies softly, linking her arm with yours as the great clock sounds out the hour. A tiny brass door opens at the base of the clock, allowing a little marionette to glide free and – seemingly – escape the machine. The crowd cheers, although you don't share their joy. You just watch as the marionette trundles along its little track, circling back around into the machine.- “Well?” you ask, looking at Harriet through a veil of steam from your cup of tea, “Is it everything you thought it would be?” “Hmm? I don't know. I thought it would be...” she purses her lips as she thinks, “Different. It's hard to describe. I don't really know what I was expecting, or even what I hoped it would be, so why do I feel so disappointed?” “Don't worry,” you assure her with a wan smile, “I have that affect on people.” She laughs, the sound shockingly loud in the otherwise hushed temple, and slaps you lightly on the arm. “That's not it, don't be so silly. It's just... here we are, at the heart of Sheol's faith, and we're drinking tea in a charming little shop,” she explains, lowering her voice, “Out there, you've got people selling trinkets, charms, even toys for the children. I just thought it would be... different.” “Costs a lot of money to run a temple like this,” you suggest, “Those giant clocks can't be cheap.” “I know, I know. Actually, I don't know. Not really. There's a lot that I don't know,” Harriet smiles suddenly, her eyes flashing bright, “But that's okay, because I've got you to teach me!” That's... worrying. “I'm kidding, I'm kidding,” she adds with another laugh, “I know you've got your own stuff to do. Still, I appreciate you bringing me here today. I really mean that, Lucas. Do you want to head back? We probably shouldn't stay too long...>It's time to head back>Let's talk a little more... (Write in)>Other
>>5669802>Ask if Brehm or any of the instructors have taken a close look at youEh, it's not hard to spot it, they'll find out on their own.>It's time to head back
>>5669802>It's time to head back
“You're right, we probably should get back,” you agree, looking over at the giant clock – it might be ridiculously ornate, but it still serves to tell the time well enough. Harriet takes your arm again as you're leaving the grand temple, practically hugging herself against your side. Normally you wouldn't exactly complain about something like that, but you've seen the spirit following her around. It's like Master Brehm said. Some truths are hidden for a reason. “Tell me,” you ask as you walk through the city streets, “Have you spent much time with Master Brehm yet? Or any of the instructors, really?” “Hardly any time at all, actually,” Harriet gives you a curious look, “Why?” “When I first arrived, they wouldn't leave me alone. Kept checking me over, asking me all sorts of questions. Just trying to figure out what sort of boy I was, I suppose,” you lie quickly, “Just wondered if they'd done the same with you.” “Nope!” she laughs, “But you've certainly been asking me some strange things!”- Back at the academy, you find the whole cohort waiting for you – Master Brehm among them. “And just where have you two been?” the old man asks, although there's no anger in his voice. Quite the opposite, in fact. You almost want to defend yourself, to protest your innocent, just from the look he gives you. “Never mind that now,” he continues, before you have a chance to say anything, “Get some warm clothes on, both of you. We're going out.” “Out?” Harriet asks, “Out where?” “Just a little bit of mountaineering, nothing too strenuous,” Master Brehm replies, cracking his knuckles in grim anticipation, “They say that clean mountain air is good for your health, you know. Besides, I have a few errands I need to run with the monks.” “You still haven't explained why you need US for that,” Persephone points out, looking exceptionally unhappy about the coming expedition. But Master Brehm just answers her unspoken question with a hearty laugh.- The hermit monks have a strange relationship with your order and the academy. They represent a kind of offshoot, a different path that your order could have taken – a path of solitude and contemplation, mystical study instead of direct action. These days, they're viewed with an odd mix of reverence and contempt. Reverence, for the knowledge they have been able to obtain, and contempt for their reluctance to use that knowledge for anything. Judging by the misshapen parcel Master Brehm carries under one arm, you have an idea of why he wants to visit the monks. They have a mastery of the Dho games beyond anything found outside their mountain. Why bring everyone else along, though? You'll have plenty of time to think it over, at least.
>>5669833There's only one path to the top of the mountain – a long, winding stairway carved into the ancient rock itself. Just travelling to the mountaintop is an ordeal, one intended to focus the mind and purify the flesh. It also keeps away all but the most determined visitor, which probably suits the aloof monks fine enough. Shivering at a gust of cold mountain air, you hurry ahead to catch up with Master Brehm. “We need to talk,” you murmur to him, glancing back at Harriet, “About her.” “Of course,” the old man nods grimly, “You noticed, did you?” “I don't know what I noticed. But there's something strange about her,” you continue, “She knows too much to be a complete outsider, but nothing at all about other things. I don't get it. And she said she was young when she first saw into the spirit world, but-” “We suspect that she's had... training,” Master Brehm explains carefully, “Not academy training. Something new. We're all very interested to find out exactly what, and where she got it from. Bought and paid for by her father, I suspect, but wealthy men have a way of buying silence along with their services. Did she mention anything at all?” You start to shake your head, only to pause. “Only that her father didn't want her to come here,” you offer, “There was a disagreement about that, apparently.” “Hrm,” he grunts to himself, lurching over a particularly crude step. It's hard going for him, the path to the mountaintop, but he's taking care not to show any sign of weakness. “The spirit world knows her,” he adds, “It's drawn to her. I'd like to know why.” “So that's why we're taking this miserable hike,” you guess, “Although I don't see why-” “What's the matter, scared of a little hard work? Kids these days, no stamina at all! A good bit of exercise will teach you some discipline, stop you all getting soft!” Master Brehm laughs aloud, causing the others to look around in surprise. “Besides,” he continues, lowering his voice to a low murmur, “There's a man up there who might be able to help you. You're still hearing it, aren't you?” The guardian spirit. You nod slowly. “I told you we'd look into it,” he assures you, “And here we are. Our answers are just one staircase away.” One long, miserable staircase away.- You're not sure how long you're walking for. Time starts to lose all meaning on a mountain like this, all sense of the outside world fading away until the stone steps before you are all that matter. Eventually, as the snow is starting to pile up around you, you arrive at the final few steps. The monastery itself looks more like a fortress, the grey stone cold and unwelcoming, but the vast door grinds open as you approach. “Best behaviour now,” Master Brehm warns, “Don't embarrass me in front of the monks!” Something else, beneath the humour. Nervousness?[2/3]
>>5669845Your first thought upon seeing the monk is that of some terrible, wasting sickness. He's too thin for any kind of good health, his skin drawn tight over bone and his eyes half-open in their sunken sockets. He doesn't seem to notice the cold either, his slender frame draped in a simple robe of thin yellow cloth. But his grip is firm when he shakes your hand, and his voice is steady when he introduces himself. “I am Roerich,” he says simply, “My brothers are deep in their meditations, so I shall attend to you all. Please excuse them, no disrespect is intended.” “None taken, I assure you,” Master Brehm assures the man, following as the monk gives a serene gesture. He leads you through the grey stone hallway until you emerge in a wider chamber. The floor has been set with a complex pattern of raised tiles like some enormous Dho game, while a cold wind blows in from openings in the stone. “Please, I invite you to stay. Contemplate the wider world – I'm told that the view is quite magnificent,” the monk says softly, before touching you lightly on the arm, “Young Master Hearne. A word, please?” “I am told that you are known to the other world. It calls out to you, but you have not yet answered,” Roerich whispers, “We will assist you with that, but it can be a difficult process. It may be hard, you may see things that are fearful to you, but you must not shy away from them. You will emerge stronger, in harmony with the other world.” Swallowing heavily, you glance back at the others. They crowd by the openings, gazing out across the jagged mountains below. Suddenly, you wish you were there with them. “What...” you rasp, “What's going to happen to me?” “You must cast your mind into the other world, to find that which is calling out to you. But you need not do it alone,” Roerich murmurs, “In fact, it is often better not to. One of your companions can join you. Just one – a duo is harmonious, but more than that would bring disorder to the other world.” “Who-” you begin, although Roerich silences you with a shake of his head. “I cannot answer this for you. I do not know you, Young Master Hearne, or your friends. But I would say, bring someone you trust. They may catch a glimpse of your inner heart, and you may catch a glimpse of theirs. It can be an intimate thing,” the monk explains, “But the choice is yours and yours alone.” You look back to your cohort. Clarissa peers out across the mountains with a cold concentration, while Harriet chatters eagerly away to anyone who listens. Johannes seems more interested in the monastery itself, the carvings cut deep into the ancient stone, while Persephone remains apart from them all, aloof. You're fairly sure that any of them would join you, if you asked, but who should you choose?>You'll take the rite alone>You won't take the rite>You'll take the rite with... (Write in)>Other
>>5669856>You'll take the rite with... (Write in)Clarissa.Figure she hasn't had the most recent screentime compared to the other two (and I don't really care about Johannes). And hey maybe it'll help her awaken to her own spirit.
>>5669856>You'll take the rite with... (Write in)Clarissa
>>5669856>take it aloneNone can see inside our heart
>>5669856>You'll take the rite with... (Write in)Persephone. She already has her own guardian spirit, so she should be able to help us find ours
>>5669856>Clarissashe might see something about Ixtab on the way
You need someone solid, someone reliable, and that brings one name to mind straight away. Murmuring an apology with the withered monk, you cross the wide chamber and approach Clarissa. She tenses slightly as she senses your approach, but says nothing. You just stand together for a while, looking out across the mountains. “Some view, huh?” you begin, just to break the silence. “Some view,” Clarissa agrees, looking around, “Sorry I wasn't able to welcome you back, earlier. I was working on an assignment from Master Brehm, and I lost track of time. It was actually quite fascinating – he asked me to prepare a report-” “On the military potential for spirits,” you finish for her, “Purely defensive, of course.” Her eyes narrow with suspicion. “Did he ask you to help with it?” she asks, a note of irritation creeping into his voice, “I told him that I didn't need or want any help, so he can-” “Nothing like that,” you assure her quickly, “He just mentioned it earlier, that's all. Anyway, that's not what I was meaning to talk to you about – I need your help with something. I need you to watch my back, okay? There's this ritual, you see, and-” “Done,” Clarissa interrupts, “I'm ready when you are. Just say the word.” That was easy. You weren't expecting her to put up much of a fight, but you thought you might need to convince her a little. Giving her a grateful smile, you return to Roerich. “We're ready. As ready as I can be, at least,” you tell him, “So what happens next?” “Follow,” the monk whispers, leading you both from the chamber. You drift through the halls for a while, climbing higher and higher until you arrive at a stout doorway. You can hear whispering, you realise, the Veil must be thin here. Clarissa gives you a reassuring nod as Roerich opens the door, opening the way ahead. The chamber within is smaller than you expected, and thick with a luminous mist. You can see flickering shapes in the mist, distorted faces and images that swim away whenever you try to get a closer look. Lingering at the threshold, Roerich gestures for you both to enter the chamber before slowly pushing the door closed. “Wow,” Clarissa murmurs to herself, swaying from side to side as she tries to take a step forwards. Lurching like a pair of drunks, you make your way to the centre of the room and sit down within a carved stone ring. So close that your foreheads could touch with ease, you lock eyes with Clarissa. “Last chance to back out,” she whispers, her voice low and solemn. “Shouldn't I be the one saying that to you?” you ask back, “Although I know what the answer would be.” “Not a chance,” she confirms, closing her eyes. You close yours too, allowing your inner eye to open wide, wider than it ever has been before. The eye opens into a doorway, and you both step through.
>>5669883There's a bell tolling somewhere, a bell that calls the faithful and the faithless alike. Your eyes fly open at the sound of it, a sudden nausea washing over you at the familiar sight of your childhood home. It's been so long since you were here, but it's like you never left. Panic threatens to engulf you, but then you feel a heavy weight on your shoulder. “Hang in there,” Clarissa says grimly, squeezing your shoulder before reaching down and fumbling for your hand. Clinging to each other for safety, you lead Clarissa out from your old bedroom and down the stairs. Outside, the bell has been joined by the rumble of crude drums hammering out a beat. Beneath that, a low moan of countless dismayed voices. A thick mist has descended over the whole of the village, the air heavy with the stench of burning herbs. The mist is thick enough that the people surrounding you are little more than distorted silhouettes, wavering streaks of darkness that fade out completely at even the slightest distance. The priest and their sacrifice are the only ones clearly seen, but you dearly wish that was not so. A hunched giant in filthy pelts and a horned skull for a mask, the priest slouches through the village and strikes out with their sickle at random. They drag their sacrifice behind them on a long rope, dragging the wriggling bundle through the dirt with callous cruelty. But it's not the beast that you know it should be, that you know it really was. A beast would not have a familiar face, with pleading eyes and trembling lips. A beast would not have Nicholas' face. This time, you're the one who holds Clarissa firm. She wavers, very nearly stepping back from the grim scene approaching, but you squeeze her hand tight enough for the pain to cut through the terror. Even so, you can't stop her turning away as the priest swipes their sickle down and the blood gushes free. The murmurs of dismay that surround you sharpen, screaming now, but even their noise won't be enough to drown out the words of the priest. You know what happens next. You REMEMBER what happens next. You break. You flee back into the safety of your home and hide out the last of this terrible night. The priest will be gone by morning, but you'll be changed from the experience. Your eyes were opened that night, and you've been keeping them closed ever since. You never heard what the priest said that night, but now – despite every fibre of your being urging otherwise – you stay to listen. “Your hands will be soaked with blood when all of this is over,” the priest warns, their words seeming to imprint themselves upon your heart. Letting their sickle drop to the ground, the priest places their hands upon your face and smears the hot, sticky blood over you. It drips heavily down you until it covers your eyes, blacking out the scene completely.And in the blackness, you hear the voice.[2/3]
>>5669895“Lucas, my boy. My dear, dear boy,” the voice sighs out, painfully familiar and yet utterly alien at the same time. You claw at the thick blood coating your eyes, suddenly desperate for any glimpse of the speaker. The blood peels away like a second skin, like some cloying membrane, but when your eyes are finally able to open the speaker is nowhere to be seen. Neither is the village, the priest, any of it. You're sitting in a lecture theatre, back in the academy. Row after row of chairs is filled with an intangible floating form, the scratchy silhouette of a person and nothing more. At the head of the lecture theatre, a rotting corpse presents the lesson itself. “The five aspects of man,” Master Brehm's cadaver rasps, tapping the chalkboard with his cane, “Strength, Knowledge, and the Rule of Law. You know these, Lucas, the pillars of our order. But also Mercy, which we have rejected, and Community, which has rejected us. What else?” “I don't know,” you stammer, the question taking you by surprise. But you remember this too, from your first few days at the academy. It's just so hard to think... “You KNOW this,” the rotting corpse howls, “The five aspects of man, and the three aspects of the unseen world. Name them. NAME them.” “Death,” Nicholas says, the words gurgling from his slit throat, “Embodied by Sheol, great spirit of the dead. Served by his Psychopomps, the spirits that guard over the dead and await all life.” “Essence,” Clarissa continues, strips of charred and blackened skin peeling away from her burning body, “The purest element of spirit itself, served by the inhuman Elementals.” “And Atavism,” Persephone whispers, the words barely seeping from her torn, ravaged body, “The spirits of the beasts and the trees, which ruled before men came to be and will rule after men have vanished.” “The three aspects of spirit,” the voice – which had once been Master Brehm but was now a formless mass of shadow – announces. “I am the one who has been calling out to me. I am the one you have been calling out to. I offer you a union, and the harmony that a union provides,” the spirit continues, “You need only say my name.” You can feel it, the word hanging just on the tip of your tongue. The name is...>Death>Essence>Atavism
“I know you, as I know myself,” you say, the words seeming to writhe and take shape in the fog-thick air around you, “I name you as Essence, the purest aspect of spirit itself.” “Know yourself!” the spirit howls back, the churning black mass contracting for a second before a bright spark of life flares within the dense core. With a roar of light, of heat, the spirit blossoms out into a raging ball of fire that swells through the lecture hall. You feel a sudden terror, the sense of making some terrible mistake, before the flames wash over you. No pain, somehow, but the nagging whisper at the back of your mind is burned away in an instant. In its place, you hear a more familiar voice calling out your name. “Lucas? Lucas! Are you in there!” Clarissa cries, “You're going too far, you need to come back. Follow my voice!” Like you're moving through syrup, you turn away from the beautiful destruction of the fire and look back to the closed door. It shakes slightly, as if someone was pounding on it from the other side. Fighting against some terrible gravity, you slog towards the door and rattle at the handle. It moves, but only slightly. Tugging harder at the door to no avail, you feel a new heat begin to swell behind you. This time, it's a killing heat – the dispassionate flame that burns the guilty and the innocent alike. Fear chokes you, but it also lends you strength. Drawing back, you hurl yourself at the door and feel it buckle beneath you. Again you throw yourself at the door, and this time it burst open to send you flying into-- Into a bedroom. Not your bedroom, certainly not. Your bedroom would never be so richly decorated, so filled with fine and expensive trinkets. It's a girls' bedroom, no doubt, and the girl herself is standing frozen in front of you. Clarissa looks pale, sickly, but nevertheless relieved to see you. She moves forwards and reaches out, almost to throw her arms around you in a tight hug, but something stops her. She grabs your arms instead, her grip tight enough to shoot two bars of pain up your body. “You had me worried sick!” she hisses, shaking you a little for good measure, “Don't you EVER do that to me again!” “I won't,” you assure her, “What-” “Shh!” she interrupts, gesturing furiously, “You can't let them know you're awake!” Blinking in confusion, you carefully pry yourself free from Clarissa's painful grasp and listen closely. True enough, you can hear sounds of life – voices and footsteps – from the floor below. Clarissa grimaces, gesturing for you to stay silent as she eases the bedroom door open ever so slightly. It's dark outside, but a warm golden light seeps up from below. It sounds like a party of some kind is going on below, but the sounds are too muffled to know for sure.
>>5669918Creeping out onto the balcony, you flinch back and drop low as a door crashes open, the noise of the party growing suddenly louder. Almost as soon as it began, the loud noise is snuffed out as the door closes tightly shut but the heavy thud of footsteps remains. A muffled laugh, the rustle of clothing, and then you hear a few words. “Can you imagine?” one voice – a woman's voice, shrill and wicked – calls out, “Two girls, AND one of them is a cripple! So much for the great General Lowe!” “The best he can hope for is marrying them off. Well, marrying ONE of them off at least. Might as well just get rid of the defective one, hope the older brat isn't somehow rotten as well,” the other voice – male, slurred and bitter – drawls, “And either way, there ends the family name. How very tragic.” The woman laughs giddily, and you hear something crash as she shambles through the floor below. You almost follow before glancing back to Clarissa, her face pale and childish as she peers through the door. You lock eyes for a second before she flinches, turns away from you and reaches for the door. You lunge forwards before she can close it completely, slipping into the darkened bedroom even as she scurries a few paces back away from you. “I remember this. I was... young. But not so young that I didn't understand what they were talking about,” Clarissa whispers, “My father had been promoted. We threw a party to celebrate. Those people down there, they were his colleagues – they were supposed to be his FRIENDS – and to hear them talking like that... Talking about him, talking about US...” Leaving that thought unfinished, she turns away completely even as you're reaching out to touch her shoulder. The moment you make contact, you feel a sudden wave of sadness roll over you as your mind fills with-[Nothing I ever do will be good enough none of these people are worth half of him or us or any of us they can all go and die and take their filthy stinking gossip with them but all this world really is is full of SHIT and it's all the same wherever you go whatever you do and I wish they would all just go-]- “Away!” Clarissa shouts, jolting up and away from you. You lurch back as well, so far back that you nearly hit your head against the stone wall behind you. You're... back. Back in the monastery, back in the real world. The thick mist still fills the air, but it's not thick enough for you to see the dreadful expression on Clarissa's face as she hurriedly gets to her feet and hammers at the sealed door. “We're done in here!” she shouts, still pounding at the door, “We're done! Can you hear me out there? Can you... I don't think there's anyone out there. Shit!” “Maybe...” you pause, “Maybe they got called away on... important monk business?” “Important. Monk. Business,” Clarissa repeats slowly, somehow making each word sound like a curse.[2/3]
>>5669944>“And either way, there ends the family name. How very tragic.”I assume marrying matrilineally isn't a thing or at least a very common thing in this setting.
>>5669944“Look, there's nothing we can do until they come and open this door up for us. You probably woke up half the monastery with that knocking, we just need to give them some time,” you urge, gesturing for her to calm down a little. You don't often see her get so rattled, but it's pretty understandable given the circumstances. With a disgusted look, Clarissa sits down on one side of the room and leans back against the wall. “I don't want to talk about it,” she says simply, without prompting, “So don't even ask.” “Okay,” you reply, just as simply, “I won't ask.” “I hate people like that. Two-faced people, saying one thing to your face and another behind your back. People who won't ever stand up for anything. They seethe in anger at your successes and cheer with joy at your failures, but they won't ever do it to your face,” she continues, slowly clenching and unclenching her fist, “I can't stand them.” “I thought you didn't want to talk about it,” you point out, listening carefully. Was that the sound of footsteps outside, or was it just your imagination? “I don't. I mean, I didn't. I don't know. This is so embarrassing,” Clarissa says, covering her face and letting out a low groan, “At least you've got some actual trauma. I just got... bitchy gossip and a shit party. Just do one thing for me, okay? Don't tell anyone else about this – especially Cloranthy. She doesn't know about any of this, and I don't... I don't want her to know.” You're about to reply to this, only for the rattle of the door to cut you short. It eases open to reveal Roerich's wizened face, his half-closed eyes peering through the mist. “I do apologise for the delay,” he rasps, “I'm afraid that I was discussing a matter of some significance with Master Brehm. He was quite insistent that we finish our discussion. I will, of course, convey your displeasure to him and-” “No no, that's fine,” Clarissa interrupts hastily, “I'm sure it was... important. Whatever it was.” “Oh yes, yes,” the monk whispers, with what might be the faintest hint of a smile on his bloodless face, “Important monk business.”>I'm going to pause things here for today, I think. I should be able to continue next Saturday>Thank you for reading and voting today!
>>5669970Thanks for running!
>>5669970Thanks for the run!
>>5669970Again, I dig the vibe that you’re creating here, Moloch. Great stuff
>>5669918Death would be more immediately useful, and perhaps be a clue to resolving the curious converts without actually doing any necromancy.Essence sounds like raw power, and we have a spirit gun. I hope MC doesn't end up being the one to break the Veil.
Holy shit moloch is back! I have read Northern Beast Quest 4 times best quest on this site hands down.
