Previous: https://suptg.thisisnotatrueending.com/qstarchive.html?tags=Path%20of%20the%20ExorcistAlthough you can't see it, you know the storm is still raging outside the monastery walls. You can feel it, and not just on the occasional drafts of air that groan through the stone hallways. There's a dark kind of energy in the air, a violence that is yet to expend itself. But then again, maybe that's not the storm that you're sensing.Deimos laughed as he burned. He LAUGHED.You toss and turn on the firm, austere bed, but sleep remains elusive. You've got too much on your mind for that. While you have little doubt that Deimos deserved his fate, the thought of destroying him like that leaves you with an obscure sense of horror. To destroy a spirit is to remove it, once and for all, from the cycle of life and death that governs all men. That's not something to take lightly.But if it was a sin, it doesn't seem to have offended your guardian spirit. Quite the opposite, in fact – the fire burning within your heart feels brighter than ever, grown strong on the act of violence. That, perhaps, is what lies at the root of your unease.Eventually abandoning your attempts at sleep, you get up and leave your room. Brushing through the loose curtain that serves as a door, you step out into the corridor and listen. From the next room across, Harriet's room, you can hear a faint scratching sound. The sound pauses slightly as you approach the doorway, hesitating like a rabbit listening to the air, then carries on. Quashing a sudden thrill of unease, you brush the curtain aside and peer into the dimly lit room.Harriet looks up from her book, her fountain pen held suspended a few inches from the page. Like you, she seems to have been having trouble sleeping – her hair is loose and tousled, while she has only a white nightshirt to protect her modesty. She looks young, with the candlelight glowing in her wide eyes, and very vulnerable. There you linger, caught between backing away with an apology and fully entering her room.The moment draws out, only for Harriet to finally break the stalemate with a cheerful wave that beckons you closer.
>>5728554“I couldn't sleep,” you begin, although you feel that the explanation is unnecessary, “What are you writing?”“I decided to start a journal,” Harriet answers, a faint hint of embarrassment entering her smile, “I know, I know. It's a bit silly, isn't it? But I just thought, well, maybe one day someone might want to read about all this. You know, when it's all over. It... IS over, isn't it?”As much as you'd like to put her mind at rest, the best you can come up with is a shrug. “I don't know,” you admit.“It FEELS like it's over,” she murmurs, her eyes growing unfocused as she gazes into the air around her. “I don't feel it. Not at all,” she continues, “It's funny. I was so used to feeling the spirit, but now that it's gone... it's going to take some getting used to!”Harriet laughs at this, then notices that you're still awkwardly standing opposite her and waves a hand towards the bed. You shake your head, more out of a vague sense of propriety than anything else, and she laughs again. “Oh fine,” Harriet teases, getting out of her chair and flopping down on the bed herself, “Is that better?”“A little,” you reply, sitting down as Harriet stretches out on the bed. Her nightshirt isn't long, allowing you a plentiful look at her shapely thighs. “How are you feeling?” you ask as a distraction, “I mean, did it... hurt at all?”You can see the lie starting to take shape on her lips, then Harriet shrugs. “A little,” she admits, “Well, more than a little. Quite a lot, actually. But, um, it wasn't for very long. I'm more worried about you – you really freaked out on me back there. What even happened?”“It was that monk, his face. Like I was looking at something that had been dead for years, maybe even hundreds of years,” you recall with a shudder, “It felt... I don't know. Not exactly like necromancy, but close to it. Maybe I should ask Roerich about it, but-”“But he said not to question it,” Harriet interrupts, “Didn't he?”“Well, yes. But doesn't that just make you want to ask the question even more?” you point out, “It's either that, or...”“You're about to say something foolish, aren't you?”“Or I go and find this “master” for myself,” you finish, “See what was REALLY watching over us, back then.”Harriet gives you a strange look, then sighs. “Or you could just stay here with me, you know?” she suggests, “Don't you think that maybe this is... this is something better left along? It worked, it helped us, can't that just be the end of it?”Her gaze, imploring, fixes you. The unanswered questions nag at you, but even if you did find the answers you're looking for... would they really make things any better?>Harriet's right. You should just let things be>You need find Roerich. Maybe he can explain everything>You should find the master itself. Then you'll know for sure>Other
>>5728555>>Harriet's right. You should just let things beKeep it in the holster to potentially ask Roerich some other time. Tonight we should at least do what he asked out of respect for helping us so much.
>>5728572Supporting.>>5728555Welcome back, QM!
Maybe there's a reason why Harriet is so spooked out by this. Even if she might not be able to put it into words, even if it's just a lingering feeling at the back of her mind, it's strong enough to overrule anything else. A feeling like that, maybe it's worth listening to.“You don't mind if I stay a little while longer?” you ask carefully, “I mean, you're not tired?”“I'm exhausted, actually, but I just can't seem to settle. So really, you'd be doing me a favour by staying,” Harriet insists, “I'm warning you now, though, I might spend half the time rambling to myself.”“I'll consider myself warned. Ramble away,” you assure her, leaning back a little in your chair. You glance across at the journal as you do so, the book left open on the writing desk. Before you can get a proper look at what she's written, though, Harriet lunges over and snatches the book away. “What's the big secret?” you ask her, a slight smile finding its way onto your face, “We just went through the same thing, didn't we?”“Well, maybe. But it's not about what we DID, it's about how I feel about it,” she explains, “And THAT is not for prying eyes.”“Suit yourself,” you decide with a shrug, “Just remember to mention how great I was - or leave out the bad bits, at the very least.”“Oh no, I can't do that!” Harriet's eyes widen with surprise, “What's the point of writing down the good parts, if I don't include the bad parts as well? You can't have one without the other, can you?”Maybe, maybe not. You're fairly sure that you could live without the bad parts, but even you'll admit that it might not make such a good story. Harriet slowly strokes the cover of her journal as you think this, her own expression growing vague as she ponders.“At the end...” she begins, only to lapse into a faltering silence. It takes a moment for her to continue, to find the right words. “At the end... while he was burning, I mean, I felt something. It's like I could sense all his thoughts, all his memories, just for a second. It was too much, too fast, for me to make sense of anything, though,” she explains at last, “I just got a sense of it all. Of how... powerful they were. They weren't like normal men.”“What do you mean?”“I don't know. It's like... oh gosh, I feel silly. I shouldn't have said anything,” Harriet shakes her head, “It's like the things we can do with the help of a guardian spirit, they could do by themselves. That sort of thing. I don't know, I'm probably not making any sense. I'm just rambling.”“Well, you did warn me,” you remind her, “But who knows what kind of knowledge has been lost over the years. Back when the Accord was young, or even before then... things were different back then.”“I think I'll stick with the modern, civilised world,” she decides, “I don't care what kind of gifts they had back then, I'll stick with soft beds and indoor plumbing.”
>>5728591“But you know, it wasn't all like that,” Harriet continues, rolling over on the bed and staring up at the ceiling, “I remember... well, sort of remember other things. People, flashes of their faces. I think...”She falls back into silence again, a gloomy look falling across her face as she struggles to find the right words. For a while, neither of you speaks. You just wait, watching the slow rise and fall of her breathing. Somehow, you think you know what she's about to say.“I'm only here because of him,” she murmurs at last, “Because he had a woman, a family. I keep wondering. Did he really care about them, or were they just... I don't know, a convenience? A means to an end? It's just so strange, thinking about-”“Thinking about him coming home after a hard day's necromancy, kissing his wife on the cheek and greeting the kids?” you finish for her. Harriet lets out a snort of laugher, the darkness melting away from her face. “Is it really that strange, though?” you continue, thinking aloud to yourself, “Exorcists like us, we still have normal lives. We go out and get involved in all kinds of strangeness, all kinds of horror. But when it's over, we go back to our lives.”Harriet considers this for a while, rolling over and giving you a dubious look.“Okay, maybe WE don't have normal lives,” you admit, giving her a shrug, “But in theory, we can have normal lives. We just don't because-”“Because we're all complete disasters?”“Because we're all complete disasters, yes,” you nod. Now that you think about it, though, you can't really think of any active Exorcists who have something that approaches a normal life. It's not exactly easy to balance a family with the burdens of your duties. There's a reason why Community, one of the aspects of mankind, is not held sacred to the academy.“Hey, what's with that gloomy look?” Harriet cries out, sitting upright and reaching across to you, “You're not thinking about anything weird, are you?”That really depends on her definition of weird, you suppose. By recent standards, this is a very normal thing to be fretting about. “Just sleeping with my eyes open,” you assure her, “Anyway. You're not starting to feel sorry for Deimos, are you?”“Hmm... not really,” she considers this, “I wish it hadn't ended up like this, but I don't really see any other way it could have gone either. It's like my old tutor said – you just need to cut toxic people out of your life. That doesn't... normally involve this much fire, but these were extreme circumstances.”That's an understatement. The silence returns, and you find yourself wondering whether to continue the conversation.>You've said your piece. Time to get some sleep>Ask about this tutor of hers. Maybe you can learn more about her lessons>Ask about her plans for the future. Writing, maybe?>Ask about her idea of a “normal” life>Other
>>5728606>Ask about her plans for the future. Writing, maybe?
You don't feel quite ready to sleep just yet, while Harriet – despite what she said earlier – still seems wide awake. As you search for something to talk about, your eyes fall on the journal lying on her bed. “So is that what you want to do with your life, then?” you ask, “Writing, I mean.”“Yes, well, maybe,” Harriet's cheeks darken a little, “I don't actually know if I'm any good at writing. It could be that nobody else in the whole land wants to read anything I write, but that's fine. I mean, I don't really need to do it for the money. Oh gosh, that sounds awful doesn't it? I just meant-”“There's always the family business to fall back on,” you suggest.“Right, right. Well, ah, unless father has disowned me by now. He might give the whole business to someone else, leave me with nothing,” she pauses, shrugs slightly at the idea, “But you know, I don't actually mind the idea now that I think about it. I always thought I'd inherit the whole lot, but... I don't know. Don't you think it would be a real hassle, managing all that business stuff?”“Don't ask me. The only thing I inherited was a bunch of childhood trauma,” you reply with an awkward laugh, “It would certainly eat into your time for Exorcist business, though.”Harriet slowly nods to herself. “I think... there's something nice about the idea of losing it all. Just being totally free, without any kind of commitments and responsibilities,” she muses, “Wow. You know, it's starting to seem pretty cool.”“There are some advantages to the simple life, I suppose,” you remark, although you point to her overstuffed backpack, “You'd need to cut back on your wardrobe budget, though.”“Oh,” Harriet goes silent for a long time, “I didn't think about that.” -You talk back and forth for a little while after that, until Harriet lets out an enormous yawn. All the accumulated fatigue of the day, of the last few days, seems to fall upon her in a single moment. That, as much as anything else, puts a natural end to your conversation. As you're getting up to leave her to rest, she lurches to her feet and throws her hands around you. Hugging you tightly, she starts to mumble some sleepy words of thanks into your ear before going limp. Carefully keeping her from collapsing outright, you gently ease the snoring girl down onto her bed and brush the hair away from her face.Her expression, as you leave, is utterly serene. You can feel your own sense of calm return as you head back to your own room. The rest of your troubles are starting to seem far off and distant too, at least for a while. Whatever else happens, Harriet can live the rest of her life without worrying about the malevolent attention of her distant ancestor. That's worth celebrating, but...But still. You can't forget the sound of Deimos' last laugh.
>>5728624By morning, the storm has blown itself out and left behind a day that it bright and clear, almost painfully so. Just looking out across the mountains, the white snow seems to glow with the light of the sun. Harriet gazes out in wonder, her first few steps out from the monastery crunching on the fresh snow. Even as she starts out from the monastery, you hear a faint whisper of robes.“She is not the same woman who entered this place,” Roerich whispers, his voice dry and sparse, “You see that, don't you?”“She doesn't have that thing, that monster of an ancestor, hanging over her,” you point out, “That's got to be an improvement. A real weight off her shoulders.”Roerich doesn't reply to this straight away, as if he has his own doubts. When he does speak, it's on a completely different subject. “There is something I wished to tell you,” he murmurs, “Not as a monk, or even an Exorcist, but as a simple man.”“I'm listening.”“A man sees the world through the eyes of his teachers, and you, Young Master Hearne, are the latest in a long line. The lessons you have learned have been passed from one generation to the next until, finally, they have arrived at you,” the monk explains, “But you, I sense, have questions that your teachers, myself included, cannot answer.”“That may be true,” you admit, “What's your point?”“Find new teachers,” Roerich answers simply, turning and retreating back into the monastery. You're about to follow after him, but then Harriet calls out your name. You glance back and gesture for her to wait, but Roerich has vanished when you look back around. He's simply nowhere to be seen.-Descending the mountain always seems easier than ascending it, for obvious reasons, and it feels like you've been hiking for barely an hour before the academy starts to draw near. You feel a flutter of unease in your throat as you approach, wondering what kind of welcome might be waiting for you. There are a few odd glances as you enter, a few low whispers, but nothing more than that. You can live with that.The dorm is quiet when you arrive back, so quiet that it seems deserted at first. Then Persephone peeks out from her room, drawn by the sound of your arrival, and gives you a casual nod of greeting. “Hello you,” she begins, “You look like you enjoyed your time away. That's quite the rosy look you've got in your cheeks, Miss Maxim. Made good use of the privacy up in the hills, did you?”“I don't know know what you...” Harriet stutters, “No, I didn't!”“Shame. It's what I would have done,” the pale girl decides with a flamboyant shrug, “Anyway, it's about time you got back. There's work piling up, and they're actually expecting US to do some of it. Can you believe it?”“I can, actually,” you sigh.
>>5728648Unpacking, you decide, can wait a little while. You set your pack down and take a seat as Persephone stalks from her room. Her pale eyes lock onto you, taking on the slight haze of one looking into the spirit world. Apparently approving of whatever it is that she sees there, Persephone nods and sits down opposite you. “So,” she begins, “I suppose you'll be wanting an update on all the exciting gossip you missed out on.”“Yes, actually,” you reply, “If it's not too much trouble. I know how much you hate gossiping, after all.”“Just for you, I'm willing to shoulder this burden,” she teases, “Now, where to start... It's been boring as shit here. That's about it. Old Brehm has been scuttling about in the archives, looking into the old reports. He's even got dear Clarissa helping him with that now, although I think she's mostly just hiding away and scheming with that uncouth sister of hers.”“They probably have a lot to catch up on,” you point out, “How is Clarissa, anyway?”“We don't know,” a gruff voice states bluntly. Johannes emerges from his room, setting his own backpack down with a heavy thud. “She doesn't talk much these days,” he adds, “Not to us, at least. She hasn't been making any trouble, if that's what you mean. That's good enough for me – she doesn't need me babysitting her, even if I had the time for that.”You glance down at his backpack. “You're going out on investigation, are you?” you ask him, “Alone?”Johannes shrugs. “Going south, not quite to the border of the forest, but close. Village there says they dug something up, and things have been strange ever since. They want someone to check it out,” he explains, “And yes, I was going alone. There wasn't anyone else available.”“Don't look at me!” Persephone warns, as you start to glance her way, “I have my own business out east. Unseasonable weather in the mountains there. Honestly, they just heard snow and ice and immediately thought of me. I'm just a stereotype to these people!”“Unseasonable weather,” you repeat slowly, “They're calling out the Exorcists for unseasonable weather now?”“Well, it's not like we're not extremely busy with other matters, is it?” Persephone throws her hands up in disgust, “I don't know, there was a mention of glowing eyes in the blizzards as well, but you know what these country bumpkins are like with their overactive imaginations. They probably just saw an owl and pissed themselves. But, they need someone to talk some sense into them and I got the job.”And she sounds thrilled about it. You consider the two separate jobs and wonder if you should tag along with one of them. But Clarissa and Cloranthy have their own work too, somewhat closer to home.>Head south with Johannes, and investigate the disturbance there>Go east with Persephone, and investigate the strange weather>Visit the archives and assist the Lowe sisters with their errands>Other
>>5728659>Visit the archives and assist the Lowe sisters with their errands
>>5728659>Go east with Persephone, and investigate the strange weather
“This job you've got out east,” you begin, meeting Persephone's gaze, “Do you want some company?”A slow smile spreads across Persephone's face. “Well well. Is this you inviting yourself along?” she teases, “Are you really that desperate to spend a little time with me?”“I've already got my warm clothes packed,” you reply with a casual wave, “I'd save some time on unpacking if I tag along with you.”“Oh well, in that case I'd be delighted to have a little bit of company. Someone dashing and handsome, someone to liven up the journey with some delightful conversation,” she purrs, “Johannes, do you want to come with me? Lucas here can handle your job. I'm sure he wouldn't mind.”“Stop talking shit,” Johannes grunts, dismissing her taunt with a shake of his head.“Ah well, it was worth a try,” the pale girl says with a wistful sigh, turning her gaze back to you, “Shall we make a move?”-Persephone, you notice, has a new cloak. A very nice new cloak, midnight blue with a trim of silver fox fur. She must be very proud of it too, judging by the way she constantly fiddles with it. Eventually, you abandon your attempts at remaining aloof and play along. “Nice cloak,” you tell her, glancing across as your horse trots along the rough dirt path, “It looks good on you.”“It does, doesn't it?” she replies, stroking the glossy cloth, “It was a gift. That last job I did – the one with old man in the capital, do you remember? He gave me a little tip for a job well done. Utter swine of a man, but very rich and eager to impress.”“I'm fairly sure accepting a gift like that is a breach of our professional standards,” you point out, “But I'm guessing you already know that, and-”“And don't care one bit. Exactly right!” she agrees, nodding eagerly, “Really, where's the harm? It's not like I extorted it from him, after all... although I reckon that we could make an awful lot of money if we started doing that. Pay up, or we'll get the local spirits to haunt you. What a brilliant idea! Lucas, my dear, you're a genius!”That... is not what you meant. That's not even close to what you meant.“I don't think we'll be able to make much of a profit on this job, mind you,” she continues, “Dismal little place, from what I can tell. Honestly, what kind of degenerate would live out in the snow like this?”“Weren't you-”“That's different. These people live up in the mountains, like brutes. As a cultured individual, I come from the plains,” she argues, “You'll see. We can make a bet of it – if these people are living like civilised human beings when we arrive, I'll do something terribly nice for you. But if they're living like beasts, then... well, we can figure that part out later.”“I'm not agreeing to this,” you warn her, “I'm not signing anything.”“You're no fun!”
>>5728677The journey is not a particularly long one and, by your reckoning, more north than east. You arrive at the town, Lashoum, by nightfall, and you're soon glad that you didn't take Persephone's bet. The town would be a miserable sight even at the best of times, and now, with heavy gusts of snow blowing down from the overhanging mountains, it feels utterly desolate. The buildings themselves are all crumbling stone, while the few locals you see are hunched and buried under thick furs. It feels like the survivor of some lost, barbaric age, a relic from a time better forgotten.Normally, you'd head straight for the temple and speak with the town priest. In this case, though, there isn't one.“The letter came from the town chief, and yes, that's his actual title. Like I said, beasts,” Persephone explains, her breath clouding in the air with every word she speaks, “A man named Bernarl. Look for the largest man in town, or perhaps the largest beard.”You ignore her for a moment, taking another look around your surroundings. The village surrounds the base of the mountains, a single path leading up into the craggy rocks above. Even through the blizzards, you can see a few other ruins dotted throughout the mountains, each one tenaciously clinging to the bare rock. The whole world takes on an eerie cast when you open your inner eye, with each gust of wind bringing down a distorted hiss of whispering and the faint hint of a vast shadow writhing over the mountains. The inhuman spirit of the mountains themselves... perhaps.But no eyes peering out at you from the storms. Not so far as you were able to see, at least.-“I didn't want to bring you here.”Chief Bernarl is, exactly as Persephone suspected, the biggest man and the biggest beard in the town. A bear of a man, both in terms of his size and in terms of the furs that he wears, he scowls down at you with a face like broken rocks. His house is the largest in town, but that isn't saying much. It feels crowed just from having him in it, and intolerable with all three of you. Four, if you count the trembling servant hiding in the back of the room.“I see,” Persephone replies smoothly, “Forgive me, sir, but is this not your handwriting on the letter? Your signature?”“Didn't want to write that damn letter either. But some of the folk in town got fearful when the snow started early and wanted me to send word to the capital. Call for the “experts”, they said,” Bernarl grunts, “So, here you are. Get to work.”“Well,” Persephone says, her voice still perfectly calm, “The first thing we do is to speak with the locals, to get an understanding of the situation.”“It's snowing. That's the situation,” the chief states, “What's the SECOND thing you do?”“We take note of any locals who refuse to cooperate,” she counters, suddenly as cold and hard as steel, “So they can be punished accordingly.”
>>5728692“There's one thing I want to know,” you begin, speaking up before the whole house can explode into an argument, “Why, exactly, is it so concerning for the snow to start early?”Bernarl turns, looking down as if noticing you for the first time. “Local history. It's a long story,” he states, “There was, a long time ago, a wicked man with a grudge against the town. The stories say that he could command the storms, and he brought them on to punish the town. The storms only ended when the town chief – MY ancestor – slew the wicked man. But now, people are talking – talking as if the man, or someone like him, is back.”That, you assume, is the short version of the story – so short as to be practically useless. Who exactly was this wicked man, and why did he have a grudge against the town? How was he slain, and how could he return? Bernarl shows no willingness to answer these questions, simply lumbering away now that he's said his piece. As he marches through to the back room to berate his servant, Persephone leads you a few paces away.“You know,” she whispers, “Something tells me that we're not wanted here.”“Was it the part where he openly stated that he didn't want us here?” you hiss back, “Was that the part that tipped you off?”“That might have had something to do with it, yes,” Persephone nods, “But he's certainly not going to make our job any easier...”“Well, threatening to have him shot probably doesn't help!”“Bah, force is the only language that these people understand!” she insists, “If he thinks he can push us around, we won't get anywhere with him. There's no point in being POLITE with these people. We have the authority here – sacred duty of the Sun King, blah blah blah – so why not USE it?”She's right about that, at least. So far as the spirit world is concerned, you hold absolute authority. So far as the physical world is concerned, though, Bernarl is very large and seems very familiar with violence. With that in mind...>Invoke your authority and compel Bernarl to help. You're not giving him a choice>Bernarl is still the town leader here. You can ask for his help, but you won't make demands>Appeal to his sense of rationality. The quickest way to get rid of you is to cooperate and solve the problem>Other
>>5728710>>Appeal to his sense of rationality. The quickest way to get rid of you is to cooperate and solve the problemIf that fails>Invoke your authority and compel Bernarl to help. You're not giving him a choice
“Look, he wants us gone almost as much as we want to get out of here. The quickest way of doing that is by solving this problem of theirs,” you whisper to Persephone, “We have to assume that he's a rational man, that he can understand this. We should try reasoning with him, at least, before we bring out the big guns.”Persephone pouts, then shrugs. “If you say so,” she tells you, “But you can do the talking, mister calm and reasonable.”“That's probably wise,” you mutter, crossing over to the back room and rapping your knuckles firmly against the door frame, “Chief Bernarl?”The tall man turns slowly, fixing you with a sour look. “You're still here,” he grunts.“Yes we are,” you agree, “And we're going to stay here until we've solved this problem of yours.”“Fantastic.”“That might take some time. We're starting more or less from a blank slate, after all. We're going to have to learn a lot about the town before we can even really get started, and then...” you pause, shrug, “Well, who knows how long that might take? Alternatively, we can pool our knowledge. We're the professionals here, but we don't have the local knowledge that you do. We'll make much better progress if we work together on this.”Bernarl stares at you for a long moment, his gaze heavy with a mix of weariness and disgust. Then, just as you're about to press for an answer, he swipes one hand through the air in a curt gesture. “If it's knowledge you want, start with my brother. He's a man of books – your sort of man, I'd judge. Tell him I sent you, and he'll help. Start there, and leave me be. I've got a town to look after.”Not exactly the outpouring of help that you had been hoping for, but about as much as you'd been expecting. He might act like you're something he scraped off his boot, but at least you're making some progress.-Armin, the brother, is a tall man like his brother, although the comically small pair of spectacles perched on his nose does much to soften his features. He claims to be the town healer, although his workshop reminds you more of a slaughterhouse. Despite this, he seems quite willing to help – or, perhaps, to simply talk with another educated man.“Bernarl isn't happy about this. He's always been like this,” Armin explains, drumming his fat fingers on one knee, “He doesn't like anything that challenges his authority. Or anything that he takes as a challenge to his authority. Don't tell him I said that.”“Naturally,” you agree, “We're not here to take over the whole operation. Just figure out this business with the snow. I understand there's a story there.”“Yes, well, that's true. A bit of a family legend, in a way. It goes back generations, to an ancestor named Diethelm and his rival, a man named Vangelis,” Armin pauses, studies you over his glasses, “He's the villain of the story, if you hadn't guessed.”
>>5728738“Vangelis was a wise man, a healer and a seer – he was said to hear the spirits of the mountains, and even commune with them on occasion. He was also madly in love with the fair Corinna. You can see where this is going, can't you?” Armin lets out a hoarse laugh, “Oh yes. Corinna was to marry Diethelm. Vangelis insisted that the union was ill-fated, that it would turn the spirits against us, but Diethelm wouldn't listen. In the end, he drove Vangelis out into the mountains.”“That, as the stories go, is when the weather changed. Vangelis called storms to lash the village, such that the winter seemed to last all year round. It would end, he declared, if he was given the fair Corinna as his bride,” Armin continues, “Instead, Diethelm set out into the mountains and finished the job. He killed Vangelis, and the storms eased. That was the end of it... until now.”“So what changed?” you ask, “Why now?”Armin shrugs his broad, heavy shoulders. “I wish I knew,” he concedes, “When morning comes, we can take a look around. Weather will still be vile, mind you, but we'll have a little daylight to work with. Maybe we'll pick up the trail then.”“Bernarl's letter said that some of the townsfolk had seen eyes in the storm,” Persephone says quietly, “Have you seen anything like that?”The healer doesn't answer this for a moment, an awfully long moment. “Nothing like eyes,” he says eventually, “Wait until morning. We can have a proper look around then. It's not much, but I have space in here if you need a place to sleep. I doubt Bernarl will offer you anything better.”“Lead the way,” you agree, shouldering your pack. As you follow Armin away, a sudden thought strikes you. You wonder what sort of dreams you'll have here.>I'm going to pause things here for today. I will be continuing this tomorrow, starting at the same kind of time, and aiming to run sessions through until Monday>Thank you for reading along!
>>5728752Thanks for running Moloch! Finally caught a session instead of playing catch up.My gut reaction is that Diethelm and Vangelis were related.My other gut instinct is that Armin disturbed whatever it was Diethelm used to contain Vangelis.
>>5728754Strong instincts, methinks, though perhaps if Bernarl is that insecure he felt threatened by his smarty-pants brother and disturbed the spirit so he could best it and make himself the clear and indisputable successor to their heroic ancestor? Would further explain Bernarl's hostility at our intervention.
