Previous thread: https://suptg.thisisnotatrueending.com/qstarchive.html?tags=Path%20of%20the%20Exorcist These are difficult times that you're living in. War is brewing in the west, while a rot festers in the heart of the nation. Every day seems to bring new challenges, new threats, and there are so few of you with the means to fight back. When the Regent makes his grand speech tonight, it's hard to imagine that he'll have much good news to announce. So, despite the chatter that carries on around you, it's hard to muster up much excitement for the big speech. “You're wrong, by the way,” you announce, your idle thought cutting the conversation short in an instant. Johannes turns slowly to stare at you, his eyes narrowing slightly as he considers your words. “Is that so?” he replies eventually, a faint note of amusement in his voice. “The Regent. He has given a speech before. Quite recently, in fact,” you explain, “A few years back, I believe. He came to the academy and gave a short speech. Nothing particularly interesting – just thanking us for our work and wishing luck to the new cadets – but it WAS a speech.” “Oh yes. I remember that now,” Johannes thinks for a moment before shrugging his broad shoulders, “Doesn't count.” “What do you mean, it “doesn't count”? He came here to speak – it was, by default, a speech!” you protest, looking around at the others for support, “Explain to me how that doesn't count.” Johannes considers this, even as Harriet struggles to hold back a fit of laughter. “It was an official visit. A private event. A public speech is a completely different thing,” he decides eventually, “The difference is obvious. Persephone – you understand what I'm talking about, don't you?” “I feel like I'm getting stupider just by listening to this conversation,” she remarks with a yawn, “Who CARES about a silly little thing like this?” “Not so little...” you grumble, although the arrival of Master Brehm cuts your reply short.
>>5689736“Gather round children, gather round,” Master Brehm announces, gesturing around the dorm with an expansive wave of his hand. “I've got good news for you all. Well, most of you – Harriet, my girl, you can calm down right this instant. You've not got anything to look forwards to. The rest of you, here,” he continues, setting a number of sealed scrolls down on the table. Persephone is the first to make a move, eagerly seizing hers and starting to read it over. Then her eyes narrow with a sudden suspicion. “Acting Exorcist,” she reads aloud, “And what exactly does THAT mean?” “In a practical sense? Very little. Some very important people are concerned that we're rushing you through the last of your training too quickly – mind you, these are the same very important people who wanted more Exorcists in the field as soon as possible. So, this is a bit of a compromise,” the old man explains, “You've got most of the rights and responsibilities of a fully qualified Exorcist, but you're not allowed to take on a full cohort of novices just yet. Which, I gather, wasn't exactly top of the priority list for any of you.” He's not wrong there. A little informal training is one thing, but taking on a full group of apprentices? No thanks. “Anyway, I just wanted to drop the paperwork off. I've got a bit of an errand to run, so I might be away for a few days,” Master Brehm continues, “I'm confident that you'll find a way to use your time productively. Don't disappoint me now!” Before anyone even has a chance to ask any questions, he gives a final wave before hurrying out. You're left staring at a closed door instead, giving it up with a weary sigh. You know well enough what “errand” he's talking about – he's probably eager to get started. “Well, you're all... promoted now, isn't it?” Harriet remarks, looking around at the rest of the cohort, “I suppose I'll just have to work extra hard to catch up with you all!” “Yes, well, someone else can take a turn with supervising,” Johannes grumbles, “I have an errand of my own to run today.” “Oh, is that so?” Persephone teases, “That sounds very secretive!” “It is,” the heavyset man replies bluntly, “And it's going to remain so.” As the inevitable bickering resumes, you glance around to see if anyone else is going to volunteer to handle the training but nobody seems willing to step forwards. “I can help out,” you offer with a sigh, gesturing to Harriet before adding, “What do you want to do?” “Ah, well, whatever you think is best!” she replies eagerly, “I'm in your care!” Always faintly worrying to hear. As for the training itself...>Something practical. You could teach her to perform some basic rites>Something philosophical. She's got a lot of learning to catch up on>Something physical. She needs some more sparring practice>Other
>>5689738>>5689738>Other"Persephone tells me you aren't a novice and that you know almost as much as she did. Hard to find a place to start if I don't know the extent of your education.">Something physical. She needs some more sparring practice"She also said that sparring is your weakest spot at the moment so we can try shoring that up first."
>>5689741Supporting. Philosophical would have been good, too, but if we can wheedle out what her whole DEAL is... Even better!
“You know, Persephone said that you're not much of a novice. In fact, you knew almost as much as she did,” you begin, watching with some interest as Harriet's face starts to redden slightly, “It's just hard to find where to start without knowing the extent of your education. What about your weakest area, what do you think you need to improve on?” “Ah... you know, oh gosh, you know I don't really like to talk about it that much,” she replies, a nervous tremor in her voice, “I just thought maybe we could start from... the top?” She's going to make this as difficult as possible, isn't she? “Well, she also said that sparring seemed like your weakest area,” you offer, “We could always start there.” “Yes! I mean, ah, you're right. I think that would be for the best,” Harriet nods eagerly, “Sparring, that's definitely it. Shall we get started right away? I feel like getting started right away.” Nodding in agreement, you start to follow her out before Persephone calls your name. “I'm sure that I don't have anything to concern myself with,” she murmurs, “But this had better not be a ploy to do anything funny with her, is that clear?” “Damn,” you sigh, rolling your eyes at her, “And I had been planning some full contact wrestling. Trust me, my intentions are entirely honest.” - The practice rooms are quiet today – you're the only two here. Harriet busies herself with examining some of the wooden swords, never quite meeting your gaze for very long. “Um,” she begins once, only to fall silent for a long while afterwards. “I'm not really... that good,” she continues eventually, “Not like Persephone says. I've got a lot that I don't know.” “You you've had some education,” you guess, “Before you came here.” She gives a jerky nod. “Father brought me a tutor. He said that it was dangerous not to get SOME training, but that the academy was ever more dangerous. So, he found someone,” she explains, idly swishing her chosen sword through the air, “He taught me some stuff. How to close out the spirit world, then open my eyes again. That was the first thing I learned.” “You'd go mad without it,” you agree, “It's tough, when you first start seeing things. I didn't know what was happening at first, and... well, it's tough.” “But you CAN'T tell anyone else – I know that father could get in so much trouble for what he did, and I don't... I don't want him to suffer because of me,” Harriet pleads, “Can't we just... pretend like I'm just a normal apprentice?” You're silent for a moment, taking one of the practice weapons for yourself and gesturing to her. “Keep your guard up,” you reminder her, “No sense in just pointing your sword at the ground. That's not where the attacks would come from.” She flashes you a brilliant smile, raising her sword in a weak stance. Persephone was right – when it comes to combat, she's got a lot to learn.
>>5689763Starting with the basics – starting from the top, as she said – you run through a short overview of combat training. Harriet is a quick learner, although a little too enthusiastic for her own good. More than once, you have to step in and keep her from overextending or getting carried away. But it's a good start, and a promising sign for the future. “Phew, I'm exhausted!” she announces, dropping the wooden sword to the floor with a loud clatter, “How about a break?” “My thoughts exactly,” you agree, sitting down at one of the benches, “So... this teacher of yours.” Harriet pulls a face, but doesn't immediately turn away from the subject. “I don't know much about him, if that's what you're asking. He was very careful not to say much about himself. I suppose... I suppose he didn't come from the academy,” she thinks aloud to herself, “He had a different way of doing things. I mean, we do the maze thing-” “The Dho games.” “Right, the maze things. Well, he taught me to do something different if I needed to, you know, meditate. I wasn't very good at it though,” she shrugs, “I had to imagine that I was a bird, that I was flying. I was to imagine the world flying past below me, and then... I don't know, I was supposed to start seeing into the spirit world instead. I never got it to work.” Considering how excitable she is, that doesn't really surprise you. The method itself, though, that seems odd – you've never heard of a meditation technique like that. Not in any of the formal manuals, at least. “It all started after... Oh gosh, where do I even start?” she sighs, “I said that my house was old, right? Do you remember?” “The oldest house in the city,” you recall, “And you said it was built on something even older.” “You remembered!” she says with a brilliant smile, “So when I was younger I'd always be seeing little flashes of movement in the corner of my eyes, or I'd hear these really faint noises. I always felt like they were coming from deep beneath the house – down below the cellar, in the REALLY old stuff. I wasn't allowed to go down there, but when I told father that I could hear someone moving around down there, he... he kinda freaked out. And that's when he found my tutor.” “Father travels a lot, for the business, so he meets lots of people. He has contacts, especially out in the colonies,” Harriet tilts her head to the side as she thinks, “I suppose he found someone there.” “Perhaps,” you answer vaguely, although you don't know very much about the colonies, “Did you ever manage to get into the cellar? Or... the older parts?” Harriet gives you a nervous smile, but shakes her head. She's a bad liar.>Let it go for now. There's no point in forcing it>Press the issue. This could be important – dangerous, even>Keep the conversation going, try to talk it out of her>Other
>>5689778>Keep the conversation going, try to talk it out of her
>>5689778>>Keep the conversation going, try to talk it out of herWonder if the something she found down there latched onto her
“Well, it doesn't matter,” you decide, waving the subject away with a gesture, “I was just curious. It must've been really strange, living there when you knew something was underneath the house.” “It was!” she admits, laughing awkwardly, “But I could never decide how I felt – sometimes it was so spooky, I couldn't bear thinking about it, but other times it was... it was almost fun, I suppose. Like I had a secret that nobody else knew about. Of course, I didn't really know much about it either back then. Ah... and I still don't know anything about it now, I meant to say.” She's a REALLY bad liar. If you can keep her talking, it's only a matter of time before she lets something slip. You feel a little guilty for thinking this way, but this might be important. “I grew up right on the edge of the Forest Kingdom, so I was always aware that spirits were there. I got told plenty of stories about wicked spirits stealing away naughty children or trying to trick people,” you recall, “But when I actually started seeing them for myself...” “I've read some stories about the Forest Kingdom!” Harriet cries, although her eager smile falters as she sees your grimace, “But, ah, I suppose those stories aren't... the real thing.” Sometimes it feels like you have this conversation with everyone you meet. “Forget about the Forest Kingdom, okay? We're getting way off topic,” you reminder her, “This teacher of yours – what did they teach you, and what did they leave out?” “We focused on the inner eye stuff. Is that what it's called? Right, the inner eye stuff,” she nods to herself, “The practical stuff. But we didn't really study the history of it, the... I don't know what you'd call it, even. The lore? Guardian spirits and great spirits and... and why things work the way they do. That's what I don't know very much about.” “So we'll start there,” you tell her, “How about the great spirits? You probably know a bit about them already – the Sun King, Adhra and-” “And Sheol - I'm not totally foolish, you know!” she finishes for you, giving you a proud nod, “What I don't know is, well, what does it MEAN to be a great spirit? Are they just more powerful than all the rest, or is it more than that?” “It's more than just power, although that's definitely a factor. There are other spirits out there that are powerful, but they're not considered a great spirit. The great spirits are... significant. Culturally significant, I mean, so it really depends on who you're talking to,” you explain, “In the Forest Kingdom, they would honour the Great Mother above any other spirit. Out here, it's hard to find anyone who'd admit to recognising her.” “Do you... oh, um, sorry,” she winces, “Sensitive subject?” “A little. But no – I was just on the edge of the Forest Kingdom, remember? The Great Mother is... deep,” you shake your head, “And it's best that she stays that way.”
>>5689795“So you're familiar with Sheol. No need to retread old ground there. Adhra is the second great spirit, and maybe the least recognised – although he's certainly important. Adhra is the lord of the barrier, and supposedly the source of the Veil itself,” you explain, “But he also drew the barriers and boundaries of all things – the boundaries that separate, say, you and me. Without Adhra's great design, the world would exist in formless chaos.” “Oh gosh,” Harriet murmurs as she considers this, “That IS important.” “And the Sun King...” you shrug, “Well, I don't need to explain him.” “No, of course not!” she laughs, “But hypothetically, if you DID need to explain him to a complete novice, um, how would you do it?” This isn't even Exorcist stuff, this is just basic schooling now – but maybe she didn't pay attention to this part. Easy enough to imagine, considering. “The Sun King is the supreme spirit – above all others. His authority is what allows us to perform our rites, banishing or calling up spirits. He's the guardian spirit for humanity itself, watching over us and protecting us,” you tell her, “He speaks directly to the Regent, who rules in his name.” “So that's why this big speech is going to be so important,” Harriet guesses, “It'll be the words of the Sun King himself!” “Well, maybe. There's always a certain degree of... interpretation involved,” you remark with a shrug, “You'll just have to wait and see.” “I always thought the Sun King looked a little scary, actually. I saw this mural once, down in the tomb, that looked really frightening,” she hesitates for a second here, hides a wince, then continues. “The main temple in Dacia has these tombs in it, you know?” she explains, her tone overly casual, “The honoured dead, that kind of thing. And all the tombs had this big, mean looking sun looking over then.” Somehow, you don't think that's the tomb she was really talking about. “It's like Sheol's temple in the capital. They just need to look big and impressive for the tourists,” you suggest, “Really strike that feeling of awe into them.” “Right!” she agrees, grinning with relief at your apparent acceptance. Then, still a little flustered, she hops up from the bench and starts clearing away your weapons. “So, um, this stuff about my tutor...” she adds, glancing back over her shoulder, “That just stays between the two of us, right? Nobody else needs to know... right?” Idly, you wonder how long it might take for this secret to come out. If it ever came to a serious questioning, you feel like she'd break in a matter of minutes. And if it came out that you'd been covering for her...>I'm sorry, but Master Brehm needs to know. I can't keep this from him>Nobody else needs to know. I'll keep your secret>Other
>>5689806>Other"It's going to sort of depend on how an ongoing investigation goes. We have some suspects in the wind that used Dho boards to breach the veil to cause havoc. Now this doesn't implicate your teacher, but I am going to keep that information in the back of my mind and might ask you more about them if I think it's prudent. For now it's a secret. I hope that's reasonable."
>>5689806>Nobody else needs to know. I'll keep your secretMaybe ask our boy the monk about the "meditation" technique to try to identify whatever sect or school she and her tutor come from. Either way, don't want to scare her off
She's putting you in a difficult position here, but you're not entirely blameless either – you're the one who started asking questions, and you're going to get squeamish now that you've got your answers? Taking your silence as the worst possible sign, Harriet turns and marches over until she's looking you dead in the eye. “Say something, Lucas,” she pleads, “Say something, anything. Please!” Reaching out, you gently push her a pace backwards. “This isn't a simple matter. This is a complicated position that you're in – that we're both in,” you tell her, “What you've just told me... it may have a bearing on an ongoing investigation. I'm not saying that your tutor is implicated in this, but I need to keep it in mind. I can't just pretend this conversation never happened.” Harriet pauses, trying to boil your answer down into a simple yes or no but getting nowhere. “For now, it's a secret. It'll stay between the two of us,” you continue, watching as her eyes widen in silent relief, “But I may have some more questions for you later, if it really does turn out to be relevant. If so, it's better that I'm the one asking them – trust me on that. I hope that's-” Before you can say another word, Harriet throws herself forwards and pulls you into a tight embrace. “Oh thank you, thank you!” she whispers, “I know it's horrible and selfish of me, asking you to keep my secrets like this, but I just thought... I just thought I could stop hiding for a little bit, even if it was just between the two of us. I never thought it would make so many problems... I'm so foolish!” “Easy now, easy,” you urge, trying to stop the rapid stream of words even as she squeezes you tighter and tighter. As politely as possible, you delicately prise her arms away from you and take a step back. “Keeping secrets is hard. I know that as much as anyone,” you offer, “But secrets can be dangerous things. If you ever feel like you need someone to talk to...” “I'll come right to you!” she agrees with a hurried nod, “That's a promise!” “And I think it's time that we head back,” you add, “Or the others might start to think that something's going on.” “Something like... oh!” her eyes widen, her cheeks darkening, “I see. Um, yes. That would be... something. I think I'll just stay here for a little and, um, compose myself.” Good luck with that.- With a faint feeling of guilt nagging at you, you roam through the archives until you find what you're looking for – the history section, and a book on the city of Dacia. Her family home was the oldest house in the city, she said. Hopefully, that means there's been plenty written about it – and this “tomb” that might lie deep beneath it. You just need to know how serious this might be, you tell yourself. It's for her own good. But deep down, you know that you don't need the excuse. Your curiosity is enough.
>>5689839Like most cities in Marusia, Dacia was founded on the site of some older settlement – so old that little was left but the occasional pile of stones. There were a few attempts at studying the ruins, but with no real results. There simply wasn't enough left to examine. What would eventually become known as Maxim House was originally the governor's official residence. It was later sold into the Maxim family as the city expanded, with the governor moving into a newer manor. The building itself remains elusive – an odd secrecy hangs over the text, something you put down to an apparent privacy common to the Maxim family. You hadn't thought of that. You'd been assuming that a wealthy merchant family would be eager to seek fame as well as fortune, but apparently not. Closing the book with a sigh, you stand up for a moment and listen closely. “I know you're watching me,” you announce suddenly, your voice quiet but firm. Then you wait, feeling vaguely foolish. A few minutes later, Cloranthy emerges from the next row over. “Okay, you win this round,” she admits, limping over before helping herself to your seat, “What's up?” “Why do you always watch me in here?” you ask, sliding the book back into place, “Don't you have anything better to do with your time?” “Nah, not really,” she remarks, pushing her curly hair away from her face so she can give you an appropriate scowl. As soon as she takes her hand away, though, the hair flops back down into place. “Anyway, you're one to talk,” she points out, “The only reason why you come to the archives is so you can flirt with cute girls.” “Not true. I sometimes manage to get a little studying done between... ah,” you pause, cough awkwardly, “The other stuff.” Cloranthy giggles, taking some perverse pleasure from your fumble. “Well, I sure hope I'm not distracting you from your important business. Or your studying,” she jokes, “What's that book you were reading, anyway?” “History. Really boring history,” you explain, gesturing vaguely to the bookshelf, “But I get the feeling that the real history I'm looking for isn't written in any of these books. That's my problem, though, not yours. Clarissa's back, by the way, has she had a chance to visit you?” “Changing the subject, huh? Suspicious, very suspicious,” Cloranthy narrows her eyes, giving you a dubious look, “But yeah, she dropped by for all of five minutes – talk about a flying visit! She said she had some work to do, but she'd be back later. I guess she's still working. She's always like this, you know – obsessing over whatever dumb work she's been tasked with, even if it's a total waste of time. Because she's a professional, she says.”>And you're not bitter about that at all, are you?>I think it's very admirable of her, actually>She's just making the rest of us look bad>Other
>>5689860>>And you're not bitter about that at all, are you?
>>5689860>And you're not bitter about that at all, are you?Thanks for giving the other waifus a fighting chance Moloch
>>5689860>She's probably desperate. Not gonna support her?Why was the stonecutter sealed instead of banished beyond the Veil? What purpose do the sun seals serve, and how do we go about finding them if people are out breaking them?
“Uh-huh,” you reply, nodding slowly, “And you're not bitter about that at all, are you?” “Bitter, me?” Cloranthy answers, her eyes widening with fake shock, “I would never be bitter about anything, ever!” The silence draws out. “I just don't see why she's always got to push so hard, that's all,” she adds with a pout, “She's always racing on ahead, while I'm stuck here going nowhere. You're an only child, yeah? I can tell. You don't know what it's like, having an older sister like her, especially when you're... like me.” You can't help but glance aside at her walking stick as she says this, even as you see her lips twisting with a grimace. “You're right, I don't know what it's like,” you admit, “I'm pretty sure I'm an only child. But Clarissa... she's not working hard just so she can make you look bad. She's probably just...” But your words trail off here, and Cloranthy pokes a bony finger at you. “Just what?” she prompts, “Just what, huh?” “Just desperate,” you offer, “Desperate to do the best she can, even if she does get saddled with all the dumb chores. She needs people like you and me to support her, don't you think?” “She doesn't need MY support,” Cloranthy says softly, looking away from you for a moment. She seems to think for a long moment before turning back to you. “Don't you start pitying me, either!” she stresses, lurching to her feet and rapping her walking stick against the ground, “Not here, of all places. You're in MY territory now, buddy!” The change in her mood is so sudden that your head is left spinning. “Dead wrong!” you counter, “I'm pretty sure that I was here first.” “But I've been here longer,” she argues, “While you were out there studying the blade, I was... I was... you know, studying the... books? That sounded a lot cooler in my head.” Hanging her head and letting out a low groan of dismay, Cloranthy starts to take a few limping paces away before glancing back at you. “What are you standing there for?” she asks, “Didn't you have some important business to do?” “I did,” you answer, catching up and offering her a grin, “And some studying, too.”- “So you say there was a seal on the throne?” Cloranthy asks, tapping a finger against her chin as she thinks, “The Sun King's emblem?” “That's right. It seemed to be sealing the Stonecutter away, but someone damaged it,” you explain, “I don't understand why you'd just seal a spirit like that away instead of banishing it completely. If it was too powerful to banish, how could it get sealed away like that in the first place?” She flips through one heavy book before glancing at another. “Banishing a spirit can be a temporary solution. It could just return, so long as the conditions were right for it.” she suggests, “But sealing it away, that might neutralise it for good... until someone breaks the seal.”
>>5689896“I've got an idea!” Cloranthy gasps, jerking up from her book and staring at you, “I mean, a really good idea!” “Great, let's hear it,” you reply promptly, only for Cloranthy to look back down at her book, “Uh...” “I never said I was going to tell YOU my great idea,” she teases, peeking up at you through her tangled fringe, “In fact, it's such a great idea that I think I'm going to keep it to myself. Knowledge is power, don't you know?” “Okay, fine. I didn't want to know anyway,” you counter, looking back down to your own book instead, “I was just being polite by asking. It probably wasn't that great of an idea anyway.” You read in silence for a few minutes more, all too aware of Cloranthy seething away on the opposite end of the reading table. You're curious about this idea of hers, but you hold your tongue. In the end, she breaks first. “Okay, so you said that this Stonecutter guy was piercing through the Veil, right? Well, maybe that WAS the point!” she blurts out, “Not anything to do with the spirit itself. Maybe they didn't care one bit about it – just the damage that it could do to the Veil!” “Use it as a means to an end, you mean?” you consider, “That's certainly possible. They could just release the Stonecutter and move on, leaving it to carry on doing damage. Less risk for them, if they don't need to stay in one place for too long.” “Wait, wait, I think I've got something here...” Cloranthy flaps a hand to silence you, squinting at the heavy book laid out before her. “This is talking about a spirit that was sealed away beneath the Sun King's mark – caught in limbo, imprisoned between worlds,” she reads aloud, “Huh. Maybe it was something so bad, they didn't want it escaping back into the spirit world. So they threw it in... I don't know, spirit jail.” “Spirit jail?” “Oh, you know what I mean! The point is, they didn't want it causing any more trouble so they stuck it in a cage,” she shakes her head, “But this spirit here, I don't think it's talking about your Stonecutter. It says this seal was in the north. Way up north. So there must be more of these things...” More sealed spirits, and if they're all like the Stonecutter... “We need to try and locate as many of these seals as possible. Who knows how much damage it might cause if more of them were broken?” you breath, looking around at Cloranthy with a raised eyebrow, “But it's going to be difficult to find more information on them. If only there was a brilliant, hard working person who knows the archives like the back of their hand...” “Hmm...” Cloranthy leans forwards, studying your face, “I might know someone. Tell me more about them – especially that brilliant thing you said.” “We need someone smart and funny and...” you remark, “And just all-round great. Sounds like anyone you know?” “I'll ask around,” she tells you, giving you a wink.[2/3]
>>5689920Between the training with Harriet and the research in the archives, it's getting pretty late in the day. Just as you're heading back to the dorm to get something to eat, you remember the big speech. With everything else that's been going on, you almost forgot it was tonight. Putting a little more haste in your step, you arrive back at the dorm in good time. The rest of the cohort are still here, although you can tell that Harriet is eager to leave – the grand plaza might be large, but it'll fill up fast once the crowds start moving in. She probably wants to get a good view of the Regent. “Lucas!” she calls out, hurrying over and giving you a quick hug, “I was wondering where you went!” “Just a spot of research I needed to do,” you explain, “But one thing led to another, and... well, it all got a bit away from me.” Johannes lets out a snort of laughter. “We can't leave you alone for a minute, not if there are books involved,” he remarks, “You'd never leave that archive if it wasn't for your stomach.” You wish he hadn't said that – it only reminded you of how hungry you are. As if on cue, your stomach lets out a low rumble. “Oh, how terrible!” Persephone cries out, smirking ever so slightly, “Sit down before you faint from hunger. I'll tell you what – since I'm in such a good mood today, I'll cook you a nice dinner. How does that sound?” Terror strikes you. “You were... planning to cook?” you ask, your mouth drying up, “I mean, uh, you're not coming out to see the speech?” “Absolutely not! Rubbing shoulders with the common masses, just for the dubious privilege of hearing some old man ramble on for goodness knows how long?” she shakes her head, “I politely decline. In fact, I rudely decline as well. I decline in every manner imaginable!” “But the rest of us were planning on going,” Clarissa points out, gesturing to Johannes and Harriet, “And we should really be leaving soon, if we want to get there before the crowds get too bad. I'm sure we can find some food along the way, if you're really THAT hungry.” “What she means is, hurry up and make a decision,” Johannes adds, “We're wasting time here.” Well, when he puts it like that...>You'll join them and go to the speech>You'll stay behind at the academy>Other
>>5689924>You'll join them and go to the speechGotta see the hammer drop in real time.
>>5689924Spending an evening bantering with Persephone and getting food poisoning honestly sounds very appealing, but...>You'll join them and go to the speechThis does seem important. Maybe next time.
>>5689924>You'll join them and go to the speech
“I'm coming, I'm coming. Just let me get my jacket,” you answer quickly, giving Johannes a wave, “This might actually be important, after all. I don't want to be the last one to hear the big news.” “Ah, so I'll finally have a bit of peace and quiet around here!” Persephone declares, rubbing her hands together with glee, “For a moment there, I was worried that you'd accept my offer!” “Another time, perhaps,” you reply, “Just let me know the next time you want some peace and quiet, I'll be sure to ruin it for you.” “I'll hold you to that,” she states, a sly smile on her lips.- “Admit it,” Clarissa remarks as you're leaving the academy, “You're just coming with us to get out of dinner.” “It's not JUST that,” you admit, “I really do think this might be serious, and I don't want to miss it. But, ah, it's also the dinner thing.” Waiting for Harriet and Johannes to move on ahead, Clarissa allows a slight grimace to cross her face. “It's got to be a declaration of war. I can't think of anything else that might cause the Regent to give a speech like this. I just hope he's serious about it,” she murmurs, “No wasting time with half-measures.” “Easy now. Let's wait for the speech itself, then decide how screwed we all are,” you urge, “And let's see if we can find a meal first, okay? I haven't eaten since breakfast.” Tutting softly to herself, Clarissa shakes her head. “You just forgot to eat? Come on, Lucas,” she compains, “There is such a thing as working TOO hard.” “That's rich, coming from you,” you tell her, “I was speaking with Cloranthy today, in the archives. I think she really missed you while you were gone.” Clarissa says nothing for a while, then concedes the point with a sigh. “Thank you. For looking out for her,” she whispers, “I'll speak with her later, make sure she's doing okay. It's just... difficult. It's my problem, though. Not yours. Let me handle it. Don't burden yourself any more, okay? Not on my behalf, at least.” “Hey!” Harriet calls from up ahead, “Stop dawdling, you two!”- You make a brief stop in the capital to get something to eat, and then it's straight to the plaza. The place is already filling up when you arrive, the crowd milling about in anticipation. Johannes points to a statue, the raised plinth offering a good view above the rest of the crowds, and you hurry over before another group can take it. “Hang on,” Harriet points out, “Isn't there some law against climbing on city property?” Johannes stops dead in his tracks, just as he was about to clamber up onto the statue. Harriet looks down and laughs aloud. “I'm just kidding!” she promises him, “Come ON!”Grumbling to himself, Johannes hauls himself up onto the statue before reaching down to help you up. Just as you're getting settled in, you see movement from the Eternal Palace. There, on the raised balcony, you see soldiers moving.
>>5689942The Regent emerges from the depths of the Eternal Palace, walking out onto the balcony and looking out over the crowd. He seems to hesitate, leaning heavily on the railing as if struggling to catch his breath. Even at this distance, you can see how frail he looks – pale and gaunt, looking far older than he must really be. The crowd waits in silence, scarcely even breathing as they await his words. “People of Marusia,” he begins, his voice carrying across the whole plaza, “Fellow subjects of the Sun King. My friends. I come to you with the news that no leader wishes to bring. I come to you with grave news from the west, from our sacred city of Ixtab. For centuries, Ixtab has been the heart of our faith – the site in which the Sun King himself descended to grant us his favour.” “Which makes this news all the harder to bear,” the Regent pauses, “Our westerly neighbours in the Reivian Empire have attacked positions surrounding the city of Ixtab, killing the brave defenders stationed there. Worse still, they gather their armies near the border and proclaim their ambitions – they would claim Ixtab for themselves, and press that claim with strength of arms.” Another pause, broken only by a few moans of dismay heard throughout the crowd. “We are better than this,” the Regent laments, “And they should be better than this. I cannot know what evil thoughts have taken root in the Reive Dynasty, but this is their result. Know that we will not let Ixtab slip into their grasp. Know that we will not surrender one inch of our territory to their ambitions. For centuries, men have looked to the sun and wished for salvation – know, then, that the Sun King will answer our prayers.” “I know that there will be many difficult days ahead of us. I ask that you stand firm against all fear, all doubt and all indecision. When the nation calls, I ask that you answer it with love and hope in your hearts. If we stand united, I have no doubt that we will prevail. My friends, I ask that you remember one thing – Ixtab stands, and it will stand for as long as one single man still serves the Sun King.” He pauses again, then swallows heavily and takes a step back from the balcony. “Ixtab stands!” the Regent shouts, his words repeated by countless voices in the crowd as he vanishes back inside the palace.- “That's IT?” Clarissa snarls, her hands clenching into fists in her lap, “That's all he's going to say?” “I liked it,” Harriet murmurs, trying to put on a brave face even as she senses the ugly mood, “I liked the part where he said “Ixtab stands”. I thought it was... cool.” “I suppose we're not going to war after all,” you remark, although you're not quite sure how to feel about that. “Not yet,” Clarissa mutters.>I think I'm going to take a break here for today, to pick up tomorrow>Thank you for reading along today!
>>5689959Thanks for running!
>>5689959What are they even looking for in Ixtab? A super spirit sealed away?
The overwhelming mood in the crowd is that of confusion, of uncertainty. Some people are waiting around to see if anything else is going to happen, to see if the Regent is going to come back and continue his speech. Others are already leaving, their expressions numb and blank. You wait, sitting atop the statue plinth, for the way ahead to become clear.Nobody speaks. Johannes frowns, his jaw set hard as if thinking over some complicated problem. Clarissa just stares up at the sky, her short hair stirring in the breeze. Harriet glances fearfully around her, not quite reading the mood but obviously worried. Every time you catch a whisper of conversation from the crowd, the word “war” can be heard.“He looked awfully tired, don't you think?” Harriet says eventually, nodding faintly towards the balcony, “Being the Regent must be hard work. I never thought it would be that hard. I hope he's not ill...”“He'll have the best doctors in the land looking after him if he is,” Johannes rumbles, “I don't think he has anything to worry about.”“Well maybe not, but still...” Harriet insists, “If he really did get sick, we'd be left without a leader. And at a time like this!”“That might not be such a bad thing,” Clarissa murmurs, “If the Regent wasn't fit to serve, we might get someone else in charge. Someone who actually knows what they're doing.”These words are met by a startled silence. “I can't believe you actually WANT us to go to war!” Harriet protests, “That's a terrible thing to say!”“We're going to war, whether we like it or not!” she hisses back, pointing at Harriet for emphasis, “But right now, we're just sitting back and letting the Reivians take us into a war of THEIR choosing. Are we supposed to wait until they have their hands around our throat before we take any action? Is that what you're saying?”“Well, no, but...” Harriet falls silent, looking around for support.Johannes is the first one to speak. “There's no sense in arguing about it,” he decides, “The Regent will have people advising him – people who know a lot more about these matters than any of us. He'll have a good reason for this, I'm sure of it. You just need to trust him, Clarissa. Even if you can't do that, there's no sense in taking it out on Harriet.”“I'm not taking anything...” Clarissa stops herself with an angry sigh, “I just don't understand how you can be so damn CALM about this.”“Because I can't do anything to change it. Not now, not yet,” he answers simply, “Right now, you're just getting worked up over nothing. Focus on the things you CAN change.”Clarissa considers this, tilting her head slightly to the side as she thinks. She seems to think for a long moment before frowning. But whatever she's thinking, she keeps it to herself.[1/2]
>>5690547“Anyway, it's still a nice night and the capital looks really pretty like this,” Harriet declares, forcing a smile as she gestures around at the plaza, “So I'm still glad we came out tonight. We should make the most of it, have a little fun while we're out! We could do something like, um... What kind of fun things do people do in the capital?”“You're asking the wrong people for that,” Johannes tells her, “When do we ever do anything fun?”“I remember having fun once,” you agree, “Master Brehm had us on punishment details for two weeks – scrubbing floors every night, on top of all the usual chores and lessons. It's not an experience I'm eager to repeat.”“But you're all qualified now, right?” Harriet argues, “So it's okay for you to be out all night, isn't it?”“Quite right. It's okay for US,” Johannes confirms, “So you'd better go back to the academy and leave us to it.”Harriet lets out a low moan of dismay before, eventually, she realises that he's joking and the optimistic smile returns. “So I just need one of you to accompany me and it's all okay, right?” she decides, “That's great news! So where are we going?”That's... not exactly what he was saying.“The rooftop gardens,” Clarissa says suddenly, barely looking around at Harriet. “That's the trendy thing at the moment,” she continues, “Especially on nice nights like this. People gather in the rooftop gardens, over in the ivy district especially, and drink wine together. It's very popular, I've heard. I think you'd enjoy it.”“That does sound like fun!” Harriet agrees, nodding eagerly, “How about it?”“Sorry, but I'll pass. It's just not my kind of thing,” Clarissa replies, “I was thinking of going home, actually.”“You're right,” Johannes says with a shrug, “Joking aside, we should probably be heading back to the academy. Make sure Persephone hasn't burned the whole place down, at least.”Clarissa shakes her head. “I mean HOME home,” she explains, “I grew up not so far from here, but I haven't been home in years. I suppose I never had much reason to, even when I could spare the time. But now, I think I ought to pay a visit.”Because she might not get another chance, the sad look in her eyes seems to say. Everyone else can see the same thing you can, and the conversation comes to a cold end. In the stillness that follows, Johannes looks back out over the crowd and grunts in faint approval.“Crowd's thinned out,” he announces, “Enough that we can get down without landing on anyone's head, at least.”“Great! I've been sitting here so long, my backside's gone numb,” Harriet says with a laugh, getting ready to hop down, “So Lucas, what do you think? What's your plan?”>I just want to head back to the academy>We can go and see these rooftop gardens, if you want>I'd like to see your home, Clarissa, if that's okay>Other
>>5690549>I'd like to see your home, Clarissa, if that's okay
>>5690549>I'd like to see your home, Clarissa, if that's okayShe might need the authority of an Exorcist....do the seals use up the Sun King's power?
>>5690549>I just want to head back to the academy
All of a sudden, it seems like there are an awful lot of expectant eyes on you. You take the opportunity to escape by climbing down from the statue, standing back as the others drop down after you. “Well, ah, I was just thinking that I'd like to see your home, Clarissa,” you begin, once she's clambered down too, “If that's okay with you, I mean.”The idea seems to take her aback, her eyes widening slightly before she nods. “That's... fine. Actually, I'd like that,” she replies, then quickly adds, “I wouldn't expect too much, mind you. It's really nothing special.”“Well, that settles it then,” Harriet decides, turning to poke Johannes in the chest, “That means you HAVE to take me out!”“I don't quite see the logic,” he says with a sigh, “But fine. Nothing too wild though, do you understand?”He's probably realised that it's easier to just go along with it. Harriet doesn't seem to mind, though, eagerly clapping her hands together before linking arms with him and pulling him away. Johannes has enough time to cast a weary glance back at you before he vanishes into the diminishing crowd.“Good luck!” Clarissa calls after them both.-The military distract isn't far from the grand plaza, and the Eternal Palace itself, which means that the houses are all suitably grand. Each manor, you assume, belongs to some high ranking officer or official – just another perk of the job. The Lowe manor has the air of a house long-abandoned, with no light in the window and no signs of life. But Clarissa seems to have expected nothing less, unlocking the front door and letting herself in without hesitation.There's something uncanny about seeing this place in real life, rather than the distorted memory you caught a glimpse of at the monastery. It looks the same, but the proportions seem ever so slightly different. Before, you realise, it was as a child saw it. “Mother isn't home,” Clarissa mentions idly, gesturing towards the stairs, “She's probably still working. I remember when I was younger, there were times when she wouldn't come home for days at a time.”“That's tough,” you reply, for want of something to say. With no sign that she heard you, Clarissa guides you into her bedroom and lights a gas lantern. It feels strange, just marching into her private chambers like this, but she doesn't seem to notice – or care – about the breach of protocol.“I got used to it,” she says eventually, looking around at her room as if seeing it for the first time. It's neat, tidy, and empty. A cadet's training rifle hangs on one wall above a family portrait. Her father is a blunt, harsh looking figure, while her mother seems to be made entirely from sharp edges. Clarissa herself has been painted with an adult's peaked cap on, the oversized hat covering half her face. Cloranthy, though, is notably absent from the portrait.
>>5690558“So tell me something,” you begin, “Was there a time when you DIDN'T dream about being a soldier?”“Give me a break, okay?” Clarissa replies, a tiny hint of a smile tugging at one corner of her mouth, “That's all anyone ever talked about when I was growing up. I barely knew there was a world outside the army, listening to my parents talk.”Somehow, that doesn't surprise you. “What about your mother?” you ask, “Didn't she have something else to talk about?”“Not really. She's part of the bureaucracy, but she mostly deals with military supplies,” the smile grows a little, “That's actually how they met, a furious argument over ammunition supplies.”“I see,” a pause, “How... romantic.”Finally, Clarissa allows herself to laugh. “Oh really?” she counters, “Is that an official verdict from Lucas Hearne, master of romance?”“It is,” you insist, holding firm, “Arguments over ammunition are no good. Now, if it was an argument over food supplies or uniforms, well that would be different!”“I'll keep that in mind,” she decides, turning away from the portrait to study an old bookshelf. As she looks through her old books, you take another look around the room. There isn't much to look at, but your eyes are drawn to a large map pinned up on the wall. The colours have faded over time, but you can still make out faint charcoal marks drawn here and there. When Clarissa notices your gaze, she lets out a soft sigh.“I always wanted to travel when I was a kid,” she explains, tracing her fingers across the map, “Father would tell me about all the places he'd seen, and I'd want nothing more than to see them for myself. The world always seems like such an exciting place when you can't go out and explore it, don't you think?”You can remember listening to the stories traders told when they came to your village – stories about the cities, usually. You'd listened to them with a mix of fascination and disbelief, struggling to imagine so many people living in such a small space. But that was then, and this is now.“Why didn't you?” you ask, “Travel, I mean.”“It just wasn't... possible. Cloranthy couldn't travel much, and it felt unfair for me to go out and leave her here. Just once, I went out to Ixtab to visit father. I was so excited then, and I told Cloranthy all about it when I got back,” Clarissa recalls, a faint pain ghosting across her face at the memory, “And I never realised how much it must have been hurting her to hear it.”“It's not your fault,” you tell her, “Kids can be...” But your voices trails off here, as you struggle to find the right words.“Dumb?” Clarissa offers after a long pause.“Dumb. Right,” you sigh, “That's exactly what I was going to say.”“You're getting predictable, Lucas,” she scolds softly, “Better watch out for that.”[2/3]
>>5690573After that, Clarissa takes you on a short and mostly silent tour of the manor. You drift through the empty corridors like spirits, occasionally pausing to look at some portrait or another before moving on. You finally end up in a large hall, the painted image of the Sun King glaring down from the high ceiling above. A ballroom, you suppose. It wouldn't be a high society manor without one. But without a crowd, the place feels more like an ornate tomb.Why here, you wonder, why bring you here of all places?“Johannes is right,” Clarissa announces suddenly, “There's no point in getting worked up over something we can't do anything about. Better to focus on the things we can change. We're Exorcists – we should stick to Exorcist business.”“Quite right,” you agree, although you're not entirely convinced by her sudden change of stance. More likely, she's just reaching out for whatever distractions she can. Anything other than dwelling on her own helplessness. “I've been working on something lately,” you explain, “It might be something big. Cloranthy's been helping me with the research, actually.”“Oh really?” she replies, giving you a sceptical look, “I hope this research isn't just an excuse for you to bother my sister.”“Hey, I'm entirely innocent here. I'll have you know that she's the one who keeps stalking ME,” you point out, “Every time I visit the archives, she's usually there watching me.”“Ah. I see. I knew she was interested in you, but...” Clarissa pauses, the quickly corrects herself, “Interested in you because of the Forest Kingdom connection, I mean. But you knew what I meant, didn't you?”“I don't know. She's barely mentioned that lately,” you remark, “Maybe it's just my winning personality that she likes.”“Well obviously. I thought that went without saying,” she agrees with another faint smile, “I'm glad you've been keeping her company. Believe it or not, she doesn't actually get out to meet people very much.”>I'll make sure to keep an eye on her>She needs her sister, not someone like me>We could always use an extra pair of hands, you know>Other
>>5690590>We could always use an extra pair of hands, you knowShe misses you and it *is* exorcist business.
>>5690590>She needs her sister, not someone like me
>>5690549Harriet is a really Polyanna-type, isn't she?>>5690590>I'll make sure to keep an eye on her>I... Think she has a crush on me
>>5690590>We could always use an extra pair of hands, you know
“I believe it,” you reply, wincing at the grim tone in your voice. That wasn't... quite what you had been meaning to say. “But really, she needs her sister around,” you add quickly, “Not someone like me.”“And what IS someone like you, exactly?” Clarissa wonders aloud, “A troublemaker? Or something worse than that?”“You're avoiding the point,” you insist, “She missed you while you were gone. You should be catching up with her, not making slanderous implications about me.”She smiles a little at this, as if she'd quite happily spend all day doing that, but the smile doesn't last. “It's not always... easy. I love her, of course. I care about her more than anything else in the world, really. But it's not always easy for me to face her,” she admits, “Sometimes, I just don't know what to say to her.”“Try talking business,” you recommend, “You know, we could always use an extra pair of hands. There's a lot of books we need to read through, and even she can only take them one at a time. I think it would be good – for all of us. It's Exorcist business, after all. Just think of it as working overtime.”“Well, when you put it like that...” Clarissa concedes, tilting her head as she accepts the point, “I'll check in at the archives first thing tomorrow, bright and early, and I'll expect to see you there too. Understood?”You just played yourself into a corner there. “I'm not sure if I do understand, actually. What is this “bright and early” that you speak of?” you ask, before shrugging and sighing, “I'll be there. Besides, it might be best if you're there to keep an eye on things. I think Cloranthy might be, ah, interested in me. If you know what I mean.”Maybe you're imagining things, but Clarissa's cheeks seem to darken slightly. “The Forest Kingdom thing,” she reminds you, “We've been over this.”“No, I think it's... oh, never mind,” you sigh, “I'll be there. Bright and early.”-Bright and early might be stretching it, but you do manage to wake up earlier than normal. Mostly because of your dreams – you don't remember much of them, except for the painted Sun King from Clarissa's ballroom that had been looming over everything. You don't know why, but the image had been somehow terrifying...Breakfast is rushed, and mostly silent. Harriet hasn't left her dorm yet and Johannes looks so grim that you don't even attempt a conversation. Whatever they got up to last night, it certainly wasn't in moderation. While there's a part of you that wants to stay and wait for Persephone to start causing trouble, you can sense a real risk of physical harm there. Better for everyone involved if you make yourself scarce.Better for you, at least, and that's the important part.