The giants move through the mountains, drifting blindly like clouds as they pass through solid rock and air alike. They have only the barest resemblance to human form – two arms, two legs, a blunt nub of a head – and seem utterly oblivious to the few traces of human life that they roam past. No different to how you might pass by an anthill without ever glancing down. You're seeing more of the spirit world than ever before, seeing across a vast gulf into places far detached from your familiar world. The spirit world, it's said, is not unlike an ocean – the deeper you go, the stranger things can get. What you're seeing now are the spirits of the mountains themselves, spirits that were ancient before men ever left the great forest. Just the thought is dizzying, like staring down from some tremendous height. You turn away from the window with a grimace, your connection with the spirit world breaking so suddenly that it leaves you light headed. The monk, Roerich, returns to the large chamber and slowly approaches the group. He looks sick, almost frail, gathering his yellow robes around himself as if finally feeling the cold. Without even so much as a glance at anyone else, he shuffles directly across to Master Brehm and clears his throat. “Honourable Master Brehm, I must protest most strongly at this... thing... that you have brought us,” he rasps, “Our hospitality has always been open to you, but even we have limits.” “Oh nonsense!” Master Brehm replies, his voice loud and goading, “It's just a game. What are you monks, if not the masters of games?” “Even we have limits,” the monk repeats, stepping away from Master Brehm and kneeling in the middle of an intricate carving. His wizened hands start to trace the familiar pattern, seeking comfort from the orderly lines and pathways. “That game is an aberration, a deformity of our most sacred arts,” he murmurs softly, speaking to no-one and everyone at once, “It brought me to a dark place, a very dangerous place. One of the deepest realms of the other world, a place for spirits who have never known flesh or the physical world.” “Dangerous, then,” the old man muses, giving you a sideways look. “Yes, Honourable Master Brehm. Dangerous,” Roerich sighs, “But you knew this already, and still you brought this game to us.” “You knew it was dangerous as soon as you looked at it,” Master Brehm counters, his words dripping with scorn, “But you still played it. Getting a little bored of the solitary life, are we? Looking for a little excitement to spice things up?” His question is met with a cold silence. Persephone watches the exchange with a grin, barely able to keep herself from laughing, even as Johannes stare aghast. Harriet just looks bewildered, searching for answers as she looks between the two men, while Clarissa remains aloof. On the surface, at least.[1/2]
>>5674071“I know exactly what kind of excitement you have down there, in the world below, and I am glad to have left it behind,” Roerich says slowly, his words strained, “Yet you insist on dragging it up here with you. Why?” “Because you're the only ones who might be able to do a damn thing about it!” Master Brehm shouts, his mocking jabs falling away to reveal the raw edge of anger, “But you don't, do you? You just sit on your damn mountain and watch as the world burns!” His words echo out through the monastery, seeming to repeat themselves over and over again – far more than any normal echo. Even Persephone looks unnerved by the sudden outburst, the mocking grin wiped from her face in an instant. Slowly, painfully, the monk drags himself upright and takes a shuffling step towards the exit. “You may consult our archives as you please,” he announces, without so much as looking at any of you, “And you may leave when it pleases you.” Nobody says anything until the monk has finally slipped away. Then, finally, Master Brehm draws in a deep breath and forces a smile. “Well, that's all I was looking for,” he announces, “I'm going to be in the archives for a bit. I have some research to do. Anyone who wishes to assist would be more than welcome, but I won't insist. But nobody leaves the monastery without my permission, do you understand? These mountains are treacherous ground, and I don't want anyone wandering off alone.” It would be terribly inconvenient for him, you reason, if anyone was to fall and break their neck. But it's not a good sign, seeing his temper revealing itself again like this. Something must have happened between the two of them – while you were away with Clarissa, perhaps. Before anyone can even think of asking, Master Brehm starts to head off towards the archives. You follow, unsure of what else to do. Lagging behind slightly, you step out into the hallway and catch a fleeting glimpse of yellow – the trailing end of Roerich's robe, just vanishing as he turns the corner. A trail of sorts, that you might be able to follow if you were so inclined. Before you can even think of that, you notice that your group is one short. Clarissa is still back in the main chamber, kneeling down by one of the ornate Dho games carved into the floor. You hesitate, glancing back between the archives and the monk's retreating back as you make your decision.>Follow after the monk Roerich>Visit the archives with Master Brehm and the others>Stay back in the main chamber with Clarissa>Other
>>5674073>>Stay back in the main chamber with Clarissa
>>5674073>Follow after the monk Roerichgotta play good cop
>>5674073>Follow after the monk Roerich
From what little you've seen of the monastery already, it seems like a maze to rival the academy itself. If you lose sight of Roerich now, you might never find him again – until, that is, he wanted to be found. Wincing at the rough sound of your boots clattering on the stone floor as you go, you hurry down the corridor after Roerich. Despite how slow he had been moving earlier, Roerich always seems to have the lead on you. No matter how quickly you're moving, he's always just ahead of you, just vanishing around the next corner. It's like a game he's playing with you, and just as you're getting sick of it the game comes to an end. One more corner, and then you come to a plain wooden door – a remarkably mundane thing to see in a place like this. Feeling vaguely foolish, you knock at the door and wait for a second. With a tired invitation from within, you ease the door open and look around the austere cell. With little more than a plain bed, a plain desk and a very plain writing desk, it's clear that Roerich doesn't think much for worldly pleasures. The monk himself sits at the desk, pinching the bridge of his nose as if warding off a migraine. “Ah,” he sighs, “A most unsightly display, I'm afraid. I apologise that you had to witness that.” “No, don't...” you begin, his immediate apology catching you off guard, “You're not the one who should be apologising. It's just...” “Your master has a great deal on his mind. A terrible burden on his shoulders, I would suspect. The same burden that I once felt, and it led me here,” Roerich murmurs, gesturing for you to come a little closer. You approach as he asks, but there's nowhere else to sit. “I was an instructor at the academy once, as well. I can well understand the stress he must endure,” the monk continues, “Enough to break the strongest of men.” And you've got all that to look forwards to. “It's getting worse,” you admit, the words slipping from your lips before you can stop them. Roerich nods. “So I am told. And yet the mountaintop remains unchanged. War, disaster, disorderly government... none of it matters here,” he muses wistfully, “It all remains the same, and our lives go on and on. Were it not for the sunrise and sunset, time itself might have ceased to exist up here. It is a way of life that few crave, but when that craving strikes... well, it cannot be satisfied any other way.” What else are you really supposed to say to that? Shifting your weight from one foot to the other, you wait to see if Roerich has anything else to add. “You, Young Master Hearne,” the monk asks suddenly, “You seem disturbed. A guardian spirit should be an omen for good, and yet you seem to dread what you have found here.” This takes you by surprise. It's a thought that you hadn't managed to find the words for, but Roerich seemed to read it straight from your heart. 
>>5674112 “Even we do not truly know what a guardian spirit is,” the monk thinks aloud, “There are theories. Oh yes, plenty of theories. Some suggest that spirits are drawn to great deeds. Great in terms of size and scale, I should say, not of wickedness or virtue.” “I don't know about that one,” you point out, “I haven't done anything particularly great.” “Not yet,” Roerich points out, “Time flows strangely in the other worlds. Imagine casting a stone into a pond – the ripples spread out, but not just in one direction. The spirits are drawn to these ripples, or perhaps are created by them, and sometimes they seek a return to the source. Your greatest deeds may yet lie ahead of you.” The image of a burning forest flashes through your mind, and you mutely shake your head. Denying the image, denying... yourself? “But that is only one theory,” the monk adds, dismissing the thought with an airy gesture, “Some say that the guardian spirit is, in fact, a part of yourself. A part of yourself that existed in the other world, only to be cut loose when the Veil was drawn. Ever since that day, men have lived incomplete lives – doomed to wander, constantly searching for something they do not understand. But, ah, I would be careful about suggesting that in the lands below. It might give people the wrong idea.” “Is that what you do all day, then?” you ask, trying not to sound bitter, “Think up these wild ideas?” “And talk endlessly amongst ourselves, even as the world below falls apart. Yes, that's exactly it,” Roerich's eyes crease slightly as he almost smiles, “We're guilty of all the sins that we're accused of. How could I deny it? Yet, deplorable as we surely are, we freely share our knowledge with those of the academy. You, who still hold a connection to the world below, are better suited to make use of it than we are.” You pause, thinking over his words. “So your archives, they're open to anyone from the academy?” you ask, “How often do you get visitors like us?” “Rarely, these days. Perhaps your own archives have grown to rival ours, or perhaps it's a matter of simple stubbornness. The last visitors we had were... a number of years ago, I believe,” Roerich closes his eyes, thinking back, “A cohort. That hasn't changed, has it? Five students with their instructor. Ah, but I barely spoke with the students. Their instructor was, hm, Master Lowry. Yes, that was it.” He thinks again, shaking his head after a time. “But they were not here long, and said little. They searched the archives and then left, apparently satisfied,” he recalls, “Since then, nothing.” Master Lowry. You'll have to check that name later, just to see if anything comes up. But for now...>Head back to the rest of the group>Before you go... (Write in)>Other
>>5674128>Head back to the rest of the group
“Well... we'll be leaving you in peace soon enough,” you tell Roerich, “I'm sorry about Master Brehm. Really. I'll try and-” “Leave him be. He has every right to be angry,” Roerich waves away your concern, “But... if I might have a moment more of your time? The girl. Young Mistress Lowe. Be watchful of her. Her mind goes to dark places, and attract dark things. Be watchful.” You consider this for a moment before nodding and taking your leave. Leaving the cell, you walk a short distance down the hallway before turning straight back into the main chamber. Staring at your surroundings in confusion, you start to turn back before someone calls your name. The rest of the cohort are just emerging from the archives, waving you over towards the exit. Time to return to the world below.- “All in all, a successful expedition,” Master Brehm muses as he trudges through the snow, “We've got some answers, my boy, and more questions on top of those. That's always the way of these things – every success leads to new challenges!” “I can't wait,” you mutter, “What did you find in the archives?” “Those glyphs from Ravensheugh. Those men were summoning up spirits in search of lost things – lost knowledge, probably,” the old man explains with a vague gesture, “What that knowledge actually WAS, though... that's our next mystery. Something lost, something that no longer exists in this world – don't ask me how we're going to figure THAT one out!” He laughs, but there's something forced about it. Before you can ask anything more, Persephone hurries over and slaps you roughly on the shoulder. “Never mind THAT,” she hisses, jabbing you again, “Where did YOU sneak off to? And not alone, I noticed!” “Don't get any funny ideas,” you warn, glancing back to where Clarissa trudges along in silence, “I was speaking with Roerich, that's all. He mentioned another instructor, Master Lowry. Do you know the name?” The question was directed at Master Brehm, but Persephone's eyes widen slightly before she lets out a brisk laugh and retreats to tease Johannes some more. “Master Lowry,” Master Brehm repeats, “I know the name, but not the man. Not personally, I should say. He died quite recently, I believe. Had an investigation up north which went sour. I'd have to check the details, though. Lowry was here?” “A few years ago, yes. I don't know if means anything, but he was the last visitor before us,” you shrug, “I thought you might know the name.” “I'll ask some questions,” the old man mutters, almost slipping on a patch of loose stones and barking out a curse, “Now let me concentrate a moment, will you?” You shrug again, stepping back and leaving Master Brehm to focus on the crumbling stone steps that unfurl before you. Until you arrive back at the academy, there's nothing you can do except keep walking and plan your next moves.
>>5674154should we bring up the folktales?
>>5674154“Here we are. Home sweet home,” Master Brehm announces, looking out at the academy, “And not a moment too soon. I need a stiff drink, a good sleep and then another stiff drink.” “I've been thinking. Not much else to do on those stairs,” you tell him, “This lost knowledge that the cultists are seeking. I think it all comes back to Ravensheugh, the healer there. They were looking for this book, you see...” Master Brehm listens as you explain about the folktales with growing interest. “A rare book, you say? If the archives here don't hold a copy, we might be able to reach out to private collectors,” he tugs at his moustache as he thinks, “Yes, I think that might be a good idea. I wonder...” But these last thoughts, he keeps to himself.- By the time you arrive back at the dorm, none of you are in the mood for talking. All you can do is collapse into bed and fall almost immediately into a deep, dreamless sleep. You're still exhausted by morning, your muscles aching with the strain of climbing so many stairs. Things only get worse as you emerge into the dorm itself, to be greeted by the smell of burning. “Don't ask,” Johannes growls, nodding over to the kitchen where Persephone is waging a one-woman war against breakfast. “Oh, good morning Lucas!” Persephone calls out in a singsong voice, “Now, I know what this looks like but you're wrong. You haven't said anything yet, but you're wrong. This isn't actually burnt, I just prefer my food this way! Clarissa always undercooks things, don't you think?” Anything you could say to that would be wrong, you assume, so you just shrug and collapse down into an empty chair. “What's wrong? You're not tired out from one little hike, are you?” Johannes remarks, giving you an unsympathetic look, “Too much time reading, not enough time getting out and about.” “Remind me, which one of us has been running about doing field work these past few days?” you snap back. He doesn't give you the satisfaction of arguing back, simply taking your point with a nod. “Whatever,” you mutter, “What's with her, anyway?” “I thought I told you not to ask,” Johannes sighs, “Well, short version is, the new girl offered to cook and things got territorial. I wish Nicholas was here – far less drama with him.” “Except for the you-know-what,” Persephone points out, setting a plate of cremated remains down in front of you, “I think that counts as drama, don't you?” “What drama?” Harriet asks, emerging from her room with a hairbrush in hand and a curious look on her face. “Oh nothing. Just talking about our friend who got executed,” Persephone explains, giving the other girl a sweet smile, “Cute hair, by the way. Have you ever tried wearing it up?” Harriet just turns pale before vanishing back into her room, although you're not sure if it's Persephone's crass words or the sight of the cooking that drives her away.
>>5674184The sound of a door pulls you out of your thoughts, and you glance around to see Clarissa leaving her room. She looks worse than you feel, with dark circles under her eyes from a lack of sleep. Immediately, her gaze is drawn to the kitchen and then the dining table. “You should have waited. I would have cooked,” she says in a flat voice, staring with open disgust at the charred mess on the table. “I didn't want to wake you,” Persephone points out, “And I'm perfectly capable of cooking a simple breakfast.” “We both know that's a lie,” Clarissa states bluntly, skulking over to the kitchen and getting to work. “Not a very good lie, either,” she adds, “You're losing your touch.” “Well someone got out the wrong side of the bed this morning,” Persephone sniffs, trying very hard to look offended. Instead, she just looks incredibly pleased with herself. Abandoning breakfast as a lost cause, Clarissa returns to the table and slumps down into an empty chair. “Sorry. I'm just tired,” she explains, although her apology is little more than a formality, “I need to finish this damn report for Master Brehm. It's almost done, but the last parts just aren't coming together.” “Oh gee, that's too bad,” Persephone remarks, “We were going to show Harriet around the academy today.” Clarissa looks up, studying the pale girl with weary eyes. “So?” she asks eventually. “So you'll have plenty of peace and quiet to get it done, obviously!” Persephone explains, nudging Johannes with a sharp elbow, “Isn't that right?” Johannes just looks up with a long-suffering expression and nods, his mouth full of half-chewed food. He looks like he'd rather do anything else, but the decision has apparently been made on his behalf. As for you...>Master Brehm will be at the archives, you could help with his research>You should join Persephone and Johannes in showing Harriet around>You could stay back and offer to help with Clarissa's report>Other
>>5674193>Show Harriet around
>>5674193>>You could stay back and offer to help with Clarissa's report
>>5674193>You could stay back and offer to help with Clarissa's reportSuggest she get a nap in afterwards
“If you're going to give her the ground tour, try and make sure it's at least slightly educational,” you warn, “Don't just find some excuse to skip out on the hard work.” “What kind of rogue do you take me for?” Persephone gasps, her eyes wide with mock horror, “I would never... oh, I can't be bothered with the rest. Imagine I just came up with a wonderful, eloquent excuse for skipping out on all the hard work, okay? You're a smart boy, Lucas, I'm sure you can think of something. Actually, we're not really taking her on a tour, we're just going to gossip about you behind your back!” “Have fun with that,” you remark drily, “I think I'm just going to have a lazy day in.”- When the others have left, you give Clarissa a tap on the shoulder. “This report of yours,” you ask, “How much do you have left to do?” “Not much at all. I've done all the research already, I just need to check for any mistakes and write up a summary. It's easy work, I should be able to do this in my sleep, but...” she sighs, shaking her head in irritation, “But it's just not coming together, like I said. I know what I need to write, it's just getting it down on paper.” “I don't know much about that part, but I can check it over. Let you focus on the last few pages,” you suggest, “So... the military application of spirits, wasn't it?” “Yes. And there aren't any. Nothing practical, at least,” Clarissa explains, “Setting aside the fact that it would be a massive breach of the Accord, there simply isn't anything that a spirit could do that an artillery piece couldn't do just as easily. Not the kind of spirits that anyone has any hope of calling down, that is, and even controlling THOSE is another matter. Call down a spirit of fire, and you're likely to burn your own people as much as the target. The whole idea is a massive waste of time and energy.” “So... write that,” you tell her, offering her a smile, “Maybe find a formal way of putting it, but that seems to summarise things pretty well.” Clarissa's eyes widen as she considers this, and then she lets out a loud groan of frustration. “You're right, I'm just overthinking this. It doesn't need to be anything fancy, just... wait here,” she urges, hurrying into her room before returning with a sheaf of papers, “This is what I've got for the main body. Just make sure I didn't make any stupid spelling mistakes, and I'll draft up the last part. This is it!” “Happy to help,” you reply, looking down at the dense text with a faint chill of fear. This doesn't look like the sort of thing that you can just skim through. “Lucas?” Clarissa says softly, looking up from her blank sheet of paper, “Thank you for this. I mean that.”[1/2]
>>5674221You spend about an hour together, with you reading over the bulk of the report as Clarissa writes the last few sections. Occasionally she reads a sentence aloud and glances up at you for an opinion. Sometimes you offer a different wording, often you just give a nod of approval. The pages she's already written are flawless, the handwriting so neat that it could have been machine printed and without a single error. “I get so worried about these things,” she mutters to herself when you mention this, “Even a single mistake, a single tiny error.” “You need to cut yourself some slack,” you point out, setting another perfect page aside. “I know. But I won't,” Clarissa glances up, giving you a tiny smile, “I have impossible standards for myself. Just be glad I don't try and force them on anyone else.” You're certainly glad of that, but you're also polite enough to keep that fact to yourself. With one last critical look, Clarissa sets her pen aside and pushes the page away. “There. Done,” she breathes, “I never want to look at another report again.” “Now go and take a nap or something, you look like you're about to faint,” you urge, taking the last page away from her and giving it a cursory glance, “Were you working on this all last night too?” She hesitates, then shakes her head. “No. I was... I don't know, meditating I suppose. Listening. I'm sure I felt something back then, at the monastery,” she explains after a pause, “A guardian spirit of my own. Maybe. It was very faint, and... well, neither of us was thinking very clearly, were we? I just hoped...” “What?” “They say that guardian spirits choose people destined for greatness, don't they?” Clarissa's lips twist into a bitter smile, “Well, Persephone has one. You've got one too, now. I don't want to be left behind.” “Johannes doesn't have one,” you point out. “True. But I feel like he wouldn't WANT one. He'd say something about relying on someone else and get all grumpy about it,” her smile softens, “You know what he's like.” As much as you can know anyone, you suppose.- With the report finished, Clarissa retreats back to bed to catch up on some much needed sleep. Left to your own devices, you start the onerous task of cleaning up Persephone's mess in the kitchen. That, by itself, takes a good length of time. Just as you're starting to put away the last few bowls, the door slams open and Master Brehm marches in. “Lucas, my boy, I'm glad someone's here,” he begins, his voice hard and hurried, “Where's Lowe?” “She's sleeping,” you tell him, “We just finished your report, and-” “Sleeping? Well, wake her up!” Master Brehm snaps, “We've got work to do. Not the kind of work that's just going to wait around either, so-” “I'm awake, I'm awake,” Clarissa announces, peering out from behind her door. Her voice strikes you, how utterly... defeated it sounds.[2/3]
>>5674236Clarissa slinks back into her bedroom to get dressed, which Master Brehm graciously allows with a heavy sigh. Then, a thought seems to strike him and he reaches into the deep pocket of his overcoat. “Oh, Lucas. Here,” he says, handing over a scroll, “Your Writ. You're now fully qualified for field duties and independent research.” “Ah,” you murmur, taking the scroll with a numb shock, “Thank-” “Not a moment too soon, either. I've got a task for you as well,” the old man continues, “An investigation all of your own. Well, not all on your own. You're going to have company, so-” Things just got very busy all of a sudden. “Wait, slow down,” you plead, “What's going on?” “I'm going to be taking Lowe west, to look into something. I can't talk about it yet, not any more than that. There's a separate job for you, my boy, and you're being asked to bring a partner with you. Cross or Crane, your choice,” Master Brehm frowns, “We need more qualified Exorcists, and that might mean... rushing things. Getting new bodies into service sooner rather than later, and that means field work.” “Here. The details are all here,” he continues, handing you a folded letter, “Town of Roseclyff. Nice place, good weather and well-bred people. You'll love it. They're getting worried about a local spirit – apparently there was a bad omen, whatever that means, and the spirit hasn't shown itself since. They want a professional to come out and take a look.” “But a professional wasn't available, so you're sending us instead,” you remark, turning the letter over in your hands, “Is that it?” “Exactly. That's the spirit!” Master Brehm laughs, “It's going to be perfectly safe. Probably nothing to it, just telling some nervous countryfolk not to panic. I know this isn't the ideal time for it, but orders are orders.” Sitting down, you start to skim over the letter as Master Brehm paces back and forth. The letter doesn't give many more details. Roseclyff is a well-regarded farming community watched over by Satuya, a guardian spirit of mercy and community. Very peaceful, with nothing to indicate any kind of serious trouble. Yet, the spirit has gone silent. Why? “Like I said, you should bring a partner. Someone needs to stay here and look after Maxim, though. Make sure she doesn't... get up to anything,” Master Brehm pauses, “It's your choice, of course, but I would be... careful with Cross. She might not do very well around polite company, and Roseclyff is about as polite as they get.” You're not sure if Johannes is really the polite type either, but at least he knows to keep his mouth shut. But, as he said, the choice is yours.>Partner up with Persephone>Join up with Johannes
>>5674253>Join up with JohannesTime to give him some screentime. Also I think Johannes would just straight up ignore Harriet while Persephone will actually hang out with her. (Possibly to Harriet's dismay)
You look back down at the letter as you think. There isn't really enough information there to know what you're getting into, but nothing sounds particularly dangerous. Not a crisis situation, at least. Then again, you recall Master Brehm saying the same thing about Ravensheugh... “I should probably bring Johannes along, like you said,” you decide, “I don't think Roseclyff has done anything bad enough to deserve a dose of Persephone.” Master Brehm throws back his head and laughs. “That's a good way of looking at it, my boy!” he remarks, “And I'm sure Maxim will be in good hands, too.” You're not so sure about that, but you'll let it slide for now.- “Me?” Johannes asks, sounding genuinely surprised by your request. “Yes, you,” you assure him, “If you don't feel ready for a bit of field work...” “No. I'm ready. I just wasn't expecting to hit the field so soon,” his eyes narrow slightly, “This is abnormal. But that's fine. I can handle anything you throw at me. I've heard of Roseclyff before, though, and I don't expect trouble. It's supposed to be a good place to live. Expensive. Never imagined I'd get the chance to see it with my own eyes.” “Well, don't embarrass us, will you?” Persephone teases, “Make sure you wash behind your ears before you leave, and wear your very best clothes! You DO have some good clothes, don't you?” “I'm going to miss you, Persephone,” Johannes sighs, somehow managing to sound more insincere than she ever has. Leaving Persephone to drag Harriet away, he waits a moment to make sure both girls are out of earshot before letting out a low growl. “The new girl,” he mutters, “I don't trust her. Don't ask me why. I just don't.” You can't exactly blame him there. It's less distrusting her and more... you don't quite understand Harriet yet. Maybe Persephone can wring some answers out of her while you're away. Or maybe she'll just scare the poor girl half to death. You'll just have to wait and see.- The journey to Roseclyff isn't set to be a very long one, just a few hours by carriage, but you feel on guard for the whole trip. Now that you're out of the academy, the weight of the responsibility is starting to sink in. The last few times you've been out in the field, you've had Master Brehm to back you up – to bail you out, just in case things went really badly wrong. Now, you're the one running things. You wish Johannes would talk a little more, just to fill the awkward silence. He seems perfectly happy with the silence, but it just leaves your thoughts to wander. “I wonder what Clarissa is doing,” you think aloud, “Master Brehm said they were heading west.” “Ixtab is west,” Johannes points out. “Ixtab,” you repeat, “Shit. And Master Brehm couldn't say much about the mission. Sounds like-” “Sounds like a whole heap of trouble,” he interrupts, his voice a low growl.[1/2]
>>5674286The carriage stops around halfway to Roseclyff, and while the driver gives some excuse about letting the horses rest you're pretty sure he just wants to enjoy the scenery. You can't blame him – you've stopped on a low hill, looking out over rolling fields of vibrant green grass. The sun is warm, and what little wind there is carries a faint scent of flowers. You sit atop the carriage with Johannes, looking out across the land in an easy silence. For a while, at least. “Nice view,” Johannes muses, taking a drink from a flask of water, “Doesn't look like the world's burning from here, does it?” You glance around in surprise, before you recall Master Brehm's words at the monastery. “Looks can be deceiving,” you reply, “Things look fine from here, but you never know what's going on below the surface or beyond the next hill. They want to push more Exorcists into active service, and fast – they've got to be worried about something.” “They're always worried about something,” he rumbles, “Whoever “they” are. The academy, the regent, whoever else. But down here on the ground, we don't have the luxury of worrying. We just keep our heads down and follow the rule of law.” “And if we do that, everything works out okay?” you ask. You don't mean to sound mocking, but the words come out stained with insincerity. “Maybe. Or maybe not,” Johannes shrugs his powerful shoulders, “But whatever happens, we can say that we did the right thing. That's what matters. If you have to abandon your principles in order to win, you've already lost.” You really hope it's that simple. But deep down, you're not so sure.>I'm going to take a pause here for today. Planning to continue things tomorrow, same rough starting time
>>5674300Thanks for running!
>>5674300An expensive place. Either someone rented out some very private hobbies, or there are some commodities outside the veil that are worth skirting the rules.
