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File: ItSOP.jpg (358 KB, 1920x1080)
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Maybe this isn't working. You're supposed to be meditating here, opening your mind up to whatever the Master of Dogma might have to tell you, but all you're doing is drifting off to sleep. Yet, you can't even manage that much – you linger about the distant edge of sleep, never quite tipping over into a full state of repose. There, at least, your dreaming mind might be receptive to whatever wavelength Dogma is broadcasting on. No, you just slip in and out of a restless doze like a drowning man dipping below the surface of the ocean.

Sometimes snippets of dreams catch in your memory, hazy and confusing things. At one point, you dream of Bishop Rhea herself. She sits before you on her hands and knees, her face just about level with yours and only a short distance away. Her eyes, sultry and half-lidded, are fixed upon your face. She leans in, lips parted ever so slightly as if to kiss you, only for her to move away at the last moment, moving down to smell the skin of your neck. Having tasted your scent, Rhea rose to her feet and slipped out from the tower, the hem of her skirt whispering against the stone tiles as she disappears from sight.

A dream, surely.

The next vision you see is of mist rising up around you, the tower walls slowly drawing back and fading out. Pulling tight around you, the mist fills your vision with grey. When it clears, you find yourself sitting not within a tower, but high atop a mountain.

Maybe this IS working.
>>
>>3035996

>Twitter: https://twitter.com/MolochQM
>Previous: http://suptg.thisisnotatrueending.com/qstarchive.html?tags=Into%20the%20Skies
>Airship combat rules: https://pastebin.com/DTLDheZ6

Uncoiling, unfurling itself from the mist below you, the terrible shape of a vast wyrm rises up before you. The other wyrms you've seen have been curious in form, more like a part of the landscape that has been given life than any kind of natural life, but this... this thing is pure Abrahad stone, majestic and utterly flawless. It rises up before you, staring you down with eyes of blazing blue, and then a thunderous voice hammers into your skull.

“Filth,” the wyrm snarls, “You reek of filth. It drips from every iota of your befouled soul.”

That's a hell of a way to start a conversation.

With a sinuous motion, the wyrm brings its alien head closer towards you. “Why are you here?” it demands, “You are powerless here. If you sought to challenge me, then you have already lost. It is a terrible thing, unclean one, to fall into the hands of a living god. You will learn this, in time.” Drawing back, the wyrm opens its muzzle wide to reveal a mouth lined with rocky fangs. Forcing your body to move, you stumble to your feet as its intentions become clear. It means to lunge, to devour you in a single gulp.

“No!” you cry out, a simple protest that you hurl out with every ounce of your will. Feanor's blade, present even in this abyss, finds it way into your hand and ignites with a blinding flare, the blade of killing light stretching to unprecedented size. Two meters and more, the sword makes Khusraw's weapon seem slight by comparison. With such a blade in hand, nothing seems beyond you. Sensing this, the wyrm swerves aside and cautiously circles the mountaintop.

“Or perhaps you have come seeking salvation, as men once did,” it growls as it flies, “Redemption will not be granted easily to one such as you, but all paths start with a single step. Throw yourself upon my mercy, unclean one, and perhaps you will find that I can be generous.”

Despite your caution, you find yourself considering the offer. Never before have you felt so unclean, so wretched by comparison with this purified being. Still holding your burning sword upright, you remain silent for a moment more.

“Perhaps something else brought you here. Do you seek to bargain? To protest against some petty injustice?” the wyrm pauses, hovering sinuously in the air before you as irritated arcs of power crackle across its head. “Why do you not speak?” it hisses, “Speak!”

>You came to challenge him – he's wrong, you CAN win this
>You came seeking salvation, or the closest thing to it
>You came to hear him out, as you heard Impurity out
>Other
>>
>>3035997
>You came to hear him out, as you heard Impurity out

"Tell me your story Dogma. I'd like to hear the motivation for the past few iterations."
>>
>>3035997
>"I came to hear you out, as I heard Impurity out. As I understand it, even if you do beat me you'll lose eventually, whether it's five kings from now or five hundred. Maybe it's time for you to try something other than tiring yourself out to reach down and pluck us from our thrones."
>>
>>3035997
>>You came to hear him out, as you heard Impurity out
>>
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“I came to hear you out, to learn your side of the story,” you call up, feeling for a moment like a child yelling into churning storm clouds. It's an apt comparison – your words cause a ripple of energy to play across the wyrm's form, but otherwise it holds its ground. Waiting, you can only assume, for you to continue. So, you do exactly that. “I heard Impurity out, I got their story, and now I want to hear yours,” you shout, “These past few iterations, what's been motivating you?”