Not even a spare bedroom, the room that Armin has managed to find for you seems to be an old storage space above the house. There's just enough space for the two of you, and while there are plenty of musty old furs laid out to sleep on, the wind is constantly whistling through the thatched ceiling. It's far from the most pleasant place that you've ever slept in, but it's better than sleeping outside.Persephone doesn't seem to notice the cold wind, but she probably grew up with far worse.“I think I hate it here,” she decides as she lies down on the furs, “There's an ugliness here. Can you feel it?”“Like Bernarl, you mean?” you ask, “His attitude certainly qualifies.”“Hm, yes. That's part of it, I suppose. But it feels larger than that to me, wider than just one man,” Persephone whispers, relishing the macabre situation, “This whole place is tainted by it, stained by it. This might not be so boring after all!”She's got a strange idea of excitement.-That night your dreams, by which the spirits are sometimes known to reveal secret things, are unclear. In your dreams, you're hiking up a mountain and yet you can never reach the peak – you always find yourself back where you started, caught in an cycle that repeats itself without end. The sensation of marching through deep snow lingers with you even after you've woken up, a ghostly illusion of fatigue accompanying it.Playing the role of host as best he can, given the meagre options at hand, Armin invites you to share breakfast with his family. It's a simple meal, mostly hard bread and salted meat, served by his wife. Annika is a charming, if somewhat tired looking woman, who works alongside her husband as a healer – handling matters that require a feminine touch, as she demurely explains.“But really, there's not that much use for healers around here,” she remarks with a brittle laugh, “So I usually have plenty of time to wander about the mountains. I'm not used to staying inside quite this much!”“It won't be for long,” Armin assures her, although his words are weary, “And I'll be happier knowing that you're here, watching over the little one.”“Mm, I know,” Annika sighs, shaking her head before turning to you, “If I can help in any way, please don't hesitate to ask.”“Well, I wasn't planning on needing a healer – especially not the feminine sort – but accidents do happen,” Persephone remarks lightly, “Tell me, what sorts of books do you have here? I'm sure my handsome assistant would love a chance to read all about your, ah, fascinating history.”“Afraid there isn't much. Mostly, we tell stories here rather than write books. Tales get passed down, father to son, but...” Armin says, “Things get forgotten that way, you see. Forgotten and lost. What little written knowledge we do have, it'll mostly be scattered around here. Anni-”“I'll find what I can,” she promises.
>>5729151Leaving Annika to search the house – and, presumably, watch the child – you head out with Armin to learn the land. Cold, wet snow slaps you in face as soon as you leave the house, and you hasten to raise the collar on your heavy overcoat. Even with the storms filling the air with mist and snow, though, there's enough light to get a better idea of the place. The town is larger than you first thought, although you'd guess that about half of the houses are long abandoned.This is a dying place, you realise, a town with a terminal illness. The thought strikes you with a sudden sense of futility – even if you were to banish the unnatural storms, how much time would you really be buying for the town?Oblivious to your dark thoughts, Armin leads you through the town until you return to his brother's house. In the daylight, you have a better chance to see the family crest mounted above his door. The crest depicts a pair of male figures facing away from each other, and a terrible air of decayed nobility hangs about it. Armin stares up at the crest in silence for a moment before leading you away, saying nothing about it.“You see up there?” the healer announces after a while, pointing up towards the mountain, “That flat part there, at the peak? We'd sometimes take our dead there, in the old days. Have you ever heard of a sky burial?”“You leave the bodies for the birds,” you reply, “Right?”“Aye. In winter, the ground here gets too hard to dig a grave, and building a funeral pyre is no easy task. So, we make do with what we've got,” he nods slowly, “Haven't had cause to use it for a long time, mind you.”“What are those ruins there?” you ask, pointing to the piles of stones clinging stubbornly to the mountains.“Mostly just a few abandoned cottages. An old watchtower, I think. Best you stay away, though – the ground there can be unstable. We had a bad landslide a few years back when some kids went exploring the ruins. Caused a lot of damage down here, and the kids themselves... well, best you stay away,” he warns gruffly, “Nothing up there, anyway.”“Did anything happen before the storms came?” you ask next, “Anything at all out of the ordinary?”Armin thinks again, but shakes his head. “Nothing that I can think of, but I'm not the best person to ask. If people have a wound, they come to me. Anything else, they go to Bernarl,” he explains, unable to fully hide the edge of bitterness in his voice, “And I haven't had any wounds to deal with. Not yet, at least.”“Let's try and keep it that way,” you mutter, glancing across to Persephone. She gives you an indifferent gesture, content to let you make the first move.>It'll be a trek, but you should investigate the sky burial site>Danger or no, you should investigate these ruins>Bernarl can tell you about any recent events, if he's feeling cooperative>You've got more questions for Armin... (Write in)>Other
>>5729152>Bernarl can tell you about any recent events, if he's feeling cooperativeShould be the quickest since we are already here. Hiking up the mountain can be next.
>>5729152>Bernarl can tell you about any recent events, if he's feeling cooperative
>>5729152>Bernarl can tell you about any recent events, if he's feeling cooperativeHe won't cooperate, but we can at least say we tried before we trek up into danger.
Before you tackle the mountain itself, you want to see what Bernarl knows. You'll be relying on him to cooperate, of course, but that's always going to be a risk. At least you won't have travelled very far if this turns out to be a dead end. Giving Armin a nod of thanks, you watch as he hastens back to his workshop. For all the tough act that he was putting on in front of you, he's just as eager to get out of the snow as you are.Knocking firmly at Bernarl's door, you enter to see the chief busy sharpening a weighty axe. Almost by instinct, your hand goes to the revolver holstered at your belt as he rises. Bernarls scoffs, noticing the motion, and sets the weapon aside. “What do you want?” he grunts, “I was getting ready to... chop some wood.”“We've spoken with Armin. He's been very helpful,” Persephone begins, stressing that last word, “But he suggested that he speak to you. About what happened before the storms.”“What do you mean? Nothing happened before the storms,” Bernarl snaps, “If you're trying to suggest something, just come out and SAY it.”“Nobody's suggesting anything,” you quickly assure him, “We just-”“Neither are we implying, or insinuating, anything,” Persephone adds, although the tone in her voice hints at the exact opposite. Shooting her a look of warning, you continue where you left off.“We just need to know if you're aware of anything out of the ordinary, anything that might have caused this,” you explain, “These things don't just happen for no reason. Even if there was no ill-intent behind it, a simple act can sometimes have dire consequences.”Bernarl gives you a scowl of disgust, as if your very words are offensive to him, but he thinks. He thinks hard, furrowing his brow and cracking his knuckles before shaking his head. “Nothing,” he says at last, the single word delivered like a punch.“Nothing,” Persephone repeats, her eyes widening with an insolent curiosity, “Nothing at all?”“Nothing. At. All,” he stresses, “Anni... Annika was up in the mountains a lot, but that's not strange, not out of the ordinary. She just went for some time away from her brat. Deer have been sparse this season, but we're getting by just like we always do. I don't know what else to tell you – I could lie if you like, make something up if it'll get you out of here.”“Okay. Okay fine, you've made your point,” you tell him, conceding defeat with a backwards step. As if sensing weakness, Bernarl hefts his axe and starts to approach. Just as disaster seems inevitable, though, he barges past you and pushes his way outside. The door bangs shut behind him, leaving you and Persephone in the suddenly silent house.“He was in an awful hurry,” Persephone murmurs to herself, her words dripping with sarcasm, “But I suppose it's perfect weather for chopping wood.”
>>5729178“Well, anyway. Since our host was gracious enough to leave us alone, we should probably help ourselves to a look around,” Persephone decides, gesturing around at the gloomy, untidy house, “Really, we wouldn't be doing our job properly if we didn't see what kind of nasty secrets he's got hidden away here.”“Do you think he's got something to do with this?” you ask as you glance around the place, “I mean, it wouldn't surprise me that much but...”“But we need to figure exactly how deep in the shit he really is,” she agrees. Silence falls as you pick through the clutter that fills the house. There's a tremendous amount of hunting gear and tools, most of them in a state of disrepair but some showing signs of recent use. Weapons too, with an antique military rifle hanging on the back wall. Probably something he got from a trader, you decide, you can't imagine Bernarl lasting very long in the army. “He lives alone,” Persephone announces after a while, “No woman, no family at all. Don't you think that's strange?”You turn the idea over in your mind. It does seem somewhat odd, especially in a town like this – you'd expect that the leader could get any woman he wanted.As you think, you hear Persephone call out from upstairs. “Oh hello, what's this?” she remarks, her voice drifting down to reach you. Setting your thoughts aside for now, you hurry up to join her. Persephone stands at a large, antique writing desk, the oddly refined furniture seeming terribly out of place in the otherwise barbaric house. The main drawer is locked, judging by the way Persephone keeps rattling at it, and that just encourages your curiosity.Drawing her dagger, Persephone squats down by the desk and peers at the lock. “Damn and blast,” she mutters, “I can get it open, but it won't be a clean job. He'll know that we've been in here.”“You can't just... I don't know, pick the lock?” you ask, tugging at the drawer as if it might magically work for you.“Maybe if I had a set of proper tools, and training as a locksmith,” Persephone points out, “Give me a few weeks and I'll see what I can do. Or, I could just force the bloody thing open and save us a whole lot of time. It's not as if Bernarl can hate us any more than he already does, can he?”It's not so much about how much he hates you, as what he DOES with that hate. If he takes offence at your intrusion and decides to put that axe of his to good use, then... well, that won't look very good on your report back at the academy.>Force the lock. You can't leave any stone unturned>Leave the lock be. You can't risk causing an incident with Bernarl>Other
>>5729188>OtherCome back to it later if we find other evidence that things are up.
>>5729188>>Leave the lock be. You can't risk causing an incident with Bernarl
“Just leave it for now,” you urge, taking Persephone by the arm and lifting her upright, “We can always come back if we need to. For all we know, it might just be... I don't know, dirty sketches or something like that.”“Well, now I want to look even more!” Persephone protests, although she grudgingly puts her dagger away. With one last yearning look at the locked desk, she steps back and follows as you carry on the search. There isn't much else to see, though – and with how messy the whole house is, a thorough search could take days. There's no sign of his servant either, and you wonder if they just handle the cooking. They certainly don't do any of the cleaning, after all.Before you leave the house, though, you take a moment to look it over with your inner eye. Normal colours fade as you peer into the spirit world, and you find yourself drawn to the bedroom. Bernarl's bed is unmade, a wild tangle of sheets, but that's about what you expected given the state of the rest of the house. But the air around the bed feels somehow tainted, darkened. His dreams are bad, you guess, and have been bad for a long time.Emerging back into the cold wind, you find yourself automatically bracing yourself against the wave of snow blown at you. You've been here less than a full day, and you're already starting to get the hang of things. There doesn't seem to be much else going on in town, and Annika likely hasn't finished digging out the reading material just yet, which leaves you with only one option for your next stop – the mountain itself.Persephone seems to reach the same conclusion, resting one hand on the hilt of her sword as she marches towards the mountain path. You might be getting used to the weather, but she seems at ease here – she walks with her head held high, meeting the frigid wind without flinching. Catching you looking, she turns and gives you a mocking smile before hurrying on ahead. Redoubling your pace, you draw up beside her and grab her arm once again.“Don't go running off on your own,” you warn, but Persephone easily writhes out of your grip and skips ahead a few paces.“Then keep up with me!” she taunts, turning and running up the trail. Cursing under your breath, you chase after her as the sounds of her bright laughter flutters down to you on the wind. The deeper into the mountains you go, the less visibility you have – thick with mist and snow, the air seems to close in around you.Before she can get too far ahead, Persephone senses the danger and slows to a halt, waving back to you and waiting for you to catch up. You look back as you do so, taking some small comfort from the deep trail your footsteps have carved in the snow. Even with the blizzard blowing down on you, you'll have a path back down towards the town.For now.
>>5729178>>5729188>Bernarl lives alone, no wife, tangled sheets and hidden letters or sketches>Knows where Annika gets up to, resents his nephew (her 'brat' she wants to 'get a way from')>His brother and Annika have a bit of a terse, tense dynamic>He and his brother have opposing views and attitudes, like the brothers in the family's story>The brothers-of-old fought over a woman, precipitating the stormBernarl and Annika are having an affair.
>>5729220“Do you hear that?” Persephone shouts, her voice raised against the howl of the wind. Even without opening your senses to the spirit world, you can hear a faint undercurrent of whispers beneath the roar of the wind. Louder here than down in the town below, but the individual words are still lost in the fury of the storm. When you focus, though, some words start to rise above the rest. Straining your senses, you hear-“Corinna is mine, do you hear me? MINE!” a ghostly voice calls, their words cracking with a pained anger.But after this, nothing. Nothing that you can make any sense of, at least. You're certain that you just heard an echo of the distant past, but whose voice had that been? Had it been Diethelm speaking, or Vangelis himself?With those questions held unanswered in your heart, you find yourself gazing up at the peak of the mountain itself. The nature spirit looms overhead when you open your inner eye wider, a vast giant of shadow that ripples and writhes with each gust of wind. If only you could speak to the spirit, to know what it must have seen over the countless generations! But the spirit is utterly oblivious to your presence, tiny mite that you are by comparison – it won't speak for anyone short of the Sun King himself.Turning your gaze back down to ground level, you catch a flash of movement out in the mist – a human, or mostly human, silhouette moving deeper into the storm. Not up to the burial site at the top of the mountains, and not out to the ruined buildings at the edges, but deeper into the mountain range itself.“I saw something!” you cry, pointing to where the shape had been, “There's something else out here!”“Some THING?” Persephone repeats, “You didn't see what it was?”“I just caught a glimpse of it, and... damn it, we need to get out of this storm!” you curse, shuddering as a particularly harsh gust of wind crashes down from the peak of the mountains. You didn't have to be here, you recall bitterly, you could have been in the balmy south with Johannes.“Push on!” Persephone argues, pointing up towards the peak, “We've come this far already!”It's like she doesn't even notice the cold or the wet, her eyes blazing with life even as drops of icy water run down her skin. But you certainly DO notice the cold, and you know that you can't stay out here forever. Every fibre of your being wants to turn back and flee, to head back to the town below, but...>You need to push on, to get to the sky burial site at the peak>You could try taking shelter in some of the ruins at the edge of the mountain>Try and follow the silhouette. It almost seemed to be leading you somewhere...>Return to town. You can come back to the mountain after coming up with a plan>Other
>>5729251>You could try taking shelter in some of the ruins at the edge of the mountain
>>5729251>You could try taking shelter in some of the ruins at the edge of the mountainFollowing spirits (?) into a mountain blizzard is a good way to get yuki-onna'd. Which is nice, but we have a frost-babe already, and Persephone is SOMEWHAT less likely to kill and eat us.I wouldn't mind getting her thoughts on my theory at >>5729248 while we shelter. Could such an echo of past events rouse the spirits? A recurring familial grudge and marital betrayal caused spirit-trouble in that town we visited with Johannes...
>>5729251>>5729258shelter in ruins + talk to persephone about the village bros
“Come on!” you shout, grabbing Persephone's hand, “I need to talk to you, talk properly! We can take shelter in the ruins!”“Those terribly unsafe ruins, you mean?” she remarks, her laugh piercing through the storm, “Why, lead on!”She's still laughing as you drag her away, leading her towards the edge of the mountain and the ruins dimly visible there. You pick the largest of the ruins, assuming that they'll be the most stable – an assumption that you're not exactly qualified to make, but you're too desperate to care. Trudging through the deep snow as you approach the ruins, you let out a sigh of relief as you step inside and feel the wind drop away.It feels very quiet, all of a sudden.“You can let go of my hand now, you know,” Persephone points out, her voice low and coy, “I mean, I don't mind either way.”“Well, I needed to make sure you wouldn't wander off,” you counter, squeezing her hand lightly before letting go. Shaking loose snow off your coat, you take a look around the ruins. This must be the watchtower Armin mentioned, you recall, or something similar. The upper levels might have crumbled, but you've got an almost complete room for shelter. Plus, it doesn't look like it's about to collapse around your ears.Letting out a soft sigh, Persephone sits down against the far wall and closes her eyes. “So?” she prompts, “You said you had something you wanted to talk about, didn't you? Something terribly important, I'm guessing, or you wouldn't have been so pushy about it.”“Listen. I've been thinking,” you tell her, sitting down beside her, “Go ahead, make your joke about hard work.”“I would never joke about a thing like that!” she remarks, her eyes wide with a mocking innocence.“Ugh, fine. Bernarl lives alone, like you said. No wife, no family, nothing like that. But he seems to know a lot about Annika's habits, about what she's getting up to. He doesn't seem particularly fond of her child, either,” you explain, “He's keeping secrets too, with that locked desk of his. You see where I'm going with this, don't you?”Persephone smiles, relishing the thought of drama. “You're not suggesting anything scandalous, are you?” she teases, “Surely not!”You shrug, leaving her to consider the idea. In truth, you feel like it's something more than just a bit of family drama. Two men and a woman – that feels awfully familiar, for a place like this. True, it might be one of the oldest stories in the books, but... it fits together a little too well to be a coincidence.“I think you're right, actually. Or, at the very least, you're certainly on the right track,” Persephone decides at last, “I don't know exactly who's doing what with who, but there's certainly a lot of, ah, emotions going on. Still, I'm yet to meet a lover's quarrel strong enough to summon a blizzard. Does your little theory have an answer to that one?”“One step at a time,” you grumble.
>>5729288You both lapse into a thoughtful silence as you return to your theory, Persephone's head resting softly on your shoulder as she relaxes. Listening to the storm blowing outside reminds you of the monastery, and an entirely different girl. Harriet had been haunted by her ancestors too, almost brought to ruin by them. Sometimes, you're glad that you don't know anything about your own lineage. Life seems so much more simple this way.The spirit world, as you know, can definitely react to strong emotions and grudges. Grudges especially, when they've been passed down from one generation to the next. This whole town is like a pool of stagnant water, the filth growing and accumulating until it has choked out all life. If Bernarl and Armin are re-enacting an old rivalry, that might be enough to-“What if they were related?” you think aloud, the idea suddenly striking you.“In a town like this, I'd be more surprised if they weren't related,” Persephone murmurs, her voice low and sleepy, “Who are we talking about?”“Diethelm and Vangelis, the original two. What if they were brothers too?” you explain, “Then there would be even more of a connection with what's happening now.”“And you think the spirit world is misbehaving because of that connection? As if they're... tricking it into repeating the past?” she wonders, “Maybe not deliberately, of course, but that doesn't necessarily matter. So, in order to put this to rest, we need to complete the story. That means-”“We're not killing anyone,” you interrupt, “I mean, we're not going to start killing people in the HOPE that it'll fix things.”With a pout, Persephone rises to her feet and stalks off into the ruins. You let her go, content to sit and get your breath back. It's not exactly warm in the ruins, but anything would seem pleasant without that cruel wind outside. Just as you're fighting the urge to doze off, Persephone calls out to you from the upper level. With a weary sigh, you get up to see what the noise is all about.When you arrive at the upper level, you start to wonder if Armin was wrong about this place. This doesn't look like the remains of a watchtower. In fact, the ruins that you've found almost seem like-“A temple?” you ask loud, looking around at the remnants of what might have been a statue, an altar.“It certainly looks like one,” Persephone agrees, “Why is it that wherever we go out together, you always end up taking me to a ruined temple?”“Because... there are a lot of ruined temples in the land?” you suggest.“Or because you're an awful date,” she shoots back, “Next time we go out, I decide where. Okay?”>After this, I'm not sure if there should be a next time>Okay - but I'm going to hold you to that one>If you've got any better ideas, I'd love to hear them>Well... (Write in)>Other
>>5729329>You took me to an art gallery to relive your childhood trauma last time, but okay>Cheeky grinTease a teaser.
>>5729329>>Okay - but I'm going to hold you to that oneBet
“You took me to an art gallery to relive your childhood trauma last time,” you point out, giving Persephone the smuggest grin you can conjure up, “But okay. Sure.”“That doesn't count,” she decides, decisively shaking her head.“Why not?”“Because I've arbitrarily decided that it doesn't count,” Persephone answers, matching your grin with a wicked smirk of her own, “That's why!”She wants you to argue. She's almost daring you to argue with her. Instead, you just give her a casual shrug. “Well, suit yourself,” you reply, “But I'm going to hold you to that one, you know. Don't think you can just wriggle out of it later.”“I wouldn't dream of it,” she promises, “But for now, we've got a ruined temple to investigate!”By which she seems to mean, you've got a ruined temple to investigate. You start with the remains of the statue, although it's so worn down by the weather that you don't have much to work on. It was a human figure once, you're guessing, but that doesn't tell you much. It could have been a spirit, a representation of the mountains, or just a famous person. Likewise, it's hard to judge whether the damage is deliberate, or just the result of time. Moving to the altar, though, you see some signs of a human hard – there were words carved into the altar once, until someone obliterated them with a chisel.“They never mentioned anything about a temple,” Persephone thinks aloud as you peer down at the faint remains of the letters, “But I'm starting to think that they didn't mention a lot of things.”“Well, it's not like this would be useful information for us to have or anything,” you agree, wondering how to fit a desecrated shrine into your theory. Some of the destroyed letters might be spelling out the name “Vangelis”, but maybe you're looking for something that isn't there. Looking for shapes in the clouds, so to speak.Back in Penn's Garden, you recall, you were able to look into a version of the shrine that still existed in the spirit world. Figuring that you might try the same thing here, you kneel down and try to cast your mind out but to no avail – with the constant lashing of the wind and snow outside as a distraction, you just can't do it.“I don't think there's much more for us to see here,” you decide, abandoning your attempts at meditation, “We could check a few of the smaller ruins, though. I mean, we might as well.”“It's a shame that we don't have Anni here to give us the guided tour,” Persephone remarks as you're descending to the lower level, “If she wanders the mountains as much as they said, she might know if any of the ruins are worth checking out.”Of course, she mentioned exploring the mountains. Funny, that she wouldn't say anything about the temple. It's true that you didn't have a chance to ask her about the mountains, but...
>>5729376Stepping into the ruined cottage, you immediate sense something. A presence of some kind, just enough that this place doesn't feel as lifeless and abandoned as it seems. The wind whistles through the hollow doorway, carrying a few whispered words along with it. Persephone hears them first, touching a finger to her lips to silence you as she focuses. You concentrate too, just about hearing-“I won't let him take you away from me, my love...”“We can't keep doing this. It's dangerous. If Diethelm finds out...”But then the words are gone, almost as soon as they arrive. Even after they've fallen silent, though, they seem to repeat themselves in your head as you puzzle them out. Another distant echo, this time of a conversation between... Corinna and Vangelis, you assume, although the implications don't exactly match up with the story you've been told.“History is written by the victors, after all,” Persephone remarks, giving you a wry smile.-You see it again as you're leaving the ruins, and this time the silhouette doesn't flee. It remains still, the man-like silhouette low against the snow. Gesturing for Persephone to stay still, you reach for your revolver before reconsidering. Cold hands, numb fingers... too much to go wrong. You draw your sword instead, a slight tremble running down the length of steel that you blame on the cold as well.The figure stirs as you take a step forwards, rising slightly from its sprawled posture as if kneeling in front of you. Then it opens its eyes, the yellow glow piercing through the mist like daggers. As soon as those eyes open, the wind seems to grow that much worse, wrapping around you like the tendrils of some vicious sea-beast. It continues to rise, higher and higher as the shape lifts from the ground as if carried up on the wind.Then the mist parts, just long enough for you to clear, if fleeting, look at the figure. A wasted, emaciated corpse with flesh drawn tight against the bones and a few loose rags wrapped around the limbs... what little of them are left. The arms stretch out wide as if to embrace you, but the legs both end in ragged stumps below the knee. The mutilated corpse hangs in the air for a second before the mist sweeps back in to surround you and hide it from sight. The eyes are the last thing to vanish, seeming to linger for far longer than all the rest.It's time to get off this fucking mountain.>It's a little early, but I think I'm going to have to close this here for today. I'll be continuing this tomorrow, as planned>Thank you for reading along today!
>>5728648>Find new teachers,” Roerich answers simplyis he implying to ask the necromancers? Deimos!?>>5729406So a possessed corpse, either from a sky burial or one of the kids who got landslided.
You waste little time in descending the mountain, following your rapidly disappearing path back down to the town below. All the while, you look out for any other signs of the mutilated... thing that had been occupying the storms. More than once you think you see the glowing eyes peering out at you from the corner of your vision, but they're always gone when you turn to check. Even without the eyes, the sense of being watched, followed, never really leaves you.Arriving back in town, you run past doors that have been marked with the Sun King's sigil until you reach Armin's house. Immediately hammering on the door, you practically fall inside as Annika opens it. She seems to sense your urgency and asks no questions, simply hauling you inside with surprising strength and helping you over to the blazing fire. It's only then that you realise just how cold you really were, a terrible spasm of shivering gripping your entire body.“Sit down, sit. You're soaked to the bone,” Annika tuts, helping you to strip off your sodden coat, “Are you hurt at all? Do you need-”“We're fine. I'm fine,” you assure her, wincing slightly as the life starts to return to your numb fingers. Annika nods, quick turning to help Persephone with the same brisk, efficient motions.As soon as Annika's back is turned, as soon as she goes off to hang up your coats, Persephone leans over to you. “Oh no, you're all wet. Please let me undress you!” she whispers, a shrill note of mocking in her voice.“You're just mad that you didn't get there first,” you whisper back. There's something incredibly strange about joking around like this, so soon after seeing that thing. It certainly helps to settle your nerves though, or at least distract you with a different kind of danger.“There's still plenty left for me to take off, if you really want me to,” she warns, plucking at the collar of your damp shirt. Before she can do anything more than that, though, Annika returns with a soft cough. She sets down a pair of thick, folded blankets and starts to retreat, only to hesitate for a second.“I have to ask...” she begins, “Did you... see something out there?”Just from the unease on her face, you almost consider lying before giving her a slow nod. “There's something up in the mountains. A spirit of some kind, perhaps,” you explain, “It... didn't attack us, though. It vanished pretty much as soon as we saw it.”Annika grimaces slightly at the news. “I really thought... I hoped maybe this was all just the weather. Strange weather, maybe, but nothing more than that,” she admits, “But if you've really seen something... What was it? What did you see?”“It had the form of a long-dead man, but mutilated,” you explain, gesturing down to yourself, “The legs were severed.”“The legs, you say?” Annika repeats, her brow furrowed with confusion. She thinks for a moment more, then hastens from the room without another word.
>>5729693Returning a moment later with a worn scroll tucked under one arm, Annika lays it out on a table and gestures over to you. Reluctantly, you leave the warmth of the fire to look at the dusty parchment. You can't read much of the writing at a glance – not with the cramped, untidy handwriting – but you certainly recognise one of the sketched drawings. It shows a man's body, the legs crudely cut away.“There's an old bit of superstition. It said that evil men... well, that they don't always stay dead,” Annika explains, “I know, it probably sounds silly to a man like you but hear me out. It says here that a man who dies with sufficient malice can return to his body after death, and walk down from the mountain to spread his misery. So, some of the bodies left out for the birds were...”“You'd sever the legs so they couldn't return,” you finish for her, “Vangelis would've been mutilated like this, wouldn't he?”“I expect so,” she agrees, “Listen, I've got a few other scrolls that you might want to look at. A lot of it won't be relevant, I expect, but I gathered up as much as I could find. While you're reading through them, I'll make you some soup – you must be starving after running around in the snow like that.”Now that she mentions it...As Annika retreats to the kitchen to work, Persephone joins you at the table. Barely glancing down at the scroll, she glances back to make sure that you won't be overheard before whispering to you. “Well?” she asks softly, “Are you going to ask her about her and Bernarl?”“That's not exactly the sort of question you just drop on someone,” you point out, “Not unless you want a slap in the face as your answer.”“Well, dancing about the issue isn't going to get us anywhere either. Given the circumstances, I think we can be excused for being a little blunt,” Persephone insists, “Listen, if you're too much of a decent human being to ask the question, you can leave it to me. Just make up some excuse to leave us alone for a bit. We can have a little... conversation, just us girls.”This, somehow, manages to be one of the most unsettling things you've heard since arriving here.“Oh, don't look at me like that!” she adds with a laugh, “I'm not going to do anything horrible to her – what kind of person do you really think I am?”“I'm more concerned about burning bridges,” you explain, “I'd rather not piss anyone off now, only to find out that we need their help further on down the line.”“It'll be FINE. Really. I'm a perfect professional,” Persephone stresses, “Oh come on. It'll give you a chance to do your reading in peace!”Her point made, Persephone folds her arms and sits back as you consider what to do about the relationship situation.>This is just a distraction. You don't need to know>You'll ask Annika about it yourself>Persephone might be better at this. Let her handle this one>Other
>>5729694>This is just a distraction. You don't need to knowI'm not sure if knowing it would even be of any help. We can verify if Vangelis and Diethelm were related, but if the corpse turns out to be Diethelm we'd burn it either way.
>>5729694>You'll ask Annika about it yourselfI just want to know if it exists and if it does, does the start of the affair match up to when the storms started.