>>5690622There's already a good stack of books waiting for you when you arrive at the archives, with the Lowe sisters busy with a hushed discussion. You linger behind a bookshelf for a moment and try to listen in, but you can't catch much. A few names, perhaps, but none that you recognise. Other members of Cloranthy's cohort, maybe. Eventually, you abandon your attempts at eavesdropping and casually approach them.“Hey there. I was wondering when you were going to join us,” Cloranthy begins, her eyes lighting up at the sight of you, “I thought you were going to wait there all day.”“Wait where?” you counter, feigning innocence for all you're worth, “I just got here.”Cloranthy grins, seeing through your obvious lie. “Guess I was wrong,” she replies, “I thought I heard someone lurking about. But you know what this place is like – all kinds of funny noises around here.”“Well anyway, that's hardly important,” you insist, hurriedly taking a seat and looking over the piles of books, “What are we looking at?”“I... that is, my contact was able to find a few things,” Cloranthy begins, picking one particular book and passing it across to you. “Turns out that sun symbols are a pretty common thing for people to carve on stuff. But if you really narrow your search down... well, they're still pretty common,” she admits, shrugging her shoulders, “Have I mentioned how much hard work this involves? Because it's a lot.”“Hard work is good for the soul,” Clarissa points out, not even looking up from her book, “Besides, dedication to a noble cause is very attractive. Men love that sort of thing, don't they?”What are you even supposed to say to a thing like that?“Er, it's certainly on the list,” you agree, “Anyway, let's not get distracted. So these seals, you think they might be quite common?”“Not the seals. Just sun stuff in general. Makes it hard to pick out the important bits,” Cloranthy explains, “But what I've been doing is looking for notable carvings, then checking local histories to see if anything crazy happened in that area. See, if these seals really ARE hiding away some really bad spirits, I figure they would've caused some trouble back in the day – the kind of trouble that people remember for a long time.”Clarissa nods, a note of pride showing on her face. “And we might have something,” she tells you, nodding to the book, “Take a look.”You skim the passage she indicates, then go back and read it again – slower this time. It describes a spirit – a “perversion of Sheol” - that was known to spread sickness and death across the land until, eventually, it was cast out. Cast into a prison made in the Sun King's image, to be exact. That doesn't just sound close, that sounds exactly what you're looking for.“That's what I thought too,” Clarissa agrees, just from the expression on your face.[2/3]
>>5690657That sounds like we need a bigger gun AND sword.and maybe a gas mask.
>>5690657“So I'm going to assume this spirit is still sealed away. I think we'd all notice something belching out sickness and death,” you state, “And I'll pause a moment so you can think of your own jokes about Persephone's cooking.”“Much appreciated,” Clarissa says with a nod, leaning across to whisper to her sister, “Persephone can't cook. That's the joke.”“Oh right,” Cloranthy whispers back, “Thank you for explaining that, because I really couldn't, you know, figure that out for myself.”Clearing your throat, you step in before the inevitable sibling bickering can get out of control. “My point is, we're not in any kind of crisis situation if we assume this spirit is still sealed away. It could also give us a chance to study these seals themselves – an intact version, I mean,” you explain, “Do you know where this seal is?”“The spirit emerged in a village called, uh, Cremina,” Cloranthy answers, checking her notes, “But there isn't much left of the village itself, it says here, and this book was written years ago. Probably even less to find now. Let me guess, is this the part where you say you really want to go and play around with the horrible plague spirit?”“That's not exactly how I'd put it,” you remark, “But it might be wise for someone to keep an eye on it. Just in case. I think we-”“Because I want to come with you,” the younger girl adds, her voice unusually blunt. She stares at you, then at Clarissa, daring either of you to object.Clarissa, of course, rises to the challenge. “Absolutely not. Out of the question,” she answers immediately, “You can't ride a horse, for one thing, let alone hike through all kinds of wilderness. This isn't just a stroll down a corridor, you know – there might not even be a dirt path left if this village has been abandoned for so long. It's just not practical, never mind the danger.”“He said it was all still sealed away,” Cloranthy counters, jerking her head at you, “So where's the danger?”“We THINK it's still sealed away,” you point out, “We don't know that for certain yet.”“So I can't ride a horse. Fine – you can ride, and I'll hang along behind you. I can walk fine enough, just... just don't expect me to go skipping uphill,” the younger girl continues doggedly, “I can DO this. I'm the one who found this, I... I deserve to have this!”“I know that! And I wish...” Clarissa grimaces, “And I wish you could come along with us. I wish it was that easy, I really do.”Cloranthy looks back to you, her jaw set with anger. But her eyes are pleading.>Clarissa's right. I'm sorry, but it just won't work>Cloranthy should come. We'll make it work somehow>We don't even need to go. We could just report it, and that'll be the end of it>Other
>>5690695>Cloranthy should come. We'll make it work somehowThis could backfire admittedly, but I think it'll be good for her.
>>5690695>>Cloranthy should come. We'll make it work somehow
>>5690695>Cloranthy should come. We'll make it work somehowShe can stay in our lodgings when we're going somewhere especially strenuous or dangerous, and be our backup/support. But... She's probably dreamed of traveling, too, right? And her mind is pretty damn keen. She'll be useful as a field researcher, if not a footsoldier.And she cute, even if I'm Team Persephone
>>5690695>Cloranthy should come. We'll make it work somehowBut she's unlikely to be able to literally see the seal. The last one was in a hole in the ground.
“I think Cloranthy should come with us,” you decide, “I know there are going to be... challenges, but we'll make it work somehow.”“Yes!” Cloranthy hisses, pumping a fist in glee. Clarissa grimaces, but otherwise says nothing. “You won't regret this,” the younger girl adds eagerly, “I'll be the best field... work... uh, person that you've ever seen. There's a word for that, right?”“Exorcist, I think,” you suggest, “But listen, you need to be careful. Don't go getting in over your head, and if things really do get dangerous... just leave it to us. Find somewhere safe to hide, and wait for it to blow over. Understand?”“I'll get a gun, right? You can't do field work without a gun. Oh, and a SWORD!” she continues, as if you said nothing at all.Clarissa just shakes her head in dismay. “It doesn't matter, actually,” she thinks after a moment, “We'll need to get Master Rosenthal's permission to take her out on an investigation, and there's no way that we'll allow it. Just wait, he'll put an end to this folly.”-“I think it's a wonderful idea!” Master Rosenthal decides, giving you a firm nod, “It'll be good to see Miss Lowe getting out of the archives for a while, and I'm sure she'll learn a lot from you both. Just make sure you bring her back in one piece, won't you? Although I'm sure that you don't need me to tell you that. I'll take care of the paperwork, so just run along now!”“That was easy,” Cloranthy murmurs as you're leaving the office, with Clarissa quietly seething beside you. You're a little suspicious about just how easy it was, but perhaps you're just being paranoid. Then again, Master Rosenthal has always seemed a little too eager to get on your good side. Perhaps he's just being helpful, or perhaps it's something more than that.Have to keep an eye on that one, you decide. Cloranthy seems oblivious to your thoughts, happily wandering down the corridor with a slow click of her walking stick. Clarissa watches her limping on ahead, then gives you a faint scowl. “Are you sure about this?” she asks quietly, “I mean, have you really thought this through?”“Probably not as much as I should have,” you admit, “But I think this is right. She's got a keen mind, your sister. I think she'll make a fine field researcher, even if she's never a footsoldier. You should have more faith in her.”“It's not that I doubt her mind. I just don't want to see her get hurt,” Clarissa murmurs, “If she has a fall or gets a few scrapes, that's fine. But if this goes badly, it might really ruin her confidence. She might never leave the archives again.”“But she's got to start somewhere,” you point out, “This might be her best chance. Come on, it'll be fine – what could go wrong?”“You've done it now. We're all doomed,” she sighs, “Well, we might as well get it over with.”
>>5690738You're not sure what might be left of the village, so you pack some extra supplies for camping on the back of your horse. Cloranthy rides with her sister, sitting side-saddle on the horse and clutching tightly to the older girl. As you ride together, you occasionally catch a glimpse of skin as her long skirt rides up – her legs are very thin, very pale, and banded with metal braces.Hurriedly looking away, you fix your gaze straight ahead and watch the road before you. At least, you try to. After a few moments, you find yourself glancing back. When you do, you see Cloranthy staring straight back at you – a sly, secretive grin on her face.“What do you think of Master Rosenthal?” you ask, just for the sake of a distraction, “As an instructor, I mean.”“He's nice. He doesn't push us too hard or anything, pretty much just lets us take things at our own pace. Doesn't mind if I just spend all day reading crap stories instead of working,” she answers, “So I'm probably nowhere near qualified for field work. But hey, that's why you're here.”“And the rest of your cohort?” you continue, “Are they... nice?”Cloranthy just shrugs, the gesture causing Clarissa to wobble precariously in the saddle. “Fine, I guess. I even talk to them sometimes, when I can't get out of it,” she offers, although she couldn't care less about them by the sounds of it. The conversation seems to have ended there, only for her to suddenly speak up again. “There's this one girl, though, and she cannot – literally cannot – stop flirting with one of the guys, but he's so oblivious,” she recalls, “How lame is that, huh?”Clarissa coughs, or maybe covers up a laugh. “Imagine that,” she mutters aloud.-Riding for most of the day, you follow the main road for a while before breaking off down a series of increasingly precarious dirt trails. It's never dangerous, but you can tell that the rough ground is starting to get Cloranthy spooked. She clings even tighter to her sister, tight enough that Clarissa's face sometimes tightens with pain – although naturally, she never says a word about it.After circling around a dense cluster of trees, you spot the faint remnants of buildings from up ahead – barely more than a few scattered stones in places. Taking that as a sign that you're getting close, you urge a little more haste and gallop on ahead. Clarissa follows, but keeps her horse moving slowly and carefully.Stopping at the far edge of the desolate village, you take a long look around at your surroundings. The whole region seems... pale. The grass is withered and lifeless, while the dirt is loose and thin. Little wonder that the place was abandoned – it would be folly to try and grow anything in this lifeless place. That settles it then. This MUST be the right place.[2/3]
>>5690767There isn't much left of the village, but you decide to set up camp in the most intact remains you can find. A larger building, maybe a tavern once, the remains look like they were burned at one point – maybe for fear of some lingering contagion. Whatever happened, it left just enough shelter to protect against a sudden burst of rain over the night.Before the last of the daylight can fade, you quickly lay out bedrolls and make camp with Clarissa's help. She works with quick, efficient movements, the kind that only come from experience. “Good work,” you murmur to her, “Get up to much camping in the capital, did you?”“Just in the back garden,” she admits, sounding faintly embarrassed, “I remember spending a whole week sleeping outside once, just because father told me about a training exercise his men were on. Anything they could do, I could do too. That's what I said, at least. I got pretty good at making camp, but I drew the line at... ah...”“Let me guess,” you reply, “You never got around to digging the latrine?”“Exactly,” she mumbles, “Well, um, can you blame me? I can't imagine the neighbours wanted to see me... Actually, can we talk about something else? Maybe-”“Are you guys talking about pissing?” Cloranthy calls out, leaning through the ruined doorway, “Just go into the woods and do it, you don't need to tell the whole world!”Mortified, Clarissa buries her face in her hands as if pretending that the whole conversation wasn't happening.-Later, as Clarissa sleeps in the makeshift camp, you sit underneath the spreading starlight and wait. You're not quite meditating, simply letting the ambience wash over you. Listening to the land, as Master Brehm puts it. The land isn't saying much at the moment, but even the silence is meaningful. This whole place is just completely... dead.A faint shuffling sound from behind you lets you know that you've got company. Cloranthy all but collapses down beside you, her weak legs giving out before she can properly sit. She waves away your concern before you can speak, so you hold your tongue.“Nice out here, isn't it?” she murmurs, looking up at the stars, “I can't remember the last time I properly looked up at the stars like this.”“Not even out a window?”“That doesn't count,” she explains, “Obviously.”Obviously.“Your guys. Your cohort,” Cloranthy says after a pause, “Tell me about them.”“Huh?” you glance around at her, “What do you want to know?”“I don't know. Just about them. What kind of people are they? Whatever comes to mind,” she makes a vague gesture, “I'm curious, okay? About this whole “people” thing. Humour me, will you?”The cohort. Where to even start?>Persephone is...>Johannes is...>Harriet is...>Other
>>5690810>Persephone is...>OtherI'd like to add a 'Nicholas was...' to the list if we end up chatting about everyone.
>>5690816Also this, curious how were feeling about his loss, especially after the last thread
“Well, let's see. Persephone is... I think you might have met her actually,” you recall, “You were looking for me one day, when I was on a mission. White hair, kind of a...”“Kind of a bad attitude? Yeah, I remember her,” Cloranthy pulls a face, “She told me to go away. Actually, she told me to “take a walk” if you want, like, her exact words.”“That sounds like her, yes,” you sigh, “She can be very abrasive, especially around new people. But once you get to know her, she isn't so bad. We were on a mission together recently, a pretty bad situation, and she really pulled her weight.”Cloranthy lets out a quiet snort of laughter. “So let me guess,” she muses, “This is where you're about to say she's really nice and sensitive deep down. A real heart of gold. She just acts tough because she's afraid of getting close to people, and it's easier to push them away.”“No. I just think she can be kind of a jerk. But despite it all, I like being around her,” you pause, wondering about that. It's true, you realise, although it's not something you can put into words. “Anyway, it's your turn,” you add, “What about that girl you mentioned?”“Fia? She's okay, I guess. Nice enough to me, but only because she doesn't think I'm a threat. Real territorial when it comes to the guys. She's smart, but she doesn't like book learning – actually TALKS to people. Yuck!” Cloranthy sticks out her tongue, “But aside from her constantly thirsting after boys, I don't know what to tell you. Your turn!”It almost feels like a strange sort of game, taking turns like this. “Johannes is the other guy in the cohort. Well, he is now. After...” you hesitate, not quite ready to go THERE yet. “He's very serious. Very reliable,” you continue after a moment, “We didn't get along much at first, but I've think we've come to an agreement. Mutual respect, I guess. I'm amazed that he puts up with us some of the time, but he must like it. That, or moving would be too much effort. It feels like he's always bickering with Persephone.”“That means she likes him,” she decides immediately, “I bet that's it. In fact, I'll put money on it right now. Just, er, you'll need to lend me some money first. I left my purse back at the academy.”“It's not like that!” you insist, faintly wondering why the idea bothers you so much, “It's really... nothing like that. Trust me.”“Hmm,” Cloranthy gives you a dubious look, “Protesting a little too much there, buddy. Don't get carried away.”“I'm not getting carried away. I'm entirely calm. Look at how calm I am,” you tell her, making sure that you've got a very serious expression on your face, “You're up next, your turn. The guy next, the oblivious one you mentioned before.”“Well, you see, his name is Lucas and...” Cloranthy stops short, laughing at the scowl on your face, “Okay, okay. I'm sorry. Don't throw a tantrum!”[1/2]
>>5690856“Anyway, his name is Ellis and he's... well, I suppose he's handsome. Got a face like an army recruitment posted – all bright blue eyes and a strong chin. I guess some girls like that kind of thing, I dunno,” Cloranthy shrugs, “I guess I'd call him a good person. He's always trying to do the right thing and help other people, even when it lands him with all the hard work. He doesn't even complain about it or anything!”“Amazing,” you murmur. You've never met the man, and yet somehow you find yourself disliking him.A silence falls over you both. For a moment, all you do is watch as the clouds slowly drift through the starlit sky. Then, eventually, Cloranthy speaks. “Tell me about him,” she asks, “The other guy. The one you don't want to talk about.”“You know I don't want to talk about him, but you're still asking?” you reply, looking around to see if she's serious.“I mean, you don't have to. I'm not going to freak out if you don't,” she says with a shrug, “But sometimes it's better to talk about it. Even if maybe you don't want to.”She's got you there. “So, his name was Nicholas. He was the first person I really met when I came to the academy. The first friend I made here, I suppose. I remember that even then, he always seemed worried about something. Anxious, even when there was nothing going on. But he was always willing to help out with studying, any time I got stuck on something, and he never asked anything in return,” you pause, “But I guess I never really offered to help him much either, now that I think about it. It never occurred to me that he might need help.”“He died,” you add simply, “And for basically no reason. He went looking for answers, but there was never any chance of finding them. Sometimes I think he knew that, but he went searching anyway. It was something he had to do.”Cloranthy is silent for a long moment. “I've never actually... lost anyone,” she admits softly, “I don't know what I'd do if I did. How I'd feel.”“Nobody does. It's the strangest thing. I'll be living life like normal, and then I'll think that he should be here. Or I'll wonder what he'd say about something. He would have loved all this research stuff we've been doing,” you sigh, “But that doesn't matter now, does it?”This question goes unanswered. Cloranthy doesn't say anything, merely letting her head rest on your shoulder as you watch the clouds drift by.>I'm going to pause things here for today. I've got some extra time next week, so I'm aiming to continue this next Friday>Thank you for reading along today!
>>5690876Thanks for running, QM!
>>5690876Thanks for running!
For the first time in a long while, you dream of fire. You dream of a village in flames, buildings barricaded shut and set aflame with their screaming inhabitants sealed within. The flames leap high into the sky, casting up great pillars of smoke that blot out the light of the stars. Stand there, amidst the fire, you feel the twin horrors of pain and certainty – however terrible it might be, this is the only way.The sun is already getting high in the sky when you wake up, a steady warmth filling the air. Like a distant echo of your dream, you can hear the faint crackle of a fire from outside your makeshift shelter. Rubbing grit from your eyes, you emerge to see Clarissa preparing a meal over a lively campfire. Crumbling trail biscuits into water to make a simple porridge, she glances briefly up at you before returning to the pot.“Bad dreams?” you ask, noting the shadows around her eyes.“About normal, really,” Clarissa replies vaguely, prodding at the porridge with a long spook.“About normal, really,” you repeat back to her, “And normal is...?”There's a pause. “Well, it's not fantastic,” she admits after a while, “But not abnormally bad, in either case. I just wanted to get an early start, take a look around now that we've got some daylight to work with. There's more here than I first thought.”It's not exactly the most elegant way to change the subject, but you suppose it works. “Find anything interest?” you ask, playing along for now.“Some more remains, more intact than the ones around here. Over there,” Clarissa explains, pointing down to the treeline, “You can't see much from here, with the trees blocking it from sight, but it might have been a temple. I didn't get too close of a look, though, not on my own. It's probably best if we stick together from now on.”Why does she say that as if you were the one who went wandering off?“Why are you saying that like he was the one who went wandering off?” Cloranthy asks, limping out of the shelter and collapsing down in front of the fire, “You made enough noise to wake the dead this morning, stomping about with your big heavy boots on.”“Right. Just impossible to sleep through,” you agree, managing to keep a straight face as you nod.Clarissa just pretends not to notice, busying herself with serving out three bowls of the thick porridge. “I remember when you were learning to cook. You were so awful at first, and you always got me to taste test for you!” Cloranthy continues, flashing you a wicked grin as she takes one of the bowls, “Remember that? Remember when you burned that bacon so badly that the whole pan was ruined?”“I remember,” Clarissa mutters through gritted teeth, “You're always so keen to remind me, after all.”“It was a good pan, too,” the younger girl whispers to you, her voice just loud enough for her sister to hear.[1/2]
>>5694379When breakfast is over, and Cloranthy has grown tired of tormenting her sister, you start out exploring the town. Even after a relatively short walk through the ruined down, though, you can tell that Cloranthy is struggling – she never says anything, but her face has a ghastly pallor and her steps drag more than ever.Then, as you're crossing a flat plain, she falls. Clarissa is there immediately, reaching down to help the younger girl up, but Cloranthy bats the hand away. “It's here!” she rasps, looking up at you with wide eyes, “I'm telling you, it's here!”“What's here?” Clarissa asks, trying again to help her sister up. Wriggling free, Cloranthy starts to attack the loose soil with her bare hands. She claws at the dry, withered grass and throws aside handfuls of the dusty soil with such an intensity that Clarissa draws back in alarm. After struggling for a few seconds more, Cloranthy looks back up at you.“There's something down here, I can FEEL it,” she insists, “Just give me a hand here, will you?”Clarissa hesitates, then kneels down to help with digging through the dirt. You join them, attacking the lifeless soil until your fingers scrape against something more solid. You all freeze, then the girls watch as you carefully brush away the last layer of dirt. At the bottom of your newly dug hole, you see the dull grey of basalt – with a deep fissure carved into the stone.“That's it,” Cloranthy states bluntly, reaching down and running her fingers along the curved carving, “This must be the seal. They must have buried it here, and-”“And maybe we should leave it buried,” Clarissa interrupts, “The more I think about it, the more I feel like we just... shouldn't be here. Think about it – they never said ANYTHING about these seals, not in any of our lessons. I think they wanted these things to be forgotten. We know it's buried, we know nobody's been tampering with it, isn't that enough?”“We DON'T know that!” Cloranthy argues, “Look, this is just barely a glimpse at the whole seal – we don't know that it hasn't been damaged, or it's wearing away, or... or any number of other things!”These last words, shouted out in a raw, ragged voice, even seem to take Cloranthy herself by surprise. She hesitates, panting for breath, before shaking her head. “I just want to do something, you know?” she mutters, “We only just got here, only just found this, and now you want us to leave? It's not fair...”“Maybe not,” Clarissa admits, her voice soft, “But it's safer this way. For all of us.”Then she glances around at you, silently imploring you for support.>Clarissa's right. You've seen enough here, you can leave>Cloranthy's right. You should unearth the whole seal>Perhaps you could compromise and investigate the ruined temple instead>Other
>>5694382>>Perhaps you could compromise and investigate the ruined temple insteadAlmost forgot there was a session today
>>5694382>Perhaps you could compromise and investigate the ruined temple insteadwhoo surprise runI was surprised at least, busy week
>>5694382>Cloranthy's right. You should unearth the whole sealWe'll just rebury it right after.
>>5694382>Cloranthy's right. You should unearth the whole sealYou realize that if you're right and something's wrong, we have to go back FASTER than we took coming here, right?
Rolled 2 (1d2)>I think, for the sake of moving forwards, I'm just going to roll off to break the tied vote.>1 = going with the ruined temple>2 = staying to unearth the seal
“I think Cloranthy's right,” you decide, looking down at the rough hole, “We need to make sure that the seal is intact. If there really is some damage, it's best that we find out about it now. We can bury it again once this is all over, nobody needs to know about this.”“I'm not suggesting we, you know, erect a monument here or anything,” Cloranthy agrees, “C'mon, this is just being careful. You're normally all about being careful, aren't you? You'll double check that you've packed clean underwear, but you're not going to make sure the horrible plague spirit is locked up nice and tight?”“Okay, fine!” Clarissa relents, throwing her hands up in dismay, “If it'll get you to stop talking about my underwear, then we'll do it. But we're covering it up again as soon as possible, is that clear?”“Clear!” the younger sister chirps, although the look on her face is less than convincing.-Even between the three of you, clearing the dirt away from the seal is hard work. Without tools, you need to move the soil away one handful at a time, and it's not long before the work starts to take its toll. More than once, you glance up to see Cloranthy carefully wiping her bloodied hands on her long skirt. She meets your eyes once, and gently touches a finger to her lips.You nod, although you're fairly certain that Clarissa must have noticed already. Or maybe not – she seems oddly distracted, often pausing her work for long moments. If it was anyone else you'd simply assume that she was reluctant to work, but you can't imagine Clarissa slacking off at anything.“I wish the big guy was here,” Cloranthy mutters as she sits back to take a break, “He'd have this hole field dug up, just like that.”“The “big guy” has a name, you know,” you point out, “I hate to think what you've decided to call everyone else.”“Oh, that's easy. It's the big guy, the mean girl, the new girl, and Lucas,” Cloranthy gives you a weak, tired grin, “You should feel proud of yourself, my man. You get a proper name. Do you know how hard that is?”You can probably guess. Glancing aside, you notice that Clarissa has spaced out again. “You said you felt something, before,” you whisper, hoping not to be overheard, “Felt what, exactly?”“I don't... Bad vibes, you know? Like you look at a bit of food and you know it's no good, but you eat it anyway because you're really hungry. Then you KNOW it's really bad. Those kind of vibes,” she explains vaguely, “It felt dark, and mean. Like I couldn't breath, almost.”“Right,” you pause, “So you thought it felt bad, and you wanted to dig it up anyway?”“What are you, Mister Common Sense now?” she shrugs, “I told you. I needed to be sure. It would just annoy me if I didn't know for certain. Wouldn't be able to sleep at night for thinking about it. Also, the whole “massive danger” thing, but that's not as important.”Naturally.[1/2]
>>5694500“Sorry, what was that?” Clarissa says suddenly, causing you both to glance around at her. She pauses, waiting for an answer that just doesn't come before finally shaking her head. “I just thought you were saying something,” she murmurs, “Sorry. I wasn't paying attention. I suppose digging a hole isn't exactly the most exciting thing in the land.”“Digging a hole above a sealed plague spirit,” Cloranthy reminds her, “Does that make it better?”“It makes it... less boring,” the older sister replies carefully, her brow creasing with a sour frown, “Let's just get this over with. We can't have much left to uncover, surely?”She's right, by the looks of it. Assuming there's nothing else hidden under the soil, you've got most of the emblem revealed. Enough, in fact, for you to have noticed an odd detail. The carving takes the shape of a radiant sun, pointed arms thrusting out from the centre, which has been carved to suggest a face. It's the inner space that you've noticed – the inside of the sun has been notched with a winding trail that almost looks like...“Don't say it,” Clarissa warns, noticing your gaze, “Don't even think about it.”“Oh yeah, it kinda does look like a maze,” Cloranthy says, “I wouldn't have noticed that if you hadn't said anything. Thanks sis!”As Clarissa groans, you consider the seal once more. The seal you found in Penn's Garden had been much smaller, much simpler than this one. Why would the original creators turn the seal into a massive Dho game? A way to contact the spirit, perhaps, to cast their mind into the sealed prison for some unknowable reason.“Can we just focus, please?” Clarissa pleads, punching you lightly on the arm, “We just need to make sure the seal is intact, then we can cover it back up again. That was the deal, remember?”“Fine, fine...” you reply, dusting away the last few clumps of soil. As you peer down at the carved lines, Cloranthy struggles to pull herself out of the pit and lets out a long sigh. “Fetch some charcoal and paper, will you?” you tell Clarissa, “We should at least take a sketch of the seal, we can study it later. You know, once we've covered this up.”“I should have some in my pack, I'm sure I brought some with us,” Clarissa gives you a nod, only to glance back at you before leaving, “You're not going to do anything foolish while I'm gone, are you?”“No more foolish than normal,” you assure her, “Don't worry about it, okay?”“You're not exactly...” she sighs, shakes her head, “Fine. I shouldn't be too long. Just sit tight.”You and Cloranthy wait for a moment, watching as Clarissa hurries back towards the shelter. “So...” the younger girl begins, “Are we gonna, you know... play it?”>Play the Dho game>Do not play the Dho game>Other
>>5694521>Do not play the Dho gameWe're at the brink of war, let's not unleash even more disasters
>>5694521>Do not play the Dho gameCall me crazy, but I don't think we should potentially breach the veil of a plague spirit.
>>5694521>Do not play the Dho game
>>5694521>Play the Dho gamefuck it we ball
“Let's... not,” you tell her, “I think we've got enough problems, without potentially stirring up... whatever this thing even is.”“Yeah, probably,” Cloranthy pauses, “It's really got me curious though.”“Me too. But in this case, I'm perfectly happy to remain curious,” you insist, “Besides, just think what would happen if Clarissa got back and found us deep in a trace. I'd never hear the end of it, if I even woke up at all!”Cloranthy considers this for a few moments. “I guess you're right,” she sighs, “And if I show her how responsible I am, how seriously I'm taking this, she might take me on some more investigations. I'll get to poke at even more weird stuff!”“Er, right. I'm sure she'll keep that in mind,” you decide, turning back to the carving itself as you check for any damage, any deformities. It's oddly difficult to focus on the outer lines, with your eye constantly wandering back to the maze-like carvings in the centre. It's almost as if the seal itself WANTS you to play the game. Fighting to keep your eyes straight, you hurry through the last of the outer lines. Just as you're standing up again, a shadow falls across the pit.“Paper and charcoal, as requested,” Clarissa announces, holding out her precious cargo, “It took me longer to find than I expected. It was actually in Cloranthy's back, hidden under the stuffed bear.”“Hey!” Cloranthy wails, flashing you a desperate look, “That's not... I don't... I wouldn't bring...”“It's okay, don't worry about it,” you assure her, somehow keeping a straight face, “I still think you're cool.”“This sucks...” Cloranthy mutters, snatching the paper and charcoal before angrily sketching out the first few lines.-“What do you think it is, anyway?” Clarissa murmurs, sitting back as Cloranthy works, “This spirit, I mean. The books called it a Perversion of Sheol, but what does that even mean?”“A death spirit, I presume, but a nasty one,” you think for a moment, “Some believe that Sheol marks people for death, then sends his spirits to collect their due when the time comes. For a death spirit to take victims at random, though... that would be against his plan. Against the rules.”“Sheol's plan... Father told me about that, once. It's not exactly orthodox, but his soldiers really believe in it. I remember...” she pauses, “Well, it doesn't matter. People believe a lot of things – it doesn't mean there's any truth to it.”The grim topic falters here, a brief silence falling over you as you watch Cloranthy putting the last touches to her sketch. “Hey,” you whisper, “Did she really bring a stuffed toy with her?”“Yes. Father gave it to her when she was very young, but I never realised that she brought to the academy with her. I thought she'd outgrown it years ago,” Clarissa smiles slightly, although there's pain there too, “I guess I don't know her as well as I thought I did.”
>>5694550Filling in the hole is, thankfully, a much quicker task than digging it up. Shovelling the loose dirt back into place and packing it down, you look back at the bald soil with a frown. With the grass ripped away, the disturbed ground looks about as obvious as a bright red cross. “It'll grow back,” Clarissa offers, although she doesn't sound convinced, “It looks bad now, but it'll clear up later.”“Nobody's going to come here anyway,” you agree, “No roads, no trade routes, no reason to come this way. Not unless you knew there's something hidden here already.”“And then you'd already be looking for it,” Cloranthy continues, not even looking up from her sketch, “I'm sure I've seen this symbol somewhere before. This EXACT symbol. A book I read somewhere, maybe, but I just can't think. Too damn tired to think.”“You've probably read every book in those archives, so that hardly narrows the list down,” you point out, “Sleep on it, see if you can remember it any better in the morning.”“I don't know if I'll be able to sleep, knowing that thing is under there,” Clarissa admits, “But if we set out now... no, it's better that we wait until morning. Fine. Fine.”She almost sounds like she's trying to convince herself.-No fire in your dreams, this time, but something obscurely worse. You dream of the sealed spirit, of a tangled hive of serpents that coils and churns far beneath the surface. A rotting, filthy thing that had spent countless years steeping in its own corruption, growing worse and worse as time crawled on. You wake with a jolt, still feeling the filth creeping over every inch of skin. Shuddering, you notice that Clarissa's bedroll is empty and peer out from the shelter.There, framed by the light of the moon, you spot her sitting by the disturbed earth. Hastily pocketing your revolver, you slip out of the shelter and cross over to her. She hears you approach, tensing up even if she doesn't turn around.“Hey,” you begin as you sit beside her, your voice pitched low, “Making sure it's still buried there?”Clarissa looks around, a humourless smile touching one corner of her mouth. “Yes, actually,” she admits, saying nothing else.“Bad dreams?”Another pause, before Clarissa gives a slow nod of agreement. “Just thinking about that thing turns my stomach,” she explains, “But it's not that. Not really. It's... the plan. Sheol's plan.”“The plan that you don't believe in?”“Just because I don't believe in it, that doesn't mean it might not be real,” she grimaces, “No, that sounds stupid. Forget it. Forget I said anything.”>But you didn't say anything>No, tell me. I want to know what's wrong>Focus. You'll make mistakes if you can't keep a clear head>Other
>>5694575>No, tell me. I want to know what's wrong
>>5694575>But you didn't say anything>No, tell me. I want to know what's wrongcan't not pick that first one
>>5694575>But you didn't say anything>No, tell me. I want to know what's wrong
“But you didn't say anything,” you reply immediately, the words coming to your lips before you can think. Clarissa lets out a surprised laugh, only to cover her mouth as if embarrassed. It feels strange, hearing any kind of laughter in a place like this, but not bad. She has a nice laugh, clear and musical, even if she doesn't get to use it enough.“That's the spirit,” you tells you, wincing slightly at her words, “No-”“No pun intended?” you finish for her, “But seriously. Is there something wrong? Tell me – I want to know.”Clarissa hesitates, as if unsure how sincere you really are. You nod, waiting for her to speak. “The... first time I ever saw a spirit,” she begins quietly, “It was in Ixtab. I was visiting father, and we went to the temple there with his unit. They were praying for safety. I remember kneeling there in the temple, hearing the priest drone on and on... but there was someone else there. Something else. I thought it was another priest at the time, a priest hidden in their long robes.”“The priest... it moved through the men. Sometimes it would stop by one of them and touch their head like it was giving them a blessing. But not all of them, just some of the men at random,” Clarissa pauses, swallowing heavily as she considers her next words with care. “Afterwards, I realised that none of the men had seen the priest,” she murmurs eventually, “And that's when father realised what was going on. Not long after that, we were both sent to the academy.”“It was only later, when father wrote to me, that I learned that some of the men I saw – some of the marked men – had been killed in action,” Clarissa says, her voice low, “Not all of them, just some. Few enough that it could all be a coincidence. Or...”“Or it might all be part of the plan,” you murmur.“I don't know. There's no way that I CAN know either,” she shrugs, “It's a question that won't ever have an answer, and that... bothers me.”That's putting it lightly. The thought of living like that, with a destined death waiting for you, sends a chill down your spine. Better not to know at all, perhaps.“Too much time around soldiers, that's my problem,” Clarissa decides suddenly, her voice firm, “They're a morbid lot, usually. They get all kinds of funny ideas and superstitions. Worse than old women, really, and it all rubbed off on me. Lucky me, huh?”“Lucky you,” you agree, “But at least... ah.”“You're trying to think of something nice to say,” she remarks, “Aren't you?”“Guilty as charged.”“Don't worry about it. I don't mind. Not really. At least, I can't imagine living any other way,” she shrugs again, “We don't choose our lives. You didn't choose to be born at the Forest Kingdom, and Cloranthy didn't choose to be born like... she is. But you both deal with it, so I don't have any right to complain either.”
>>5694610Nobody talks much on the ride back to the academy. You're all eager to leave the ruined village, and what lies beneath it. Even after returning to the shelter, you hadn't slept much. Every time you did manage to drift off, the same vile dreams would jolt you awake.“So are we going to call this a successful mission?” Cloranthy asks, after a long silence, “I think I'm going to call this a successful mission.”“Not really a mission at all, actually,” you point out, “We didn't do much.”“But we didn't screw anything up, either,” she counters, “Which, in my eyes, counts as a success. A triumph, even! We deserve a bonus for this, maybe a pay rise or... what do you guys get as a reward?”“The satisfaction of a job well done, I think,” Clarissa answers, “The pride of doing your duty. Because that IS why we're doing this, isn't it? Not because of any, say, selfish desires for personal gain.”If you were looking to make a profit, you'd be in pretty much any other line of work – not that you were ever really given a choice.-There's a letter waiting for Clarissa when you arrive back at the academy. Snatching it up, she hurriedly retreats into her room and slams the door shut. Good news, you hope, if there is such a thing as good news these days. Master Brehm doesn't seem to have returned from his “errand” yet, which leaves you at something of a loss. Maybe you'll just... relax for a little bit. Until the next disaster comes along, at least.“Wasn't that what you said the last time?” you think aloud, staring into space as you try to recall.“If you're going to talk to yourself, at least try to ask interesting questions,” Johannes says, emerging from his room, “So you're back, and with no visible injuries or obvious trauma too. Congratulations are in order.”“What did you expect? We're all professionals here,” you reply, “...Except maybe Cloranthy. Not quite sure if she counts just yet. Still in training.”Johannes just gives you a long, blank look. “You talk a lot of shit sometimes,” he points out, “Too much time with Persephone. That's your problem.”Sometimes, it feels like ANY time with her is too much. But other times...“Wipe that goofy smile off your face,” Johannes adds, slapping you lightly on the arm. Even a light slap hurts with that much muscle behind it, though. “That's it. We need to do something,” he decides, looking you up and down, “Go somewhere. Do something. No women allowed.”“That sounds...” you pause, “Fun?”Johannes lets out a low grunt. “That better not be sarcasm, Hearne, because I wasn't giving you a choice,” he states, “Think of something, or I'll decide for you. Consider this a threat.”He's really serious about this, huh?>You're not playing along. He can't make you>You'll let him decide. He can do his worst>You've got an idea of what to do... (Write in)>Other
>>5694632>You'll let him decide. He can do his worst
>>5694632>You'll let him decide. He can do his worstHow bad could it possibly be?
>>5694632>You've got an idea of what to do... (Write in)Shooting range?
“Go ahead,” you tell him, “Do your worst.”Johannes is silent for a long moment. “Shit,” he says eventually, “I didn't think this far ahead.”“Too bad. You got us into this mess, so you can get us out of it,” you press, folding your arms and waiting, “It can't be that hard, can it? We can just do something that you think is fun, and I'll probably hate it by default. Then everyone wins, right?”He thinks about this for a few seconds, trying to figure out the exact logic, then shrugs his massive shoulders. “Fine. Come on, we're going for a walk. Down to the capital,” he decides, “Saw something interesting when I was out with Maxim, but she didn't want to stop. Now I'll take you there instead.”“This better not be a date,” you warn him.“You wish,” he replies, letting out a snort of contempt.-“Been thinking, lately,” Johannes says bluntly, adjusting his backpack as you walk down the dusty road to the capital, “What kind of future do you see for us?”“Us being... the cohort? The academy?” you ask, gesturing around you, “The whole damn land?”“Yes. To all three,” he answers, “The more I think about it, the less I like what I see. Feels like we're all just waiting for things to go wrong, then patching up the damage. We're not defending anything, just cleaning up the messes we find along the way. Worst part of it is, I don't even see a way to change it. The system is broken and I don't know how to fix it. Don't know of anything better to replace it with either.”Unusually introspective for a man like him. “Problems like that, they're too big for any one man to fix,” you suggest, “Even the Regent, in a way. Even if the Sun King whispers a perfect solution into his ear, he's still got to put the plan into action. It's not easy to get this nation to agree on anything, even if it's for the greater good.”“I keep thinking of Roseclyff. Stupid, selfish people, always stabbing each other in the back for a handful of coin or... or some stupid pride,” Johannes grunts, “If the whole land was like that, I'd say let it burn.”“But it's not all like that, is it?” you guess, “Are you thinking about-”“No women, remember?” he interrupts.“You mentioned Harriet.”“I did?” Johannes pauses, thinks back, “I did. Shit.”You're very generous, and you don't gloat about the victory. You just follow Johannes in silence, letting him guide you through the streets of the capital. Leaving the busy main streets behind, you slip into the narrow backstreets – a maze, even at the best of times. He really came HERE with Harriet?Just as you're starting to wonder, Johannes leads you into what seems to be a dead end. Then, set deep into an alcove on the wall, you spot a small and shabby shrine. It looks like it hasn't been visited in years, let alone cared for, but here you are.“Here we are,” Johannes says, as if sensing your thoughts.
>>5694657As Johannes sets down his backpack, you step closer to peer down at the small shrine. It's older than you first thought, like the rest of the city had somehow formed around it. The tiny statue is of a female figure – you think – but the stone is so weathered that any other details are long-since worn away. There are the remains of some words carved into the stone arch above the shrine, but most of these are illegible too.“Once, people cared about this place. They cared deeply about it – it meant something to them,” Johannes mutters, “Now look at it. I think the number of people who know about this place... you could count it on one hand. Including us.”Stepping around you, Johannes starts to wipe away the dust and cobwebs with a rag. As he works, you open your senses to the spirit world. It's always a confusing thing to do in the capital, with the blinding, burning light of the Sun King blotting out nearly everything else, but you can see enough. “There's nothing here, Johannes,” you say quietly, “There's no spirit here.”“I know,” he replies simply, scrubbing black soot from the walls, “But that doesn't mean we can't treat the place with a little bit of fucking respect. Now, are you going to stand there and stare at me, or are you going to help out?”You hesitate for a moment before picking up a spare cloth and starting to clean the other side of the shrine. Between the two of you, it's not long before the worst of the grime has been wiped away. It won't ever look as good as new – not when the stones themselves have been stained by years of smoke and smoke – but it's a definite improvement. As you work, you find yourself thinking more and more about the shrine itself.A spirit of mercy once inhabited this place, you assume. A place where the locals would come to make offerings, to pray for sickly children and the souls of the dead. A common enough thing in the city, even if the aspect of mercy is a rather... alien thing to the academy itself.Johannes finishes up by lighting a candle at the shrine and bringing his hands together in prayer. You join him, and just for a moment – a single fleeting second – you think you feel something responding. Or perhaps you're just imagining it, looking for something that isn't there.“We're finished here,” Johannes decides, “We've finished our good deed for the day.”“Really makes me feel warm inside,” you reply, finding that you actually mean it. A little bit.“Sure,” he grunts, not entirely convinced, “But it was good of you to humour me. We could do it again some time – city's full of places like this.”It certainly is.>I think I'm going to take a pause here for today, to pick up again tomorrow>Thank you for reading along today!
>>5694676Thanks for running!