Your first impression of Roseclyff is one of abundance, with rich fields of wheat and vines of grapes stretching out before you. The abundance spreads to the town itself too, with a pair of large manors dominating a number of obviously well-made homes. But there's something about the pair of manors that strikes you as oddly adversarial. They stand at opposite ends of the town, facing each other like armed sentries, and the few people you see on the streets tend to stay on their own side of town. There's only one building that seems to be shared between both halves of the town – a domed shrine built in the middle of the fields. That's going to be your first stop. The town priest was the one to send out the request for help, having witnessed some kind of bad omen. They might not have all the answers, but it's a good place to start. “Huh,” Johannes grunts, pausing at the white marble steps of the shrine, “Makes me feel like I should wipe my feet before coming in. Maybe take a bath, wash behind my ears like Persephone said.” “You mean you didn't?” you ask, raising your eyebrows in mock horror, “Damn, now we've got to go back home and freshen up.” “Quit wasting time,” he shoots back, although he lingers at the threshold nonetheless. “Got sick when I was a kid, once. My folks brought me to a place like this, and the priest took care of me. I always feel strange about places like this,” he admits suddenly, “Part of me feels good, comforted, but another part feels like I might not leave.” It's a strange thing to hear him say, out of character, but he doesn't give you a chance to dwell on it. Squaring his shoulders, he strides into the shrines and leaves you to follow behind him. The shrine feels clean, pristine even, with crystal clear water bubbling out of a small fountain at the centre. Towering over the fountain is a tall statue of a woman, her arms spread out as if to embrace some giant partner. The spirit themselves, you assume, Satuya. “Statue hasn't crumbled into rubble,” Johannes points out, “That's a good sign.” You fight back an urge to comment on his observation skills, instead opening your inner eye to gaze into the spirit world. The physical world seems to drop away, leaving you with a profound sense of emptiness, of absence. The statue remains, but the serene expression has twisted into a bitter grimace and the arms droop with weariness. You waste little time in closing off the sad, silent vision. “Hello? Can I help you?” a woman calls out, shaking you out of your thoughts, “Oh, excuse me. You must be from the academy, yes?” You both turn to face the woman. Short and slightly plump, but with warm eyes, she nods her head in greeting. “I'm Marion, the priest here. Priestess, I suppose, but I'm not fussy,” she continues, “Welcome to Roseclyff, gentlemen.”[1/3]
>>5674849“Our Lady Satuya has never been particularly demanding. We don't have a lot of formal rites or rituals, and none of the ones that we do have are particularly onerous. But every morning, I take some water from the fountain here and I pour it out at the base of the statue,” Marion explains, miming the act of pouring, “But one morning, I filled up the bowl of water and it snapped clean in half! Ever since then, Our Lady has been completely absent. Just... gone.” “I'm going to ask the obvious question,” Johannes begins, “Could it have been an accident?” “Follow me,” Marion urges, leading you out of the shrine's main dome and into the private quarters behind. There, she picks up the two halves of a sturdy bowl and hands them across. “This is good ceramic. Thick enough to stop a bullet, I'd say, and there wasn't a scratch on it,” she says, “So no, I'd say it wasn't an accident.” “If this wasn't an accident, then there must have been some reason behind it,” you point out, “Has there been any trouble in town lately?” “No. Quite the opposite, in fact. There was set to be a wedding, something to finally unite the two families,” the priest answers, ruefully shaking her head, “Oh right, the families! Oh boy, where to begin? Roseclyff has always been ruled by two families, the Nicea and the Valentine. You probably saw their estates when you arrived. Can't miss them really. Well, Heather of Nicea was supposed to marry Edgar of Valentine until this... this disaster.” “The Nicea pulled out, they said that the marriage was clearly an unfavourable one,” Marion concludes with a sad sigh, “But I don't know, I think there was something more than that. They didn't even seem surprised when they heard about the, um, incident.” “How did they learn about it?” you ask. “They showed up at the temple, just as they normally would. I couldn't exactly hide it from them! They haven't been around since then,” she frowns, “And to think, the morning rite was just about the only time you'd see both families getting in the same room. They, um, don't exactly see eye to eye.” It's something she's clearly uncomfortable talking about, and she doesn't elaborate. In fact, she changes the subject completely. “We have spare rooms at the shrine, if you have need of them,” Marion hastily assures you, flapping a hand at the nearby door, “And if you need help finding anything in town, just ask anyone – we're all happy to help. I'd show you around myself, but I just don't have the time!” “Really?” Johannes asks mildly, “Seems like you'd have plenty of spare time, given the circumstances.” “I'm not just a priest, you know. I always make time to tutor the local children – reading, writing, and how to live a good life,” she gives you both a warm smile, “That's important too, isn't it?” Allowing himself a tiny sliver of a smile, Johannes nods.[2/3]
>>5674852“There is one thing,” Marion adds, hesitating for a long moment before continuing, “Try... not to mention this to anyone else. The Nicea and Valentine families know about Lady Satuya, but they're the only ones. If news got out, the town might really start to worry. We've always had good weather and strong crops, healthy children, all thanks to Lady Satuya. Without her...” “We'll keep things as quiet as possible,” you assure her, “But this can't last forever, you know.” “I know, I know,” she groans, “But you're going to fix things, aren't you?” “Leave that to us,” Johannes replies, gesturing for a quiet word outside. You follow him back into the main shrine, out of earshot. “We're wasting our time here,” he mutters, “We should find some normal people, see what they have to say about all this.” “You mean doing the exact thing I just said we wouldn't do?” you ask, scowling at the heavyset man. “I didn't say we had to tell them anything,” he counters, “Just listen to what THEY have to say. The common folk, they're the ones who'll know what's really going on around here.” “Maybe,” you remark, “Or maybe they have one single grain of truth in a whole sea of vicious gossip.” “Then it'll still be more honest than anything these “noble families” have to tell us,” Johannes growls, although he doesn't press the issue. He steps away and gestures back towards the shrine's exit, waiting for you to lead the way. Where to start, then?>The Nicea family seem to know something. You'll start there>You should find some of these “normal people” Johannes mentioned>You've got a few last questions for Mario... (Write in)>Other
>>5674854>The Nicea family seem to know something. You'll start there
>>5674854>The Nicea family seem to know something. You'll start thereFirst thought is someone trying to stop the wedding by deliberately forcing a bad omen.
>>5674854>The Nicea family seem to know something. You'll start thereIf someone deliberately pissed off the spirit, it's easier to search the nobles than all he commoners
“Honest or not, I want to start with the Nicea family. They seem to know something about all this,” you decide, shielding your eyes against the bright sun as you leave the shrine. Johannes doesn't argue, silently following behind you. “This wedding has something to do with it, I'm sure of it,” you add as you walk through the hushed streets, “Someone could be trying to stop it by faking a bad omen.” “Maybe,” Johannes mutters, “Nasty thing for someone to fake, though.” Hard thing for them to fake, too, unless Marion herself was somehow in on it. That seems... unlikely, but you can't rule it out either. Wealthy families could hold a lot of power in a town like this. You'll keep an open mind for now, you decide, it's too early to rule anything out. You keep your eyes open too, staying alert for any signs of trouble. But the town itself seems utterly calm, pleasant and peaceful. If not for what you know about the ill omen, you wouldn't think anything at all was out of place here. The Nicea estate is easy enough to find, and easier to enter than you were expecting. The manor itself is surrounded by a tall brick wall, but the iron gates are unlocked and unbarred. You just let yourself in, stifling an odd feeling of guilt – like you're not supposed to be here. Almost without thinking, you move to straighten your collar and adjust your sheathed sword. Finally satisfied that you're as neat as you'll ever be, you rap your knuckles against the heavy manor door.- “Really, I hardly think this is worthy of the academy's time,” the woman announces in a haughty voice, leading you deeper into the entrance hall with a disinterested gesture. Magdalene of Nicea, as she introduced herself, the family matriarch. You can tell that Johannes hates her on sight, but he does a good job of hiding it. “But, I suppose it's not my place to decide,” she sighs, “Very well then. What can I do for you?” “We're just trying to establish the facts,” you begin, “This ill omen, it had to happen for a reason. Something that might have offended Lady Satuya, perhaps. Marion mentioned-” “Oh, I'm sure she mentioned a lot of things,” Magdalene interrupts, “I hope you're not meaning to suggest that WE were the ones to cause this.” “Like I said, Ma'am, we're just here to establish the facts. And the facts I've been hearing are, this wedding was going to be a big deal around here,” you press, “And now it's been called off.” “And rightly so!” she cries, although the outrage in her voice is almost entirely fake, “It was an ill decision, and I was against it from the very beginning! Our family has a long and honourable history in Roseclyff, and the thought of diluting that history... well, it's no wonder that the spirits have rebelled!”
>>5674885“Forgive me,” Johannes asks, his voice low and level, “But I understand that Heather was to marry the Valentine boy. Then, was she to take his name as well?” “No,” a new voice answers. Descending from the staircase, a well-dressed man gives you a cordial nod of greeting. “It was to be an equal union of families. A partnership, if you will. The house of Nicea-Valentine. Not exactly traditional, I know, but it was the only acceptable compromise. Even then, it took... quite some time to negotiate. Forgive me, but I haven't even introduced myself. Darwin of Nicea – Heather is my niece.” You glance past Darwin to see a pair of eyes peering down at you from the staircase. The girl herself, you assume, although she slinks back into the shadows before you can get a look at her. “I told you it was a bad idea. To break with our traditions, for the sake of a compromise!” Magdalene hisses, although she soon smiles as she remembers that she has an audience. “Ah, I do apologise. You must be confused,” she smirks, “House Nicea founded Roseclyff. This land in its entirety is ours, by right. But, we share this land with House Valentine for the sake of... good manners. It has not always been easy.” “Especially not when they make claims on land that is rightfully ours,” Darwin points out, “But we obey the law in all things, naturally.” Somehow, you get the feeling that the Valentine family would tell a different story. Competing land claims could make for a messy situation, but that alone is hardly likely to disturb the local spirits. “The marriage,” you remind them, “How did Heather feel about it, exactly?” Magdalene's lip curls. “She was excited, of course. Heather is a sweet, naïve girl. She didn't know-” she pauses here, her words cut off as Darwin coughs harshly. The silence draws out. “Didn't know... what?” you ask carefully, all too aware that you're poking into a sensitive subject. “Didn't know that any of this would happen,” Darwin finishes quietly, “The omens, I should say. Heather is a rather sheltered child, innocent, in a way. She didn't think of how the spirits might react. She thought of a charming young man with bright eyes and a nice smile.” “He was taking advantage of her,” Magdalene sniffs, “The rat.” “Now, there isn't much else we can tell you,” Darwin adds, a note of warning creeping into his voice, “You understand, of course, that we don't care for having our personal lives put on display like this. We've helped you as far as we can, but it's about time for you to leave.” It looks like you've outstayed your welcome, just as you were getting somewhere. You might have a chance for one last shot, though...>Leave as ordered. Better not make any enemies here>Press them about Edgar of Valentine. They seem to especially dislike him>Try to speak with Heather directly, hear her side of the story>Try something else... (Write in)>Other
>>5674895>Try to speak with Heather directly, hear her side of the story
>>5674895>Frankly sir, we haven't even begun asking yet. We primarily concern ourselves with the Spirits, not politics.>Confirm what they know of the spirits and if they performed any particular rituals in preparation for the wedding.>Ask about their water quality and such>Then ask to speak with Heather. She's still a child, remembering all these steps is rather hard, etc.
>>5674895>Leave as ordered. Better not make any enemies here
“You will forgive me, sir, but we're not finished yet,” you tell Darwin, your voice hardening, “We're only just getting started here. But rest assured, our concern is with the spirits themselves and not your... politics. You say that you obey the law in all things? Then obey it now, sir, and answer our questions.” Darwin's jaw clenches as he fights to keep silent, but something about his anger doesn't feel quite right. It feels curiously staged, like Magdalene's outrage. “Very well,” he says after a tense pause, “I recognise your authority in this area, and this area ONLY. But we are simple folk here, and know little of the ways of spirits. You might be better served by talking to, oh, a priest.” “But I'm talking to you,” you insist, giving them both a grim smile, “Have you partaken in any rites or rituals in preparation for the wedding?” “There would have been a ceremony,” Magdalene offers in a hushed voice, “But only for the wedding itself. And it would be a private affair, with just Heather and... the boy. Aside from the priest, that is. There was a rehearsal, I believe, some days before we broke off this... farce.” “Then we'll need to speak with Heather herself,” you decide, “If this rite – even the rehearsal – was performed in error, the spirit could have been disturbed. A child like her, as you called her, may not understand how serious these matters are.” “Absolutely not. I forbid it!” Magdalene snaps, “Heather is distraught, and I will not... not have you placing the blame on her!” “Shh. Softly, now,” Darwin murmurs, putting a hand on the haughty woman's shoulder, “They have the authority here. If they want to speak with Heather, let them speak with her. Then, perhaps, they will leave us in peace.” You're a little surprised at the sudden change of course, but you hold your tongue and let Darwin lead the way. He guides you up the stairs until you reach a secluded bedroom, a timid whisper answering his knock at the door. The bedroom is very white and clean, with large windows looking out across the entire town. Heather, now that you can get a proper look at her, is older than you realised – perhaps just a year or so younger than you are. Her eyes are wide, seeming to peer out at you from waves of golden hair. “Heather?” you begin, “We're here from the academy. We'd like to speak with you about Lady Satuya. I think-” “I... I didn't want any of this to happen!” she blurts out, backing a few steps away from you. Turning her back in apparent fear, she leans her forehead against the window and stares out at the shrine. All too aware of Darwin's eyes boring into your back like a pair of daggers, you take a step closer and open your mouth to speak. “I don't want to talk to you!” Heather snaps, her eyes never leaving the shrine, “I don't! Do you hear me? I don't want to talk now!”
>>5674940smart girl, hope Darwin isn't catching on.
>>5674940Utterly calm, you allow Darwin to drag you out of the bedroom and usher you back down the corridor. Johannes follows, staring at you with incredulous eyes but holding his tongue. “I hope you're happy with yourself,” Darwin snarls, dropping all attempts at charm, “I knew this would happen. Well, perhaps you knew it too. Now that you've had your fun, you can leave.” “We're leaving,” you concede, giving him a cool smile, “Just one last thing.” “I'll throw you out myself, if I have to,” Darwin spits, “Don't think I won't.” “What's the water quality like around here?” you ask, your question met with a blank stare. “The water in the temple,” you explain, “The rites all involve that water. If it was to become somehow tainted...” Darwin just stares at you with that same feigned hatred, as if he can't quite figure out if you're mocking him or not. When it's clear that he doesn't know – but he's not going to admit that – you shrug your shoulders and allow him to lead you out. “Well,” Johannes mutters as the door slams shut behind you, “That was a disaster.” “No,” you reply, glancing back to the large windows above you, “I don't think it was.”- The water bubbling up from the fountain is beautifully crisp and clear, glittering like jewels in the sunlight pouring through the shrine doorway. Johannes stomps back and forth, clearly tired of waiting around here, but you ignore him. You ignore everything else, only looking up when you hear the soft footsteps at the shrine door. “Um...” Heather whispers, her voice nevertheless reaching you, “I'm... really sorry for shouting at you. I just thought...” “It had to look convincing,” you agree, “I'm just glad I guessed right.” “Don't get the wrong idea. My family are... I love them, of course, but they don't like strangers. Or anyone, really. Not even each other. I knew they wouldn't let me talk to you. Not properly,” she offers, sitting lightly on the edge of the fountain and trailing her fingers through the water, “Do you really think I had something to do with all this?” “I haven't ruled anything out yet,” you tell her simply, “But right now, I think the marriage has something to do with it. Do you know why it was called off?” Heather stares into the water for a long moment before giving you a sad shrug. “It's all a terrible mess,” she whispers, “They're saying that Edgar has a... a...” “Another woman?” Johannes asks bluntly. You wince, but Heather just nods slowly. “But it's not that. They... knew that already. They always knew, and they still wanted the wedding to go ahead,” Heather shakes her head, “I still wanted it to go ahead, even knowing... about Edgar. Because I just wanted everyone to be happy. I thought it would make everyone happy. They only called off the wedding when... when Uncle Darwin got that letter.”[2/3]
>>5674965“I don't know exactly what the letter was, but I think I can guess. Uncle Darwin really believes that our family owns the whole town, and he's been looking for a way for us to prove it,” Heather explains vaguely, swirling her fingers through the water, “He got so excited when he read that letter, so maybe...” “A land deed, maybe,” Johannes suggests, “That could prove legal ownership. Can be hard to find old records like that, though. Civil archives at the capital are an absolute mess, from what I've heard. You could search them for years without finding what you're looking for.” “He has people in the capital,” Heather agrees, “But I don't for sure. I mean, I'm just... guessing. “Wish we could see that letter for ourselves,” Johannes mutters, “But it's probably outside our authority, damn it.” Heather just stares blankly at him, confusion clouding her features. “Ah, right,” he pauses for a second before explaining, his voice unusually gentle, “Lady Satuya is a guardian of the community. This wedding was supposed to unite the two families. Seems like something she would approve of. But now it's been called off because of all this scheming and sneaking.” “So you think getting the truth all out in the open might get Lady Satuya back?” you wonder aloud, “Maybe. But I doubt Darwin is going to let us rifle through his private letters just because of a little spirit problem. I think he'd probably refuse on principle.” Heather nods thoughtfully but says nothing. She's already in way over her head, and she knows it. “Still, I feel like we're missing something,” you muse, “What's our next move?” “Don't look at me,” Johannes points out, “You're in command here, aren't you?” He's right. You can't just sit around here all day, not while you've got an investigation to run.>Your next move is... (Write in)
>>5675004>Talk to Edgar
“We're missing one side of the story,” you decide, “We've heard what the Nicea have to say, time to hear what the other half is thinking.” “Oh,” Heather lets out a little gasp, “You're... going to see Edgar?” “Unless they throw us out first,” Johannes remarks drily, giving you a suspicious look, “We don't exactly have the best track record.” “That was a carefully calculated gambit, I'll have you know, and it worked out perfectly,” you shoot back, “Anyway, I've got a good feeling about it this time. I think it's going to work out just fine.” “Well, um, assuming you DON'T get thrown out, could you tell Edgar...” Heather pauses, “Well, um, tell him it wasn't my decision. I never wanted to break anything off. I never asked for any of this.” Flushing a deep red, she leaps up from the fountain and scurries a few paces away. “I need to go!” she yelps, “They'll know something's up if I'm gone too long!” Letting Heather run on ahead, you give Johannes a nod and make your own way towards the Valentine Estate.- Things are a little different on the other side of town. The Valentine Estate feels more alive, with more servants visible in the manor grounds. The grounds are magnificent, carefully tended by a legion of gardeners that glance around as you pass them by. A stiff backed butler answers the door when you knock, and wordlessly leads you inside. So far, so good. The butler leads you through the manor before you arrive at a richly decorated study. One wall is lined with expensive looking books, while Edgar sits in a plush armchair. Automatically, your eyes flick across to the bookshelf and scan the titles before you look to Edgar himself. He's about the same age as Heather, you assume, but he could easily pass for someone much younger. His face still has the softness of youth, while his eyes are as bright as Darwin suggested. You could easily see why a girl like Heather could fall for him. “Oh!” Edgar hurriedly sits upright and sets his book aside, “I wasn't expecting visitors today. Are you... here on business?” “Of a sort,” you agree, “We're here from the academy. I understand that there was an incident at the shrine recently.” “Oh yes, yes,” the boy tugs nervously at his collar, “Quite puzzling, I must say. Nobody really knows what to make of it. Working the land like this, you know, you're always at the mercy of the spirits. We keep them sweet when we can, but who really knows how they think?” “We do,” Johannes says bluntly, his curt tone causing Edgar to pale slightly. “You're correct, though. It could be very bad for the area if Lady Satuya didn't return in time for the next harvest,” you remark idly, sitting down opposite Edgar, “The land could sicken. The next harvest might be poor, but the one after that might fail altogether. The spirits can be truly terrible, should they be scorned.” He's sweating now, his eyes wide and tense.[1/2]
>>5675004Is Satuya particularly fond of marriages and, you know, fidelity?
>>5675035“But you don't need to worry!” you call out, your voice causing Edgar to flinch, “Because we're here to make sure that never happens.” Edgar laughs, and some of the tension bleeds away. “You are? I mean, of course you are,” he says with a hesitant laugh, “But how can I help? I'm assuming that's why you're here, after all. I'll do what I can to help with your, um, investigation.” “We're just trying to get an idea about the events leading up to the incident,” you tell him, “The wedding, mostly.” His face falls. “Oh yes, the wedding. I'm still trying to get my head around it all. Things happened so quickly, things changing just like that. Heather... well, I care for her very much, but her mother despises me. My whole family, really. I won't bore you with the details – if you've been in town this long, I'm sure you've heard their old story quite enough already,” he complains, a note of self-pity creeping into his voice, “Just when I thought we were finally going to put this absurd feud behind us, THIS happens!” “It must be very hard for you,” Johannes drawls, his voice flat and cold. “It is!” Edgar insists, missing the sarcasm entirely, “I just thought we could do something good together, good for the whole town, and now look at the mess we're in! All because of that wicked family... I'm sure Heather hates me now, all because of them. Oh, the things they must have told her about me!” It's fascinating. Listening to him speak, you'd think that he was totally innocent in all this. There's none of the overt hostility that you were met with at the Nicea manor. Instead, he seems to fill the conversation with vagaries and meaningless noise. You could probably spend all day listening to him talk without learning a single useful thing. He'd probably relish the opportunity to spend the whole day talking, too. Well, you're not about to give him the satisfaction. You need to cut through his blabber, one way or another.>You'll try... (Write in)>>5675037>A harmonious marriage would definitely get her blessings, yes
>>5675075>"So we heard you had a mistress..."
>>5675075>You'll try... (Write in)Bringing up the MistressAlso ask if who he'd think would want to prevent this wedding though I'm sure he'll just point fingers at the other family without much substance.
Edgar babbles on and on, listed off all the misfortunes that this cruel world has lavished upon him. Things would have been so much better around town, he claims, if only things hadn't gone wrong for him. All he ever had were good intentions, and none of this was his fault. You hear him out – you allow him that much, at least – but when he starts to repeat himself, you strike. “So I've been hearing that you've got a mistress,” you announce bluntly, “How did that fit into your perfect marriage idea?” Just seeing his aghast expression almost makes up for listening to his whining speech. His words are cut off, as if you'd severed them with your sword, but his lips keep moving. Like a fish, you think to yourself, or something that hasn't realised that it's dead. “I don't... that's not... those are malicious lies, and I won't have them spoken in this house!” he manages to splutter, “Who told you? It was that Magdalene, wasn't it? Oh, she's always hated me but to make up something like THIS-” “Actually, it was Heather who told me,” you interrupt, “She knew all about you, and she was still willing to go ahead with the wedding. Figure that one out.” He slumps back in his chair, his face wilting into a sullen, sulky frown. “It's just not true. Not true, I tell you! She's just... just my tutor. She's been teaching me High Marusian. It's the language of the law, you know, it's... it's important for a man... a man like me,” he stutters, but he can't even make his excuses sound convincing, “I'll have to run things one day, you know. I'll have responsibilities!” “Responsibilities to your loving bride-to-be? Those kind of responsibilities?” Johannes sneers, “Maybe this is all happening because of you – the wedding, the spirits, everything.” “No! No, it can't be!” Edgar protests, jolting back upright with wide-eyed horror, “That's impossible!” “Really now,” the heavyset man growls, scowling hard as Edgar squirms. “Yes! You're just looking for someone to blame!” a slow, sly smile manages to form on Edgar's face, “It can't be me, because this... the spirits only just abandoned us, but I-” “You've been playing away for much longer than that, is that it?” you finish for him. Realising that he's fallen neatly into a trap, Edgar practically collapses down over his reading desk and lets out a low groan of dismay. “Look, Edgar, I'm not here to dig through your private life. I'm perfectly happy for your dirty secrets to stay secret. But until my job here is done, I need to keep digging,” you tell him, hoping that some of your words are sinking in, “Forget the Nicea for a moment. Would anyone else want to ruin this marriage?” Edgar looks up at you, realisation slowly starting to creep across his face before it's swallowed up a blank expression. “I don't know,” he mumbles, “I just don't know.”