I don't know if my vote is going to win, but if it does I'll go over a little how I think the topic should be approached instead of dropping the bomb bluntly.Discuss the case with her a little. Talk about love triangle myth and the whispers we heard up there. Then mention Bernal's somewhat strange knowledge of her activities. Essentially lead her to our theory so that it's only logical that we ask the question.
After a pause, you shake your head. “We're getting distracted,” you tell Persephone, “This isn't going to help us bring things back to normal. We need to stay focused.”“Boring!” Persephone drawls, leaning back and flipping a strand of hair away from her face, “But fine, if you want to play it that way. We'll stay focused – focused on what, exactly?”“The small matter of the mutilated corpse that seems to be flying about in the storm, perhaps?” you suggest, fighting the urge to roll your eyes, “I want to know exactly what it is. If it's the cause of this abnormal weather, then we've got an obvious solution – we track it down, and we burn it. But if it's not the cause, if it's just the symptom of a bigger problem... Then, perhaps, we can widen our search. Now, are you going to help me with these scrolls?”With a shrug, Persephone takes the smallest of the scrolls and starts to unwind it. An uneasy silence falls as you start to read a little more of the scroll Annika showed you, squinting in the candlelight as you decipher the uncouth handwriting. It seems to be a collection of superstitions, gathered together with no particular order or organisation. There's the section on mutilating the dead, of course, but a smaller passage catches your eye.The passage tells another story, a story in which an old man, fearing death, climbs to the top of the highest peak he can find. He climbs so high that the spirits of Sheol, who rule over the low places, are unable to claim his soul. Thus the old man escaped them... until a common bird brought a scrap of his undying flesh to the low places, and Sheol claimed what was rightfully his.You look up from the scroll, your stomach groaning as you catch a faint whiff of the soup cooking in the other room. The moral of the story, of course, is one of inevitability – in the end, Sheol claims all souls. But if you were to take the story literally, then...Now you're the one getting distracted, your thoughts drifting back to the monastery. Setting that particular issue aside for now, you give Persephone a nod. “Anything there?” you ask her, pointing to the scroll in her hands.“Family histories. Crushingly boring, for the most part, but I noticed something rather interesting,” she explains, “Our dear Anni has a rather interesting ancestor. See here?”Finding Annika's name on the page, you trace back through the generations until a name jumps out at you. “Corinna?” you whisper, “She's a descendant of Corinna, but Armin and Bernarl are also...”“Don't think too hard about it,” Persephone suggests, her grin growing a little wider, “Now, do you still think she's a distraction?”
>>5729694>Persephone might be better at this. Let her handle this one
>>5729710You turn the idea over in your mind for a while longer, trying to figure out how relevant it might be. As you do, you search Persephone's scroll a little more but you don't see any trace of Bernarl or Armin in the collected lineages. When you mention this to Persephone, she gives a tiny shrug.“If they're what passes for nobility in a town like this, they may have their own separate records – something they keep under lock and key, I suspect,” she explains, “You'll notice that our friend Vangelis isn't mentioned in there either. So either he was a “nobleman” as well, or there really is a family connection. Why not? Everyone else here seems related!”She might laugh, but you're not really seeing the funny side of it. Eventually, you rise from the table with a start. “I'm going to talk to her,” you mutter, more to yourself than anyone else.“Really now?” Persephone raises an eyebrow, “What happened to not burning any bridges?”“I'm not going to accuse her of anything, I just want to tell her what we've found so far and get her take on it,” you point out, “If she lets anything slip, that might give us an answer. If not, we've not lost anything.”It feels like you're making excuses, probably because you are. Persephone accepts your arguments with a languid shrug, leaning back in her chair and leaving you to it. With your mind made up, you knock lightly at the kitchen door before letting yourself in. The smell of cooking grows stronger as you enter, but Annika doesn't seem to notice your arrival. She stirs the pot slowly, listlessly, while staring off into space. It's only when you clear your throat that she flinches and looks around.“Oh, I'm sorry!” she begins, “I was just lost in thought, and-”“Don't worry, don't worry. I just wanted to talk to you,” you assure her, gently closing the door behind you, “I wanted to get your input, actually. Some of the things we've learned don't quite match up with the story Armin told us.”Was that a flicker of a smile on her face, just then?“Armin said that Vangelis was in love with Corinna, but she was to marry Diethelm. When we were up in the mountains, though, we heard... whispers. Echoes from the past, I think, echoes of words once spoken. They told a different story,” you explain carefully, “They made it sound like Corinna and Vangelis were already lovers. Secret lovers, perhaps.”Annika doesn't exactly seem surprised by this, her expression showing... not much of anything at all, actually. “They probably leave that part out when they're telling to story to the children,” she says eventually, attempting something like a smile, “I suppose real life can be... messy. Complicated. At least when you're telling a story, you can gloss over those parts.”
>>5729734“Why are you so interested in ancient history, anyway?” Annika asks, a faint edge in her voice, “I mean, it IS interesting, but is this really the time?”“The more we look, the more coincidences we seem to find,” you explain calmly, “Two men, a warrior and a scholar, and a woman between them. Things don't go smoothly, and the storms start rolling in.”Annika freezes, quite unsure what to say at first. Eventually, she settles for a startled laugh. “I don't know what you're talking about,” she insists, “I think you've got the wrong idea about all this.”“And what is “all this”?” you ask, “Bernarl seems to know an awful lot about you, about your habits and your wandering in the mountains.”“It's a small town. Everyone knows everything about everyone else and... and there's nothing going on between me and Bernarl!” Annika hisses, only for her lips turn down in a grimace, “..Although he dearly wishes there was. I know how he looks at me when Armin isn't around. You think a woman doesn't notice these things?”Not an affair, then, but an unrequited obsession. If Vangelis and Corinna really were a couple, with Diethelm trying to steal Corinna away for himself, then what you're witnessing now is even closer to the old stories. But why? Why is the same old story playing out again before your every eyes?“When did it start?” you murmur, even as Annika is looking away, “This... obsession. When did it start?”“Years ago! It's been going on for years!” Annika insists, gesturing angrily with her soup ladle, “But it's been worse lately, ever since the little one came along. I think he's... jealous, insecure, I don't know. Ask HIM, not me!”“And the storms?” you press, letting her outburst wash over you, “When did they start?”“Well, that's...” she pauses, her face growing pale, “The same time, or close enough. The weather started to turn bad just after I... Gods, do you really think he's the one that's causing this? That he's somehow... bringing the storms on?”“I'm not certain. Not yet. But the timing can't be a coincidence,” you begin, although a frantic knock at the door cuts you off before you can say anything more. Abandoning the soup, Annika hurries to the door. You follow, watching as she hauls the door open to reveal a hulking, heavyset man.“Is Armin here?” he barks, looking around the house, “We need a healer, damn it, but he's vanished. Is he here?”“No, he's... he's not,” Annika answers, glancing back to you, “Is Bernarl with you?”“Can't find him either,” the man snarls, “Both of them, gone without a trace!”>I'm sorry about this, but I think I'm going to have to flake. I'm feeling pretty lousy at the moment, and writing just isn't working out. Unless things really pick up overnight, I'm probably going to skip tomorrow and try to pick up next week. Hopefully things will work out a bit better then
>>5729763All good. I'll keep an eye out tomorrow morning, but if not, see you next week. Thanks for running.
It seems like Sheol isn't as effective at removing the personality from a soul as we thought. These souls may be trapped in a loop within the same family line.
>>5729768Which could also explain why the noble families are so obsessed with lineage
>>5729763Thanks for running, QM!
>>5729763Thanks for running! Just catching up previous threads now!
I wanted to post a quick update regarding current/future plans. Real life has been happening pretty hard, and I need to step back from writing for a little while. It might sound silly, but my cat died recently and it hit me pretty hard. I don't want to leave a project like this unfinished, but right now I can't give any solid schedule for when I'll be able to continue. I hope I can get back to some kind of normal order soon, but I can't say anything for certain.I'm sorry for the sudden disruption, and I'll post another update as things go. Thanks for understanding, as well
>>5734124Condolences. Take your time.
>>5734124Oh man. My sympathies.
>>5734124Take care of yourself QM
>>5734124Cats are good friends. It's not silly at all. Take the time you need.
>>5734124My condolences Moloch. Take your time man. We'll be here.
Quest update: I'm sorry for the radio silence over the last week, but I've been working on the next set of updates. I've got some time off coming up, so I'm tentatively looking at resuming on Friday. Assuming nothing else goes wrong, I hope to start back up then. Again, I appreciate your patience on this one.
>>5741573No problem my dude, glad to hear you're doing ok.
>>5741573Sounds good! See you soon, QM. Be well!
Nothing seems to happen for a very long moment, but it can't be more than a few seconds. Having made his announcements, the heavyset local barges through the door and flings it wide open so his companions, two of them with a third man slumped between them, can squeeze inside. With a savage swipe of his arm, the man sweeps scrolls and papers away from the closest table and scatters them across the whole room. The wounded man lets out a terrible, gurgling cry as he is flung down across the newly cleared table, the effort causing a bubble of dark blood to burst from his lips.“What-” Annika begins, her eyes widening as she stares at the wounded man, the ugly broken branch jutting from his guts.“There was something in the woods. We SAW it. Followed it, chased after it. He lost his footing and fell. Don't just stare at him, DO something!” the brute snarls, jabbing a blunt finger at Annika, “Or if you can't do anything, find someone who can!”Just for a second, Annika's eyes seem to light up with a hateful anger. Her fists curl into tight fists, but she gives the man a curt nod. “I'll do what I can for him,” he declares, although her grim tone promises nothing, “You two, please, see if you can find Armin. Bernarl's house, maybe, I don't know. Just... please, give me some room to work!”“We're going back out there,” the hunter grunts, somehow making the words sound like a threat as he gestures to his thuggish companions.“Whole damn land is trying to kill us,” one of his men whispers, the hoarse voice still loud enough for you to overhear, “What did we do to deserve this?”“Shut it,” his leader orders, casting the man a dark scowl before all but dragging him back out into the blizzard. Annika gets to work as he leaves, rattling pots and bottles as she searches through her supplies of medicine, searching for something that might ease the wounded man's pain. He groans again, his voice weaker this time, and you find yourself turning away with an absurd sense of, what, guilt?You're just getting in the way here.-Bracing yourself against the cruel, cold wind, you take Persephone and lead her back to Bernarl's house. The weather seems to have gotten worse while you were with Annika, the storm positively howling down from the mountains with a raw elemental fury. It really does feel like the land itself is trying to punish you, blindly lashing out against some ancient sin.But you can't dwell on this grim thought – as you get closer to Bernar's house, you see the door hanging ominously ajar. Drawing your revolver with a numb hand, you wave for Persephone to stay close as you approach the house and gently ease the door a little wider open. Slipping aside, you glance around the dark house and watch for any hint of movement, but the place is as quiet as the grave.Not the best choice of words, perhaps.[1/3]
>>5745706Your first thought is that someone has ransacked Bernarl's house, but maybe not. His lodgings were untidy to begin with, cluttered and chaotic, although they seem worse now. Perhaps the wind from the ajar door has stirred up some of the loose trash and made the situation that little bit worse, but you've got no way of knowing for certain. Bernarl, perhaps, could take one glance at the room and tell that something was amiss, but you cannot.But you already know that Bernarl isn't here. The house FEELS deserted, like a place that has been empty for a matter of years instead of hours. Still, you go through the motions of searching the house until you pause, your eyes drawn to an empty spot on the wall. As you're looking at the gap where Bernarl's rifle once hung, you hear Persephone murmuring to herself.“...Penn's Garden,” she whispers, her voice so low that you can only catch the last two words.“What?” you ask, turning to face her, “What was that?”“You're not listening to me? How rude!” she replies with a gasp of mock horror, “It could have been something important. I could have cracked the whole case!”“Doubtful,” you reply, your tone dubious, “If you really thought you had solved it, you'd make sure the whole world knew about it.”“You're always so mean to me, so cruel!” Persephone cries, her eyes lighting up with a perverse delight, “I suppose I've got no choice but to explain myself, then. What I was saying was, doesn't this all remind you of Penn's Garden? This dreadful sense of anticipation, like there's something coming but nobody really knows what. That's what I get, at least – I dare say that these beastly people wouldn't be able to explain it.”You can see the similarities – ancient threats emerging from some half-forgotten age. But the Stonecutter was a spirit, and Vangelis was just a man. Men ought not to do such things as this. Nothing you've read in the village scrolls suggested the presence of a sealed spirit either, like in Penn's Garden. Before you can think more on the idea, though, the sharp crack of a gunshot shatters the silence.-Plunging into the storm once more, you find yourself running towards the source of the gunshot. You don't think about it, with your body simply making the decision for you. That was Bernarl's gun – you're certain of that, somehow, as certain as if you were recognising your own handwriting. Other figures join you as you run, dim silhouettes glimpsed through the fog and whirling snow, but they vanish completely as you enter the forest. Sparse, skeletal trees close in around you like a fist, and you finally slow to a halt.You're totally alone here. Even Persephone has somehow fallen behind, although you felt certain that she was right alongside you. A sudden disorientation washes over you, a sudden childish fear of becoming lost in this frozen forest.[2/3]
>>5745709Somewhere close by, not far at all, you hear a low groan of pain – barely a murmur, really. Pushing aside your fear, you raise your gun and creep towards the source of the sound. Snow crunches underfoot as you brush aside the low hanging branches and emerge into a small clearing, your eyes immediately drawn to the man slumped across the ground. It's Bernarl, the snow around his head stained with blood from a split scalp.But he's alive. Bernarl groans again as you kneel down beside him, his eyes fluttering open to stare right through you. They see nothing, those eyes, or at least nothing that you can see.“Armin... Vangelis... they were here...” he rasps, his words slurred, “Said they were going... going to the mountains. Tried to stop them, but... Gods, when did he get so strong?”“Easy now, easy,” you murmur, glancing around at the scene. Bernarl's wound doesn't seem too bad, but he's clearly shaken up. No sign of his rifle either – likely that Armin took it from him. Probably split his brother's scalp with the butt of it too, you're guessing.“Going to take Corinna from me...” the heavyset man whispers, his head listing to the side as he gazes over your shoulder. Something changes in him, then, his eyes widening with a sudden horror as he lurches forwards, only for the effort to get the better of him. The last of his energy spent, Bernarl collapses back down as you slowly turn.A pair of sickly yellow eyes peer down at you from the canopy above, the ghoulish mutilated creature hanging amidst the branches. You start to raise your gun, only to pause, to hesitate, as you meet its gaze. The dead thing remains still, apparently content to study you for now. Even the wind and snow seems to quieten down as you stare at each other, the storm growing distant.Then it retreats, slithering through the upper canopy in a sudden flurry of movement. You start after it, only to hear the crash of footsteps as others emerge into the clearing. You don't turn at first, only flinching around when a heavy hand falls on your shoulder.“What happened here?” one of the huntsmen barks, “What happened to Bernarl?”“Someone attacked him. Armin, maybe,” you reply slowly, “He said they were going to the mountains, whoever they were.”“Then we're going after him,” he growls, “We get Bernarl back to town, get him to the healer, then we're going after the bastard. His own brother... that bastard!”With that decided, the men start lifting Bernarl up to carry him back to town. As they're leaving, Persephone slips past them and gives you a cool look. “Seems like we've got a man to find,” she decides, “What's the plan?”>Armin was heading to the mountains. You need to find him, and fast>You shouldn't leave Bernarl alone with Annika. You'd better stay with them>It didn't leave a trail, but you might be able to follow after the legless man>Other
>>5745710>Armin was heading to the mountains. You need to find him, and fast>OtherSince we are adding to the search party ask the hunters to keep someone reliable back at the healers hut to guard Annika in case the bad guys slip buy us (and if Bernarl gets damgerous)
>>5745714Supporting this.>>5745710Welcome back, QM!
>>5745710>You shouldn't leave Bernarl alone with Annika. You'd better stay with themI bet he lid to us.
“We need to find Armin, and fast,” you announce, nodding towards the retreating men before lowering your voice, “If they find him first, he's a dead man. I'm sure of it.”“And I assume that's a bad thing, yes?” Persephone remarks, falling in beside you as you follow the hunting party.“Well, yes. Especially if we don't get the chance to talk to him first,” you answer, a frown creeping across your face, “I don't know what really happened here, how much of it was down to Armin and how much was... something else. But even if he WAS responsible for this, I can't just sit by and let them lynch him. The rule of law...”“Oh hush, leave that talk to Johannes,” she scolds, waving your words away with an indifferent gesture.She falls silent after this, as if waiting for you to argue back, but you hold your tongue as you stalk through the forest. Your attention is focused on the trees around you, listening for any hint of movement and watching for those sickly yellow eyes. If Armin and Vangelis were heading for the mountains, you muse, then what WAS that thing?You think, but the answers remain elusive. Hurrying on ahead, you catch up with the hunting party as they arrive at Armin's house. Before they enter, you grab one of the hulking men by the arm. He turns, glaring at you as if you were the source of all his troubles. “I want someone to stay here and watch over Bernarl,” you announce, “Just in case our man slips past and comes back for him. I don't want him unprotected.”And Annika too, you add silently, but she might have other reasons to need protected.To your surprise, the man nods immediately. “Aye,” he agrees, “There's an evil feeling in the air. Bad time for a wounded man to be by himself. I'll watch over him myself, I give you my word.”“And you'll get to stay in the warm,” one of the other men complains, “Just a coincidence, eh?”“Listen you, this is an important duty...”Leaving the men to bicker amongst themselves for a moment, you take the chance to hasten on ahead. As much as you appreciate the extra hands to cover more ground, you wonder how much help they might really be. But it's not your decision to make – you could order them to stand down, but would they really listen?Maybe once, at the start of all this. But that time is long gone.Pushing the matter from your mind, you start up the mountain path. The fresh snow is pocked with countless footsteps, the trails overlapping and entwining with each other until they become inseparable. No hope of following Armin's trail that way... if he even left a trail. All you can do is plough on ahead and hope.“The burial site!” Persephone calls out, pointing up ahead with her sword. There might be other places to check throughout the mountains, the ruined temple perhaps, but her expression shows no doubt whatsoever.“Right!” you agree, putting your head down and pushing forwards.
>>5745750You find yourself hurrying more and more as you hike up the snowbound mountain, driven by an increasing sense of desperation. Things are reaching a climax – you understand this on an instinctual level, even if you don't know much else. Whatever it is, it has to be stopped. Somehow. The storm is getting worse too, enveloping you in a churning mist that gradually seals out the wider world. The huntsmen vanish first, first visible only by the muted glow of the lanterns they carry, then not even that.The world drops away. Nothing is left but a great and grim whiteness.Your strength sapped by the cold, you stumble and fall forwards into the snow. Bright needles of pain bristle against your cheek for a second before fading away as your flesh turns numb, and your body feels terribly slow to react. Fighting against your sudden weakness, you claw at the ground and push yourself upright to face an unexpected sight. The storm has drawn back to reveal an alien brightness far off ahead of you, a single figure silhouetted against a terrible, devouring sun. Burning without heat, the pale fire reaches out with wavering tendrils to grasp at all around it. Everything that it touches is set aglow, blazing with that same unnatural phosphorescence. The figure starts to turn and face you, but you instinctively clench your eyes shut. You can't bear the thought of it, of seeing those familiar features. All you can do is cover your eyes and-Something touches you lightly, and your eyes jolt open once more. The world is blurry and unfocused, swirling around you like the open ocean. Searching for something to focus on, your eyes finally fall on the hand outstretched before you. Pale skin, almost as white as the snow around you, with a delicate web of blue veins painted across the palm.Persephone.“It's okay, it's okay,” she murmurs down to you, “We got through it.”Got through it? Even as these words sink down into your mind, a new realisation dawns – the storm has died away to nothing, with barely a breath of wind or a single flake of snow. Finally grabbing Persephone's slender hand, you haul yourself up to your feet and look around you. The stillness feels unnatural after fighting against the storm for so long, and the sight of the open sky is daunting. A vast tapestry of deep purple and inky black, the darkness of the night sky is pierced by the light from a swollen full moon, yet there is no mixture. The light and the dark remain intact, standing in perfect contrast.Something is very wrong here. Are you too late?“Look,” Persephone whispers, pointing up ahead. There, where you saw that hideous pale sun, you now see a crouched human figure. Armin, recognisable even at the distance. He cowers and shudders, occasionally rising to reach up towards the sky only to falter back down and lie low. Above him, countless jet black birds circle patiently.
>>5745760The sound of snow crunching under your boots seems deafening, but Armin doesn't seem to hear you until you're close enough to place a hand on his shoulder. Before you can touch him, though, he lurches away and spins clumsily around. When he sees that it's you, though, he seems to calm... slightly.“I thought...” he begins, only to fall silent. You wait patiently, waiting for him to continue. “I don't know what I thought,” he admits after a second, tilting his head as if listening to something or looking up at the birds, “Is Bernarl... okay?”“He'll live,” you answer, watching with interest as Armin's shoulders sag with relief, “What happened, Armin?”He doesn't answer this straight away, his brow furrowing as he tries to think. “It wasn't me,” he says eventually, “It wasn't him, either. I watched it happen, you know. I WATCHED it. They were fighting, like they've always been fighting. It won't end until one of them is dead – he always wins, though. He'll win this time too, it's just a matter of time!”His words start slow, but the pace builds until his body heaves and shakes with hysteria. There's something wrong with his face, you realise, the sound of his voice not quite matching up with the movement of his lips. “You're... they're just repeating the same old cycle, aren't they? Diethelm and Vangelis,” Persephone guesses, kneeling down beside Armin. As she does, though, you watch as her hand slips down to the dagger at her belt. Just a precaution... you hope. “But WHY, Armin?” she continues, trying to meet his eyes, “WHY are they doing this?”“It's a terrible sin, for brother to kill brother. Almost the worst sin there is,” Armin moans, clutching his head as if struck by a sudden pain, “But it isn't supposed to be like this! The priests say our sins are supposed to be wiped clean, ground down by the machine, so why...”His voice trails off here, growing lower and lower until it's a whisper. Persephone leans closer to try and catch his last words, and that's when he strikes. Armin lunges forwards and knocks Persephone down, his bearish paw fumbling for her newly drawn dagger. You grab for him, hauling Armin up and pushing him away from her, but it's too late. Jabbing at you with the stolen blade, Armin stumbles a pace backwards before raising the dagger to his own throat.“I'll put an end to it!” he hisses, “I won't... I won't let Bernarl live with the sin. I'll do it myself!”“Wait!” you cry, reaching out for Armin only to pause as he jerks the blade closer to his neck. A thin ribbon of blood flows, and it would only take the slightest movement to open his throat completely. He glares wildly at you, his eyes both pleading and warning you away.>Do what you have to do Armin. But I hope you're right about ending this>You're not the one to blame here, Armin. This is Diethelm's sin, not yours>This won't solve anything, Armin. This won't break the cycle>Other
>>5745783>This won't solve anything, Armin. This won't break the cycle
>>5745783>You're not the one to blame here, Armin. This is Diethelm's sin, not yours>OtherYou have a family waiting for you. Think about them.
“This won't solve anything, Armin,” you warn, slowly reaching out your hand to him, “This won't break the cycle.”The faintest flicker of doubt crosses Armin's face, the point of the blade wavering ever so slightly as his hand trembles. “That's... that's wrong,” he insists, although his voice lacks conviction, “That has to be wrong. It has to be.”“If you die like this, right here and right now, that might bring things back to normal... for now. But just how long do you think this cycle has been going on for? It'll come back one day, and this will all have been for nothing,” you explain, “You don't think you want to die for nothing, do you? Not you – you've got something to live for, after all. You've got your family, remember?”“I know!” he snaps, gesturing wildly with the dagger, “They're in danger because... because of all this! I have to do something, anything, to stop this!”“But not this,” you urge, allowing yourself the slightest of steps closer, “Not this, Armin. This is Diethelm's sin, not yours. You shouldn't be the one to bear it.”Armin forces himself to meet your gaze, and you have the sense of something else looking out at you from behind his eyes. Two minds, two wills, bound together on some deeper level. But then his shoulders sag, and you allow yourself a tiny sigh of relief as you watch the dagger slip from his fingers. “Then who is?” he asks simply, “If this isn't my sin, then... Bernarl? Must he die instead?”“Honestly, you lot are so gloomy!” Persephone sighs, snatching up her dagger and sheathing it once more, “Not everything has to end in death, you know!”“We'll figure this out, I'm sure of it, but we'll need your help,” you tell Armin, reaching out to steady him as he slumps, all but collapsing down into the snow. “I want you to think,” you continue, “I want you to remember everything that happened in the forest, everything that you saw and everything that you remember. Can you do that?”Armin hesitates again, but then nods. Slapping him lightly on the shoulder, you step back with Persephone and shudder. “That could've gone worse,” you murmur to her, “What do you think?”“Do you actually believe any of that?” she asks, giving you a cryptic smile, “About the cycle continuing anyway?”“I can't exactly prove it,” you admit, “But it worked, didn't it?”“It worked, provided that your plan was to keep him alive. I'm not convinced that it's going to help straighten this whole mess out, though,” she remarks, giving you a flamboyant shrug, “Personally, I'd like to see this whole placed razed to the ground, along with everyone who lives here. Now THAT would solve this little family drama once and for all!”“What happened to “not everything has to end in death”, huh?” you point out, but Persephone just laughs off your question.
>>5745811“We were searching the forest. One of the men said he had seen something in the trees. Eyes, he said,” Armin explains, watching the birds as they silently circle above him, “Stupid of us, going out like that. But it felt better than hiding inside and doing nothing. I was with Bernarl. He didn't say anything to me, not at first. Then we reached the clearing. He started to say something, about... about Annika.”“What did he say?” you ask, studying him carefully. He seems calmer now, but it's not a healthy kind of calm – more of a weariness, the sense of a man pushed beyond his limits.“I don't know. He only said a few words, then it was... it was like I was hearing a whole other conversation. It wasn't US who was talking,” Armin insists, slight signs of life stirring in his low voice, “He was talking about Corinna, about how she wanted to be with him. How they were... they were going to be married, one way or another. That's when they fought, and I ran. Only, when I came to my senses and saw the blood on my hands...”Corinna. It always seems to come back to her. Eternally pursued by the two men, caught between the two brothers, but you know almost nothing about the woman herself. That bothers you, as if you're missing a piece of the puzzle. Vangelis, in the old story, claimed that the marriage of Corinna and Diethelm was ill-fated. Perhaps he was right, but even if he was... what then?You need a moment to think. You give Persephone a slight nod, gesturing to Armin. Keep an eye on him, you indicate. She shrugs, but sits down next to Armin and whispers something to him. Trusting her to keep him busy, you let your mind wander as you look around the sky burial site. There's not much to look at – just a bare outcrop with a large, flat-topped boulder where the bodies were likely laid out. Following some perverse instinct, you climb atop the boulder and sit, the birds above forming a near perfect ring above your head.Closing your eyes, you open your thoughts to the spirit world and wait to see what will emerge. You're not meditating, not yet, just letting your mind skim across the surface of the spirit world. You think of sin, and of guilt. Of the crimes that were committed here, then passed down from one generation to the next. You imagine them sinking into the land like a poison, only to taint the new life that grew here.You try to go deeper, envisioning a maze with your inner sight, but it's difficult without a Dho game to help focus. Instead, your thoughts keep getting drawn to the birds circling above you. You recall, then, what Roerich told you – the older method of meditation, the primal style. A dangerous method, he said, but perhaps more appropriate for a place such as this.>You don't need to meditate. You've seen enough>Stick with your usual meditation. You'll have to make do>Attempt the primal meditation. It's worth a try>Other
>>5745830>Attempt the primal meditation. It's worth a try
>>5745830>>Attempt the primal meditation. It's worth a try
You think back to how Roerich described the strange, foreign style of meditation. To picture yourself as a bird, flying free across a vast landscape and carrying your mind into the spirit world. There's a certain kind of freedom there, you think, with a risk to go along with it. Letting the mind drift free can take it to dark places.But Harriet grew up with this practice, and she turned out... mostly fine. It might be dangerous for a rank novice, but you know how to shield your mind against predatory spirits. You have nothing to fear.So, you let your thoughts drift back towards the spirit world. No maze this time, no Dho games, just the unexpected joy of flight. It takes no effort at all to surrender yourself to the strange meditation, allowing the world to spread out beneath you as you fly. Not over a forest, this time, but over an infinite mountain range. Gliding over broken rock and snowbound peaks, you watch as the landscape becomes more and more extreme. The bedrock shatters, thrown upwards in great convulsions of stone to create mountain ranges that no human eye has ever seen.And as you fly, you hear things – whispers borne aloft on the wind.“Vangelis, my dear, I give thanks to the gods that we will someday marry...”“You know, Diethelm, that you are the one I truly want. If only we could be together...”“He is jealous of you, my dear husband. He frightens me too, but I know that you will protect me...”“Oh Diethelm, why do you hesitate? Only YOU can rescue me. You need only act, and then I will be yours and yours alone...”Sinuous and scheming, a different kind of poison, the words coil around you like chains. Worse than the words themselves is the spirit behind them, a kind of gleeful mockery that oozes contempt. Bored amusement too, and a desperate, unspoken desire for power. Setting brother against brother... was this the first sin, the seed that would grow into this terrible grudge?The world beneath you shudders, the winds beneath your wings quickly growing unsettled. You try to draw back, to close yourself off to the spirit world, but it won't let you. Tossed back and forth on the turbulent winds, you soon lose sight of the landscape beneath you as the storm envelops all. It batters you, threatening to drag you down to the ground and strand you here, once and for all. You fight against it, but it's no use.You're falling, falling into an abyss. But as you fall, the storm clouds break for just a fleeting second – and through the gap in the clouds, you see it. It's just a passing glimpse, a rush snippet of a vision as you fall, but the image is burned into your mind. The City, impossibly distant and unbearably beautiful, is gone almost as soon as you've seen it, leaving a hollow yearning in its place. To think that you might never see the like of it again!And then you're falling once more, with no end in sight.