>>5694676Damn Johannes is a Chad, easily the best waifu introduced so far
>>5694727Agreed, Johannes is a top tier bro. If I believed /qst/. would ever vote to go gay, he'd be a solid husbando. All these characters are very well-written
Before returning to the academy, you decide to wander the capital for a while longer. There's really no other place like it – not the towns and villages scattered throughout the land, not even the smaller cities that have grown in recent years. The capital has everything, a whole world crushed down into a single sprawling monstrosity.The iron district is busier than normal, with a steady flow of people moving through the myriad weapon shops that line the narrow streets. Most of them are off-duty soldiers, by the looks of them, browsing the various blades and pistols on offer. You're fairly sure that personal weapons are prohibited in the lower ranks, but nobody seems to have told them that.“I'm glad to see that business is booming,” Johannes drawls as he examines a particularly massive revolver.“Somehow I don't think you actually mean that,” you reply, “I don't know, call me a cynic.”“You're a cynic,” he grunts, returning the revolver to the stall. You browse through the row of pistols laid out atop the stall, but nothing really catches your eye – many of the weapons look cheap, crudely made from iron or bad steel. The best pieces, you expect, have already been bought up by canny soldiers, leaving these for the luckless or the truly desperate.Leaving the weapon shops behind, you start the slow trek back to the academy. As you're walking, though, a thought occurs. “So,” you ask, “How was the ivy district?”Johannes lets out a low growl of irritation. “I could eat for a whole day on what they charged for a single glass of wine. Don't even ask what they were demanding for a whole bottle,” he mutters, “Not that it mattered to Maxim, mind you.”“But was it GOOD wine?”“Shit, I don't know. Do I look like a wine expert?” he shrugs, “It wasn't disgusting. She seemed to like it. That's about it – if you ask me for tasting notes, I'll hit you.”You know him well enough to take that threat seriously. “I'm going to take a wild guess and assume that Harriet gets very loud when she drinks, and she probably laughs a lot,” you muse, “But I really can't imagine you getting drunk.”“You assume correctly. She talks a lot, but doesn't make much sense,” he pauses, thinks for a moment then corrects himself, “More so than usual, I mean. She talked a lot about a clock, and her father, and... and the damn family business. I heard more about the silk trade than I ever wanted to know. I couldn't get in a single word, which is fortunate because I had literally nothing to say.”“I see,” you consider this for a second, “So what you're saying is, you had fun?”“What I'm saying is, this should never happen again,” he growls, “But if it does, you can be the one to babysit her.”He had fun. He's just too embarrassed to admit it. Maybe.[1/2]
>>5695290Back at the academy, you find Clarissa sitting at the dining table with a vacant look on her face and a folded sheet of paper laid out before her. She doesn't notice you at first, only jolting around when Johannes bangs the door closed. “I didn't realise you were back,” she says quickly, “Were you doing anything... fun?”“Went out to look at guns,” Johannes answers, cutting you off before you can say anything, “You would have loved it.”“That's right, I would have loved it,” she agrees, giving you both a slight frown. You just hope she doesn't ask why she wasn't invited – if she does, Johannes can be the one to explain.But she doesn't ask. She doesn't say anything, in fact, sitting in silence as Johannes returns to his room. Once it's just the two of you again, you nod down to the paper. “News from the front?” you ask quietly, “Good news, I hope.”“Mm, well, maybe. Not much news at all,” she replies, gesturing for you to sit before leaning forwards, “They're saying... ah, I don't know. This might be confidential information.”Maybe. But the tiny hint of a smile on her face says otherwise. “Right,” you counter, “So confidential that your father wrote it down in a letter to his daughter.”“There seems to be some heavy diplomatic manoeuvring going on, all very hush hush,” Clarissa whispers, accepting your point with a slight nod, “We don't know exactly what, but it seems to be stalling the Reivians. Father doesn't say, but there's something going on in Ixtab. Something big. They're trying to buy as much time as possible.”It's easy to imagine something going on in Ixtab – the city is truly ancient, built atop a vast network of catacombs that burrow deep into the earth. It's not uncommon for new areas to be uncovered, new tunnels to be unearthed. “What do you think it is?” you ask, but Clarissa just shakes her head.“All I can do is wait for the next letter,” she admits, “I'll let you know if I hear anything more.”“I'd like that,” you reply, “But... you weren't waiting just to tell me about the letter, were you?”She considers denying it for a second before shrugging. “There was something else, just in case anyone asks for me. Tomorrow, I'm going up the mountain. I've been... hearing things,” she explains, “Ever since we went to that cursed town. Maybe before then, even, but... I don't know. But the monks can instruct me, I'm sure of it.”A guardian spirit, so soon after visiting that town and the sealed spirit beneath it... it feels like trouble, more than anything else. The worst kind of trouble.“I would have liked Cloranthy to come with me, but with the journey up the mountain... it's just not possible,” Clarissa shrugs, “It's fine, though. I'll be fine. So if anyone asks...”>I'll let them know. Good luck with the monks>I'll go with you. You shouldn't do this alone>I don't think you should go. It feels dangerous>Other
>>5695291>I’ll go with you
>>5695291>>I'll go with you. You shouldn't do this alone
“I'll go with you,” you tell her quickly, “You shouldn't do this alone.”Clarissa considers this, looking down and carefully folding up her letter. She slips the letter into her pocket, then finally looks back up and meets your gaze. “If you insist,” she says quietly, “But if you're just saying that because you think you owe me one...”“No, it's not that. I'd want to help you out regardless. I just hope... you're sure that you want to do this?” you ask carefully, “Are you really sure that it's a good idea?”“I have to do this, Lucas. I have to. I've been thinking about this ever since I first heard that voice in my dreams, debating with myself about what to do. But I've made up my mind – I know what I have to do,” Clarissa insists, nodding firmly, “And I'll be glad to have you by my side. You've already seen the worst of me, after all. I'm sure this'll be no trouble at all!”You don't believe that, but neither does she. Not really. But you just nod your agreement and let the matter rest. “Tomorrow morning, then,” you decide, “Bright and early.”“I can't wait.”-For once, it does turn out to be bright and early – but only because Clarissa wakes you up with a firm knock at your bedroom door. Her expression is strange, a mask of grim excitement pulled taut over strained nerves. You wonder if you looked the same what, when it was your turn to ascend to the monastery. Not really, but you hadn't known what to expect. If you had...“Come now, hurry up,” Clarissa urges as you're tying up your boots, “And brush your hair, you look like you just got out of bed!”“Because I did just get out of bed,” you argue, waving her away before she can do the job for you, “And I don't think the monks are going to care whether I've brushed my hair or not. Most of them don't have any hair, for one thing. They've probably forgotten what it looks like!”“Yes, but I haven't. You'll embarrass me!” she scolds, “Oh, never mind – I know an unwinnable battle when I see one. Let's just head out. You're sure that you want to come with me?”“I'm sure,” you assure her, “I had a few things I wanted to discuss with the monks anyway. So, you know, I've got my own selfish reasons for doing this.”“Oh good, so I don't have to feel guilty about dragging you all the way up the mountain for my sakes,” Clarissa allows herself a laugh, “That's a relief! What were you looking to discuss, anyway?”“Something about a case,” you reply vaguely, “It's a long story. Too long, really, and it's kind of a mess.“We'll have plenty of time to talk on the hike up,” she points out, but you just wave her question away. Giving up, at least for now, Clarissa just shrugs and starts to leave. You follow, silently considering the matter of Harriet's strange meditation – the monks might know more about such things than you do, even if they can just point you in the right direction.
>>5695301The hike doesn't seem nearly as long this time around, perhaps because of the ruthless pace Clarissa is setting. You're able to tackle the stairs much quicker than before without Master Brehm around, although you feel a little guilty for it. Neither of you says much, saving your breath for curt warnings about the terrain ahead. You only stop once, when you notice some markings carved into the cliff face – ancient letters in the crude Aklo script.“Our faith is a mountain,” you read aloud, translating the ancient letters, “Good for them, I guess. Don't know why they wanted to tell us, mind you.”“I suppose you have to amuse yourself somehow up here,” Clarissa replies, hugging herself against the cold wind, “Come on, we don't have much farther to go.”You nod, leaving the unfathomably ancient words behind you.-The monastery door is ajar when you arrive at the summit, not quite thrown open to invite you in or closed shut to warn you away. The equivalent of a non-committal shrug, in a way. With a shrug of your own, you creep through the open door and look around for any sign of life. Nobody comes to meet you, and you don't see any way to summon them – no bell to ring, no gong to strike, nothing. You could just shout, of course, but the stillness here is so great, so perfect, that you feel oddly reluctant to raise your voice.“Creepy, isn't it?” Clarissa whispers, apparently sharing your concerns, “Let's see... I think we went this way, before. Yes, I remember now – this way.”She leads you down a long hallway into a familiar chamber looking out over the mountains. You remember the floors here, all carved with their own intricate Dho games, and the impressive view from the tall windows. You remember the cold wind too, and that certainly hasn't changed. Without thinking, you drift across to the windows and peer out at the mountain range's savage beauty.“There are some perks to living up here,” Clarissa says as she joins you by the window, “Not many, but some. Just enough to make it tolerable.”“Thinking of a career change?” you joke, “Plenty of peace and quiet up here, if you want.”“You would be most welcome here, Young Mistress Lowe,” a whispered voice announces, reaching you all the way from the other side of the chamber. Turning, you see Roerich standing in the doorway. He slowly shuffles into the chamber, and you hasten to meet him. “I see that you have joined us once more,” the monk continues, “Naturally, we will assist you how we can.”“We have need of your skills,” Clarissa begins, “I believe... I believe I have a guardian spirit trying to contact me, but I need your help. Will you do this for us?”Roerich considers this in silence, the yellow silk of his robes rustling with every tiny movement he makes. The bold request seems to have taken him by surprise, and you wince at the thought of Clarissa breaking some unspoken taboo by speaking so plainly.
>>5695313“I wonder,” the monk whispers eventually, his papery lips barely moving as he pronounces the word, “A guardian spirit can be many things, to many different people. There are times, I have been told, that it is no blessing at all. You may be binding yourself to forces far greater than any man, to a purpose that is not your own. I wonder if you could accept that.”“I could,” Clarissa answers promptly, “I've thought about this. I've thought long and hard about this.”Again, the monk falls silent as he considers this. “And you, Young Master Hearne,” he murmurs, “Your own guardian burns brightly within you. I see it, even now with my eyes closed tight. I wonder – what is your guardian spirit to you?”The question takes you by surprise. Your guardian spirit is... what, exactly? What does it mean to you?>It's a part of me that I've always been searching for>It's a weapon that only I can wield>It's a mystery that I have not yet solved>My guardian spirit is... (Write in)>Other
>>5695315>It's a part of me that I've always been searching for
>>5695315>A mystery I have yet to solve
“My guardian spirit?” you repeat, “I suppose... I suppose it's a part of me that I've always been searching for. I don't think I can explain it any better than that, because I still don't fully understand it myself.”Roerich nods, with what seems like a hint of sadness. “Do you see, Young Mistress Lowe?” he muses, “Even those who have united with their guardian spirit are still left with questions. With doubts, with uncertainties... These are things that we must all live with.”“I know. I'm not looking for enlightenment, or to have all the answers,” Clarissa insists, her brow furrowing with the first hints of a frown, “I'm not asking you to tell me the meaning of life.”“Then, perhaps you could tell us what you ARE looking for,” the monk asks softly, placing a wizened hand on her shoulder, “You know it, as do I. But I wish to hear you say it aloud.”Clarissa hesitates for a second, her eyes flicking away as if fleeing from the monk. Just for a moment, you sense her wavering. Then her eyes meet yours, and her resolve hardens. “I'm looking for strength,” she announces, looking the old monk straight in the eye, “Strength to face the challenges ahead of us. I know they're not your concern, but I have to fight and I... I'm not strong enough. Not yet.”The monk considers this for a long moment. “Many of my brothers would refuse this request. They would send you away, and ask that you never return. They would do this because they are wise, far wiser than I,” he whispers at last, turning and starting to shuffle away, “Come. You too, Young Master Hearne, if you wish to be a part of this too. I will perform the rites myself.”-With slow, pained steps, Roerich leads you both up to the highest level of the monastery, and the ritual chamber found there. Clarissa's face is set firm, although her fingers twitch in a near constant rhythm until, out of desperation, you reach out and grab her hand to still her unsettled motions. She looks around in surprise, then manages a small smile.Inside, the ritual chamber is just as you remember it – small, almost cramped, and filled with a dense mist. Peering through the glowing vapours, you see constant images flickering and flashing at the edges of your vision. Distorted reflections, in a way, just not reflections of anything in the real world. Without another word, Roerich backs out of the chamber and heaves the heavy door closed. Still holding onto your hand, Clarissa leads you deeper into the mist and gently pushes you to the ground.Sitting, locking eyes with her, you find yourself searching for something to say – some glib comment, something that might allow you a few extra seconds of reality. But you can't think of anything, and Clarissa reaches out to softly close your eyes. Then, acting from a will that is not your own, your inner eye opens wide.
>>5695345“...For all souls return to him in time, to serve in his great machine. Yes, my friends, this too is a service,” the voice drones, echoing out around you, “And when your service ends, you will be returned to the womb of the earth with all sins cleansed. So go forth, my friends, and do your duty with no fear, no doubt or hesitation. Serve, my friends, with joy in your hearts.”You open your eyes, only to be greeted by an impenetrable wall of fog. Silhouettes surround you, dark shapes of kneeling men, while the voice seems to come from every direction at once. Slowly, terribly slowly, the mist starts to thin – enough that you can make out some details on the distorted figures surrounding you. The men are soldiers, you realise, with uniforms and swords, although their faces remain indistinct. All except one.He's a large man, with broad shoulders and a blunt, shaven head. You've seen him before, a portrait in the Lowe manor.“Oh no,” Clarissa breathes, her voice drifting to you through the mist, “Oh no no no. Not this. Not like this.”You turn, feeling your whole body move in slow motion, as you look for Clarissa. You can't see her anywhere, not with the mist still close around you. But you can see some signs of movement – a single figure slowly moving through the ranks of kneeling figures. Occasionally, the figure stops and places a hand upon one of the kneeling men before moving on. It's all just as Clarissa said, which means...Which means these men, the men chosen by this shadowy priest, have been marked, perhaps, for death. Marked out as a part of Sheol's plan.Slowly, the shadowy priest drifts through the temple as the sermon drones on and on. Finally, as the fog things, you spo Clarissa at the very back of the hall. Her eyes are wide with horror, her face twisted into a hideous grimace. Turning back, you realise what she's so afraid of. The priest has turned to her father, reaching out to touch his bowed head. Reaching out to mark the man for death.“No!” Clarissa screams, her cry seeming to come from a great distance. Fighting against the torpor clawing at her limbs, she starts to run at the phantom priest, to stop it before it can mark her father. You watch in numb disbelief, feeling a terrible dread welling up in you. All it would take is a single motion, a single movement of your arm, and you could catch her before she reaches the deathly spirit.>Stop Clarissa before she can touch the spirit>Do nothing, let Clarissa contact the spirit
>>5695373>Stop Clarissa before she can touch the spiritI don't think anyone should touch that thing considering what it putting a hand on someone implies. Maybe we can shoot it before it touches her dad?
>>5695373>Do nothing, let Clarissa contact the spirit
>>5695373>Stop Clarissa before she can touch the spiritI don't think that's the kind of strength she wants. Veil aside, death curse in a can is not going to help.
>>5695373>Stop Clarissa before she can touch the spiritBondibg with a death spirit may well doom Clarissa, in soul or in body.
>>5695373>Stop Clarissa before she can touch the spiritI feel like our experience with losing our other friend would want us to protect her from spooky stuff
Time seems to have become distorted, moving so slowly and yet terribly fast all at once. You can't make sense of it, but one thought burns clear and bright in your mind – you can't let her touch that spirit, and the certain death that it embodies. She might be seeking strength, but this isn't the way to go about it. You won't... you won't lose anyone else!Fighting against the weight of the fog, you bring your arm around and catch Clarissa's arm as she passes by. She struggles, fights against you, but she can't stop you from dragging her to the ground. Numb as you are, you barely feel a thing as you hit the floor, or as she claws wildly at you. All you can do is hold her tight, holding her down as a terrible heat builds up in your chest.“Don't touch him! Don't you touch him!” Clarissa cries, her voice raw with rage. Wriggling partly free from your grasp, she reaches out one hand towards the spirit, but the distance is too great. The last wisps of fog are burned away as the spirit reaches for her father, the mist replaced by a blazing white light that builds and builds and builds until--Pain rips through you as Clarissa's nails claw at your face, the sudden jolt of feeling causing you to lurch away from her. She continues to thrash and fight for a moment more, even after you've let go of her, but her motions finally grow still. Silence descends, stillness coming with it. You think, replaying those final moments over and over again in your head. The spirit. Did it actually touch her father, or...But you don't know. The blinding light had burned the scene away before you could make any sense of it. It's another question that you might never see answered.“...I don't hear anything,” Clarissa rasps, her voice low and defeated, “I don't hear it. I don't hear anything.”She keeps muttering to herself, even as the door grinds slowly open. Blinking against the light through the doorway, you peer out at Roerich's silhouette. Without a word, he turns and shuffles back into the monastery, leaving you to slowly pull yourself upright. Every muscle in your body aches, to say nothing of the bloody that mark your cheek, but you push aside the pain. Instead, you reach down to offer Clarissa your hand.She ignores it, rolling over and struggling to her feet by herself. Without even looking at you, she skulks from the ritual chamber. In the time it takes for you to snap back into motion, she's already vanished down the stairwell with Roerich. Alone once more, you start to trudge down one step at a time. You did... the right thing, didn't you? Nothing good could come from a spirit like that – you've felt that from the very first moment. You did the right thing.Didn't you?
>>5695405I mean the other option was turning on the fire and blasting the death spirit, but killing illusion dad in the collateral would probably be bad
>>5695405Also wanna make sure that we ask Roerich about Harriet's meditation stuff. There's still a lot to look into - whatever Brehm is doing, cult/broken seal activity, Ixtab happenings and the war, probably also growing our understanding of this world's theology/mysticism in general.Now that we're a pro, do we have to go on jobs as well (similar to our boy in Northern Beasts), or how else do we get paid?
>>5695425>Now that we're a pro, do we have to go on jobs as well (similar to our boy in Northern Beasts), or how else do we get paid?>Qualified Exorcists do get assignments, when the need arises, but they're otherwise free to continue their own research or investigtions. So we still need to earn our keep, but otherwise we've got freedom to operate
>>5695405Roerich is waiting for you at the bottom of the stairs, his lifeless face utterly unreadable. He studies you for a moment before producing a clean white cloth from one cavernous sleeve. You take it gratefully, wiping blood from your face and giving him a weak nod of thanks. “Come,” the monk whispers, when he's satisfied that you're presentable. You let him guide you into an empty cell, sinking down to sit on the cold stone floor.“I don't know what happened,” you begin, speaking without thinking, “I think I... ruined it for her. The spirit-”“Yes. I suspect that the link between Young Mistress Lowe and the spirit has been severed,” Roerich answers, sitting down opposite you, “It is likely that she will never have a chance to bear a guardian spirit such as yours.”“But that spirit was... bad. I could feel it. I could feel how awful it really was,” you insist, “Joining with a spirit like that... it would have been dangerous for her, wouldn't it? We could have lost her completely, even.”A long pause. “Perhaps,” the monk suggests, “A spirit of death such as that does not concern itself with the morality of men. Good and bad, as we understand them, do not matter to such a spirit. They simply follow the natural order of things – death follows life, for the wicked and the virtuous alike. There is great strength to be found in such laws, but they are pitiless. Cruel, even, to the eyes of men. Is that the kind of strength that she would have wanted?”“...I don't know,” you admit, “Maybe. If it meant... I don't know. I should talk to her, I need to-”You start to rise here, only for the monk to place his wizened hands on your shoulders to stop you. “Sit. Rest. I will watch over your friend,” he urges, pushing you back down with a surprising strength, “Your mind, your soul, has been through an ordeal. You must recover your strength, as must she. Haste will achieve little.”As much as you hate to admit it, he's right – you barely have the strength to rise. Nodding wearily, you slump down to your side and lie on the stone floor. You've still got a lot that you mean to discuss with Roerich, but that can wait. Later, when you've got the strength to say a coherent sentence, you can ask your questions.Lying there with your eyes closed, you see a fire burning in the darkness. It swells before your closed eyes, burning brighter until it threatens to run out of control. You imagine what might happen if it did, and then you imagine if it was the essence of death itself that was running rampant instead of fire. That would be the real perversion of Sheol, worse than any simple spirit. But you stopped it. You put an end to it. And if there's a cost to it... so be it.You rest, but you don't sleep. You're glad of that, in a way. You don't want to dream.[2/3]
>>5695442After a long while, Roerich returns with a cup of weak herbal tea. The faint smell both awakens your appetite and fills your stomach with a restless sickly feeling. As hungry as you are, you couldn't eat a thing right now. Accepting the tea with a nod, you take a few careful sips to dampen your throat as Roerich sits opposite you once more.“Young Mistress Lowe is resting,” he announces simply, “I feel it would be best if she is not disturbed for now. We shall talk, instead. Ask your questions, Young Master Hearne.”“You knew that I had... Oh, it doesn't matter,” you sigh, shaking your head, “Yes, I had questions. I wanted to know about meditation – I heard about a strange technique, something I had never heard of before. The individual would... they'd imagine themselves as a bird, flying through the air. They'd leave their body behind and fly until they could see into the spirit world. Do you know of such a technique?”“I do,” Roerich nods slowly, “An old form of meditation, once practised in the west.”“The west?” you repeat, “The Reivian Empire?”“Lands that have since been swallowed up by the Reivian Empire, but yes,” the monk nods again, “A dangerous form of meditation, offering far less control than our Dho games. It leaves the user at the mercy of the spirits they encounter, as the bird at flight is at mercy of the tempest winds. An unprepared user could disturb the spirit world or, at worst, open themselves up to possession. The practice is seldom used these days, of course.”Not as rare as he might think, you suspect. If this is how the Reivians are contacting their spirits, and how Harriet was taught...But that strange cloud of darkness surrounding her, that's not possession. Not a guardian spirit either, you're sure. Hesitantly, you describe the vision to Roerich, who listens with obvious interest. It's strange, and somehow horrible, to see traces of life and emotion creeping back into his pallid face.“Fascinating...” he murmurs, “It is said that when the spirits of the dead are disturbed, dragged back to this mortal realm, they first appear as a cloud of unformed darkness, only later to take on their former image. Yet you say this cloud remains unformed?”“Exactly,” you confirm, “Could this be a result of this western meditation too?”“If a possession was foiled partway through... no, but then the spirit would return past the Veil. Curious,” Roerich taps a thin finger against his chin as he thinks, “Such a thing should not be, yet I have no reason to disbelieve you. How curious!”Something even the monks don't recognise. Because nothing can ever be simple, can it?>Maybe it's time you faced Clarissa>You've got other questions first... (Write in)>Other
>>5695455>You've got other questions first... (Write in)They use Dho boards up here right? Ask about the Plague Spirit's seal
“I saw a strange thing lately,” you begin, only to pause and rethink your question. With everything else that's happened, you really need to be more specific. “A strange stone carving, like a Dho game of sorts,” you continue, “It was carved as part of an image of the Sun King, and image placed atop... ah, a site where a dangerous spirit once roamed.”A knowing light enters the monk's eyes. “A spirit that has been sealed away,” he remarks, “Cast out from this world, but not allowed to return to the spirit realm.”“You know of it,” you reply weakly. You probably should have expected that. If anyone knew about this strange, half-forgotten lore, it would be the monks.“But I have never looked upon one of these seals with my own eyes. A Dho game incorporated into the seal itself? I would think, perhaps, it would serve to allow contact with the spirit itself, without releasing it from the prison. Yet, it would be a terrible risk to anyone attempting contact – contamination would be inevitable for all but the strongest mind,” Roerich murmurs, “You didn't-”“No, no we didn't use it,” you assure him, “I assumed it would be something like that. Something... dangerous. I feel like everything seems very dangerous lately.”The monk smiles slightly, his papery lips quivering. “Death is not a force to approach lightly,” he warns, “If it seems dangerous, that means you are learning. I will give you this one warning, and perhaps it will not be needed. Perhaps you have realised this already, but these seals were forgotten for a reason. I would hope that they remain so.”“Let them stay buried,” you murmur, nodding to yourself as you decide your next move. You've been putting it off long enough – it's time to check on Clarissa.-Roerich takes you through the monastery to another cell, identical to your resting place. He gestures towards the door, then silently steps back away from earshot. Waiting a second more, just to make sure that the monk won't be listening in, you brush the curtain aside and enter the cell.Clarissa sits with her back against the wall, staring into space with a vacant, hopeless expression. She doesn't move when you enter the cell, although her eyes briefly shift towards the sound of your entrance before darting away. She does her best to pretend that you don't exist, although it becomes near enough impossible when you sit directly opposite her. She doesn't push you away or retreat back to the other end of the cell, she just sits there and waits for you to go away, to stop existing in general.“Can we talk?” you say at last, her relentless silence finally getting the better of you.“There is nothing for us to talk about,” she replies eventually, resenting even those few words. Then she turns her head, staring over your shoulder to glare at the bare stone behind you.
>>5695472“Look at me. Clarissa, can you please just look at me?” you ask, hating the desperation that you can hear creeping into your voice, “Fine. Fine. If you won't look at me, at least listen to me. What I did, I-”“What you DID?” Clarissa repeats, her eyes narrowing into dark slits, “Do you even know what you've done?”This time, you're the one is silent. “I was protecting you,” you answer eventually, “That spirit was dangerous, just as dangerous as that buried monster. Couldn't you see that?”Slowly she turns back to meet your gaze, and then you find yourself wishing she would look away. “Of course I saw that. I knew exactly how vile that thing was, how loathsome and dangerous it was. But I didn't get to choose it – it was just a part of me, after all. But I could have made use of it, wielded it like a weapon if necessary.”“And that's why I couldn't let you-”“So I didn't get any say in the matter?” she snaps, anger flaring in her eyes, “I couldn't even decide this one thing for myself, is that it? You've taken this from me, Lucas. I won't ever get another chance like this, to get the same power that YOU have. Is that what you wanted all along?”The accusation hits you like a slap in the face. “Of course not!” you insist, “Come on, you know that's not-”She stands abruptly, swaying from exhaustion before bracing herself against the wall and glaring away your offer of a helping hand. “I'm going to finish resting, and then I'm going back to the academy. There's nothing left for me here,” she whispers, “Follow me or don't. I don't much care either way. But right now, I think I'd rather be alone.”>It's best that you leave her alone, as requested>You've got more to say... (Write in)>Other
>>5695486>It's best that you leave her alone, as requested
>>5695486>You've got more to say... (Write in)"I'm sorry for robbing you of the right to choose for yourself"(But not sorry for not letting you touch that thing.)
You might have been tempted to stay and argue for a while longer, if not for the tone of her voice – not the anger, but the simple weariness in it. She looks tired and hopeless, utterly defeated by what you've done here. The tiredness might go away, but what good will a night's sleep do for all the rest?The solitude, at least, might give her time to think. For good or for ill.“I'm sorry that I took the choice away from you,” you tell her simply, just as you're leaving the cell, “But I'm not sorry for what I did. Some day, I hope you'll be able to see that.”Her eyes widen a little at this, your words cutting through the jaded exterior, but she turns her face away before she had let any more feeling show. Leaving her to the solitude she so dearly desires, you turn and flee the cell.-You do the same thing that you've always done in troubled times – you seek solace in books, helping yourself to the monastery's archives. Browsing the bookshelves at random, you pull down any book that catches your eye and carelessly open them, reading whatever you find within. It becomes a kind of frenzy, a desperate energy that pushes you forwards even as your body cries out for rest. Tearing through one book after another in search of the perfect distraction, you stumble across an image that hits you like a closed fist.The image depicts a man silhouetted against a blazing sun, almost swallowed up by the roiling fire behind him yet somehow standing tall. An image of the Sun King, you realise after reading the next page, but drawn in a much more ancient style. Later depictions would omit the man, focusing entirely on the unconquerable sun itself. But something about the ancient image cries out to you, demanding your attention.It's how familiar it is. Like you're looking in a mirror.>I think I'm going to take a pause here for today. I'll be aiming to pick this up again tomorrow, same usual time>Thank you for reading along today!
>>5695525Thanks for running!
>>5695525Thanks for running and giving timing on the next one
>>5695525Oh god, our guardian spirit is the Sun King, isn't ut? The regent is a pretender.
>>5695602Seems like it. I hope we can publicize this without getting a knife in the back.
>>5695602If so does the regent even know or is he being used as a puppet?
>>5695810He could be barely keeping the kingdom together as they try to look for a solution to losing Divine Mandate.
The trek back down to the academy feels very long, and very bleak. Although you and Clarissa leave the monastery at the same time, you might as well be going on two separate journeys – she doesn't even look at you, let alone make conversation. You're left to march grimly ahead, snow blowing in your face with every step you take.Suffice to say, you've burned a lot of bridges today. It'll be a long time before Clarissa can look you in the eye again, if ever, If it means that she survives, though, it might just be worth the sacrifice.You go your separate ways once you return to the academy, Clarissa heading towards the archives while you go straight for the dormitory. All is quiet when you arrive, which is a little odd for the late afternoon, with a perfect stillness hanging over the entire room. You make tea, purely for something to fill the silence, then sit and think. “There's no point in moping about it,” you decide after a long while, “What's done is done. Can't change the past now.”Which is easy to say, but much harder to believe. You lapse back into thought for a few moments more before the touch of a hand on your shoulder rouses you back to reality.“My, it seems that a handsome stranger has come to visit us,” a voice purrs into your ear, “Would you be so kind as to tell me your name, sir?”“I know, I know. I've not been around much, lately,” you sigh, without even looking around at Persephone, “But that's a little much, don't you think?”“What a curious name!” Persephone replies with a little gasp of pleasure, flouncing around to the other side of the table, “It must be a strange land that you come from, if you all have names like that!”“Fine then, if you're not going to take this seriously...” you mutter, “I come from a strange land called... called “Go Away”. Yes, that's it. It's a very short name – I'm terribly sorry to disappoint you.”She laughs with delight, clearly pleased to be getting under your skin. But then, apparently tired of her game as soon as you decide to play along, she changes the subject. “Old Brehm is back, by the way, and about as grumpy as you can imagine. He wants us all to report to his office tomorrow morning. At six, nice and sharp. No snoozing allowed!”You slump a little lower in your chair, letting out a grim sigh at the news. You're sure that it must be something important, to gather you all up for a meeting, but does it really have to be so early?“I know, you must be thrilled. But... ah, that's not the only thing that's weighing on your mind, is it?” Persephone muses, studying you closely, “Go on, you can tell me. Don't you know how sensitive and caring I can be?”Now that's the real joke. “Not now, okay?” you tell her, shaking your head, “It's too much of a mess right now.”She considers this before, to your surprise, nodding. “Very well then,” she agrees simply, “As you please.”[1/2]
>>5695971Just as you're allowing yourself a tiny sigh of relief, Persephone hits you with a wicked grin. “Of course, if I'm going to be so generous with my discretion, don't you think it's fair that I get something in return?” she remarks, “And it just so happens that I've got something you could help me with, so this all works out splendidly!”“Hang on, I don't remember agreeing to this,” you warn, “I don't remember signing anything.”“Now, I have this... well, I won't call her a friend. An associate, a professional contact if you will, in another cohort. She was looking to organise a fun little day out for her team, as a way to celebrate getting their fake promotions,” she continues, completely ignoring your objections, “The problem is, she's simply clueless when it comes to things like this, and asked me for help. One idea she had was to visit the great temple of Sheol, and-”“Wait,” you interrupt, “That was her idea of a FUN day out?”“I said she was clueless, didn't I?” Persephone shrugs, “And some people get off on that whole “religious awe” thing for some reason. I suggested something a little more classy – there's an art gallery in town that comes rather highly recommended, so-”“And that's YOUR idea of a fun day out?” you remark with a laugh.“Well excuse me for having some semblance of taste!” she shoots back, pouting enormously at you, “Okay then, wise guy. What would YOU do?”Shit. You hadn't thought that far ahead. “Johannes and Harriet seemed to like visiting the ivy district,” you suggest after a pause, “It sounds classy. As classy as you can get while drinking overpriced wine, at least.”“Hmm, maybe. It definitely has potential,” Persephone admits, “And it would be rather amusing to hear what kind of disasters they get up to with a little wine in them...”“There you go then, something for everyone,” you decide, “So was that it, you just wanted some ideas?”“Oh no, that's not even half of what I need you for. We can't just give her some untested ideas and hope for the best, now can we?” she shakes her head, “I can't recommend anything until I've had a chance to try it out for myself – and since this is a group activity, I can't very well go alone, can I?”So that's what this is all about. After the miserable day you've had, you're not really sure if you've got the energy to be fooling around like this. Especially with a criminally early start tomorrow. You try and think of a few excuses, all while Persephone waits expectantly on your answer.>I'm not in the mood right now. I can't help>We should try the temple. We can see if there's anything fun there>We could visit this art gallery of yours>I still think the ivy district is the best place to start>I've got another idea... (Write in)>Other
>>5695973>Not sure how much help I’ll be after today, but I can try.>I still think the ivy district is the best place to start
>>5695973>We could visit this art gallery of yoursThe only thing that tends to happen in art galleries is massive revelations.if we see scenes of a lady with blue hair, we really need to run.
A thought occurs. You said that you weren't going to mope around, to sulk about things, and now here's a chance to get off your ass and do something. It might not be something tremendously productive, but it doesn't need to be. So long as it's a distraction, it'll do the job. So, meeting Persephone's eyes, you nod. “I don't know how much of a help I might be after today,” you tell her, “But I'm in.”“Ah, teasing me again with this mysterious burden of yours?” Persephone replies, her eyes twinkling, “You're too cruel, leaving me in suspense like this. I'll get it out of you eventually, just you wait!”You're going to pretend you didn't hear that. “So, you've narrowed the options down to the capital. That makes things simple,” you decide, “That way, we can always have a backup plan if our first idea works out. We could start with this art gallery of yours, then stop off at the ivy district if there's enough time later. Make a proper day of it.”“I'm glad to hear that you're taking this seriously,” she replies with a coy smile, “If I didn't know any better, I'd say that you might have an ulterior motive.”There's a word for that, you think to yourself. Projection.-The Marlow Gallery, so named after some long-dead patron, is not large, and tucked away in a quiet corner of the city. Without knowing what to look for, you're certain that you'd never be able to find it for yourself. Judging by the way Persephone leads you there without hesitation, though, you'd say that she's a frequent visitor – which is odd, considering that she's only recently been granted authorisation to leave the academy as she pleases.Entering into the cool darkness of the gallery is a massive relief, compared with the hot afternoon sun outside, even if it does leave you stumbling around in blackness before your eyes finally adjust. The first thing you see upon entering is a tall, grandiose statue of the First Regent, carved entirely from white marble. You've seen paintings and sketches of the First Regent before, but none of them ever really looked very similar. Approximations of a figure from history, tales told second-hand. The statue, though... it might actually be an original.To think, that such a thing could be resting in a quiet, half-forgotten art gallery!“You know, if I was the Regent and I was paying for a statue like this...” Persephone muses, looking it up and down, “I'd tell the sculptor to be a little more generous.”You look down, following her gaze, then hurriedly look away. “I think it's a stylistic choice,” you suggest, “Either that, or the artist didn't want to spend long on sculpting a-”“Never mind that silly old prick, you've got to see this!” she interrupts, grabbing you by the hand and dragging you into the main room at the centre of the gallery. There, taking up almost the entire wall, is the most beautiful mural you've ever seen.
>>5695996The mural is a landscape, depicting a vast city of pale stone rising up from the tundra. At times, it's hard to tell where the snow ends and the stone begins, making it seem almost organic. Each tower and spire has been painted with astonishing detail, down to the individual window and flame. Above the city, a great canopy of stars stretches out through the night sky – centre of it all is the Silver Chariot, the constellation recreated in perfect detail.It's an impossible miracle, too grand to be painted from mere imagination and yet too perfect to be real. Such a thing could never be, yet the sight invokes a terrible longing in you – a yearning to see the city with your own eyes.“The forbidden city of Shang-Han,” Persephone breathes, staring at the mural with rapt eyes, “You know the history, don't you?”“I know the legends,” you correct her.“If you prefer it that way,” she concedes, tilting her head in a sly nod, “A city so great, so grand, that the spirits coveted it for themselves and plucked it from our world. Or so they say. I always heard the stories when I was growing up – my village wasn't all that far from where it used to stand.”“But there's no proof that it ever actually existed,” you point out, “There are ruins in the north, signs of previous life, but nothing on this scale. Nothing like this.”“Of course not. Because the spirits took it all for themselves. Of course, that was before the Accord,” she dismisses your scepticism with a casual wave of her hand, “But it still exists, you know, on their side of the Veil.”You never imagined that she would be such an ardent believer in a children's story, but you won't judge. Not much, at least. You stand before the mural for a long while before reluctantly pulling away to take a look through the rest of the gallery, but you can tell that her heart isn't in it. She's seen everything she wanted to see.“So?” you ask as you're getting ready to leave, “What do you think?”“No, it's not right,” Persephone decides, “It would be wasted on them. I want to keep this place special, just my little secret. We'll try the ivy district, shall we?”You nod, casting one last look at the mural before you go. As you do, a sudden thought strikes you. The necromancer cult in Greyridge – their cave paintings had shown the Silver Chariot too.-You're starting to lose the daylight when you arrive at the ivy district, but that just makes it all the better. The roof gardens are lit with elegant paper lanterns, countless tiny flames casting a warm glow over the whole area. The buildings themselves are beautiful too, decorated with intricate ironwork that has grown thick with the ivy that gives the district its name.There's already a hushed murmur of conversation in the air as the gardens start to fill up, along with a gentle music from somewhere. It all feels very... expensive.[2/3]
>>5696004Picking one of the rooftop gardens at random, you ordering some wine with the same perfect care and hand across a few coins. You've been getting a stipend since you started your training, but you've had few chances to really spend any of it since then. Just this once, you think you can indulge a little. Taking the bottle of wine to a table in the shade, you pour out two glasses and hand one across.“So,” you begin, “This friend of yours. Sorry, this “professional contact” of yours, I mean. Anyone I know?”“I doubt it. You're not exactly a social butterfly, are you?” Persephone teases, “No, she came to be a while ago with some silly little questions about a guardian spirit. Since I happen to be something of an expert in the subject, I was gracious enough to answer some of them. Some of my answers, in fact, may even have been truthful.”“How gracious.”“I know!” she remarks with glee, “Really, I should be getting a medal for all the good deeds I do around here. But I'm far too modest for something like that anyway. I do it for the pride of a job well done.”It takes a special kind of person to consider a mix of lies and half-truths to be a job well done, but that's exactly the kind of person she is.“So,” Persephone continues, taking a sip of her wine, “Are you ready to tell me about this miserable day of yours yet?”You're not sure if you'll ever be ready for a thing like that. It seems like a very private thing to talk about, especially behind Clarissa's back like this. Not the sort of thing that you should treat like idle gossip. But then, with all the cold hostility that Clarissa's been showing you since then...>Tell Persephone about the incident with the guardian spirit>Don't tell Persephone about the incident with the guardian spirit>Other
>>5696009>I would tell you to get the story from Clarissa, but that might do more harm than good.>What do you know about spirits of death as guardian spirits?
>>5696009>Don't tell Persephone about the incident with the guardian spiritLet her know that we'll tell her if it starts to cause issues, but it isn't really on us to explain.
>>5696009>OtherForgive me for leaving out a lot of details but its a bit of a private thing. Long story very short, I hurt Clarissa's trust in me by stopping her from doing something I thought would hurt her.
>>5696009>Tell Persephone about the incident with the guardian spirit
Buying yourself a little more time to think, you take a sip of your wine and then pretend to study the bottle. When it becomes clear that Persephone isn't going to just magically forget about the conversation, you set the bottle down with a sigh. “It's... difficult,” you begin, “It's not really my place to tell you about it. I'd tell you to ask Clarissa herself, but... that might cause more harm than good.”“Is that so?” Persephone toys with her glass, running one finger around the rim before taking another drink, “The two of you, all alone up in that dreary monastery...”“Don't start, okay? It's nothing like that,” you warn, shaking your head, “She was going to do something dangerous, something I thought might hurt her, and I stopped her. But it really broke her trust in me. That's all I'm saying. You'll forgive me for leaving out the fine details, but it's a private matter – and still a sensitive one.”She considers this for a moment, listening carefully as the first few notes of a new song are played. The song is light, jaunty, and you see more than a few people getting up to dance along. Reaching some decision, Persephone grabs your hand and drags you to your feet. “Come on, let's join in!” she urges, laughing as you struggling against her grip, “You're not afraid of having a little fun, are you?”“I'm not much of a dancer,” you protest, although you find yourself allowing her to pull you along. Dancing might not be your best skill, but it's better than a difficult conversation. It doesn't seem that hard anyway, most of the other couples are just twirling around at random. The music picks up the pace as you follow along with the other couples, feeling Persephone press herself close up against you as you spin around.The song doesn't last long, but it quickly builds to a furious pace before the last notes are struck out. Persephone laughs again, twirling away from you even after the music stops. “I love dancing!” she cries out, a simple joy in her voice. Eventually, you manage to coax her back to your table and get her to sit. “I always used to dance at home,” she explains, “It was a tradition we had, you know. Ritual dances to please the spirits – although I didn't care about any of that then. I just loved to play around in the snow. I'd dance until I could barely stand.“Sounds cute,” you reply, picturing a tiny version of Persephone spinning around until she falls over, “Shame about the way you turned out.”“You're so mean!” Persephone gasps, her eyes wide with mock horror. “But, you know, there must have been some truth to it,” she adds in a lower voice, “That's when I saw my first spirit, when I was dancing. Since that day, I've been...”But her voice trails off here. “Been what?” you prompt.“Dancing to someone else's tune,” she finishes, giving you a strangely humourless smile.