>>5675114You don't get much else out of Edgar, and eventually he feigns sickness. You're feeling pretty sick too, just from looking at him, and you're happy for the excuse to leave. “This affair,” Johannes asks as you're leaving, “Do you really think it has something to do with this?” “Somehow, in some small way, maybe. Shit, I don't know,” you sigh, shaking your head in frustration, “The war might be starting out west, and we're here digging up family drama. What a waste of our time!” “It's not a waste,” Johannes argues, “Even little problems like this can split apart a community. Without the community, the whole nation starts to fall apart. Then we can't fight any kind of war. We have a duty to help these people, even if they don't deserve it.” You glance around at him in surprise. “You think they don't?” “Who am I to judge?” he replies with a shrug, “Let's go back to the shrine. I'm tired of talking. Even more tired of listening to people talk.”- You take a short nap at the shrine, although your dreams are bad – you dream of some tangled mess of a creature, multiple heads all snapping and biting at one another. Throwing off the lingering memories of the dream with a shudder, you stumble back into the shrine's main dome. There, Johannes and Heather are huddled around a folded sheet of paper. “Hey, what's that?” you rasp, “Is that what I think it is?” “Our friend here went out thieving,” Johannes rumbles, patting Heather lightly on the arm, “I think you'll be very interested in this. Take a look.” You take the letter he passes across and skim down the faded ink. It's some kind of legal document, written in the sort of impenetrable language common to these things. Translating it from High Marusian as best you can, you come to a vague idea of the contents. “So Darwin is right?” you guess, “This says here, the whole area belongs to the Nicea.” “Bullshit, it does,” Johannes replies with a cruel grin, “It's a fake. Look at the first few lines.” “Signed in the city of Marus, first and only, in the name of the Sun King and his regent...” you read aloud, “So?” “So, it's wrong,” he explains slowly, “There was no regent when Marus was the “first and only” city. The regency was created later, after Dacia was founded. It's a fake – a forgery. You know what that means, don't you? Anyone trying to press a claim using fraud renounces all said claims, legitimate or otherwise, to the land in question. It's the law.” A silence. “How do you just know this stuff?” you ask bitterly, looking back down at the page, “Just memorise it like that?” “It interests me,” Johannes replies with a shrug.[2/3]
>>5675140“Wait, um, I don't understand,” Heather looks down at the page in dismay, “Couldn't it just be a... a mistake?” “It's a legal document. They don't just make mistakes on legal documents. Not unless they're faking it,” Johannes shakes his head, “It's strange, though. Technically speaking, it's an excellent forgery in every other regard – it's just that one detail doesn't fit.” “And you mean, if it is a fake, my family would...” the girl pauses, her face growing pale, “We'd lose everything?” The silence descends once more, cold and tense. “That's right. It's an old law, but it's still the law,” Johannes says simply, “The disputed land would be handed over to the rival claimant. The Valentine family in this case, I assume. We need to take this back to the capital and-” With a shrill, frightened cry, Heather lunges forwards and grabs the page out of your hands, stumbling back a few paces with it. “No, you can't!” she stammers, “No, there has to be some kind of mistake. This isn't right, this isn't RIGHT! We can't lose everything, just like that, we... we just can't!” “It's not my decision to make. The law is clear,” Johannes says with a faint sigh, holding out his hand for the forged document, “Just hand it over. Don't make this harder than it needs to be.” “I can... I can destroy it! Tear it up right here! Then we can just pretend... pretend like we never saw it!” Heather pleads, her eyes shining with tears, “Nobody else needs to know about this!” Johannes grimaces, looking around at you for support. You don't say anything, your eyes fixed on the page Heather waves around. Things just aren't adding up here. Things just aren't... right.>Side with Johannes. The law is clear, and you have to uphold it>Side with Heather. You can make this all go away>There's something else... (Write in)>Other
>>5675165>There's something else... (Write in)This isn't why we are here. Our goal here is to bring back the spirit. This document could a piece of that puzzle or it could just be territory politics, but we shouldn't destroy it or ship it off. In fact it may open new doors if we do this smart.
>>5675165>There's something else... (Write in) It's a bit too convenient that that letter had a such obvious mistake for such an excellent forgery and that it showed up just in time to ruin the wedding
>>5675165>There's something else... (Write in)>>5675200is right, it's kinda fishyAlso we can use it to force Darwin to let us rifle through his private letters
>>5675240Wait, this is the letter we wanted to find, I'm an idiotAsk darwin who sent it I guess
The world seems to retreat, growing distant as Johannes and Heather bicker over the forged page. Their movements slow to a crawl, their voices fading into silence. For a few moment, all you can think of is the statue looming over you. The judgemental stare, the cold eyes bearing down over you. The terrible weight of it all. Then life snaps back into motion, and you're striding between the pair. “This is NOT why we're here!” you snap, gesturing for Johannes to stand down, “We're here to bring the spirit back, that's all. That page might just be territorial power play, or it might be a piece of the puzzle, but we won't know that if we sent it back to the capital.” “OR if we destroy it here,” you add, looking around to Heather, “You don't think it sounds a little convenient, having this document – this flawed fake – show up at exactly the right time?” Heather takes a shuddering breath in, then passes the note across to you. Carefully folding it up, you slip the page into your pocket. “I don't understand any of this,” she admits, allowing herself a sad smile, “But I'll... I'll do what I can.” “Just watch out for yourself,” Johannes tells her, his voice not unkind, “We might need to stir up some trouble before all this is over. Wouldn't want you to get caught up in it.” She gives him a shy nod, then hurries from the shrine – to get back home before she's missed, you assume. After she leaves, Johannes' face darkens. “Pisses me off, these people,” he mutters, “They own half a town, and it's still not enough for them. They've got to lie, cheat and steal to get their hands on the other half. If I was a spirit, I think I'd abandon them as well.” You can't exactly disagree with him there.>I'm going to take a pause here for today. I might continue this for a short session tomorrow, or I might need to push things to next Saturday>Thank you for reading along today
>>5675275Thanks for running!
You go back to square one – Lady Satuya herself. Our Lady Satuya, Our Lady of the Waters, or any number of the other names by which she is known. Until you understand her, and understand her well, you're just shooting in the dark. Marion has a fair collection of texts in her quarters behind the shrine, and you help yourself to searching through them. The tenants are simple enough – honesty, loyalty, and harmony. Men should strive for the good of the community, and to strengthen the bonds of friendship. One particularly prominent text is called “The Marriage of Bird and Beast”, a simple parable about two squabbling animals that learn to work together for their common good. The analogy is so blatant that you're almost amused – it's the sort of thing you'd teach to children, or aristocrats. But it's an older text that really catches your eye. Before she was known as a guardian of the community, Satuya was seen as a water spirit – an embodiment of the rivers feeding the fertile land around Roseclyff. Some traces of that original guise remain as a warning against attempts to halt or alter the natural order of things. An attempt to alter the natural order – that could mean a lot of things, from the unconventional marriage between the two families, to this attempt at seizing the whole town with a forged deed. You're back where you started, with more questions than answers.- “So what are we working with here?” you think aloud, trying not to let your frustration show, “The Nicea. Darwin. What are we thinking?” “He may really believe the deed is genuine,” Johannes suggests, “He'll WANT to believe it's genuine. But if he's really that desperate for proof of this “claim”, someone could take advantage of that. You've found the documents he's been looking for, you'd say, and you're willing to hand them over for a very reasonable price.” “Might need to speak with him again,” you mutter, hardly relishing the prospect, “See if we can find out exactly where he got it. What about the woman, Magdalene?” “Opportunist. She doesn't really care about traditions, the marriage, anything else. But she can see a chance to claim the whole of the town, without any kind of compromise on her part,” Johannes lets out a low grunt of disgust, “Scumbags and degenerates. I wish Persephone was here – there are HER kind of people, she'd be able to read them like an open book.” “I'll tell her you said that. I'm sure she'll be thrilled,” you tell him with a smile, “Heather?” “She's innocent. A victim in all this,” he answers immediately, “Obviously.” “You're just saying that because you're sweet on her.” Johannes starts to bark out some sharp retort, only to think better of it with a grimace. “Don't be ridiculous,” he says instead, his voice curt.[1/2]
>>5675774“Well, suit yourself. I wasn't judging, though,” you reply with a shrug, “Anyway. What about Edgar?” “I delivered him, you know. Not an easy birth,” Marion announces as she strides into the room and looks around, “My, you're certainly making yourselves at home. What were you saying about Edgar?” “We're just talking a few things over. Say, does Edgar live alone?” you ask Marion, “Aside from the servants, I mean. I didn't see any sign of his family.” “Mm, they spend most of their time at the capital. For business, they say, but I think it has more to do with high society. Edgar has been keeping an eye on things here since... oh, well, pretty much ever since he was old enough for it,” Marion sighs, “I know it's not my place to say, but it's really not fair on him.” “It's a lot of responsibility for one boy,” you remark. It probably goes a long way to explaining what a mess he is, as well, but you're polite enough to keep that thought to yourself. “He's not completely alone, now that I think about it. There's a friend of the family, Adriana, who checks up on him. She used to be a legal clerk before she moved to Roseclyff, I think, so she can help manage the business side of things,” Marion explains, “I take it that you've been getting to know the town a little, then. What do you think?” You trade a quick glance with Johannes here, but he just shrugs and holds his tongue. “I think we've got our work cut out for ourselves,” you admit with a sigh. “Ah,” Marion says, managing to hide her wince, “Well... I suppose I should leave you to it. Let me know if you make any progress, won't you?” You'll have to figure out where to start, first. Another round of questioning, you suppose, but where should you start?>Edgar of Valentine>Darwin of Nicea>Magdalene of Nicea>Ask Marion some questions... (Write in)>Other
>>5675775>>Darwin of Nicea
>>5675775Starting to suspect that Edgar or Adriana gave the document to Nicea themselves, to jump ship and not have to deal with all this aristocratic bullshit.But even if that's lie upon lie, that's no guarantee that the spirit cares about it. How do we contact the spirit?
Darwin is your first priority, you decide. Maybe he'll be a little more willing to talk now that you've got his precious letter. He's probably realised that the letter has wandered off by now, too, which could make things... interesting. You say your goodbyes to Marion, and start to head out. As you're leaving, Johannes hits you lightly on the arm. “Speak up,” he mutters, “What are you thinking?” “Current theory is, Lady Satuya has turned away because someone is interfering with the natural order of things. That doesn't exactly narrow the list down by much, but she doesn't seem keen on telling us the answers,” you grimace, “She's testing us. I'm sure of it.” “Wonderful,” Johannes scowls, “Fine. Someone is interfering with the natural order of things. Whatever that means. Who?” “About half the town, I'd say. But mostly, Darwin is the one who comes to mind,” you explain, “Whether he knows the deed is a fake or not, he's the one who put a halt to the wedding – I'm sure of it. Why settle for sharing the town with your rivals when you can claim it all?” “Hrm,” Johannes grunts, “Then he's more of a fool than I thought. Any judge with half their wits about them would take one look at that fake deed and laugh him out of court.” “It all comes down to that fake deed, doesn't it? If we knew where he got it from...” you think aloud, looking around to Johannes, “Would you really have sent it back to the capital? Even knowing that it might ruin Heather's whole family.” Johannes doesn't answer this for a long time, his face set like stone as he gazes straight ahead. “I don't make the rules,” he says eventually, his voice hard, “But I don't get to pick and choose, either. The law is the law.”- You've got to hand it to him, Darwin does a good job of keeping his composure. He stares you down with a sense of genuine irritation, but there's little sign of the panic eating him up inside. It's just his hand that gives it away, spasmodically clenching and unclenching his fist as he leads you into the privacy of his office. “Very well, you've got my undivided attention,” he hisses, some of the composure slipping away now you're behind closed doors, “I'm sure you think you've got a very good reason for this, but I take theft very seriously. You think you've got a right to break in, or however you did it, and just STEAL my private property?” “We didn't steal anything,” you counter, “This is more... confiscating evidence.” Darwin's face reddens with anger. “Evidence!” he spits, “Evidence of what?” “Forgery, for one thing,” Johannes announces, folding his arms and staring down the taller man. His words aren't as devastating as you had been expecting. There's no gasp of shock or groan of defeat. Just a thoughtful silence as Darwin sinks down into his armchair. “So,” he murmurs, “It really was...”[1/2]
>>5675815“You knew it was a fake?” you ask quietly. “It hadn't been able to confirm the authenticity,” Darwin corrects you, pronouncing each word with agonised frustration, “Do you really think this is the first time someone has tried to profit from my search? And if I knew it was genuine, do you really think I would still be waiting here? I would have marched over to the Valentine Estate and chased that little shit off MY land in an instant!” His voice rises steady with every word, until he's shouting by the end of his little speech. The angry outburst hangs between you for a long moment before you sit down opposite him. “I want to know where you got that letter,” you tell him simply, as if his little tantrum hadn't happened, “You have agents in the capital, is that right?” “That's right. They search the archives, question scholars and historians, chase up every damn rumour that reaches their ears...” Darwin growls, “And THIS is all I have to show for it!” “We're going to need to see some of their letters,” Johannes states. He's not asking a question – he's giving an order.- While Darwin paces the office, you and Johannes look through some of the letters. You were surprised at how willing Darwin was to show them, but maybe he wants to know the truth just as much as you do. It's not enough for you to call him an ally, but it's worth a truce between you. Most of the letters are mundane updates – a list of expenses incurred, most often, or a rare suggestion of progress that never quite appears. “This one is different,” Johannes announces, holding up the most recent letter, “Someone else wrote it. Damn good copy, but not good enough.” Taking the letter from him, you compare it to one of the older letters. It takes a while, but you can sort of see what he means – the handwriting is just slightly different, so slight that you wouldn't notice it at all if he hadn't pointed it out. The letter itself reads like it was written in haste, in the heat of the moment – whoever wrote it certainly seemed to believe the deed was genuine. Or they wanted it to seem that way. “Someone else?” Darwin snatches the letter from your hands and stares hard at it. “You're right, but... oh, that little bastard!” he crushes the letter in his fist, “That Valentine bastard, this is his doing! I'll teach him what happens to those who cross the Nicea!” “I don't think that's a good idea,” you warn, holding up a hand to stop Darwin. “Oh really?” Darwin bats your hand away, “You think you know what's going on here, is that it?”>Fine. Then go ahead and do your worst>I don't know. But violence is just going to make things worse>I think I know... (Write in)>Other
>>5675833>I don't know. But violence is just going to make things worse
>>5675833>I don't. But I DO have an obligation to direct your methods to best appease the spirit.
>>5675833>I don't. But I DO have an obligation to direct your methods to best appease the spirit.based spirit appeaser
“I don't know what's going on, no,” you snap back, “But I do know that violence is just going to make things worse. Do you really think that spilling blood is going to bring things back to normal?” “Maybe not,” Darwin admits, his lips twisting with a bitter snarl, “But it'll be satisfying, and that brat has had it coming for a long time.” But for all his bluster, you can see the heat fading from his eyes. In its place is a deep frustration, a wounded pride, perhaps even a sense of resignation. “I told you before – your squabbles aren't any of my business. I'm here for the spirits,” you tell him, your voice lowering, “I have an obligation to appease them, and I'll direct you accordingly. Right now, that means you stay your hand.” For the sake of his pride, Darwin lets out a scoff of contempt. “Suit yourself, Exorcist,” he sneers, “I'll leave the spirits to your able hand.” “Thank you,” you reply calmly, letting the insult pass you by.- Dark thoughts swirl through your mind as you wander the streets at random. You're alone now, with Johannes having returned to the shrine for now. You need some time by yourself, some time to think. You've grown to hate this place, the petty squabbles and rivalries that fill it like pus in a wound. The people too, with their selfish motives and their arrogance. The sound of rushing water catches your ear, leading you away from the town itself. Trekking down the dirt path, you soon come to a secluded riverbank and sit. Closing your eyes, you let the sound of the water wash over you for a long moment, washing your thoughts away. Allowing your inner eye to open once more, you feel the world shift around you. When you open your eyes, SHE is there. She stands atop the river, the water lapping at her feet as it flows around her. Glowing like the moon, the ethereal woman opens her mouth to speak – to speak with countless voices, all together like a whole crowd calling out at once. Touching your medallion, you trace out the Rite of Contact in the air before you, and the mass of voices is silenced. In their place, one remains. “I have grown to hate this place,” Lady Satuya says, repeating your own thoughts back to you, “The petty squabbles and rivalries that have infected it.” “You've turned away from them,” you reply, “I don't blame you.” “Long have I been wavering. I thought to give them one final chance,” the spirit sighs, “A marriage of bird and beast to unite them. Yet it only served to divide them further. Perhaps it was in vain. This is the nature of man, to covet all that he sees. To grasp and claim as your own, even in a land of plenty such as this.” “I have been watching you, Lucas of the Forest,” she continues, her silver eyes falling upon you, “You burn so brightly here...”
>>5675862“I have been watching you,” Lady Satuya repeats, “You are like all men – you search and search, yet you do not know what it is that you are seeking. That, too, is the nature of man. And yet, I have only added to your burden by forcing this task upon you. Forgive me this one cruelty, if you will, and look upon me once more.” She gestures to the river, the flowing waters slowing to a crawl as distorted reflections in the water. You see your own image looking back to you, but also that of the townsfolk – Edgar and Heather, Darwin and Magdalene, another woman you don't recognise. “All these people, in time, will be washed away. Nothing of them will remain – all their lies, their deception and their schemes, will vanish” the spirit whispers, “Yet the rivers will still flow, and the soil will still bring forth new life. The world will not even notice that they have gone. I have come to yearn for that peace. Perhaps I will return then, once the slate has been wiped clean.” “What do you want from us?” you ask her, looking up from the flowing waters, “What do you want us to do?” “You offer obedience? Servitude? I have no need for such things. I simply wanted... to believe in you,” the spirit murmurs, as the illusions of Heather and Edgar join hands with innocent smiles. There, in the waters, you see a marriage – not a marriage of convenience, for land or politics, but something true and genuine. A marriage that forgives all sins and accepts all weaknesses. If such a thing could really exist. “This land will carry on without me,” Lady Satuya promises as she starts to turn away, “Tell them that. I bear them no ill-will. I will not ruin this land, will not poison it or turn it against them. I simply wish for peace. Perhaps, in time, they will come to forget me completely. I would like that, I think...”>Let the spirit leave>Try and convince her to stay... (Write in)>Other
>>5675875>Let the spirit leave"I just hope they haven't completely tarnished your view of humanity. The cynic in me agrees with you about human nature, but believe there are communities and people out there that are peaceful despite that. It was nice meeting you Lady Satuya. Wherever you decide to go I wish you a good journey."I was going to suggest trying to give the marriage another shot, but honestly it's way too poisoned between Edgar's affair and the petty politics for it to be truly genuine in the way she wants it to be. We could use rank to order it, but nothing genuine.
>>5675875>Let the spirit leaveHeather doesn't seem too bad, but the whole Edgar mistress situation makes me think he's a lost cause.
>>5675875>Other>Could you leave a symbol at your shrine? One of guilt, one of sorrow, a message to leave for future generations.I recommend a frozen heart>Do you bear ill will to Heather? If she.....chose to join you, would you refuse?She could grow up and come find her, if she wants.
You can feel the spirit's sadness washing over you like the cold river water. How many generations must it have taken, for her to reach this point? How many years of watching in silent dismay? You almost call out, not to protest the spirit's decision but to urge her on. It's not your place to try and change things – to stand in the way of the flowing waters. “I only hope...” you begin, “I only hope this hasn't tarnished your view of mankind completely. I know mankind as you do, and I cannot disagree with what you've seen. But I know that it's not all like this. I believe there are people out there with good in their hearts, and communities that have grown strong on that goodness.” “Your words are kind. I know the ugliness that you have seen... and yet you still have hope,” Lady Satuya smiles, a ripple passing through her glistening skin, “Hold that hope close, Lucas of the Forest. I fear that you will have need of it, in the days to come.” “There are others who need hope too. Others who will wish to remember you, no matter what you say. Would you leave them something?” you ask, “A memorial... a warning, perhaps. A way for them to know your sorrow, as I know it.” She considers this, delicately tracing one foot across the surface of the river. “I will do this for them,” she decides, “If they wish to mourn, let them mourn. If they wish to curse me, let them curse. I will give them an altar that accepts all that they wish to give. There is one among them. The girl...” “Heather?” you wonder, “Do you... bear her ill-will?” “Never. I wish only for you to give her this message,” Lady Satuya urges, “Tell her that my shrine will always be open to her. One day, she will see as you see. And perhaps then, we shall meet again.” See as you see? Then you understand – she's been touched by the spirit world, as you are. One day, she will see. “I will tell her this,” you assure the spirit, “And I will hope for you to meet once more. Until then, I wish you well on your journey. Wherever it is that you go, I wish you well.” With a final soft smile, the spirit sinks beneath the surface of the river. She vanishes from sight, and you slowly allow your link with the spirit world to fade.- You feel numb as you walk back to the shrine, barely noticing the people you pass along the way. They seem to linger in a daze, looking around themselves in confusion and uncertainty. They can feel something, even if they can't name it. They know that things have changed, even through everything still looks the same. “Hey!” Johannes hisses, hurrying over to grab your arm, “Where WERE you? Things have-” “She's gone,” you interrupt, “Lady Satuya. She's gone.” “Gone?” he repeats, falling silent for a moment, “Well. That explains... come on. You'd better see this for yourself.”[1/2]
>>5675915You see it as soon as you enter the shrine. The fountain has shattered, the flowing waters having dried up completely. No, not completely – a small pool of still water remains in the base of the ruined fountain, so still that it could serve as a mirror. You circle the fountain, peering into the water from all sides. “It looks like a heart, doesn't it?” you ask quietly, tracing the outline with your finger, “A broken heart.” “That's a bit melodramatic, don't you think?” Johannes mutters, glancing around as the priest emerges from her quarters. Marion approaches slowly, her eyes dull and confused. She looks at the fountain, then up to the statue, then back to the fountain. “It's over,” she breathes, “Isn't it? I'm not... sensitive like you are, but I felt something. This place feels like an empty house, or... or a tomb. It's not the same. Nothing is ever going to be the same. What about the farms? The fields? How are we-” “Life will go on,” you assure her, “She told me that. The rivers will continue to flow, the soil will still bring new life. It's just... going to be a little quieter around here. That's all.” Marion just gazes at the ruined fountain in dismay, letting out a soft gasp as a rattle of footsteps rings out. Heather runs into the temple, nearly tripping over her own feet as the sight of the ruined fountain strikes her. “Wait here,” you whisper to Johannes and the priest, “I've got a message to deliver.”- “I think I'm... happy,” Heather says, even as she wipes away her tears, “I think this is right. At least, it's... it's what we deserve. And maybe one day, we'll be able to put things right. I hope I'll be here when it happens.” Sniffing, dabbing at her eyes with a cloth, she looks around the temple for a long moment. “I like it here. I always have, even when I just looked from my bedroom window,” she murmurs, “I think... I'm going to ask Marion to take me on as an apprentice.” “Might not be much work for a priest around here,” you warn her. “That doesn't matter. I'll watch over the shrine, even if nobody else comes. It'll be... quiet. I think I could do with a little bit of peace and quiet after all this. But, um, can I ask you something?” she hesitates, “Is your job always this... sad?” “Not always,” you assure her, although you're not sure if you believe that yourself. But if feels like the right thing to say, and Heather nods as if she believes you. “I'll see you again,” she says softly. Not a question – a promise.>I'm going to pause things here for today. I'm looking to continue this next Saturday, but I might need to push things to the following week if I need to do some extra prep work>Thank you for reading along today!
>>5675928Thanks for running!
“You burn so brightly here... I know the ugliness that you have seen...” Lady Satuya's words repeat themselves over and over in your mind, running through your head like the rivers she has returned to. The words are a cipher, something hinting at some deeper meaning. What ugliness? The barbarous rites of the Forest Kingdom and the casual heresy of necromancers might certainly qualify, but that idea rings somehow hollow. Something else, then. Something- “You're quiet,” Johannes points out, his gruff noise shaking you from your reverie. “I'm thinking,” you reply, “Anyway, you're quiet too.” “I'm always quiet.” “This is a different kind of quiet.” “I'm thinking too,” Johannes shoots back, scowling as the carriage lurches over a particularly rough part of the road. “I'm thinking about our duties,” he continues, almost reluctantly, “We have a duty to help these people, but what can we do when they don't want to be helped? When the people themselves are the problem?” “I look at Roseclyff, and I see a place that is beyond saving. A place where the rot has grown so deep, the people there cannot think of living without it,” he continues, “I don't LIKE thinking like this. I don't relish it, or savour it. But I can't deny what's right there in front of me.” The bitterness in his voice leave you speechless, with hardly anything you can think of saying back to him. “It's not all bad,” you offer at last, your voice quiet, “She'll be okay, you know.” A long pause. “...Who will?” he asks at last, a hard note of warning in his voice. “You're not...” you pause, then shake your head in dismay, “Forget it.”- Your thoughts are wandering again as you return to the academy, but to more practical matters this time. You'll need to write a report on your assignment, a permanent record of your actions there. Would the mission be considered as a success or a failure? The spirit has left, true, but of her own volition. Your mission had not been to compel her to stay, but to understand the situation. In that regard, it was a success. Despite all your training, you never truly realised the nature of your job until now. You're often cast in the role of ambassador, an intermediary with the spirit realm. The nature of the Accord depends on humans and spirits living in harmony, or not living together at all. Better that the spirit leave willingly than to risk her lingering and poisoning the land. That's it, you decide, that's how you'll write your report. Roseclyff doesn't have to fear a vengeful spirit bringing disaster down upon them, and they might even learn something from Lady Satuya's departure – although you doubt it. With that thought in mind, you enter the dorm and stop dead in your tracks. Waiting for you is a bedraggled mane of hair and two beguiling amber eyes – Cloranthy.[1/2]
>>5679036“Hey you,” Cloranthy begins, closing her book and casually setting it aside, “You're a hard man to find. I actually had to leave the archives and walk all the way up here to find you.” “I was out on an assignment,” you tell her, painfully aware that it sounds like an excuse, “It's been a busy time for me.” “Busy time for everyone, seems like,” she counters, pouting with mostly feigned outrage, “You know, Clarissa didn't even tell me she was leaving. I only found out later, from Master Rosenthal – and even then he could tell me where she was going, what she was doing, of when she'd be back!” “It's all a big secret, I think,” you tell her vaguely, “All I know is that she was heading west.” This gives Cloranthy pause, her lips parting with a silent gasp of surprise. She knows as well as anyone what that means. “...I see,” she whispers at last, looking down at her folded hands for a long moment before glancing back up to you with new resolve in her eyes. “Anyway, I knew you were away,” she states, “Your spooky girlfriend told me.” This time, you're the one who pauses. “My... what now?” you ask slowly. Cloranthy grins. “Your friend. Who is a girl. And is spooky,” she explains in a singsong voice, “Is that not specific enough? I mean Per-se-pho-ne.” Obviously. Trying not to imagine how much of a disaster that conversation must have been, you nod encouragingly. “Okay. So Persephone told me I was away, but you decided to stick around,” you state, checking to see if she agrees with you, “Because you wanted to talk with me about something, right?” “I stuck around. Had a good feeling about today,” she agrees, “I've been asking some questions. About that book you were looking for.” “Great,” you pause, waiting for her to continue, “...And?” “And I got some answers,” she says, her eyes sparkling with a mischievous light. “And those answers were... what exactly?” “Nothing much. Kind of boring, really,” she feigns a yawn, “Hey, you know, you should tell me a story. Something from the good old days. I bet you heard all kinds of stories when you were growing up, right?” You can see where this is going. “Seems like you've got enough stories already,” you point out, nodding down towards her book. “Not the real ones,” Cloranthy replies firmly, shaking her head, “Why don't we call it a trade? You go first, and if I like your story then I'll tell you mine.”>Tell her nothing. You're not playing these games>Tell her an adventurous story>Tell her a romantic story>Tell her a scary story>Other
>>5679037>Tell her a scary story
She's right about one thing, at least – you do know plenty of stories about the Forest Kingdom. Not the nice, clean stories printed for people who never leave their cities either, but the old stories passed down from one generation to the next. Stories caked in grime and filth, but all the more alive for it. “Okay then, I've got one for you. You might even like it,” you begin, leaning forwards and lowering your voice, “A long, long time ago, there was a man who cared for nothing but riches. He had no respect for anyone or anything else, not the trees spreading above his head nor the soil beneath his feet. He didn't care for loyalty or honour, just riches.” Cloranthy narrows her eyes with pleasure as she listens to you, nodding slowly along with the words. “He would ask questions and listen closely, always searching for any hint of where he might find some gold. Even the slightest of rumours would be enough to send him on his way. That's why, when he heard about the burial place of a long-dead warrior, he decided to seek it out. In the darkest corner of the forest, where the sun didn't shine even at midday, he found the barrow,” you continue, recalling the words as they were told to you, “He went deep, deep down into the bowels of the land, with only a faint torch to guide him. The barrow was dark and dank, the walls running with water and slime while rats and spiders scurried around his feet.” Shuddering a little here at the thought, Cloranthy leans a little closer and gestures for you to continue. “The deeper he went, the more he could hear something moving. There was something in the barrow with him. It was a wet sound, a slithering sound, but the thought of riches pushed him forwards. At the very bottom of the stairs, he found the warrior's burial chamber itself – and there, right in the middle, was a chest of glittering gold,” you recite, “And surrounding the gold were the worms. Not just any worms, either – they were vast and fat, swollen with corruption. A whole sea of them, flopping blindly around the treasure with that same wet slithering sound.” “How can worms-” Cloranthy begins, only to silence herself as you give her a warning look. “But our man told himself that he wasn't afraid of them. He wasn't afraid of anything, so long as there was a piece of gold waiting for him. The light from his torch kept them away, and he slowly crept closer to the treasure. All the while, he kept his gaze fixed on the gold. But when he started to lift the chest, he fumbled – he dropped his torch, letting it roll away. The worms rushed in, smothering the light as they flooded over him. But the worst was just before the end, just before the light was snuffed out,” you pause again, “Because then, he saw that the worms had once been men!”