>>5745853You don't actually notice the moment when your fall reaches its end. You're simply falling one moment and motionless the next. Hanging suspended in the air, surrounded by a slowly coiling mist, you sense an unseen presence. Raising your hands in a ritual gesture, you start to speak aloud.“I am a servant of the Accord. By Sheol, the Great Spirit of Death. By Adhra, Lord of the Barrier. By the nameless Sun King himself. I command you to speak,” you declare, calling out the familiar words of the Rite of Contact, “Speak now. Do you understand me?”Looking back up, you see a vague silhouette standing opposite you. The shape changes with each passing second, shifting and writhing – a heavyset man one moment, a slender woman the next, then something that isn't quite human. Silence for a moment, then:“I understand you.”The voice is like a discordant choir, countless voices speaking without order or harmony. The spirit's true voice is even worse, a blaring noise that gnaws at the furthest reaches of your senses. The Rite of Contact has forced it into some semblance of human speech, something that you can comprehend, but it's far from perfect.“Name yourself,” you command, “What are you?”“I am this land, these mountains. I was ancient before men ever walked here. I remember all,” the spirit answers, a rumble like breaking rocks beneath its voice, “You fumble for crumbs of knowledge, to know things that are so insignificant as to be incomprehensible to me. Why?”“Because this land... no, these people are cursed. They suffer because of deeds that have long since passed,” you explain, “I wish to help them, to solve their problem.”“Lies. A half-truth at best.” No judgement in the inhuman voice, no condemnation. Just a simple statement of fact, so brutal that it leaves you no room for denial.“I wish to understand. To solve this mystery,” you correct yourself, “That's all.”“These people mean nothing to you. In this, we are not so different. You wish to solve their problems?” the spirit asks, before continuing in the borrowed tones of Persephone's voice, “Personally, I'd like to see this whole placed razed to the ground, along with everyone who lives here. Now THAT would solve this little family drama once and for all!”There's no malice there, you realise, no wickedness or evil. Just a profound sense of indifference, dwarfing anything that mortal men can comprehend. The whole town could die, the bodies could pile up in the streets, and the mountains would remain unchanged. For the spirits here, it would all mean nothing.“Thank you for your advice,” you tell the spirit, through gritted teeth, “I'll... keep it in mind.”>I'm going to pause things here for today. I'll be picking this up tomorrow, hopefully with a little less slowposting>Thank you for reading along today!
>>5745902Thanks for running!
Cut loose once more, you cast your mind out amidst the remnants of deep time. The spirit world is alive here, the echoes of past moments still playing out before your eyes. Through one generation after another, you see the cycle repeating itself without end. Sometimes it's petty, little more than a bitter rivalry, and sometimes it boils over with a terrible violence. The actors may change from one generation to the next, but the characters remain the same – there's a warrior and a wise man, with a maiden caught between them.With each repetition of the cycle, you go further back. You see the town grow – or rather, you see the decline being undone – until it seems like a noble place, even luxurious. An unfamiliar pain jabs you at the sight of it, a bitter longing for what once was. Not your feelings, something else that has been imprinted upon the spirit world here. Then the pain is gone, the noble manor shrinking back to the crude huts that came before.The whirl of images comes to a sudden halt. This is it, you realise with a start, this was where it all began. As if in reply, the world around you melts away and reforms itself in a new image. The young town is gone now, replaced by familiar image of the sky burial site. A man lies across the rocky ground, blood from his man wounds pooling out around him, while another man looms above. The scene remains frozen, a portrait, but words ring out around you.“May you never rest, Diethelm, for what you have done here,” the voice, dripping with spite and rage, intones, “May this act stain your soul for the rest of your days, and for all the days beyond that. This is my curse, may it last as long as these mountains stand.”-With those bitter words still ringing in your ears, you feel your eyes drift open as your mind finally retreats back to its mortal shell. The first thing you see is Persephone's face, so close that her forehead is almost touching yours. Her eyes are closed too, her lips set in a smirk of satisfaction. Just as you're about to pull back, her eyes slowly open and focus on yours. Neither of you says anything for a few long seconds.“I was just making sure that you were still alive. You were gone for so long,” she explains, her lips barely moving as she murmurs the words, “That's all. Don't read too much into it.”“Well, I'm definitely alive,” you point out, “So you can move back now.”“Maybe I don't want to,” she purrs, leaning a fraction closer if anything. Now her forehead is definitely touching yours, that last little bit of distance separating you now vanished.“Uh huh,” you reply slowly, “And what am I supposed to read into that?”“You can read whatever you like into it. Go wild,” Persephone taunts. Before she can say anything else, though, a low groan from the distance causes you both to jolt around. A fair distance away, Armin starts to shift on the patch of bare rock he was sleeping on, his first few movements sluggish.
>>5746539“Hold that thought. We'll finish it later,” Persephone promises, “I suppose we really ought to be focusing on business for now anyway. Did you learn anything useful?”“I don't know. Maybe,” you mutter, climbing off the stone slab and stretching out your aching limbs, “I heard things. Memories, almost. Corinna was... well, she was playing both sides. Turning the men against each other. This all started because of her.”“Ah, I should have seen it sooner!” Persephone groans, lightly slapping her forehead, “All this, and she was the one to escape unpunished. I wonder if... Well, we can't do much about Corinna herself now, but luckily enough we have a suitable replacement. So all we need to do is-”“What are you talking about?” Armin interrupts, his eyes growing wide and wild, “Do you mean Annika? If you touch so much as one hair on her head...”You hold up a hand to still his anger. “Nobody's suggesting anything of the sort,” you assure him, “I'm not sure how much difference it would make, anyway. Even if someone's death was to settle things down again, it still won't stop the cycle. It won't solve the problem.”“You're assuming, of course, that this is a problem that CAN be solved,” Persephone muses, lying back on the sky burial slab as if making herself comfortable, “Think about it – these sins aren't supposed to be passed down from one life to the next like this. It's clear that something has gone terribly wrong with Sheol's awful bloody machine, and I hardly think we're qualified to fix it.”“We could go back to the capital, speak with the priests there...” you think aloud to yourself, “But-”“But what about us?” Armin argues, “It's getting worse by the hour down there. The storms are bad enough, but there's... something out there. I'm sure of it. The men say they've seen it, seen its eyes peering out at them.”“The men are right. We've seen it too,” Persephone answers with an indifferent shrug, “But it's harmless really. Nothing to worry about!”It's true, the spirit – or whatever it is- has never actually tried to attack you. But it was there, in the clearing, when Armin and Bernarl were driven to fight each other. A coincidence, or something more than that?Armin frowns, not exactly convinced by Persephone's casual words. Not that you can really blame him there...>Just stay inside and take shelter. We'll be back with help soon>We'll find this creature of yours and deal with it, one way or another>We might need to evacuate the town, get away from these mountains>I've got another idea... (Write in)>Other
>>5746541>We'll find this creature of yours and deal with it, one way or another
>>5746541>I've got another idea... (Write in)Bring Annika out here as well, not to HURT her or anything, but so she can perhaps also 'echo' the past. Maybe that thing out there is the curse itself made manufest, or a spirit enacting it by reviving the memories of past lives, and if we can get Corinna to say her piece and be revealed for the snake she was (or explain WHY she did what she did) we can bring these past lives to a place of closure?
The maimed creature, you think to yourself, that's just one more unanswered question here. You're not quite sure if it holds the key to this whole mystery, but it has a role to play. A catalyst, perhaps, judging by the way it provoked Armin and Bernarl into violence. Not the cause of the storms, but something that came with them. If you could learn a little more about it, maybe...“We'll find this creature of yours,” you tell Armin, “We'll deal with it, one way or another.”“Feel a lot better knowing that thing isn't going to be lurking out there...” he mutters, casting a nervous look down towards the base of the mountain. You can't blame him for being apprehensive – there might yet be men looking for him, and not for any good reasons. Still, he squares his shoulders and sets off at a steady march. You follow after him, catching up as the first gusts of cold wind start back up.“I need to ask you something,” you begin, raising your collar against the strengthening wind, “Did Annika ever talk about Corinna?”Armin thinks for a moment. “Not much. Just what was in the old stories,” he recalls, “She would sometimes joke that Corinna must've been bored out of her mind, being sent to live out in the mountains like this. I think... I think that was her way of saying that SHE was bored here, without just coming out and saying it straight. Why are you asking?”He has to shout those last few words, the roar of the wind drowning out anything less than a full-throated yell. You don't even try to answer his question, just focusing on putting one foot in front of the other. The mountain peak might be unnaturally still, but the storms around it form a barrier more formidable than any fortress wall.You SEE things, see fleeting signs of movement and flickers of inhuman light around the edges of your vision. Lesser spirits of light, like you've seen in Ravensheugh and other places where the Veil has grown thin. Here too, now. Ignoring them, and trying to ignore the animal shrieks that echo across on the wind, you grab hold of Armin's sleeve and guide him forwards. Persephone walks on ahead, undaunted by the nightmarish storm – relishing it, if anything.When the storm starts to ease, at least slightly, and the lights start to fade, you know that you're through the worst of it. “Annika,” Armin insists, speaking up as soon as the winds drop enough to speak, “Why were you asking about her?”“She might know something about this. No, that's not what I meant. I mean, she might be our way of finding out something about this. Our link with Corinna,” you explain, “She's a part of this too, you know. No less than you or Bernarl.”Armin's jaw clenches as he thinks this over. He's just on the verge of saying something when a ragged shout rings out. Lanterns raised and weapons drawn, the huntsmen swarm out of the storm to surround you.
>>5746588"BACK THE FUCK UP, YOKELS."
>>5746588“Stand down!” you shout out, but your voice is simply one amongst many. Paying no heed to your words, the huntsmen swarm in around you and grab at Armin. He struggles, shaking off the groping hands before throwing a punch at the closest man, sending him tumbling to the ground with a split lip. A great chorus of anger sounds out from his companions as they surge forwards, some raising their crude hatchets and others reaching out with clawing hands. They reach for Armin, and-The crack of your first gunshot – fired skywards in warning – causes them all to freeze and fall silent. One by one, the eyes turn towards you. You see little humanity in them, just remnants of their blind, animal rage.“I said, stand down,” you repeat, bringing your revolver down to cover the armed men. There are more men than you have bullets, but that doesn't seem to occur to them. At least, no-one seems willing to be the first man to step forwards. “This man is not your enemy,” you continue, “You will do him no harm. Is that understood?”“You saw what he did to the Chief!” one of them argues, half-heartedly raising his axe. It's just a token gesture, though - the fight has gone out of them now, leaving a sullen anger in its place.“I didn't see him attack anyone,” you point out, “And neither did you.”There are a few more grumbles, but no direct challenges. Turning away, the men slouch deeper into their furs and start back towards the town below. You follow along with them, although you make sure to keep your revolver drawn even as the cold wind numbs your fingers. You might not have the energy to pull the trigger, but they don't need to know that.-The tables are turned when you return to Armin's house – this time, you're the one who ends up staring down the barrel of a gun. As soon as he realises that it's you, though, the huntsman grudgingly lowers his rifle and steps back to allow you in. “I'm guessing you had a bad time of it,” you remark, “Where's Annika?”“Upstairs. Resting,” he grunts, making sure that the door is firmly locked once you're inside, “Were you followed?”“Yes, we had a gang of surly men following us back,” Persephone drawls, rolling her eyes, “Be more specific, please.”“That thing, that fucking... ghoul,” he snarls, “It was here, I saw it. Not just me, either. We BOTH saw it. Damn thing, clawing at the windows and peering in at us. Finally seems to have given up, thank the Gods, but it'll be back. I'm sure of it.”“Bernarl. It was here for Bernarl, it had to be,” Armin hisses, “Is he... here?”“In the back. Don't expect much talk out of him, mind you. Even before the ghoul showed up, he was restless. Muttering at first, then screaming his head off. Your woman, she had to force some potion down him. He's been out ever since,” the man explains, clutching his rifle to his chest, “Thought we was going to attack me. Like he didn't recognise me.”
>>5746615Roused by the sound of your voices, Annika emerges from the upper level and peers down at you. There's no joyous reunion when her eyes fall on Armin, hardly any reaction at all in fact. Armin's reaction is almost as muted – he takes a step towards her and almost reaches out, only for her stillness to give him pause. Instead, he waits and cautiously studies her.“Well, don't stop just because of us!” Persephone urges, breaking the silence, “Just pretend that we're not here!”With the unnatural stillness thoroughly punctured, Armin finally crosses the room and pulls Annika into a tight embrace. She doesn't react at first, save for her eyes widening with shock, but then she slowly puts her arms around him.“Come on, you,” Persephone whispers, taking you lightly by the sleeve, “Let's give them some privacy.”-Shrugging off your wet coat, you climb up to the cramped storage space with Persephone and lie down on the musty furs. It's warm here, at least, and the urge to sleep immediately descends upon you. Fighting back the urge for now, you listen carefully for any hint of conversation from below. You can hear voices, but they're too hushed to make out any words. Between that and the vaguely guilty feeling of listening in, you soon abandon your efforts.“You're not going to let this go, are you?” Persephone murmurs, her low voice seeming to come from somewhere very close indeed, “You need to solve this awful problem, to understand it.”“It's my nature,” you admit, “Would you just shrug and move on, even if it meant leaving these people to their fate?”“It's my nature,” she repeats, throwing your own words back to you. You can't see her, but you know exactly the kind of smile she has on her face. You can hear it in her voice. “Anyway, you've been holding out on me,” Persephone continues, “Something happened up there, didn't it? Up there on the mountain... you did something you shouldn't have, didn't you?”You freeze, thinking about the meditation. While it might have been unorthodox, it wasn't exactly... forbidden. At least, Roerich never mentioned anything about it being banned. You hear a soft rustle of furs as you think, rolling over to meet Persephone's pale eyes. She says nothing, a coy smile on her face as she awaits your answer.>I don't know what you're talking about. Nothing happened up there>I tried something new. An ancient method of meditation...>I saw something in the storm. A city. THE city>Other
>>5746648>I tried something new. An ancient method of meditation...
“Don't get carried away,” you warn, “But I tried something new, something I learned at the monastery. An ancient method of meditation...”“Dabbling in the forbidden arts again!” Persephone gasps, his eyes wide with insincere horror, “That Lowe girl is a bad influence on you!”“It's not a forbidden art, just... old. Out of fashion. Maybe it's a little TINY bit dangerous, but only if you don't know what you're doing,” you grumble, “And before you say anything, I DO know what I'm doing.”“I wasn't going to say anything!” she insists, “I'd like to think I can express my doubt without words. A simple raised eyebrow would suffice, I think. But, you came back in one piece so I'll let you have this one. So... how was it? Is it going to revolutionise the whole world, do you think?”You distinct recall telling her not to get carried away. Which is, of course, the only reason why she's acting so enthusiastic about this. Rookie mistake on your part, really. “It felt freeing,” you admit, picking your words with care as Persephone closes her eyes and listens, “Like I could leave the real world behind, even if just for a little while. Like I was letting the spirit world take control, surrendering myself to the natural order of things. I can see the appeal... and I can see why it might be so dangerous.”As you talk, the smile on Persephone's face softens. It loses the hard edge of cynicism and mockery, allowing a rare hint of warmth to creep in. “Tell me some more,” she murmurs, pressing herself a little closer against you, “Tell me all about it.”You stir uneasily as you feel the coldness of her body against yours, but then you let out a low sigh. “First, you imagine yourself as a bird in flight...”-You're not talking for long before Persephone drifts off to sleep, and you carefully slip away from her. Climbing down from the storage space, you listen cautiously for any sounds of trouble – any sounds at all, in fact. Aside from the contact wind blowing away outside, the whole house seems eerily silent. Touching the revolver on your belt for comfort, you creep through the cramped house and peer through the first doorway you see.A large bed, unmade and empty, occupies most of the room. This must be where Armin and Annika sleep, you reason, although they don't seem to have used the bed in some time. You're about to leave when a soft snuffling sound causes you to look past the large bed. On the other side of it, you spot an infant sleeping soundly in a low crib. Incredible, that a child would be sleeping so soundly at a time like this. Despite yourself, you step into the bedroom and gaze down at the infant. It stirs slightly, but doesn't wake.The future of the Diethelm line continues to sleep, oblivious to all that it has inherited.
>>5746731Leaving the child be, you continue to creep through the house. There are a few more beds in the back room, apparently meant for the patients. Bernarl lies motionless in one of the beds, while the other wounded man rests beneath a stained shroud. No time to dispose of the body, you assume as you approach Bernarl. His hands, you notice, are bound.He doesn't stir, but that's hardly a surprise when you smell the medicine bottles lying at the bedside. A potent soporific, and not exactly a small dose of it either judging by the size of the bottles. You could probably burn the whole house down around him, and he wouldn't notice a damn thing. All things considered, he's probably one of the lucky ones.Returning to the main room, you finally find Annika and Armin. They sit opposite each other at the table, staring at one another in perfect silence. The whole scene is so uncanny that you feel somehow certain that you've intruded on something that was not meant to be seen, something not meant for outside eyes. Then Annika shifts ever so slightly, letting out a tiny sigh, and the stillness is broken.“We've been talking,” Armin begins, his voice pitched low, “That creature...”“I don't think it wanted to hurt us,” Annika continues, “It could've broken in here if it really wanted. But it didn't. Armin says that you want to find it. Is that true?”“That's the plan,” you tell her, “We don't have many ideas left, honestly.”“If you do find it...” she pauses, “What then?”“That's still a work in progress,” you admit, allowing yourself a tiny shrug, “I don't know yet. Honestly, I don't. Things would be so much more simple if it just wanted to kill us. We banish it, or destroy it, and that would be the end of it. But this? I don't quite know what to make of it. I was sort of hoping that you might have an idea.”“Me?” Annika manages a tired smile, “You're the expert here.”“Humour me,” you insist, pulling out a chair and sitting down at the table, “Just give me your first guess, don't think too hard about it.”“When I was young, my mother scared me with stories about things like this. Wicked men who came down on the wind to carry away naughty children, and you'd never hear them coming,” she recalls, her smile both wistful and pained, “That's what it reminds me of. All those old stories my mother told me, come to life.”“These old stories of hers...” Armin begins.“I do hope I'm not interrupting anything,” Persephone announces from the far end of the room, “Are we making a plan?”You look around to Armin and Annika - they both nod, although it seems to take all their courage to do so. “We're going out to find that thing,” you tell her, “And take it from there.”“Perfect, my kind of plan!” Persephone decides, clapping her hands together with glee, “I do so hate getting hung up on the little details, don't you?”
>>5746773The mutilated creature could be anywhere, but you decide to start your search with the nearby forests. Less of a trek than going mountain climbing, for one thing, and this is where you last saw it. Somehow, you suspect that it doesn't really matter where you go – it'll find you. With that comforting thought in mind, you creep through the undergrowth towards the forest clearing. Annika has a lantern held high, but even that light seems frail and faint against the darkness around you.“These old stories your mother told you,” you murmur to Annika, “Did they tell of a way to... beat these spirits?”“Just don't be naughty, and they'd leave you be. That's all you could do,” she answers, offering you a grim smile, “I always hated story time when I was a girl.”“I can imagine,” you mutter, gesturing for silence as you spot a hint of movement ahead. The trees around you are practically alive with the blowing wind, but this seemed more than that. Taking the lantern from Annika, you raise your revolver and step forwards into the clearing. Armin comes next, his rifle at the ready, while Persephone strolls in afterwards. You scowl at her, and she reluctantly draws her sword with a dramatic sigh.“This is where Bernarl...” Armin begins, looking around the clearing with nervous, jerky motions. Just as you're starting to fan out and search the clearing, Annika lets out a thin cry of alarm. You all turn, just in time to see the flash of yellow from above her. The ghoul descends from the canopy above, its maimed legs hanging limply as it spreads its arms out wide. Below it, Annika shudders and stumbles forwards in pain, clutching and clawing at herself.“Va... Vangelis...” she stammers, her voice somehow changed, “Vangelis... are you there?”Crying out in fear, in anger, Armin starts to lift your rifle. You drop the lantern as you draw your own weapons, the heavy glass cage falling into the soft snow with a muffled thud. A tremor runs down the rifle's barrel as Armin's hands shake, his aim wavering off target before the weapon slips from his grip completely. Like Annika before him, he starts to shake and drops low to one knee. It's just you and Persephone left now, and you...>You've got no choice. You have to destroy the creature>You must hold back, and bear witness>Other
>>5746789>You must hold back, and bear witness
>>5746789>You've got no choice. You have to destroy the creature
>>5746789>She's isn't Corinna Vangelis. She never was, and she's hurting because your curse is making two brother re-enact what happened between you and Diethelm. The sad thing is? Corinna egged both sides on. She wanted you two to kill each other. >stand between them both.
>>5746789>You must hold back, and bear witnesstry and be ready to kill though
You hold back, and you wait. You wait to see if the strange torment that is affecting Armin and Annika is going to spread further, or if they are the only ones to suffer from it. More than that, you wait to bear witness. Persephone takes your lead, cautiously lowering her blade but standing ready to strike. You can sense her guardian spirit fluttering overhead, the moth's ghostly image flicking in and out of view. Your own guardian is rousing, stirring beneath your skin like a fire, but you urge it to stillness. This is not the time for that.Yet.The cries of pain don't last long, soon fading out as Annika slumps forwards and Armin crumples to the snowy ground. Never letting your eyes leave the mutilated spirit, you slowly kneel down and touch a hand to Armin's neck. He's still alive, his pulse quivering beneath your fingers. As you're standing back up, Annika lurches upright. Her motions are stiff, jerky, while the mutilated spirit floating above her mimics her movements like a grim puppeteer.“Van...gel...is,” Annika croons, the sound of her singsong voice not quite matching up with her lips, “Are you there? I'm here, I'm waiting for you...”“Who are you?” you ask, looking between Annika and the creature, “Who am I speaking to now?”“We are Corinna.” “We are Vangelis.”Two voices this time, one muffled as Armin speaks into the ground. Reaching down once more, you gently roll him over before recoiling in revulsion. His blank face, with those empty eyes staring straight ahead, is a horrible sight to behold. You suddenly wonder what Bernarl is going right now – the thought of him reciting his words to an empty room is terrible, worse somehow than either Armin or Annika.“You're both of them?” you ask slowly, “All three of them?”“We are one.” “Our deeds binds us together.”“But that isn't Corinna, and this isn't Vangelis. They are all long gone, and their deeds – their sins - with them,” you point out, gesturing vaguely at the man lying comatose at your feet, “You have no right to be here. No right to be doing this.”“We are all one,” the creature repeats, and this time both voices call out in perfect unison, “We are-”But there are no words for what the creature says next. No human words. The hissing, sibilant sounds wash over you in a gruesome wave, filling your mind with a rush of distorted images. You imagine a great many men, toiling at a vast machine even as the flesh melts from their bones and their bodies break apart. From this vile mixture, this human refuse, new bodies rise up and take shape. They take their place at the machine, working even as their new bodies start to break apart and the cycle repeats.
>>5746846You waver, nausea boiling away in the pit of your stomach as you fight to keep yourself from vomiting. Even before you've recovered fully, a new vision strikes you. The same melting, decaying bodies, but this time a new entity is formed – fragments of flesh creeping away to form a new body, taking form from a child's cautionary tale. A creature born from the cycles of guilt and sin, a creature...A creature that hovers in front of you, just a short distance away.“You...” Persephone gasps, her voice cutting through the haze of your revulsion, “You don't even know what you are, do you?”“We are Corinna.” “We are... Vangelis?”“You're NOTHING. You're GARBAGE,” she spits, gesturing with her blade as a thick pall of darkness starts to gather around the scene, “Just the discarded refuse from countless miserable sinners, feeding on the next generation to survive.”“We... we are-”“You're not Corinna, not Vangelis, and not Diethelm either! You're... You shouldn't even exist!” Persephone screams, with the darkness that surrounds you becoming absolute as she fully calls upon the power of her guardian spirit. The darkness envelops you, folding around the mutilated creature and hiding the unsightly thing from view.Then the darkness is gone, the feeble light of the lantern returns, and you can see once more. The mutilated spirit is gone, vanished without a trace, and the storm seems to have vanished along with it. Without the constant rasp and groan of the wind, the silence seems somehow oppressive. It isn't long before the stillness is broken, though, as Armin lets out a low groan. Annika stirs too, trembling as she straightens up and looks around in confusion.“Oh dear,” Persephone murmurs, gazing up at the emptiness where the creature once hung, “Was it something I said?”>I think I'm going to pause things here for today. I'll likely have a few more updates tomorrow, but they may be more sporadic>Thank you for reading along today
>>5746870Huh. That really infuriated unflappable Persephone. Wonder why?
>>5746870Thanks for running!>>5746872She seemed to calm down pretty quick, maybe she was just talking smack.
>>5746870Wow the depiction of Sheol's 'machine' and this excess refuse that formed a creature is pretty fucked.
>>5746904Makes sense, since it's essentially Hell.>>5746878Possibly, but she SCREAMED at it.>>5746870I really enjoy this quest. Thanks as ever for running!
>>5746870Since the deaths happened just out of reach of Sheol, not everything was cleaned off the people who died here.Little by little, these leftovers became enough for a spirit to feed on, and re-enacting Corinna caused more deaths which make the spirit stronger.It'll be too hard to drag the creature down the mountain, but we really might have to do a plain burning. Maybe set fire to the whole burial site, if not the whole village. The key here is that everyone needs to move away from the mountain, closer to Sheol.It might not just be the Sun God, but Sheol's influence that is waning.