>>5696023You stay until the last of the wine is finished, although Persephone never tries to get you dancing again. Once seems to have been enough for her. Instead you spend the evening in an easy silence, broken only by the occasional comment passed between you. It's only when you're pouring the last of the wine into your glass that you think to ask. “Maybe you can give me the benefits of that vast wisdom of yours,” you begin, “A spirit of Death as a guardian. What do you know about that?”“It sounds terribly unlucky, if you ask me. Maybe not for the person themselves, but everyone around them. Would YOU like to be living with someone who has a cloud of death hanging over their head all the time?” Persephone shrugs, “It's awfully rare, from what I've gathered. Most people – most civilised people – are joined with spirits of Essence, like ours. Joining together a living being and a spirit of Death like that? Asking for trouble, if you ask me. And you DID ask me.”“And you answered me,” you agree, “How gracious.”“Some of it might have been true,” she adds with a coy wink.-Persephone links arms with you as you walk back to the academy, taking great care to keep her steps measured and precise. You're both a little worse for wear, but it's nothing serious – you only shared a single bottle of wine, after all. Still, she's taking advantage of the situation while she can. “Well then,” you murmur as you arrive back at the dorm, “That friend of yours. What do you think?”“Oh. I don't actually care,” Persephone shrugs, “I didn't really want to help her that much. But you looked so miserable, when you came in, that I thought you might appreciate a chance to do something fun. I know I certainly did.”“Ah. Well... thanks?” you reply, “It was nice to get out and see the city, I suppose. You could've just said that to begin with, though.”“Being honest?” she lets out a small gasp of horror, “Where would be the fun in that?”-Master Brehm's office isn't large, and it feels unbelievably cramped with all six of you crammed in together. Standing in a line in front of the seated man, you occasionally glance across to Clarissa at the opposite end of the room. She doesn't move a muscle, her jaw set in a hard line. Persephone stands next to her, and that alone leaves you feeling on the verge of disaster.“Well then!” Master Brehm announces suddenly, causing you all to jump in surprise, “It's nice to get an early start sometimes, don't you think?”Was that aimed at you? You're fairly sure that was aimed at you.“I'll save the pleasantries for later, just to keep this brief,” the old man continues, his voice growing serious, “I've recently uncovered some information, some potential leads that need to be followed up. Now that you're all... now that most of you are qualified, we can cover a lot more ground. I hope you're all ready for some hard work!”[2/3]
>>5696028“First of all, we've uncovered a potential lead on a group of unlawful occultists. I think you all know what that means,” Master Brehm continues, “I want to send a team to investigate. This is purely a scouting mission at this stage – rooting the bastards out can come later, once we know exactly what we're dealing with. Even so, it may be-”“I'll do it,” Clarissa interrupts.Master Brehm pauses, a little irked by the disturbance. “Very well. I'll give you the details later,” he tells her, “And I'll leave the choice of a partner up to you.”“There's no need for that,” she replies, with a slight shake of her head, “I'll go alone. I don't need anyone else.”A long silence follows this, Master Brehm's hard gaze fixed on her. “We'll talk about this later,” he says eventually, “As for the rest of you. We've been in discussions with a private scholar in order to get access to a certain rare book. He's agreed for a group to visit his manor and study the book in person, in return for certain... favours. Head office are still discussing the offer but, assuming we get the clearance, I'd like to bring the whole cohort. Our very first joint operation, doesn't that sound grand?”“Sounds like trouble,” Johannes mutters, loud enough for you all to hear.“You'll be the first ones to know when everything is organised. Until then, just keep doing what you're doing,” Master Brehm concludes, “That'll be all for now, you can go. Oh, and Lucas? If you could stay a little more, I need to talk with you.”You wait patiently, and a little bit nervously, as the others leave. When it's just the two of you, Master Brehm sighs and takes a slip of paper from his desk. “We've got a lot to discuss,” he begins, “But first, before I forget, there's an assignment here for you. Very important people seem to think you're the perfect man for the job.”“I see,” you pause, “What's the job?”“We don't know!” the old man says with a hearty laugh, “We've got word from the south – something washed up there, and there's been trouble with the Forest Kingdom ever since. Well, “trouble” might be stretching it – mostly just Kingdom men spotted loitering around outside the town, scaring the locals. But they want to know why, and thought we'd be able to help. It's not exactly our job – it sounds like they're dealing with a body of some kind, not a spirit – but nobody else knows what to do either. So we're stuck with it, and that means YOU'RE stuck with it.”How perfectly delightful. “I'll... see what I can do,” you reply weakly.“Grand. Do be on your best behaviour – very important people and all that,” Master Brehm nods, “Now. Your partner – I'll leave that one to you. I trust that you're not going to go lone wolf on me too, are you?”Your partner, you decide, should be...>Johannes>Persephone>Harriet>You'll go alone
>>5696037>Harriettake the black cloud for a spin
“I'll bring Persephone,” you decide after a moment's thought, “So what else can you tell me about this mission?”“Very little, actually. There hasn't been any indication that the Veil is damaged, or the local spirits are unsettled. Their letter didn't describe the remains themselves, which seems like a rather important thing to include but what do I know?” Master Brehm shrugs, “In all honesty, there's not much that we can do either. Just take a look, tell them not to panic, and move on. I think the Forest Kingdom involvement is what really bothers them.”“And that's why I was picked,” you sigh, “Of course it was. I keep telling people, I'm not-”“Not actually from the Forest Kingdom, I know,” Master Brehm gives you a weary nod, “These people are very important, but that doesn't necessarily mean they're intelligent. Humour them, will you?”That's easy for him to say.“There were a number of things I wanted to talk to you about. Sit down, my boy, you're making me tired just watching you stand there!” he urges, waving a hand at the single empty chair. It's only after you've sat down that he continues. “Your tower at Penn's Garden,” the old man says, “I'll admit that it was a little more of an adventure than I had been expecting, but we got the results we wanted.”“We lit the beacon and waited in ambush, but we weren't able to take any of the cultists alive. Mostly because of their leader – the bastard had a guardian spirit, turned it on us and his own men once he realised how dire his situation was,” Master Brehm says with a humourless laugh, “Unfortunately for him, the spirit couldn't do much to stop a bullet in the chest. It was our burned friend.”“...One of the cultists from Ravensheugh?” you recall, gesturing to your face and ear, “Him?”“Unless there's an awful lot of these deformed freaks, yes,” he nods, “Before the fighting started, they mentioned having friends in a nearby town – but that's Clarissa's job now. Once we know what we're dealing with, we can send in the troops.”You grimace. “Are you really going to let Clarissa go alone?” you ask quietly, “Even if she doesn't engage directly...”“I'll talk to her. See if I can't talk her out of it,” Master Brehm assures you, “Damn fool idea of hers, running off on her own as if she's got something to prove. I'll get her to see sense. Leave that with me – there was something else, since we're talking about Ravensheugh. Do you remember the priest there?”“He died, but he was never replaced,” you remember, nodding to yourself, “The locals petitioned for a new priest, but there wasn't anyone sent out.”“I've reached out to a contact in the bureaucracy, to see exactly what happened there. The request was received, but it was somehow... overlooked,” the old man raised an eyebrow, “A minor clerical error, they told me.”Really now.
>>5696067I don't know if Brehm read the report yet but Nicholas' village also needs a new priest
>>5696067“I won't tell you how hard it was just getting them to admit that. Officially, as you know, the bureaucracy does not make mistakes,” Master Brehm lets out a snort of bitter laugher, “Lucas, my boy, I can't tell you how much I envy you sometimes – you're too young to worry about politics. Me, on the other hand... I feel like I'm spending more time on playing the game than I do serving the academy.”“Is it possible that this... error was a deliberate act?” you ask quietly, “If someone within the bureaucracy wanted Ravensheugh to be without a priest...”“Oh yes, they'd be in the perfect position to make sure the request went unanswered. I tried to dig a little deeper, but I ran up against a solid wall,” he scowls, “It seems that my name carries rather less weight than it used to. Ah, but you don't want to hear the complaints of an old man like me – I'm sure you're just dying to let Persephone know the good news.”“I'm sure she'll be thrilled to hear what we'll be dealing with,” you agree with a nod. Just as you're starting to leave, though, Master Brehm raises a hand to stop you.“There's one other thing. It may just be a coincidence, but I don't like leaving these things to chance. Given our investigations, I think it's worth mentioning – some of the men we ambushed were from the Forest Kingdom as well. I'm sure of it,” he tells you, “If the Forest Kingdom are sheltering necromancers, that's going to complicate things for all of us. More politics to give us all a headache!”The Forest Kingdom is allowed to operate with near-total independence, despite being within Marusia's borders. Yet, that comes with a responsibility to maintain some standard of law and order – at least where the Accord is concerned. If they were found to be breaching their agreement, it would give the Regent a whole other problem to consider.“Oh, and I've had a chance to read your last two reports. No complaints from me, although it's a shame about Falkenrath. He had friends in the academy – some of those very important people we were talking about. That's it from me. You're dismissed,” Master Brehm concludes, looking up at you as if surprised that you're still here, “Or was there something else?”>No, nothing else. I'll go>There was something... (Write in)>Other
>>5696087>There was something... (Write in)The Silver Chariot connection between the cultists and Shang-Han. Might be nothing, could be something.
>>5696087>>5696090this.Also of the Sun seals and the monks not knowing anything about harriet's psuedo-spirit.
>>5696087>>5696090worth a mention
“There was something, actually,” you add, a slight smile finding its way onto your face, “It may just be a coincidence, but I don't like leaving these things to chance.”“Oh yes, very funny,” Master Brehm groans, “Out with it, then.”“Back in Greyridge, I saw a cave painting of some stars. The Silver Chariot. Just recently, I saw a mural with the same constellation,” you explain quickly, “It showed the stars high above Shang-Han. I don't know if there's a connection there, but it seems... possible.”Master Brehm considers this for a moment before giving you a bitter smile. “You're ahead of the curve, my boy. Most people are in the job for a lot longer than this before they start seeing patterns. It'll drive you mad, if you let it,” he warns, “The Silver Chariot... hm. A strange thing for necromancers to fixate on. If I remember my legends, the Silver Chariot was supposed to bring travellers from OUR world into the spirit world – but not the other way around. It was a one way trip. But these bastards, they want to drag something back across the Veil.”“That's what we're assuming,” you suggest, “Unless the necromancy itself is just a means to some greater end. Something... worse.”Something far worse. Bad enough, perhaps, to warrant an eternal punishment within Sheol's machine.“Lucas, my boy, you're always so bright and cheerful!” the old man laughs, “What do you mean, something worse?”“There's some research I've been working on. I'll write up a full report, of course, but I... we found reference to some odd spirits. Dangerous spirits, I mean, that were somehow imprisoned – sealed away so that they couldn't harm people or escape into the spirit world,” you tell him, “The Stonecutter was one such spirit, but someone had damaged the seal. It was free, and it had been damaging the Veil. What if it's more than just the Stonecutter?”Master Brehm's lips draw tight. “And to what end?” he asks quietly, all humour gone now, “To collapse the Veil entirely?”“Maybe. I don't know. If we can get one of these cultists and make them talk, we might finally get some answers,” you shake your head, “But in the meantime, I wanted to talk to you about Harriet. At the monastery, Roerich mentioned something – he hadn't heard of anyone else like her, with an aura like that. He couldn't explain it.”Slowly, he nods. “Keep close to her,” the old man orders, “She trust you, Lucas. Make sure it stays that way. You're not the only one asking questions about her.”“Those very important people?”He nods again, his expression growing grim, but he doesn't say anything more on the subject. Taking the sheet of paper from his desk, he passes it across to you. “Your new assignment,” he explains, “The details are all there. Do have fun – I hear that the south is lovely at this time of year.”
>>5696118Hm. Maybe we should have brought Harriet after all... But Persephone did us a solid and clearly wants to spend time together, so either way.if Cloranthy had the authorization, she'd have loved to attend to a Forest Kingdom-related task
>>5696137Might be worth pulling aside Johannes and giving him what little we know about Harriet's spirit friend if he is going to be partnered up with her.
>>5696118“So let me just make sure I understand,” Persephone begins, “We're expected to travel down south to investigate some vile, decaying remains, all the while dealing with a gang of rowdy locals. Is that about correct?”“It hits all the major points, yes,” you agree, “And you're the first person that came to mind.”“That, I assume, was intended as some kind of peculiar compliment,” she pauses, “In which case, thank you. But also, you're a lunatic.”That, you assume, was meant as some kind of peculiar compliment. “Anyway, you'd best pack some extra supplies. We'll probably be on the road for a day or so, and that's just the journey down south. The road curves right around the border of the Forest Kingdom, but that's going to add to our travel time. Certainly better than cutting straight through, at least,” you admit with a faint shudder, “Safer, at least.”“Oh, does that mean we might pass your home town? How charming!” the pale girl muses, the idea bringing a grin to her face, “We could stop and pay a visit!”“Absolutely not. We're travelling for business, remember? That means we can't just stop anywhere we like,” you scold, hastily adding, “And anyway, my home town was... the other side of the Forest Kingdom. Totally different part of the world.”There's absolutely no chance that she believes your lame attempt at a lie, but she feigns understanding anyway. Somehow, that just makes it all the worse. With one last secretive smile – the kind of smile that someone might give a co-conspirator – Persephone vanishes into her room to start packing. You turn towards your door, only to spot Johannes waiting for you.“Don't worry,” he mutters, “I'll keep an eye on her while you're gone. Try and keep her out of trouble.”“Thanks. I appreciate that,” you reply, pausing before adding, “...Keep WHO out of trouble?”“Clarissa,” he grunts, “How many troublesome girls do you have in your life right now?”“My life is nothing BUT troublesome girls right now.”“Living the dream,” he drawls, starting to turn away before you call his name. Turning back, he gives you an impatient gesture.“If you're going to be here with Harriet, or maybe even partnering up with her, there's something you should know,” you tell him, lowering your voice, “She's got some kind of... spirit. Not a guardian spirit, but not a case of possession either. It doesn't seem to cause her any problems, and I'm not even sure if she's aware of it, but... it's a puzzle. Nobody seems to know what it really is. So, you know, watch out.”Johannes just stares at you for a long moment. “This is why I said no women, before,” he mutters eventually, “Keeps things simple, that way.”[2/3]
>>5696159Later, as you're reading over the notes Master Brehm gave you, you find your thoughts wandering back to the Forest Kingdom. Your destination, the town of Usan, isn't exactly on the border of the Kingdom as your home town was, but it's close. Close enough that the people of the Kingdom can roam as they please, causing no end of concern to the townsfolk.Of all the reasons to leave the forest, why this? Why would they be drawn by rumours of something being washed ashore in a nearby town? You know that there's no point in obsessing over the questions now, but they keep running through your mind on an endless loop. You need to focus on something practical, something productive. The town itself, perhaps.If not for this strange arrival, Usan would be indistinguishable from any number of small fishing towns scattered up and down the coastline. A small, peaceful population watched over by an old and well-regarded guardian spirit – named in the notes as Alyth. Nothing to suggest any reason, aside from simple chance, for something to be washed ashore there. The local priest, a man named Brodie, was the one to send a request for aid. He's out of his depth, you can tell that without even setting eye on the town.It feels like you've spent years running from this damn forest. Now, you're going back.-“You've got everything you need for the trip? You've not forgotten anything?” Harriet asks, looking you up and down, “I always forget something when I'm going anywhere. Even if I just needed to pack two different things, I'd forget one of them. That's how bad I am.”“Calm down,” Johannes scolds, “The way you're carrying on, you'd think he was going to the colonies. Back within a week at the most, probably not even that.”“I know that!” she protests, “But STILL.” Giving you one last look over, and apparently satisfied with what she sees, Harriet pulls you into a quick hug – you wouldn't mind, but all you can imagine is the cloud of darkness surrounding you, choking you. Perhaps she senses something, because Harriet pulls hurriedly away. “Sorry. I'm just holding you up here,” she blurts out, “Oh gosh, just ignore me. Go on, go!”“I'll be back,” you assure her, the sudden outburst of emotion leaving you lost for words, “Week at the most, not even that.”You hope.>I'm going to take a pause here. I'm planning to continue tomorrow as well, starting at the same kind of time as today>Thank you for reading along today!
>>5696182Thanks for running. See you for the extra session tomorrow.
>>5696182Thanks for running!
“Having given significant thought to the matter, I've come to one simple conclusion,” Persephone muses, looking around the dismal room, “The simple life is vastly overrated.”“What, you don't like this? I thought you'd relish a chance to get away from the capital,” you joke, examining a rather unsavoury looking stain on the bedsheets, “Get away from the... how did you put it, the “common herd”, I believe?”“The common masses, I said. And while I do appreciate that aspect of it, I offer one counter argument,” she pauses for dramatic effect, “Proper sanitation.”Well, you can't exactly argue with that. You've been on the road for a full day now, with most of your journey to Usan now behind you, but nightfall put an end to your travels for the day. You sought refuge in one of the numerous waystations sited along the great southern road, but the conditions are turning out to be... less than you might otherwise desire. It is, technically, a roof over your head and a bed to rest in, but not much more than that.You're close to the Forest Kingdom here, close enough that you can feel its oppressive weight pressing on your thoughts. On the last stretch of your ride, you were so close to the border that you could see, on occasion, shadowy figures moving within the treeline. Some of the trees had been marked out with lengths of white rope, drawing a very literal border between your world and theirs. Beyond that white line, the Sun King's authority would mean nothing at all.“Life must seem very simple here,” Persephone says suddenly, “All this way from the capital, and all the schemes festering there. Out here, you could just live your life one day at a time – no great ideas, no taxing ambitions, none of it.”But the way she says it, she makes it sound like a terrible thing – a fate worse than death, almost.“Growing up, I always knew that there were greater things waiting out there. That there was more to life than just making it through the day. We were all like that, in a way. Looking for something more, something TRUE. Do you know what I saw, when I first came to the capital?” she interrupts, finally sitting down on her bed with a faint grimace of distaste, “I saw a puzzle just waiting to be solved, a game just waiting to be won... but that's all. Nothing true, nothing REAL.”You realise, then, that she's just done the rarest of things – she's said something completely honest, completely sincere. Faced with such a thing, you're left searching for something to say. “Nothing real?” you repeat, inwardly wincing at how banal your words must seem, “Really?”“Well, that was then. This is now,” she replies vaguely, her fickle nature returning in an instant, “Things have changed since then. I've seen a lot of things, met a lot of people... and some of them might actually mean something. Just not many.”[1/2]
>>5696638“Do you ever think about the future?” Persephone asks then, the change in subject coming so fast that it leaves your head spinning.“I... try not to,” you admit, “Less stressful that way.”She laughs at this, clearly pleased with herself. “I mean, we're not going to be with the academy forever. At least, I certainly don't intend to be. This is all just a means to an end, a chance to make names for ourselves,” she explains, “It's what happens after that that really matters. Putting all that leverage to good use. So? What would you do?”You consider this for a moment before shaking your head and saying, “You first.”“Isn't it obvious?” she replies, “I'm going to worm my way into the palace and scheme to my heart's content. Playing the game for power and influence, working my way to the top... I'm finally going to solve that puzzle I saw when I first came to the capital.”“Even though it's not... real?”“Of course. Why should that matter? Nothing else means anything, so why shouldn't I do what amuses me most?” she laughs, shrugging away your doubts, “Your turn now, and you'd better not disappoint me!”Turning away, you cast your thoughts ahead and try to imagine the sort of future that might await you. It's hard enough to guess what MIGHT happen, let alone what you WANT to happen. Contrary to what Persephone says, you largely imagined yourself staying at the academy for as long you were needed. But is that really what you want, or because it's the path of least resistance? Most Exorcists end up as priests or instructors, assuming they don't get drawn into the poisonous game of palace politics. Are any of those what you really want, though?>I'm not making any plans. I'll just take things as they come>I could see myself as an instructor, passing down my knowledge to the next generation>I might end up as a priest, provided I can find a suitable spirit to serve>I can see the appeal of entering the palace too, actually>Other
>>5696639>Burning the FUCK out of the Forest Kingdom.>I'm kidding. Maybe.>I wouldn't mind touring the kingdom for all the Sun Seals. Sounds like a great tour guide of all the awful places to die.
>>5696639>might end up as a priest
>>5696639>OtherThe next Regent. (Just kidding) (Unless...)>I'm not making any plans. I'll just take things as they comePlaying it by ear. World might be a different place very quickly with how things are going
>>5696639>>I'm not making any plans. I'll just take things as they come
“Long term plans?” you think aloud, “That's a tough one. I was thinking of becoming the next Regent. That shouldn't be too hard, right?”“Ah, is that so?” Persephone's eyes widen with excitement, “Then you might have me to contend with. I've got my eyes on the top job too, you know!”“Bullshit. We've never had a female Regent before, for one thing. The people just wouldn't stand for it,” you argue, “Besides, you'd probably hate it – it's too much like hard work.”“Hm, maybe. I'll tell you what – you can be Regent, and handle all that hard work, while I rule in secret. As far as the public needs to know, I would simply be your trustworthy advisor. It's the perfect plan,” she explains, giving you a sly smile, “Just try and find a flaw. One single flaw, I dare you.”You pretend to think for a moment. “I can think of one. One tiny little flaw,” you say slowly, “I don't ACTUALLY want to be Regent.”“Foiled again!” Persephone laughs, slapping her fist into the palm of her hand in a fit of mock anger.“But seriously? I don't see much point in making plans just yet. I'll probably just take things as they come,” you tell her slowly, your voice growing a little more serious, “I might travel a bit more. There's a lot of this land that I'd like to see – holy sites, places of power, that kind of thing. Go on a tour of all the sun seals, just to make a list of all the horrible ways to die.”“Sounds perfectly delightful,” she drawls, “Sun seals?”Oh right.“It's a long story. I'll explain tomorrow,” you tell her, holding back a sudden yawn, “It'll give us something to talk about on the ride, means I don't need to keep thinking about that damn forest. Oh, how's this for a life goal – I could burn the whole thing to the ground. That way, I'd never have to think about it ever again.”“...That was a joke, by the way,” you add hastily, just as you see an excited light flash across Persephone's eyes. She pouts, flopping down on her stained bed and turning to face the opposite wall. With all interest in the conversation having faded, you lie down on your own bed and wait for sleep – and whatever dreams might come with it.-Leaving with an early sunrise, you start out along the last leg of your journey. Assuming no disasters, you should arrive at Usan by noon or thereabouts. Enough time for you to make a good start with your investigation before nightfall, you hope. You explain the Sun King's seals to Persephone as you ride, although sometimes you wonder if she's really interested.Later, as you draw close to Usan, you spot a cluster of crude hide tents up ahead. Slowing your horse as you pass them by, you spot a single man standing guard. He has the facial tattoos of a deep forest native, although he carries a modern army rifle in a familiar grip – a strange contradiction to see here. The guard watches you closely as you ride by, but makes no move to stop you.
>>5696657They're certainly taking things seriously in Usan, even if they don't exactly have much to work with – the outer edge of town has been fortified with some crude wooden fences, sharpened stakes thrust into the ground at points. The makeshift barricades are guarded – after a fashion – by a few loitering locals. You're not sure what they'd achieve if there was some kind of attack, aside from perhaps slowing the invaders down for a moment.But if it makes them feel better...Before you've made it very far into the town, you see what must be Brodie, the priest, rushing out to meet you. He's younger than you expected, although he's clearly made an attempt to grow a suitably authoritative beard. “Hello, hello. You're from the academy?” he begins, offering you a hand as you dismount, “I'm glad they sent someone. I wasn't sure if they would, considering the... nature of our problem.”“I gather that nobody really knows what to do about it,” you agree, “So we're here to try and figure it out. You've been having trouble with the Forest Kingdom too, yes?”“Trouble, yes. That's one way to put it. I don't know how they learned about it, but they showed up the day after that... thing washed up here. They just said that they wanted to take a look at it first, but we turned them away. They haven't left us alone since then,” Brodie explains, waving for you to follow as he leads you into the small, modest temple, “Now, they're demanding the remains – not just to see them, but to take them away.”“Why not just let them?” Persephone asks, “Then you can officially say that it's their problem.”“They have no authority to be making demands of us!” Brodie argues, an unconvincing anger spiking in his voice, “Not here. Not outside the forest. Until I understand what we're dealing with, I'm loathe to simply had the remains over. Especially when I don't know what kind of... unholy dealings they must want them for.”He probably should have just asked them in the first place, and saved everyone a lot of trouble. “I assume that you're aware of the camp outside town,” you add, “Is that them?”“Aye. And the blasted woman leading them,” Brodie grimaces, “In all honesty, I'd sooner just burn the remains and be done with it. It might yet come to that. But there's a doctor in town, Ossler, who's been arguing for a dissection. He's been examining the remains, but he hasn't made much progress yet. He'll be down at the beach, if you're looking for him, with the remains themselves. But, ah, I'll let you get to work. You're the experts here, after all.”As much as anyone can be in expect in something like this. Now, where to start?>Head down to the beach to examine the remains themselves>Visit the forester encampment to hear their side of the story>Focus on the town itself, check for any abnormal spiritual activity>Ask a few more questions here... (Write in)>Other
>>5696665>Head down to the beach to examine the remains themselves>Have Persephone focus on the town itself, check for any abnormal spiritual activityDivide and conquer
>>5696665seconding >>5696666Let her cause whatever trouble she wants, she should be smart enough not to get shot.
“Just sit tight here, and we'll see what we can do,” you tell the young priest, guiding Persephone a few paces away, “I'm going down to the beach to take a look at these remains, but I'd like you to check out the rest of the town. I want to rule out any kind of spiritual anomaly – if there's anything like that around here, I know you'll be able to sniff it out.”“Oh dear, you mean I won't get to play around with the decaying remains?” Persephone laments, “How will I ever cope with this tragedy?”“I'll save some for you later,” you promise, “Just don't cause too much trouble, okay? I might need some time to think, and I don't want any gunfights to disturb me.”Persephone just gives you a wink, turning away with a swagger to start on her side of the investigation.-There's a strong smell of fish in the air down by the shore, along with a stronger, stranger odour. Not the smell of rot or decay, you notice, or at least not rotting flesh. If anything, it's an oddly mossy smell like decaying vegetation. Either way, the smell is strong enough to have chased away all but the hardiest of fishermen – and the doctor, by the looks of things. But you barely pay any attention to him, with your eye drawn straight to the remains themselves.They're... big. Bigger than you had been expecting. More than twice the length of a tall man, you'd guess, and curiously shapeless. The remains have an oily sheen to them, the bleached white flesh glistening wetly despite the long hours spent out in the sun. Covering your nose and mouth with one hand, you creep a little closer for a better look. The fleshy substance is smooth, featureless, with no indication of which end is the head – if it even has such a thing.“Strangest thing I've ever seen,” Doctor Ossler remarks as you draw close, “Not even close. Strangest thing that anyone here has seen, I'd guess.”Here, you think to yourself, could mean a lot of things in this case – the village, the region, the whole damn nation even.“Brodie said that you wanted to perform a dissection,” you begin, reluctantly kneeling down beside the remains. You reach out to touch them, hesitating until the doctor gives you a nod. The flesh is soft, pliable, and sticky to the touch. You stare at the colourless slime on your fingertips for a long moment before wiping it off on your breeches.“Aye. We won't know much else until we get it open,” Ossler explains, “This layer here, I think it's something like a cocoon. An outer skin. The real creature is inside. See, feel here."With tremendous reluctance, you reach out and touch where Ossler indicates. Pressing down on the pliable skin, you feel something firmer underneath it. What you're actually touching, though... you couldn't even begin to guess.
>>5696682As you're wiping your hands clean again, you hear the soft sound of Ossler drawing a blade. You shoot him a look of warning, but he waves your glare away. "Just a little incision in the outer layer," he promises, "Just enough that we can see what we're dealing with. Unless Brodie has agreed to the full dissection?""Not yet," you tell him, hesitating for a second before nodding, "Just the outer layer. Just a small cut."With a faintly unsavoury grin, Ossler sinks his knife into the pale flesh and carves a long slit open. More of the colourless fluid seeps out, and the peculiar smell grows more intense. Swallowing back a wave of nausea, you peel back the flap of flesh and peer inside. The body inside definitely has more of a defined shape to it, but even that isn't saying much. There's a ridge much like a shoulder, leading down into something that could be an upper arm, but the limb still seems partly fused with the long torso. The body seems to narrow towards a nub of a head, but you wouldn't be able to see much more without cutting away more of the outer membrane.Drawing back, you sit in silence for a few seconds and think. "I have no idea what this is," you admit eventually."Aye," Ossler agrees with a nod, "I'm starting to see Brodie's point. Burn the damn thing and be done with it.""The Forest Kingdom seems interested in it. Have they ever caused any trouble in town before?" you ask, taking a few steps away from the foul smelling body, "Anything at all?""Until now, they've mostly left us alone. The occasional bit of trade, but that's always been rare. Nothing to suggest they had any interest in the town at all, until this," Ossler strokes his moustache as he thinks, "I'm no expert, but I've heard a few of their stories. Nothing that ever mentioned anything like this, mind you. I'd go out there and ask them myself, if I didn't think they'd slit my throat in a blink.""Have they actually threatened anyone?""Well... not that I know of. Not directly," the doctor shrugs, "But bringing weapons and setting up camp just outside of town... how else are we supposed to interpret it? Now they're demanding to take the remains for themselves, Sun alone knows why. Maybe they're hungry?"The doctor laughs at his own joke, an unpleasant hoarse laugh that you could happily never hear again. If the foresters really are demanding the remains, there's no way of knowing how they might react if you destroyed or dissected them. Yet simply handing the remains over hardly seems much better – the idea seems vaguely dreadful, although you can't explain exactly why.>You should just burn the remains and put an end to this>You should see what the foresters have to say about this>You should go ahead with the dissection next>Other
>>5696697>You should see what the foresters have to say about thisDo they have any claim on it?
>>5696697>You should see what the foresters have to say about this
>>5696697>You should see what the foresters have to say about thisI'm guessing we can already tell from spirit sight that there's nothing still alive inside, right?
>>5696710Seconding this check. Also: ask Persephone what she's found, if anything. Then...>>5696697>You should see what the foresters have to say about this
"I'm going to see what the foresters have to say about this. I'd like to hear their side of the story," you decide, walking back to kneel by the remains, "No more cutting until I get back, is that clear?""Understood," Ossler says with a sullen sigh.Before you leave, you take a moment to study the remains one more time. This time, you take a moment to focus and open your inner eye. Looking over the remains, you feel a fleeting sense of darkness and rushing waters, but nothing more. As far as your sight shows, the remains are nothing more than an empty vessel. Just meat.-Persephone catches up with you as you're heading for the edge of town. "Nothing to report," she whispers to you, "Although one of the locals treated me to some especially delicious grilled fish. I'll have to see if I can get the recipe before we leave...""And the local spirits?" you press, "Nothing there, too?""Nothing there, nothing at all. Angry natives aside, this is probably the nicest place we'll ever visit," she confirms, "I do hope you haven't done anything to put that at risk.""Not yet," you assure her, watching as the forester guard raises his rifle in a warning gesture. You raise your hands, trying to make yourself look as harmless as possible as more of the forest natives emerge from their tents. Every single one of them is armed, either with a rifle or some kind of wicked looking blade. Feeling the weight of their glares, you slowly approach the encampment. Then, finally, their leader emerges.When you heard that their leader was a woman, you had been expecting some crone – the kind of witch that you heard stories about as a child. But the woman who appears would hardly look out of place in the ranks of noble society, save perhaps for her abnormal height. She studies you both for a moment before a smile forms on her blood-red lips and she gestures for her warriors to lower their weapons."A son of the forest, and a daughter of the moon," she begins, her voice a husky murmur, "You would speak on behalf of these cowering sheep?"Persephone tenses up slightly, her hand slipping down towards the dagger sheathed at her hip, but you gesture for her to stay calm. "We're just here to figure out what's going on," you answer, "We're not here to cause any trouble. I understand that you have some claim on the... remains here. Is that correct?"She beckons you forwards with a finger, leading you back to her tent and slipping inside. Before you can follow her in, Persephone grabs your arm. "Guardian spirit," she whispers, her lips barely moving for how quiet her voice is, "It's hiding in her shadow. Don't let your guard down."
>>5696732You nod carefully, then creep into the tent. A single lantern glows softly, casting a warm light about the dim surroundings. The woman is already seated, her eyes closed and her lips formed into a subtle smile. "Yes. I too have a guardian spirit," she says softly, "But I have no intention of using it against you."She opens her eyes, and you see by their lack of focus that she's peering into both worlds. Unnerved, feeling oddly naked under that unfocused gaze, you fumble for something to say and settle for something simple. "I'm glad to hear it," you mutter, "May I ask your name?""I am Lady Sil Ellenghast, servant of the Great Mother and High Priestess of the Forest Kingdom," she purrs, "And you, sir. May I ask yours?""Lucas. Lucas Hearne," you reply immediately, "...And this is Persephone Cross."It doesn't escape your notice that Lady Ellenghast didn't actually ask, but you thought it was safer to introduce Persephone. You could sense her seething from beside you – and you still can, really, with her rage only slightly subsided. "Lady Ellenghast," you continue, hoping to change the subject before disaster can truly strike, "My question still stands. These remains-""A child of the forest, hardly different to yourself. Yes, we would claim them as our own," Lady Ellenghast replies, "We simply wish to give them the respect they deserve. Nothing more than that.""I feel the need to point out that it didn't come from the forest," Persephone says, her voice almost a snarl, "It came from the ocean. From the SEA. Your reach doesn't extend that far, does it?"Although you're fairly sure that Persephone would be all too glad to throw Lady Ellenghast into the ocean.Lady Ellenghast shrugs her shoulders, the lantern light glowing softly on the bare flesh. "The veins of the earth lead to many strange places, child, and rushing water can carry one far. But this is why I seek to return the child to its rightful home," she explains, "Is that so wrong? If you lost a friend, would you not wish for them to have a decent burial?"Her eyes finally focus as she says this, sharpening down to pierce through you. All you can think about is Nicholas – Nicholas, who didn't even get the luxury of an unmarked grave. For a single paranoid moment, you wonder how she knew. But no, you tell yourself, she knows nothing. The question is common enough, and vague enough, for that."The priest wants to burn it," you suggest, saying the first thing that comes to mind."Naturally. That is all his kind ever wants," Lady Ellenghast sighs, "But I would be most... displeased if he was to do such a thing. Tell him that, if you wish."A silence, then, as the unspoken threat sinks in."This can all be over in an instant," the priestess murmurs, "Just give us the remains. That is all that I ask for."[2/3]
>>5696748"Excuse us," Persephone snarls, grabbing you by the hand and dragging you from the tent. She doesn't stop pulling until you're a good way from the camp, far enough to avoid any eavesdropping. "That BITCH," she spits, "That dog, that wretched mongrel beast!""I'm sensing some tension here," you remark, prising her iron grip off your hand and massaging some feeling back into it."We should burn it. And if she gets pissy about it, we'll burn her bloody tent down as well!" she continues, "Speaking to us like that, like we were her bloody servants...""Calm down!" you hiss, finally snapping Persephone into silence. "Look, I don't know what her game is. I don't know what that THING is either. But you need to calm down," you continue, "Need I remind you that she's got a dozen armed men with her? Even if we really scrape the barrel, her men outnumber us two to one. The last thing we need right now is to provoke some kind of... of diplomatic incident!"Persephone draws in a deep breath, closing her eyes for a moment as she steadies her nerves. "Honestly, you men. Flash a little skin and you all lose your nerve," she sighs, "Fine. Assume, just for now, that we don't burn her shitty little campsite to the ground. Then what do we do instead?"Good question. A very good question.>You should burn the body. Whatever it is, it deserves to be purged from the land>You should return the body. The foresters can do what they please with it from here>You should dissect the body. Your understanding should take priority over all else>Other
>>5696758>You should dissect the body. Your understanding should take priority over all elseLets see what we are dealing with. Seems like a shit situation all around though. We'll probably have to give it them. Hopefully they won't mind it being returned a bit cut up.
>>5696758>You should return the body. The foresters can do what they please with it from hereShe may be rude but it's not an unreasonable request
>>5696758>You should dissect the body. Your understanding should take priority over all elseWe're a detective, of sorts, and there's a mystery here. We cannot rest until it's solved. Also...>Persephone, are you... Jealous? I mean, if you really want the same amount of attention, there's nothing stopping YOU from showing more skin, but it seems unnecessary to me...Time to tease the brat back.
>>5696766>That second bitWrong time for that. Banter is one thing, but there is genuine seethe and vitriol going through her and I wager it started from that 'daughter of the moon' comment more than anything.
"We're here to understand the situation, and that means understanding what that damn thing is," you tell Persephone, "Right now, that takes priority over all else. They can have the body when we're done with it.""Oh, very assertive. I think I like it," Persephone remarks, rubbing her hands together with glee, "Shall we get started? And by "we", I mean "you". You'll forgive me if I don't wish to get my hands dirty for this. You'll need someone to stand guard, after all.""Oh come on, it's fine," you assure her, "You'll get used to the smell... eventually."But she doesn't exactly look convinced.-Returning to the beach, you give Ossler a wave. He returns it with an almost inappropriate cheer, beckoning for you to hurry up. "Good afternoon to you, sir," he greets you, "And you too, ma'am. Happy to make your acquaintance. Now, I don't mean to rush you at all, but we don't have too many hours of daylight left. If you were planning on-""Let's get started then," you interrupt, "Have you got all your tools here?""Ready and waiting," he replies, gesturing to a small wooden crate near the remains, "Ma'am, you might want to leave us to it. This might be a little much for those of a delicate constitution."At the first hint of a challenge, you can sense her resolve harden. "You shouldn't need to worry about me," she assures the doctor, waving away his concerns with an indifferent gesture, "I understand that you get quite used to the smell.""True enough. I don't even notice it at this point!" the doctor says with a laugh, opening his box of tricks to produce a particularly large blade, "Shall we begin?"The first task is to remove the outer membrane. This is easily enough done with a long slit down the length of it, at which point it falls away without much trouble to reveal the creature's full body. The closest comparison you can make, looking at the creature, is to an eel. But even then, you're just grasping for any hint of recognition. It has arms, as your first glance suggested, that remain partly fused to the long body until the elbow, where they split off like fins. The hands almost look human, save for the thin membrane stretched between each finger.Further down, the faint traces of humanity drop away completely. The lower half of the body has fused into a slender fish tail, although the skin has no hint of the scales you might expect on a real fish – it's all the same soft white skin, slightly mushy now that it's exposed to the air. The head is barely a head at all – just a misshapen lump atop the shoulders, without any hint of features. No eyes, no nose, no mouth, just a lump of waxy flesh."Now then," Ossler mutters, preparing a new blade, "Let's take a look inside, shall we?"
>>5696774"No bone at all, seems to be made entirely from blubber and muscles. Makes it easy to cut, at least," Ossler grunts as he works, spreading open the chest cavity and peering inside, "Organs look almost human. Definitely human, in fact."Persephone leans forwards, gently nudging you aside so she can take a look. "Forgive me, sir, for I am not trained as you so obviously are," she begins, her voice sweet and mocking, "That is... the heart, is it not?""Aye, that's it," Ossler confirms."And this?" Persephone continues, pointing to another lump of pallid grey flesh, "What is this?"Ossler takes a long moment to reply. "That is... ahem," he clears his throat, "That is... another heart... ma'am.""Another heart, I see," she nods slowly, "And how many hearts would a human normally have?""None at all, if you're talking about my wife," the doctor says with a nervous laugh, "Excuse me, please. I won't be a moment." Standing quickly, the doctor retreats a few paces away. Not far enough, though – you can still hear him retching as you examine the remains. You count three hearts in total, although one of them seems small and malformed. In addition to the hearts, you count two pairs of lungs and a truly enormous amount of viscera. Until your expert returns from emptying his stomach, you can't be any more precise than that.But that shouldn't take much longer. You can't hear any more retching, which means-"Lucas," Persephone murmurs, touching your arm, "I think we might have a problem."You turn, only to falter as you spot Ossler – as well as the knife that Lady Ellenghast holds to his throat. Two of the forester warriors flank her, aiming their rifles at you and Persephone. You draw your revolver on instinct alone, although you don't quite know who to aim it at. Not yet, at least. The soldiers tense up at the sight of your weapon, but they don't make any sudden moves – she has them well-trained.Lady Ellenghast peers over Ossler's shoulder, a faint grimace of distaste on her lips as she examines the dissected body. "Are you quite finished now?" she asks mildly, caressing the doctor's neck with her blade, "May we take it from here?"Persephone shifts her weight, and your sight reveals her guardian spirit fluttering nervously around her head. With the Veil grown strong like this, though, there's not much that the spirit can do to help. You're on your own for this one.>We're going to destroy this monster. Don't stand in our way>Fine. You can take it, whatever it really is>Other
>>5696792>Fine. You can take it, whatever it really isWe got what we could. We do some research on what we found later.
>>5696792>Other"Can you help us understand what you want with the beast? We don't necessarily have any qualms about letting you take it, we just want to understand what's going on here and why you want it enough to threaten innocent townsfolk."Also is our own guardian spirit powerful enough to burn the body as a last resort? If so, manifest it.
>>5696767Also this is a good reminder to grill Persephone more about the "daughter of the moon", her dark spooky past and hometown, and Shang-Han after this, since it seems to be related to the Silver Chariot.
There's a part of you that wants to destroy the body. Not out of spite, but for the simple reason that it shouldn't be. A loathsome, malformed thing like that should not exist. You'd burn the thing to ash here and now, if not for the Veil holding back your own guardian spirit. Lady Ellenghast almost seems to sense your thoughts, teasing Ossler's neck with the tip of her dagger. At the sight of the first drop of his blood, you angrily lower your revolver."Fine. Have it your way," you growl, "But what is it that you REALLY want with this thing? Why do you want it so badly that you'd be willing to kill for it?""Why would any mother seek their lost child? I simply wish to bring it back where it belongs," Lady Ellenghast replies, taking her blade from Ossler's throat. The doctor collapses down to the sand, hurriedly shuffling away from her. At her gesture, the warrior sling their rifles and start to approach the remains. "What you see as deformed and hideous is, to us, a holy thing," the priestess explains, "A manifestation of a greater world.""A greater world?" you repeat, "The spirit world?"Lady Ellenghast smiles, a sad and somehow pitying smile. "You have forgotten your history," you laments, "Or was it taken from you?""Talk some sense!" Persephone snarls, starting to draw her dagger before halting herself."We are the ones who remember the old ways. Ways that will mean nothing to you. But later, perhaps, you will learn. I may even be the one to teach you," the priestess murmurs, watching with satisfaction as her soldiers lift up the limp corpse, "We will meet again, Lucas Hearne. I am glad to see that you have not strayed too far from the path."With those last cryptic words, Lady Ellenghast turns to lead her men away. You watch her leave in a numb silence, your words failing you. Persephone slowly sheathes her dagger once more, contenting herself to glare viciously at the priestess' retreating back. It's only when Ossler lets out a breathless curse that you snap back into motion. Starting to take a few steps after Lady Ellenghast, you change your mind and grow still"Well then," Persephone murmurs, "I didn't understand a single bloody word of all that. Did you?""No," you reply, slowly shaking your head, "Not one bit.""Great. Wonderful," she sighs, "Some son of the forest you are.""That's nice, coming from the daughter of the moon," you shoot back, "Whatever THAT means."Persephone grimaces, only for her expression to twist into a bright smile within the space of a heartbeat. "I wonder if Brodie has prepared a room for the night," she wonders aloud, "I certainly hope it'll be better than the last room we stayed in!"Fine then, she can change the subject if she likes – but you're not going to just forget about this. You can be tenacious too, when you want to be.