>>5679062Is this a story about gacha games
Like a good sport, Cloranthy lets out a little squeal of shock as you deliver the final line. Then, rather diminishing the affect, she breaks down in a fit of giggles. “That is so GROSS!” she cries, “How does that even work?” “Don't think about it too hard. I'm sure they didn't, when they made the story,” you reply, waving away the story with an indifferent gesture, “But the moral of the story, I guess, is that you shouldn't go digging up graves for money. Or you'll get turned into a worm.” “Is that it? The worms were other people who went looking for the gold?” Cloranthy thinks this over for a moment before shrugging, “Well, I suppose that makes sense. Maybe? Anyway, you held up your side of the deal. So, what were we talking about again?” You're very patient, and you hardly grit your teeth at all. “The book,” you remind her, “Folk Tales of Inner Marusia.” “Oh yes!” she gasps, her eyes widening, “It's very rare, you know. Not many copies were made in the first place, and a lot of them got destroyed after the author was denounced. Something about his unorthodox ideas, you know how it is.” You know how it is, unfortunately. Countless texts have been lost or destroyed throughout history, caught up in the occasional spasms of violence triggered by some perceived risk to the Accord. Sometimes the fear is warranted, sometimes not. “We don't have a copy here, but we think there might be a copy in the hands of a private collector up north. The head archivist sent them a letter requesting permission for a private viewing. You know, as a favour,” Cloranthy winks, “That bit worries me a little. This collector, they're supposed to be a bit... unorthodox themselves. Hopefully they don't start making demands to see some of our more dangerous books.” They can make all the demands they want, it doesn't mean they'll get what they want. The archivists take their job very seriously, especially when it involves the dangerous books. Not ever instructors have access to those without express permission. “Do you know when the author was denounced?” you ask, thinking back to your history lessons, “Approximately?” “Um, let me think...” Cloranthy tugs at her tangled hair as she considers your question, “It was just after Ioannes the Third was nominated as regent.” “He was heavily backed by Sheol's priests, wasn't he? A lot of the priesthood's critics were denounced when he came to power. Funny coincidence, that,” you recall, tapping a finger against the table. So perhaps something in this book was somehow offensive to Sheol – or, more likely, the priesthood themselves. That doesn't exactly narrow the list down very much, though. “Well, I've told you what I know. It's your problem now,” Cloranthy decides, sitting up and leaning heavily on her walking stick, “Have fun with that!”[2/3]
>>5679074 After Cloranthy leaves, you're left alone with your thoughts for a time. More and more, it feels like you're just fumbling in the dark – groping around in blackness, feeling out for any hint of the truth but never grasping the full picture. Necromancers, lost knowledge, a banned book, and now the church of Sheol... you've got some of the puzzle pieces, but how do they fit together? All the while as you're thinking, you turn Nicholas' coin over in your hands and occasionally glance down at the scarred image of the tower. More lost knowledge - what kind of secrets did Nicholas take to his grave? The sound of voices rouses you, and you leave your room just in time to see Harriet retreating into her quarters. Retreating from Persephone, perhaps. “Oh, you're back,” the aloof girl remarks, giving you a disinterested glance, “I'm assuming you noticed our little guest.” “Cloranthy?” you check, “Yes, we had a chance to catch up. She had some very interesting things to say about you, actually.” “I'm sure. Clarissa never told me that her sister was such a little brat,” Persephone remarks, not without a certain fondness, “Speaking of that, actually, you've got a rather interesting sense of humour too.” Your blank look brings a cool smile to her face. “The new girl, I mean. Getting me to show her the ropes as if she was some total novice. Everything I tried to teach her, she already knew how to do! In fact, she's almost as good as I am,” Persephone explains, “Her only weak area was combat training. So, I spent most of the time giving her a good thrashing in the practice rooms.” You wince just thinking about it. Persephone isn't the best fighter you know, but she's utterly vicious when it comes to sparring. “Please tell me you went easy on her,” you plead, “Or, at the very least, you didn't break anything too badly.” “Oh hush, I hardly touched her. It wouldn't have been any challenge, I mean no fun at all. I just pushed her about a bit, just to make sure she was taking things seriously,” she winks, “But next time, I'll give her a nice bruise just to make sure she learned her lesson!” Oh dear. Maybe you should check on Harriet, just to make sure she's still in one piece. Then again, all this talk of sparring reminds you – it's been a while since you got some practice time in, and Persephone seems to be eager for a good fight.>Check in on Harriet>Go sparring with Persephone>Other
>>5679094>Go sparring with Persephone>OtherTalk about the Lady Satuya assignment. Just curious on how she would have handled it. Good to get different perspectives.
>>5679094>Go sparring with Persephone
>>5679094>>OtherStart practicing that guardian spirit. You know, the higher order elemental thing that's probably very dangerous.
“How about we go for a round?” you ask Persephone, “You might have more fun with someone who's going to fight back.” “Lucas, my dear, I thought you'd never ask!” Persephone replies, clapping her hands together in excitement, “I promise to go easy on you – I won't do anything to ruin your handsome face... although, you know, some women prefer the rugged look. A nice scar here or there...” She reaches out to touch your face, indicating just the perfect place for a scar or two, but you lightly bat her hand away. “Getting ahead of yourself, aren't you?” you warn her, “I know I'm wasting my breath, but you shouldn't be so cocky.” Persephone just laughs, skipping out of your reach and beckoning for you to follow as she leads the way down to the training rooms.- For all her talk of scars, the swords kept in the training rooms are all carefully blunt these days. You've seen more than a few of the older instructors with prominent duelling scars, but those days are long past – they probably have enough trouble getting new apprentices through their training without the risks of them killing each other. Eager to move past that grim thought, you search for something to talk about. “My last assignment was an odd one,” you remark, picking up one of the practice blades and testing the weight, “The spirit, Lady Satuya, was a guardian of the community-” “Oh, I'm bored already,” Persephone groans, taking up her blade of choice – a long, slender thing – and giving it a few experimental swipes through the air. “She had gone silent – turned her back on the whole community. I can't really blame her either. The whole place was a cesspool, with the ruling families scheming over the land there. Trying to screw each other out of what they owned,” you explain, “In the end, I just let the spirit go. There wasn't any fixing that situation. What do you think?” Persephone seems to think for a moment before lunging at you with a needle-like thrust. You turn her blade aside with a hasty parry, jerking back as she swipes furiously at you. She's always like this, fighting like a dervish and fighting to win. You barely have a chance to get a strike of your own in, your entire concentration focused on deflecting her strikes. After a rapid flurry of blows, she leaps back. “What do I think?” she asks, repeating your question back to you. “What would you do?” you ask instead, watching and waiting for her next attack. “Well, I'd start with listening to as much vicious gossip as I could,” she decides, “Then I'd start spreading some of my own. After that-” Another lunge, another crash of blades that leaves you both panting for breath. She's grinning now – not a fake smile, all sweetness and light, but something wild and bright and feral. A smile that comes from the feeling of complete liberation. And the attack goes on.
>>5679124Blow after blow rains down, each one blocked or turned aside as you slowly give ground to Persephone's attack. Now you're not even trying to attack, just waiting until she tires herself out and leaves herself open. When her next blow comes out slower, almost sluggish by comparison, you know you have her. Pushing into the attack, you lock blades with her and hold your ground. She strains against you, but you've got the edge in strength. With a twist of your body and a throw of your shoulder, you send her tumbling to the ground in an ungainly heap. Rolling over and blowing a loose strand of hair out of her face, Persephone looks up to you with a rare warmth burning in her eyes – her whole face, really. “Well...” she murmurs, breathless with her exertions, “I hope that was as good for you as it was for me.” “You'll get yourself killed one day, you know, if you try that in a real fight,” you warn, offering her your hand up, “You never answered my question either. After the gossip, then what?” The vibrant expression fades from Persephone's face as she considers your question. “I'd probably do the same and let the spirit go. They have it easy, that way – they can just slip away and vanish, just like that. Let the people left behind struggle and flounder. Let them choke on their own shit, even. They deserve it,” she pauses, “I'm assuming they deserved it. Were they that bad?” “Not... that bad. Not really,” you concede, “Annoying. Insufferable, even. But I don't think they deserve to die or anything like that.” “Well, let them choke on it anyway,” Persephone decides with a laugh and a shrug, “Anyway, you're supposed to be the fully qualified Exorcist around here. Why are you asking me?” “Just curious. You'll probably be qualified soon enough, and I wondered how you'd deal with it,” you gesture towards a low bench and sit, wiping your face down with a towel. “There is something you can tell me, though,” you continue, “Your guardian spirit. Tell me a little about it. I need to learn how to use my own, one of these days.” “Men like you are only interested in one thing,” she tuts, closing her eyes and allowing herself a slight smile. You open your inner eye and look upon her spirit – the silvery moth hovers behind her head like a cold halo, black eyes fixed upon you. “Her aspect is Essence,” Persephone explains, as the moth spreads its wings wide to reveal a coal black void, “She represents the vastness and terror of the night sky. Now you go – I've shown you mine, so you show me yours.” You hesitate for a second, realising that you're almost... afraid of it. Absurd really, like being afraid of your own shadow, but that's how it feels. But Persephone's gaze – delicately mocking and calming, all at once – spurs you on. Like flexing a muscle that exists outside of yourself, you allow the fiery spirit to take form around you.[2/3]
>>5679133“I've always dreamed of fire,” you admit, as if you're confessing some grave sin, “But I never imagined it would be like this.” Persephone's eyes widen in amazement as she looks upon the spirit, her own guardian spirit wilting and withering beneath the blazing heat. “Fire burns away all impurities, all falsehoods. In its purest form, fire represents the Sun King's authority over all other spirits,” she murmurs, her voice tainted with a faint fear, “You've made a very special friend there, Lucas.” “That's what I'm afraid of,” you reply slowly, “I don't know how to... use it. It could do more harm than good.” “So what? Are you really going to spend the rest of your life cowering in fear of what you're capable of?” she presses, dismissing her own spirit and gazing deeper into the roiling fire above you, “You can control it. You can MASTER it... but only if you have the courage. Go on, try it – close your eyes, let it wash over you.” You close your eyes before you can lose your nerve, allowing your inner eye to open wider than ever before. All you can see is the great disc of fire burning within yourself, burning brighter and brighter until it has consumed everything else. The forest is burning, a city of ancient stone is burning, and at the centre of it all a man is burning. His back is facing you, but his head is turned back and you can just about make out his features. You can just about- It's too much, too far. Slamming your inner eye shut, you open your real eyes to see Persephone's face almost touching yours. She recoils just as fast as you do, her rapt expression rapidly giving way to a carefully constructed disinterest. “Oh, are we done already? That's fine, I was starting to get bored anyway,” she remarks with a yawn, “I wouldn't worry about it too much. A guardian spirit isn't much use in a place like this, actually. It'll really show its worth if you come face to face with an unfriendly spirit – then you'll be glad you've got it with you.” “What were you... doing?” you rasp, swallowing against a dry lump in your throat. “Me? Nothing, nothing at all. You just had a very funny expression on your face, I couldn't help but take a closer look,” Persephone laughs, patting you lightly on the knee as she gets up to leave, “Keep trying at it. You'll get there eventually.” No thanks to her. Right now, though, you're glad to see the back of her. Something about the whole conversation was... wrong. Everything seems to be going wrong lately – maybe it's you, maybe it's everyone else. “Stress,” you murmur to yourself once Persephone has left, “Been working too hard, that's all. Too much hard work, too many unanswered questions...”>Master Rosenthal might have some advice about guardian spirits>Searching the archives might help with your guardian spirit>Harriet might be able to help distract you right now>Other
>>5679171>Harriet might be able to help distract you right now
>>5679171>>Searching the archives might help with your guardian spirit
Pushing the unanswered questions to the side for now, you decide to take it easy for a little bit. Once you've had a chance to blow off some steam, you might be able to think things through more clearly. Maybe hit up the archives in search of some advice on guardian spirits. With that decided, you head back to the dorm in search of a pleasant distraction. Harriet is making tea when you arrive, and she starts to prepare a second cup before you have a chance to say anything. Setting the steaming cup down in front of you, she looks around the dorm and lets out a soft sigh. “It's starting to seem like home around here,” she remarks, “Quite cute, actually. I like having our own little kitchen.” “Clarissa likes to cook,” you add, pausing for a moment before correcting yourself, “Well, I'm not sure if she likes it. She just doesn't really trust anyone else to do it.” “We can take turns, at least. I promise to do a good job!” Harriet swears, blowing away steam before taking a sip of tea, “Let me guess, you and the big guy don't do much cooking, right?” “I have my moments,” you tell her, “Johannes too. We're not completely helpless, you know. But once we've got a system down, it's hard to change it. Anyway, I thought city girls like you had staff to do all the cooking for them.” “Not all city girls are wealthy, you know,” she points out, “But, ah, we did have some help back home. I mostly cooked for pleasure – baking really. Little treats, not exactly a full meal. So if you ever fancy something sweet, just say the word!” You'll keep that in mind. Not that you really have much chance to sit around eating cake. “How did things go while I was away?” you ask vaguely, “Persephone didn't give you too much of a hard time, did she?” “Oh gosh, she was great! She showed me all around the academy and taught me all kinds of things. We even got a chance to do a little sparring, but I don't think I'm cut out for it,” Harriet shakes her head, “Why do you all carry swords anyway? If you ever get in a fight, I thought you could just... you know...” She mimes a gun with her finger, pointing playfully at you. “It's mostly ceremonial, these days,” you answer, “Some spirits are given to ritual combat, and that almost always involves a blade of some kind. Aside from that... well, it's a bit gruesome. I don't want to spoil the mood.” She shakes her head again, even more eager this time. “No no, I'm interested,” she urges, “Go on, please!” “Well, ah, if things go really wrong and spirits start possessing people...” you hesitate for a moment before plunging on, “A bullet might not do much to the host body. But cutting off a limb or the head can disable a host body much more effectively. We're talking worst case scenario here, I mean. It's rare that things would ever get that bad.”
>>5679210“Well...” Harriet plays with her teacup, looking away before her cheerful gaze flicks back to you, “Well, if it ever DOES get that bad, I'll leave the fighting to you. I can... I'll be there for moral support!” “Glad to hear it,” you assure her, although one question is still nagging at you, “Be honest now. Was Persephone really... okay?” “Oh, I know she acts tough and scary, but she's really sweet deep down. She just doesn't know how to show it,” she answers, letting out a faint sigh, “It's hard to get close to someone, you know? To make yourself vulnerable like that. It's easier just to push people away.” It's hard to imagine Persephone being sweet at all, no matter how deep down she might be hiding it, but maybe Harriet sees something you don't. Maybe it's a girl thing. Draining the last of your tea, you set the cup aside and gesture back towards the door. “Do you want to go do something?” you ask, “I was going to the archives. You can come along if you like.” “Sounds fun! We never visited the archives earlier, Persephone said she didn't like all the dust,” Harriet says, pushing her tea aside, “Ready when you are!”- You sneak a glance at Harriet as you're browsing through the archives, looking into the swirling darkness of spirit that follows her. It's still there, clinging to her like a nervous child, but it doesn't seem to react to you at all. Even when you allow a little of your guardian spirit to burn into life, the darkness doesn't show any reaction. Harriet herself glances around, and you hurriedly pretend to look the other way. “I've never seen so many books in one place,” she remarks, smiling at her own foolish comment, “But I suppose I shouldn't be surprised. I mean, this IS an archive after all!” “Most of the books here are older than I am, too. Far older, in some cases,” you think aloud as you search down the shelves. Here, you find a weighty book claiming to discuss guardian spirits. The wrong kind of guardian spirits, you note before setting the book back. A short distance and a few more mistaken attempts later, you find a slim volume that has what you were looking for. Turning away from Harriet, you skim through the thin book until you find what you're looking for. The main advantage of a guardian spirit, it reads, is to aid in contacting more powerful spirits – spirits without a strong connection to mankind, that might otherwise be too alien to deal with. But aside from that, the text relates an account from a man who claimed to destroy a hostile spirit using his own guardian – not to banish or dismiss the spirit, but the destroy it completely. The claim could not be proven, and even the author themselves seems to cast doubt on it. But still, to actually DESTROY a spirit![2/3]
>>5679221Aside from that one enigmatic passage, the rest of the book descends into pure theory – the kind of dense, scholarly writing that threatens to give you a headache with each word you read. Sliding the book back onto the shelf, you glance back around to Harriet. She's deep in a book of her own, something to do with the church of Sheol judging by the intricate design on the cover. She closes it hurriedly once she realises you're watching her, badly feigning indifference as she puts the book away. Her efforts last a matter of seconds before crumbling, with her awkward laugh washing away any attempts at acting casual. “I was just...” she begins, nervously playing with her hair, “I just wondered...” “Sheol again?” you ask, nodding to the book, “You've got quite the interest.” “It's not anything... weird, okay?” she insists, “I just heard so much about spirits and stuff when I was growing up, but I never knew how much of it was true. It's like, I don't know what I'm supposed to believe. Like this says... oh, never mind. I don't want to bother you with it.” “No, tell me,” you urge, “You've got me curious now. It'll just bother me if you don't tell me.” Her cheeks darken slightly. “The spirits of the dead go to Sheol's great machine, where they work away the remnants of their life – their sins and past deeds, everything gets worn away so the spirit can return to the human world. But it also says that some spirits never leave the machine, because the weight of their sins is just too great to be worn away. And I just thought...” she hesitates, then lurches forwards and grabs onto your arm. “What kind of sin would deserve something like that?” she cries, “An eternal punishment like that? Even for the worst kind of sin, it's just... just too cruel!” Her voice seems to echo out through the archives for a long time, pleading over and over for an answer. But you've got no answer to give her, and the echoing voice gradually fades into silence.>I'm going to take a pause here for today. Should be on track to continue things tomorrow, starting at the same approximate time
>>5679239Bit of a strong reaction. Thanks for running
>>5679239Holy crap, Moloch, you're back! And I didn't know! Dammit!Now just let me read through the thread.
>>5679239oh dear. Are we dealing with a case of someone mounting a rescue operation in the realm of the dead?
You meditate, and you think of death. Tracing the intricate grooves of the Dho game, you cast your mind out through the maze and into the spirit realm. The tiny noises of the world drop away, to be replaced by the grinding groan of the machine. Smoke blackened brass surrounds you when you open your eyes, the walls closing tightly in from all sides. Indistinct figures toil away in the background, dimly visible through openings carved in the greasy metal walls, their tasks both menial and endless. Sheol's great machine. The thought that you too will, one day, pass through this place is a sobering one. Even knowing that it's an essential part of the cycle, you can't help but shudder at the idea. Not the backbreaking labour itself, but the slow erosion of everything that makes you the man you are today. All your thoughts and memories, all your sins and triumphs, will be ground away to dust. But not everyone is so lucky as to be granted this release. Somewhere, in the deepest part of the machine, the unforgivable souls endure their endless punishment in the knowledge that there can be no escape. Or, perhaps worse, the desperate hope that they may eventually be granted clemency. But those levels are forbidden for one such as you – guarded by the psychopomps, Sheol's most dreadful servants. Rousing yourself, you awake back in the human world. Even so, the loathsome feeling of Sheol's realm seems to cling to you for a long while afterwards. Even that short glimpse into the most shallow level of the machine felt like an act of trespassing, a minor sin of your own. But even so, you wanted to see for yourself.- “An unforgivable sin?” Persephone muses, giving you a sly smile, “Do I really look like the sort of person who'd know about that? Don't answer that, actually, either of you.” “The scriptures don't state exactly what would constitutes an unforgivable sin,” Johannes points out, “Not even necromancy is considered beyond forgiveness. Technically speaking.” “He means that only Sheol is capable of granting that forgiveness, so we have the job of sending the guilty into his care as soon as possible,” her smile deepens, almost growing into a mocking sneer, “All according to the rule of law, of course.” Johannes gives her a dark scowl. “Why are you asking about this, anyway?” he asks, not taking his eyes from the aloof girl. “Something Harriet said,” you reply vaguely, “About what sin might earn that kind of punishment.” “Double necromancy!” Persephone declares after a thoughtful pause, “A necromancy calling up the spirit of a second, worse necromancer. Oh, and don't even ASK about what kind of punishment you get for TRIPLE necromancy!” “Oh come on...” Johannes grumbles, all but burying his face in his hands.[1/2]
>>5679897 “Actually, that's a fun idea!” Persephone cries out, clapping her hands together with a sudden flash of glee, “What's the worst thing you've ever done? Don't even think about wasting my time with the small stuff either, I want the real deal! Johannes, you go first!” A stunned silence follows. “Why,” Johannes asks slowly, “Would you think that I have any inclination to tell YOU that?” “Because it'll be fun?” she answers, “Oh come now, don't act like you're going to be the worst person here. Just tell us, and I promise to leave you in peace. For a little bit, at least.” With an enormous sigh, Johannes admits defeat. “When I was younger, I beat someone up. Another young man at the docks. I beat him pretty badly, actually,” he admits, “I caught him stealing money, you see.” “Oh really?” Persephone raises an eyebrow, “I don't see what's so wrong about that.” “I should have just reported him,” he explains, “And let the magistrates deal with him instead.” “They probably would have just beaten him up anyway,” you point out, “Maybe even taken the money for themselves.” “Whatever. Anyway, that's me,” the heavyset man concludes with a stubborn shrug, pointing an accusing finger at Persephone, “What about you, then? I'm sure we're all thrilled to hear what kind of heinous deeds you've done.” “Nothing much, nothing much,” she gives him a breezy wave, “Sacrificed all my friends and comrades in a nightmarish ritual to gain ultimate power. Nothing much.” Another silence. “I don't think you're being serious,” you remark, “I think I read that in a book once, actually. A book of stories. As in, things that did not actually happen.” “I don't know what you're talking about,” Persephone lies, giving you her sweetest smile, “Now stop changing the subject. What's the worst thing that you've ever done?”>Tell them nothing. You're not playing this game>Tell them an outrageous lie>Tell them the truth>Other
>>5679899>Tell them an outrageous liebombed his hometown before leaving or something
>>5679899>>Tell them the truth
>>5679899>>Tell them an outrageous lieTruth is probably fucked up so let's not kill the mood.