The march back into town isn't long, but it's slow going with the burden of Armin's unresponsive bulk hanging on your shoulder. Persephone has the easier job, of course, leading Annika through the forest. The healer seems a little more alert, a little more aware of her surroundings, but that isn't saying much. You have so many questions that you want to ask them, both of them, but they'll have to wait.Besides, there's still a few hours before morning and you're aching for a chance to rest. Just a brief nap would do, just to rest your eyes for a moment.Now that the storm has faded, a few of the locals have emerges from their homes. They look about in awe, as if seeing their village for the first time, but regard you with muted suspicion. You weren't exactly expecting a hero's welcome, but this has more in common with the mob that tried to attack Armin – the same tension, pent-up anger just waiting for a chance to be released.Persephone ignores them all, marching on ahead with her head held high and her jaw stubbornly set. She hasn't said a word since you started walking, not even to complain about the minor inconvenience that she's been subjected to. That's not like her, not like her at all.You finally get a chance to relax a little when you arrive back at Armin's house, easing the heavyset man down onto one of the spare beds in the rear. Bernarl is still here, still unconscious, although it looks like his rest has been unsettled. The sheets beneath him are crumpled and messy, while the man himself is slumped half out of bed. Straining your weary muscles once more, you lift him back up onto the bed and leave him be. He probably won't notice the difference, but it didn't seem right just leaving him like that. If nothing else, it made the place look untidy.Annika is sitting stiffly by the fireplace when you arrive back, the light of the fire glinting in her glassy eyes. Persephone stands nearby, almost as unresponsive as the healer herself. There's just a hint of movement as she glances around at the sound of your arrival, and that's it. This would normally be the time for her to make some kind of flippant comment, but she holds her tongue. You take a step closer, only for your foot to catch on one of the fallen scrolls littering the floor and sent it bouncing away with a clatter. Somehow, it's this noise – tiny though it may be – that finally wakes the child.“Oh, that bloody-” Persephone groans, looking around to the shrill wailing, “Do something about that, will you?”“Me?” you reply, a sudden panic stabbing at you, “But-”“You're closer!” she points out, only to throw her hands up in disgust, “Oh, forget it. Just stand aside, will you?”You're all too eager to step back as Persephone sweeps past you, emerging from the bedroom a moment later with the swaddled infant held at arm's length. She holds the child as if it was a live artillery shell, and you can't help but laugh.
>>5747604“Well, I'm glad that one of us finds this funny,” Persephone begins, shooting you a vile look, “But if this thing needs cleaning, you're going to be the one-”“I'll take him,” Annika interrupts, her voice hushed. Rising to her feet, she carefully takes the infant from Persephone and hurries away into the rear room. The crying stops almost immediately as she clutches the infant to her chest, leaving Persephone to let out a sigh of relief.“So,” you begin after a pause, “You don't like-”“Really? That's what you want to talk about now?” Persephone counters, giving you an incredulous look, “There's nothing else for us to discuss, nothing else that might be a tiny bit more important. No, you want to talk about children. Babies, even!”“I wasn't that interested at first, but since it annoys you so much...” you remark, giving her your best imitation of her own mocking smile. She tries to scowl, although it's a token gesture. “Fine then, have it your way. We can talk about something else,” you concede, “That was your guardian spirit back there, wasn't it? What did you do?”“Oh, nothing much. I just sent it somewhere else, I think. Made it go away,” she explains with an indifferent shrug, “I'll admit, I wasn't thinking too clearly by then so I can't be much more precise than that. You know how these things are – and really, it was more the spirit's doing than mine.”“I wonder if that's it,” you murmur, taking a seat by the fire, “I wonder if it'll ever come back.”“It will,” a voice says from behind you. Annika returns, thankfully alone, and moves over to warm herself by the fire. Her face is pale and drawn, but her eyes have a flicker of life once more. “It'll come back. Maybe not soon, maybe not even in my lifetime, but it'll be back,” she continues, “I don't... what IS it?”“Well-” you begin, only for Persephone to speak up as well. You both fall silent, and then she gestures for you to speak first. “Well, this is just a theory,” you continue, “But I think it's a kind of amalgamation. A spirit formed from fragments of human souls as they pass through Sheol's machine. Normally, the sins and impurities would be wiped away, but not here. Here, they created this... thing.”Annika considers this, although her confusion is plain to see. “And this thing caused the storms?” she asks, “Caused us to... act like that? Why?”“I think it's trying to understand itself,” Persephone suggests, “Trying to re-enact the events that led to its creation, as a way of discovering what it truly is. Really, we'd be doing it a favour by destroying it. A thing like that never should've existed in the first place. Fortunately, we've got just the man for the job!”
>>5747606You're not sure that you like being volunteered like this. Annika seems to share your doubts, although for an entirely different reason. “Is that really... right?” she wonders aloud, “The way you put it, it almost sounds like a victim. Just as much of a victim as Armin or I.”“All the more reason to put it out of its misery!” Persephone points out cheerfully, “You said it yourself, it'll only come back later to cause more problems further down the line.”“Why do you say that, anyway?” you ask, lowering your voice. She seemed certain before, as if she knows something that you don't.“I just... know. I feel it,” Annika shakes her head and forces a tiny laugh, “Call it woman's intuition, if you like. Or maybe I can sense something that you can't. I... we have a bond with it, after all. A connection. But whatever it is, I know that one day it's going to come back. Maybe then, it'll be the little one it comes after...”And the next time it appears, the next cycle around, it might be even stronger, more assertive. Perhaps the priests of Sheol might be able to shed some light on the spirit, might be able to do something with it. Cleanse it, perhaps, return it to normality. Or perhaps Persephone's right, and it's better to just end it here and now – however brutal that might seem.>You shouldn't be hasty. The spirit can remain for now, until you've had a chance to speak with a priest of Sheol>You can't let the spirit continue to exist. You'll destroy it now and put an end to this>You've got other plans... (Write in)>Other
>>5747608>You can't let the spirit continue to exist. You'll destroy it now and put an end to this>It's been influenced too much by lives that aren't its own. If it survives whatever I do to it, it'll be good for it anyway.>But that's not the real problem. This village used to be a city. In the time of Diethelm and Vangelis, this place was thriving. But having people die on the mountain slowly chipped away at that. Anyone who dies here is not given proper rest, it's not livable even ignoring this damn cold.If the Veil is destroyed, this would be one of the first places to feel it. We might be able to report that and justify and watchstation of some sort, but it's no place for civilians.
>>5747608>You shouldn't be hasty. The spirit can remain for now, until you've had a chance to speak with a priest of SheolWe've bought a good deal of time. Let's use it. Burning it would permanently end the problem but only for this spirit. There is no guarantee that this won't happen again in the future on this mountain so hopefully a Sheol priest can help with that too.
>>5747614Also I'm fine with burning it as long we still get someone out here to fix the malfunction in Sheol's machine for a more permanent solution
“This thing, this spirit... it's not the real problem here,” you begin with a sigh, “It's not as simple as that. When I was on the mountain, I saw things. I saw how things used to be. This place was a city once, in the time of Diethelm and Vangelis. It was great once, and look at it now.”“You sound like Bernarl,” Annika murmurs, her face creasing with pain, “The stories his father used to tell him... About all the great things that we've lost. I never quite believed any of those stories myself. I don't know if Bernarl really believed them either. What... what happened?”It takes you a long moment to find the right words. “Decay,” you answer eventually, “Stagnation. People died, or they left, and nobody came to replace them. Those who died here, they stayed on this mountain in some form or another. I wonder if that's part of why the machine is breaking down... But this place, this whole town, is finished. It can't go on.”More pain, then, on Annika's face, but no surprise. A weary kind of acceptance, maybe. “You might be right,” she admit, glancing back towards where Armin and Bernarl sleep, “They won't leave, though. They're stubborn like that.”“Foolish, more like,” Persephone mutters to herself. Annika glances across at her, but without anger. “Really, you'd think they'd be happy for an excuse to leave,” the pale girl continues, speaking aloud now, “I'd take any excuse you'd give me to get away from this miserable place.”“If...” Annika begins, only for her voice to falter. She takes a moment, then finds the strength to continue. “If they did stay...” she manages, “What then? What might happen to them?”You heave a heavy sigh. “The Veil here is already disrupted. Weakened, in places,” you explain, “If the damage gets much worse, they could be targetted by any number of spirits – dangerous, predatory spirits. It would be a death sentence for them. Tell them that. Warn them. They might not listen to me, but they'll listen to you.”“Armin might. And... and Bernarl might listen to him. I can try,” Annika murmurs, her shoulders slumping low at the thought, “But for now...”The spirit, of course. She can't bring herself to say it, but you know exactly what she's talking about. You've bought enough time to work on a more permanent solution, but you still need to figure out what to do with the mutilated spirit. It's hardly a choice that you relish, but you see only one option.“We'll burn it,” you decide, with the air of a man signing a death warrant.Annika bows her head for a long moment, then nods. A nod of understanding, perhaps, but not relief. Not happiness.
>>5747631Although there's no sense in delaying what must be done, you're not in a desperate rush to go out your grim duty either. You've got the time to rest, to get a meal and prepare yourself for what must be done. After all, there's no guarantee that the spirit is just going to bow down and let itself be killed. After eating a hearty meal that Annika prepares for you, you crawl into your makeshift bedroom and fall into an immediate sleep.Your dreams are bad, violent scenes that hint at the gruesome vision the spirit thrust upon you – men working at vast machines, even as their bodies break apart and collapse, a stagnant ocean of rotting flesh and blood swirling around their feet. New forms emerge as the old are destroyed, crying out in anguish even as they are born anew. This too is a cycle, but perverted beyond all sense and order.Waking up feels like a relief, an escape from the dreams. Rolling over in the bed of furs, you see Persephone still sleeping beside you. Her face is twisted, brow furrowed in a scowl of unspoken disgust. The same dreams, you assume. You reach out and touch her face, trying to gently wake her but no no avail. She stirs slightly without waking, her cold hands reaching up to touch yours as she nuzzles against your palm. She doesn't wake, but the tension bleeds away from her face. Carefully drawing your hand away, you gather your things and leave her to sleep.As you wait for the others to wake up, you kneel down beside the dimly burning coals and gaze at the reddish glow. A fire that burns away all impurity... is this really what your purpose is? If so, you're going to be busy - there seems to be no end of impurity these days. You recall what Master Brehm told you, seemingly so long ago. Things are getting worse, he said, the tides are turning against you. Now, if Sheol's machine really is breaking down...How much can one man really do?-There's no discussion, no debate, but you all find yourselves heading in the same direction. The four of you start off towards the mountains and the sky burial site with a sense of foreboding, of inevitability. You're not sure how much help that Armin and Annika might be able to offer if it came to a fight, but they're here for another reason. Although you'd never say it aloud, you know that they're to draw out the spirit.They're here as bait.“It's actually rather pretty out here, when you're not fighting against a storm,” Persephone remarks as you walk, looking up at the mountains looming ahead, “Shame about the whole “terrible curse” thing, but I suppose you have to take the bad with the good.”Nobody answers this, leaving Persephone to pout and carry on the march in silence. You can see the burial site ahead, and while there's no sign of the spirit just yet, you can feel its presence nearby. The hairs on the back of your neck tingle, and you can all but imagine the sickly yellow eyes boring into your back as you walk.
>>5747608Drat, missed a pretty pivotal vote. Ah well.
>>5747665You reach the sky burial site without incident, so much so that you're left to wonder if you made a mistake by coming here. But no, you tell yourself, the spirit will show itself. It'll be drawn by Armin and Annika's presence, you're sure of it. You just have to wait.“Anni says that we're to leave the village,” Armin growls as you wait, scanning the horizon for any hint of trouble. He still carries his rifle, for what good it might do him. Maybe just for the comfort it brings.“It's the only option,” you answer bluntly, “You have no future here.”“Aye. Maybe,” he admits, glancing back over his shoulder at you, “But I've got a lot of past. It's no small thing, to abandon all that. Our ancestors built this place. Built it up from nothing. There's not a brick or log in one of those houses that isn't there because of them. Now you're saying that I... that we're the ones who have to end it all?”“Your ancestors were strong, and so are you. I can't deny that,” you tell him, “So use that strength. Build a new home, something that your ancestors would be proud of.”“And build it somewhere warmer,” Persephone adds, “Somewhere without so many curses too, if you can find a place like that these days. Try-”Annika's shrill scream cuts her off here, and you spin around to see the pale, decaying face of the spirit emerge from behind the flat boulder. Clawing at the rock with broken fingernails, it drags itself up into view before taking flight, gliding up as the winds gather once more. Within a matter of heartbeats, the storm is battering you with wind and snow once more. Heat builds within your breast as you draw your sword, and this time you embrace it. With a trail of golden fire alight upon your blade, you lunge towards the spirit.[3/4]
>>5747712Your first swing misses, the spirit jerking backwards like a leaf caught upon the storm winds. It rises higher and higher until the icy mist hides it complete, then the winds come crashing down at you. The churn of snow and ice forms a vast arm, a giant fist, that slams into the ground. Looming over you, as vast as any mountain now, the spirit reveals its new form. While before, it was a ragged and emaciated thing, now the spirit's form is swollen with exaggerated musculature. A parody of brute strength, it lashes out once more to crush you beneath the massive paws.Grabbing Armin's arm, you drag him back as the blow falls like a landslide. Loose snow flies from the force of the impact, raining down upon you and nearly blinding you. It's only Persephone's shout of warning that causes you to look aside, at the second figure forming in the storm clouds. This one has the hint of a woman about it, the straggly hair longer and the body malformed in a different, distinctive way. Behind you, too, you see a third figure take shape in the storm, more like the original spirit itself – a thin, wizened figure, the body bearing the scars of countless ancient wounds.Annika screams again and again, all rational thought driven away by the nightmarish sights surrounding her. Armin pulls her upright and clings tightly to her, dragging her back away from the looming spirits. Persephone steps in to cover them, to watch their backs and yours too, while you look back to the enemy. You need to go on the attack, but...>Focus your attacks on the hulking brute>Focus your attacks on the womanly spirit>Focus your attacks on the mutilated spirit>Other
>>5747714>Focus your attacks on the womanly spiritCorinna was the instigator so I suppose defeating her might disrupt the other two? (Or piss them off)
>>5747714>Focus your attacks on the mutilated spiritThe original, favoured form. The others may well be projections or secondary limbs!
>>5747714>Focus your attacks on the womanly spirit
>>5747714>Focus your attacks on the hulking brute
Three spirits – Corinna, Diethelm and Vangelis. You don't need to sit down and consult your notes to figure that one out, and you don't have the time to dither other where to focus your attacks. Whether for good or for ill, you decide to target the woman, the Corinna image – the source of all this. With your plan decided, you give Persephone a hasty nod and prepare your attack.Calling upon the power of her guardian spirit once more, calling upon the vastness and terror of the night sky, Persephone blankets the mountaintop in a pure, perfect darkness. It shrouds the other two spirits, narrowing your world until only the womanly figure is visible ahead of you. The other two spirits fly into a rage and lash out blindly at you, but their attacks are little more than a distraction.With your blade drawn and blazing, you charge across the open field. Jinking left, then right as the Corinna spirit slams one fist after another down into the snow, you watch as it draws back in preparation to sweep the mountaintop clean. No chance to dodge this one, but perhaps...You hurl yourself forwards, slamming against the flat boulder and hunching down as low as you can. Seconds later, the blow falls – the spirit's arm sweeps across the burial site in a crushing arc, catching the boulder and splintering it apart. You're hurled aside by the force of the blow, but most of the strength is spent before it can reach you. Even so, pain blossoms through your body as you land on the bare rock, landing badly and rolling to a halt. Lying there daze, you wait for the final blow to fall.Instead, the darkness closes in tight around you. The world drops away, leaving you alone in the void. It's quiet here, peaceful almost. When you lie back, you can see a faint glint of silver hanging above you – the moth, Persephone's spirit companion. Gazing up at it, you feel the pain leaving your body as if swallowed up by the darkness.Then the moment is gone. The darkness retreats, and the real world returns. Scrabbling to your feet, you see the womanly spirit still searching out in confusion. The wicked yellow eyes sweep back and forth as it seeks you out, but you're already up and moving. Deep within the churning storm body, you can just about make out a darker silhouette – a familiar, maimed form. Snow and ice tears at you as you plunge headlong into the fury of the storm, plunging straight towards the spirit's true form.The spirit's yellow eyes bore into you in those last moments, piercing through you even as you drive your blade straight through the creature's chest. For a second that's how you remain, locked together in this deadly embrace. Then the fire that sheaths your blade rushes out to consume the creature, swallowing it up in a sudden explosion of light.No laughter this time, but the spirit burn brilliantly.
>>5747757Your entire body aches like one giant bruise. Even moving seems like too much for you right now, leaving you to kneel in the snow as you catch your breath. The storm is fading once more – this time for good, you hope – and the skies are clearing to show a pale, defiant sun in the distance. How weak it seems from here, you think, how frail... and yet, it still shines over all.“You know something?” Armin announces as he trudges up behind you, “This idea of yours about leaving might not be so bad after all.”“I do actually have some good ideas, sometimes,” you reply, taking his hand as he helps you to your feet, “Believe it or not.”“Yeah, well... I didn't say I'm sold on the idea just yet,” he grumbles, offering you his shoulder for support. You're glad for the help – more than that, you're glad that he's the one helping you this time. “It'll take some time to get everyone ready to leave. Take some convincing too, I'd wager,” he continues, “You said you were going to be coming back, aye?”You nod, then immediately regret it as a bolt of pain shoots through your neck. “This isn't over yet,” you tell him, “So long as this... stagnation remains, that spirit – or something like it – might yet return. Maybe not soon, maybe not in our lifetime, but one day. We'll be back, and with some help next time.”“You think you can fix this?” Armin asks, lowering his voice a little, “You really think that?”As much as you'd like to grin and promise him the best, you can't. All you can do is sigh. “I don't know yet,” you admit, “But we can't make a start on that until we know what we're dealing with. That's going to take some time.”Armin considers this, then forces a laugh. “Then it's a good thing we'll be lingering here for a while longer, isn't it?” he decides, “You'll need a roof over your heads while you're here, and someone to look after you. Maybe a local guide too, and a healer if the worst should happen...”“Okay, okay,” you mutter, accepting his point with a nod, “But I don't think you should stay any longer than necessary. Even if the spirits aren't causing problems-”“The weather might,” Armin finishes for you.>I think I'm going to close things early today. I'm going to need some time to plan ahead a little, hopefully get myself organised again. So, I'm aiming to continue things next Saturday>Thank you for reading along today!
>>5747788Thanks for running!
>>5747788Excellent as always, QM!
Although it may only be a temporary reprieve, you're all too glad to be leaving the mountains behind. Even without the cold winds harrying you, the craggy landscape has lost what little appeal it might once have held. True enough, you'll still have mountains looming over you when you return to the academy, but it's not the same – those mountains, at least, have the feeling of home about them.The journey back to the academy is shaping up to be a long one. Your horses are sluggish and weak after spending so long in shelter, while Persephone says little as you plod along. For most of the journey, she seems as cold and distant as the moon itself.Eventually, the silent treatment gets too much for you. “It really bothered you,” you ask, glancing over at Persephone, “Didn't it?”“A lot of things bother me,” she replies immediately, her insolent tone seeming to mock you for even asking, “Be more specific.”“You know what I'm talking about.”“Hmm, are you really that curious? Maybe I'll tell you later, then. If I feel like it,” Persephone's face lights up with a wicked grin, “Oh don't give me that look. A girl has to keep SOME secrets, after all!”Somehow, you knew that she'd make this difficult.-Night is already falling when you finally draw close to the capital, and the academy beyond that. The clouds have drawn in to hide the light of the moon, but the beacon atop the Eternal Palace burns out like a second sun. Something stirs within you as you gaze up at the distant fire, a sickly feeling churning deep in the pit of your stomach. Tearing your gaze away, you turn instead to the academy. It's late, far too late to be going down into the city below and bothering the local priesthood now. Shelving that idea until later, you start making your way back to the dorm.Persephone wastes no time at all in marching off to the comforts of her own bed, leaving you alone in the silent dorm. You consider going to bed as well, but you don't feel tired at all – strange, given the time that you've just spent on the road. Even when you lie down and force your eyes closed, you feel wide away. The shadow of the beacon, burned into the back of your eyelids, taunts you for a moment more before you open your eyes and abandon the attempts at sleep. You know what to do.Entering the archives feels like returning home, more so than any other home you've ever had. Picking a direction at random, you start a slow wander through the towering bookshelves. You suppose there might be something here that could help you, but you're in no rush to find it. For now, you're just trying to burn off the last of this strange energy. The proper research can wait until tomorrow.Then, reaching the other side of the archives, you peer across the row of reading desks and spy a scruffy, familiar figure. Of course she'd be here. Where else would she be?
>>5752416Cloranthy Lowe looks up from her book as you approach, her eyes flashing with happiness before she feigns indifference. “Hey there,” she begins, lazily waving a hand at the seat opposite her. Shifting a stack of loose pages aside, you sit. “My guy, my bestest of best friends. Sure has been a while. How're you doing?” she continues, only to speak up before you have a chance to answer her question, “Great, glad to hear it. Now that we've got the small talk out of the way, can I ask a favour?”Inwardly, you let out a silent groan. Then, after considering it for a second, you decide to let out another, less silent groan. “Can it wait?” you ask, “I'm in the middle of an investigation. Technically.”“I mean, it's not urgent or anything,” Cloranthy assures you, although her amber eyes narrow, “Technically?”“It wasn't actually MY investigation, for one thing,” you explain, “And we've solved part of the problem. The short term problem, at least. It's a long story. What kind of favour are we talking about?”“Forget it, you've got me curious now,” she insists, setting her book aside and leaning across the desk, “But not like, curious enough to hear the whole long story. I'm a busy girl so just give me the good bits, the juicy bits.”She doesn't look busy at all. “Sin,” you answer simply. Although, judging that this might be a little TOO abbreviated, you continue. “Souls were being reborn into the world without their sins being fully cleansed,” you explain, “As if Sheol's great machine was breaking down. We're thinking of going into the capital tomorrow and speaking to the priests about it.”Cloranthy winces. “I wouldn't, if I were you,” she warns, “The way I hear it, the priests can get really touchy about that stuff. Anything that implies that Sheol is anything less than perfect and infallible. Get your name put on their shit list, asking questions like that. At least, that's what Master Rosenthal says. You didn't hear it from me, but I think there's history there.”This might complicate things.“I mean, they wouldn't kill you or anything. Just, you're not going to make many friends there. But then, if you were that bothered about making friends than you wouldn't be here talking with me,” she shrugs, “I don't know, it's a kind of a mess. Master Rosenthal would be able to explain it better than me, if you're really that interested.”“Oh yeah, and there's a book you could try,” Cloranthy adds quickly, “Von Jagd, On the Nature of Heritage. There's a copy in the archives, I could show you. It's mostly boring, but it gets weird in places.”Interesting. Now you have a few avenues to go down, but where to start?>You're already here, you might as well start with Cloranthy's book>It seems like Rosenthal is the expert here. You'll see what he has to offer>This is best left to the experts. You'll discuss the problem with the priests>Or... (Write in)>Other
>>5752418>>5752418>This is best left to the experts. You'll discuss the problem with the priestsWe don't need to tell them we think Sheol's machine is breaking down. We can just lay out the breadcrumbs, a spirit covered in slivers of generations of dead, the strange burial practices, and a clarification for just how far the Veil/Sheol's influence extends.It looks very different if we make it look like people were dying up there to escape Sheol, for instance.
>>5752418>You're already here, you might as well start with Cloranthy's book
You're already here, you reason, so you might as well start by checking out this book Cloranthy mentioned. Even if the book itself doesn't shed much light on the situation, it might help you to plan out your next moves. If you need to bring this to the priests, you might need to be a little... selective about what you tell them. One thing does occur to you, though.“This book,” you begin, “Favourite of yours?”“Maybe if I'm having trouble sleeping,” Cloranthy snorts, shaking her head, “I wouldn't recommend it, normally, but it sounds like it's right up your street. Why do you ask?”“You just seemed awfully quick off the mark with it, that's all,” you point out, “Didn't even have to stop and think.”“Yeah, well,” she shrugs again, heaving herself to her feet and taking a few faltering steps forwards. She seems worse than you recall, leaning heavily on her walking stick and trembling with the effort of moving. You reach out a hand in offer of aid, but she waves you away with an irritated gesture. “You're on my territory now, buddy. There's not a book in this place that I don't know,” she continues, “...Except for all the ones I haven't read. But this Von Jagd isn't one of them. Now hush up and let me remember where I left it.”“How do you know someone else hasn't moved it?” you ask, unable to resist the urge to needle her a little.Cloranthy pauses, giving you a dubious look. Her expression says everything that you need to know – nobody else would read THAT book. With her point made, she carries on her lurching march. You really wish she'd just tell you where to find it, so you could do the legwork yourself, but she's too stubborn for that. She pauses more than once as you walk, sometimes to look around the shelves and sometimes to listen carefully. One time, you're sure that you see her sniffing the air like a dog. Eventually you reach a perfectly ordinary section of the shelves and stop. Cloranthy looks around in triumph, although her expression slowly turns petulant as her search continues without success.“So like, it may have been a while since I actually read it,” she admits, looking around at the shelf in confusion, “There is a slight, minute possibility that... um... that I got it wrong. We're close, though, I'm sure of it!”“How close, exactly?” you ask, looking a little further afield.“Uh, it's somewhere in the building?” Cloranthy mumbles, squatting down to examine the lower shelves. Her walking stick falls with a loud clatter, the echoing sounds not quite loud enough to drown out her cursing. Then, elation. “Here it is!” she calls out, “What kind of asshole would put a book HERE?”“Didn't you say-”“Shut up. It was a rhetorical question,” she interrupts, wagging a finger at you, “Now make yourself useful and help me up, would you?”
>>5752439Taking your extended hand, Cloranthy starts to rise only for her to crumple back down to the ground as her weakened legs fail. Her second attempt is a little better, but it still ends with her sinking back down to her knees. Hanging her head to hide her burning red cheeks behind a curtain of hair, Cloranthy shifts and fidgets awkwardly. “You...” she mumbles, “You might need to, um, help me a little more.”To carry her, you guess, although she can't quite bring herself to say it. Reaching down and scooping her into your arms, you lift Cloranthy from the ground. With a little squawk of alarm, she throws her arms around your neck to steady herself as you start to carry her back to the desks. She's light, like a bird with hollow bones, but the narrow aisles make it a little awkward regardless. You have to hold her very close to avoid knocking her against the shelves, but after the first few moments Cloranthy doesn't seem to mind.Arriving back at the desks, you ease Cloranthy down into her seat and step back. She seems a little flustered, clutching the book close to her chest and letting out whispery little gasps of air. “So,” you begin, hoping to distract her, “The book.”“Yes! The book!” she yelps, holding it out to you, “There's a chapter called “Living History”, that's what you're looking for.”It's hard to hide a groan of dismay as you start leafing through the dense, heavy book and look at the tiny script. Still, the second she mentioned doesn't seem to be TOO long, and you quickly get a feel for skipping through the long sections of irrelevance. The chapter mainly deals with traditions, and how they get passed down through the uncivilised cultures – by which, the author seems to mean anyone outwith a city. You shudder to think what he might have written about the Forest Kingdom.Then, as an almost casual aside, you come across an interesting section. It talks about a child who had memories of being someone else – an adult, an older man. The child was able to find hidden things, things that they had no way of knowing about. It was all quite disturbing for the other people in the child's village, who decided that something had to be done. A ceremony was held, in which Sheol's name was invoked. After that, the child lost all memories of their former life – or, at least, they claimed to.“Yeah, I thought you might like that,” Cloranthy remarks, peering over at your expression, “It's close, right?”“Very close,” you agree, “It mentions a ceremony...”“Oh yeah, read on a little. Our boy Jagd made sure to take notes,” she grins, although her smile is a sickly one, “Mind you, I'm not surprised that the kid played dumb. I mean, wouldn't you?”Your curiosity piqued, you return to the book and the description of the ceremony itself.