>>5696817Perhaps out of a vague sense of responsibility, you make sure that Ossler gets home safely before returning to the temple. Brodie is waiting for you there, looking as if he can't decide whether to be angry or grateful. "You!" he calls out, "What happened? Those savages came marching through town, and when I saw them coming back from the beach they had-""They're taking the body," you explain bluntly, "It came from the forest. They're just taking it back to where it belongs.""That's... it?" Brodie hesitates, "No monstrous rites? No profane rituals?""We didn't really ask," Persephone points out, "But if there are any monstrous rites, they'll be happening very far away so what does it matter to you? Just pretend like everything's fine, and you won't have anything to worry about. Now, it's very late and we've got a long journey to make tomorrow – where do we sleep?"Confronted with Persephone's temper, Brodie – like most people – falters. "I had a room prepared," he says, only to hesitate before adding, "But I can arrange for a separate-""Oh, don't feel the need to go to any more trouble," she interrupts, waving his concerns away, "We're already tired enough as it is, there's no sense in waiting around even longer than this for you to find a spare room. Lead on!"-The spare room is small, but comfortable, although the single bed is going to make things... a little awkward. Persephone doesn't seem to care, sitting down on the edge of the bed and taking her riding boots off. You leave her be, examining your face in the small mirror – you still have some faint marks from where Clarissa scratched you, but nothing too serious. Nothing that shoudn't fade in a few-"Do you remember what I said before, about my old village? About how we were all looking for something more?" Persephone says suddenly, "I really meant that. Our... faith... said that there was a greater world, a true world, that we had only to seek out. There were rites and rituals meant to open the way, all carried out by the light of the moon. But they never worked."Hence, you assume, the daughter of the moon."There were these old ruins near the village. I would go exploring there, just to get away from everyone else. One day, I found a crack in the ground – it led deep into the ruins, into a chamber that I had never seen before," she continues, "There were words carved on the walls. Words for a NEW rite. I copied them down, brought them back to the village. That's when...""That's when people got hurt," you finish for her, remembering her words from Penn's Garden, "Right?""Oh no," Persephone replies, giving you a ghastly, humourless smile, "It was far worse than that."[2/3]
>>5696833"I remember the full moon. It seemed so big that night, and so bright – brighter than the sun, even. I was chosen to lead the dance, since I had been the one to uncover the new rites. My parents were so proud! I poured everything I had into the dance, pushing myself harder than ever before while the whole village chanted out the words. Even then, I knew that it would work. That it would... do something," Persephone recalls, "That's when I started seeing the spirits dancing with me. But it wasn't just me, either – the others started seeing the spirits too.""The Veil was collapsing," you murmur, "That rite...""We were looking for a rite that would deliver us to our promised land. I think maybe we found it," she murmurs, a sad smile on her face, "I remember the dance reaching its climax, and then... the whole world went away. In its place, I saw a whole other world – and the city, too. That beautiful, perfect city. Our promised land really existed in that other world.""And then it was over," she says simply, "I was back in the real world, and I was... alone. Everyone else... no, most of everyone else had vanished. They had gone to the city. But some of them weren't so lucky. I remember walking through the snow, looking for my parents or... or anyone I knew. I found some of them. Parts of them. But do you know what the worst part of it is?"Slowly, you shake your head."It was seeing that other world, that perfect world. Seeing it, knowing that I might never see it again," Persephone smiles again, touches her chest, "And knowing that there's a part of me that stayed behind in that world as well.">I think I'm going to pause things here for today. I should be able to run the next session on Saturday, this week>Thank you for reading along today!
>>5696842>Persephone's secret originOh. Well then. Jeez.Thanks for running, QM!
>>5696842Thanks for running!I may have even managed to clear up my Saturday morning.
>>5696842Thanks for running the 3peat! Also excited to continue unravelling this plot thread. Silver Chariot = way for people to get drawn into the spirit world makes a lot of sense for what happened to Persephone and her town
>>5696842Sounds like the remains is a similar case to Persephone, only either the remains got transformed a lot more than her, or that was the "other" counterpart instead of the human one.
Strange dreams again, that night – not of fire, this time, but of snow and ice.Snow is all that you can see, a whirling wall of white that blows all around you. You've never seen snow like this before, even at the peak of the monastery's mountaintop, yet your first thought is one of familiarity. This place seems strangely familiar, but somehow alien at the same time. There should be more here, you realise, there should be houses and workshops – a whole village, in fact. But the land around you is empty and barren.Stumbling forwards a few trembling paces, you see a distorted shape in the snow and stagger towards it for a closer look. When you realise what it is, though, you fall back and retch. Fused halfway into the hard, frozen soil, the head stares out at you with a single glassy eye. As you crawl away, you see more... remains – an arm sticking abrubtly up as if waving, a shapeless mass that might have a shoulder or hip, other things beside.No matter which way you turn, you can't escape the ruined remains. All you can do is set your sights on the sky, on the bright moon glaring through the blizzard, and run. You run out to the edge of town – what should have been the edge of town – before you lose your footing and fall. Cold snow stings your cheek as you lie there, slowly lifting your head to see something new. There, in the distance, you see what may just be your salvation.Finally, you see fire.-You wake with a jolt, the chill of the snow seeming to follow you back into reality. For the first few seconds you just lie in bed and wait for normality to resume, but the chill never quite fades. It takes you a moment to realise what's causing it – Persephone has fallen asleep with her arms around you and her body pressed tight against your back. Even now, after however long you've been sleeping, her skin feels cool to the touch.Gently prying her arms free, you slip out of bed and start to dress. Despite your innocent intentions, you still feel oddly guilty about spending the night like this – in a temple, no less. You're sure that the spirits can forgive you, just this once.Glancing back, you check that Persephone is still sleeping soundly. When you open your inner eye, though, you see her guardian spirit hovering the girl's sleeping form and staring at you. Faintly unnerved, you turn away and busy yourself with checking over your baggage. With a long journey ahead of you, you'll want to start early and make good time. Even so-"What I don't understand," Persephone says softly, her voice barely a whisper, "Is how she knew so much about us.""Huh?" you reply, turning to see Persephone sitting up with only the bedsheet to protect her modesty."Son of the forest, daughter of the moon," she repeats, scowling slightly to herself, "How did that witch KNOW?"[1/2]
>>5700520"I don't know," you admit after a long pause, "Maybe she... sorry, but could you please put some clothes on?""Oh, suit yourself," Persephone teases, standing up and letting the bedsheet drop to the floor. You quickly turn away, listening to the faint rustle of cloth as she starts to dress. "So?" she continues, "Maybe she... what?"You've already forgotten what you were going to say. Maybe nothing at all. "Something did occur to me, actually," you say slowly, "The way she introduced herself. Lady Sil Ellenghast of the Forest Kingdom. Would she really SAY that? That's our name for it, not theirs. It's a stupid name, anyway, it doesn't even make sense. There's no-""No king, I know," she finishes for you, "So, in addition to being a generally horrendous person, do we also think she's a liar?""Those men with her, they were definitely foresters," you point out, "They'd be unlikely to follow orders from an outsider. Not unless there was something in it for them."But, you recall, there were men from the Forest Kingdom among those killed in Master Brehm's ambush too. Just a coincidence, or part of some greater design?-"You're on your way, then?" Brodie asks as you're readying the horses, "I wondered if I might ask a service of you. If you should learn anything more about those... remains... would you send word our way?""You want to learn more?" you ask, looking round, "I thought you'd just want to forget that this ever happened.""Well, speaking personally, I do. But people are already asking questions, and I have a duty to put their minds at ease – if such a thing is really possible," he explains, "My duties here would make it difficult to travel to the capital, but you...""I can't promise anything. When it comes to the Forest Kingdom, our archives are sorely lacking. They tend to keep secrets well, in the forest, and most conventional scholars are content to leave it that way," you tell him with a shrug, "But I was planning on taking a look anyway. I'll write, if I'm able to find anything that might help.""There's one other thing," he warns, "When the foresters left, I asked one of the hunters here to follow them. Just to make sure that they were really gone, you see? Most of the party went back into the forest, following the main path, but there seemed to be one man skulking around outside. I haven't seen him myself, so he hasn't come to bother the town itself, but you should be careful on the road out. Don't let your guard down.""I won't," you assure him, giving the young priest a nod of thanks as he leaves."Well then," Persephone remarks, her voice low, "Unless you wanted to settle down and take up fishing, I think it's about time we left.">Right. We should get back to the academy as soon as possible>Hold on. I want to see if we can find this forester>I think we should head into the forest itself, pick up Ellenghast's trail>Other
>>5700522>Go towards where the forest meets the sea. If the remains really came from there, there could be clues on the riverside.
>>5700522>Hold on. I want to see if we can find this forester
>>5700522>I think we should head into the forest itself, pick up Ellenghast's trail
>>5700522Swapping >>5700534 this vote to +1 >>5700531 this one.
>>5700522>>5700531is a good idea
"Hold on, not so fast. I want to take another look around first," you tell Persephone, "I just want to be sure. Call it a hunch, okay?"Persephone thinks this over before shrugging. "I do hope that this hunch of yours doesn't end up getting us in any trouble," she warns, "And by "trouble", I really mean anything that could end up with us doing hard work, or dealing with everyone's least favourite forester. I'm sure you know who I mean.""I think I can guess," you reply, leaving your horse tied for now. It'll be easier to explore the area on foot, you decide, especially if you run into any rough terrain."I mean Ellenghast," your companion explains, following close behind you, "Was that your guess? What are you looking for, anyway?""Some kind of river, a way out into the open sea," you explain, gesturing over the coastline, "That thing had to get out into the open water somehow, and I'm fairly sure that it didn't walk. If we can find that, we might be able to find some other kind of lead on that thing."That's your theory, at least. Aside from the thin strip of beach by the village itself, much of the coastline rises up like a bare hillside – you might need to walk quite some way before you find lower ground, and any river along with it. Pushing your doubts aside for now, you pick a direction set off along the cliff edge path. It's a pleasant enough walk, and the sound of water crashing against the rocks below is oddly soothing."You know, I had a rather strange dream last night. I think this place must be affecting me," Persephone muses as you walk, "I dreamed that I was lost in the forest. My own silly fault, if you can believe such a thing. I went wandering into the forest all by myself, and then I couldn't find my way back out. Now, why would I do a thing like that?""Because... you were following something," you answer, your mouth suddenly dry."Maybe, maybe," she replies, thinking it over, "Well, it was a terrible idea either way. I thought I was lost for good, and I KNEW that bad things happen to people who get lost in the Forest Kingdom. I was feeling terribly sorry for myself, but then I saw something – a little silver light, leading the way home. I don't quite know how I knew it would lead me home, but... hey, are you even listening to me?"You try to answer, but you can't quite form the words. Instead, you just stare down into the ocean below as if you can't tear your gaze away. A moment later, you realise what's caught your eye – there are ripples spreading out across the water, quite separate from the normal ebb and flow of the waves. Something down there is churning up the water."Veins of the earth..." you mutter, recalling Lady Ellenghast's words, "An underground river?"
>>5700575Oh, I guess that makes a lot of sense
>>5700575>wake up naked with Perspehone>we're dreaming of each other's backstoriesOTP confirmed.
>>5700575"You know, I always wanted to be a fisherman when I was young," Brodie explains as he carefully guides the small raft forwards with delicate touches of the oar, "It seemed so much more simple than being a priest. But, you know how it is – like father, like son."When you explained what you had found, Brodie had immediately volunteered to help you get a closer look at the disturbance. Despite Persephone's objections, the small raft has proved to be the perfect way of approaching it – not sailing so much as nudging your way through the water with a long oar pushing against the silt below. It certainly beats swimming, at least.From this side of things, you quickly spot the cave mouth and point it out. Brodie nods and guides the raft closer until it scrapes gently against the rocks below. Tying it firmly in place, he prepares a lantern as you peer into the darkness. The cave starts low, but seems to open up after the first stretch. Crouching low, you step forwards and guide the way through those first few claustrophobic feet."This definitely leads from the forest," you remark. Following the river to the source, you come to a dead end – the ceiling drops lower and lower until there's no way forwards save for swimming against the river. Not exactly a welcome idea, you decide."I've never seen this before. I've lived here all my life, and I never..." Brodie murmurs as he looks around the cave, letting out a disbelieving laugh, "Too much time staring out at the ocean, I suppose.""Can't see the wood for the trees," Persephone teases, "But I don't think you missed much. It's a hole in the ground – what were you expecting?"Admittedly, you come up blank on this one. Now that you're here, what next? Raising the lantern high, you take a long look around at the cave. You're not the first one to see the cave paintings, though – it's Brodie's strangled cry of disgust that alerts you to them. Turning, you follow his gaze to the crude mural daubed across the far wall. He flinches away from the images, but you tentatively approach for a closer look.The paintings are simple in style, and worn away in several places, but you can still make out enough details. The mural depicts an endless loop of men and beasts, as well as things with aspects of both. The grisly parade circles around a single central figure – an obviously female figure, her body split open in an unclean act of birth. An image of the Great Mother, you assume, but the rest..."I'll have it destroyed," Brodie assures you, his voice strained with horror, "I can have some men, good men, out here with hammers and chisels. We'll wipe this place clean."Having said this, he stares at you with desperate eyes as if... what, seeking your permission? Your approval?>Do so. This whole place reeks of evil deeds>Leave it. This is still a holy place, no matter what we think of it>This place should be studied. I can make the arrangements>Other
>>5700598>This place should be studied. I can make the arrangements
>>5700598>This place should be studied. I can make the arrangementsMake arrangements later, but I want to pursue Ellenghast still
>>5700598>Leave it. This is still a holy place, no matter what we think of it>This place should be studied. I can make the arrangementsWhy on earth risk angering such a spirit, so close to the Forest Kingdom, and with the Great Mother's cult so nearby? Recioe for disaster, to be desu.
>>5700598Spirit sight, doublechecking if they're in official forest kingdom territory, etc.>Check if there's fish or anything else in these particular waters.
"No. Leave it," you order, "A site like this is practically unheard of, outside of the Forest Kingdom itself. This place should be studied, recorded for future generations. I can make the arrangements at the academy."Brodie's fervour is almost immediately squashed, dampened down by your words. "Good men ought not to study such things," he insists, a stubborn note entering his voice."Good men ought not to do a lot of things, but they do them anyway," Persephone counters, the disdain in her voice almost spilling out into open contempt, "You seem rather keen to destroy anything that you don't understand – or anything that you just don't like. Not exactly a very wise approach to take, is it?""Listen. This was a holy place once. It might still be. This place was raised in honour of the Forest Kingdom's patron spirit. Destroying this place could only cause more harm than good," you continue, "I'm not asking you to care for it, like you'd care for your own village. Just leave it be while we do our work. Is that clear?"He knows enough about your work to know that any argument would be futile. When it comes to the work of spirits, your authority is absolute."Fine," he relents, giving you a sullen nod, "The site can remain intact. But I want it known that I object to this.""Your objection is noted," Persephone tells him. Noted and ignored, her smug smile seems to say.As the priest returns to the raft to sulk, you study the mural one last time – this time, opening your senses up to the spirit world. The mural itself seems to shift slightly, writhing against the stone in an alarmingly fleshy manner, while your ears catch the distant echo of drums and chants. A distant ghost of the ceremonies once held here, perhaps, but nothing to suggest any recent activity.Closing your eyes to the spirit world, you take a step back from the mural. "What do you think?" you ask Persephone quietly."I think our friend over there is thinking very hard for an excuse to leave town," she whispers back, nodding slightly at Brodie, "He's going to spend the rest of his life thinking about this place!""You don't need to sound so amused by that," you point out, looking up at the ceiling, "This place, I meant. Do you think we're actually in Kingdom territory here or not?""Oh. Hm," she frowns, trying to judge the distance, "No, I wouldn't say so. The border would be some distance ahead. Unless you feel like pretending to be a fish, I doubt you're going to cross the border from down here."You find yourself glancing around at the idle mention of fish, noticing as if for the first time that you're the only living things in the cave. It's as if something here repels beasts, as if they can sense something that you can't.Maybe you shouldn't linger here for much longer.
>>5700621The worst part of the mural, you think to yourself as you ride forth from the fishing village, was the birth. The fact that the child itself had been so ambiguous in form – neither human nor beast, painted as if it had been changing form even as it crawled from the womb. That's the part that sticks with you, long after you've left the cave behind.You halt your horse suddenly as the border to the Forest Kingdom draws near, only barely noticing Persephone's snarled curse. The path ahead winds into the trees, bands of white rope tied around the trees flanking the entrance. Dismounting, you march to the border before coming to a dead stop. All it would take is one single step, and you'd be on their territory. Just one step."What are you doing?" Persephone complains, hurrying to catch up with you, "If you're getting some kind of clever idea, then please stop. I can already tell that I don't like it.""She came this way," you point out, kneeling down to examine the dirt path. No hint of a trail, of footsteps, can be seen in the dry, loose dirt."Yes, maybe, but nearly a full day ago!" Persephone argues, grabbing your arm and dragging you upright, "Are you really expecting to be able to catch up with her NOW? With that much of a lead on us, and in her own lands... it's hopeless, Lucas. Face it."You stare into the forest for a moment more before nodding slowly. There's a part of you that wants to step over the border and continue the search, even though you know it's pointless. Just a distraction, a waste of your time. One thought remains clear, though."We'll see her again," you decide, turning away from the forest path. You feel certain of that, somehow."Oh good. Oh wonderful. I'll be sure to look forwards to it," she mutters, resting one hand on the hilt of her dagger as if dreaming of all the possibilities there.-At the end of your first day of travel, you stop in at a waystation for the night – thankfully not the same squalid place as before. This time, you're careful to request two separate rooms and retreat away to yours before Persephone can question the decision. The mention of her dream – your dream, really – is still bothering you, nagging at you like an open wound.Seeking distraction, you start to work on writing your report. After the first few failed attempts, though, you push aside the paper and reconsider. Whenever your report reaches Lady Ellenghast, your mind seems to grind to a halt. It would be easier, perhaps, if you could summon up the same kind of vicious anger that Persephone feels for the priestess, but it's not that simple. Looking down at your latest report, you consider the best way to describe her.>A potential ally. She could be useful>A potential enemy. She could be dangerous>An unknown factor. Further investigation is required>Avoid the subject. The dissected remains take priority>Other
>>5700647>An unknown factor. Further investigation is required
>>5700647>An unknown factor. Further investigation is required.
>>5700647>An unknown factor. Further investigation is requiredAre foresters known to use rifles?
>>5700647>An unknown factor. Further investigation is requiredUnlucky that we missed her but oh well.
>>5700647>A possibly new political power. Dangerous, but maybe not your problem.
>>5700647>A potential allyI believe in the power of friendship
After staring at the half-finished report for what seems like hours, you carefully describe Lady Ellenghast. She remains an unknown factor, an enigma that demands further investigation. You note down some of the odd details about her, but stop short of mentioning just how much she seemed to know about you and Persephone. That would just complicate things, you decide, although it feels like you're just making excuses.The rest of the report flows easily once you've finished with the priestess herself. You spend a long time describing the remains themselves, then add a note about the forester warriors – they were unusually well-armed, you recall, with most of them carrying military-style rifles. Foresters would certainly use rifles where possible, of course, but rarely in such high numbers.Overall, Lady Ellenghast seems to represent a new factor in play – a more influential version of the Forest Kingdom, more willing to engage with the lands beyond their border. Whether that will be a threat or not remains to be seen.Just as you're setting the report aside, you hear a firm knock at the door. Persephone lets herself in a moment later, without even waiting for an answer."Who invited you in?" you tell her, "I could have been half undressed, for all you knew.""Only half? Where's the fun in that?" she replies, snatching up your report and quickly reading it over. With a laugh, she drops the page back down. "You're not really going to submit that, are you?" she asks, "You sound unhinged. I'm serious – pretend that you didn't write that, and tell me what it sounds like."Hesitating for a second, you take the report and read it over before wincing. "It sounds like... the author was either paranoid or... dangerously obsessive," you admit slowly, "Too much?""Just maybe tone it down a little bit," Persephone suggests, "Maybe take out the line where you insist that "further contact is of absolute importance". It doesn't exactly sound... professional. Worse than that, it's going to make me jealous. You wouldn't want that, now would you?"Taking a stick of charcoal, you angrily cross out a few of the offending lines before giving up. It can wait until later. Much later, ideally."Anyway, I didn't come here to talk about work," she continues, waving the subject away with a dismissive gesture, "You wouldn't happen to be avoiding me, now would you?""I'm merely respecting your privacy," you explain, giving a pointed look to the door she just barged through, "We've been practically joined at the hip since we left the academy. I thought we both might appreciate some alone time.""Ah, I see," she nods thoughtfully to yourself, "You're used to being alone, then.""That's... not what I said," you reply awkwardly. It's not exactly wrong, either, but you're not about to admit that.
>>5700690"Well, I suppose you've got a point. I can really stretch out this way, take the whole bed for myself. I don't need to worry about anyone getting in the way," Persephone decides with an indifferent yawn, "In fact, I prefer it this way too. We can be miserable loners together, doesn't that sound like fun?""Sounds perfectly delightful," you sigh, gesturing towards the door, "You start."But rather than leaving, Persephone sits down on the edge of your bed. "You know, I remembered something when we were at the border," she announces, an excited light flashing in her eyes, "Something else from my dream. I remember feeling something strange – there was fear, of course, but also-""Don't," you interrupt, giving her a look of warning, "Don't go there.""But also GUILT," she finishes, stressing the word with almost sensual delight, "Isn't that just the strangest thing? What would I have to feel guilty about? But then, I remembered... you said that someone got hurt because of you, didn't you?"You say nothing, just staring down at your failed report in silence. No matter how long you wait, though, it doesn't look like she's going to lose interest. Quite the opposite, in fact – she seems to be savouring your hesitation, relishing the tension that has suddenly filled the room. There's a part of you that wants to throw her out and lock the door behind her, but...But then there's the part of you that wants to talk. To tell her everything.>Tell Persephone about your past>Tell Persephone to leave>Other
>>5700712>Tell Persephone about your pastLucas backstory time.
>>5700712>Tell Persephone about your pastPart of me wants to just sweep her up while she's acting all smug and carry her out to her room mess with her, but I do want to hear this as well.
>>5700712>Tell Persephone about your pastShe told us hers so it's only fair
>>5700712>Tell Persephone about your past>Let her know about your own dream -- HER memory -- as well
You've never really spoken about this before, with anyone. There are people who know – although you could probably count them on one hand – but even among that limited number, you've never really told your story. You've spent years holding it inside you, so long that you've grown used to it, but now the thought occurs. Why NOT tell her? You probably know more about her than anyone else, so why not even the score?"If I tell you something... Something about me," you say slowly, "Are you going to take this seriously?""I always take everything seriously!" Persephone lies, wide-eyed and innocent.Inwardly, you sigh. You weren't expecting anything less from her.-"I didn't know it at the time, but I had started seeing spirits," you begin, "I had heard the stories, of course. Living on the edge of the Forest Kingdom like that, I heard plenty of stories growing up – warnings, mostly, about the dangers of wandering across the border. The spirits would whisper evil things to you, promise you everything that you had ever desired if you would just let your guard down. You know the sort of thing.""I heard all the stories, all the warnings, and it didn't make a damn bit of difference. Because one night, I was looking out at the trees and I saw..." you pause, "I saw something out there. Something moving, already vanishing back into the forest. I don't know what I was thinking, but I found myself running out into the night – following after it. Before I knew what was going on, I was already deep into the forest. The spirit was still there, always just barely ahead of me, and all I could do was chase after it.""Then, in the blink of an eye, it was gone. It was gone, and I was lost in the forest. I didn't even know which way I'd come from, which way might lead me back home. I couldn't cry out, either – I'd just make myself a target that way. I just... froze up. I can't remember how long I spent there, huddled under a tree and wishing for home, but eventually I heard something. There was someone else out there, crashing through the undergrowth. Someone looking for me.""If I could hear them, I knew that I wouldn't be the only one. I wanted to call out a warning, but then I'd just draw the attention to myself. So I stayed silent, and followed the sound of their voice. It would lead me back home, I hoped," you pause again, letting out a low breath, "But then they went silent, as if they'd been plucked from the land. I think I knew, then, what had happened.""I only saw them once, after that. It was one of the older boys, one of the few friends that I had. I knew something was wrong just from the way they moved, that lurching, swaying gait. They were still looking for me, but I knew it wasn't to bring me home. Not then.""Possession?" Persephone asks, the first word she's said in a very long time.Slowly, you nod.
>>5700746"I remember moving through the undergrowth, as quietly as I could manage, just desperately hoping that the spirit wouldn't notice me. I couldn't even breath, for fear that it might hear me. All the while, it was crashing through the bushes as it searched for me. At one point, it got so close that I could see the look on its face – wide, vacant eyes, a ghastly grin that seemed to take up half the face...""I don't remember much more after that. It all seems like a blur, like a blank. Somehow, I managed to get by the spirit without it noticing me. After that, I was slowly able to find my way back home. The sun was starting to rise by then, and I could hear voices from beyond the border. I made it back, but my friend..."You stop here, swallowing hard. The days afterwards had almost been worse than that terrible night – the gradual sense of dread as you realised that your friend wasn't coming back, that you were responsible for everything that happened, and everyone knew it."It wasn't long after that night that Master Brehm came, to take me to the academy," you finish weakly, "By that point, I was glad to go. There was nothing left for me there."Persephone rises to her feet, crossing the room to put a hand on your arm. Then, stepping forwards, she pulls you into a gentle embrace. "Thank you. Thank you for tellng me," she murmurs softly, "It's just like my dream...""I dreamed of you too," you reply quietly, "In the snow, after... after everyone had been taken away.""We're the same, you and I," she whispers, drawing back slightly and meeting your gaze. Her eyes are like quicksilver, shining in the dim room, and her lips part with some unspoken words. Slowly, infinitely slowly, her mouth moves towards yours and-And with a swift motion, she's back at arms reach. "Right then, I'd better leave you to it!" Persephone announces suddenly, her voice bright and bold and teasing, "You were wanting some alone time, wasn't it? And we've paid for that other room, so it seems a shame to waste it. I'll see you in the morning, Lucas – bright and early now!"Then she's gone, before you can even finish processing the first of her words. In the sudden silence of the empty room, you sit down on the edge of the bed and think about... nothing at all.Maybe you'll just get some sleep and pretend that this never happened.>I think I'm going to pause things here for today. I'll be aiming to continue this tomorrow, starting at the same usual time>Thank you for reading along today!
>>5700764Thank for running Moloch!
>>5700764Spooky brat is best girl.Thanks for running!
>>5700764Thanks for running!
Although neither of you mention the previous night, you feel certain that something has changed. Persephone wears a sly, secretive smile all the way back to the academy, the kind of smile that suggests you're both co-conspirators in some dangerous scheme. You try telling yourself that you're just being paranoid, that she's ALWAYS like this, but your attempts never quite stick.She's having tremendous fun with this, you can say that for certain. Whether it's fun at your expense or not, that remains to be seen.You arrive back at the academy in the late afternoon, although the sun shows no sign of fading below the horizon just yet. The first thing you notice when you reach the dorm is a delicious smell – a warm smell of baking spices drifting out from the kitchen. Harriet gives you a cheerful wave as you enter, only to hurriedly turn back to her frantic work at the stove.It's strange, watching as she merrily works away in the kitchen with that roiling cloud of darkness surrounding her. Looking at it now, it seems worse than normal. More active, more angry, with stubby tendrils reaching out from the shapeless mass to paw blindly at the world around her. She has to know about it, but the way she just carries on like normal..."Are you... feeling okay?" you ask, setting your bag down by your room."Hm? I'm feeling just fine today," Harriet answers, looking around in confusion, "Johannes was kind enough to take me into town for a little shopping, so I thought I'd bake up some ginger biscuits to say thanks. Oh, but there's going to be enough for everyone!"She adds those last words in a hurry, as if that was the biggest thing she had to worry about. Just as you're starting to wave away her concern, Harriet snaps her fingers."Oh yes!" she adds, "Master Brehm wanted to see you, as soon as you got back."So much for taking some time to relax and visit the archives. "I'll head down and let him know I'm back," you sigh, "The biscuits smell good, by the way.""I'll make sure to save some for you!" she promises, smiling proudly.-"Ah, there you are. Lucas, my boy, I was just thinking about you," Master Brehm announces, gesturing for you to sit, "You look tense. A trip to the beach is supposed to be calming, you know!""Supposed to, yes," you agree, "But when did everything happen as it was supposed to?""I'm reliably told that, in the history of the academy, there has been at least one day when things didn't go completely to shit," he remarks, allowing himself a hard bark of a laugh before his expression darkens, "Do you have a report from Usan?""I do," you reply, placing a hastily edited copy of your report on his desk, "There was a... woman there. Lady Ellenghast. She was... well, it's all in the report.""Ellenghast..." Master Brehm repeats, "Now that's a familiar name. Where have I heard that before?"[1/2]
>>5701334Master Brehm thinks to himself for a long moment, drumming his fingers on his desk. "Ah!" he announces eventually, "I remember now. Ellenghast was an emissary from the Forest Kingdom, present at the signing of the Accord. Not the same one, I must assume – a descendant, or perhaps the bearer of some honourary title.""Are you sure?" you ask slowly. At this point, you're not sure if you'd rule anything out."Quite sure," he nods, "This Ellenghast was said to be a man."You pause, then concede the point with a nod. You don't know much about Lady Ellenghast, but you can be fairly certain that she wasn't a man. "Well, anyway, I made recommendations for further research down in Usan. We found an interesting site, something that might have been a shrine to the Great Mother at one point," you add, "Given that the foresters might be interested in the place, it might be worth sending some extra support. The local priest is... well, he's out of his depth.""As they so often are," Master Brehm sighs, shaking his head in vague dismay, "I'll add my name to the request, that should give it a bit of extra support – although I'm not sure how much weight my name has these days!" He laughs again, a faint bitterness in his voice, before changing the subject. "There was something else I wanted to talk to you about. There's an event planned at the temple of Sheol tomorrow – a rite to invoke his blessings and protections. All this talk of war, you know... The academy always sends a delegation to rites such as these, and I intended to send Maxim. Would you be interested in accompanying her?""Why... her?" you ask, "And why me?""I'm curious," Master Brehm explains, a sly smile on his face, "I'm curious to see how our little anomaly will act when they invoke Sheol's power. So I'd like someone to keep an eye on her and report back. As for you... well, it's not so simple. You're the man I'd trust for the job, more than anyone else. Well, anyone else currently present – Clarissa hasn't returned yet, which rather narrows things down."You try to imagine Johannes or Persephone attending a formal event like this, wincing at the thought. Not that you're much better, that is – you didn't exactly have much of a formal upbringing, after all, and you'd been planning on spending some time in the archives.Still, all that aside, there almost seems something... cruel about this plan. It seems like an attempt at forcing some kind of answers out of Harriet, regardless of what it might end up doing to her.>I'll do it. I'll keep an eye on her and report back>I can't do it. I'm not suited to this kind of task>I don't think this is a good idea. I think you should reconsider>Other
>>5701335>I'll do it. I'll keep an eye on her and report backHer friend did seem a bit more active this afternoon. Has she talked to you or other professors about it? Does she even know its there?
>>5701335>I'll do it. I'll keep an eye on her and report back
As cruel as it might seem, it would be even worse to let Harriet go without anyone anyone to watch her back. She's still an apprentice, bound by Master Brehm's orders – if she was told to go, she wouldn't have much choice in the matter. If you're there, at least you can keep an eye on her. "I'll do it," you decide, giving the old man a nod of agreement, "I'll watch out for anything strange and report back.""Good, good. I knew I could count on you," Master Brehm leans back in his chair, cracking his knuckles as he thinks, "The event itself shouldn't be too much trouble. You shouldn't actually have to DO anything, just look appropriately pious when required and act polite. I'm told that some very important people might be attending, however, so you'd better wear your best.""You didn't say anything about... fine, whatever," you sigh, "Does Harriet know?""Not yet. I'll leave the explaining to you," he says with a cheerful smile, "I doubt she'll take much convincing, though."You hesitate, then, as a thought occurs. "I noticed, just now, that her... friend was looking more active than normal. Agitated, almost," you offer, "Has she said anything?""Not a word, as far as I'm aware. More agitated, you say? We've been practicing some banishment rites lately, I wonder if that could have caused it... or perhaps the spirit, whatever it is, can sense trouble. The priests will have started rehearsing their rites by now, I expect," Master Brehm taps a finger against the desk as he considers this, "You see? We're making progress already!""Not exactly much progress if we still don't know anything," you mutter, "Do we even know... do you think she even sees it like we do?"Master Brehm's face grows more serious. "I imagine she does see it, whenever the inner eye opens. Hardly a way to avoid it, really," he muses, "Has she ever mentioned anything to you?"Again, you hesistate. Not quite trusting yourself to lie aloud, you just shake your head."She keeps a secret well," Master Brehm grunts, frowning a little, "Women always do... Ah, but you needn't listen to be gripe. Go on and tell her the good news – she'll be thrilled, I'm sure!"You're sure.-"Oh gosh, that sounds so exciting!" Harriet cries, her eyes sparkling, "And we're really invited?""On behalf of the academy, yes. We might not be the only ones, just part of a larger delegation, but..." you shrug, "Just look at it as a chance to network, to get to know some of your fellow Exorcists. There might also be some kind of sacred rite going on, but I feel like that might not be the real priority for everyone else.""I'll need to find something to wear, and figure out how to wear my hair. You said it was tomorrow? Oh gosh, that doesn't leave me much time..." she continues, as if you hadn't said anything at all, "How can anyone plan anything on such short notice?"
>>5701356Eventually, you manage to talk Harriet down from a complete panic attack and steer her into her bedroom. Leaving her to fret over outfits, you head into your room and notice the small plate of ginger biscuits set on your writing desk. Smiling a little, you try one and find that they taste as good as they smell. If the whole Exorcist thing never takes off, Harriet could definitely find a career in baking.Brushing crumbs from your hands, you lie down in bed and clear your mind. No dreams tonight, you tell yourself, although you're not sure if that's an order or a plea.-Feeling faintly uncomfortable in your best suit, you nervously adjust your belt as you wait for Harriet to emerge from her quarters. You're not sure if you're breaking some obscure social taboo by bringing weapons to an event like this, but you'd feel even more uncomfortable without them. At least you can reasonably argue that your sword is a symbol of your office. The revolver, though, less so."We're practically at war already," you decide aloud, "Nobody's going to care.""Sure," Johannes replies, "Are you trying to convince me, or yourself?""I'm not trying to convince... Look, I could've refused to take this job. I bet you would have been next on Master Brehm's list," you point out, giving him a scowl, "So, you know, show a little gratitude.""I could've refused to take the job too," he counters, "You didn't think of that, did you?"You didn't, but you're not going to admit that. You don't have to, either, as Harriet finally emerges to put an end to the conversation. She's really gone to an effort this time, so much so that you feel absurdly scruffy by comparison. She's dressed in a traditional wrap of deep green silk, baring just enough leg to be daring without pushing the boundaries too far. Her hair is pinned up in a neat bun, with a few curls left hanging loose to frame her face. "Well?" she asks, a faint note of nervousness in her voice, "Too much?"You're both speechless, both left fumbling for something to say. Eventually, you manage to jerk your head in some kind of awkward gesture – you're not sure if you were trying to shake your head or nod. "It'll work. I mean, it's great," you tell her, nudging Johannes with your elbow, "Isn't it?""You'd never get away with shoes like those on a real investigation," he grumbles, "You couldn't fight in them either.""Fight in them? I can barely walk!" Harriet says with a laugh, wobbling a little on the high, needle-thin heels, "It's the latest fashion, but I'm not sure if it'll catch on. Anyway, I'll have Lucas here to do all the fighting for me!""Well, he certainly dressed the part for that," Johannes remarks, "Still time to reconsider, you know.">Maybe he's right. The weapons might be going a little too far>You don't care how it looks. The weapons stay>Maybe you can compromise, leave the revolver behind>Other
>>5701374>Maybe you can compromise, leave the revolver behind
>>5701374>You don't care how it looks. The weapons stay
"Okay, okay!" you concede, reluctantly setting your revolver aside as a compromise, "But the sword stays. I won't be swayed on this one.""Well, I think it makes you look very dashing anyway," Harriet agrees, "And it won't go off in your pocket. Father told me a story once about a friend of his, he carried a pistol in his pocket and somehow managed to shoot himself in the leg! Even worse, it happened in the middle of a play – right during a dramatic moment. Can you imagine how embarrassing that must have been!""Uh..." you pause, "I'm sure he was able to live with it.""No, actually, I don't think he did," she recalls, shrugging the thought off, "Well, that doesn't matter now. We're not going to have any nasty accidents, are we?""If anyone can find a way to misfire a sword..." Johannes mutters, falling silent at the sight of your vile glare.-The temple is already filling up with guests when you arrive, the guests drawn from all corners of society. You spot aristrocrats in their fine attire, and military officers in full uniform. You see a few more Exorcists – thankfully carrying swords as well – but aside from swapping professional nods of greeting, they keep their distance. Then, of course, there are Sheol's faithful in their sombre black robes – they seem to be everywhere you look, creeping through the crowd like the wandering dead."Oh my, it's busier than I thought..." Harriet murmurs, automatically bobbing her head in respect as a well-dressed man walks by, "That was Master Roarke – his father is another trader, like mine. I don't think he recognised me.""You sound disappointed," you reply, stepping aside to allow a few soldiers to march by. Not officers this time, but enlisted men in dress uniform. Not the first of those that you've seen so far, either."Well, he was always very charming, and it's been years since I last saw him. I've grown up a lot since then. I thought..." she pauses, her cheeks darkening somewhat, "Well, it doesn't matter. We're supposed to be good and pious while we're here, aren't we?""Allegedly," you mutter, watching as a pair of the young soldiers take sips from a hipflask. Wandering a little more, you stop as a fragment of the conversation drifts over to you."So many soldiers!" a man gossips, "And they all look newly trained - are they going to raise another army, do you think?""Hardly," his companion whispers, a vicious glee in his voice, "I rather think they'll be sent to reinforce the second. Haven't you heard the rumours? They're losing men every day now, over in the west, but the Regent doesn't want to admit how bad it's getting. This time next year, we won't hold the city – I'd bet on it.""Let them have the city, I'd say," the first man replies, "Dust and old stone, and we're sending good blood to defend it? Just a waste, no matter how you look at it."Behind you, Harriet lets out a small gasp of surprise.
>>5701397"It's not right, talking like that," Harriet whispers, as you lead her a few paces away, "They're supposed to be gentlemen, they're not supposed to be... it's like the Regent said, we're supposed to stand united!""It's not that simple," you explain sadly, "Ixtab is... it's our spiritual home, I suppose, the site of the Accord. But more and more, people don't care about things like that. They want to live comfortable lives, free from fear and pain, even if that means giving up without a fight.""It's not right..." she repeats, shaking her head. Before either of you can say anything more, a silence falls over the temple – broken only by the ticking of the great ornamental clock that looms overhead. The crowd shuffles back, clearing space in front of the clock as the young soldiers file forwards to kneel in the now empty space. This whole scene seems so familiar, and it takes you a moment to realise why – you've seen it before, in Clarissa's vision. Not this exact scene, of course, but this same rite. A soldier's blessing, now turned into a spectacle for merchants and noblemen.You're not sure what kind of effect it's going to have on Harriet, but it's certainly making you feel ill.-As the sermon begins, you open your inner eye and gaze out across the temple – and at Harriet herself. The words of the sermon fade into a background hum, blending together into droning noise as your attention is drawn elsewhere. The shadows move, drifting through the ranks of kneeling soldiers like bees circling flowers, but never quite coalescing into form. The Veil remains strong, but the spirit world is reacting to the rites being called out. Harriet's spirit companion is reacting too, pulsing and bristling with thorns of blackness.You recall the other Exorcists with a jolt, fighting back a wave of panic. If they were to look your way, looking with their inner sight, they would see the exact same thing you see – but they might draw an entirely different conclusion. Just stay calm and act natural, you tell yourself as you spot the pair of Exorcists staring up at the priest, don't do anything that might alert them."And to those who would threaten the Accord, who would imperil our fair land, I say that they shall be broken on Sheol's great machine!" the priest calls out, his voice cutting through your thoughts, "Let them pay penance for their sins, for all eternity if that is what Sheol demands!"A soft murmur at your side causes you to glance back to Harriet. She wavers slightly, growing pale and grasping onto your arm for strength as the darkness writhes around her. It seems to be reacting to the grim speech, drawing tight around and taking on an almost human shape. Something's definitely happening to it, but Harriet is looking worse by the second.>Forget the spirit. You need to get Harriet out of here>You need to keep Harriet here and witness this>Other
>>5701411>Forget the spirit. You need to get Harriet out of here
>>5701411>Forget the spirit. You need to get Harriet out of hereThere are other exorcists here, we need to maintain our "cover"
>>5701411>Forget the spirit. You need to get Harriet out of herekinda curious if it would like a little candle or something to focus on
The darkness surrounding her convulses, and Harriet shudders along with it. She wavers, clinging tightly to you to keep herself falling only for one heel to scrape across the ground. A few heads turn your way, although the other Exorcists are far enough away that the sound doesn't reach them. It's enough for you, though, you don't feel like risking it again.Murmuring apologies as you go, you gently steer Harriet out from the temple and into the fresh air outside. As you leave the temple behind, you see the darkness unfurl and lose what little form it had been gaining. As it drifts apart, Harriet's flustered breathing starts to return to normal. Once you're happy that the danger has passed, you allow your eye to close again."Lucas?" Harriet asks, looking around as if surprised to find herself outside, "What... happened?""That's what I'd like to know," you reply simply."I don't know. I just remember listening to that awful sermon, and I found myself thinking about how... how cruel it all sounded. I think... oh gosh, this is going to sound so pathetic, but I think I panicked," she murmurs, crossing her arms across her chest as if warding off a chill, "Listening to that sermon, watching everyone else nodding along with it, I just felt like... like something bad was going to happen. But then I could think clearly again, and we were out here.""There was something strange going on," you agree, "Not just with you, but your friend too."She tenses up. "My... friend?" she repeat, "You mean, you felt-""You know what I'm talking about," you interrupt gently, holding up a hand to indicate the unseen cloud surrounding her. She catches your hand in the air, holding it firmly before carefully moving it away from her.Something that almost looks like relief passes across her face, only to vanish in an instant. "I suppose I should have expected this sooner," she whispers, "I can't exactly hide it, can I?"You give her a tiny shrug, waiting to see what else she's willing to tell you."I don't really know how to explain it," she admits, "Can we just... drop it?""You know I can't do that," you tell her, leading her a few paces away from the entrance and sitting down on the temple steps. "I'm not the only one who knows about it. Master Brehm, for one, and Roerich from the monastery too. Nobody seems to know how to explain it," you continue, "How long has it been following you?""A while," she answers vaguely, shaking her head, "Does it matter?""Of course it matters. If we can figure out when it started, we might be able to figure out HOW it started," you explain, "And then, we might be able to figure out what it really is."A strange light flickers through her eyes – not quite sad, not quite angry. "I'm not just some puzzle for you to solve, you know," Harriet whispers, "Not just some anomaly for you to investigate. It's not... as simple as that."