If she's not going to take this seriously, then you don't see any reason why you should either. If they want a story, you'll give them a story – as big and brash as possible. “Well, it's funny you ask. We've actually got a lot in common,” you tell Persephone, “As a fellow appreciator of nightmarish rituals, you'll probably get a kick out of this.” “I'm already giddy with excitement,” she assures you, fanning herself with one hand. “In my own pursuit for ultimate power, I brought destruction down upon my own home town. Complete devastation, the whole place was wiped off the map!” you tell her, giving your words the most dramatic flourish you can, “Fire rained from the sky, and hordes of spirits dragged down all who fled, screaming, from what I had wrought!” Persephone lets out a silent gasp, her eyes wide with pantomime awe. Johannes just groans, shaking his head in utter dismay. “So yeah, that's why I never get any letters from home,” you conclude, rapidly running out of bluster, “What do you think?” “I'd give it a four out of ten. You showed your hand far too early,” she comments, “Unlike my story, which was entirely believable even to the very end.” “This is stupid. You're both stupid,” Johannes grumbles, “And I'm stupid for listening to this.” “You're welcome,” you tell him, “So, now that we've all confessed our sins, what do you want to do?” Persephone yawns, idly toying with her hair as she thinks. “I wonder when old Brehm gets back. We're just killing time until then, aren't we?” she sighs, “Oh, I do apologise, we're “using our free time constructively”, obviously. But even so, I'm actually starting to miss having the old tyrant around. He really had a way of whipping us into shape.” “Not well enough, in your case,” Johannes points out, rising to his feet with a muffled grunt, “I'm going to find something constructive to do, like anything other than this. Don't cause too much trouble while I'm gone.” Waving your goodbyes, you watch as Johannes lumbers out of the dorm. Once the door closes behind you, Persephone taps you lightly on the arm. “So,” she asks quietly, “Why DO you never get any letters from home?” “Nobody left there,” you tell her with a simple shrug, “I don't ever recall seeing you with any letters either.” “Nothing left there either,” she replies, “You know how it is with these nightmarish rituals.”- You sit for a while, wasting time with idle chatter before a knock at the door snaps you out of your stupor. Master Rosenthal is waiting for you when you answer it, a serious look on his face. “Good day,” he begins softly, “I'm glad to see you – I was hoping to have a word. May I come in?” Bad vibes about this. “Sure,” you reply cautiously, gesturing for him to enter, “Make yourself at home.” “I won't be staying long,” he assures you, “Just a quick word.”
>>5679914“I've been hearing some rumours,” Master Rosenthal begins, “About a potential incident in Penn's Garden.” Penn's Garden – Nicholas' home town. The name snaps you back into focus, and you gesture for the instructor to continue. “It's nothing official – we've not had any request for assistance – but there have been murmurs. A trader that was passing through mentioned that he suffered terrible nightmares while he was in town, and so did both of his travelling companions. All the same sort of thing – a dream of being chased, pursued by something terrible,” he explains, “Three people, all having the same nightmares is certainly strange, wouldn't you say?” “Three people claiming to have the same nightmare,” Persephone points out. “Very true. And I have no way to verify their claims. I haven't even had a chance to hear them directly, just second hand gossip,” Master Rosenthal gives her a nod of agreement, “But on the other hand, what reason would they have to lie?” “The simple fun of it? I really couldn't say,” she yawns, “I'm a fundamentally honest person, after all. How am I supposed to know how these people think?” “It could be a spirit,” you agree, ignoring Persephone, “Are there any notable spirits in that area?” “The town used to have a patron spirit called the Stonecutter, linked with the local quarries as you might expect. But from what I understand, it hasn't been active for some time. There is a priest in town, a retired Exorcist actually, but I'm not sure how much responsibility he actually has,” the instructor gives a tiny shrug, “He hasn't sent for assistance at all. Either he doesn't think there's a problem, or he thinks he can handle it by himself.” You consider this for a moment before asking the obvious question. “So why tell me about it?” you ask bluntly, “If you're that worried, why not take matters into your own hands?” “I'm not worried. Not yet, at least. Besides, we can't take any official action until we get a request for aid,” he answers, “On the other hand, if a travelling Exorcist just happened to be visiting town...” Now that you've got your Writ, you can travel and carry out your own research or investigations as you please – especially since you don't have cohort of apprentices to worry about. You're starting to see where this is going. “I thought you'd want to know,” he concludes, “After all, where's the harm in sharing a little gossip?” “Well... thanks,” you reply, “Maybe I'll have some gossip of my own later. I'll see how things go.” With a subtle nod of appreciation, Master Rosenthal lets himself out. You wait for a few seconds before sitting back down. “Twice,” you murmur to yourself, “That's twice now that he's come to speak with me about Nicholas.”[2/3]
>>5679933that's super sus
>>5679933“So?” Persephone asks, leaning back in her chair and flipping a strand of hair away from her face, “In case you haven't noticed, most people here won't even say that name aloud - let alone hold the slightest hint of sympathy for him.” “So it just feels... off,” you sigh, frustrated at your inability to put your thoughts into words. The whole conversation just left you with an intangible feeling of... not-goodness. “That's just life, isn't it?” she points out, “The important thing is, what are you going to DO about it?” That's a good question. There's no reason why you can't just pick up a horse and ride out to Penn's Garden. You could do it right now if you wanted to. But it wouldn't change what's happened. It wouldn't bring Nicholas back. “If it was me...” Persephone begins, letting her words trail off into nothingness. “Yes?” you ask, gesturing for her to get to the point, “If it was you?” “I'd do something. Anything. So long as it wasn't just sitting there and sulking,” she finishes, “So, what do you say?”>You're not going. There's no point in chasing gossip>You'll go to Penn's Garden. But you're going alone>You'll go to Penn's Garden with Persephone. She needs some field experience>Other
>>5679972>You'll go to Penn's Garden with Persephone. She needs some field experience
>>5679972>>You'll go to Penn's Garden with Persephone. She needs some field experience
>>5679972>Go with Persephone
You consider it for a moment more before shaking your head in resignation. There was never really a choice – as soon as you heard the name of the town, you knew where this would lead. The whole situation feels off, like you're dancing to someone else's tune, but that doesn't matter. You'd never forgive yourself if you just turned away from it. “So I'm going, of course,” you tell Persephone with a sigh. “Could be dangerous,” she points out, “You could be walking into all kinds of trouble. Imagine how inconvenient that would be for all of us – we'd end up with another new room mate, and-” “I was hoping that I wouldn't go alone,” you interrupt, “You need some field experience, don't you? Why not come with me?” Persephone smiles – actually smiles, not a smirk or a sneer but a genuine smile. “I was hoping you'd say that,” she purrs, “I suppose you could do with someone responsible to make sure that you don't get in any trouble. Unfortunately, you're stuck with me instead, so I'd better start packing my bags!” She hops to her feet and gives you a tiny peck on the cheek before sauntering off into her room to get started. “Pack your bags?” you repeat to yourself, “We're not going on holiday here...”- “Nicholas never spoke about home much, did he?” Persephone asks, glancing around as she rides her horse down the rough dirt path. There were no carriages available – urgent repairs, apparently – so you're stuck with riding. It's been a while since you had to ride like this, but some things you don't forget. “Not much,” you agree, although you wince a little as you recall his last words to you. Little wonder that he had few happy memories of his home. “Exorcists and a miserable home life,” she sighs, “What a cliché. Can you think of anyone – any SINGLE person – who actually has a happy, stable family life?” “Uh...” she's got you there, “Johannes, I think? He doesn't talk about it much, but he doesn't talk about anything much. He gets letters from home, at least. No nightmarish rituals there. There's got to be someone else...” Persephone just laughs aloud, already losing interest in the subject. Letting the conversation trail off, you focus on guiding your horse along the rough trail for a while. A short while, with your thoughts soon wandering off. It really does seem like Exorcists are a solitary breed by nature – isolated from the very same people that you're supposed to guard. “Life sucks, doesn't it?” she asks suddenly, almost seeming to sense your thoughts. “Yeah,” you agree, “Life sucks. But we keep doing it anyway, don't we?” “Poor decision making, really,” she replies, nodding along with you, “They should do something about it. Pass a law or something. This is an awfully morbid conversation, don't you think?” “You started it.”
>>5680031“Veil's getting thin,” Persephone announces, her shoulders tensing up as she looks around her. You look around as well, searching for... for whatever she's looking at. It's getting dark, with the trees above blocking out much of the little sunlight remaining, and you can't see anything out of the ordinary. Even straining your ears, you can't sense any abnormal sounds either. “Soon. You'll see,” she assures you, reaching down to touch the sword sheathed at her hip. It's not long after that that your horse starts to get restless, jerking its head back and forth as it senses something abnormal in the air. You see the first signs of it now, a thin mist that clings to the ground and gropes at your horse's hooves. It feels like Ravensheugh all over again, just... not quite that bad. Not yet, at least. “We can't be far from town,” you call over to Persephone, “But we'd better hurry.” She doesn't answer, only spurring her horse to a faster pace.- Penn's Garden feels old. Not just the normal kind of old either, but the sort of old where you feel the oppressive weight of years. Everything you see is built from harsh grey stone, overgrown with moss and ivy, but there are lights in the windows and hints of movement within. It's not a total ghost town, no matter how it feels. Leaving your horses stabled at the edge of town, you skulk through the streets in search of... Anything really. The local temple, perhaps. That's usually the best place to start, or at least to seek shelter from the night. You're about to call out an order to Persephone when she holds up a hand for silence, tilting her head as she listens to the air. A few seconds later, you hear it too – it's terribly faint, but you can just about hear the tolling of a bell. “I don't see any bells around here,” you point out, painfully aware that you've dropped your voice to a whisper. Scanning the small town again, you point to a squat building on the outskirts. “I think that's the temple,” you tell her, “Come on.” Your first knock at the temple door goes unanswered. You knock again and again, dimly aware that your blows are growing more and more frantic until, finally, the door creaks open a crack to reveal an aged man. He doesn't look surprised to see you, simply opening the door wider so you can enter. It's only when the door is closed again that he speaks. “You're from the academy,” he states. Not a question. “Just passing through,” you lie, “But it's getting late. I was hoping we could take shelter for the night.” “If you wish,” the priest decides, “And in the morning, you can see to your business in town. We'll talk then.” So much for your half-hearted attempt at deception. “Right then. Very good,” you mutter, “Lead the way.” “And what time do you serve breakfast?” Persephone asks. Both you and the priest turn, giving her a pair of dark scowls.[2/3]
>>5680058The guest rooms remind you, somehow, of the mountaintop monastery. Maybe it's all the bare stone, or just how severe they are. It's not quite as grim as Roerich's quarters were, but it's close. Still, the beds have clean sheets and good blankets to ward off the cold night air. Outside, you can just about see the mist churning through the town. “This is nice, isn't it?” Persephone announces, sitting down on one of the beds, “The two of us, all alone together...” “Need I remind you, this is a temple,” you stress, “Behave yourself.” “Oh boo, you're no fun at all,” she teases, sticking her tongue out at you before flopping down on the bed, “So what are we thinking? First impressions now, give me your gut feeling!” “Gut feeling?” you repeat, “That bell is bothering me. I want to know where it's coming from.” “It sounded like it was coming from very far away,” she agrees, “Or very deep down.” “What about you, what are you thinking?” “I want to see where Nicholas lived,” Persephone answers immediately, “We'll go tomorrow, won't we? I mean, that's why we're really here – don't even try and deny it, Lucas, I can read you like a handsome book. We're here because of him. Because of... hmm. Something he told you? Or something he asked you to do, maybe.” You turn away from the window, giving her a serious look. Persephone just yawns, stretching out on the bed and meeting your gaze with a cool, mocking stare of her own. Talking about Nicholas like this, his mother and his suspicions around her death, seems almost like a betrayal of his trust. It was a secret between the two of you, and a part of you wants to hold tightly onto that.>Tell Persephone why you're really here>She doesn't need to know>Other
>>5680069>Tell Persephone why you're really hereWe did drag her out here. It's only fair. That said this should stay between us.
>>5680069>I'll tell you while we walk. Rather do it without anyone nearby, and maybe knowing it will change these nightmares or something.
>>5680069>She doesn’t need to know
For all that you want to keep this secret to yourself, you know how unfair it really is. Persephone liked Nicholas, as much as she likes anyone, and she was willing to come out here with you. She deserves to know as much as you do. But it's still something you'd rather keep quiet, keep between the two of you. “I'll tell you. But not here,” you tell her, gesturing towards the door, “We can walk and talk.” “But I just got settled down!” Persephone protests, although she's already sitting up and pulling her boots back on. You wait impatiently as she meticulously smooths down her clothes, making sure that every ribbon and bow are just right, and buckles her sword belt back on. “So... eager to get started?” she asks coyly, “Or just worried that the walls might grow ears?” A little of both, actually, but you just answer her question with a knowing look and slip out into the cool night air. “I just wanted to make sure this stays between the two of us,” you explain quietly, shivering slightly as the mist coils around your feet, “So it goes without saying...” “Oh come now, when do I EVER go running my mouth off?” she teases, “So what's the big secret?” “Nicholas. His mother died not long after he was born. Sickness, he was told, weakness from a difficult birth,” you murmur as you walk through the hushed streets. Maybe it's your imagination, but you can almost hear an infant's cries as you talk. You listen again, but the sounds are gone. “But later on, he started to wonder. His mother seemed strong and healthy, when his grandfather saw her. Then she was gone,” you continue, “It always bothered him, not knowing exactly what happened. Having that unanswered question hanging over him.” “He always hated that,” Persephone murmurs, “Couldn't leave any stone unturned. Wait, is that why he-” “He needed to find out, even if it cost him everything,” you confirm, nodding slowly, “But he didn't... wait!” There it is again – the dull tolling of a bell and, perhaps, a rustle of feathers. You look around for any sign of flying birds, but the skies are clear and empty. When a new silence descends, you continue with your story. “He never actually had a chance to find out. They caught him before he could... call the spirit up,” you murmur, “When we spoke, just before the end, I told him that I'd try and find the truth. Even if it's too late to change anything, I promised him that much. So that's what I'm here for. I don't know if I'll find anything here, or even if there's anything to find, but...” “You owe it to him to try. WE owe it to him,” Persephone whispers softly to you, “Don't worry. This'll be our little secret. At least until we get back to the academy.” “Persephone...” “Okay, okay!” she sighs, “It'll be our secret, forever and ever and ever. Happy?” As happy as you can be, under the circumstances.
>>5680090You walk through the silent town with Persephone, occasionally hearing the toll of that phantom bell but never quite placing where it's coming from. The mist seems a little thicker now, seeming to roll through town in more defined waves, but you don't see any clear indication of a breach. The Veil might be growing thin, but it hasn't been pierced. Not yet, at least. When you reach the edge of town, you risk a look into the spirit world itself. Opening your inner eye, you immediately feel a new weight crushing down on you. The mist here is so thick that you can barely see your hand in front of your face, and the air in your lungs seems to turn into a solid mass. It's like the mist has been building here for years, even decades, just waiting for a chance to spill through like a tidal wave. But then the mist starts to clear, burned away by the fire rising above you. Your guardian spirit takes the form of a blazing sunrise, searing away at the mist to reveal the spirit realm at last. The buildings are gone, replaced on all sides by the crusted filth of a dry lake. Even with the mist burned away, though, you can't see any sign of spirits. Before allowing yourself to return, fully, to the human world, you look around to Persephone. Her guardian spirit has fully revealed itself, spreading vast wings to surround her – wings that seem to draw in all light save for a scattering of glinting stars around her. The vastness and terror of the night sky, indeed. “Isn't it wonderful?” she calls out, her voice seeming to come to you from a vast distance. She lunges forwards and grabs you by the hands, spinning around in a wild dance as she laughs aloud. “This whole wide world, just for us!” she continues, “No boorish crowds, no fools and weaklings, just the two of us!” With those last words, she lets go of your hands and twirls away across the stagnant mud. All the while she laughs, her voice wild and weightless and free.>I'm going to call an early finish here. I have some extra time available next week, so I'm potentially looking to run on a few extra days. Updates to come>Thank you for reading along today!
>>5680106Thanks for running! >I have some extra time available next week, so I'm potentially looking to run on a few extra days.best news of my life
>>5680106Thanks for running!
>>5658382I've only gotten as far as here so far, but to the anon who recommended this quest -- Thank you! Amazingly well written, Moloch -- thank you as well. Keep up the good work. Compelling stuff.
>>5656202Funnily enough i was thinking of how you disappeared and suddenly you're back and running a smash up quest. Glad to have you back Moloch.Might not be able to make your runs every time, but i love reading your quests.
Thick mud churns underfoot as you run, plunging blindly through the night. Walls of grey stone rise up around you, in front of you, each change in director slowing you down. Even without looking behind you, you know that it's getting closer. You can't shake the relentless pursuit, no matter how fast you run, and you know that you can't run forever. You slip, losing your footing on the greasy mud. You slip, you fall, you hit the ground. Clawing at the sticky mud as you struggle to rise, you start to hear the tolling of a terrible bell and-- And you wake up, thrashing at the sheets around as you nearly lunge out of bed. Even as your mind slowly starts to clear, your heart still hammers in your chest as your body remembers the fear. Swallowing hard, you take a slow look around the temple bedroom to remind yourself of your surroundings. Penn's Garden. Of course. And you're not alone either. Persephone sits at the far end of the room, delicately perched on the windowsill and gazing out into the mist. She finally glances around at you as you clear your throat, her gaze as cool and mocking as ever. “Well then,” she begins, “I'm willing to concede that perhaps – just perhaps – those traders were right about having nightmares.” “Very generous of you to say so,” you rasp, “You too? Running through a maze, mud underfoot, something chasing after you?” “Snow underfoot. I saw snow underfoot,” Persephone answers, looking away and back out the window instead, “But otherwise, yes, that's the stuff. I feel like I need a good night's sleep just to recover from those dreams.” It's hard to disagree. Your muscles ache, just as if you really had been running for your life. Running your hands down your face and letting out a long sigh, you try and focus on your next steps. “We need to speak with the priest,” you decide. “If you say so,” Persephone replies, a sort of agreement, “But perhaps you should put a shirt on first, yes?”- The temple itself is a curious thing – there's a space in the middle that seems intended for a statue, but it sits empty. The walls, instead, have been covered with intricate paintings depicting the great spirits – Sheol, Adhra, and the Sun King himself. It's an odd, lonesome place, and you can well believe that the patron spirit has been long absent. Yet the priest, Falkenrath, remains. He's tall man, worn thin and hardened with age, with long black robes that lend him a sinister air. He's methodically sweeping the temple floor when you find him, barely sparing the time to look around at you before returning to his chores. “So you've seen the town,” he says at last, “You have eyes. You can see what is happening here.” “The Veil is growing thin. Thinner by the hour,” you reply, “Yet, you don't seem... concerned.” Falkenrath just lets out a hoarse laugh.[1/2]
>>5683724 “The spirits bestow both blessings and curses upon us,” Falkenrath says slowly, “And yet some would think that men can accept one and refuse the other. This place has been silent for too long, but the spirits have heard our cries. Finally, they are preparing to give us their answer.” A cold silence greets this declaration, and the old priest nods in apparent approval. “There is nothing to fear,” he assures you both, “If this is an ordeal, then it is a noble one.” “I do wonder if anyone else here shares your... optimism,” Persephone muses, “How have your dreams been, Master Falkenrath?” “They are... troubled. As are yours, of course. But as I said, this is a noble ordeal,” Falkenrath answers simply, “In time, this will pass.” Persephone just looks at you and raises an eyebrow. It's starting to seem like Falkenrath isn't going to be much help here, but you've got to try. “I won't try to debate philosophy with you, Master Falkenrath. I'm quite certain that you would win. I simply want to understand what's going on here,” you begin, “These nightmares. Would you tell me more about them?” For a moment, it seems like Falkenrath is just going to ignore your questions. Then, at last, he answers. “They come and go. But I'd say they've been going on for a few weeks now. They started with... Ames,” he murmurs, “Yes, I think Ames was the first.” Again Persephone gives you a doubtful look, but she holds her tongue. “Ames?” you prompt. “The hunter. He lives alone, at the border of the forest,” Falkenrath explains, although his voice takes on a note of warning, “Leave him be. His life has been hard, and he is so very old.” “And if I wanted to learn more about the town itself, and the temple, where would be the best place to start?” you ask, “Do you have an archive here?” “Nothing so grand. A few old books, but you are welcome to examine them if you wish,” the priest hesitates before reluctantly pointing to a small door near the guest rooms, “But I'm told that Master Penrose is something of an amateur historian as well. You will have seen Penrose Manor, I'm sure – the large building at the centre of town.” “I know it,” you murmur, keeping a carefully neutral expression. Persephone glances over, meeting your eyes before nodding ever so slightly towards the other side of the temple. Murmuring thanks to the old priest, you follow her away before asking, “So are we thinking?” “I'm thinking that our charming host doesn't have long to wait before he gets his answer,” she whispers, “Well, what's our first move?”>See if you can find Ames, the hunter, and hear his story>You need to learn the situation. The temple archives should help>You came here for Nicholas. Penrose manor comes first>You've got questions for the priest... (Write in)>Other>Note that time is a factor here, so this vote is specifically for what you'd like to do first
>>5683725>>You've got questions for the priest... (Write in)>Can you tell us about the Bells in Penn's Garden? It IS a real one right, not one that dwells in the spirit world?>Have the seasons changed here? The fog come early on the calendar?>You need to learn the situation. The temple archives should helpThe manor's more important, but we don't have much leverage to whoever we talk to there.
>>5683725>>You need to learn the situation. The temple archives should help>>5683736Being Nicholas' friends and colleagues should open some doors. Also I wonder if the start of this lines up with Nicolas' death
“First off, we need to figure out exactly what we're dealing with. The archives might be a good place to start,” you muse, “Have you forgotten? One of the first things Master Brehm taught us-” “History is the best teacher,” Persephone quotes, her forehead creasing with a slight frown, “Which is all well and good, but unless our friend was being accurate when he said “a few” books, we might still be studying history when the world ends.” “If the world starts to end, we'll take a break,” you promise, “You just don't want to get your nice clothes all dusty.” “I know what these archives are like,” she warns, her voice stern. Still, she obediently falls in behind you as you return to the priest. “I had a few questions, if you will,” you ask him carefully, “Last night, I'm sure that I heard a bell tolling somewhere in town. At least, I think it was in town. Not... anywhere else. Does that mean anything to you?” Falkenrath considers this, staring down at the stone tiles beneath his feet. “The old church had a grand bell that called the faithful to worship,” he answers after a long while, “But it was lost, long ago, when the old church was destroyed. Maybe taken away and sold, maybe melted down for scrap. A fine way to treat a holy object!” The old church, you think to yourself, that should help narrow down your search through the archives. Maybe the bell – or some version of it – still exists in the other world. “This fog,” you ask next, “Is that normal for this time of year, or have the seasons changed?” “Oh no, it's not normal. Not by any means,” Falkenrath lets out a rasping laugh, “Not normal for our world, I should say. This fog heralds the arrival of the spirits. When the skies clear, we shall truly see.” “And we shall wish that our eyes be blinded once more,” Persephone whispers, hurriedly grabbing you by the hand and pulling you over to the archives. Hauling open the door, she drags you inside and slams the door shut behind you. Leaning back against it, she lets out a low breath. “I don't think I like this place!” she announces, her voice sickly sweet, “Shall we do our studying and get a move on?” You stare at her for a moment. “You're... acting funny,” you point out, rather unnecessarily, “What's the problem?” “Now now, I don't think this is the time for that. Look at all these lovely books for you to read!” she yelps, scurrying across to the rather forlorn bookshelf and pulling down one of the texts, “You've always liked your books, and since I'm feeling SO generous, I'll help with the studying!” This, you can tell, is a fight that you can't win. Instead, you search the bookshelf for a moment before finding a volume on local history. Just what you're looking for.[1/2]
>>5683748Despite your best efforts, it's hard to focus on the book. You keep glancing up at Persephone as she pretends to read through her book, her leg nervously twitching under the table. She notices your looks eventually and forces herself to remain still. That, somehow, is worse – how perfectly unnatural her stillness seems. With persistence, you manage to skim through the history book. Much of it is irrelevant, but you soon notice a mention of the local spirits. The Stonecutter was a patron spirit of builders and artisans, unsurprising for a town founded around quarries and stonework. Under the spirit's protection, the town grew and became wealthy. A temple was built near the quarries themselves, although the book is remarkably brief on the actual rites carried out there. Then, later, the temple was destroyed in some cataclysmic earthquake. The Stonecutter was silent, following the earthquake. A new temple was built within town, complete with a grand idol of the spirit itself, but the Stonecutter never returned and slowly, the temple fell into disrepair. It was only much later that Nathaniel Penrose funded the repairs and renovations of the new temple. A check of the dates all but confirms it – Nathaniel Penrose was Nicholas' father. “So the old temple is destroyed, and the spirit leaves. Then, later, Nathaniel Penrose has the temple repaired... about twenty years ago, judging by this,” you think aloud, “That would have been just after Nicholas was born. What do you think?” “Stop, you're making me feel old,” Persephone remarks with a grimace, “Maybe we could go out and see the old temple for ourselves. Is there anything left of it?” “Doesn't say... wait, no,” you mutter, flicking through the book, “It says the ruins were left at the northern quarry, but the quarry itself was abandoned. So there must be something left, at least. After all this time, though...” The physical ruins might be long gone, ground away to dust by the weight of time. But if the temple bell is still tolling out from the spirit world, there might still be something there. “Still...” Persephone murmurs, “Why pay to rebuild the temple?” “An act of charity, perhaps?” you suggest. “Lucas, darling, this is the real world. People don't just do acts of charity. There had to have been a reason for it,” she shakes her head, “Maybe not a GOOD reason, but a reason nonetheless.” Maybe. Or maybe not. But you're not going to find many more answers in the archives – it's time to move on.>Head to the Penrose Manor next. There's a connection to the temple there>Visit the site of the old temple, see what remains of the ruins>See if you can find Ames, the hunter>Other
>>5683763>Visit the site of the old temple, see what remains of the ruinsWe might be able to find what we need to jury rig a solution in the new temple with Penrose' permission
>>5683763>Head to the Penrose Manor next. There's a connection to the temple there>>5683767Since time is of the essence, to save time going back and forth I'd say we talk to whoever is in charge there and ask them to come with us to the temple to discuss plans.