>>5752457The ceremony – led by one who was “beloved by death” - certainly sounds grim. The ceremony was said to call down a psychopomp, one of Sheol's spirits, to strip away the last remnants of the past life. Von Jagd writes that the child had been racked by terrible visions, and cried out as if their flesh was being pecked at by unseen birds. Not a drop of blood was shed, but that hardly seemed to lessen the torment.Yet the rite seemed to have worked – and, from the notes that Von Jagd includes, you could probably recreate the ceremony for yourself. Except, perhaps, for one thing. “Beloved by death,” you read aloud, “I'm assuming that refers to someone with a guardian spirit.”“That would be my guess too,” Cloranthy agrees, “Although I'm not convinced that they're essential. Read it again, see? It says that the beloved was the one who knew the words to chant, that's all. So we could probably do without someone like that.”A pause.“And by “we”, I mean you,” she adds weakly, “Obviously.”Another pause, more awkward than the first. “Why read a book like this in the first place?” you ask, plucking a random question from your thoughts, “It's hardly your usual sort of thing.”“Not enough lurid tales about the Forest Kingdom, you mean? I guess so... Nah, I was just curious about a few things. Heritage stuff, you know,” Cloranthy gestures vaguely, waving a hand towards her legs, “There's this idea that... people born like me... are like a sign of bad blood, or bad spirit or whatever. I wanted to see what the expert had to say on the matter.”“And?”“A load of horseshit, apparently, but try telling THEM that,” she snorts dismissively, leaving you to imagine who “they” might be. “Anyway, that's why I slogged through the whole of that awful, boring book and why you only needed to read the highlights,” she adds quickly, “Aren't you going to thank me?”“Thank you,” you tell her, giving Cloranthy a deep nod of gratitude, “Really.”“Yeah, well...” Cloranthy mutters, looking away from you, “Anyway, I don't want to talk about that gloomy stuff. Can't we just change the subject or something?”You pause to think for a moment. After spending so long with Persephone – or what seems like a long time – you've almost forgotten how to have a civil conversation, not that Cloranthy would really notice.>Say this ceremony does require someone “beloved by death”, how do you think we'd find someone like that?>I've been gone for a while. Has anything important happened while I was away?>That favour of yours that you mentioned. What do you need done?>Let's talk... (Write in)>Other
>>5752473>But this is treating the symptom, not the cause.>Looks like I'll be heckling some priests after all.>You look worse. Did you get visited by a guardian spirit or something? I can help you up the mountain if you need it, although given how that went with your sister you might not want it.
>>5752473>That favour of yours that you mentioned. What do you need done?
“Now that I think a little more about it, this ceremony might not be the fix that I'm looking for,” you muse, idly flipping through the pages, “It might remove the symptoms, but it won't cure the disease. It doesn't fix the original problem, if it really is with Sheol's machine.”“Yeah, maybe,” Cloranthy agrees, nodding slowly, “So?”“So, that means we might need to look a bit further into it,” you explain, “We might need to speak with the priests after all.”“Well, better you than me,” she remarks, giving you an expansive shrug. Having said this, though, she lapses into a thoughtful silence once more. When her face twitches into a faint pout, you know that a decision has been made. “Probably for the best, though,” she decides, “I'm not sure how, you know, legal that whole ceremony thing might be either. Kinda feel like we're not supposed to be calling down spirits whenever we feel like it.”“There's probably some kind of loophole,” you offer vaguely, “It doesn't count if it's a death spirit, something like that. But you're right – at least this way, someone else can take the blame.”“That's the spirit!” she announces, leaning forwards the slap you on the arm only to wince as she shifts her weight. Now pale with pain, she slumps back in her chair and glares at you as if it's all your fault. Or because you've had a chance to see her weakness.You pause, considering your words with care. “You seem worse today,” you mention, “Is it... a spirit problem? I know that a guardian spirit can-”“Hey man, I said that I didn't want to talk about it,” Cloranthy protests, weakly shaking her head. You remain silent, waiting as she wrestles with her own conflicting urges. “It's not a spirit thing,” she says eventually, “Just having a bad day. It happens. I mean, it was way worse when I was younger. Back then, Clarissa had to carry me all about the place. I got better, though. I got stronger. Kinda thought this was all behind me now, but...”Silence.“But I mean, if this WAS a spirit thing...” she continues, “Would you-”“I could help you up the mountain, if that's what it took,” you assure her, “I might not have as much practice as Clarissa, but I think I could manage to take you up there. Although, I wouldn't blame you if you didn't want to. Not after what happened last time.”Cloranthy hangs her head again, tugging at the messy mane of her hair. “C'mon man...” she mumbles, “You're too busy for stuff like that.”“True enough,” you agree, leaning back in your chair, “I've got that favour of yours to deal with. What was it that you needed done again?”“The favour!” Cloranthy blurts out, looking straight up at you in a start, “Right, right, I almost forgot! Well, uh, it's going to sound a bit silly. You see, I think there's been something... odd going on in the archives."
>>5752508For how often we do this I wonder if we have a reputation. Everyone gets at least one monastery trip. I'm waiting for the girls to start gossiping:"Has Lucas taken you 'Up the Mountain' yet?"
>>5752508“It's always late at night like this, when there's nobody else about. I'll be reading something, or taking notes or whatever, and then I'll hear something. Not like mice scurrying or wind outside, that sort of crap. This sounds WEIRD, like... like faint bells, stuff like that,” Cloranthy explains, waving her hands in an inarticulate gesture as she tries to find the right words, “I've even seen things, little flashes of movement in the corner of my eye.”“I see,” you pause, “And you don't think-”“That maybe I should try getting more sleep?” she finishes for you, “That's what I need you for. I want someone else to keep watch with me, so I'll know if it's not just me. Plus, if there really IS something moving around here after dark... well, I'm sure as shit not going to be chasing after them, am I?”“True,” you concede, “Did this only start recently?”Cloranthy nods. “Anyway, it's not like there's something running around causing trouble or making a mess. Nobody's getting hurt here, so I can't exactly say it's urgent. But it's pissing me off. I mean, I'm here to get some peace and quiet!” she scowls, “But yeah, if you've ever got some spare time on your hands we could try and keep watch. Later though, okay? You've got your investigation thingy to finish off. I don't want to get in your way.”Before you can reply to this, a heavy yawn forces its way out of you. “Later,” you agree, “Still time to get a few hours of sleep tonight. Make sure you get some rest too, okay?”“Yeah yeah, I'll...” Cloranthy begins, only to be cut short by a yawn of her own, “Oh, you bastard. That was you, you made me do that.”“And I'll do it again,” you warn.-Reminding yourself to check back in with Cloranthy later, you return to your dorm with the notes taken from Von Jagd's book. You're not sure if you'll need to use them, but you'd rather keep them to hand. Lying back in bed, you finally feel the urge to sleep steal over you. Letting it take hold of you, you sink down into a deep dream – a dream of darkness, played out to the sounds of grinding, gnawing machinery.The next morning, you wake to find your sheets tangled and damp with sweat. Throwing on a set of clean clothes, you wander out into the eerie silence of the main room. No Johannes, no Clarissa, and no Harriet. Not even a sign of Persephone – although considering how early it is...As if on cue, Persephone sticks her head out from her room. “I was wondering when you'd get up,” she announces, heedless of the fact that she seems to have just woken up herself. Her hair is still mussed from sleeping, and her eyes are tinted with red. Bad dreams too?Persephone vanishes back into her bedroom, leaving you to glance across at the kitchen. As you do, you recall the sounds from your dream – horrible sounds, like bodies being chewed on.Maybe you'll skip breakfast today.
>>5752532Persephone brushes her hair and listens, or pretends to listen, as you explain what you found in the archives. Her expression is bored, and her reaction is hardly surprising. “So we have a nice little ritual to purge away the last of these sins, do we?” she asks, “Perfect. That should wrap things up nicely, and we can put this whole affair behind us.”“Not really,” you point out, “It won't fix the underlying problem. Sheol's machine-”“Sheol's machine can rust away to nothing, for all I care,” Persephone interrupts, a brief anger flashing in her eyes even as her bored expression hardens into a cold, lifeless mask. “The mission was to investigate the strange weather, nothing more. We've done that, and the weather is back to normal,” she continues, “Really, even this ceremony of yours is going above and beyond the job description. I certainly hope you're not expecting any bonus pay for this!”“Yes, but how long is the weather going to stay like this?” you insist, “How long before the problems start up all over again?”But Persephone just shrugs. Their problems, her gesture seems to say, not her problems.>Fine. We'll go with the ceremony, and that'll be the end of it>I'll go and speak with the priests myself if I have to. You don't need to involve yourself>I can speak with the priests, but I'd prefer to do this with you. This was your investigation, after all>Other
>>5752547>>I can speak with the priests, but I'd prefer to do this with you. That said, if you're dead set on being done with this I don't mind talking to them by myself.>I feel like if I left it be knowing things will mess up again in the future it would stay in the back of my mind and irritate the hell out of me.
>>5752547>I'll go and speak with the priests myself if I have to. You don't need to involve yourself
>>5752547>I can speak with the priests, but I'd prefer to do this with you. This was your investigation, after all
“I can speak with the priests,” you begin, “But I'd prefer to do this with you. This was your investigation, after all. I'm not trying to hijack it.”“Why, I never said that you were!” Persephone replies, her eyes widening slightly. Yet still, her words have the air of theatre about them, a line delivered by an actor and nothing more.“I'd prefer to do this with you,” you repeat, stressing the words, “But I don't have to. If you're certain that you want to be done with this, once and for all, then I'll go on my own. But for me, I'd want to see this through to the end – it would just irritate me, not knowing how this all ended. Not seeing it through right to the very end.”“What are you really expecting?” she asks softly, the mask slipping for a moment, “Are you really hoping to see some... happy, wondrous ending to all this?”You just shrug, throwing her own favourite gesture back at her. “I'll be satisfied with an answer,” you state, “Whether for good or for ill.”Persephone thinks for a long moment, then allows herself to smile. “You know, that kind of determination is very handsome in a man,” she points out, “If you're really that set on finishing this, then I suppose I can join you. If nothing else, I like watching you when you work.”That... is not exactly the sort of motive that you were expecting, but you'll take what you can get.-You leave the academy early, before the last light of the stars has completely faded from the brightening morning sky. Maybe a little too early for visiting the temple, but it gives you time to take a slow wander through the city. News pamphlets are just being pasted up on the message boards, and you stop to read some of the announcements – vague news from the front, another Reivian attack repelled with heavy losses.“Heavy losses for who?” Persephone wonders aloud, reading the same message.“Them, I assume,” you guess, “They wouldn't be shouting about it so much they were ours.”“Are you suggesting that the Regent might not be telling us the complete, unvarnished truth?” she gasps, feigning shock before giggling softly to herself. Apparently losing interest in the news, Persephone turns and walks off in the direction of the temple. Lingering just long enough to skim down the last of the updates – mundane actions of state – you hasten after her.The temple doors are already open when you arrive, long lines of pilgrims already filing inside. A guard at the door notices your academy insignia and waves you inside, parting the crowds at the door you allow you access. The pilgrims watch as you cut on ahead, their blank faces devoid of anger, envy, or anything else. The great clock that had so fascinated Harriet is there to greet you, but you find it hard to look at the churning machinery without a shudder. Persephone has to avert her eyes too, somehow growing paler at the sight of it.
>>5752568Just as you're wondering about your next moves, about where to start, a young man hurries over to greet you. An apprentice, by the looks of him, a priest in training. He has a lean face and wide eyes, lending him the unfortunate look of a starving man, but the greeting he gives you seems friendly enough.“Good morning, Masters,” he begins, only for his eyes to flick nervously across at Persephone, “Master and... Mistress?”“Master is fine,” Persephone assures him, holding back her laughter. At least she's trying to be polite, which you're grateful for.“Ah yes. I'm not used to seeing... well, anyway. I'm Willowbrae, Novice Willowbrae. Shall we go somewhere a little more private?” he asks, already on the move to lead you away from the gathering crowds, “Academy business, is it? We'll be happy to help, of course. Well, within reason. I hope you're not asking us to raise the dead!”He starts to laugh at this, only to stop when he sees that you're not joining in. “Does that happen often?” you ask, just to fill the sudden silence.“Well, not exactly OFTEN. But more than we'd like,” Willowbrae shrugs, “You know how it is. Someone passes away, and their knowledge passes with them. Perhaps they were the only one who knew a certain rite or ritual, or their death was somehow suspicious and... well, you see where I'm going with this. Every so often, we get someone asking if just this once we could make an exception. But no, the rules are rules.”“I... see,” you reply slowly, sifting through the young man's nervous babbling for anything of importance, “You've never dealt with Exorcists before, have you?”“Oh gosh, is it that obvious?” he groans. After this, Willowbrae tries very hard not to say anything at all as he leads you into a secluded room far removed from the public face of the temple. The rooms is oddly banal, like any number of the offices in the academy. “Wait here, please,” he pleads, gesturing to the pair of chairs, “I'll be back in a moment. Just a moment.”The door slams shut with a sense of grim finality as Willowbrae flees. As soon as he disappears, Persephone lets out the laughter that she's been holding in since he first opened his mouth. “Oh, leave him alone,” you urge, even though you have to fight to keep a straight face yourself, “He's trying his best.”“That's what worries me,” Persephone remarks, “Well, no. It doesn't worry ME, but it should worry someone. Someone important, like-”She shuts up suddenly, her expression smoothing to become perfectly professional. A few seconds later, the door opens once more and a pair of men enter. Willowbrae comes in first, followed by a much older man. The priest sits behind the desk and studies you both, his sharp eyes peering out from a seamed, hairless face. Something about his face immediately puts you on guard, although you can't say exactly what it is.
>>5752587“Good day. My name is Omiros,” the priest begins, his voice low and unhurried, “Forgive our poor hospitality. Had I known to expect guests...”“There's no need to apologise. Your hospitality has already been perfectly sufficient,” you assure him, watching as Willowbrae quickly takes notes of the conversation, “My name is Master Hearne, and this is Master Cross. In the course of our recent investigation, we came across a strange spirit. We wanted to hear your professional opinion.”The priest considers this for a second – or, more likely, waits until Willowbrae has caught up with his notes. “A spirit, you say?” he asks patiently, “I believe that would be your area of expertise, not mine.”“Normally, yes,” you agree, “But this spirit was a curious thing. It seemed to possess the memories of past generations. Indeed, it seemed to have been formed from such things – not just memories, but past sins too. It was quite unlike any spirit I've ever encountered before. The local village had certain strange practice as well, practices such as, ah, sky burial...”“A barbaric practice,” Omiros mentions, seemingly without malice.“Yes, quite so,” you nod slowly, “Indeed, the locals had their own beliefs about the practice.”“Peasant superstition, of course,” Persephone adds, breaking her silence, “They believed that moving high into the mountains could move them beyond Sheol's reach. A rather foolish notion, as I'm sure you'll agree.”“I have heard such things before,” the priest agrees, his expression growing grave, “Alas, the common folk often believe such things. As one travels to the distant reaches of our land, the forgotten corners of the wilderness, primitive notions linger on. Put your mind at ease, they are mistaken – and they matter little. Sheol accepts the believer and the unbeliever without distinction. I have a question, if I may. The spirit – what became of it?”“...Defeated,” you answer, choosing your words carefully, “It is no longer in this world.”Omiros almost shrugs. “Then it seems that the matter is concluded,” he remarks simply, “You need not concern yourself with it.”“With respect, I'm not sure that the matter IS concluded,” you argue, sensing a new tension. He's trying to shut you out, and he's not bothering to be subtle about it either. “Without knowing the spirit's origins, we don't know if similar spirits may rise in the future,” you continue, “Primitives they may be, but these people deserve to live without fear.”Omiros leans a little closer, giving Willowbrae a tiny gesture. The novice hesitates, then sets his pen aside. “Corrective action will need to be taken,” the old man states coldly, “We will see to this. What more do you want of us?”>I merely want to understand what caused this>We know the situation. We can help you put it right>We want nothing more. You can deal with this>Other
>>5752625>We know the situation. We can help you put it right
>>5752625>We know the situation. We can help you put it rightWe welcome your assistance in this matter. I suspect the solution lies somewhere where our two areas of expertise meet.
>>5752625>We know the situation. We can help you put it rightalso>What CAUSED this?
“We can work together,” you tell Omiros, “We know the situation on the ground, the local area and the people. You don't. We'd like to offer you our assistance in the matter and, likewise, we'd welcome any assistance you could offer us. We have our own expertise, and so do you – I suspect that the solution lies somewhere between the two.”“This is highly irregular,” Omiros warns, “What you are asking-”“Matters concerning the spirit world are our responsibility, Master Omiros,” Persephone points out gently, her voice like silk, “We came to you as a courtesy. In the spirit of cooperation, we would ask that you consider our request with care.”It occurs to you, then, that Omiros could likely kill both of you, and Willowbrae too, without batting an eyelid. That's what you noticed before, when you first saw him – a sense of perfectly restrained lethality. Persephone, of course, must know it too, yet she still wields her words like a blade. If anything, the sense of danger only encourages her.Omiros, for his part, says nothing. Nothing to you, at least – he leans across to whisper something in Willowbrae's ear, covering his mouth with a hand to defeat any attempts at lip reading. The young man nods, then hurriedly jumps to his feet. “I must discuss this with my colleagues,” Omiros tells you, his voice cold, “It is true, Master Cross, that you hold responsibility in this area. However, you are asking us to share knowledge held within Sheol's priesthood. You understand, of course, that I cannot decide this alone.”“Naturally,” she assures him, giving both priests a serene smile as they leave. As soon as the door is closed, the smile drops from her face. “Well now...” she murmurs, “This IS getting interesting, isn't it? I'm rather glad I let you talk me into this.”“Just behave yourself, okay?” you murmur, “That priest...”“Oh yes, I know. He's got a dagger under that ghastly smock of his, too,” she waves away your concern, “You didn't notice? You could see it when he sat, the way his robes bunched up-”Again, a sudden silence. Again, the rattle of the door a few seconds later. It can't have been much of a discussion, for the priest to be back so soon. Indeed, it seems to take Omiros longer to sit back down at the desk than any time spent with his colleagues. When he meets your gaze, his response is a brief one.“Very well,” he says simply, “It will be so.”But somehow, this doesn't feel like a victory.>I'm going to pause things here for today. I'll be aiming to continue this tomorrow, starting at the same approximate time>Thank you for reading along today!
>>5752676Thanks for running!
>>5752676The mystery deepens. Are the Sun King and Sheol both weakened? Have their officials lost contact with them altogether? is their authority a vestige?I guess we'll find out.Thanks for running!
>>5752676This feels like a local police department vs FBI jurisdictional pissing match and I'm here for it
There are, of course, preparations to be made. What those preparations involve is apparently so secret that Omiros has you escorted away to a whole other section of the temple. Willowbrae takes you up a flight of stairs and around a long balcony that looks out over the temple's main hall. Willowbrae pauses for a brief moment, caught staring in rapt fascination at the crowd below, before he snaps back to reality.“This way please,” he announces, showing you into a large, airy room. With the wide open space and large windows, this place feels like it would be perfect for a reading room. Yet, it remains strangely empty – waiting to be given a purpose.Willowbrae pulls a chair out from around the large, circular table, flapping his hand towards it in vague invitation before hurrying away as if he can't wait to leave. With a faint snort of disdain Persephone pulls out a chair of her own and sits, leaving Willowbrae's offering unused. Taking it for yourself, you let the silence wash over you.No, not quite silence. You can just barely hear the workings of the grand clock outside, a constant rattle and tick at the very edge of your hearing. Right now, it almost feels like it's counting down towards some unknown conclusion.“I don't think we're welcome here,” you think aloud, more to drown out the sound of that clock than anything else.“So I noticed,” Persephone agrees, idly twirling a strand of hair around one finger, “It's funny, isn't it? They don't want us here, but they can't do a thing about it!”“I don't think that's something to be celebrating,” you begin, letting out a weary sigh, “You're perverse.”“Isn't that what you like about me?” she counters, leaning a little closer with a challenge in her eyes.Feigning an oblivious look, you glance away. “They don't want us to be involved, yet they're allowing it anyway. It's strange,” you muse instead, leaving Persephone to seethe quietly as you change the subject, “There has to be something in it for them...”Before you can take this thought any further, the door opens and Willowbrae – this time burdened down by a tray of refreshments – allows himself in. “I apologise again for the wait,” he says, giving you both a weak attempt at a smile, “You know how it is. Arrangements to be made, materials to be collected... I thought you might care for a spot of tea while you wait.”“Perfect,” Persephone purrs, taking the pot of tea and pouring a measure into one of the cups, “But I insist that you join us. I dare say that you could use a chance to sit down and relax a little too, if your duties permit you.”Willowbrae squirms in discomfort – which, you suspect, is exactly why she made the offer – but nods. “I can spare the time,” he says as you move aside, allowing him to sit between you at the curved table.
>>5753207“So, Willowbrae,” you begin, as the young novice pours himself a cup of tea, “What brought you to join the priesthood?”“Hmm, that's a funny question. I suppose there wasn't just one single thing, really. It simply felt like the natural thing to do,” he replies, his hand twitching as if he had the urge to transcribe his own conversation, “I grew up right here in the capital, so I was always aware of the temple. As I grew older and learned more about the faith, the more I felt drawn to it. I suppose...”“I suppose I saw Sheol as the great equaliser. Death is the one constant thing in this world, you see. It comes to the rich and the poor alike, to the greatest general and the lowest pauper,” he continues, “And through Sheol, even a wicked man can be given the chance to lead a new life, a virtuous life. It's a powerful message, wouldn't you agree?”“Perhaps,” Persephone muses, her face lighting up as she senses a chance to needle the young novice, “Although I find that the reality doesn't always quite match up with the image.”Willowbrae's face remains blank. “Excuse me?” he says eventually.“Not everyone dies,” she explains, savouring her words, “And those that do die, they don't always stay that way.”“Oh, well, that's... that's more your area than mine, thankfully,” Willowbrae manages, “But what you're talking about is a perversion of the natural order, and we must guard against such things, of course. I hardly think...”“Enough,” Persephone interrupts, cutting him off with a gesture, “A joke, nothing more.”She laughs then, and Willowbrae hesitantly joins her before gulping down his tea in a single grand swallow. “There's something I'd like to show you, if you don't mind,” he says suddenly, as if the idea occurred to him just then. Hopping from his seat, Willowbrae leads you back out onto the balcony and gazes down across the pilgrims gathered below. The crowd has become orderly now, all kneeling before the great ornamental clock.“It always awes me, to see so many people like this,” Willowbrae whispers, “To see so many people coming to pray...”“Why?” Persephone asks simply, although you can sense the faint edge in her voice, “Why are they coming to pray?”“Oh, um...” the novice pauses, “Well, they've come to ask for Sheol's blessings, of course, and to pray to the spirits of their ancestors. To wish for their swift return, and in hopes that their new lives will be good ones.”“Why?” Persephone repeats, her voice growing colder, “Does it actually help? Does Sheol actually listen and take mercy upon them? Or is this all just... theatre?”“That's...” Willowbrae hesitates, his eyes flicking across to you for support.>Leave him be, Persephone. Don't go picking fights>It's a fair question to ask, I think>Even if it is theatre, it still has a value>Other
>>5753208>Leave him be, Persephone. Don't go picking fights
>>5753208>Even if it is theatre, it still has a valueeither way it's a comfort to those who have lost loved ones, if they choose it
>>5753208>Hey don't look at me. These are the hard questions you'll have to deal with if you're going to be a priest here.
“Don't look at me,” you tell Willowbrae, “If you're going to be a priest one day, you're going to have to deal with hard questions like these. But still, that's no reason for us to be making things any harder than they need to be.”“Really?” Persephone asks, raising an eyebrow, “I can think of a few reasons...”“Hush up,” you warn her, “Don't go picking fights now.”With a grandiose shrug, Persephone instantly loses interest in the conversation. “I was only joking around, anyway,” she remarks, “You know me – I'd never try and cause trouble.”“I...” Willowbrae begins, his voice faltering slightly, “I can see why you'd say that, though.”You both turn to look at the young novice, his expression growing calm as he thinks.“Your world must be very different from mine, and so too are the spirits you deal with. You can speak with such spirits, even bargain with them and make deals,” he continues, “Even a simple thing like cause and effect must be easier to understand when the results are plain to see. But for me, for a priest of Sheol, it's different. We say our prayers and give our offerings, but we don't see the results. We simply have... faith. Faith can be a great comfort, especially in times such as these.”As Willowbrae says this, your gaze falls on a few figures in the crowd below – soldiers, by the look of them, making their final offerings before mustering out. It might be theatre, as Persephone says, but if it grants them the comfort they seek...“Oh don't look so gloomy!” Persephone scolds, jabbing you in the side with a slender finger, “Honestly, you need to lighten up a little. You too, Willowbrae. Now that I think about it, there's a nice wine shop not too far from here...”“I think we should go back and check on Master Omiros!” Willowbrae interrupts, a shrill note of panic creeping into his voice. The panic is understandable - you don't even want to imagine how many rules he'd be breaking by sneaking away to drink wine with a pair of Exorcists. You gesture for him to lead the way, and he wastes no time in scurrying on ahead.“Tell me something, Willowbrae. Don't look so worried, I'm not about to start testing your faith again. More of a practical question, this time,” you ask as you follow him, “This... situation that we're investigating. Do you know anything about it?”“Not a single thing, I'm afraid,” he admits, confessing his ignorance with a vague sense of relief, “I'll be accompanying you, I believe, but purely to assist with the, ah, manual labour. Master Omiros surely knows what to do, and we must simply follow his instructions.”“Faith, again?” Persephone asks lightly, unable to resist the urge to poke fun.“The same kind of faith that you must have in your superiors, I suppose,” Willowbrae shoots back, his response sharper than you were expecting.Raising an eyebrow in mild surprise, Persephone offers no reply.
>>5753242Rather than return to the original office, Willowbrae leads you to the rear of the temple. A more discrete way of making your exit, you suppose, for those special occasions when the priests might not want to use the front door. Master Omiros is waiting for you there, having changed his heavy robes for a hardy set of travelling gear. He looks younger like this, and the sword he wears on his belt seems more than just a ceremonial piece.“I have arranged for a carriage,” the priest announces, skipping past any kind of pleasantries, “Come.”Vaguely uneasy about sharing a carriage with the old man, you reluctantly follow on as he leads you from the temple and a short way down through the city streets. The carriage he spoke of is nearby, a surprising amount of cargo lashed to the back of it. Without another word, Omiros opens the carriage door and waves you inside.“May we speak plainly?” you ask as you climb aboard, making yourself as comfortable as possible in the cramped cabin, “You know what's going on here. I'd like you to explain.”Master Omiros studies you for a long moment, his silence somehow louder than the clatter of the carriage wheels. “If what you say is true, then the natural order of things has become distorted. Sheol's sacred device has failed to perform its purpose,” he says simply, his voice flat and quiet, “As you well know.”This takes you by surprise. “I suspected as such,” you clarify, “Nothing was certain.”The priest lets out a low grunt, then lapses into a long silence. You're left to wait, wondering to no avail about what he might be thinking. The capital is long behind you before he speaks up again. “Not many things could have caused a deformity such as this,” he offers, “There are but a few rites powerful enough to cause this much damage. One of those, perhaps, could have done this.”“Can you be certain?” you ask, bracing yourself for a scornful answer that never comes. Omiros just shakes his head, turning away to gaze out the carriage window instead.-Following your directions, the carriage eventually arrives at the foot of the mountains. You disembark and start to help Willowbrae with unloading the cargo, finding the wooden crates to be surprisingly light for how large they are. Mostly full of loose straw for packing, you suppose. That must mean the cargo, whatever it is, is delicate indeed. A small group of the locals gather as you're unloading the cargo, and you spot a few familiar faces in the crowd – Armin and Bernarl, neither man looking particularly pleased to see you.Or maybe it's not you that they're looking at. Omiros surveys the crowd as they gather, and the grimace he wears suggests that he doesn't like what he's looking at.