>>5701426"Can we go?" Harriet asks suddenly, "I don't care where, just... away from here. Somewhere a little more private, a little quieter. I feel like everyone's staring at us out here."You look around, although it doesn't seem like you're attracting any significant amounts of attention. Even so, a single glance from a wary Exorcist might be enough to cause a whole heap of trouble. "Okay," you agree, helping Harriet to her feet, "We'll take a walk, somewhere nice and quiet. Are you okay to walk for a little?""I'm not going to fall on my face," she assures you, flapping a hand at her absurd shoes, "I'm getting used to these things, you know.""Just in time for some new fashion to come along," you joke, leading her away from the temple. You don't have any real destination in mind, aside from getting away from the major streets, and your wander soon takes you into an older part of the city. The streets narrow around you, branching off into countless dim pathways like the one you visited with Johannes. Age, and a faint air of decay, hang over the streets, but Harriet doesn't seem to mind."This is better," she breathes, allowing herself a smile, "Say, why don't you tell me about your mission. Was it fun?""Fun?" you repeat, "Not really. Honestly, it was pretty disgusting. You probably don't want to know the gory details."As Harriet considers this, you glance back at what seemed to be a flicker of shadow from behind you, but it's already gone. These streets are deserted, so why does it feel like you're being watched?""Well, I think there's more to it than just that," Harriet continues, oblivious to your fearful thoughts, "Maybe I'm just imagining it, but it seems like Persephone has been avoiding you ever since you got back. Did something... happen between you two?"You grimace, automatically starting to walk a little faster as if literally avoiding the subject. Just then, just as you're starting to get ahead of Harriet, you hear a sudden shuffle of footsteps, then a scream. You turn quickly, already drawing your sword as you see the armed men lunging from one narrow alleyway. The first lunges at Harriet and drives her to the ground, one heel snapping from her shoe as she falls. The second man goes for you directly, swinging a crude shortsword at you. It's a wild blow, more to force you back than to kill, and it serves that purpose well.Behind your opponent, Harriet struggles against the first man – kicking and punching at him as he tries to drag her upright, tries to drag her back into the alleyway. Snarling with anger, you raise your blade and lunge forwards at the swordsman. Your blade is longer, hampered by the narrow street closing in around you, but you manage to drive him back a few paces with your attack. Then, as you're closing the distance, Harriet screams again - a high, shrill scream of pain.[2/3]
>>5701426Yes, but it would probably nice to not have a random exorcist consider shooting you
>>5701443More than anything else, Harriet's scream seems to distract the swordsman. He hesitates for a split second, glancing back at the scuffle behind him, and you don't let the opportunity go to waste. You lunge forwards and drive your sword into his chest, hot blood gushing out and spilling over your hands. With a final cry of rage, you push the blade deeper and run the man through, almost pulled down with him as he falls. Scrabbling back to your feet, you desperately look round to Harriet.The first man stands over her, half-stooped with a knife in his hand and a look of stupid astonishment on his face. Harriet herself shudders below him, a long gash drawn across her bare shoulder. When he realises that his companion is dead, the first man takes a stumbling step backwards before turning to flee. You reach for your revolver, only for your hand to fall on an empty holster instead.If he escapes into this maze of backstreets and alleyways, you might never track the remaining man down. You start to lunge after him, only for Harriet's hand to pluck weakly at your leg."No, please..." she gasps, clinging desperately to you, "Don't go..."It looks like he was the last of them, but if he gets away...>You can't let him get away. You need to give chase, even if it means leaving Harriet>You can't leave Harriet like this, even if it means letting that worm get away>Other
>>5701449>You can't leave Harriet like this, even if it means letting that worm get away
>>5701449>You can't leave Harriet like this, even if it means letting that worm get awaySearch the dead guy for clues.Also learn to never leave the gun behind, Lucas might be paranoid but there are good reasons to be so in this line of work.
>>5701449>Launch a parting shot of fireThis is a nice, stone city right? Not our problem if a few decorative plants get sizzled.
>>5701453If we can, let's do that, too, but...>>5701449>You can't leave Harriet like this, even if it means letting that worm get away
>>5701449>You can't leave Harriet like this, even if it means letting that worm get awayreeee
Also be sure to check over the corpse of the other assailant.
Anger boils up within you, time seeming to slow to a crawl as the wretch flees from the scene of his crime. You can't leave Harriet like this, but the thought of letting him get away is little better. As if summoned by your anger, you feel a terrible heat building around you as your guardian spirit flares into life. The Veil here is too strong to make use of it, and yet...Yet you can feel the spirit straining, pushing against the Veil as if desperate to answer your call – to unleash a gout of fire at the fleeing man. You reach for it, testing the strength of your will against the strength of the Veil itself, and then-And then he's gone, fleeing blindly around the corner and out of of sight. As soon as the thug vanishes, the burning anger escapes you. In its place, you're left with a cold sense of horror. Were you REALLY about to..."Lucas?" Harriet pleads, her hand slapping lightly at your leg. You push all thoughts of fire aside for now, crouching down beside her and grabbing her hand."It's fine, you're going to be fine," you assure her, looking at the gash, "It's not deep. Not too bad at all. Barely a scratch, really.""It doesn't... feel like a scratch," she whines, forcing a brave smile, "It's really okay?""I've got worse cutting myself shaving," you promise, pulling your coat off and pressing it tight to her wound. She whimpers in pain, but makes no attempt at wriggling free. You hold it there for a good long moment, feeling her fluttering heartbeat slowly return to normal as she calms herself. "Hold that there. Keep the pressure on, just for a moment," you tell her, "I need to check something. I'll be right here, okay?"She gives you a jerky nod, closing her eyes as you leave her side to search the dead man. Even in life, he would have made for an unpleasant sight – long, straggly hair and a stained beard, ragged clothes worn more for concealment than anything else. You don't find anything notable on your first inspection, but then you feel the faint bulge of a coinpurse within a deep inner pocket of his heavy coat. Grimacing at the sticky blood that has soaked into the coarse fabric, you peel open his coat and fish out the purse.Spilling the handful of coins out onto the ground, you sift through them until you find something – a coin with the image of a watchtower pressed into it, just like Nicholas had. A necromancer's coin?Kicking off her broken shoes with a faint scuffling sound, Harriet lifts herself up to her feet and limps over to you. "What are you... looking for?" she asks softly, "Who were these people? Why were they attacking us?""Could be that we looked like an easy mark," you suggest, gesturing to her fine clothes, "Or it could have been something more. When you cried out, our friend here seemed to panic. Almost seemed like he was worried about you getting hurt. More than he seemed to care about himself, actually."
>>5701473>but then you feel the faint bulgeOwO
>>5701473"That doesn't make any sense," Harriet insists, "Why would they care about me?"You turn the necromancer's coin over in your hands, rubbing your thumb across the tower's image. Maybe it was really her companion that they were interested in, you wonder, although there's not much chance of knowing that for certain now. Pocketing the coin, you give her a shrug. "We need to report the death, at least," you tell her, "We can figure things out after that.""Right," she murmurs, "You don't... blame me for this, do you?"Glancing around, you see the simple misery in her eyes. This is probably the first time she's been hurt, you realise, the first time she's seen death up close. Putting an arm around her, you guide Harriet a few paces away from the body. "None of this was your fault," you remind her quietly, "I don't remember you swinging a sword at anyone, or drawing a knife. We were just going for a quiet stroll, like a normal couple. Of friends. A couple of friends."This, at least, gets a small laugh out of her. It's not much, but it's a start.-Things get a little easier once you bring your authority as an Exorcist into play. All it takes is the vague suggestion that your attackers had been involved in forbidden practices, and the wardens are only too happy for you to take the matter off their hands. They were somewhat less happy, though, with being recruited to help with some of the tedious work – you'd like to know exactly who the dead man was, and they're better suited to that than you are. It might be a dead end, but you need to follow it for as far as you can."Lucas, um, there's something I wanted to ask," Harriet says quietly, as you're walking back to the academy, "If someone... got involved with necromancy. Even just a little bit. Even if they didn't know what they were doing...""Still guilty in the eyes of the law," you finish for her, "No excuses, no mitigating circumstances. As far as the law is concerned, the punishment remains the same.""Oh," she pauses, "I guess I knew that."Another long pause. You think of Nicholas, and the futile acts that had led him to his death. Even then, even without a single rite being seen to completion, the punishment had been the same. It's a dark thought, and Harriet's frown suggests that hers are no better."I'm going to have to learn to hide it," she decides eventually.>I'm going to have to pause things here for today. Current plan will be to continue things next Saturday>Thank you for reading along today!
>>5701499Thanks for running, enjoyed catching up even though I missed the voting
>>5701499Thanks for running!
Can't believe I missed this whole thread. And you anons have managed to make best girl hate us in this time
>>5701971At least it's not the firestorm timeline where we incinerated her illusion father, traumatizing her to quit the academy.
>>5701499Thanks for running! This has got to be one of the best quests I've ever seen on this board.>>5701971Better that she hate us than that she die or suffer under the yoke of a Sheol spirit.(And Persephone is bestgirl anyway)
Even though her eyes are glazed from the analgesia, you can see the fear on Harriet's face as the physician prepares the sutures. She can't take her eyes from the long needle, flinching every time that it catches the light It'll only make the physician's work more difficult than it needs to be, the way she keeps fidgeting about like that, but she just can't sit still.Reaching out and grabbing her good hand, you squeeze it hard enough that she finally turns to look your way. "That's better. Just keep looking at me," you urge, searching your mind for something to say and grasping at the first thing you find. "That house of yours – the oldest house in the city, you said it was. I bet it was really something," you tell her, "Did you have a garden?""A what?" Harriet asks, the abrupt question causing her eyes to widen, "Well, yes. Of course we did. But we could never get any... anything..."She falters slightly as the needle first bites into her, but you squeeze her hand again before her eyes can wander."We couldn't get anything to grow," she continues, her voice wavering slightly, "Father brought in the best staff he could find, tried all sorts of flowers, but they always withered away before long. He... he gave up after that. Always talked about how he would tear the whole lot up, lay stone in its place, but he never did..."Another pause here as the physician withdraws, giving you a curt nod. "All done," you tell Harriet, letting go of her hand and leaving her to flop back on the bed. The full weight of her fatigue, plus the medicine, seems to fall on her all at once then. Her eyes flutter closed, and soon she's snoring away gently to herself. You linger for a moment more, just to be sure, then slip away.-Until you know what you're dealing with, you've got no hope of figuring out a solution – or, at least, a way to minimise the damage. To hide it, as Harriet said. So, you do what you always do when you're faced with a problem. You head to the archives in search of anything, even the slightest fragment of myth, that might help.You search through books on guardian spirits, on the dangers of possession and there you find a fleeting mention of something – spirit fixation. An obscure behaviour, the book reads, where a spirit will become compulsively drawn to an individual or location, yet without the kind of mutual bond that guardian spirits share. It sounds close, but the passage is infuriatingly brief and, by the author's own admission, based on second-hand speculation. Even if it's not exactly the same as Harriet's situation, it gives you a place to start.Sliding the book back onto the shelf, you listen to the unusually quiet sounds of the archives. "Okay then," you say aloud after a moment, "You can show yourself now."You wait for a long while after that, but nobody answers your call.[1/3]
>>5706491You try and tell yourself that you're looking for more leads on Harriet's situation as you wander through the archives, but you're not even looking at the books by now. When you do spot Cloranthy's hunched form at a distant reading desk, you have to try very hard not to hurry over. Even at a distance, you can see her shoulders tense up as she hears your footsteps. But she doesn't look up, not even when you're barely a few paces away."Sorry," she says at last, when it becomes clear that you're not about to just walk away, "But I'm not supposed to talk to you."That hurts, more than you thought it might. "That's... too bad," you reply, "Since when did you do what you were supposed to?"She looks up, which feels like a small victory. "Okay, I'll give you that one," she admits, "But it doesn't change anything. Sorry.""That's too bad," you repeat, sitting down opposite her, "Because my last mission involved the Forest Kingdom, and I thought you might like to hear about it."Having laid out your bait, you watch and wait to see if Cloranthy will bite. She considers your words for what seems like hours before scowling and setting her book aside. "You're a real bastard," she mutters, but there's no heat in her voice, "This had better be something weird, and I mean REALLY weird. Don't even waste my time with that weak shit.""The weirdest. You won't be disappointed," you assure her, "But... how is she?"Cloranthy throws out a violent shrug. "What do you think? Still seething. Hadn't started coping yet, last time I saw her," she explains, a faint note of bitterness creeping into her voice, "She was BAD, man. Like I can't remember ever seeing her so upset. I thought she might stick around for a bit, to sulk if nothing else, but now she's gone running off on some other mission and I just... I don't know what to tell you.""Whatever," she adds quickly, before the silence can grow cold, "Now stop holding out on me. We had a deal, didn't we?"Under any other circumstances, you wouldn't relish the opportunity to talk about something like this. But now, with Cloranthy eagerly waiting for you to tell your story, you feel oddly glad to tell her about the strange remains, and even Lady Ellenghast herself. It's a profoundly abnormal subject, but it feels like a completely normal conversation."Oh that is so gross!" Cloranthy laughs, as you're telling her about the corpse, "I can't believe you stuck your hands inside that thing!""Well, I didn't exactly-""So gross," she repeats, shaking her head in disbelief, "What did it SMELL like?""A little bit like rotting vegetables," you recall. Privately, you're just glad that Cloranthy decided to fixate on the strange remains. Those, at least, you trust yourself to talk about.[2/3]
>>5706492"So, is that what you were here for?" Cloranthy asks, when you're finished with telling your tale, "Looking up stories about dead things washing ashore?""I didn't think to check that, actually. Good catch," you remark, making a mental note to look a little further at that – but where would you even begin? After debating with yourself for a few moments, you give a slight shrug and continue. "But no, I ended up looking for something else," you explain, "Some strange behaviour from a spirit. I'm not exactly sure where to start..."Keeping things in the vaguest possible sense, and avoiding Harriet's name, you offer a brief outline of her situation. Cloranthy listens carefully, keeping a very serious expression on her faces as she considers the situation. "So you've got a spirit following them about, but it never actually DOES anything," she concludes, "And you want to know what the deal is.""Right," you agree, "I had considered taking them up to the monastery – you know, the-""I know the one," Cloranthy interrupts, a sickly smile on her face, "Clarissa told me ALL about it."That kills the conversation for a moment, only for Cloranthy to wave the subject away with a jerk of her hand. "Sorry. Couldn't help it. Yeah, I suppose that might be an idea. Only, it's not a very good way of keeping a secret, is it?" she points out, "And this girl, she wants to keep it a secret... right?"A long pause. "...I didn't say they were a girl," you say slowly, only for Cloranthy to laugh."Come on now. You're going to all this trouble for "them", I can put two and two together," she shakes her head, "If you're trying to keep it quiet, I'd try taking them some place where the Veil is already thin. See what happens when this spirit gets a little riled up." "That's an interesting idea..." you muse. Ravensheugh might be the perfect place for that – it's quiet, relatively isolated, and the Veil likely hasn't recovered yet."Just, you know, be ready for anything," Cloranthy adds, "This might be someone's life you're playing around with."The thought of danger hits you like a slap in the face. You've been getting carried away, looking at this as a problem that needed solving with barely a thought towards Harriet herself. Maybe you should just let the matter drop...>Better to leave things be for now. Interfering with the spirit could be too dangerous>You can probably trust Roerich to keep Harriet's secret. You'll take her to the monastery>It's best to keep things quiet for now. You can bring Harriet to Ravensheugh, see how the spirit reacts>Other
>>5706494>>You can probably trust Roerich to keep Harriet's secret. You'll take her to the monasteryIf Harriet agrees to it
>>5706494>Better to leave things be for now. Interfering with the spirit could be too dangerousMC doesn't strictly have to be the one to poke the hornet's nest. It should probably be Harriet herself, it's getting kinda dumb that nobody is telling her about it, and she should fortify her own resolve anyway.There'd be some thick irony to take away her agency after the thing with Clarissa.
>>5706494>Better to leave things be for now. Interfering with the spirit could be too dangerous
>>5706494>You can probably trust Roerich to keep Harriet's secret. You'll take her to the monasteryThis time, take a gun.
>>5706494>It's best to keep things quiet for now. You can bring Harriet to Ravensheugh, see how the spirit reacts
>>5706495>>5706494If we need a tie breaker I'm willing to compromise and leave it be for now, but still mention the option of talking to the monks to Harriet if she feels like being proactive. She probably needs a rest from her near abduction anyways.
You think for a long moment before letting out a low sigh. "You're right," you admit eventually, "If things went wrong, if someone got seriously hurt because of this... better to leave things be. It's not as if I don't have enough problems to deal with right now.""Besides, this friend of yours..." Cloranthy points out, "They don't actually know that you're sneaking about like this, do they?""Well, I wouldn't exactly call it "sneaking about", just... " you admit, raising your hands in a futile gesture, "I don't know. If I had some glib excuse to give you, I would. But I'm not going to this trouble to... take advantage, if that's what you were thinking.""Nah, you don't seem like that kind of guy," she leans forwards, giving you a very serious look, "You saw a mystery, and you just HAD to figure it out for yourself. I know what it's like. I'd probably do the same thing, if I had friends coming to me with their problems!""Well, I came to find you today, didn't I?" you tell her, causing her to let out an awkward laugh. "I'll tell them... her about what I've found. They can make up their own mind, if they want to do anything at all," you add, "If not, I'll leave it be.""Hey, there you go. You're letting people make their own decisions. Good job!" Cloranthy says with a jagged grin, "You know, I should be getting an instructor's salary with all the extra work I'm doing. Think you could put in a good word with head office for me?"You just answer this with a shrug, causing her to let out a small huff of irritation. "Feel like really earning that salary and helping me a little more?" you ask instead, "I thought I might go looking into that Forest Kingdom body some more, and I'm guessing that you know exactly where to find the right books for that.""Oh yeah, I'm sure you're interested in that body," she agrees, lurching painfully to her feet, "Are we talking about the corpse, or the scary lady?""The former. Obviously," you quickly answer, passing Cloranthy her walking stick."Obviously, is it? It wasn't that obvious to me," she murmurs to herself, leading the way at her own sluggish pace, "You're not going to find anything, you know. Doubt that I need to tell you this, but the foresters never struck me as the sort to write much down. Or share their secrets with outsiders. So either you're really desperate, or you just want an excuse to hang out some more. Which I'm fine with, you know. I don't mind."So much for not being allowed to talk. She seems to have quite happily abandoned that idea now, which you're not about to argue with. "This might not be the first thing that washed ashore," you suggest, "There might be other cases, even if they weren't linked with the Forest Kingdom at the time.""Hmm. Sounds like it'll be a big search," Cloranthy concludes with a wink, "Good thing I'm here, isn't it?"
>>5706546"This sounds interesting," Cloranthy announces, looking up from the book she was flicking through, "Says here that someone once caught a fish that was more than four meters long.""A fish," you repeat, "You mean, a normal fish?""I guess so. I feel like they would have mentioned it if it had arms or a bunch of weird organs," she replies with a shrug, "This isn't even a book about the Forest Kingdom, it's just an essay on fishing. Someone actually sat down and spent hours of their life writing this. Can you imagine it? Someone just wakes up one day and decides that he's going to be the fish essay guy.""Maybe he really liked fishing," you decide with a sigh. Your search isn't going well. There are a few books on the Forest Kingdom, but none of them are worth a damn – mostly shallow adventure stories, probably written by someone who never left the capital in their entire life. You hadn't been expecting to find much to begin with, and you're still disappointed. "Listen. There's something I wanted to ask. About Clarissa," you ask quietly, changing the subject, "Do you think I did the right thing?"Cloranthy turns, giving you a curious look before letting out a snort of humourless laughter. "Shit, how am I supposed to know?" she replies bluntly, "I'm not taking a side, if that's what you want. I don't know what joining with that spirit would've done. You don't know what joining with that spirit would've done. Clarissa didn't know either. We're all just fumbling in the dark here. Which, you know, might be fun, but..."Her voice trails off here, her cheeks darkening slightly. "I think that's the worst part of it," you reply, pretending that you didn't hear those last few words, "That spirit felt bad, worse than bad. Just looking at it, I got this terrible feeling. But what if I was wrong?""Deal with that IF it actually happens," she urges, jabbing a finger into your chest, "Until then, who cares? There's no point in sulking about it now... although I wish someone would tell HER that.""Tell me what?" the cold voice rings out. Cloranthy yelps as she turns, clinging to you for strength as she nearly loses her balance from the sudden movement. Clarissa stands at the far end of the aisle, her sharp eyes clicking between you and her sister. Slowly, awkwardly, Cloranthy lets go of your arm and takes a measured step away.Silence."What are you standing there for?" she whispers, casting a worried glance at Clarissa, "Let me deal with this, okay? You just get out of here. Go!"The idea of escaping this awkward confrontation has a certain appeal, you can't deny that, but the thought of leaving Cloranthy alone like this is... not good. Then again, she DID tell you to leave...>Leave them to it. This isn't your fight>Stay with Cloranthy. You won't leave her alone>Other
>>5706571>>Stay with Cloranthy. You won't leave her alone
>>5706571>Stay with Cloranthy. You won't leave her alone
>>5706571>Other"You sure? This is scarier than most spirits."Leaning towards>Leave them to it. This isn't your fightif she is sure. I feel like our presence just might make this conversation worse.
>>5706584We should talk to Clarissa before she does more stupid and reckless shit like solo missions, or starts dabbling in necromancy to save her dad. Or at least make sure she's in an okay mind state
>>5706571>Mention the forest kingdom's movements>Leave them to it
>>5706584Swapping>>5706571To>Stay with Cloranthy. You won't leave her aloneTo tie break
>I think I'm going to pause here. I'm sorry for the shorter run today, but I've hit a block. I've had a fairly busy week, so I wasn't left with much time for preparations. I'm hoping to take the rest of today to make some plans, then continue tomorrow with a more normal session
>>5706655No problem. Thanks for running
>>5706655Sounds good, excited for tomorrow :)
>>5706571>Mention the forest kingdom's movements>Leave them to it, reluctantly, after quietly apologizing for putting Cloranthy in thisnawkard spot
>>5706655Thanks for running!
"You sure?" you whisper back, "This feels scarier than most spirits.""It's fine, I know how to handle her," Cloranthy lies, although you can tell that you're out of time. Tired of your childish whispers, Clarissa marches closer and puts one hand on the younger girl's shoulder. She freezes, gesturing one last time for you to leave with a nervous flick of her eyes. But you've already made up your mind – you're not leaving her to fend for herself.Clarissa seems to hesitate when she realises that you're not about to leave, pausing as she considers this new variable. You almost wish you could know what she was thinking, but perhaps it's better that you can't."I'll ask again," Clarissa says simply, her voice cool and level, "Tell me what?""Someone needs to tell you..." Cloranthy begins, only for her voice to falter. She glances across at you, seeming to take some kind of strength from your presence. She straightens up, brushing the hand off her shoulder with a jerky shrug. "Someone needs to tell you to take your head out your ASS," she blurts out, "And stop acting like a stupid spoiled kid!""You know what really pisses me off?" she continues, in the face of Clarissa's stunned silence, "You're moping around because you didn't get your super special guardian spirit, but you're still going out on missions. You're still going out and getting stuff done, doing everything that I CAN'T do – and I'm supposed to just play along like YOU'RE the one who has it tough!"Clarissa's guard drops, just long enough for you to see a churn of conflicting emotions flash across her face – anger and disbelief, yes, but also shame. Her hands clench into fists, and for a moment to wonder if she's about to lash out, to strike her sister. Then something changes, some decision is made, and hands slowly relax."I see," she says softly, turning to look at you, "And you feel the same way, I suppose.""I wouldn't have put it quite like that," you admit, "But we can't keep going on like this. We're still in the cohort, we still need to work together. I'm not asking you to like me, but we can be professional about this, can't we?"That's a cheap shot, a thrust right into her weak spot, but you'll take whatever you can get. Clarissa considers this, tilting her head in the slighest gesture of acceptance. "Very well," she muses, "Professionally speaking, then, why were you bothering my sister?""He wasn't bothering me. I was HELPING him," Cloranthy points out, "It was my CHOICE. Unless I'm not allowed to-""We were looking into the Forest Kingdom," you add, quickly heading off the argument before it can begin, "I ran into a group of foresters on my last investigation, acting outside of their territory. Not just a small group of bandits either – they were led by a priestess of the Great Mother."Clarissa's eyes sharpen at this.[1/3]
>>5707463"A priestess of the Great Mother," Clarissa repeats, turning away from you as she thinks to herself, "The group I was investigating mentioned the Great Mother too. I didn't see any foresters among them, but I know they were communicating with other cells. I need... we need to discover if there's a connection there."There were foresters among the men that Master Brehm fought, you recall. Whether or not Lady Ellenghast herself is involved, there seems to be some kind of connection there."I need to think about this. About a lot of things," Clarissa concludes, her gaze falling on Cloranthy, "I'll need to consult the expert, of course."Cloranthy just lets out a weary sigh.-The next morning, breakfast almost feels like a truce. Clarissa cooks, just like always, maing sure to prepare enough for everyone. Even so, things don't feel quite back to normal yet – she says little, barely seeming to notice the buzz of conversation going on around her. After the meal, Johannes and Persephone start to pack up some of the leftovers to bring down to the infirmary, so Harriet can have a good meal too. Just as they're leaving, though, Master Brehm arrives."Clarissa, my girl, it's good to see you back!" he announces, as bright and bold as ever – even if the facade is starting to wear a little thin. "I've been eagerly awaiting your report," he continues, "What did you find?""There's definitely a necromancer cell operating out of Irnbach. I counted six of them, maybe more," she reports, "They were operating out of an apothecary workshop."Master Brehm nods slowly. "I see," he murmurs, "And they were definitely necromancers?""Definitely. I followed them out into the woods one night and witnessed them performing some kind of ritual – an initiation, I think, for a new member of their cult. They swore allegiance to the sign of the centipede... and the Great Mother," Clarissa explains, "They mentioned waiting on orders, too, from what I assume to be a larger group.""Excellent!" the old man declares, clapping his hands together, "I'll start making the preparations for a raid. It shouldn't take too long to arrange for some soldiers to-""No," Clarissa interrupts, her voice firm, "Not yet. I want to go back, try to infiltrate the group itself. This is an opportunity to learn their real motivation. If we just wipe the group out, we risk being left with a dead end. Even if we took prisoners, they won't talk – you know that as well as I do. But if I was able to get inside-""Absurd. Out of the question," Master Brehm barks, shaking his head, "I forbid it."These words seem to hang in the air for a moment, even as a tiny hint of a smile forms on Clarissa's face. "Actually," she says softly, "I don't need your permission. As an acting Exorcist, I'm authorised to conduct my own investigations. You can't stop me."[2/3]
>>5707464Nobody speaks for a few seconds as Clarissa's words sink in. How much of it is a bluff, you wonder, or an empty threat?"I can have you detained," Master Brehm counters, his voice deceptively calm, "You've just admitted, in front of a witness, that you wanted to join a banned group. That's more than enough evidence for me to place you under arrest. So. I suggest that you say no more about this, and we can forget that this ever happened. Are we clear?""You KNOW that this is our best shot at figuring out their plans!" Clarissa snaps back, "Maybe even getting all the way to the top!""I said NO," he shouts, "Whatever you think you have to gain with this... foolish scheme, the risks are simply too great. I won't hear another word about it."Clarissa starts to argue back, only to silence herself. Master Brehm nods, apparently taking her silence for an agreement, and marches from the dorm. The door slams shut, leaving you to sit in an awkward silence. It feels like a long time before Clarissa speaks."Lucas," she says quietly, "Will you... talk to him? He'll listen to you. I'm sure of it."She has a lot of confidence in you – more than you do, in fact.>I think Master Brehm is right. Infiltrating the group is too much of a risk>I'll have a word with him, but I can't promise anything>I'll have a word with him, but I won't let you do this alone. I'll go with you>Other
>>5707466>He won't be reasoned with on matter sof necromancy... Not after what happened in own cohort, so recently. But you're right. We need to investigate. I'll go with you.
>>5707466>Other"Do you have a plan? Depending on how big the group is the difficulty of just infiltrating varies wildly (bigger being better to just be a face in the crowd). And after that they may ask us to do things we may be uncomfortable or unwilling to do."
>>5707466I'm pretty sure Lucas is too well known to join her already. We've snooped around the ocean catch AND stonecutter.But whatever her plan is, I'm guessing the plague spirit will be a bargaining chip. We can set an ambush there, or some other kind of advantage.
>>5707476I think every necromancer that met us has died so I think Lucas is still okay with anonymity. What I'm thinking is that Brehm should go ahead with the raid, but stay on stand by for a few days to let us get information and also be back up in case our cover is blown for whatever reason.
>>5707478we have possibly a couple guys from when we went with BrehmThere may not be anyone who personally saw Lucas with the stonecutter, but there was definitely a guy in the ritual just the other day.And Lucas is an official exorcist instead of an acting one.
"First of, do you actually have a plan for this?" you ask, "I feel like infiltrating a group like this isn't going to be as easy as just asking nicely. With how small it is, you couldn't exactly blend in very easily either.""I was planning to present myself as a defector from the academy. Someone tired of doing all the dirty work while the leaders play politics," Clarissa explains with a slight shrug, "I'm not saying it's going to be easy."That's an understatement."It's not just getting inside the group either," you continue, "After that, you might need to do things to maintain your cover. Things you might not be willing, or able, to do.""...I'm prepared to do whatever is necessary," she answers, although there's a hesitation in her voice that says otherwise. She seems to notice it too, and grimaces. "Don't you see how important this could be?" she hisses, "If we wipe out the cell, we're no further forwards. We get nothing, aside from the satisfaction of crushing a few petty criminals. That might be enough for HIM, but I can't let this chance pass me by.""He won't be swayed on this, I'm sure of it," you warn, "Not after everything that happened with Nicholas.""Then he can throw me in the dungeons," Clarissa says with another shrug.She's not bluffing, you realise with a jolt. "I'll... try and talk to him. Get him to delay things a little, maybe. Just by a few days, just long enough to try and squeeze a little information out of them," you offer eventually, "You're right – this is something we need to investigate. But I'm going with you.""I don't need..." she begins, scowling a little at your demand before shaking her head, "Fine then. If that's what it takes."Maybe you're imagining it, but her reluctance doesn't sound entirely genuine.-Master Brehm is busy writing a letter when you arrive at his office, looking up with a faint scowl as you enter. When he sees that it's you, though, his expression brightens. "Ah, Lucas!" he calls out, gesturing for you to sit, "I trust that you've talked some sense into Lowe, yes? It's a little late for her to be going through a rebellious phase, but-""Actually," you interrupt, "I think she has a good idea."His face falls. "I sincerely hope that you're joking," he warns, "I wasn't making empty threats, you know. I'll have her arrested, if that's what it takes.""What's the alternative? Raiding this cell and just hoping they've left another lead for us to follow? It's like Clarissa said, we can't rely on any prisoners talking – they'd die first. This could be our best chance at getting to the source of this!" you insist, "I know how dangerous it is, and so does she. But it's a risk she's prepared to take.""And what if I'm not?" Master Brehm counters, weariness seeping into his voice, "I don't want to lose another apprentice. Not like this."
>>5707484"You don't understand these people like I do, you or Clarissa," Master Brehm continues, "These cults, the rites they carry out... These matters are not to be treated lightly, and for her to go alone...""She wouldn't be going alone," you reply quietly. Master Brehm stares at you for a long moment before letting out a bark of humourless laughter. "You too?" he snarls, "After everything you've seen, I thought you of all people would know better!""It's because of the things I've seen that I'm saying this. Remember the Silver Chariot? These people are planning something for midwinter – that's not too far away now. We can't wait around forever, hoping for the answer to drop into our hands," you explain, leaning forwards and meeting the old man's eye, "All I'm asking is that you give us some time. A few days, that's all. Just long enough for us to get in and see what they're up to. Then you can raid to your heart's content."He looks away, a grimace twisting his features. "I've already lost too many apprentices. One more would be bad enough, but two more?" he sighs, "No. I can't. I just can't.""Every mission we go on, we're going into dangerous situations. There's always a chance that we won't be coming back. But that hasn't stopped you from sending us into the field before," you point out, "Why is this so different?""This danger, this isn't just a knife or a gun. This isn't even a wrathful spirit," Master Brehm murmurs, "The rites these people perform... they can seep into you like poison, like a rot that eats away at you from within. You can't fight against a thing like that. I'd rather fight a dozen soldiers than sully myself with their profane acts!""It's dangerous, of course it is, but this is bigger than either of us, I'm sure of it. Clarissa wants to do this – let her make that choice for herself. You don't know how much damage you might do if you take this choice away from her," you warn, "Take it from someone who knows."Master Brehm looks down at his desk and closes his eyes, almost as if trying to pretend that you're not here, that he's not having this conversation. Then, finally, he speaks. "Three days," he rasps, his hoarse voice almost a whisper, "I can delay the raid for three days. No more than that. But Lucas?""Yes?""Don't compromise yourself," he says, "Even if means blowing your cover, even if it means an honest death, don't compromise yourself. Promise me.">I won't compromise. I promise>I can't promise that. The mission comes first>I... (Write in)>Other
>>5707509>I won't compromise. I promise(The hard part might be getting Clarissa to not compromise herself because of the Mission™)
>>5707509>I can't promise that. The mission comes first.We aren't going to let ourself, let alone Clarissa, just DIE.
Right now you'd rather be anywhere else in the world, if it meant you could escape the weight of Master Brehm's eyes. All he's asking for are a few words, yet he's asking so much. An honest death? That's easy to say when you're sitting in a peaceful office, but when it's staring you right in the face...Yet, the words find their way to your lips regardless."I won't compromise," you assure him, "I promise."Master Brehm smiles, a weary, jaded smile that seems to sense every hint of doubt in your mind. "Thank you," he murmurs, "Thank you, my boy, and remember-""Three days," you finish for him, "I won't forget."-"Three days doesn't give us a lot to work with," Clarissa mutters as she holsters her revolver, patting the weapon for comfort."It's a lot better than nothing," you point out, making sure that your own pistol is safely in place. You're leaving your sword behind, for the sake of discretion, but you take a long dagger from the armoury and strap that to your belt instead. For all your talk of infiltration, you feel more like you're going to war with all the hardware you're carrying. But, better safe than sorry.Clarissa accepts your point with a slight nod, checking that her long coat hides the weapons she wears. Aside from the weapons, you're travelling light – a small pack each with nothing heavier than a change of clothes. You keep Nicholas' coin in your pocket, your hand constantly drifting down to rub a thumb across the scarred face."We'd better go," she says at last, a faint note of hesitation in her voice. "Irnbach isn't far. If we ride hard, we can make it there by nightfall," she adds, hardening her voice against those last flickers of doubt, "Even if Master Brehm changes his mind, we'll get a headstart. He'll need time to gather the soldiers, and they'll be moving slower than us.""You really think he might change his mind?""Maybe. I don't know," Clarissa shakes her head, "Why did he change his mind in the first place?""Honestly, I don't know," you admit, "But I'm not going to stick around and ask too many questions, just in case he DOES think again.""Right," she agrees, giving you the faintest of smiles. That, just by itself, makes this whole thing feel like a success.-"So," Clarissa asks as you're riding northwest, "What do you actually know about this Great Mother?""Very little," you admit."Which is probably more than most," she points out, "So?""So, it's the main object of worship in the Forest Kingdom. Revered as the source of all life – plant, animal, human. But not spirits," you recall, thinking back to the old stories, "I don't know how that works. I don't really WANT to know how that works. Honestly, I don't even know if it's a real spirit – it might just be folklore."Clarissa grunts. "Our new friends in Irnbach seem to believe in it," she remarks, "Whatever that's worth."
>>5707536"So these people in Irnbach," you ask, "How did you find them?""We knew there was something going on in town, but nothing more specific. So I just laid low and watched for anything out of place, anything that might point me in the right direction. I noticed something odd about the apothecary workshop – it never seemed to take any deliveries, or even have any customers," she recalls, "I asked around a little, but nobody knew very much about it. It was built by an old nobleman with an interest in medicine, but he died some time ago.""So I kept an eye on it," she continues, "A few people came and went, but then I caught them all leaving one night. That's when I followed them into the forest, and witnessed their rites. They weren't actually calling any spirits, not then. It was just a ceremony, an initiation. We'll need to go through the same thing."You recall your promise to Master Brehm and grimace. "Assuming we can get a way inside," you point out, "Let's not get ahead of ourselves.""Well, yes," Clarissa admits.-You arrive at Irnbach shortly after nightfall, letting Clarissa lead you towards a small guest house. It's not much, but it looks clean and the doors all have a study lock on them. She must have stayed here before, judging by how quickly she leads you there. You take a single room, but more for the sake of security than anything else – somehow, you doubt that Clarissa is going to be getting any funny ideas."So how are we going to play this?" you ask, "Tomorrow morning, are we just going to march up and demand to join their club?""I've been thinking about this," Clarissa replies, "At first, I was thinking of just hearing them out. We could say that we were sent to investigate rumours of a cult here, but we've been having doubts – doubts about everything that the academy has been telling us. We could start by asking to hear their side of the story, then take it from there.""It's still not very subtle," you point out, "We're relying on them to just... trust us. It'll be great if they really are that gullible, but I'm not hopeful.""I know, but we've only got three days to work with. We don't have time for a long term plan," she admits with a shrug, "The direct option is just about the only approach I can think of. Have you got any better ideas?">I've got nothing. We'll stick with the direct approach>I've got some ideas... (Write in)>Other
>>5707574>I've got some ideas... (Write in)Well we have that coin. We could say we were referred to here by the burn scarred man from the tower. The inherit risk being that the tower was wiped out a few days ago and we are betting on news not reaching these people.Another option is to bank on Lucas' past as a villager near the forest and come up with a story of him being very interested in the Great Mother and sought more knowledge.That's what I could come up with so far.
>>5707584This. Let's go with this.
>>5707574Part 2 of >>5707584part 1 will go wrong I just know it
"I've got this," you reply, taking Nicholas' coin out of your pocket, "The necromancers seem to use this as a token, a way to recognise each other. We could say that we were sent here by one of their kind. The burned man, maybe... although he's dead now, killed in Master Brehm's ambush. Hopefully the news hasn't reached them just yet.""That's good, that's very good," Clarissa decides, nodding as she considers your plan, "Things might move faster if they think we're already involved with their kind. Excellent idea!""And then there's the Forest Kingdom connection too. I'd rather not lean on that, if I can help it, but it might help," you add, "It might be a good way of learning more about this Great Mother spirit too, actually."Clarissa nods again, pacing back and forth as she thinks to herself. You're getting tired just from watching her restless motions, but she doesn't seem to notice. It's strange, seeing her acting so nervous – you're not sure if she's trying to get into character, or if she really is worried about the ploy. Eventually, she seems to wear herself out and collapses down onto her bed."It's funny," she muses, "This might be our last night alive. If things go wrong...""Well, yes. I think we both knew how dangerous this would be," you point out, "It's a little late to start getting second thoughts.""I'm not getting second thoughts," she insists, turning to give you a hard glare, "Are you?"You consider this, then shake your head. "It'll be too embarrassing if we turn around and go home now," you decide, "Master Brehm would never let me live it down.""You'd probably wish you were dead instead," Clarissa agrees, "Listen. If things do go wrong, and I don't make it out..."Her voice trails off here, leaving that last thought unfinished. You wait for a long moment to see what she was going to say, but she just turns away. "I'll take first watch," she says eventually, "You'd better get some sleep."-You sleep, but somehow wake feeling more tired than when you went to bed. Your dreams had been strange, unpleasant in a new kind of way. They fade fast after you wake, leaving you with the faint memory of a sticky, cloying heat and the thud of a vast heartbeat. Their exact meaning is something you'd rather leave a mystery. Judging by the dark shadows under her eyes, Clarissa's night couldn't have been much better.Neither of you says much as you rush down breakfast, checking over your weapons one last time before heading out to the apothecary workshop. A dismal light rain falls over the town, the first weak rays of sunlight struggling to pierce through the clouds. Miserable weather, really. Not what you had in mind when you imagined your subterfuge. Behaviour like this is better suited to a moonlit night, you decide, although that just reminds you of Persephone."Wipe that goofy grin off your face!" Clarissa whispers, "We're almost there!"