>>5683770I'm either or on that, not so sure there'll be anything to show to a layperson when what we'll be asking and sketching will probably be from the spirit world.
Idly flicking through the pages of the history book, you plan out your next move. Persephone picks up another book as you think, practically hiding behind it as she reads, but you barely notice her. There are still too many unknowns here, too many gaps in your knowledge. The only thing you can say for certain is that the temple bell keeps ringing out. Calling the faithful to worship, as Falkenrath said. “I think we should head to the site of the old temple next,” you propose, “We can see what remains of the ruins, and maybe... are you listening to me?” Persephone looks up from the book she had been reading, giving you a sly smile. “Of course I was listening to you,” she answers politely, “You were just saying how we were finished here, and we're ready to leave this town behind.” “Not... quite,” you give her a sigh, “What are you even reading?” “Town census. Births, deaths, marriages. It's riveting stuff, trust me,” she grins, although her lips are drawn tight with an unspoken tension, “Well, I've got to do something while you sit there and mutter to yourself!” “I don't... I was NOT muttering to myself!” you snap, “Why are you so desperate to get out of here all of a sudden?” Persephone's mouth twists into a grimace. “I just have a bad feeling about this place. A very bad feeling, actually,” she states bluntly, “There's something coming, and I have absolutely no desire to be here when it arrives. Not only that, but I have even less desire to go for a hike up in the bloody hills! If we must do something – if we really must – why don't we visit the Penrose manor? It'll be nice and quick, hardly any time at all!” She might have a point there. You're sure that the old temple is calling out to you, but it could take a long time to reach the ruins. You might not have time for a return trip later, if necessary. Asking a few questions at the Penrose manor, though... “Fine. It's better than just sitting around and arguing,” you decide with a sigh, “But after this – right after this - we're going up into those hills, whether you like it or not.” As if she was the one who had been handed a death sentence, Persephone sighs.- It's strange, seeing people going about their business through the thick fog. They look normal at first, although you soon notice something odd about they way they move. They shuffle from place to place, flinching at everything and shying away from each other. Not one of the locals looks at you as you move through the town, as if you didn't exist at all. The fog is even thicker now, laying over everything like a heavy blanket. Persephone was right about one thing – there's something coming, something preparing to emerge into your world, and it's likely something bad.[1/2]
>>5683789There's hardly a light burning in the Penrose manor – a single window lit on the upper floor, but nothing else that you can see. You knock at the door, hearing the dull sound echoing out through some cavernous hall beyond. After a long wait, a suited servant opens the door and looks at you with weary eyes. “I apologise, but Master Penrose is not seeing visitors,” he announces in a flat voice, “Can I ask who is calling?” “We're...” you begin, faltering as you try to find the right words, “We're from the academy. Nicholas is... he was our friend.” The servant is silent for a long moment before opening the door wider and ushering you into the gloomy hall. Once the door closes, he turns up the wick on a hissing gas lantern to cast a warm light over the hall. Even here, you can make out traces of the ever-present fog creeping about the floor. The entrance hall is surprisingly barren, with the sole decoration being... A statue. A statue of a bearded man clutching a hammer and chisel. Persephone's eyes widen slightly at the sight of it, thinking exactly the same thing you are. The statue from the newly renovated temple – but why here? “Master Penrose is not seeing visitors,” the servant repeats, gesturing to a set of chairs, “But if there's any way that I can help, I'll do what I can. For the young master's sake. My name is Barnabus – I've been serving the family for my whole life. Terrible, to think now that I might outlive it...” His eyes drift away from you for a moment before snapping back. “You said you were from the academy?” he asks quietly, “Does this concern the young master, or... our current situation?” “I wonder if it might be both,” you muse, “These dreams. Are you having them? Master Penrose, too?” “Yes. Both of us. Master Penrose mentioned them first. I assumed, at first, that it was the shock. He had only just learned about... the young master. But then I started getting the dreams too, and others all throughout town followed suit,” Barnabus rubs his reddened eyes, “Master Penrose has shut himself away ever since. I've barely had a chance to speak with him since this all started.” “We might need to see him. It could be important – vital, even,” you urge, “This fog, these dreams, I think it all connects back to the temple. The OLD temple. I think-” “Excuse me,” Persephone interrupts, “But I really can't just sit here and ignore it any longer. Exactly WHY does your boss have the temple's statue in his front hall?” “Master Penrose requested it as payment, in return for repairing the new temple,” the servant explains slowly, undisturbed by Persephone's blunt words, “It was an acceptable trade – the Stonecutter had been silent for years, no matter what prayers were offered. It was no holy object – just a statue, nothing more.”[2/3]
>>5683799“Just a statue, nothing more,” Persephone insists, “But he just HAD to have it?” “I'm afraid I couldn't say exactly what his reasons were. Master Penrose merely said that it was better this way,” Barnabus shakes his head slowly, “Perhaps he felt he... appreciated the spirit. He is an architect, you see – he seemed to feel some kinship with the spirit, absent though it was. I remember, before the young master came along, he would often walk in the hills and look out at the old quarries. He always thought that the spirit resided there, no matter what everyone else thought.” The old quarries, and perhaps the ruins of the old temple. “Can you tell me a little more about Master Penrose?” you ask carefully, “How has be been, ever since... ah, the news?” A deep sigh. “I fear that it has dealt him a terrible blow. The guilt was the worst part, I think – I believe he blamed himself for what happened,” the servant lowers his voice, “Such is the way of a parent, I suppose. First Lady Penrose, and then the young master... a man can only withstand so much, and now this on top of everything else.” “I know that this must be a hard time for him, for everyone here, but it's like I said – it's important that we see Master Penrose,” you press, “If you can speak with him at all, if you can try to make him understand how important this could be...” “I will try,” Barnabus promises, although the expression on his gaunt features is far from optimistic. Nodding your thanks, you get up to leave the manor. Things are looking slightly clearer now, but it's time that you see these ruins for yourself.>Head out to the old temple ruins>A few questions first... (Write in)>Other
>>5683808>>Head out to the old temple ruins
>>5683808We can use Nicholas' last words to drag him out with us to the hills if we have to. If the mother has anything to do with the old quarry, then...>Did the lady penrose ever visit the old quarry?
>>5683829going to bed, starting to worry that nicholas' whole family was set up to take the spirit away and cut the veil in this area.
>>5683813>>5683808Adding some extra to my vote>A few questions first... (Write in)Ask about Nicholas and Lady Penrose. General stuff at first, how were they like, good memories, etc. Then poke about Lady Penrose's death. "Shame she passed so young. Nick said it was right after he was born." or something like that.
“Go on ahead,” you murmur to Persephone, nodding towards the door. She gives you a scowl, but obeys. Once she's out of earshot, you turn back to Barnabus. “I'm sorry, but I need to ask you a few more questions. It's about Nicholas... and Lady Penrose,” you tell him quietly, watching as his face clouds over, “Did you know her well?” “I did. At least, I like to think I did. She was a quiet woman, but she cared deeply for Master Penrose. I always felt like she... didn't care for this place, but she set her own feelings aside for the sake of her husband,” the old man recalls, “Once, she told me that this was an ugly place. No, a place for ugly deeds. That's what she called it. But only once. As far as Master Penrose knew, she was happy here.” “Did she ever visit the old quarry herself?” “No. No, I don't think she did. It's a difficult hike out there, and Lady Penrose was... delicate. I fear she would only have hurt herself if she went out there. I thought the young master might be the same – he was so pale and sickly at first – but he grew to love the hills,” Barnabus muses, “He would spend hours exploring the hills and quarries. But always alone, never with Master Penrose.” You're silent for a long moment, thinking of Nicholas wandering through the lonesome hills. Why? To try and find some common ground with his father, perhaps. Or perhaps not. “It's truly terrible,” you murmur, risking a look up at Barnabus, “Nicholas never had the chance to know his mother, wasn't that right? He told me that she...” “Lady Penrose passed shortly after he was born,” Barnabus hesitates, pained with guilt, “I... wasn't there at the time. Master Penrose sent me to bring a doctor for Lady Penrose. He feared for her health, you see. I didn't believe him at first – the lady seemed strong, so happy and healthy – but he was right all along. If only I had left to summon the doctor sooner, things might have... Excuse me.” “...I'm sorry,” you mutter awkwardly, looking away as the old man clears his throat. So. It was just Lady Penrose and her loving husband, all by themselves. Happy and healthy one day, gone the next. How very peculiar. “Perhaps, for the sake of the young master's memory, I can get Master Penrose to see sense,” Barnabus sighs, “He has never properly mourned them. Either of them. Now, I fear that he might never get the chance.” Murmuring your thanks again, you step back and leave the old man in peace. You've opened enough wounds.- “You're thinking something,” Persephone whispers, “I can see the cogs turning in that head of yours. What are you thinking?” “I don't know yet. Some of the pieces are starting to fit together, but not all the details are adding up. I'm sure there's something we're missing,” you reply quietly, “Something about these dreams, they-” Outside, a muffled scream. A scream of pure terror, ripping through the town.
>>5683847The scream echoes out, and you throw open the manor door to see a woman fleeing through the town. She's gone before you can stop her, vanishing into the fog, but her last words were something about the forest. Something IN the forest. Drawing your revolver, you hastily start retracing her steps through the town and then into the sparse woods beyond. The trees here are skeletal, withered, with their fallen leaves crunching underfoot as you follow the woman's trail. The forest grows thicker as you press deeper in, but the trees remain the same, sickly type. The fog clings tightly to you, muffling all sounds other than your own heartbeat and the slow tolling of the temple bell. You feel a sudden pang of fear, a certainty that you've made some terrible mistake by entering the forest, but you push it away. Driven by some nameless feeling, you press through the mist until a dark silhouette starts to loom large over you. A great tree, thicker and taller than all the rest, with branches that stab violently towards the sky. And splayed out atop the branches, with their blood trickling down like a thin rain, is the body of an old man.- You're not sure how long you stand there, staring up at the body. It's been impaled on the branches, countless wooden points thrust through the body by some inhuman force. No matter how long you stare, you can't make sense of it. You're so lost in thought that you barely hear the rustle of dried leaves as the other townsfolk arrive, some flinching away and retching at the sight. “Oh no...” someone gasps, “That's Ames!” Ames. The hunter. The first one to start having the nightmares, according to Falkenrath. Now this. “Well, isn't that something,” Persephone murmurs, touching you lightly on the shoulder, “How does that fit into your theory, Lucas?” “I'm... having to make some adjustments,” you admit, finally tearing your eyes away from the gruesome scene, “This is going to complicate things.” You pause, spotting Falkenrath waiting in the confused crowd. Like you, his gaze is fixed upon the suspended corpse. Pushing past Persephone, you march over to the priest and point an angry finger back towards the great tree. “Take a good long look,” you snarl, “Is that a noble ordeal too?” Falkenrath just stares, leaning heavily on his walking stick. His face is blank, his eyes are hollow, and he says nothing at all. Eventually, he just turns away and starts to hobble back towards town with the rest of the townsfolk. You reach out to grab his arm, only for Persephone to stop you. “Don't waste your time,” she hisses, “Forget him. The temple, remember?” The thought of letting Falkenrath just walk away from this gets your blood boiling, but... maybe she's right.>Let Falkenrath go. The temple ruins take priority>Confront Falkenrath right here, in front of his people>Follow Falkenrath back to the temple, confront him there>Other
>>5683851>Let Falkenrath go. The temple ruins take priority
>>5683851>Let Falkenrath go. The temple ruins take priority"If we can't solve this in time we may need to pull rank and order an evacuation"
Clenching your fists, you let out a slow breath and nod. “You're right. The temple. This all comes back to the temple, not... whatever THIS is,” you concede, “But if we can't solve this soon, I might need to pull rank and order an evacuation!” This, you make sure to say loud enough for Falkenrath to overhear. His shoulders seem to tense up slightly, but otherwise he offers no reaction. You call out a few orders to the few townsfolk who linger, urging them to bring the body down, and then you start the slow march back into town. Persephone stays close by your side as you go, and you feel absurdly grateful for her presence. Even at a short distance like this, the fog robs people of any real shape or form. Trekking back into town, surrounded by silhouettes like this, is an eerie task. “Lady Penrose said this was an ugly place,” you murmur, “A place for ugly deeds. What did she see that everyone else missed?” “Death,” Persephone replies simply, “This place is rife with death. Accidents, disease, violence... the census book was full of it.” “Premature death,” you mutter, the words seeming the hang cold in your mouth, “Unnatural death.” - Heading north out of town, you start the difficult hike to the quarries. On a better time, you're certain that the craggy landscape must make for some tremendous views but now you're left staring into a grey mass of nothing. Walking in silence with Persephone, you try to ignore the sound of the bell tolling in your head. It's almost deafening now. Does that mean you're close to something? Or does it mean that you're running out of time? A faint murmur from behind you causes you to glance back. Persephone's lips are drawn tight, her eyes hardened with some unreadable emotion – perhaps fear, perhaps anger, perhaps something between the two. Shaking her head, she waves away your question before you even have a chance to ask it. You're about to press ahead anyway when you see a flicker in the corner of your eye. A flash of white, of... snowflakes? A thin wave of snowflakes blows across you, fading into nothingness before you can catch them. They're no more real than the tolling of the bell is real – something born from the spirit world. Then you remember what Persephone mentioned, about seeing snow in her dream. Practically fleeing from any attempt at questioning, Persephone hurries on ahead. She stumbles over the next ridge, nearly losing her footing on the uneven ground before reaching the top and looking out at the meagre view ahead. A soft cry escapes her, and she points down into the quarry below. Hurrying to join her, you look out at the dull lights glowing below. Orbs of throbbing spirit light drift through the mist, their spectral glow casting shadows across the blocky rubble below. Not just any rubble, though, but the remains of some ancient building. The ruins of the old temple.
>>5683862The new temple in Penn's Garden had felt off, a sad and lonely place, but the ruins of the old temple are worse. The new temple had always been empty and unused, the ruins have the feeling of a corpse – something where the life has been violently ripped away. There's hardly anything left of the place, which is hardly a surprise. Judging by the fallen rocks, it had once been placed high atop the hills – until the earthquake sent the whole hillside tumbling down. But there is one thing that remains, albeit in a sad and decrepit state. Half-buried in the fallen rocks is a broken statue, mostly weathered away but just about recognisable as an ancient version of the statue in Penrose manor. The bell, just as Falkenrath suggested, is nowhere to be seen. “I was thinking. Maybe Master Penrose has been worshipping the Stonecutter all this time, even long after everyone else turned away. He's been calling out all this time, loud enough and long enough that the spirit might be returning,” you think aloud, “But now, I don't know. These nightmares, this death... It doesn't add up.” A long silence. “Maybe the death is different. Nothing to do with this,” Persephone offers, her voice strained, “Maybe Ames picked a fight with the wrong tree.” Even her attempt at a joke feels forced. Shaking your head, you gesture for her to sit amidst the ruins with you. You both close your eyes, opening your minds up to the spirit world and letting the ethereal energies flow over you. When you open your eyes, the world around you has changed utterly – the temple remains intact, high up on the hillside above you, and the bell is ringing out a call to worship. Persephone shivers as a fresh wave of snow falls, the flakes thicker and heavier than ever before. Her guardian spirit is fluttering around her head in a state of sheer panic, while the girl's expression is frozen. Without waiting for you, she starts to clamber back up the hill and hastens to the temple. As you follow, a new sound rings out – this time, the cry of some terrible bird. You both look up to the roiling red sky, and you catch sight of a huge black shape circling above. “Go!” you yell, your voice sounding like it comes from deep water. Persephone starts to run for the relative shelter of the temple, and you follow close behind. The bird changes path, not circling now but diving down towards you with claws outstretched. It cries again as it plunges down towards, the screech deafening now. Terror lends you strength, and you manage to flee into the temple just as the bird comes crashing down to the ground. Ungainly on the ground, it hopes after you and furiously jabs its beak through the temple doorway but you're too far in. All it can do is gnash and snap at the empty air, soon losing interest and hopping back. The giant crow takes a moment to stare at you with one beady black eye before it cries again and takes flight.
>>5683876Neither of you says a thing for a long while. You don't even know WHAT to say. All you can do is shake your head in weary disbelief and look around the ghostly temple. It looks similar to the new temple in town, although the murals painted across the walls are different. Rather than depicting the various great spirits, they portray scenes from an ancient history. The first panel of the mural shows scrawny men toiling, breaking and hauling vast blocks of stone. The men are divided, fighting amongst themselves and spilling blood across the stones. The second panel shows the men kneeling before a wise, bearded figure who holds out a hand in wise instruction. A teacher of sorts, with tools worn at his belt. The final panel is strange – you're not quite sure what to make of it. The final panel shows a brilliant sun – the Sun King, obviously – casting light upon the men. The men are no longer wretched things, but strong and noble. They reach up to embrace the sun, raising their tools in a loyal salute. At the farthest edge of the mural, the bearded figure of the craftsman watches on from the shadows. “Lucas...” Persephone whispers, drawing your attention away from the murals, “It's still out there.” You look back. Persephone has crept back up to the doorway and peers out at the sky above. Following her gaze, you see a flicker of black as the bird circles above. This time, at least, it seems content to wait. “Revolting thing,” she mutters, shuddering, “What IS it?” “I think that's the thing that killed Ames,” you answer quietly, “I've seen if before. Just... not with a person. Back home, we had these birds. Shrikes. They'd catch their prey and spear it on a thorn so they could pick at it. Slowly, if they wanted.” “I've met girls like that,” Persephone jokes, her attempt at a smile merely ending up as ghoulish, “But what does that have to do with the temple?” You stare out at the murals for a long moment as you think. “It doesn't,” you reply eventually, “I don't think it has anything to do with the temple. But it's like Master Brehm says – when a door opens-” “You can't always tell what's going to come through,” she finishes for you, “Then who opened the door in the first place?” Shaking your head, you return to the statue of the Stonecutter. Laying your hands upon the altar, you close your eyes and listen. Past the relentless tolling of the bell, you feel words carving themselves into your mind. Brutal words, merciless words, words that- I WILL HAVE WHAT I AM OWED. Jerking your hands away from the altar, you let out a thin cry as the white stone starts to darken and discolour where you touched it. The stains spread out, the colour deepening into the unmistakable red of blood. Suddenly, you know exactly what kind of rites were offered to the ancient Stonecutter.>I'm going to take a pause here for today, but I'll be back and continuing from the same time tomorrow
>>5683888So the Stonecutter helped guide this local community of humanity, requiring what I assume was human sacrifice to appease him, but then the village converted to the Sun King with the old local worship being neglected? Could be that the Stonecutter itself is weakening the veil for revenge or until it gets what it is 'owed'.
>>5683888Thanks for running!
>>5683888So was the mother giving blood? Who do we kill first?
>>5674184Finally read up to here (only two weeks behind the current update, now!) and how are there SO many prime waifus in this quest? Seriously, this quest is SO well written. Every character is interesting. No throwaway stock or bit characters in-sight!
“Human sacrifice,” Persephone murmurs, her lips curling with disgust, “Is that what you're saying?” “Look here, at these murals. It was only after blood was spilt that the Stonecutter, this figure here, appeared. Life got better after that – he gave men tools and taught them to make art, not just to toil like beasts. But there was a price,” you pause, pointing to the final mural, “Until the Sun King rose, and men turned away from the Stonecutter. They still had their tools, their knowledge, but now there was no price.” “Oh, and I'm sure that their old master was just delighted about that,” she remarks, “Probably why he abandoned them.” “But that's the thing – I don't think he did!” you insist, “I think... I think the Stonecutter has been here all along, feeding off all the death in this place. The census book, remember? This isn't something NEW, like Falkenrath thinks, this is something very, very old. Something that's been lurking beneath the surface all this time. It's only now, with the Veil growing thin, that we've taken notice.” “That's all very interesting, but we're coming back to the same old question,” Persephone taps a finger against her cheek as she thinks, “What caused the Veil to grow thin in the first place?” It's a question that you don't yet have an answer for. Searching all over town, and through all the surrounding hills, would take far too long and with no promise of success. Blood has already been spilt here – and more might follow if you can't get to the bottom of this. You start to answer, only to hesitate as a wave of dizziness rolls over you. Taking it as a warning, you close your eyes and send your mind back to the human world.- You barely have time to open your eyes before a crushing wave of fatigue rolls over you. It's hard work just peering into the spirit world, let alone directly casting your mind into it. The exhaustion is so intense that you can't even get to your feet for a long moment. Eventually, bracing yourself for a fall all the way, you manage to rise. “You've done it this time, Lucas. You've actually murdered me,” Persephone groans, “If not now, the hike back to town is definitely going to finish me off. Oh, I can't wait!” “Save the complaining for later,” you warn, although you find yourself secretly agreeing with her, “We need to move.” “But I can complain AND move, see?” she insists, limping a few steps forwards, “It's called multitasking, perhaps you've heard of it?” “That's great. I'm really proud of you,” you shoot back, “Anyway, if you've got enough energy to make smart comments then you've got enough energy to march.” “I Can't believe some people actually do this for FUN...” she mutters angrily to herself, nearly tripping on a rough outcrop of stone and barking out a harsh curse. There are some perks to the job, you suppose.[1/2]
>>5684395“Why Ames?” you think aloud as you're walking, “Of all the people here, why kill Ames?” “Now, if I was some kind of monstrous predator... don't you DARE say anything, Lucas, I can hear what you're thinking! As I was saying, if I was a predator like this, I'd look for easy prey,” Persephone suggests, giving you a look of warning, “Someone weak. Someone isolated and alone, someone I could catch without fear of being caught in the act.” “It's possible. But Ames was the first one here to start getting these nightmares,” you recall, “If that's a coincidence, it's a big one. Ah, there's just too much that we don't know - if only we could have spoken with him!” Persephone lets out a bitter laugh. “You are assuming, of course, that he would have been willing to tell us the truth. You're assuming that ANYONE here is going to tell us the truth,” she spits, “Falkenrath has been hiding things from us since the moment we arrived here, I'm sure of it. Normally I wouldn't take any issue with that, of course, but when it's making MY life more difficult... well, there are some things that I just can't accept!” “Okay. Say you're right about that,” you concede, motioning for her to speak freely, “Where does that leave us?” “Forget him. He's a waste of our precious time. Ames had a house on the edge of town, yes? If you really think he's that important, we might find something there. Or someone else in town might be generous enough to share their no-doubt ample gossip,” she suggests, punctuating each word with a sharp gesture of anger, “Or we go straight back to Penrose, and this time we don't take no for an answer.” You're left dazed by the viciousness in her word, the sheer animosity she seems to bear towards the old priest. Come to think of it, this erratic streak all started from something Falkenrath said – something about seeing the truth, or words to that effect. Either way, it's hard to know how rational her suspicions might be. “Well, there it is. I've said my piece,” Persephone concludes with an insolent shrug, “You're the qualified Exorcist here, Master Hearne, what are your orders?”>You're going back to the manor, and you're not leaving until you've seen Penrose>You'll try and discuss the case with Falkenrath. He was an Exorcist once, he's duty-bound to help you>You'll track down Ames' house and search for clues. You need to know more about him>Other
>>5684398>You'll track down Ames' house and search for clues. You need to know more about him
>>5684398I think it's too late for Ames' house. I DO think that the Nicholas' father is close to being the next one.>You're going back to the manor, and you're not leaving until you've seen Penrose
>>5684398>>You're going back to the manor, and you're not leaving until you've seen Penrose
There's something about the direct approach, as Persephone described it, that appeals to you. You were being polite before, playing by Master Penrose's rules, but the situation has changed. A man is dead, and more might follow. Master Penrose might know something that could help solve this mystery, and you're not going to leave him alone until you've heard what he has to say. “Penrose manor first,” you tell her simply, “We've got unfinished business.” Persephone claps her hands together with glee and hastens her steps. “I like your plan,” she remarks, glancing back over her shoulder, “Which is really just MY plan, now that I think about it, so I like it even more now. Come on then, hurry up!” She's got a lot of energy for someone who claimed to be dying a short while ago. But at least you're making progress.- Barnabus is slow to answer your knock, and he holds an antique pistol in his hand when he finally opens the door. “My apologies,” he whispers, ushering you in and closing the door. Setting the pistol down, he starts to slide the heavy lock back into place before barring the door. “I was able to speak with Master Penrose,” the old servant continues, “But I'm afraid that his answer was the same. He is not receiving guests.” “That's fine. This isn't a social call – it's Exorcist business now,” you answer grimly, “It doesn't matter if he likes it or not, he's going to help us.” “Excellent,” Barnabus murmurs, relief plain to see on his face, “This way, please.” Idly resting one hand on the sword sheathed at your waist, you follow Barnabus up the grand staircase and around the walkway. Just as you're heading into the eastern wing, Persephone lets out a thin cry and stumbles in place. She slumps against the balustrade, clawing at it for support as you rush over to help her. “I heard it...” she whispers, her face somehow paler than normal, “I heard it, Lucas. The Shrike, I... I can hear the sound of those terrible wings!” You strain your ears, but you don't hear anything. Not yet, at least – Persephone was the first one to notice the Veil growing thin, too, when you first arrived. She's always been one step ahead of you that way. “Milady?” Barnabus asks, his brow furrowed with concern, “Are you-” “I'm fine!” she gasps, pulling herself upright and grabbing your arm with a desperate strength, “We can't stop now. Not for anything!” You nod, prising her hand away from your arm and nodding for Barnabus to lead on. The servant still seems worried, but he wastes no time in hurrying you along to Master Penrose's study. The door is firm, and very well locked. You first knock, then start pounding on the door when there's no response. Even that goes unanswered, and you're left with the most direct approach of all. You've always wanted to do this.