>>5753257“Is that one of them?” Omiros asks sharply, picking Armin out from the crowd and pointing. He asks the question, but he already knows the answer – you can see it in his eyes, the certainty. With a sense of vague resignation, you nod. Omiros approaches Armin, and the rest of the crowd seems to instinctively draw back from the healer.Armin, for his credit, holds his ground. Meeting Omiros' gaze, he holds out a hand to shake. It hangs there, unmet, until Armin calmly lowers his arm. “Well met, traveller,” he says instead, “What can we do for you?”“There is a matter that we must discuss,” Omiros answers, lowering his voice slightly, “In private, perhaps.”-If not for the very slight tremble in Armin's hand as he passes across the bowl of soup, you'd think he didn't have a care in the world. But that tremor hints at a great many things, at the blind animal fear that Omiros' mere presence has roused in him. “You're not in any trouble,” you tell Armin, hoping to at least partly put his mind at ease, “We just need to ask a few questions.”“Do you believe this incident has an epicentre?” Omiros asks, ignoring the bowl of soup placed before him. Armin doesn't reply to this, his brow furrowing as he considers the question. “An origin,” the priest continues, “A place of power.”“The sky burial site,” Annika offers, emerging from the kitchen to scowl at the priest.“Aye,” Armin agrees, nodding quickly, “That's where I'd start looking. Seems like everything that happened here leads back up to the mountains. What's left of them, at least... Now eat up before your meal gets cold. We don't like wasting food up here, you know.”With a thin smile, Omiros finally picks up his spoon and starts to eat. Silence reigns as you try and force down the thick, hearty soup, but you have no appetite at all. You're not the only one either – with barely half of her meal finished, Persephone makes a vague excuse about helping Willowbrae with the cargo and retreats from the hovel. Omiros barely notices her leave, his gaze never leaving Armin throughout the whole meal.-“I need you to stay still,” Omiros warns, reaching out to place a firm hand on Armin's cheek. A wince of pain flashes across Armin's face as the priest pulls his eye wide open. He has a strange device in his other hand, like a tiny golden telescope, and he raises it to Armin's pale, sweaty face. Annika lets out a soft moan of dismay, and you have to catch her arm before she can interrupt the... whatever this is.“What's going on?” she whispers, fearful eyes flicking back towards Armin, “What IS this?”>I don't know either, but... he's the expert here>Don't interrupt. Just leave him to do his work>Let me handle this. I won't let him do this to Armin>Other
>>5753300>I don't know either, but... he's the expert here
>>5753300>I'll ask, but it can't be worse than burning him alive.
>>5753300>I don't know either, but... he's the expert here>Still, it can't be worse than burning him alive.
You two know just what to say to a scared spouse don't you?
>>5753300>Something that will end you three getting haunted by your ancestors permanently
“I don't know either,” you admit, “But... he's the expert here. We have to assume that he knows what he's doing. And I mean, we're not talking about burning him alive.”“What?” Annika hisses, her eyes widening, “Would he really-”“Nobody's getting burned alive,” you assure her, profoundly hoping that you're not made a liar. You've seen far too many people burned already, even if creatures like Deimos deserved everything they got. Annika seems to calm slightly, and you ease your grip on her arm. Turning your attention back to the priest and his curious work, you watch as he leans a little closer and presses the spyglass against Armin's eye. Armin automatically starts to retreat back in his chair before Omiros' firm hand stops him and holds him in place.Nothing happens for what seems like a very long time. All you can do is watch and wonder what Omiros might be looking for, what he might be seeing. A soft skittering sound rings out as Armin's leg begins to tremble, his foot scraping against the wooden floorboards. Ignoring the sound, Omiros makes a tiny adjustment to his device and the tremor stops in an instant.“Who are you?” the priest asks suddenly, his voice as hard as glass.“I am Vangelis,” Armin answers, in a voice that is not his own.“What are you doing now?” Omiros continues, “Describe your surroundings. Omit nothing.”“I am atop the mountain. My brother has dealt me many blows, and now he has pursued me here. I am exhausted, I cannot run any further. I fall, and he is upon me,” the healer recites, his voice growing thick and hoarse, “He will kill me, I know this, but he does not make it quick. He uses his knife like a saw. He... he starts with my legs.”But for that slight waver at the end, Armin's words are flat and emotionless. Words read from a page, nothing more than that.“And then?” the priest presses, making another tiny adjustment to his device, “What rites and rituals did you perform? What spirits did you call upon?”“I curse him with my dying breath, but that is all. I can do nothing more – the spirits have abandoned me. They are beyond my control now,” Armin groans, his voice briefly returning to normality, “Please... stop this... I can't...”With a low growl, Omiros takes his spyglass away and leans back, letting Armin slump down in his seat. A low moan of fatigue escapes the healer, and Annika is quick to brush off your grip and hurry to her husband. Leaving them be, Omiros marches over to you. “This wasn't his doing,” he tells you quietly, “This was something else. Something older, perhaps.”“Great,” you mutter, “So all this was for nothing?”“This was to establish the facts,” he counters, “If you don't have the stomach for an investigation such as this, I suggest you return to your academy.”His words jab at you, lighting a hot coal of anger in your heart. “I'm going nowhere,” you spit.
>>5753333After Armin, it's Annika's turn next. She submits herself to the investigation without argument, although her courage is a brittle facade. Unwilling to watch it for a second time, you slip out into the cool evening air and spot Persephone sitting on a low ridge at the edge of town. Eager for the chance at a distraction, you move over to sit beside her. She doesn't speak for a while, content to just gaze up at the darkening skies.“What's he doing in there?” she asks eventually, as if reluctant to speak the question aloud.“Shit, I don't know,” you sigh, “Digging up their memories, I guess. Not their memories, you know. Their other memories. It doesn't seem to be helping much, but I guess this is part of the process.”Persephone nods vaguely, only barely listening to your answer. “I never really thought much about it until... all this,” she murmurs after a while, “Death, I mean. Everything after that. I never really thought how... horrible it all is. My memories, my personality, even my sins... everything that makes me me, being ripped away and discarded. Can you think of anything worse?”You can think of a few people who might find that a cause worth celebrating, but you keep that thought to yourself.“It's not just me,” Persephone continues, “My family, my whole village... I'm the only one who remembers them. When I'm gone, it'll be like they never even existed.”“I don't want to die,” she whispers at last, her simple words filled with an almost childish desperation, “I want to live on, forever and ever.”>This is the natural order of things, the way it has to be. Anything else is an aberration>It's cruel, isn't it? I can almost see why people turn to the forbidden arts>I want to live on too. I want US to live on>I think... (Write in)>Other
>>5753364>I've got a cut-off point, and half-consciously possessing my descendants is several steps beyond what I'd be willing to put up with to stay alive.
>>5753364>At the same time it’s even crueler to try to possess one’s descendants. To live through them a vivacious mockery of life. I’d like to live forever, surely, but not at the cost of what’s done here. Not at the cost of making myriads suffer so one can be contented for a time. I don’t like Sheol’s clock, but I can see why it’s needed, else new growth would never break through old rot.
>>5753369>>5753373I like these answers, but also...>I want to live on too. I want US to live on, at least for a good long while.Distract her with sappiness! Strike while she's vulnerable!
>>5753364>You could always pass your memories on. Tell me about your family sometime. As long as someone remembers them, they won't be lost.>OtherYou ever thought about looking more into your village's disappearance and that other city now that you're a full fledged exorcist? You've got way more authority and tools now.
>>5753387I'm also down for supporting her sidequest.
“But what other choice do we have?” you ask softly, “Living on at any cost, even if it means possessing any descendants we might have? That's not life, that's a mockery of life. A vicious, cruel way to live – a parasite's life. We've both seen what comes from that kind of stagnation. There's no new life there, it only breeds monsters.”“Is that so?” Persephone replies, bitterness creeping into her voice, “It seems like we've got more than enough monsters already. What difference would a few more make?”“I'd like to live forever too, but even I have my limits. This might be one of them,” you argue, shaking your head, “I don't like this any more than you do. In fact, I think I might hate it. But the world needs new life, and that means...”“Stepping aside and letting someone else take over?” she finishes for you, a humourless smirk tugging at one corner of her lips.“Why not? There's more than one way of passing down a legacy, you know,” you suggest, looking back up towards the sky, “If you've got precious memories, tell me about them. So long as someone remembers them, your family won't really be lost. And as for your village itself... you're an Exorcist now. You've got ways and means, if you ever wanted to look further into it.”Something changes in Persephone's eyes as you say this, a tentative hope blending with a wariness. “You know, you might have an idea there,” she murmurs, her voice so low as to be almost inaudible, “But you know, I noticed something odd.”“Something... odd?”“We,” Persephone whispers, her words turning coy, “You kept saying “we” back there. As in, “any descendants WE might have”. Your exact words, I believe.”Silence. A few seconds at most, you're sure, but they feel like an eternity. You... don't know what to say, so you choose to say nothing at all. You just let the silence draw out, letting Persephone lean closer and closer until-The distant bang of a door slamming open causes you both to jolt around. Omiros marches from Armin's house, marching straight for the carriage and calling out an order to Willowbrae. Then, finally, he seems to remember that you're here and waves you over with a curt gesture. Mingled relief and frustration tear at you, so much so that all you can do is stare blindly as the priests start to gather their equipment.“Oh well, duty calls,” Persephone sighs, leaning over to plant a delicate kiss on your cheek before rising to her feet, “Aren't you going to join us?”“Right, yeah. Of course,” you agree quickly, hopping to your feet, “For a moment there, I almost forgot we were here on business.”Not quite. But sometimes it's nice to let yourself get distracted.
>>5753411“Oh, can you help me with this?” Willowbrae asks, lifting a set of delicate brass rods from one of the crates, “Are you... okay, Master Hearne? You look a little funny. You're not feeling ill, are you?”“Ah, no. Just this mountain air, I expect,” you lie, “What do you need me to do?”“Just carry some of these for me. They're not heavy, but it's too awkward for me to carry the whole lot in one go. You can help too, Master Cross,” he adds, starting to screw some of the rods together. Although broken down for ease of transport, the rods link together to form some kind of... it almost looks like an especially tall candlestick, with an empty socket waiting at the top.Shrugging, you take the first rod that Willowbrae completes as he rapidly moves on to the next one. There are eight of them in total, each one almost as tall as a man. Not heavy, as he said, but cumbersome to move with.“How convenient, two rods each!” Persephone remarks, glaring at Omiros' back as the priest moves on ahead. Little wonder that he's getting ahead of you, considering that he isn't carrying any of the cargo at all. If the priest overheard Persephone, he makes no show of it. Scowling to herself, Persephone takes another of the brass rods and starts after him.“Just a moment,” Willowbrae murmurs, tucking a smaller chest under his arm before nodding to himself, “Right, that's everything. I think. I hope I haven't forgotten anything, or we'll have to make another trip back.”“Count yourself lucky if it's just the one,” you tell him, a bitter smile on your face, “These last few days, I've been up and down this mountain more times than I can count. At least it's not blowing a blizzard in my face this time...”Shuddering a little at the thought of an Exorcist's life, and all the hardships it must involve, Willowbrae scuttles on ahead. The brass rods soon start to wear on your shoulder as you hike, but you push those petty complaints aside. You're curious now, curious to see exactly what kind of strange ceremony Omiros is preparing for. Certainly, this doesn't resemble anything like the rites you read about in Von Jagd.When you finally arrive at the sky burial site, Omiros wastes no time in snatching the brass rods from you. Stabbing each one down into the hard soil, he forms a wide circle around the shattered offering stone. When the last of the rods is in place, Willowbrae opens the chest to reveal a number of intricately carved mirrors.“The locals know nothing. Even in the depths of their living history, they had no answers,” Omiros calls out, raising his voice against the stirring winds, “The rite of witnessing will show us instead.”“All within the terms of the Accord, of course,” you warn, watching as Omiros starts screwing the first of the mirrors atop the brass holder.He just glances around, giving you a look of pure disgust before returning to his work.
>>5753423Night has fully fallen by the time Omiros is finished preparing his rite, and that seems to suit him perfectly. Making one last tiny adjustment to one of the mirrors, he stands back and gazes up at the sky. Perfectly motionless, as still as any statue, he watches as the clouds crawl sluggishly across the sky. A nameless tension starts to seep into you, into all of you – Willowbrae fidgets nervously as he waits, while Persephone constantly touches the hilt of her dagger for comfort. Omiros is the only one who seems perfectly, utterly calm.Then the clouds finally break, allowing a torrent of silver moonlight to flood down across the mountaintop. Captured by the carefully placed mirrors and marked by the ritual symbols carved into the glass, the moonlight is gathered up and cast upon the shattered altar itself.All but pouncing like a wild beast, Omiros lunges towards the broken stone and stares into the pool of moonlight. Soon you're all crowded around the altar, carefully bowing your heads to avoid breaking the beams of moonlight. As you watch, something seems to happen to the moonlight – it seems to move, writhing in place to form a vague suggestion of an image. Like watching images formed from grains of sand, you gradually make sense of the scene unfolding before your eyes.You see the mountaintop once more, with a number of figures gathered around the same stone that you are now. They move their hands in a silent ritual, although it's impossible to see exactly what they're doing. But you can see the results well enough. As the ritual reaches its climax, the sky opens up to reveal-With a sudden swipe of his hand, Omiros lashes out and knocks one of the mirrors out of place. In an instant, the ritual is broken and the image vanishes. The image vanishes, but even though you only saw it for a fraction of a second, you still remember it clearly. The sky opened up to reveal a vision of inhuman beauty, the ethereal silver spires and towers that make up the forbidden city of Shang-Han.“So that was it,” Omiros mutters to himself, his face twisted into a rictus of disgust, “So that was their crime...”“Master Omiros?” Willowbrae begins, taking a step closer and reaching out a hand. But-“Silence!” the priest snarls, batting Willowbrae's hand away before stalking a few paces away. “Hush now, Novice Willowbrae,” he continues, his words now as smooth as silk, “I need a moment. A moment to think...”Silence falls, and you glance aside to Persephone. Her face is utterly blank, a perfect mask, but the hand on her dagger is white-knuckle tight.>I'm going to pause things here for today. Current plan is to continue next Saturday – I'm not likely to have a lot of free time this month, so I'll try to make good use of the days I do have available>Thank you for reading along today!
>>5753441Interestinger and interestingerSo the lost city is part of what’s weakening the clock. Perhaps it’s an idealized version of civilization? Eternally stagnant in its splendor?TFR moloch
>>5753441>the beautiful city which dominates Persephone's imaginings was founded here, by the ancestors of the barbarous mountainfolk she looks down onKek.
>>5753441Oooh, it's getting curioser and curioser!
>>5753441So does that make Persephone a gilf?
“Bastards!”This word, the first that Persephone has spoken since you returned from the mountaintop, hangs in the air like a storm cloud. Her silence finally broken, Persephone starts pacing up and down the sickroom with furious steps. “They knew!” she continues, jabbing a finger at you as if trying to make a point, “They picked ME for this assignment, nobody else. They picked ME. They must have known, right from the start!”“Maybe so,” you reply slowly, carefully, “Who are “they” exactly?”Your question causes Persephone to stop her restless pacing, to turn and scowl at you. “I haven't figured that out yet,” she admits after a moment, “But it can't be a coincidence! You saw the same thing that I did, that city-”“Shang-Han,” you agree. Though you've only ever seen the forbidden city depicted in a painting, you know – somehow – that the city you saw from the mountaintop could be nothing else. “Now sit down, and lower your voice,” you add, gesturing to one of the empty beds, “You don't want to wake the baby, do you?”You're joking, but Persephone shudders a little at the suggestion regardless. Sitting down as instructed, she thinks to herself for a long moment. “There's one thing I don't understand. Actually, there are a lot of things about this hot mess that I don't understand, but let's prioritise,” she says suddenly, spitting the words out in haste, “How can Shang-Han be HERE?”“This place wasn't always a backwater, remember?” you point out, “It's a long way to fall, true, but-”“Impossible,” she interrupts, “I saw Shang-Han with my own eyes, not here but on the other side of the land!”“Then perhaps it's not directly connected to any physical location in our world. If that was the case, anyone with the correct rituals would be able to open a route to the city,” you suggest, having already given this idea some thought, “At least, in theory. I'm not claiming to be the expert here – I don't think anyone here can claim that.”“Really?” Persephone's scowl deepens, “Not even our trustworthy ally out there?”“Omiros? No, I think...” you pause for a moment before continuing, choosing your next words with care, “He recognised Shang-Han, no doubt about it. But I don't think he was expecting to see it here. You saw how quickly he broke the ritual – he didn't want us to see it. If he knew what he would find here, he never would've allowed us to join him.”Falling silent as she considers this, Persephone finally lets out a scoff of anger. “We're going to have to talk with him,” she decides eventually.“Sooner or later, sure.”“You're going to have to talk with him,” she corrects herself, covering up a yawn, “Right now, I don't exactly trust myself to hold a civil conversation with that old fiend.”
>>5759226With her burst of nervous energy finally exhausted, Persephone sprawls out on one of the cots and starts to sleep – or, at least, pretends to sleep. Letting her rest, you leave the sickroom and spot Annika lingering in the narrow corridor outside. She flinches away at the first sight of you, guilt flashing across her face, but then she forces herself to stand firm.“I heard voices,” she says, as if trying to defend her eavesdropping, “What's going on?”“It's... complicated,” you admit with a sigh, “And honestly, I don't fully know myself. I'm going to have to see the priest. Do you know where he is?”“A few houses down. Varrin's old house. Empty now, after... the storm,” Annika gestures vaguely, “I... I know it's not my place to say, but I don't think you should trust him. I think he's dangerous.”“I know he is,” you murmur, recalling the almost instinctual fear that the priest seems to rouse in people. All of a sudden, you want to think of something, anything, else. “That lens he had,” you ask quickly, “What did it... do?”Annika grimaces, and you immediately regret stirring up the recent trauma. “I don't know what he saw, but it was like I was dreaming. I saw things, but they weren't clear or coherent. Memories, perhaps, but not memories that I recognised,” she recalls, “I think I spoke, but I don't remember what I said to him. I'm sorry, I don't-”“It's fine,” you assure her, “Varrin's house, you said?”“Right. You'll know it when you see it – it has a pair of antlers mounted above the door,” she confirms, sadness creeping into her eyes, “You'd think he hunted the beast himself, with how proud of them he was, but he just found them out in the woods one day...”You don't know what else to say, so you give Annika a nod of thanks and show yourself out.-As Annika said, you know the right house when you see it. Wooden shutters have been closed over what few windows the hovel has, but you can still see the warm glow of a lantern seeping out from below the door. Omiros must still be awake, you reason, so he probably won't mind an interruption. He probably WILL mind, actually, but that's not your problem. Your problem is figuring out how to approach the sinister old man...>Be professional. Your goal is to focus on fixing this problem>Be inquisitive. Perhaps you can compare notes about Shang-Han>Be aggressive. You're sick of him keeping secrets from you>Other
>>5759227>Be professional. Your goal is to focus on fixing this problem
>>5759227>Be professional. Your goal is to focus on fixing this problemIf we wanted aggression, we'd have sent Persephone.
I hate to say it but we may need to leverage Persephone's link to the city to get any information out of this guy
Taking a deep breath to steady yourself, you knock briskly at the door. You'll be professional about this, you decide as you wait, you'll have that civil conversation that Persephone was talking about. You'll focus on the practical matters first, then see where the conversation takes you. If Omiros starts talking, he might let something slip...Wishful thinking, perhaps, but that's all you've got to work with right now.Just as you're about to knock again, you hear a muffled greeting from within. You enter, stepping through the clutter littering the hovel floor until you reach the impromptu office at the back. Omiros – or Willowbrae, more likely – has cleared a long table, only to cover it with his own papers. Almost bent double, the priest leans across the table as he measures out an intricate diagram with a worn brass protractor. Other tools, equally well-used, wait nearby.“Sit. Don't talk,” he warns, “This is delicate work.”So much for being civil. Biting your tongue, you sit down opposite him and study the papers laid out before you. Ritual signs, obviously, but not of any kind that you recognise. Academy runes tend to be ornate, as if imitating the sun's glory, while older Akklo runes have an air of savagery about them. These are like neither – manically precise in nature, with straight lines and hard angles, they seem to hint at something obscure.The great clock, you realise, they remind you of the temple's great clock. Not so much the ornamental exterior, more the complex mechanisms within. It's so obvious that you almost let out a loud groan of frustration but, as per Omiros' instructions, you hold your tongue. Finally he sets his tools and pen aside, then looks up from the paper.“There's still more work to be done, but I can spare a moment,” he says to you, a second introduction, “Speak.”“I wanted to know what our next steps are,” you begin, pleased at how level, almost disinterested, your voice sounds, “Are we ready to fix this?”“Almost,” Omiros replies simply, giving his papers a slight nod, “I must complete this formula first, and then our work will almost be complete.”“And that formula will... repair the damage?” you guess, “Get Sheol's machine working properly again?”Omiros doesn't answer this straight away, gazing back down at his diagrams. “Consider the physician,” he says eventually, slowly, “A patient is brought to him with a wounded leg. The wound has already grown foul, and the rot is slowly spreading. With each passing day, it creeps closer to the man's heart. What must the physician do?”It takes you just a second to find your answer, but a lot longer to dare speak it aloud.“The laws of medicine...” you begin in a hoarse voice, clearing your throat before taking a second attempt, “The laws of medicine would call for amputation.”Apparently satisfied, Omiros nods.
>>5759289“What... exactly... is this formula going to do?” you ask slowly, feeling that odd animal fear stirring within you once again, “The people here are innocent, they-”“They will not be harmed,” Omiros interrupts, holding up a hand to silence you, “No. This is not some trivial problem, to be solved by spilling blood. But a defective piece must be removed from a greater mechanism, lest it cause further damage over time. If we do not act here, this... situation will only spread further. It may take generations before another settlement is affected, before the rot can spread that far, but the process is inexorable. Thus, we must act.”Omiros' voice is hushed, perfectly calm, but his eyes gleam with the light of a true believer. A fanatic, perhaps, who sees this as his holy duty. You're silent for a long moment as you weigh up his words, trying to still the wordless dream churning within you.“There is something I must tell you,” the priest continues, speaking up when you do not, “There may be opportunities for future cooperation between us. It is important work that we do, just as your own work is important. There are many secrets that we possess, secrets that you may, in time, come to learn too. I have been instructed to offer you this introduction, but we must ask something in return.”Suddenly, perversely, you think of Orfeas and his heretical initiation. It's absurd to compare the two, and yet...“What?” you rasp, “What do you ask?”“Your cooperation. Your obedience, in fact,” he answers, “We must know that you are trustworthy. This is, of course, a long process. A single act will change nothing – but every journey must begin with a single step. Tomorrow morning, at first light, I will be ready to perform the ritual. I can perform it alone, if you have no desire to involve yourself any further. But if you were to assist us...”“Without knowing what this ritual will do, you mean?” you point out, “You say that no blood will be spilled, but I only have your word for that.”“Correct,” Omiros nods, “I am asking you to have faith.”Another long silence falls between you, a silence not unlike the grave.“Nothing can be done until morning,” the priest concludes, allowing his voice to soften just a tiny bit, “I will not ask for a decision now. And should you refuse, rest assured that it will not harm your... career. I will bear no ill-will.”“I see,” you manage to say. You've still got questions, more questions than you can count, but it's clear that Omiros has said everything he's going to say. Taking up his tools once more, he returns to drawing out his diagrams. You sit for a few moments, more gathering your thoughts than expecting the priest to speak again, before finally rising to your feet and leaving.
>>5759320“So what do you think?”Your question hangs unanswered in the air, long enough that you start to wonder if Persephone was paying any attention at all to your explanation. Just as you're about to repeat yourself, from the top if necessary, she shrugs. “What do I think?” she asks, throwing your question back at you, “Well, I think this sounds like a tremendous hassle, for one thing.”“That's a given,” you agree, “But I mean, this might be our chance to find out what this is all really about. Aren't you curious?”“Of course I am,” Persephone admits, “But I'm also deeply interested in self-preservation, and this little offer is ringing all kinds of warning bells for me. It should for you too – haven't you had enough trouble with joining secret societies already?”You wince, as if her words had drawn blood, but then a different memory surfaces. The last time you were at the monastery Roerich left you with some advice – find new teachers, he said. Was THIS what he was talking about?“Well, I'll make this simple – I'm not doing it. I'm not taking part in this horrible little ritual, no matter what they're offering,” Persephone concludes, giving you another grandiose shrug, “But if you want to join up... well, it's your decision. I won't try and stop you.”Her pivot, from frantic anger to near-complete indifference, is so stark that you're left wondering about her true feelings. You study Persephone for what seems like a long moment, trying to tease out a hint of her true thoughts, but she offers nothing. Her eyes are like two pools of quicksilver, infinitely deep and yet curiously blank.Turning away with a sigh, you consider the decision ahead of you.>You'll take part in the ritual. This could be the first step to something greater>You can't take part in the ritual. You can't involve yourself in such things>You must stop the ritual. Whatever the cost, this cannot go ahead>Other
>>5759328>You can't take part in the ritual. You can't involve yourself in such things
>>5759328Is witnessing the ritual considered taking part? Cause I wouldn't mind watching without getting involved but something as simple as saying a pledge last time fucked up our soul and guardian spirit so I'm a bit squeamish.
>>5759328>>You'll take part in the ritual. This could be the first step to something greater>Given your background, let's just say they shouldn't have expected any different if you pull something
>>5759344>Just to clarify, bearing witness to the ritual would NOT count as taking part
>>5759328>>OtherThen I'll vote to merely witness the ritual. I feel like an Exorcist representative has at least gotta be there.
What Omiros is asking you to do, on the strength of faith alone, is simply too much. If it was Master Brehm who was asking, that might be different, but the priest is...Well, he doesn't exactly inspire trust. You'll put it that way.“I can't do it,” you sigh eventually, shaking your head, “This could be an opportunity for something far greater, I actually believe Omiros there, but I just... can't.”“Warning bells?” Persephone asks lightly. You meet her eyes, expecting to see mockery there, but instead you're met with sincerity. “Oh, I'm sure he's got all manner of secrets to share with us. I'm sure he does. But I feel like this is one of these times where we're just better off not knowing,” she continues, “I can live quite happily with a few unanswered questions, thank you very much. Now, I wonder if we can borrow some horses to go home. Then we can finally put this all behind us and-”“No,” you interrupt, “We... I should stay, at least long enough to bear witness. We're representatives of the academy, if nothing else.”Although her lips twist into a grimace, Persephone reluctantly nods.-You barely sleep that last night, quickly rising just before dawn. Judging by the way that Persephone tosses and turns on her own bed, her attempts at rest haven't been much better. Pulling on your boots, you hasten out and start towards Omiros' borrowed hovel. Before you've made it more than a few steps down the path, however, you hear footsteps from behind you.“I'm coming with you,” Persephone explains as she catches up, “Don't worry, I'll keep it civil – I promise!”“I'll do my best too,” you joke, although the attempt at humour feels strained. Looking back, you can see Willowbrae busying himself with some cargo from the carriage – getting ready for the ritual, you assume. Turning away with a wordless shudder, you gesture for Persephone to follow you.Omiros answers promptly this time, calling out almost before you've finished knocking. “Master Hearne, Master Cross,” he begins, greeting you with a rare courtesy, “The ritual is almost at hand. Have you come to join us?”Persephone glances at you, as if expecting a last minute change of heart, but you shake your head. “Your offer is a fair one,” you reply, leaning into formality, “But I cannot accept it.”The priest's expression doesn't change, not even for a flicker. “I see,” he says after a long pause, “May I ask why?”“I can't explain that, not even to myself. A lack of faith, perhaps,” you admit, giving him the slightest of shrugs, “Trust is a very difficult thing, even between colleagues such as ourselves.”“That it is,” Omiros agrees, accepting your explanation without argument, “And you, Master Cross?”“Um, I'm the same,” Persephone manages, her glib tongue suddenly abandoning her. Omiros' eyes narrow at this weak answer, his gaze boring into Persephone until she can't help but fidget in place.