>>5707610The workshop is open when you arrive, the front door unlocked yet still decidedly unwelcoming. Bracing yourself for anything, you push the door open and enter. Inside the gloomy building, you immediately spot three men – one behind a long counter, the other two studying books at a cluttered table. The two readers freeze, tensing up even as the first man glares silently at you."Good morning," Clarissa begins, her voice hard and clear, "I hope we're in the right place.""I don't think you are," the man replies slowly. He's the apothecary, you assume, or the one pretending to the the apothecary. He's wearing a heavy apron, at least, as a token gesture towards looking the part."No, I think we are," she shakes her head, even as you sense one of the sitting men reaching into his pocket, "We were told to look for the workshop, and I didn't see anywhere else in town that looked right.""Told by who?" the apothecary asks, his eyes flicking across to the two men sitting on the other side of the room. They both look more nervous than you, and nervous men with guns is not a good thing.Clarissa hesitates, if only for a fraction of a second. "We have a mutual friend," she offers, "Laurence, show them."So you're doing fake names now? Taking the scarred coin out of your pocket, you place it down on the counter. The apothecary picks it up, his eyes widening slightly as he sees the image of the tower. Turning it over in his hands, he seems to think for a moment. "Who gave this to you?" he asks quietly, the hostility fading from his voice."He didn't give us his name, for obvious reasons," you answer, "But I think you'd recognise him if you saw him. He had scars, all down his face and his ear."Something changes on the apothecary's face, something seems to unclench within him as if he's finally letting down his guard. "We're just looking for the truth, just like you are," you continue, thinking back to the cultist you caught in Greyridge, "I know there's more to life than what they tell us. I've always known it. But our mutual friend, he said this was the first step to finally finding it.""Aye, that's right," the apothecary says, finally breaking his silence, "There's always been more to life than mud and shit, but it's not meant for folk like us. But why should we just meekly accept that? I say, we should ask the questions we're not allowed to ask!"The other two men nod, murmuring agreements amongst themselves. "It's the same everywhere you go," Clarissa adds, "We're... we WERE from the academy. I don't think we'd be welcome back there, if they found out we were talking to you. My name is Cara, and this is Laurence."If this revelation surprised the apothecary, he doesn't show it. "You won't be the first runaway apprentice I've met. In fact... well, that can wait for later," he muses, rubbing a hand down his stubbled cheeks, "I'm Lothar. Come through to the back. We can talk properly there."[2/3]
>>5707646The back room of the workshop is even more cluttered than the front, with piles of books carelessly stacked up alongside a scattering of cheap pistols. Some jars and bottles sit gathering dust along one wall, while a human skull leers down from a high shelf. Lothar catches you staring at the skull, letting out a coarse laugh."Yes, I know. It's a little much, isn't it?" he remarks, "But that skull belongs to an honoured ancestor. There are times when... well. You'll see, in time. You said you were from the academy, yes? Then, I suppose you know what we are."You're..." Clarissa pauses, feigning just the right amount of hesitation, "You're necromancers. Right?""That's what they call us, yes, and anyone else who threatens their system. It's an insult, really. To imply that anyone who would oppose them is a ghoul, wallowing in the filth of an opened grave," Lothar explains, reaching up and taking down the skull so you can see the symbol delicately engraved upon it. "You know this symbol," he continues, tracing the centipede mark with his finger, "Do you know its history?"You shake your head, Clarissa too. Lothar laughs, as if this was exactly the answer he had been expecting."It is said that the great teacher Kalthos was walking in the forest one day, when he came across a rotting log. He turned it over, and there – amidst the darkness and decay – he saw centipedes thriving," he says, stressing that last word, "Not just living, but truly thriving. That day, he took the symbol as his own – the symbol of all those who would embrace the whole of the world, both the beautiful and the wretched. Because THAT is truth.""Well said," a new voice adds, causing you all to turn. Limping slightly with every step he takes, the old man approaches. "Goodness, don't look so startled. Jacob ran to fetch me, but I was already on my way in," he continues, his words and tone genial, "My name is Orfeas. I am, well, I am the leader of this humble society. We have something in common, I believe.""Master Orfeas was once an Exorcist too," Lothar explains, although the old man cuts him off with a laugh before he can say anything more."I keep saying that I'm not the master of anything, yet these children never listen," he sighs, "A burden I shall just have to bear, I suppose. You'll both have a lot of questions, I'm sure, but there will be plenty of time for those later. If you truly wish to join our cause, then you will need to be initiated. Tonight, I think.”“I'll make the arrangements,” Lothar promises, bowing slightly before withdrawing.“But I have a question for you, first of all,” Orfeas murmurs, studying you with his vague, unfocused eyes. “You, young man. What is it that led you here?”>I had a friend who was executed for necromancy. I want to know what he died for>It's just like I told Lothar. I know there's more to life than this>I want to learn about the Great Mother, but the academy knows nothing of her>Other
>>5707673>It's just like I told Lothar. I know there's more to life than this
>>5707673>I want to learn about the Great Mother, but the academy knows nothing of her
>>5707673>I had a friend who was executed for necromancy. I want to know what he died for
“I want to learn about the Great Mother,” you answer, “But the academy knows nothing of her.”“You wish to know of the Great Mother... but you seek us out, rather than venture into the Forest Kingdom itself,” Orfeas replies slowly, considering your words with care, “I can, of course, understand why even a young man such as yourself would be cautious of crossing the border. Yet, why should WE know of her?”You hesitate for a second, reaching for an explanation. “It's like Lothar was saying. You are the ones who embrace the whole of the world, not just the parts that the academy approves of,” you explain, “I thought... I hoped that you would have the answers to my questions.”“We hold answers to a great many questions. All this will come, in time,” Orfeas muses, “Yes, we honour the Great Mother too. She is the font of all life, it's only right that we give her due credit. Yet, common society would have her erased from history. Why would that be? I say, because the Great Mother is a force of wild, untamed nature – exactly the kind of thing that your masters fear most. Decent men ought not to think of such things, the argument goes.”“You see? We, who are vilified as the vilest of things, are merely men who wish for a truer way of being. A way of life that existed before their Accord,” the old man laughs softly to himself, “But enough of my musings. Young lady, may I hear your story?”“Me? I...” Clarissa pauses, glancing across at you with an oddly guilty look in her eyes. “I feel like Death has been stalking me, every day of my life,” she admits after a second, “And I wish to master it, to do good with it.”Orfeas considers this in silence. “We can teach you, child,” he murmurs, “We can teach you this, and more aside.”You glance back, but Clarissa won't meet your gaze. Suddenly, you're not sure how much of this is an act. Orfeas doesn't notice your doubts, or acts as if he doesn't notice them, simply rising to his feet once more and limping for the door. “I shall leave you now,” he explains, “We shall meet again. Be here at sunset, if you truly wish to join our cause. We would benefit greatly from your company, I am sure. Until then, you are welcome here.”You bow slightly as he leaves, mimicking Lothar, but the old man just waves off the formality with a laugh. Then you're alone again, with just Clarissa and the books for company. You waste little time in searching through them, looking for anything that might reveal the cult's true purpose, but there's a lot of ground to cover.“Strange,” Clarissa mutters, picking up one of the pistols and turning it over in her hands, “These are Reivian weapons.”“What?” you ask, looking up from the book you were paging through, “How can you tell?”“These marks here, and here,” she explains, pointing to the tiny proofs, “Reivian markings. I'm sure of it.”
>>5707734“Anyway CARA, I could use a hand here,” you add, gesturing back to the books, “Unless you're too busy playing with guns?”“I'm not playing with them. I'm taking a professional interest,” Clarissa stresses, frowning at you, “The books are normally your job, aren't they?”Despite this, she moves over to help you sort through the books. So far, you haven't found anything that you haven't seen in the academy archives – mostly weighty tomes about the relationships between men and spirits, or discussions on the nature of the Veil. As you pour over them, you think back to Orfeas' words. The necromancy itself is not the goal, it seems, rather the destruction of the Accord itself. But how? Tearing down the Veil would be the obvious answer to that, potentially with the sealed spirits. So far, though, you've not found anything that relates to the seals – no indication that these cultists are aware of them.“Hey,” Clarissa whispers, “That name they mentioned before, Kalthos. Do you know it?”“I don't recognise it,” you answer after a time, “Great teacher, they said. A scholar of sorts, I assume, someone important to the necromancers. If so, the academy probably purged any mention of the name from the archives – you know what they're like. Just take anything you don't like and throw it on the pyre.”“Careful,” she murmurs, “You almost sound one of THEM.”“Isn't that the point?” you whisper back, “Anyway, what was all that talk of mastering death about?”“I don't know, my mind just went blank. I said the first thing that I could think of,” Clarissa answers with a shrug, “But it worked, didn't it?”It worked. But maybe a little bit too well.>I'm going to pause here for today, I think. I've got some extra time arranged next week, so I'm hoping to pick up again on Friday>Thank you for reading along today!
>>5707754Thanks for running!
>>5707754Thanks for running!I just realized, but I think every single one of your quests was about a member of an organization that fights against supernatural threats.
>>5707754Thanks for running, QM! Continues to be a great story. Glad Clarissa is back on-side somewhat, though I fear for her soul.
>>5707818The first few had no real organization. And there was that tank one.>>5707754Thanks for runnign Moloch, sorry i keep missing interaction periods.
>>5707929Which tank one?The first one I played was Sleeping Gods, and I've heard mentions of a Persona quest, but no tanks.
>>5708287One off when qst was new.https://suptg.thisisnotatrueending.com/qstarchive/2016/297966/Assuming you can use twitter still Moloch had a Pastebin with the suptg links of all the old Quests.
“And so I looked through the final Veil, and saw a world that was alive with colour. But when I returned, all of life seemed grey by comparison.”You come across this passage as you search through the dusty books, the words circled by a thick mark of charcoal. You read and then reread it, searching for some deeper meaning. You've SEEN through the Veil, in Ravensheugh and Penn's Garden, but there were no colours in those places – just a world of drab mud and bleak skies. What was this man, this ancient scholar, seeing that you're not?Finally, you push the book away with a grimace. Circled passage aside, you already knew that it wasn't what you were looking for. With most of the books checked over, you can only guess that your target – Folk Tales of Inner Marusia – isn't here. That, of course, would be too easy.The sound of the door causes both you and Clarissa to jolt around in guilty fear, with her hand almost reaching for her pistol as she turns. Lothar gives you a casual wave, oblivious to the brief moment of panic, and lets himself in. “Making yourself at home, I see,” he remarks, gesturing to the books, “Well, no harm in it. I thought you might want a break, though – fancy a walk?”“A walk?” Clarissa asks, hurrying to soften her suspicious answer, “Why, that sounds lovely!”“Give you a chance to see the town, if nothing else,” Lothar explains, “I don't know how long you'll be staying here – that'll be between Master Orfeas and yourselves – but you might as well know your way around. Not a whole lot in the way of sights to see, mind you.”“Less chance to get lost, at least,” you reply, “Lead on, then.”Leaving the workshop, Lothar takes a moment to think before leading you through the small town. There's not much to see, just as he said, but you're starting to guess why they chose to hide out here. The few people you see are all lean and sinewy, too focused on their own hardships to ask many questions, and the force of the Regent's authority seems very far away. One thing in particular stands out.“There's no temple,” Clarissa points out, noticing the same strange omission.“Aye. No priest either. There's a little attempt at a shrine made up in the town hall, just to keep the more pious locals quiet, but nothing more formal than that. Every so often someone tries writing to the capital to ask for their help, but nothing ever happens,” Lothar grins, a faint hint of nastiness peeking through his smile, “Funny, that.”“Lucky you,” you remark. That all but confirms it – they have people inside the bureaucracy too, with a wide enough reach to make sure that documents can get “lost” when it suits their purposes.You briefly meet Clarissa's gaze, and she gives the slightest of nods. All the while, Lothar walks on as if he didn't have a care in the world.[1/2]
>>5711776“That smoke over there,” Clarissa asks, pointing over to the mountains on the horizon, “That's Selengrad, isn't it?”“Aye, that's right. It's an eyesore, don't you think?” Lothar answers, frowning a little at the sight, “Spent most of my life there, actually, working in one of the steel mills there until I had... well, I'd call it a revelation, but most folk would say “breakdown” is closer to the mark. It's bloody hard work, up there in the mills, and dangerous too. It breaks men down, then spits them out. See, I realised that I was spending my life working in a factory, and then I'd go straight back to working in a factory when I died. Sheol's good old machine, you know?”“Once I realised that, I couldn't stop thinking about it. I just lost it, started going wild with... anger, I suppose. At how unfair it all felt,” he continues, his gaze never leaving the black, oily smoke, “Well, I got in all sorts of trouble until Master Orfeas found me, took me under his wing. He saved me, really. There's his house there, you see?”Orfeas' house is a little larger than all the rest, with a sad and faded glory about it. Crumbling to ruins now, but you can tell that it was a fine manor once. Moving on, and coming to the centre of the town, Lothar points out the town hall – or rather, he points out the boys sweeping the front steps. “That's Pietr,” he says, “Sharpest kid I've ever known, not that it matters much in a place like this. His family can't afford to send him for a proper schooling, but we do the best we can.”Clarissa gives you another tiny nod. This must be the new recruit she saw – he's younger than you expected, perhaps sixteen at most.“Master Orfeas thinks he has potential,” Lothar whispers, “Might start seeing spirits soon, he says. He'll need proper teaching, then, but maybe you'll be able to help with that. Er, just when Master Orfeas is busy, I mean!”“I don't know about that,” Clarissa murmurs, “I'm not cut out to be a teacher.”“We'll manage,” Lothar assures her, “Now, I've still got a few things to take care of before tonight. I'll be back at the shop if you want me – remember, we'll be waiting for you at sundown!”“I'll remember,” you assure him, starting back towards the guest house as you part ways. Pausing halfway, you check that none of the cultists are in earshot before turning to Clarissa. “So far so good,” you whisper to her, “What do you think?”“Maybe we should just lie low for now,” she replies, gesturing back towards the guest house, “Unless you want to try and pay someone a visit.”>You'd better head back to your room and lie low>You want to visit Master Orfeas, see what you can get out of him>You should speak with Pietr, the young apprentice>You could see if Lothar needs any help with the preparations>Other
>>5711777>You should speak with Pietr, the young apprentice
>>5711777>>You should speak with Pietr, the young apprentice
>>5711777>You want to visit Master Orfeas, see what you can get out of him
>>5711777Apprentice would be a safe bet for finding the moles.Otherwise uh, can we just look around to see what spirits are allying themselves with these guys?
“We should go back and speak with the boy,” you suggest, gesturing back towards the town hall, “Pietr, wasn't it?”Clarissa considers this. “He's not likely to know much more than we do,” she points out, “Less, probably.”“Maybe so,” you concede, although you're already starting off back to the town hall. This isn't just about gathering information, although you're curious about just what Orfeas has told the boy. It's more complicated than that, though.“Wait a minute!” Clarissa hisses, hurrying to catch up with you. She grabs your arm, her fingers digging into your flesh like steel nails, and gives you a hard look. “Just be careful,” she warns, “And don't do anything that might compromise the mission.”You prise her hand away from your arm and wave off her concerns. With a slight grimace, she nods and gestures for you to lead on.-Pietr is still sweeping the steps when you return to the town hall, his movement slow and listless. When he notices you approach, though, he sharpens up. There's a fear in his eyes at first, and it never quite goes away. “I don't recognise you. New in town?” he asks, his voice quiet, “We don't get many visitors here.”“We're new in town,” you agree, “Ah, Lothar was just showing us around.”“Oh. I see,” he pauses, considers his next words with care, “Lothar meets a lot of new people. Usually... travelling scholars. Is that what you are?”That's certainly one way of putting it.“That's right,” Clarissa tells him, offering the boy her hand, “I'm Cara. It's nice to meet you.”Pietr's face darkens as he quickly takes her hand, mumbling a greeting of his own. Snatching back his hand as soon as is polite, he points back to the other side of the town hall. “There's a nice spot to sit around there. It'll be quiet,” he explains, leading you around and sitting down on the steps. “Have you come from far away? It must be so nice, travelling all over the land,” he thinks aloud, “I've never actually left Irnbach. But Master Orfeas has told me about all kinds of places. Oh, have you met-”“We've met,” you interrupt gently, “We're going to be studying with him for a while, I think. He's teaching you too, isn't he?”“That's right. He's got so many books in his house – more than in the rest of the town put together!” Pietr explains, his eyes wide and fascinated, “And he has maps too, and charts of the stars. I like those ones best – he's been teaching me all about the constellations lately, and this is just the beginning. There's so much to learn!”His enthusiasm is infectious, and you find yourself smiling despite everything. Even growing up in a dismal little town like this, he's got a spark that shows no sign of being extinguished. Perhaps it would have been better if it had, you realise with a sudden chill, better if that curiosity had been stamped out long ago. It's only going to lead him into disaster. Just like...
>>5711809“How did you get to know Master Orfeas?” Clarissa asks, “If you don't mind me asking.”“Oh well, it's not much of a story,” he mumbles, “I saw him taking a stack of books into his house one day, then eventually I plucked up the courage to knock at his door and ask if I could see them. I never actually thought he'd let me, but he did – we spent the whole day together, just talking and reading! A lot of the things we talked about...”He pauses here, hesitating as if unsure of himself. You give Clarissa a tiny nod, gesturing towards the boy with your eyes. She scowls, the grimace flickering across her face in a fragment of a second, then places a hand on his shoulder. “Go on,” she urges gently, “Was there something wrong?”Pietr swallows heavily. “No... not really... I'd just never heard anyone talk like that before,” he explains, “Master Orfeas said that most people live their lives without ever really thinking about anything at all – without asking any questions, without ever seeking things out for themselves. Not any more at least. The great scholars used to ask questions, even when people didn't want to hear the answers. He said that we should all live like they did.”“I see,” you muse, “And what do you think?”“I don't know, I just...” he hesitates, “I always thought it was just here. Most of the people here, they don't have time to study old books or ask tricky questions. It's a hard life. I mean, I get that. But Master Orfeas said it was like this everywhere, even in the capital. Except there, people have all the time in the world to think about things – they just don't WANT to. Thinking about that, it... it scares me.”“Is it true?” he asks suddenly, looking between you and Clarissa, “You must have travelled all over, you must have seen all kinds of people. Is that really true?”This time, Clarissa is the one who hesitates. She glances your way, searching for an answer almost as much as Pietr is. You think quickly, trying to figure out what kind of answer you're supposed to give him.>It's true. Even in the capital, hardly anyone asks questions. No good comes of it>It's not true. There are plenty of people who think for themselves – at the academy, for example>It's more complicated than that. Some questions are too dangerous to ask>Other>That aside, I had some questions for you... (Write in)
>>5711835>It's more complicated than that. Some questions are too dangerous to ask
“It's more complicated than that,” you answer with a slight sigh, “Some questions are too dangerous to ask, and it's not always easy to know which ones.”“So people just don't ask any questions at all?” Pietr asks, frowning a little at the thought, “That's... sad. And how am I supposed to know which questions are safe?”“Slow, careful study. So, you're off to a good start already,” you tell him, “Do you know what kind of questions Master Orfeas is asking?”Pietr thinks on this. “He's looking for something. A formula, he calls it, but it doesn't exist anywhere in the world. So he said that he needs to look for it in other worlds. He means asking the spirits, doesn't he?” the boy replies, “But I think he's looking for someone, too. He's got lots of books on... um, families. I think there's a word for it.”“Genealogy,” Clarissa offers, “Family histories. He's studying family histories?”“That's right. He showed me a chart once, a great long line from one generation to the next, splitting off and merging with other families... I never really thought about that kind of thing before,” Pietr pauses, lets out a small laugh, “I've got a lot to learn, though. I'm sure-”“Pietr!” a loud voice bellows from the front of the building. Pietr jolts upright, his eyes very wide and very white.“Oh shoot, I've got to get back to work!” he yelps, frantically glancing this way and that before giving you an awkward smile, “I'll see you around, both of you!”And then, with that, he's hurrying away.-You don't say much as you wander away from the town hall, and Clarissa says even less. Your short conversation with Pietr left a bad taste in your mouth, a sad and faintly hopeless feeling. A visit to Master Orfeas seems like the next best idea, but you're not ready for that particular conversation just yet. You'd rather take some time to clear your head first. Maybe take a walk, really listen to the land.“He seems like a good kid,” you muse, gesturing back towards the town hall, “Reminds me of-”“Don't,” Clarissa interrupts sharply, “Don't say it. Better that you don't even think about it.” The bitterness in her voice causes you to pause, glancing around at her with a questioning look. “You don't understand, do you?” she asks, lowering her voice to a whisper, “That boy, all these people... they're already dead. When Master Brehm gets here, he's not going to show any mercy.”“...I know that,” you mutter. It's the grim truth that you've been trying not to think about, ever since you got here. It was easier at first, but now you're starting to wonder. When the time to act comes, will you hesitate?“Let's just get on with it,” Clarissa decides, shaking her head, “Don't waste any more time than absolutely necessary thinking about them. That's what I'm going.”“Is it helping?”“No,” she admits after a pause, “Not really.”
>>5711859Walking to the edge of town, you step back and gesture for Clarissa to lead the way into the thin, withered forest. This was where the cult held their initiation ceremony, you recall. There might be some traces left behind, in the spirit world if not in this one. Clarissa leads you to a distant clearing, the dirt underfoot scorched black by the bonfire, but nothing else remains.“You said there were six of them, right?” you recall as you pace the clearing, “We're still missing one.”“There was someone else here, when I saw the ceremony. They didn't speak, and wore heavy robes. I couldn't even tell you if it was a man or a woman,” Clarissa recalls, “It was a person, a flesh and blood human being, but that's all I know.”“Hm,” you murmur, kneeling down by the ash and letting a thin handful sift through your fingers. Focusing your will, you allow your inner eye to drift open and reveal the world beyond. The thin sunlight fades and the world turns dark, the trees growing thinner still – almost skeletal – and stretching far, far up into the sky. When the wind blows, it brings with it a clamour of whispers that nag at you from all directions. The spirits here are restless, agitated by the rites that have taken place, but there's something else...A sudden fear pierces you, the fear of a prey animal catching the scent of a predator. Hurriedly snapping your eye closed, you return to the human world with your heart hammering in your chest. There's danger here – perhaps a spirit drawn by the rituals, perhaps something they called down on purpose. Either way, you'd rather not get its attention if you can help it.“Let's go,” you decide, gesturing back towards the town, “I've seen everything I need to see here.”-Your knock at Master Orfeas' door is answered almost immediately by a pallid, bloodless looking servant. You barely have a chance to say what you're calling about before she steps aside, gesturing towards the stairs leading up to a second level. Nodding your thanks, you make your way up the stairs and look around the manor. It looked run down from the outside, but it's even worse on the inside – the carpets are worn and threadbare, while the bare walls show discoloured markings where paintings once hung. Where they are now is a mystery.Master Orfeas opens the door to his study as you arrive on the second floor, bowing his head slightly in greeting and waving you inside. “Laurence, Cara, it's good to see you both,” he begins, the fake names giving you a split second of disorientation, “I thought you might have run away from us!”He laughs, just to make sure you know he's joking and, after hesitating, you laugh along with him. Clarissa just grimaces faintly, with the slightest tightening of her lips.“Well then. Down to business, is it?” Orfeas continues, “Step into my office. Just be careful of the chair there, don't sit down too hard. The leg might go at any minute.”
>>5711886“You've come at an auspicious time, actually,” Orfeas muses, sitting down at his desk and gazing at the chart spread out before him, “We've been working on a little project here, and the signs are looking good for tomorrow. We can get the initiation completed tonight, and then we can move on to something a little more practical. Oh, I know, I know – we're taking things very fast, but we're all professionals here.”Clarissa's eye twitches slightly at that. “Tomorrow,” you repeat, “That doesn't give us much time to prepare.”“There's nothing to it really. You'd just need to repeat the words after me, that's all,” he assures you, “Not at all different from what you might have done already at that academy of yours. But you needn't worry about that now – we'll just take things one step at a time. Now, what can I do for you?”“We've just been settling in. Taking a look around town,” you reply vaguely, “Lothar was showing us around. We thought we'd stop in, just to-”“I wanted to ask you something,” Clarissa interrupts, “How did you...”“How did I find my way onto this path?” Orfeas asks softly, finishing her question for her. Clarissa nods, a stiff jerk of her head, but says nothing. “It's not such a remarkable story. I was an Exorcist once, of course. I'd been having my doubts about things for a long time, but I did my best to keep my head down and do my duty. Then, I was sent on a mission to investigate a group of, ah, unorthodox scholars,” he recounts, “It was an investigation that they were not expected to survive. But things didn't go exactly to plan – I was injured, and taken into their captivity. There, I met a man. My new master.”“The rest is rather predictable,” he continues, dismissing the past with a wave of his hand, “We spoke for a long time, and I began to see things in a new light. I saw that I had been right to doubt, that the history I had been told from the start was a fabrication – the Accord, the Sun King, all of it. You'll see too, in time.”Those last words are delivered in a tone so perfectly ambiguous that you're left grasping for their true meaning – a promise, a temptation, or a threat?“Well, now we really ARE going a little too fast!” Orfeas adds, reading into your silence, “I do apologise – we'll have the time to sit down and have a proper discussion later, once the rites are all out of the way. Until then, well, was there something else?”You've got more questions than you can count, but you're sure that most of them would be left unanswered – until “later”, that is.>There was nothing else. We'd best go and prepare for tonight>I wanted to ask. Did you ever meet a man called Nicholas Penrose?>Pietr told me that you're looking into lineages. Is there anything we can help with?>I sensed something in town. Do you know of any spirits in the area?>I had some questions... (Write in)>Other
>>5711907>I sensed something in town. Do you know of any spirits in the area?>Pietr told me that you're looking into lineages. Is there anything we can help with?
>>5711907>Pietr told me that you're looking into lineages. Is there anything we can help with?
“There was something,” you begin, “We were speaking with Pietr earlier, and he mentioned that you've been looking into lineages. I wondered if there was anything we could do to help.”“Ah, it's something of a hobby of mine. There's something fascinating about seeing just how far back you can trace your own history – a man can count his life in decades, but his line can stretch back centuries or more. Can you really imagine time on that scale?” Orfeas explains, a note of genuine wonder and awe creeping into his voice, “Well, we're getting distracted, aren't we? You said that you wanted to help?”“Yes, of course,” you offer, “It's the least we could do, after everything you've done for us.”“Pah, I haven't done anything yet!” the old man laughs, “But if you insist, I'm sure I can find a use for you. Let me see... I got a delivery of some documents not so long ago, but I haven't had a proper chance to sort through them. It's not exactly exciting, but I could certainly use an extra pair of hands or two. All you'd need to do is check through the papers and find the lineage charts themselves. Easy enough, hm?”It sounds like “tedious” might be a better word for it, but you're polite enough to keep that part to yourself. “We'll give it a shot,” you decide, shooting Clarissa a look. She nods, albeit with a pained look on her face.“Grand!” Orfeas claps his hands together, “The papers are next door in the reading room. Just make yourself at home!”You start to make for the reading room, only for another thought to strike. “I thought I sensed something earlier, in town,” you add slowly, “Do you know of any spirits in the area?”“There are spirits all around us, aren't there?” Orfeas counters, “But if you want to be more specific... Well, you of all people should know that our actions can draw attention from curious parties. If the Veil was to drop, I'm sure that there would be those who would take advantage of that. You could call it a... backup plan of sorts. But we'll say no more of that for now. You've got a job to do, after all!”-This might take longer than you thought.Three large crates have been stacked up in the reading room, each one piled high with scrolls and books – even a few portraits wedged in with the loose pages. Clarissa lets out a low groan as you roll up your sleeves, looking at the pile of paper with distaste.“Don't look at it like that,” you urge, “It's not like we've got to read the whole lot, just pick out the important parts. We're just killing time until the evening anyway, so it's not like we've got anywhere better to be.”“I suppose,” she sighs, lowering her voice, “This “backup plan” of his concerns me. If they call up some kind of spirit, the raid could turn into a massacre – it could put the whole town at risk.”“I know,” you whisper back, “Don't worry, we'll think of something. We have to.”
>>5711926“What do you think he's looking for, anyway?” Clarissa asks after a long moment of silence, “You don't seriously think this is just a hobby of his, do you?”“I doubt it. Tracing lineages... I suppose you'd start here if you were looking for someone. Start with a name you do know, then trace it back. Or forwards, I guess,” you mutter, moving a stack of papers aside, “Always seemed like a waste of time to me. Back where I come from, nobody really cared much about lineage.”“It's VERY big in the capital. Families like to trace their line back as far as possible, just to find every little bit of honour or virtue worth gloating about. Funnily enough, they don't mention the bad parts,” she replies, “It used to be that nobles were the only ones who studied their lineage, but then it got fashionable. Anyone with enough money to fund the research gets it done these days, just so they don't feel left out.”Her tone is even and calm, but you can sense something darker, something spiteful lurking beneath. You're about to ask when you notice something on one of the pages – a name that jumps out at you.“Maxim,” you murmur, peering closer at the page, “Ambrose Maxim of Dacia.”“Harriet's father?” Clarissa asks, leaning over the look at the page, “Well, I suppose he's wealthy enough for it. How far back does it go?”You unwind the scroll a little further, tracing back through history until the line is broken – a thick line of black ink wiping out a whole generation. Then more, every name above a certain point having been obliterated. “That seems a little... extreme,” you remark, holding the scroll up to the light in the futile hope of making out some tiny hint of the name.“We should ask Harriet later,” Clarissa suggests, “Until then, just stay focused. Once this initiation is over and done with, we might start getting some proper answers.”But even she can't keep the faint note of desperation from creeping into her voice.-Taking a little more care to check through the papers from now on, you sort through the last of them and set the lineage charts aside for Orfeas. You return to the office to report back, only to see Orfeas with a new letter. He doesn't notice you at first, his gaze focused hard on the creased sheet. His expression is grim, anger furrowing his brow and twisting his lips. Then he senses you, and his face smooths out.“Finished already? Very good, very good,” the old man announces, folding the letter up and slipping it into his desk, “Don't worry about that. Just a little bit of bad news. I am, unfortunately, rather used to it by now.”“What... kind of bad news?” Clarissa asks slowly.“Your former colleagues,” he replies, his curt gesture hinting at the deeper anger, “They hunt our kind like rats, but they can never wipe us out completely. Despite their best efforts...”
>>5711937When it becomes clear that Orfeas isn't going to say anything more about the letter, you make your excuses and leave the decrepit manor. You've still got a few hours until the sun starts to fade, but sorting through the papers has left you with an aching head and itching eyes, and you want to rest up before the initiation ceremony.Back at the guest house, you lie down on your bed and close your eyes, but sleep doesn't come. You're too tense to sleep, and Clarissa isn't much better. Opening your eyes again, you look over and watch as she fidgets. She takes her revolver out and slowly turns the cylinder, checking the weapon over for any tiny hint of dirt or dust.“You'll wear that thing out if you keep playing with it,” you warn, gesturing to the pistol.“This is good Marusian steel,” she counters, “I could spin this for a hundred years and it wouldn't wear out.”“What about your nerves?”“Exact same thing,” Clarissa jokes, although her brittle attempt at a smile tells a different story. “Look, Lucas...” she continues, setting the gun down as if it was a stinging insect, “Thank you. For coming this far with me. But you don't need to do this, you really don't. I feel like this... this might go too far. If it does, there's no sense in you being dragged along with me. If you want to back out now, I won't hold it against you.”There's a pause, a silence, as Clarissa meets your eyes.“You can just walk away,” she says, almost pleading with you now, “You don't need to go through with this.”>You've come this far with her, you're not backing out now>You might not get another chance, you should back out while you can>Other
>>5711962>You've come this far with her, you're not backing out now
“We've come this far already,” you reply firmly, shaking your head, “I'm not backing out now.”Clarissa closes her eyes, taking a deep breath to steady her nerves. Then, seeming to make up her mind, she opens her eyes once more and gives you a nod. “Very well. You've made your choice,” she decides, allowing herself the slightest hint of a smile, “I'm... actually a little glad. I really thought you might do the smart thing and leave.”“No chance of that, I'm afraid,” you tell her, “Now try and get some rest. I'll stay up and keep watch – you look like you need the sleep even more than I do.”She starts to protest, only to reconsider and accept your suggestion with a nod. She lies back on the bed, and it's not long before you can hear the soft sound of her breathing. Taking your own revolver out, you check the cartridges and sit facing the door, ready for anything that might come your way. Whether it's a hunting spirit or your overactive imagination, you can feel something out there.But it stays out, whatever it is.-There's no hint of tension in Clarissa's face as you walk to the apothecary workshop, her earlier unease having been washed away completely. She seems as cold and hard as steel, as sharp as any blade. You wish you had half of her confidence – even if all you have to do is say a few blasphemous words, you feel certain that you'll find a way to mess it up.Lothar answers immediately when you knock, waving you inside the workshop with a furtive grin. “Almost wondered if you might not make it,” he murmurs, slapping you lightly on the arm, “Serves me right for having doubts, eh?”“Do you get a lot of people backing out?” you ask, hoping that the question sounds more casual than it feels.“Not so much. Usually when people make it this far, they're beyond redemption – as far as the academy sees it,” he answers, “Might as well go all the way at that point. You'll be hanged either way. But, er, we don't need to talk about that now. Come on then, I'll take you to the woods. The others should be there by now.”He lights a small lantern to guide the way, and then you're off walking through the silent down. A thin mist has gathered, your imagination taking every hint of movement for an ill omen. Time and time again, you find yourself reaching for the comforting weight of your revolver. Just for the distraction, you try to imagine what the others might be doing right now. Bickering and arguing, probably. Or sleeping.The crackling sound of a bonfire snaps you out of your thoughts. Looking up, you see the other cultists assembled around the fire. Master Orfeas, of course, with Pietr standing nervously nearby. Lothar's two associates linger on the periphery, ignoring the final figure. The hooded shape stands alone, surrounded by a terrible animal aura that you immediately recognise – was THIS the spirit you sensed earlier?“Well then,” Orfeas announces, “Shall we begin?”
>>5711993“Friends,” the old man begins, gesturing to you all, “We come here to welcome two more into our circle. Although their time here may not be long, they shall always have a place among our number. We shall offer shelter and aid for as long as they require it, and ask only for their trust and loyalty in return. Is there anyone here who would object?”You hold your breath, counting out your heartbeats in the silence that follows.“Very well then,” Orfeas continues, “You two. You have come to pledge yourselves to a higher purpose, to accept all things in life – both the beautiful and the wretched. I ask you this – will you follow our great teacher Kalthos and pledge yourself to the sign of the centipede? Will you accept your true history and pledge yourself to the Great Mother?”Another silence. You can feel fire in your veins, so hot that it must surely be obvious to all around you. But nobody seems to notice... save for the hooded figure, who has turned their shapeless form ever so slightly towards you. Even though you're a distance apart, you feel an instinctual need to flee from the robed form. Flee from them, or throw yourself into a furious attack. But, of course, you do neither, and the silence draws out.“Will you pledge this?” Master Orfeas repeats, and you sense slight movements from all around you. A restlessness, now. An unease.“I swear allegiance to the sign of the centipede and the Great Mother,” Clarissa declares, her voice taut and strained, “I pledge myself to them both.”“And you?” the old man asks, turning to you.They're just words, you tell yourself. They don't mean anything.“I swear allegiance to the sign of the centipede and the Great Mother,” you call out, the words seeming to pain you as they leave your mouth, “I pledge myself to them both.”“Then it is done,” Master Orfeas announces, raising his hands high over the bonfire. Your stomach churns, cold sweat gathering on the back of your neck as the fire within you burns hotter and hotter. Then, all of a sudden, the heat within you dies away to nothing. “It is done,” the old man repeats, his voice low, “And now the real work can begin.”>I think I'm going to pause things here for today. I'll be continuing this tomorrow, starting at the same usual time>Thank you for reading along today!
>>5711998Thanks for running!
>>5711998>fire within us burns hotter, then is gone>our guardian spirite is a fire spirit, MAYBE the Sun KingOh god, what did we do?
>>5711998>>5712181Broke our promise and swore ourselves to the Bbeg. Really wished I could have gotten in to vote and not screw ourselves snd clarissa over.
>>5712181>>5712385I feel like this is going to end with our intrepid heroes joining the forest faction to avoid getting killed by both sides.
The night is long, and your dreams are unsettled. You dream of a deep pool of darkness and of things crawling beneath your skin, but there is little relief even after you wake. Your mouth feels dry and your head is pounding, like the worst kind of hangover, but the sickly feeling in the pit of your stomach is something else entirely. Slowly, the weight of what you've done settles over you like a funeral shroud.“I made a promise,” you rasp, “I told Master Brehm that I wouldn't let myself be compromised.”Clarissa glances over. You hadn't even realised that she was awake – you've given up on keeping watch at this point, even a token attempt at sleeping in shifts. “Don't lose your nerve now,” she warns, “We still have a job to do.”“Do we?” you ask, lurching to your feet and pacing the room, “Will the academy even welcome us back after this? We might not even have a home to go back to. After everything we've done-”Your words are cut short as Clarissa throws her arms around you, pulling you close against her body. Even though you can feel her skin crawl, she holds you tight. “This changes nothing,” she whispers, “I know that I'm not compromised. I know that my cause is just. We just need to hold on for a little longer, and then...”“Then what?”“Then,” she finishes, stepping back and giving you a grim smile, “We can kill Orfeas ourselves.”-The morning sunlight has a sickly green hue as you leave the guest house, the jaundiced light pouring over a world that seems half lost to decay. You try to tell yourself that you're just imagining things, but the excuse doesn't stick. It's impossible to say if Clarissa notices the change or not – her face is impassive, a cold and lifeless mask that reveals nothing.Orfeas is in his study when you arrive, guided inside by the mute servant as before. More than ever, his smile of greeting has a secretive, conspiratorial air to it, relishing the secrets you now share. “Good morning to you both,” he begins, gesturing for you to sit, “And how are we feeling?”“Eager to get started,” Clarissa replies quickly, before you can even think of a polite way to answer, “Eager to learn the... the truth. Isn't that what this is all about?”The old man laughs at her apparent enthusiasm. “Very well then. Where should we start? With the Accord itself, of course,” he explains, tenting his fingers, “You will have been told, I'm sure, that men could not flourish until the Accord was signed – that men lived in fear, always scurrying back and forth to evade the attention of predatory spirits. It was only after the Accord was signed that men could settle down and raise great cities.”“All lies, of course. Ixtab, Shang-Han... there were great cities, long before the Accord. Great men, too,” he pauses, giving you a ghoulish smile, “Far greater than any today, I would wager.”[1/2]
>>5712572“The true purpose of the Accord is to constrain the strong, and enslave the weak,” Orfeas continues, savouring his blasphemous words, “So long as your will is strong, you have no reason to fear the spirits. Far from it – you can command them, bind them to your will or dismiss them if they displease you. But the Accord forbids this, of course.”“And the weak? They benefit from the protections of the Accord, of course. So much so that they grow to rely on it, so much so that even the IDEA of questioning the Accord becomes unthinkable,” he stresses, “And today, you see the result – men who have been made passive, while the Sun King's rule remains unchallenged. But, that may be about to change. WE might be able to change that. The rites that we've been working on-”But then, Orfeas is interrupted by a faint, muffled sound – almost like the sound of a horse's hooves. He tenses up for a second, cocking his head to the side as he listens. You start to speak, but he silences you with a gesture. Then, after a second more, his face eases. “Excuse me for a moment,” he asks, bowing his head slightly in apology, “This won't wait, I'm afraid.”“Of course, of course,” you assure him, watching and waiting as the old man hurries downstairs. You hear him leaving the manor, then the faint creak of a door somewhere behind the house. Some kind of cellar, perhaps?“He's insane,” Clarissa mutters to herself, sounding almost disappointed, “Just another delusional lunatic. Maybe we really are just wasting our time here...”>Just keep playing along. We still don't know what they're planning>But what if he's right? Even if there's just a grain of truth to what he's saying...>Master Brehm can't get here soon enough, that's for sure>I think... (Write in)>Other
>>5712573>Just keep playing along. We still don't know what they're planningAt this point I hope we can at least find out their leadership structure if they have one.
>>5712573>Just keep playing along. We still don't know what they're planningIf possible, we should get to the point right before/right as they're performing the rite and sabotage it. If we're potentially cursed or some shit, anything less than stopping the ritual and/or killing Orfeas would feel like a massive failure
>>5712573>Just keep playing along. We still don't know what they're planning
>>5712573>Just keep playing along. We still don't know what they're planning>But also... Well, maybe there's soemthing to it? Ixtab WAS raised before the Accord. And entire cities exist beyond the Veil... I think the Accord is good, if it protects people who can't protect themselves, but maybe there IS more to history than we've been told
>>5711998Never thought we would go that far and instead figured we'd go on the offensive before the initiation>>5712573>Just keep playing along. We still don't know what they're planning
“Just keep playing along,” you whisper back, “We still don't know what they're planning, or what these rites will involve.”“I know,” Clarissa replies, her lips drawing tight as she grimaces, “We barely know anything at all. At this rate, we'll still be wasting our time with odd jobs by the time Master Brehm gets here.”The clock, of course, is ticking. Before you can say anything else, Clarissa leaps to her feet and paces around to the other side of Orfeas' desk, rattling at one locked drawer after another. “Hey!” you hiss, lunging over and grabbing her arm, “What are you doing?”“What does it look like?” she snaps, “I'm looking for evidence, something that might lead us to someone higher up the chain. Keep an eye out, will you? I might be able to force one of these drawers...” Shaking off your grasp, Clarissa starts to draw her dagger before freezing in place. She hesitates, tilting her head to the side as she listens. You can hear it too, an intangible stirring at the farthest edge of your senses.Whatever it is, it's enough for Clarissa to reconsider. Sheathing her dagger once again, she backs away from the desk as if it was an open sewer. A few minutes later, Orfeas returns with a sheepish smile on his face.“I do apologise,” he remarks, taking an awfully long look at his desk before sitting back down, “Now where were we?”“The... rites,” you prompt, trading an uneasy glance with Clarissa.“Ah yes, the rites. The stars are in the correct alignment tonight, so I want to take the chance while we can. There's a bit of knowledge that we've been searching for, piecing it together one scrap at a time, and we're nearly there. Tonight might be the night,” Orfeas explains, nodding to himself, “It's fascinating, really, the kind of things that wash up in the spirit world. Something might be lost forever in our world, but it still exists in theirs. That's what we're looking for.”“Knowledge that no longer exists in this world...” you muse. That's what they were doing in Ravensheugh, you recall, and Greyridge too.“It's the strangest thing, actually. This plan has been centuries in the making, literally centuries, but it's only recently that we've been able to start making progress,” Orfeas gives you a weary smile, “I can only assume that the knowledge we sought existed SOMEWHERE in this world – tucked away in some decaying book buried deep somewhere. But that all changed a few years back, when our prayers were finally answered!”“Lucky you,” Clarissa mutters, the words spilling out before she can stop herself.“Lucky us,” Orfeas replies, gently correcting her, “We will be the ones to usher in the new world... and to reap the rewards, of course.”You've got a funny feeling that this new world of theirs is going to look very similar to the world you're used to, just with a new master reigning over it.
>>5712605“As for the rites themselves, well, that's simple,” Orfeas leans back in his chair, tenting his fingers as he allows himself a look of smug satisfaction, “They're a ritual of liberation.”“Liberation...” you repeat, “You're going to release someone from Sheol's machine.”“Exactly!” Orfeas declares, pointing at you and laughing again, “You're good, Laurence, you're very good. We're going to throw open the gates of that torture device, even down to the very deepest pits. When this ritual is complete, we will finally be able to call up our lost master. Then, finally, the great teacher Kalthos will guide us to the new world!”You hasten to adopt a suitably awed expression, even as Clarissa's features twist into something which, you assume, is meant to be wonder. Fortunately, Orfeas is too swept up in his own rapture to notice your less than convincing acting. “Soon, soon... but we still have work to do first,” the old man adds, “Lothar should have a carriage ready soon, and then we'll be off. Rituals like this are... better kept at a distance. Less conspicuous that way, you see?”“Of course,” you agree, meeting Clarissa's eyes and giving her a tiny nod, “We'll go and check on him, actually. Make sure everything's getting on okay.”“Very good,” Orfeas nods, leaning back in his chair again and gazing off into the distance. There's a tiny smile on his face, but it's not a happy one.-“Kalthos again,” Clarissa mutters as you're leaving the manor, “He acts like we're supposed to know who that is.”“Maybe we are. Just smile and nod, okay?” you reply, “I'm assuming he was an important necromancer, back in the day. Maybe THE necromancer, the first of their kind. That blacked out name we saw, do you think...”“That would mean that Harriet is... no, no way,” she dismisses the idea with a gesture, “I don't want to think about it.”But then you recall when Harriet spoke about Sheol's machine, and the unforgivable souls sealed deep within. You recall just how distraught she had been, how horrifying the idea had seemed to her. That horror makes a little more sense now.“It's all bullshit anyway,” Clarissa adds, her lips twisted with contempt, “Lies and delusions. Nothing more than a tall tale to win over the gullible, even down to that talk about the Accord.”“But...” you pause, hesitating a little before choosing your next words with care, “But there IS some truth to it. Ixtab was raised before the Accord, and cities like Shang-Han-”“Legends like Shang-Han,” she interrupts.“I'm just saying, there might be more to history than we've been told,” you counter, “Even if we just focus on Ixtab itself, it EXISTS. It existed before the Accord, and even the most orthodox of scholars accept that.”“Sure, fine. Maybe so,” Clarissa shrugs angrily, “But we're not here for a history lesson, remember?”How could you forget?