>>5684408The door bursts open on your first kick, shards of wood flying free as the lock shatters. Pushing your way through the remains of the door, you look into the dimly lit study to see, amazingly, Master Penrose still sitting calmly at his reading desk. He's so still that you mistake him for a corpse at first, with only the slightest movement of his chest indicating that he still draws breath. “Thank you, Barnabus,” he says at last, his voice a hoarse whisper, “You may leave us now.” You could threaten the servant with your revolver, and you don't think he would leave any faster than this. It's only when the muffled rattle of a distant door sounds that Master Penrose finally turns to you. At first glance he seems like any other well-groomed nobleman, but then you start to notice the signs of decay – his hair has grown out a little too much, and a thin stubble has started to from on his cheeks. His clothes are fine enough, but creased from too much wear. Worse of all are his eyes – red and glassy from a lack of sleep. “Master Penrose,” you begin, his calm expression leaving you fumbling for something to say, “We're from the academy. I think you know what this is about.” A gamble, but you're interested to see what he makes of it. “This could be about so many things, boy. Be more specific,” he replies, his reedy voice grating on your nerves, “The fog? The dreams? The death of that wretched man?” “All one and the same,” you answer, “Was Ames a “wretched” man, then?” Penrose dismisses your question with a wave of his hand. “We're all wretched, aren't we? Men, I mean. Weak, fallible, and riddled with sin,” he spits, “Sheol can burn the sin away, or so the priests claim, but even that is a fleeting effort. But enough of this – you didn't come to hear a bitter old man bemoan his place in the world.” “You visited the ruins of the old temple. You brought that statue of the Stonecutter here. You're the only one who remembers the spirit, aren't you?” you ask, trying a different approach, “What the spirit really is, I mean. You know the old ways. Did you-” “Those days are long past!” Penrose interrupts, lurching to his feet in a sudden flare of anger. He's taller than you first thought, but terribly thin. “You think I'm some kind of butcher, offering up blood to some savage idol?” he snarls, “I know... I know my history. But I took no part in it. I never gave any offerings, never made any sacrifices. I won't stand for these... these accusations!” “I didn't accuse you of anything,” you point out quietly, “Do you have something to feel guilty for?” The question hits Penrose like a closed fist, and he slowly sinks back down into his armchair. “I'm not accusing you of anything,” you continue, “But I want to understand. I need to understand what's going on here.”[2/3]
>>5684418“I know my history. I've known it ever since I was a boy, where I learned it from ancient texts passed down through my family for generations. We've lived on this land for as long as records show. We ARE this land, the stone in the quarries and the soil underfoot. Those books, they taught me about the Stonecutter and the history that everyone else has tried so hard to bury.” “The Stonecutter could not exist in a time such as ours – a hard master, hard but fair. A master that recognised the true price of things. Yes, I visited the ruins. Many times, in fact, but no matter how many times I went my prayers went unanswered. The new temple was a hollow mockery, eager to give away their one true idol for a pittance. You see? They do not know the price of things. I do.” “But no matter what I did, the answer was the same – silence,” Penrose concludes with a sigh, “You're looking for someone to blame. I tell you, I am not that man.” “What did you do?” you press, “What exactly did you do for the Stonecutter? Did you perform any rites or rituals, did you make ANY offerings?” “I know no rites or rituals. I only offered prayers, and gave them their new temple,” he answers, “Nothing more than that.” Nothing that could cause harm to the Veil, then, and his wishes alone wouldn't be enough to draw down a spirit. “The Stonecutter isn't the only spirit here. There's something else – the Shrike, we're calling it,” you explain to him, “Something brought it here, and it's the thing that killed Ames. These old books you mentioned, did they ever talk about any other spirits?” “Not at all. The Stonecutter was the only spirit worshipped here, until the great spirits came,” Penrose shakes his head, unable to keep a vicious note from his voice as he adds, “But I'm not the expert here, of course.” Before you can counter that, Persephone grabs your arm and drags you a few paces away. “Lady Penrose,” she whispers to you, “Hit him with her.” “Why?” you ask, “Do you think this all goes back to her?” “Maybe. Maybe not,” she admits with a shrug, “But I want to see that bastard squirm, and she's going to rattle his cage like nothing else would. Hit him where it hurts.” It's a brutal approach, but it might work. It might also burn all kinds of bridges, but if that's what it takes...>Keep quiet about Lady Penrose. This isn't the time for that>Bring up Lady Penrose, but play it softly. You're not here to hurt him>Bring up Lady Penrose, and go hard with it. Put the pressure on him>You've got other questions first... (Write in)>Other
>>5684426>>Bring up Lady Penrose,>Nicholas' last words were about her. He didn't get the chance to do anything....but do you know if anyone did?
>>5684426>Bring up Lady Penrose, but play it softly. You're not here to hurt him
“Okay,” your murmur back, “But we're doing things my way. I'm not here to twist the knife in his gut.” Not unless he really deserves it, at least, but you don't say that part out loud. Persephone just pouts at your decision, but she doesn't argue. Leaving you to it, she backs off to peer out the windows at the fog beyond. Returning to Penrose, you take a long look around the study – a lot of books, mostly technical manuals on building or drafting, and not much else. No portraits, especially. Nothing to indicate that a human being lived and worked here. “I don't know how much Barnabus told you,” you begin softly, “But I knew your son. We were in the same cohort together, at the academy. We were... friends.” Penrose looks up at you with a gaze so bitter, so spiteful, that you nearly take a step back. “Oh?” he asks softly, “And what good did that do him, hm?” Maybe Persephone had the right idea after all. Forcing down your anger, you wave away his contemptuous words with a gesture. “I had a chance to speak with him, at the end. His last words were about his mother. About Lady Penrose,” you tell him simply, “He never had a chance to know her. But I'd like to hear about her. From you.” His lips curl with anger, but there's something else behind it – something like fear, perhaps. “I don't see how that's relevant,” he spits, “I'm not-” “Humour me,” you interrupt, idly toying with the medallion pinned to your coat. Anything can be relevant if you want it to be, your gesture says, when there's a spirit involved. Penrose is silent for a long while, then he lets out a low sigh. “She was... so unlike anyone else I had ever met, like she came from another world entirely. Imagine a flower, so beautiful and delicate that it couldn't possibly exist anywhere in the land, and yet it was there in front of you. That's what she was like,” he murmurs, his wistful expression tinged with pain, “She made me feel... things I still don't understand. Her frailty, her weakness... these were all things I should have abhorred, yet they made her all the more precious to me.” “When I learned that she was with child, I felt... not pride, not happiness, but terror. It seemed impossible that she could bear the strain of the birth, and my fears only grew as time passed. Every night, I had nightmares about... about losing her.” he rasps, his voice growing so hushed that you can barely hear him, “The birth was hard, but she made it through. And then... she was gone.” “Gone,” you repeat. The word seems to hang in the air between you, ringing in your ears like a gunshot. Penrose just nods slowly, his expression twisted with grief and guilt. And somewhere far off in the distance, you hear the cry of some terrible bird.
>>5684462“I wasn't there for her,” Penrose confesses, the words bearing a horrible weight. Words, you sense, that he hasn't had the courage to say aloud for many years – if ever. “I wasn't there for her. I spent so long watching over her, fearing for her health, and yet the one time I left her alone...” he whispers, “There was no one else. Barnabus had gone to summon the doctor, and the rest of the family was giving thanks at the temple. It was just... just the two of us. I left her sleeping, just so that I could rest too. But when I awoke from that terrible dream, she was already gone.” “What dream?” you ask, seizing onto those words. Maybe it's nothing, or maybe not. Penrose shudders at the memory. “I dreamed...” he whispers, “I dreamed that I was the one who-” But he never has the chance to finish that thought, his words cut short by an explosion of glass and stone as a nightmarish black shape smashes through the window. You just barely have time to grab Penrose and drag him away as you fall back from the sudden flurry of movement. All you can see, at first, is the beak stabbing out over and over again as the Shrike attacks. Then, even that brief glimpse of the spirit is snuffed out as a pall of darkness descends over the whole room. “Get him out of here!” Persephone cries out, her voice seeming to come from some great distance. The Shrike keeps stabbing out in blind fury, but the blows are wild and fall nowhere close to either of you. Taking advantage of the delay, you drag Penrose to his feet and push him through the starry void that Persephone has conjured up. The darkness falters as soon as he is away, and you see Persephone swoon from the effort of fully harnessing her guardian spirit. With the darkness gone the Shrike is able to renew its attack, but you're ready for it now. Ducking back from one clumsy jab, you bring your sword down on the exposed beak and hack a thin cut into the greasy bone. The spirit recoils with a screech, launching itself away from the manor and vanishing back into the fog. The spirit's disappearance is as sudden as it's appearance, but you know that it's too early to relax – the beating of wings still echoes out through your head. “We need to get somewhere safe!” you snap, grabbing Persephone's arm and shaking her back to alertness, “Somewhere secure, away from any windows. Master Penrose, this is your house – what options do we have?” “That... that thing... what...” he stammers, his wide eyes flicking wildly around the room. You shake him too, the urgency of your motion snapping some sense back into him. “Somewhere safe. Somewhere secure,” he mumbles to himself, “Of course, the cellar!” “Master Penrose, sir!” Barnabus cries, gasping for air as he hurries up the stairs to join you, “What was-” “There's no time to waste!” you interrupt, casting a fearful gaze at the large windows, “Take us to the cellar, now!”[2/3]
>>5684475 The cellar is damp and cold, but it's about as safe from the Shrike as it's possible to get. The shelves are lined with preserved food and bottles of wine, while a few pieces of disused furniture are stacked up along the empty wall. Barnabus takes some stored bedding from a crate and drapes a quilt over his master's shoulders. Penrose himself looks terribly pale, almost complete catatonic from his brush with death. “So that's it,” Persephone breathes, “It's strong enough to physically manifest in our world. I just hope-” She pauses as something crashes upstairs, another window shattering perhaps. “You just hope what?” you prompt. She just laughs, shaking her head. “I don't know,” she admits, letting out a wry laugh, “I'm running a little short on hopes and dreams right now, actually.” “You're making jokes?” Master Penrose blurts out, rousing himself from his shock to glare at Persephone, “We were almost killed, and you're making JOKES? You brought that thing to MY house, and now you're laughing about it?” “We didn't bring that thing here!” Persephone snaps back, “We saved you, you ungrateful shit, so how about you start showing us some-” “Persephone, stop,” you interrupt, holding up a weary hand to silence her. She scowls, but holds her tongue. “It's not his fault,” you continue, giving Master Penrose a look of warning, “But it's not OUR fault either. There's something calling out to the Shrike. Something that's drawing it down to attack.” “Is that so?” Master Penrose breathes, “And this is... what, exactly?” You hesitate, thinking over what little you know about the Shrike. What could be strong enough to call down a spirit like that?>I don't know. But fighting amongst ourselves won't help me figure it out>I think I know what's calling it... (Write in)>Other
>>5684487>I think I know what's calling it... (Write in)Stonecutter statue? Maybe Ames also had something from the temple on his person which we may have found at his shack. Shrike was staying near the temple as well.
>>5684487maybe the Stonecutter himself? He could be looking to die, unable to leave the town for some reason.I'm tempted to say "doesn't matter we just shoot the bird down">>5684489Can we check what is still made of stonework in general around here?
>>5684487>I don't know. But fighting amongst ourselves won't help me figure it out
Could it be as simple as the Stonecutter is pissed off that, on top of losing his followers to the Sun god, his temple was cannibalized and spread around like memorabilia? 'I will have what I am owed'(Though the only thing we owe this guy at this point is a bullet)
The silence draws out, then you sigh and shake your head. “I don't know for certain. Not yet. But I know that fighting amongst ourselves isn't going to help us figure this out. So everyone just calm down, and maybe we can think it over,” you order, “This all comes back to the Stonecutter. The Shrike attacked us near the old temple, and now here with the Stonecutter's statue. The only piece that doesn't fit is-” “Ames,” Persephone answers for you, “We don't know if he has a connection with the Stonecutter.” “Ames? I doubt it. He was a soldier once, I believe, hardly a scholar or a man of faith,” Barnabus recalls, frowning as he thinks back, “But I never knew him very well. Not many people did, especially after... well.” You sense something there, something left unspoken, but another crash from upstairs causes you to glance up in unease. That one was louder, and you're sure that you can hear the sounds of clumsy movement from upstairs. Even if the Shrike is inside, you tell yourself, it can't get down here. Breaking through a window is one thing, but the cellar door is a whole other matter. Hopefully. “Whatever else happens, we need to get rid of that thing,” you state bluntly, “Whether it's something the Stonecutter sent to punish the town, or whether it's just a scavenger, it's got to go. We'll have more chance to investigate things if we don't have that monster stalking us at every turn, too.” “Finally, something we agree on!” Master Penrose declares, “So what are you waiting for? Go up there and DO something about it!” Ignoring him, save for a dark scowl, you guide Persephone a few steps away. “I hope you're ready for this,” you begin, “Because we might not get a second chance at this.” “About as ready as I can be, under the circumstances. You're bleeding, by the way,” Persephone points out, taking out a handkerchief and dabbing lightly at your forehead, “Too much playing around in broken glass, I suspect. You boys... Well, anyway, I trust you've got a plan?” “Killing it would be nice, but that's easier said than done. If one of us can distract it, the other might have enough time to perform a rite of banishment,” you suggest, “Send that bastard right back where it came from.” “Mm, yes, that might work. Although it does mean that one of us would have the particularly unpleasant task of acting as distraction,” she points out, “I'd offer to toss a coin, but I left my purse back at the temple. So what do you say?”>I'll serve as the distraction. You perform the rite>I'll perform the rite. You just need to keep that thing away from me>Other
>>5684503>I'll serve as the distraction. You perform the riteShe's been using her spirit a couple times now. We are fresh. And what better distraction than a blinding fire
>>5684503>I'll serve as the distraction. You perform the riteA burning fire is going to be easier to distract with than darkness
>>5684503>I'll serve as the distraction. You perform the rite
“I'll serve as the distraction,” you assure her, “You just focus on performing the rite. You know what to do, right?” “Oh that's funny. Rite, right... Yes, yes, I know how to a silly little thing like that,” Persephone waves away your question, “Well, I certainly won't argue with that. Just make sure you stay well away from it, okay? If you go and get yourself killed, you won't be very good as a distraction. I suppose it might decide to get ornamental with your corpse, but-” “I'm starting to change my mind,” you warn. Persephone shuts up in an instant, snapping a brisk salute before getting ready. Drawing your revolver, you check the cartridges. It might not do much against the spirit, but it should help to draw it away from Persephone while she performs the rites... for six shots, at least. Pushing your fears aside, you march up the cellar stairs and unlock the door. Flinging it open before you can lose your nerve, you lunge into the dimly lit entrance hall. - The Shrike is perched atop the balustrades when you emerge from the cellar, its mangy feathers glinting with the shards of broken glass that still cling to it. Seeing it now, in the light, you finally have a chance to appreciate just how hideous it really is – the beak is serrated, like the blade of a saw, while the patches of exposed flesh are clad with rotting scales. Death hangs over the spirit like a cloak, filling your senses with a nauseating scent. Your first shot rings out, the bullet striking the spirit with no effect save for drawing it's attention. It launches itself into the air before coming crashing down in a steep dive. The Stonecutter's statue is shattered as the Shrike crashes through it, throwing shards of stone through the air at you. Ignoring them, you sprint up towards the main stairs and snap off a second shot to keep the spirit focused. Just at the entrance to the cellar, you can see Persephone's hands moving through the first motions of the rite. Now all you need to do is survive for a little longer. The Shrike is slowed by the stairs, clumsily hopping up them as it follows after you only to slow as the first words of the rite ring out. It knows them, knows that they mean, and it soon turns to face the real threat. Desperate to keep the spirit away from Persephone, you unload the last rounds from your revolver into its back before throwing the weapon aside and drawing your sword. It feels... different. The weapon sits differently in your hand, the weight shifting in some imperceptible way. But it feels good. It feels RIGHT. The Shrike hesitates, sensing a shift in the tides of energy flowing around the manor. Suddenly, the rite of banishment doesn't seem like the most important threat around.
>>5684521Heat boils through your veins as your guardian spirit manifests itself, the blazing sun burning away the fog as it takes shape behind you. The power feels exhilarating, and you nearly laugh aloud as the Shrike seems to flinch away from you. Your laugh doesn't last long, with the spirit throwing itself forwards in a desperate attack. Wings flap madly as it lunges, claws flailing wildly at you. Throwing yourself aside, you grimace at the ghastly scent of burning feathers that fills the air as your guardian spirit lashes out at the shrike. It cries out in rage, perhaps pain too, and stabs down at you with the cruelly serrated beak. Dragging yourself out of reach, you scrabble to your feet and turn just in time to see the next attack. This thrust, you manage to turn aside with your sword before stepping back again. The Shrike is burning brighter now, an oddly human skull visible where some of the flesh and feathers have fallen away. That sight alone is enough to send you a few more steps back – until your back butts up against the far wall. Your moment of hesitation is all the opening that the spirit needs, and it hurls itself towards you once more. With no space to dodge back, you're left with no choice but to raise your sword and meet it head on. Pale fire ripples down the length of your sword, a fire hot enough to burn the soul itself, and- With a snap of displaced air, the Shrike vanishes in mid-air. You just stand there for a moment, the last words of the rite of banishment echoing out through the entrance hall. “You're welcome!” Persephone calls out from down below.- The manor lies in ruins, great holes torn through the upper level where the Shrike tried – and eventually succeeded – to force its way inside. Barnabus and Master Penrose stare at the devastation in wordless horror, then look to you for guidance. A sudden disgust tugs at you, stirred by the sight of their imploring eyes. They were blaming you for all this not so long ago, and now they expect you to... what, fix everything with a snap of your fingers? “Go to the temple,” you tell them both, “You'll be able to take shelter there. Maybe even get some rest.” “Yes sir,” Barnabus murmurs, taking his master gently by the arm and steering the mute man towards the door. As you're watching them go, Persephone touches you lightly on the shoulder. “Far be it from me to give the orders, but I think we're the ones who should be getting some rest,” she suggests, “We can rest up a little, then maybe we can plan our next move. I mean, what do we even do now?” You look around at the thick fog seeping through the broken windows to fill the manor. “I don't know,” you admit, “But just take a look at that fog. This isn't over yet.”[2/3]
>>5684534“Sit there a moment. Just sit still, will you?” Persephone orders, pointing to the bed before hurrying away. A few moments later, she returns with a wooden medicine box. “You're walking around with half your face hanging off,” she explains, dabbing some astringent liquid onto a cloth before touching it to the worst of your cuts, “And you're filthy with blood. Honestly, I can't go anywhere with you, can I?” “It's not my fault. I had a rough upbringing,” you mutter, wincing at the sharp pain as she cleans out your cuts, “That hurts more than the broken glass, you know?” “That's how you know it's medicine,” she points out, “Anyway, you should be grateful. There's a perfectly serviceable mirror here, you could be doing this for yourself.” “I could,” you agree, “So why are you doing it?” Persephone hesitates for a second before grinning at you. “Well obviously, I can't trust you to do the job properly,” she explains, “Considering that rough upbringing of yours. Now hold still, this one is awfully close to the eye. Don't... move... a muscle.” You hold yourself as still as you can as Persephone rests her hand on your cheek, lightly wiping at the other side of your face before setting the cloth aside. Even so, she lingers there for a few moments more and you find yourself staring into her pale eyes. The moment stretches out, her lips parting slightly as if to say- A harsh knock rings out, and Persephone jolts back from you as if scalded. Her expression changes in an instant, the usual insolent smirk covering up something that almost seemed sincere. A second later, Falkenrath invites himself in and hobbles over to your both. “The spirit,” he rasps, “Tell me about it. Tell me everything.”>I don't see why I need to tell you anything, actually>It was a monster. A killer – it's the thing that killed Ames>It was just a scavenger. Just a distraction from the real danger>It was... (Write in)>Other
>>5684559>I don't see why I need to tell you anything, actually"Maybe if you drop the bullshit and tell us everything you know about what's going on here I'll be inclined to tell you what we know in kind."If he does>It was a monster. A killer – it's the thing that killed Ames. We are pretty sure it's not what is causing the fog considering it's still here though.
>>5684559>It was a monster…
“I don't see why I need to tell you anything, actually,” you answer, your voice cold, “Maybe if you drop the bullshit and tell us everything that you know about what's going on here, I might be more willing to share.” “I see,” Falkenrath muses, leaning heavily on his walking stick as he considers your harsh words. “Tell me something, boy. What do you think I know, that you could not have uncovered already?” “How long have you been the priest here? How much could you have seen in that time? We've seen this place, but you KNOW it,” you snap, “You know the old temple, and-” “The rites that were once carried out there. Yes. I know them,” Falkenrath signs, a mournful expression creeping across his face, “This land is stained with sin. It creeps into everything. It twists good men into acts of wickedness, all to feed off the blood they spill. It has been this way for generations, with no end in sight. With the Veil drawing back, I thought... I hoped we might be granted an answer.” “Whether it be a blessing or a curse,” Persephone spits, “Is that it?” “Yes,” Falkenrath answers simply, “Perhaps the spirits would show mercy, and cleanse this land once and for all. Perhaps we would be judged unworthy of saving, and there would be an end to this tragic farce. But it seems I must wait a little longer. If this spirit was so easily banished, it cannot be the force I had been expecting.” He was really willing to see it all burn down, because of... what, some ancient sins? Even if the echoes of those sins are still ringing out to this day, does that really warrant a destruction like that? “No. I don't think it was what you were expecting at all,” you tell him with a grimace, “It was a monster, and a killer. It killed Ames, and tried to kill Master Penrose. But whatever it was, it didn't bring this fog.” “Ames... Penrose...” Falkenrath pronounces these names with a livid disgust, “Exactly the kind of men I mean. Men with blood on their hands.” “What?” you ask, the remark taking you off-guard, “What do you mean?” “Ames was a killer. He shot a child in the woods, yet he claimed it was a deer he shot at. But there were no tracks to be found, no trace of a beast at all. Just the boy,” the priest shakes his head sadly, “Ames lived with that crime for decades. Now, perhaps, he has received his judgement. I will pray for him, but perhaps we shall all be joining him before long.” “You may rest, if you wish,” he says after a long silence, gesturing to the beds, “But I would suggest leaving the town soon. I think you've done everything you can here. Stay, and you only risk being caught up in something beyond your control.”
>>5684578Even with the fatigue weighing down your whole body, you can't sleep. Your thoughts just whirl round and round in your head, never settling down long enough for you to rest. This whole land is cursed, so Falkenrath claims, stained red with the blood of the sacrificed – and either it would be washed clean, or it would be wiped out entirely. A blessing or a cur