>>5759405“But, with your permission, we would bear witness,” you announce, speaking up to save Persephone from the withering glare, “As representatives of the academy, we wish to observe.”“You may do this,” Omiros answers, although he doesn't sound especially happy about it, “But if we are to entrust you with one of great Sheol's secrets, we ask that it remains so – say nothing of this, even amongst those of the academy, and commit nothing to paper.”Which still leaves carving words into stone, or using a wax tablet, but you understand his meaning. With little room to haggle, you accept his terms with a nod.“Oh, and you can assist with the preparations too,” the priest adds, “A little heavy lifting, nothing more than that.”This time, Persephone doesn't even bother to hide her groan.-Manual labour, in this case, involves gathering firewood and carrying it back up to the mountaintop. It doesn't take too long for you to gather a significant pile of wood, especially with Willowbrae helping out, and you're left to wait as Omiros carves his intricate formula into the soil. He works slowly and with obsessive attention to detail, completely ignoring the world around him.When that is finally done, you're given the command to built a bonfire within the centre of the ritual symbol. That too is slow going, especially as any damage to the carved symbol – no matter how trivial – causes the whole process to grind to a halt. It's almost noon by the time you're finished, but you assume that's the point – to perform the ritual when the sun reaches its apex.The bonfire catches light quickly, far quicker than you had been expecting considering the damp state of the wood you had gathered. With an almost insatiable hunger, the first few sparks spread out to consume the whole pile of wood. Sweat bursts onto the back of your neck as the fire burns higher and higher, and you find yourself retreating back a few paces.Omiros starts to chant suddenly, heedless to the world around him and focused entirely on the ritual. His words are like the ritual symbol itself, harsh and curiously angular, while his gestures are equally rigid. For all his warnings, you know that there's no chance for you to write down any of this – you don't have a language capable of transcribing those inhuman words.Beside you, Persephone lets out a soft gasp. Although her eyes are unfocused, she gazes into the haze of smoke rising from the bonfire. Allowing your own inner eye to open, you suddenly realise what she saw. A spirit is taking shape within the smoke, a terrible thing with many arms and many gleaming swords. As Omiros chants the spirit raises its arms high up, and then the chant suddenly stops.The chant stops, and the spirit's blades fall like the blows from a legion of executioners.
>>5759429Silence, but for the crackle of the bonfire. Even that seems to be fading, the ravenous hunger of the flames having exhausted itself with the spirit's departure. Sitting down on a low rock, you watch as Omiros methodically scrubs out any trace of his ritual symbols. There's probably a lesson there, something about the transient nature of man's creations, but you don't really feel like moralising right now.You just feel numb, actually. Numb in body, mind and soul.Looking around after a while, you study your companions in hope of finding some kind of answers. But there are no answers to be found here either – Persephone is doing her emotionless thing again, hiding her thoughts behind a blank mask, while Willowbrae just seems confused, fearful without knowing what to be afraid of.“We're finished,” Omiros announces, when the last of his ritual markings has been wiped away. Without another word, he starts to march back down towards town. Like a sleepwalker, Willowbraev slowly follows after him. They don't seem to notice, or care, that you're not following along too. Letting them go, you touch Persephone lightly on the arm to rouse her from her stupor.Persephone turns and then, with an odd formality, moves in to put her arms you. Her body feels as cold as ice, as hard and unyielding as stone. She doesn't tremble, but somehow seems as if she should. That's how you remain for a long moment, locked in this cold and loveless embrace, before she speaks.“Something terrible just happened here,” she whispers to you.-The whole world seems silent as you walk into town. No birdsong, no buzzing insects, not even a breath of wind. The few locals that you see lingering about are just as silent, wandering aimlessly or staring into nothing at all. The whole world seems muted and drained of life, even down to the colours having faded. With everything you see, Persephone's words echo through your mind.Consider the physician – that's what Omiros said. Consider a wounded limb, grown foul with rot. The limb is removed, but then what? The laws of medicine would call for it to be burned, to be destroyed. What then for these people, their souls?Bile rises in your throat, so suddenly that you have to duck behind a nearby hovel and fight against the urge to empty your stomach completely. In the near-silence of the maimed town, your retches sound very loud indeed.Then you hear another sound, the crunch of footsteps on the dry ground. Forcing yourself to look around, you see Omiros staring at you from a short distance away. Just the sight of him is enough to stir up a desperate churn of emotions – anger, despair, confusion, all these and more pass through your mind before you settle on...>Anger. He has to pay for what he's done>Despair. There has to be a way to undo this>Confusion. You don't understand any of this>Something else... (Write in)>Other
>>5759514>Anger. He has to pay for what he's doneIf he really fucked up the townspeople's souls after saying they would come to no harm then we have a problem.
>>5759514>Confusion. You don't understand any of this
>>5759514>Anger. He has to pay for what he's done>Despair. There has to be a way to undo thisThis cannot stand.
You don't know what to say, what to think. You're not even sure if you have the strength to stand up straight, but somehow you manage it. Bracing yourself against the hovel wall, you limp a few paces towards Omiros. He watches you all the while, calm and impassive, with one hand resting lightly on the hilt of his sword.“What happened to them?” you ask, the words ripped from your throat, “What did you DO?”“They are unharmed. Exactly as I said,” Omiros answers quietly, “It may take a few days for them to recover, but they WILL recover.”“Recover? Recover from what?” you spit, fury growing in your chest as his words sink in, “I swear, Omiros, if you don't just give me a straight answer-”“I can't do that,” he says, a faint trace of sorrow stealing into his voice. He looks at you now with regret, with pity almost. “You made your choice, Master Hearne,” he continues, “You have already seen far more than most, and while I understand your confusion...”At this, something inside you breaks. You lunge forwards with a clenched fist, seeking nothing more than to wide that self-righteous look from his face. Except your blow never lands – moving faster than you thought possible for an aged man, Omiros catches your wrist and stops your blow, pivoting to push you against the hovel wall. Pain jolts through your body as you're slammed against the thick wood, but it seems very distant.“It's over,” the priest warns you, his brow furrowing with a stern scowl, “There is nothing more for you to do here, Master Hearne. We will return to the capital soon, and I suggest that you forget that this ever happened. Put it out of your mind. I assure you, you will thank yourself for it.”“How am I supposed to just forget about all this?” you snarl, yanking your wrist out of his grasp, “You... Maybe you didn't murder these people, but you disfigured them. You deformed them! How am I supposed to just act like none of this ever happened?”Accepting the anger that washes over him, Omiros nods slowly. “If you cannot forget, then consider this. Everything that was done here, was done for a greater good. A higher purpose. Have faith in that, at least,” he explains, “We are both men who must make terrible choices, are we not? But we must have the strength to live with the choices that we've made.”“I know that my conscience is clear,” the priest concludes, stepping back from you, “Now go. Rest. Tomorrow morning, we will make for the capital and, if the gods should will it, we shall never see one another again.”“...I hope so,” you mutter after a long pause, salvaging what little pride you can.>I'm going to pause things here for today. Plan is to continue this tomorrow, starting at the same approximate time>Thank you for reading along today!
>>5759585Thank you for running! Enjoy the evening!
>>5759514Huh. Not what would have chosen, interesting
When a man dies, his soul – his essence – is brought to Sheol's great machine, where the sins and burdens of his life are worn away by virtuous toil. When the soul is pure once more, it can be returned to the human world and a new life. Should the machine fail, the soul is returned to life still stained with the marks of sin. But what if a soul is completely separated from the workings of the machine? What then?The thought haunts you all through the night. No blood was spilled, but each and every person in the village has been condemned. When their lives come to an end, whether by violence or not, their souls will be consigned to some unknown fate. To oblivion, perhaps.But it's all for the good of the world, or so Omiros believes – and he DOES believe, of that you have no doubt. You only wish you had even half of his faith.-You manage to sleep a little, that night, and with mercifully few dreams. Persephone is already awake when you wake, and it looks like she has been for quite some time. She's already fully dressed, sitting with perfect stillness on the edge of her bed as she waits for you to rouse yourself. “You had the right idea,” she begins, as soon as your eyes are open.“I'm sure I did,” you mutter, rubbing grit from your eyes, “About what?”“About investigating my village. About Shang-Han and Sheon's machine,” she explains, “It's all connected, I'm sure of it. I just need to figure out how.”“Just be careful about it,” you warn, “These people take their secrets very seriously. It could be dangerous.”“Of course it's going to be dangerous. That doesn't mean I'm not going to do it,” Persephone insists, her jaw set in a determined scowl, “I've got an idea of where to start, but-”Then she cuts herself short, falling into an abrupt silence. A few moments later, you hear footsteps from outside the sickroom. A moment more, and Willowbrae peers around the edge of the door. “Ah, you're both up,” he says, letting himself in, “Good morning!”“What are you so damn cheerful about?” Persephone asks, giving him a sour look, “Do you even know what happened here?”Willowbrae blinks in confusion. “Well, we witnessed something great,” he answers, “That's not-”Persephone is on her feet in an instant. With her dagger drawn, she seizes Willowbrae's collar and slams him back against the wall. “Something GREAT?” she spits, bringing her blade up to his throat, “You really think that this was GREAT?”“I mean... I...” the young novice stammers, his panicked eyes flicking desperately across to you. Though he dare not say it aloud, his eyes plead for your help. For almost tempted to turn away, to ignore his pleas, but...“Persephone, don't,” you warn, gently taking her hand and lowering the blade from Willowbrae's neck. She doesn't fight you, allowing you to take the dagger from her grasp and toss it down on the bed beside you.
>>5760245“I only meant...” Willowbrae explains, still casting nervous glances across at Persephone, “I only meant “great” in terms of size and scale, not... anything else. From what Master Omiros has said, I thought that events like this are rare, truly rare indeed. We could live our whole lives a dozen times over without seeing the like of this again.”“I certainly hope so,” Persephone mutters, “Now, was there something you wanted?”“Oh, um, just to say that there was some food out. I need to help prepare the carriage, so I'll be, ah, out of your way,” he answers quickly, already backing towards the door, “Just don't linger too long. We wouldn't want to leave you behind!”With that, he turns tail and flees. Shaking her head in disgust, Persephone retrieves her dagger and shoves it back into the sheath. You give her a look of warning, but otherwise say nothing. Instead, you head through to see about this food Willowbrae mentioned. Annika and Armin are waiting for you in the main room, and while they still seem a little dazed they both seem... normal. Annika is fussing over the baby, while Armin shovels spoonfuls of a thick, hearty porridge into his mouth.“Oh. Good morning,” Annika says, looking around to you. Her eyes seem a little unfocused at first, but then they seem to find you. “Are you hungry? There's more in the pot,” she adds, nodding back towards the kitchen, “Perhaps SOMEONE could help me, since I have my hands full here.”“I'm going, I'm going,” Armin grunts, pausing only to slap her lightly across the backside. Annika yelps softly, her cheeks darkening red as he leaves for the kitchen. The silence that follows is so awkward that you almost forget your other problems. Almost. “Good morning,” you tell Annika, reaching for something, anything, to say, “How do you... feel?”“Hmm?” she gives you a strange look, a little flustered and a little confused. “I feel... alone?” she offers at last, “No, that's not it. It's like I've been hearing some faint noise all my life, and now it's suddenly stopped. I keep listening for it, but I'm not even sure what I'm listening for. Except I'm not really listening for anything, just... I don't know.”You wait, dreading the inevitable question, but Annika says nothing more. She just turns away, focusing instead on her child. “Should we tell them?” you whisper softly, leaning across to Persephone, “About...”“What would be the point?” Persephone murmurs back, shaking her head slightly, “Why torment them like that?”Tormenting someone with the truth – the idea leaves a vile feeling in the pit of your stomach, so much so that your appetite has vanished by the time Armin returns. Still...>You don't need to tell them anything. They seem content to remain ignorant>You should tell them the truth about what happened. They deserve to know>You'll assure them that all will be well. A pleasant lie, perhaps>Other
>>5760246>You don't need to tell them anything. They seem content to remain ignorantShe's right. There's nothing we can do here at the moment. If they ask just tell them its over and the monster isn't coming back.
>>5760246>You don't need to tell them anything. They seem content to remain ignorantWhat >>5760260 said. And anyway, IRL there are people who would be GLAD to escape the cycle of reincarnation. I doubt Lucas has such a frame of reference, but even then he might be able to find comfort in knowing that, since Sheol destroys the go ANYWAY, all these people and everything that made them THEM was going to be ground away at death, anyhow. We didn't doom Armin or Annika; we only dumped the ephemeral grist that powers them, and not until they're done with it.
>>5760246>You'll assure them that all will be well. A pleasant lie, perhaps
Still, Persephone has a point. What would be the point in telling them, when it wouldn't change anything? If they can live out the rest of their lives in relative peace, that might be the best thing for them. Whatever happens after that is beyond your control. Meeting Persephone's eyes across the table, you give her the slightest of nods before turning back to your breakfast.Breakfast is an ordeal, but a fleeting one. With your stomach filled, you push the bowl aside and look across to Armin. “We'll be leaving soon,” you tell him simply, “We'll be heading back to the capital.”“Aye, I thought as much,” Armin agrees, a slow smile taking shape on his lips, “Although we've got a vacant house if were thinking of putting down roots...” It might be a joke, but the idea still sends a shiver running down your spine. It takes some effort to keep a calm expression, so much that you're left speechless. “Well, no matter. I'm sure we'll find a use for it one way or another,” the healer continues, waving away his own joke with a gesture, “It... it IS over, isn't it?”“...Yes,” you reply quietly, “It's all over. No more spirits, no more bad memories.”“Well, that's excellent news!” he declares, laughing aloud, “So we don't need to move away after all, aye?”“I'd still recommend it,” you answer, somehow managing to smile, “For the better weather, if nothing else.”-The meal sits heavily in your stomach on the way back to the capital, each bump and jolt of the road causing your throat to tighten. Willowbrae very deliberately avoids your gaze, deliberately peering out the window and watching the scenery pass by. Omiros, by contrast, always seems to be staring at you and Persephone. At least, that's how it seems – whenever you can bring yourself to look his way, the priest is always deep in a book.The more you travel, the more colour seems to return to the world around you. You see birds once more, and other signs of life. Small steps, perhaps, but your mood gradually starts to lift as the carriage trundles onwards. The day may be long, but the sight of the palace beacon is always there to remind you of home. As the long hours pass and the daylight fades, the beacon seems to burn brighter and brighter – so bright that it swallows up the whole city, consuming it in an ever-widening ball of fire and-You blink, and then all is back to normal once more. A dream, you tell yourself, you must have dozed off for a moment. Nothing more than that.As the carriage slowly crawls up the steep path towards the academy, you constantly find yourself glancing back to the beacon. It so catches your attention that you don't even notice the carriage grinding to a halt, only tearing your gaze away when Persephone pokes you in the side. Rising on numb legs, you climb out the carriage and look back at the priests.“Master Hearne, Master Cross,” Omiros concludes, “Farewell. I hope your work goes well.”
>>5760280“So what now?” you ask, as you're walking back to the dormitory with Persephone.“Now?” she repeats, “Now, I'm going to get some proper rest and not think about any of this. I'll worry about the rest later, when I have to write that bloody report – although I haven't a single clue how to report on ANY of this nonsense. Why don't we say it all just a perfectly natural storm, nothing spiritual about it?”“Tempting, but I don't think they'll buy it,” you decide, after thinking it over, “Anyway, don't ask me. Your assignment, your paperwork.”With a low groan, Persephone retreats into her bedroom and slams the door behind her. Even so, you can hear her muffled cursing for good while after.-It seems like a very long time since the whole cohort was back together, all gathered around the same table. As such, the noise seems almost unbearable at first. Letting the background chatter wash over you, you look around at your companions. Clarissa remains polite and aloof, distant even as the conversation flows around her. Harriet more than makes up for the silence, chattering away as if was making up for lost time. More than anyone else, though, you find your gaze drawn to Johannes – or rather, to the nasty gouges running down one side of his face.“Johannes, darling, you simply must tell me about your assignment,” Persephone purrs, leaning across the table and reaching over to poke at the wound. Johannes bats her hand away with a low growl, and Persephone giggles. A perfectly natural laugh, as if nothing had ever happened. “Oh dear,” she mocks, “That bad?”“It...” he pauses, a rare hesitation, “There was a woman-”“Oh my, a woman did THAT?” Persephone asks, her eyes widening as she stares at the scratches, “I'd like to meet HER!”“What? No,” Johannes shakes his head, “This was a man, a-”“A man?” the pale girl gasps, covering her mouth in mock horror, “Oh well, I won't judge. That's a lie, actually, I will judge – I'll just do it quietly.”“That's also a lie,” Harriet adds with a giggle of her own, “She will judge, and it definitely won't be quiet!”“...Whatever,” Johannes grunts, turning back to his meal and ignoring any further attempts at conversation.It really was bad, you realise, and not just for the wound. Wounds heal, but this seems like... something else. There's a perverse kind of relief in knowing that you're not the only one who had a miserable time. This thought is immediately answered by a stab of guilt, and you look hurriedly away from Johannes. “What about you, Clarissa?” you ask, “Keeping busy?”“I'll say. I won't be stopping long – I just need to write up some notes, and then I'll be off again,” she answers, her voice brisk, “Just to the capital, mind you. I've got some people to meet.”“We're all so busy!” Harriet complains, “Why can't we just take some time out, since we're all back together?”
>>5760300“We're supposed to be busy,” Clarissa points out, “This isn't a social club, you know. We serve the state, protect the Accord, and – if we have any time left over – we further our studies.”“That's funny,” Persephone drawls, “I don't remember signing up to that first part. Maybe they've changed the rules since I joined the academy, but I think I would have noticed a thing like that.”“Enough bickering, you two,” Johannes warns, breaking his sullen silence to glare at the pair of girls. The glare actually works, shocking both of them into silence – for a little while, at least.It doesn't last. Pushing aside her half-eaten meal, Persephone rises to her feet and dramatically flicks a strange of hair away from her face. “Well, unfortunately I have a report to write,” she announces, giving you all a stern look of warning, “I shall require complete silence, so NOBODY interrupt me. Is that understood?”“Constantly interrupt you with every little thing, I understand,” Harriet agrees with an eager nod. Persephone glares at the other girl, but it's only a pale shadow of what Johannes could manage.As Persephone vanishes back into her room, Clarissa starts gathering the breakfast dishes for washing and Johannes... well, he just leans back in his chair and sulks. Harriet glances between you all, pouting a little as she realises that there's no fun to be had here. The group starts to drift apart, leaving you with an empty schedule. Cloranthy had her favour, you recall, but that's a job for the night shift. For now...>Clarissa might need some help with her notes, and you could catch up at the same time>Johannes' assignment didn't go well. Perhaps he'll want to talk it over>Harriet has a point. Surely you can spare some time to do something fun with her>You've got other ideas... (Write in)>Other
>>5760304>Johannes' assignment didn't go well. Perhaps he'll want to talk it over
For now, you've got other plans. This might be your best chance to have a word with Johannes, before he gets drawn off on some other business. His assignment didn't go well, that much is obvious, and he might want to talk it over. Actually, he's highly unlikely to WANT to talk it over, but you're not going to take no for an answer. It's better this way, far better than brooding on it.For both of you.“Hey,” you begin, nodding to Johannes, “I think we should talk.”“I think otherwise,” he replies, his words as blunt as stone, “Now what?”“Now? Now we go somewhere quiet and have a talk,” you answer, giving him your best attempt at a scowl. Johannes meets your gaze, his dark eyes revealing nothing, before giving you a single curt nod. “Good. Glad to hear it,” you continue, gesturing towards the door. With a low sigh, almost a growl, Johannes pushes his plate away and rises to his feet.“Hold on a minute!” Harriet calls out as you're leaving, “Are you-”“We're not going to do anything fun,” Johannes warns her.“Oh,” she pauses, “Carry on then, don't let me stop you.”-You walk for a long time before anyone says anything, your wandering almost taking you from the academy itself before Johannes stops. This time of morning, the academy grounds are almost completely deserted – the only other people you can see are a few servants working by the stables, and they show no interest in you.“It went bad,” Johannes begins simply, “Is that what you wanted to hear?”You shrug. “I assumed as such, but I'd rather hear it from you. What happened?” a pause as you think, “You went south, didn't you? Something about a...”“They dug something up. A body. A coffin, actually. The body was inside,” he explains, sitting on a low wall and scowling at nothing in particular, “Ever since they dug it up, the locals were getting restless. Getting bad feelings, bad dreams. Nothing specific, nothing you could put your finger on, but the local priest was worried. That's why he called for help. They got me instead.”“Oh come on,” you groan, “It wasn't that bad, was it?”“People died,” Johannes spits, “Because of me.”A long silence. “Oh,” you mutter eventually, immediately regretting your words, “What happened?”Johannes doesn't answer this straight away, simply glaring at the servants as they go about their business. “It started with the body,” he says after a long silence, “It was intact, for how old it was. Preserved, maybe. Mummified. Figured out from the temple archives that it was a long-dead necromancer. In life, he had bound three evil spirits to his will. Now, those spirits were causing trouble all over town. They were bound to his body, see? Bound with ritual symbols tattooed into his flesh.”“So I had it burned,” he continues, his broad shoulders moving in a heavy shrug, “Seemed like the simplest way to put an end to it. At the time.”
>>5760342“I was wrong,” Johannes states bluntly, “When the body burned, all it did was release the spirits from their bonds. They were harmless enough before, but I let them loose. They got into some of the local men, possessed them and started causing real harm. That's how I got these wounds. Found one of the possessed men skulking in a cellar. Ugh, more like it found me – got the drop on me, went for my eyes. I fought it off, knocked it away from me. You know how to deal with a possession?”“You'd usually start with the first Rite of Banishment, and take it from there,” you recall, thinking back to your training, “The rite didn't work?”“I didn't even try,” he answers slowly, stressing each bitter word, “I just fought back. Got my arms around its throat, snapped the damn thing's neck.”You grimace, picturing the scene in your mind. “That wouldn't finish it,” you mutter, “The spirit-”“It could still move a little. Just enough to bite and spit at the air, make its body writhe slightly. That's all. I remember... I remember standing there, staring at it. Seemed like forever before she found us,” Johannes clenches his eyes shut for a second, anger warring with shame within him, “She was the one that banished the spirit. I didn't do a damn thing.”“She... Was this the woman you mentioned?” you ask, some nameless feeling of unease stirring within you.“She was there from the start. Warned me not to burn the body, said I was meddling in things I didn't understand. Damn woman was right,” he shakes his head in frustration, “Helped me track down the other two spirits, but the damage was done. They had gone after some of the other locals, hunting them down like rats. Three dead by the end of it, including the one I killed. You know what she said?”You remain silent for a long moment before finally shaking your head. How are you supposed to guess a thing like that?“She said I should learn from this,” Johannes spits, “What kind of lesson am I supposed to learn from all this, huh?”>I can't tell you that. You need to figure it out for yourself>Something about destruction never solving anything?>How about you learn to listen to the experts next time?>I think... (Write in)>Other
>>5760354>I can't tell you that. You need to figure it out for yourselfexperts line is quite tempting but maybe not too appropriate at this point in time
>>5760354>I think... (Write in)"That the simplest solutions are not always best? You could also stand to consult the people around you more? I don't know who this woman was, but it seemed like she had a better picture of the situation from the get go. I personally would have got as much information I could get from her before making a judgement call."
>>5760354>Context is important, and sometimes not every problem is a nail waiting for a hammer. Sometimes sandpaper or a screwdriver is needed instead.
>>5760354>I can't tell you that. You need to figure it out for yourself>Our mission went badly, too. I'm still trying to figure out my own lesson as well.>Maybe the lesson is that there's always more to learn, and you can't save everyone?
>>5760369Adding onto this (this is me on another CPui)"When i had issues connecting with my spirit, it all but screamed at me to 'KNOW MYSELF.' That means not only be true to msyelf, but know what i do and do not know, and plan accordingly. If someone who isn't an enem,y councils you on something you don't know, at least take it into advisement."
“I can't tell you that,” you answer, giving Johannes a vague shrug, “I think that's something you need to figure out for yourself.”“Hrn,” Johannes grunts, “That's what she said too. I'm not a mind reader. How am I supposed to know what she was talking about? For all I know, there's no lesson here at all – she was just gloating. She seemed like the type to gloat.”Again, you shrug. “There are a lot of lessons that you could take from this. Like, I don't know... Like the simple answers aren't always the best, or maybe to consult more with the people around you,” you offer, “The thing is, I think she meant there was a specific lesson here. Something for you and you alone. I'm not going to know what that is.”Johannes lapses into silence, scowling to himself. “I don't even know this woman,” you remind him, “I don't know what her motives were, but it seems like she knew more about this situation right from the start. She had the whole picture, not the pieces. When she warned you not to burn the body, what did you do?”“...Ignored her,” Johannes admits, “This woman, she wasn't talking sense. Warned me that burning the body would invite disaster, but never said anything specific. Am I supposed to stop and listen to every vague warning and ominous prophecy now?”“No. But perhaps dismissing her words without consideration might have been a mistake,” you suggest, “Context is important, you know? Sometimes burning a body might be the right thing to do. Sometimes not. There's always more that you can learn, but you're not always going to have all the facts before you make a decision.”Johannes studies you carefully as you say this. “Huh,” he mutters, “Your own lesson?”“Maybe,” you admit, “My mission didn't exactly go to plan either. Well, technically it wasn't even my mission, but... either way, it wasn't much of a success. Sometimes you can't save everyone, you know.”He considers this for a long moment, then shakes his head. “I need to do better,” he decides, “Next time, I can't make any mistakes. Even if it means listening to a damn Forester...”Your whole world seems to grind to a sudden halt, your mind going blank as Johannes words sink in. “A Forester, you say?” you murmur, “She was a Forester? Did she tell you her name?”“I wasn't there to make friends, Lucas. She never gave me a formal introduction,” he growls, contempt darkening his features, “She claimed to be a Forester, yes. She wasn't a local, that's for damn sure. I wanted to bring her in for questioning, but when the job was all over she was nowhere to be found. Probably slipped away while I was dealing with the last spirit, the damn witch...”
>>5760381“Describe her,” you order, giving Johannes a hard look, “What did she look like? Did she have a guardian spirit?”Johannes gives you a disgusted look, then lets out a low sigh. “Didn't look like a Forester. Tall, pale. Dark hair. Dressed like a noblewoman, actually. Wouldn't know she was a Forester from looking at her,” he recalls, “I don't know if she had a guardian spirit or not. She never showed me any strange powers, but she could have been hiding them. I don't know, what do you want from me?”It's her. It has to be her. Lady Sil Ellenghast... but why here, and why now?“You're an asshole,” Johannes grunts, “Here I am, spilling my soul, and you just want to talk about women.”“It's not what you think,” you begin, before relenting with a sigh, “...No, yeah, you're right. This isn't the time for that.”“Thank you,” he replies firmly, crossing his arms, “What, she a relative of yours?”“I'm not-” you begin, before realising that, amazingly, he's actually making a joke. At least, you think he is. It's hard to tell sometimes. “Sure, fine. Good one,” you mutter, trying not to seethe too much, “So what are you going to do now? Decided on the lessons that you need to learn?”Giving your question a moment's thought, Johannes finally gives you a shrug. “Aside from never mentioning women around you? I'm still thinking about that,” he states, “Maybe that's good enough, just thinking about it...”“Maybe. When I was communing with my guardian spirit, it said something to me. Practically yelled it, in fact. It told me to know myself. That takes more effort than you might think,” you pause, then risk another question, “Did this woman... say anything else?”“She said a lot of things,” Johannes mutters through gritted teeth, “But one thing stands out. She said that my teachers had failed me. You're the expert in Forester nonsense here, Lucas. What does THAT mean?”You're silent for a long moment, the ambiguous words seeming to echo through your mind. Were they mocking or pitying, intended as a poison or a temptation? Whatever their true motives, there's one thing that you can't ignore – the lingering fear that they may be the truth.Johannes' question hangs in the air, unanswered.>It's a little early, but that feels like a good place to take a pause. Current plan will be to continue this next Saturday, I think>Thank you for reading today!
>>5760403Hmm... I too am increasingly suspicious of the authorities, though necromancers are obviously also not on the up-and-up.Thanks for running, QM!
>>5760403Thanks for running!
Update: I've had a pretty manic week, which didn't leave me with much time to prepare. With that in mind, I think I'm going to push the next thread until next week - I've got some time off arranged, so I should be able to start up on Friday
>>5765130Ah, darn. Well, no worries! IRL comes first. Thanks for the heads up!
>>5765130same here, same here