>>5712623You walk in silence for a while, slowly roaming out towards the workshop. Even at a distance, you can see a carriage parked outside with a scattering of luggage placed around it. Cramming eight people onto a carriage like that isn't going to be impossible, but it's certainly not going to be pleasant. But then, you realise that one of them is going to be the robed figure, whatever it really is. The thought of being trapped in an enclosed space with that THING...Maybe you'll get lucky. Maybe Orfeas is going to leave his “backup plan” at home. Maybe.“Cara! Hey Cara!” Pietr calls out, waving to you from the workshop. You wave back, and he goes back to helping load the cargo. As soon as his back is turned, you grimace a little. You've been trying not to think about the boy, about what he's getting caught up in, but you can't avoid it now. When the raid comes...“We could warn him,” you murmur to yourself, “Send him away, send him far away...”“Are you insane?” Clarissa whispers back, scowling hard at you, “If he just vanishes out of nowhere, it'll ruin everything. They'll know that SOMETHING is up. Just... just stick to the plan, okay?”The plan. Just how far is she willing to go for this plan?>You can't risk it. You can't tell the boy anything>He deserves a chance to save himself. You should warn Pietr about the raid>Maybe he can help you. You could tell him why you're really here>Other
>>5712641>OtherAre we planning to help out the raid when it comes? I say we just non lethally subdue Pietr while the shooting starts and then argue his case later.
>>5712641We could tell him about the "backup plan". If he starts having doubts after seeing it, all well and good.If he ticks it off, we've got cause to pull him out and gather information on the thing.
>>5712685Let's go with this, though it'll fail for drama.
>>5712641>>5712685+1 to subduing Pietr - either us or Clarissa can find a way to dip with him or hide when the raid occurs
You watch for a while longer as Pietr helps out with loading the carriage. At least, he's pretending to help load the wagon – really, it just looks like he's hanging around and pestering Lothar with an endless stream of questions. With a faint grunt of irritation, you tear your eyes away and look back to Clarissa. Her eyes are hard, merciless, and very dark.“Fine. We'll stick to the plan,” you mutter, “What IS the plan, exactly?”This brings a fresh scowl to her face. “Observe. Learn as much as we can. Get some evidence on their leadership,” she explains, “And that means keeping quiet. Not drawing any attention to ourselves by-”“Okay, okay. I said that I'd stick with the plan, didn't I?” you interrupt, “But when things kick off, when the raid gets here, I want to keep him away from the shooting. Keep him out of trouble, if possible.”Clarissa just shrugs, a kind of “suit yourself” gesture, and starts off towards the workshop. Cursing softly under your breath, you hurry after her before she can get too far ahead.-“Laurence,” Lothar begins, greeting you with a firm nod, “Here to help with the packing? We've got most of it finished already, actually, so you can just take it easy. We'll need to stop off at Master Orfeas' manor later, but it'll be quick. He's got some... cargo of his own to load up.”“You don't exactly travel light, do you?” you remark, “I didn't realise that the ritual would involve so much... stuff.”“Yes, well, it's not just for the ritual. We need to bring a little, ah, protection with us. Just in case anyone catches us in the middle of anything suspicious. Don't look so worried, man. I know the site like the back of my hand, and it's always been nice and quiet,” Lothar shrugs, “But it doesn't do to take chances, does it?”You shake your head, glancing back at the workshop and noticing that the skull is missing from its place on the high shelf. “Are we bringing a friend?” you ask, pointing to the empty space.“We wouldn't want him to feel left out, would we?” Lothar jokes, “Anyway, I need to fetch the others. Just sit tight here, make sure Pietr doesn't get himself in any trouble, okay?”“Right,” you agree, hiding a wince at his choice of words. Leaving Lothar to head on out, you move back into the main room and sit opposite the young boy at a long workbench. “Did you hear any of that?” you ask him quietly, “I'm supposed to keep you out of trouble.”“I'll try not to make you work too hard,” Pietr answers, offering you an oblivious smile. “I'm a little nervous, actually,” he adds, lowering his voice a little, “I can't believe Master Orfeas wants me to help!”So much for not making you work too hard. “Are you sure?” you press, “It could be dangerous. If you don't feel like you can do this...”“No, I can do this. I'm sure I can,” he insists, “They've all trusted me so far. I can't let them down now.”
>>5712733“There's something I wanted to ask you about,” you murmur, looking around as Clarissa paces back and forth behind you, “Last night, I saw someone else there. The one in the robes.”“Ah,” Pietr hesitates, “Them.”You pause, then gesture for him to continue. He takes a long time to do so.“I've never spoken with them. In fact, I barely ever see them – I think, um, I think they live in Master Orfeas' house. Or, ah, under it. There's an old wine cellar there, you know?” he explains, gesturing vaguely in an attempt to put his thoughts into words, “They scare me a little, but Master Orfeas said they were blessed. Because... because they accepted a spirit into themselves.”“Possession?” you mutter, seeing Pietr's eyes widen with shock, “Oh. It's just, that's what they called it in the academy. But we were taught that it was something to fear, to avoid at all costs.”“Because you don't understand it,” the boy points out, his smile seeming to echo Orfeas' smug satisfaction for a brief moment. Then, with a bang of the door, Lothar is back with his two companions. “Oh. Here we are,” Pietr says softly, giving Clarissa a wave, “Cara, come on!”-The carriage isn't as crowded as you had feared, with the robed figure nowhere to be seen. Not openly, at least. You make a stop at Orfeas' mansion, as expected, and there's something terribly suggestive about the large box that Lothar's men struggle to load into the back of the carriage. With your skin crawling, you sit back and try not to think too hard about it.“Everyone ready? Very good, very good,” Orfeas announces, mopping his brow with a handkerchief, “We'll be heading out into the hills. Not too far, but far enough for an old man like me. There's a good site there, just perfect for what we need. Cara, Laurence, can either of you read Akklo?”“I can,” you offer, with a faint hint of reluctance.“Perfect. You can help with the preparations. We'll need to inscribe some glyphs around the site. Yes, I KNOW you can just copy them straight from the book,” the old man gives Lothar a faintly amused frown, “But I don't like taking shortcuts.”“I'm just glad for the extra pair of hands,” Lothar mutters, “Last time we were here, it took most of the day to prepare.”“But it was all worth it in the end, wasn't it?” the old man insists, “Now hush. Not another word of complaint out of you, any of you. Positive thoughts, now!”You never thought you'd see the day when a necromancer was giving you a lecture on positive thinking, but here you are. A tense silence falls over the carriage as it rattles into the low hills, eventually stopping at the entrance to some kind of old burial ground. Graves are scattered here and there, with a few larger mausoleums waiting ahead. The air here feels foul, humid and saturated with unclean energies.[2/3]
>>5712751If we may be able to discretely sabotage if we are helping out with preparation.
>>5712751“This was a sacred place once. Men would come to commune with their buried ancestors, to seek the wisdom they had to offer,” Orfeas explains as he limps into the burial grounds, towards a large clearing, “It wasn't a crime in those days, or a sin. It was just the natural state of affairs... until the Sun King and his Accord. But an ancient power still sleeps in places like these – and today, we can tap into that power.”“There's an underground tomb just there, you see? Inside that mausoleum,” he continues, pointing to a particularly grand tomb and passing you a book, “You need to copy these symbols down onto the walls. Just make sure that you copy them exactly – any mistake could spoil the ritual, or bring all manner of disaster down upon us. I don't know about you, but I'd rather avoid a disaster if I can help it!”Taking the book, you flick through the ugly, angular symbols. “I'll get to work,” you tell him, “What will you be doing?”“We'll be preparing things up here. Preparing the bonfire, mostly, but we've got some markings of our own to paint,” Orfeas answers, “It's a lot of work, this necromancy business. Not for the faint of heart!”Of course. It's the hard work that puts people off, not... everything else about it.-“So,” you murmur, setting the pot of paint down and looking around the gloomy tomb, “These rites...”“Yes?” Clarissa replies, “What about them?”“I mean, how do you want to play this?” you ask, gesturing at the walls, “Do we really want to go through with this? We know what they're doing, what their goals are. I don't see any reason to go ahead and HELP them achieve them. We could stop this, here and now. It wouldn't take much to ruin the ritual, just like Orfeas said. Just foul up a few glyphs, and it won't work.”“It might also end in disaster,” she points out, “If you really want to ruin things, you might as well just shoot him in the back here and now.”“I mean, that IS tempting,” you admit, “But if we make it look like an accident, we might be able to maintain our cover for a little bit longer. Assuming, you know, we survive.”The third option, which you don't want to say aloud, is to let the ritual succeed. If Orfeas gets the information he's looking for, you reason, it might create an opening for you to move even deeper into the cult. Maybe even to the highest levels. But what would it cost you?“You decide,” Clarissa says suddenly, “I don't know enough about these rites to know the best approach. Whatever you decide, I'll have your back.”You don't have the heart to tell her that you don't know much more than her. But you've got to do something, so...>Just maintain your cover, make sure the ritual goes ahead as planned>Spoil a few of the glyphs, just enough to ensure the ritual fails>Wait until the cult is distracted by the ritual, then go loud. You can take them out here and now>Other
>Pietr's face darkens as he quickly takes her hand, mumbling a greeting of his own>“Cara! Hey Cara!” Pietr calls out, waving to you from the workshop. >“Oh. Here we are,” Pietr says softly, giving Clarissa a wave, “Cara, come on!”Reading through the previous posts, it looks like Pietr is a little obsessed with Clarissa, she should be the one to get him out when shit goes down while we deal with the cultists
>>5712779>Spoil a few of the glyphs, just enough to ensure the ritual fails
>>5712779>>Wait until the cult is distracted by the ritual, then go loud. You can take them out here and now
“While I'm sure that we're all very eager to get in a gunfight with six people, I think we should go with the subtle approach this time,” you tell Clarissa, paging through the book as you examine the glyphs you need to paint. Akklo symbols are usually simple enough, with plenty of broad strokes and straight lines, but these are curious – like tight clusters of symbols organised into strict patterns.Which, fortunately, should make it fairly easy to foul them up without making the sabotage too obvious.“It's such an odd pattern to use, too...” you murmur as you start painting the glyphs across the tomb wall, “They keep using the same few characters over and over again. Here, see? These two – Soth and Yaa – are far more common than any of the rest. That means... what?”Clarissa just stares at you, a tiny hint of a smile twitching at one corner of her mouth. “Sorry,” she replies, “It's just a little funny, seeing you getting so carried away. It all sounds like complete nonsense to me.”“Yes, well, that's how you sound when you start obsessing over guns,” you point out, “So, you know, we can call it even.”“Sure, I'll give you that,” she admits, letting out a low laugh. Just for a second, things between you almost feel... normal. Then you both remember why you're here, what you're doing, and the levity fades. Clearing your throat, Clarissa picks up the spare paintbrush. “Just tell me what to do,” she says simply, “And what you want ruined.”-It's done. It's over. Almost an entire hour of work, painstakingly copying down the ugly symbols with occasional errors, but you're finally finished. Setting the paintbrush down, you give Clarissa the nod and head back up to the surface. You can already see the bonfire burning away, the tinder piled up around the broken remnants of a stone plinth. The skull has been placed atop the broken plinth, so that it seems to watch over the scene unfolding before it.“All done? Good, good,” Orfeas says, pacing around with his awkward, stiff-legged shuffle. The robed figure has appeared, you note, standing a few paces away from a large travelling chest. So, they really did-“Come on now, get in position!” the old man continues, flapping his hands at you as you form a loose circle around the bonfire. You spot Clarissa guiding Pietr over to her side – not that the boy needs much encouragement – and taking a spot near another fallen stone column. Ideal cover, if things take a turn for the worse.High above, the last traces of sunlight are fading away. The stars, in its place, seem to brighten with a light like tarnished silver.“I'll lead the chant,” Orfeas whispers, opening his book, “All you need to do is repeat after me. Are you all ready?”Not really, you think to yourself, but you're as ready as you'll ever be.
>>5712834The bonfire flames flicker and dance in the breeze, seeming to stir in time with the ugly, harsh words that Orfeas calls out. You repeat them as best you can, even though the words taste like metal in your mouth. The chant repeats, time and time again, as the dancing flames slowly start to take on shapes. Your senses widen, your inner eye dragged open by the ritual unfolding before you, no matter how much you wish it would stay closed.Out of the corner of your eye, you can see the robed figure shift and sway in time to the chanting. Above them, unfolding like a pair of grotesque wings, their spirit reveals itself. Spreading through the air like ink in water, the spirit's form hints at every kind of animal – it offers glimpses of spiral horns and cloven hooves, serrated fangs and grasping, twitching fingers. Even at a distance, the thing has a rich, animal scent that punches at your senses and brings tears to your eyes. But through it all, you continue the chant.Orfeas' voice grows louder and louder until he is screaming the words of the chant, each one tearing at his throat as the rite approaches its climax. Fear churn through your mind as you wonder if your sabotage has failed. But then, as the final word of the chant leaves Orfeas' lips, the bonfire explodes with a tremendous howl of discharged energy. You're all thrown back by the blast, knocked sprawling as a hideous noise splits the air – a terrible mixture of animal sounds, all blended together into a single unearthly voice.The robed cultist thrashes on the ground, clawing at their heavy garb as the shape underneath it bulges and shifts. Cloth tears, ripped through by thrusting spears of bone, and soon the garment falls away in tatters. The other cultists cry out in fear at the sight, crawling back away as the spirit boils into action. They can ALL see it now, both worlds overlapping one another as the ritual fails in spectacular fashion.A few gunshots ring out, the bullets passing through the spirit without doing harm. Another shot sounds, this time causing the human body beneath to jolt with the impact. Blood flows, but the corrupted flesh flows back into place like molten wax to repair what little damage there was. You draw your dagger, but... against a thing like that?“Just run!” Lothar cries, hauling Orfeas to his feet and starting to pull the old man away before the spirit lashes out with a long tendril of coiling flesh, the limb crashing down and knocking the cultists flying. If you can get close enough to the human body, your dagger might be enough to finish the job. Or, at least, it might distract the spirit long enough for Clarissa to try a banishment.Maybe.>Stand and fight, no matter what>Just run. This is a fight you can't win>Distract the spirit, buy Clarissa some time>Other
>>5712880>Distract the spirit, buy Clarissa some time
>>5712880>>Distract the spirit, buy Clarissa some time
>>5712880>Distract the spirit, buy Clarissa some time>OtherA secondary objective: smudge our sabotaged glyphs during the struggle so any inspection later won't show the errors. Survival is top priority though.
“Cla... Cara!” you call out, drawing your revolver and taking aim at the thrashing human figure below, “See if you can send that thing back!”“On it!” she snaps back, rising up from behind the cover of the fallen pillar as she prepares for the rite of banishment. It worked in Penn's Garden, with Persephone and the Shrike. It should work here too. Maybe. Hopefully.You fire your first shot, the bullet catching the human body straight in the chest. Aside from jolting back, the possessed cultist doesn't even seem to notice the already closing wound. Instead, the spirit swings a greasy formless tendril at you as the human body beneath jerks around like a puppet. Dodging aside as the tendril slams down at the ground, you're soon forced to fall back as the spirit mass drags itself forwards in pursuit.Clarissa chants softly behind you, her hands shifting through hard, clipped motions. A few faint sparks of gold trace her motions, but nothing like you'd normally expect to see. She's calling on the Sun King's power, but this is all the response she's getting. Realising how futile her efforts are, Clarissa slumps back behind the fallen pillar. Cursing aloud, you hurry a few paces away from her and snap off another shot at the spirit. You've got four shots left before you need to reload, for what that's worth – not much, apparently.You're going to die. You're actually going to die.The spirit shifts, splitting apart to form a massive pair of jaws that rend and gnaw at the air. While it's distracted, you try and call up some of the fire that once burned through your veins, but this too is cold and silent. The dread of defeat fills you as you fall back a little more, ducking behind one of the few columns left standing.An odd stillness fills the air, the only noise that of the spirit – a constant garbled stream of barks and growls and chirps. Risking a glance around the pillar, you see it spreading out like a burning candle – the liquid mass flowing sluggishly towards you, forming hands that grasp at anything they pass as it moves. The thought of being seized, dragged down into that unclean flesh is just...Then, you see Clarissa stand once more. Her eyes are bright, her lips twisted with a snarl of defiance as she sweeps her hands through the air once more. This time, the light that follows her motions is strong and bright, yet not the golden light of the Sun King. The light that burns from her hands is black, impossibly so, sketching out the rites of banishment like ink on a page.The spirit bellows, turning away from you and lumbering towards her, but it's already too late. She forms the last motions of the rite, and then-And then the spirit is gone, cast out from the world of men.
>>5712931Nobody speaks for a long time. Nobody even moves for a moment, until Clarissa slowly looks down at her hands. Then someone – perhaps Lothar – lets out a hoarse cough and reality returns to motion. You hurry over to Clarissa, reaching out to grab her only for her to flinch back away from you. She shakes her head, backing away a few paces and turning away to check on Pietr. The boy is alive, unharmed, but he barely responds when Clarissa shakes his shoulder.“We should get out of here,” she says, raising her voice a little, “Someone might have heard those gunshots.”Out here? That's unlikely, but that doesn't matter now. That's not why she said it.“Don't leave anything behind,” you add, “Nothing that might lead anyone back to us.”With your excuses made, you hurry down into the tomb and grab for a stained cloth. Working furiously, you scrub at the half-dried paint in a hasty attempt at obliterating the glyphs you drew. Or, at least, to hide the traces of your sabotage. When the job is done, you return to the surface to find the other cultists stumbling around in a haze of confusion. They look shaken and scraped up, but nobody seems to have any serious injuries.Except for the possessed cultist themselves. With your gun drawn, you approach their remains and nudge it with your foot. Dead – and you're suddenly wondering how long they've been dead for. Pocketing your revolver, you kneel down to take a closer look at the body. They were young once, with the jagged facial tattoos of a forester and their lips sewn crudely closed. Now, the body is just an empty, abused shell.“We should get out of here,” Clarissa repeats slowly. This time, though, it feels like that was meant for you and you alone. A warning, or perhaps a plea.Get out.>I think I'm going to pause things here for today. I'll be continuing this tomorrow, starting at the same usual time>Thank you for reading along today!
>>5712954>We're forsaken by our guardian soirit>Clarissa found sormthing Aworse Than a spirit of Sheol to bond withFuck's sake.
>>5712960My sentiment exactly.
>>5712954Thanks for running!Missed today and naturally we're all doomed now
>>5712954And this is why I was really leery of swearing. Sadly now we’re screwed. Thanks for the run Moloch. We have any idea what Clarissa dredged up?>>5712960>>5712962My thoughts too. Shame such a pivotal vote had only two voters who decided that swearing to a necromancer was a good idea.
>>5712960If we are lucky it's the same Sheol spirit that reconnected cause it would imply we could also reconnect with ours. If not, oh boy.
>>5712968The hqzard of session-style gaming on /qst/, alas. Still, I'll be honest: since it was presented more as "abandon Clarissa or stay the course" than "swear fealty to Centipede and the Great Mother, or no", I probably would have voted the same. Makes for an interesting story, certainly!
>>5712970Yeah, I also thought we'd just be staying around to help Clarissa, not actually go through with the initiation
“What did you do?”The question hangs on your lips as the carriage rattles back down towards Irnbach, but you don't dare ask it aloud. Not yet, not with the other cultists within earshot. Clarissa hasn't said anything, not a word, since you started the journey back to town. She hasn't even looked at you. For now, all you can do is wait for the right moment and hope.The rites of banishment, you were taught, call upon the Sun King's authority to command spirits. But whatever Clarissa had done, whatever she called upon, you're certain that the Sun King had nothing to do with it.But it worked. Whatever it was, it certainly worked.The carriage lurches over a bump in the road, and you shudder as you hear the luggage thudding behind you. Orfeas insisted on bringing the dead forester back with you, cramming the stiffening, misshapen body back into the travel chest as if it was nothing more than a sack of garbage. You don't want to even think about what he intends to do with the remains. A furtive burial or burning at best. At worst...“I don't understand,” Lothar murmurs, finally daring to break the silence, “What happened?”“I don't know,” Orfeas admits bluntly, his usual good humour having abandoned him, “Perhaps we were too ambitious. The rites... The masters will need to hear of this, to learn of our failure. Where we have failed, others must succeed. We must make sure of that.”“Aye,” he mutters, nodding wearily, “I'll ride to Selen... I'll ride out tomorrow and bring them the news.”Your ears perk up at the slip, although you try not to show your sudden interest. Selengrad, you think to yourself, he must have meant Selengrad. It's another lead for you to follow, but the idea comes with no sense of triumph, no thrill of discovery – just a lingering sense of dread.-“Shit. What a mess,” Lothar mutters as he walks with you to the guest house, “But it could've been worse if you hadn't been here. You did good work today, both of you.”“Just doing our job,” Clarissa tells him, somehow summoning up a tired smile, “Well, our former job.”“Their loss, our gain,” he decides with a shrug, “I'll be away early tomorrow, just after first light, and I'm not sure how long I'll be away. Keep an eye on the boy for me, will you? He'll be shaken up after everything that happened. Shit, we're ALL shaken up.”“You can count on us,” you assure him, giving Clarissa a nudge with your elbow, “Right?”“Of course,” she agrees, albeit reluctantly.“Good, good,” Lothar nods in satisfaction, then gives Clarissa a sly smile as a thought occurs. “You know Cara,” he adds, lowering his voice a little, “I'm not trying to make anyone jealous, but I think he likes you.”“At his age, he probably likes anything with two legs and a pulse,” she points out, “But, um, thank you. I think.”[1/2]
>>5713881When Lothar finally leaves, you march up to your room and collapse down onto your bed. Clarissa does the same, staring up at the low ceiling and letting out a long sigh. All you really want to do is sleep, but you push the urge for rest aside. This isn't the time for that. Not yet, at least. Now that you're finally alone, you can ask the questions that have been gnawing away at you.“We need to talk,” you begin, looking over to Clarissa, “About what happened back there.”“No we don't,” she counters, “Look, I'm tired and I... I just want this to be over. There's nothing to talk about.”“How did you banish that thing?” you press, fixing her with a hard stare.Clarissa's lips twist into a slight grimace. “I just followed my training,” she replies, without even a token attempt at sounding sincere, “I called upon the Sun King's authority and-”“Oh come on!” you interrupt, “Don't bullshit me, okay? What WAS it?”“I don't know!” Clarissa snaps, “I just... I don't know. I tried to banish it like normal, but that didn't work. I called out, but there was no answer. When I realised how bad things were, how much trouble we were in... I was desperate. I didn't think, I just acted. And it worked, didn't it? We're both still alive because of it. Because of what I did.”Maybe so, you think, but if it meant calling upon powers unknown...“Selengrad,” she adds, in a very deliberate attempt to change the subject.“Selengrad,” you repeat, playing along for now, “You caught that too.”“I'm not sure if I believe it. The first army is based in Selengrad – if this is true, then these bastards have been right under our noses the whole time,” she murmurs, “If Lothar's going there, we could track him. He could lead us right to them.”Which is exactly what you thought she might say. Yet her voice is disinterested, almost reluctant, as if she's doesn't believe in what she's saying. You wonder about that, about exactly what's going to be in this letter that Lothar will be delivering. Reports of a failure, at least. Not much in the way of valuable information... assuming that's ALL it is.“Well?” Clarissa prompts, “What do you want to do about him?”You think for a moment. If you were to try and stop the letter from getting out, your best bet would be to catch Lothar before he leaves town. Less chance of missing him on the road that way, although you'd need to make sure that nobody overhears any... disagreements that might break out. Master Brehm can't be far off with the reinforcements, but that's no reason to sound the alarm too early.So. The plan.>The letter doesn't matter. Just let Lothar leave with it>Try and track Lothar to Selengrad. It's a lead worth following>You need to stop Lothar from leaving town with that letter>Other
>>5713882>>Try and track Lothar to Selengrad. It's a lead worth followingI'm sure the cult in Selengrad is well hidden so we'll need him to lead us to it.
>>5713882>You need to stop Lothar from leaving town with that letter
>>5713882>You need to stop Lothar from leaving town with that letter2 people is not enough to root out the threat in Selengrad. Screwing it up will just cause massive casualties on both sides.You could argue that it would be worth it, but they've been chipping away at the Accord and the Sun Kingdom is only losing the overall attrition.
“We need to stop Lothar from leaving town with that letter,” you decide, “Even if we DID track him all the way to Selengrad, what can two people do? We've got a lead on them now, we know where to start looking. When we get back, we can organise a larger search. Besides, if Lothar leaves now then he might slip away from the raid.”“And he's seen our faces,” Clarissa muses, “He's a loose end.”“That too,” you agree, “We can try and cut him off in the morning, before dawn. I just hope things don't get... messy.”Clarissa tilts her head as she considers this, although her dark eyes offer no hint to her thoughts. If it came down to it, you have little doubt that she would cut Lothar's throat in an instant. After all, you recall, he's already dead in her eyes. What difference would it make to speed things up a little?“Get some rest,” you tell her quietly, gesturing vaguely towards the bed, “We've got time for a few hours, at least. It's better than nothing.”With that thought in mind, although hardly relishing the dreams that you might have, you lie down on your firm bed. Darkness descends as Clarissa blows out the last of the candles, and you feel an absurd urge to light them again. The darkness here feels like a hostile force, something that ought to be driven out at all costs.You can't take much more of this.-You rouse yourself after a while, although you're not sure how much you really slept. Clarissa is awake already, methodically cleaning out her revolver by the weak light of a single flickering candle. Sparing you the slightest glance as you rise from your bed, she soon goes back to her work. “Bad dreams?” she asks softly, her voice barely a whisper.“Not really,” you reply, “No dreams at all, actually.”“Good,” she remarks simply, “Get ready. We don't have long before dawn.”Nodding, you smooth out your crumpled clothes and strap on your weapons. Loading fresh cartridges into your revolver, you take a quick glance out the window – the first hints of morning are just starting to form, although a heavy blanket of cloud still hangs over the town. It looks like it's going to rain soon, and hard.“Ready when you are,” you tell Clarissa, turning away from the window. She rises and blows out the candle once more, pulling a loose jacket over her holstered revolver. Without another word, you slip furtively from the guest house and start making your way towards the apothecary's workshop. It seems deserted when you arrive, but the door is unlocked. Clarissa draws her dagger as you gently ease the door opening, listening carefully to the sounds within. Nothing at first, and then the slight groan of wooden floorboards above you.Trading a nod with your companion, you slip inside the workshop and up the stairs. The wooden steps creak slightly underfoot, the sound almost deafening in the quiet shop. Above you, the footsteps come to a sudden stop.
>>5713913A short silence, and then a door opens at the top of the stairs. Lothar peers around the edge of the door, relaxing a little when he sees you. “Man, you scared the shit out of me!” he remarks with a laugh, “I thought... well, I don't know what I thought. Just tense, I suppose. Can you blame me, after last night?”“No,” you murmur, slowly following him up to the doorway. You must have caught Lothar just as he was getting ready, for his travelling gear is scattered about the room. A half-filled backpack sits on the bed, while a small pistol has been left by the desk. “Hate getting up this early, honestly,” he continues, rummaging through a drawer for a change of clothes, “What are you doing here, anyway?”“Have you got Master Orfeas' letter?” Clarissa asks, her voice cold. Lothar glances back over his shoulder, hesitating for a brief second before nodding.“...Aye,” he answers slowly, “I've got it.”“I think you should give that to us,” you tell him quietly, holding out your hand. Lothar turns, looking at you in confusion. Then, finally, he notices the blade Clarissa holds at her side and freezes up. Silence descends, a lump working in his throat as he swallows heavily. More than once, Lothar's eyes flick across to the pistol left on his desk. It's not quite within reach, but if he leapt for it...“Lothar,” you press, “Just give us the letter. Please.”The confusion never leaves his eyes, but Lothar seems to come to a decision. He goes for the pistol in a sudden burst of motion, but you're already lunging towards him. Tacking him around the waist, you push him back against the wall and lash out to your side, batting the pistol away and sending it skittering into the far corner. Lothar strikes as you're distracted, driving a sinewy fist into your face and knocking you backwards.Desperation lends Lothar a terrible strength as he rains wild, frantic blows down upon you. Clarissa jabs at him with the dagger from the side, her blade opening a long cut down his arm. Lothar's eyes widen with the pain, and he opens his mouth to cry out. You clap a hand over his mouth to muffle the scream, while Clarissa delivers a hard punch to his side. Lothar doubles over in pain, retching and gasping for air as he falls. Grabbing a handful of his hair and lifting his head, Clarissa touches her dagger to his throat.“Wait,” you urge, as the first drop of blood starts to flow, “Not yet.”“What...” Lothar rasps, “What is this? What are you doing?”“You should've just given us the letter,” you mutter, searching the room for something you could use to bind his hands, “Didn't have to be like this...”“Like... what?” he splutters, “I thought we were...”“We're NOT like you,” Clarissa hisses, the dagger trembling slightly in her hand. It wouldn't take much, hardly anything at all, for her to plunge it straight into his throat.
>>5713924“Your masters are in Selengrad, aren't they?” you ask as you search through his pack, then the pockets of the heavy jacket laid out on the bed. Here, inside a deep inner pocket, you find a sealed envelope and waste no time in tearing it open. The note is short and cryptic, written in such a way to ensure ambiguity – they had tried a new game, it reads, but their first attempt was a failure. The letter goes on to suggest that the “rules” were mistaken, vaguely seeking to blame the error on someone called Floros.“Promising new colleagues,” the letter concludes, “Left former employment on bad terms. Fascinating pair, significant potential for advancement there if proven to be loyal. More to come, from O.”Folding the letter and putting it in your pocket, you glance back to Lothar. He hasn't answered, simply glaring up at you. The confusion is gone now, and his eyes are filled with hate instead.“I won't tell you anything,” he spits, “Bastards! You'll both rot for this – whether it's us or your own kind that does the deed, you're both done for. Just you wait and see.”“This is a waste of time,” Clarissa sneers, “He doesn't know anything anyway.”Shaking your head, you crouch down by Lothar and look him in the eye. “Your masters,” you repeat, “Where. Are. They?”Lothar spits rather pathetically at you, with more of the bloody froth trickling down his own chin than anything else. Grimacing with disgust, you wipe away the few droplets that did hit you. Clarissa, meanwhile, just gives you an impatient look.>You're just wasting your time here. Finish Lothar off>You might have need of him later. Knock Lother out and leave him for the raid>You could try a few other questions... (Write in)>Other
>>5713936>You might have need of him later. Knock Lother out and leave him for the raid
>>5713936>Try to awaken your guardian spirit to intimidate him, invoking the Sun King's righteous authorityWorth a go. As for questions...>Where are your masters, and who?>How deep into all this is Pietr?>Did you ever meet a man called Nicholas Penrose?
>>5713936>You might have need of him later. Knock Lother out and leave him for the raiddoesn't look very willing to talk
>>5713936>You're just wasting your time here. Finish Lothar offThe academy's captured their lot before, and interrogation was in far better conditions. Without an angle to piss him off, it's not gonna happen.I suppose we could bluff with Clarissa's new powers, and suggest that the Foresters have betrayed them, but this is seriously riding by the seat of our pants.
Still kneeling by Lothar, you try to summon up every ounce of righteous authority that you can – every scrap of holy terror that you've seen Master Brehm channel. Despite your best efforts, though, you're left grasping for the once familiar sensation of your guardian spirit. Your blood remains cold, as cold as Clarissa's eyes.“Your masters,” you repeat, “Who are they?”“I'm not telling you-” Lothar begins, his words cut short as Clarissa slams his head down into the wooden floorboards. Now with blood streaming from his broken nose, Lothar lets out a splutter that could either be a laugh or a sob. “Do what you want to me,” he rasps, the words gurgling in his throat, “Cut me to pieces, burn me alive. It won't change anything. I'm not afraid of pain. I'm not afraid to die.”That, at least, seems to be true. “Good for you,” you murmur, “What about Pietr?”This hits Lothar far harder than a fist ever could. “Leave him out of this,” he spits, “He's just a BOY!”“A boy that you've got running errands for you, helping out with your damn ceremonies,” you counter, “Just how deep into all this is he?”“He doesn't know anything!” Lothar insists, “He's just following orders, doing what we tell him. He doesn't UNDERSTAND anything!”That might not change anything, so far as the academy is concerned. But, at the very least, the question seems to have unsettled Lothar enough to shake a few answers loose. “What about Nicholas, then?” you ask softly, your question causing Clarissa to look up in alarm, “Nicholas Penrose. Do you know the name?”Despite the mask of blood that darkens his face, you can see the gleeful light that enters Lothar's eyes. Just then, just for a second, he seems to see right into your heart. “I remember him...” he murmurs, a sickly satisfaction in his voice, “He came to us for help, but... but we knew that we couldn't sway him. He would never join us. But... Master Orfeas taught him what he wanted to know.”“Why?” Clarissa spits, waving the dagger in front of Lothar's face, “You bastard, WHY?”“Because we knew it would destroy him,” Lothar answers, a vile laugh bubbling from his throat. Clarissa snarls and prepares to cut his throat, but you quickly grab her hand and shake your head.Clarissa pauses, then slams her dagger down into the floor beside Lothar. He flinches back, allowing her to wrap an arm around his throat and squeeze. The struggle doesn't last long before Lothar passes out from the chokehold, finally falling still. Reaching down to check his pulse, you let out a long slow breath. “Find something to tie him up,” you order, “We'll leave him for Master Brehm.”“Do you really think they'll get anything more out of him?” Clarissa asks, wiping her bloodied hands on her breeches.“Maybe not,” you admit, “But they'll try damn hard, and rip him apart in the process.”
>>5713936>You might have need of him later. Knock Lother out and leave him for the raidNeed to make sure he's well hidden and subdued. Honestly don't see us getting much more info from him, but doesn't feel right in-character to just kill him.
>>5713980A careful search of the workshop leaves you with a length of cord, just perfect for tying Lothar up. Lashing him to the bed, you give his quarters one last check over for any other leads. But there's nothing to find – aside from a few space pieces of clothing, there seem to be no personal effects at all. Clarissa looks over the letter as you search, reading and rereading the coded note.“This name, Floros. It sounds like they provided the ritual. A scholar of some kind, maybe,” she muses, “Hopefully Orfeas has more letters from them, something we can use to track them down.”“Something that someone else can use to track them down,” you remark, “I'm not cut out for this sneaky business.”“Who is?” Clarissa asks, shrugging off her own question. You're about to answer when Clarissa holds up a hand to silence you. Listening hard, you hear the distant sound of horses riding hard. Rushing over to the window, you spot the first of the riders arriving in town and dismounting, quickly bringing their carbine up to the shoulder as they search for any threats.Beside you, Clarissa lets out a soft gasp. “The raid!” she whispers, “But-”“Maybe they got bored of waiting,” you suggest grimly, watching as more of the soldiers arrive and dismount. A dozen of them already, and you can hear more horses in the distance. Master Brehm wasn't playing around, if he managed to get this many men together. Watching them assemble, though, you don't quite feel the sense of relief that you had been expecting. Maybe you're just too tired for that.Looking down at the soldiers, you wonder what to do.>You can surrender yourself to them. Your part in this is over>You need to find Pietr and keep him clear of trouble>You want to deal with Orfeas before they get to him>Other
>>5713997>You need to find Pietr and keep him clear of trouble
>>5713997>Other>Send Clarissa to save Pieter>We deal with Orfeas and coordinate with the raid teamWe should be able to do both. Also want us to be the one to talk to the soldiers/Brehm and not Clarissa, since we're probably better suited to framing our initiation and part in the ritual.
>>5714001>seding ClarissaI dunno, anon... She might just ell him out or kill him. She's ice-cold.
>>5714005>5714005She just seems incredibly on-edge, which is understandable given everything she's gone through recently (solo missions from Brehm, seeing that spirit at the monastery, now this mess), but I don't think she's at the point where she'd harm someone who is ostensibly innocent.Also want to make sure she doesn't go anywhere near the soldiers or Orfeas, since she could potentially compromise us in each circumstance i.e. by letting on how involved we were with the cultists, or by either killing Orfeas or getting sweet-talked over to his side somehow.
>>5713997>You want to deal with Orfeas before they get to himWe can still backstab him, maybe even pinpoint the relevant lineages to investigate
“Listen, Clarissa, I need you to do something for me,” you begin, touching her lightly by the arm, “I need you to find Pietr and keep him out of trouble. He trusts you, I think. He'll listen to what you have to say.”“Me?” she asks, “What are YOU going to do?”“I'm going to take care of things here. Just let me do the talking, okay?” you insist, “Just leave this to me.”Clarissa gives you a dubious look, then the slightest hint of a shrug. “The boy might already be at the town hall,” she suggests, “I'll start there. Don't do anything stupid, will you?”“Can't promise anything,” you tell her with a hasty smile, “Now go on, let's move!”You head downstairs before splitting up, Clarissa slipping out through the rear of the workshop as you cautiously approach the soldiers gathering out front. They turn at the sound of your footsteps, and suddenly you find yourself staring down a line of carbine barrels. Feeling vaguely foolish, you raise your hands as the first of the soldiers hurries over to you.“Hearne?” he barks, although he has the good grace not to point a gun in your face.“That's me,” you answer, “There's a man upstairs, unconscious. Probably two more somewhere in town, and their leader should be in the manor. I'm going there now. Follow me or don't.”“Wait a damn minute!” the officer snarls, reaching out to grab your arm before a gunshot suddenly rings out. You all drop low and turn, just in time to see one of Lothar's assistants lowering their rifle and ducking back behind a house. As the officer starts to shout orders and gesture to his men, you break off from the group and start running for the manor. You've got unfinished business with Orfeas.-You reach the manor just as the first raindrops are starting to fall, fat heavy things that soon turn into a tremendous downpour. The front door bursts open under your shoulder, and you waste no time in making for the study. That's where Orfeas will be, you're sure of it. True enough, he's sitting calmly behind his desk when you arrive. A circle of occult glyphs is laid out before him, hastily sketched out on the desk in chalk.“Oh. Laurence,” the old man begins, his lips drawing back in a sickly smile, “I didn't hear you come in.”“It's Lucas, actually,” you reply, drawing your revolver and taking aim, “You should know that, at least.”“Oh really?” he asks, disinterest dripping from his words, “Well now I know. Did you come here for a reason, or are you just here to bluster and threaten?”This man, this bastard, was the one who destroyed Nicholas. Now, you've finally got a chance to settle the score. “It's over for you. There are soldiers coming, they're going to take apart everything you've built here,” you snarl, hoping that your words wound him, “It's already started. Can you hear it?”Orfeas actually cocks his head to listen, that damn smile still stuck on his lips.
>>5714028“But don't you see?” Orfeas asks softly, an uncanny serenity in his voice, “This doesn't matter. None of this matters. Kill me, kill every living thing in this village, and it won't change anything. There are more of us than you can ever kill. We're in every town and village, every street of every city. Kill me, and the work will continue.”“Time favours us, not you. Every hole that we pierce through your Veil will hasten the arrival of the new world, and nothing you can do will change that,” he continues, “Burn every cult you find, hang every dissident and heretic. It will only delay the inevitable.”Anger boils up within you, a rage like you've never felt before – and with it, you feel a faint heat stirring within your heart. Merely a spark at first, the remnants of a dying ember, but fire nonetheless. You revel in it, even as the sound of footsteps rings out from the stairs outside. Just for a moment you feel like your old self, like you could burn Orfeas to ash with little more than a thought. Like you could-“Sir!” one of the soldiers cries out, causing you to jolt around in alarm. Orfeas leaps to his feet as soon as your gaze leaves him, his hands already sweeping through the first ritual gestures as he stands. Before he can complete the first of the gestures, though, the bark of a carbine spells an end to him. The bullet catches him high, knocking him back into the bookshelf with a crash. Cursing, you hurry around the desk and kneel down beside the dying man.“Lucas, was it?” Orfeas rasps, blood bubbling from his lips as he dies, “I'll... remember that... remember... you...”And then he's gone, his eyes glazing over as the life leaves his body. You curse again, but quietly this time.-You barely notice the soldiers rushing past you as you leave the manor, marching out into the pouring rain. The fighting has ended now, with an uncanny silence hanging over the whole town. A few of the locals peer out through their windows and doorways, otherwise staying well out of the way. As you emerge from the manor, you spot Clarissa and Pietr being led out by another soldier.“Another two, sir,” the young soldier announces, “Found them hiding behind the town hall.”“Lowe, is it?” the officer replies, glaring first at Clarissa and then at Pietr, “Is this one of the suspects?”Clarissa glances over at you, then looks at Pietr as if seeing him for the first time. “No sir. Just a civilian,” she answers briskly, “I grabbed him when I heard the gunshots, to stop him running off.”“I see,” the officer mutters, waving a dismissive hand at Pietr, “Go on, boy. You're free to go. Make sure you stay out of the way.”Pietr glances up at Clarissa, then nods and backs off. He retreats a few paces, then turns tail and runs from the main street. Just as he's leaving, the soldiers all snap to attention and you spot the carriage rattling up towards the manor.
>>5714062The carriage rattles to a halt, one of the soldiers opening the door as Master Brehm exists. He seems to have aged ten years in the few days since you last saw him, but his eyes are sharp and alert. Leaning heavily on a walking stick, he approaches to study both you and Clarissa in silence. Caught under his hard stare, you feel a terrible mix of fear and shame. After everything you promised him...Nobody speaks. Not for a very long time. All you can hear is the constant drumbeat of the rain falling all around you. Master Brehm's face is blank, a mask carved from granite, while his piercing eyes are unreadable. You feel caught between two impossible poles – a desire to explain yourself, to justify yourself, and the urge to say nothing at all. So far, the latter has been winning.Then, eventually, Master Brehm turns away.“Take them into custody,” he announces, raising one hand in a gesture to the soldiers. Immediately, two of the men rush forwards to seize your arms. A third man reaches down for your revolver, while Clarissa is given the same treatment. She accepts it calmly, her own face no more expressive than Master Brehm's frozen features.The thought of resisting comes to mind, and is quickly banished. What would be the point? More than a dozen armed men surround you, and not one of them looks like they would hesitate to fire upon being ordered. So, bowing your head, you allow the soldiers to lead you away.But deep within, you can still feel that spark flickering away.>It's a little early, but I think I'm going to take a pause here. I'm aiming to continue tomorrow, starting at the same kind of time>Thank you for reading along today
>>5714077Ugh, Brehm. Does he know, somehow, what we've done? How? Our aura, our guardian spirit's absence/dimness?
>>5714077Thanks for running.Never again will I underestimate the power of words in this setting. I went into arc assuming that compromised meant more something akin to taking part in blood sacrifice or something like that ritual we sabotaged, not something as 'tame' as a lying pledge of allegiance. The more you know.
>>5714077Thanks for running!
>>5714077>>5714091Oaths have power and frankly we already knew that a single such oath is famning to the point of death for anyone.
>>5714418I will say I wish there'd been a vote before giving the oath to just pull out a gun and be like "naw". I would have voted for that if I had a chance.