“Unclean one,” the wyrm snarls, “What do I have to gain by speaking with you?”

“What do you have to lose?” you counter, “Even if you destroy me here and now, you're only delaying the inevitable. It doesn't matter if it takes five kings or five hundred, there will come a time when you no longer have the strength to assert your order upon the world. I think it's going to happen soon... and I think you know that.” Silence greets this, and you take it as encouragement. “Why not try something new?” you suggest, before repeating, “What do you have to lose?”

Snorting out a thick cloud of steam from its muzzle, the wyrm uncoils itself and shoots straight up into the sky, vanishing from sight. Calling out a futile protest, you step forwards and raise a hand towards the heavens. As you do, you feel someone's touch from behind you, a hand settling heavily on your shoulder. Startled, you turn around to see-

-

To see an entirely new scene, with no sign of whoever touched you. Now, you stand atop a snow-covered ridge with three savage looking figures arguing nearby. The smell of smoke taints the air, and you hear distant yells of fear. One of the men, you realise, is Feanor – there's no mistaking him, his shaggy mane of black hair and his piercing eyes. The other men are unfamiliar to you, although you easily guess them to be other Nadir warlords.

“Taburak the Idolater,” a soft voice whispers from behind you as you look at the first man. He's heavyset, taller and broader than Feanor with thick gold chains draped over his furs. A mask and crown, both of that same faintly greasy looking gold, hide their face from sight. “Vulgar, of the Hunting Hounds,” the voice continues as you study the second warlord, a whipcord thin man who angrily gestures at Feanor with a sickle.

“Come,” your unseen guide whispers, “You wanted to hear the true version of history, did you not? To learn of our motives and what we work towards? Then we must approach and listen in. Listen, son of man, to what “free” men speak of.”

With the snow crunching under your feet, you slowly approach the bickering trio.

[1/2]
>>
>>3036016

As you rise up to the top of the ridge, you can't help but gasp as you see the settlement – the city – below. Nestled in the shadow of the mountain, it's like nothing you've ever seen before. Even comparing it with the Zenith structures you've seen doesn't capture what you're looking at. The identical, flawless buildings are laid out with mathematical precision, the streets carefully laid out in the most efficient manner possible. Tunnel entrances are carved into the side of the mountain, perhaps leading to other branches of the mountain civilisation. The buildings have little in the way of ornamentation, but the simple functionality of them grants them a kind of strange beauty.

And the outermost edge of this perfect city is burning, the barbarian army already gnawing at its vulnerable outskirts.

“You promised us a prize, Feanor,” Taburak snarls, his voice thick with phlegm, “Now that their city lies before us, you wish for us to leave it be?”

“This? This is just a bauble,” Feanor snaps back, clenching his hands into fists as he glares at the rival warlord, “The TRUE prize lies even further above!”

“So you claim. But the climb will exhaust our armies, and we will be weak. What are you planning?” Vulgar hisses, gesturing as if to slit Feanor's throat, “An advance force waiting to ambush us, say? No. My men will stay here, Feanor, and chase down the fleeing foes. It will be fine sport, hunting them through their warrens. It has been too long since I tasted flesh, and I refuse to be denied this opportunity.”

“You see now? These free men, they stand upon the brink of claiming their prize... and they turn on each other. Aside from these three men before you, a dozen times a dozen more men plot treachery. Their thoughts are clouded by bloodlust, by ambition, by the pursuit of transient glory and pleasures of the flesh. This is the world that Impurity will create,” the guide murmurs, and you slowly place her voice. You heard it before in Grundvald's city, whispered by a caged girl.

“Arah?” you venture, looking around to find – of course – nobody behind you. When you look back, Taburak and Vulgar have turned their backs on Feanor, both men marching down to join their savage armies. Cursing aloud, Feanor draws his sword and takes a few paces after them before hesitating and turning away. He looks straight at you – through you - as he turns, but he gives no sign of noticing you.

“Why not take a look at our city?” Arah offers, a faint edge in her coy voice, “One last look, son of man, before it is erased from history.”

>Follow Taburak as his men raid the city
>Follow Vulgar into the tunnels
>Follow Feanor as he ascends the mountain
>Other
>>
>>3036039
>Follow Feanor

Thanks for the offer, but I can see how nice it is from up here. I'd rather not see it ruined.
>>
>>3036039
>Follow Taburak as his men raid the city
I personally do want to see the city. It's going to be gruesome, but I'd rather not be ignorant of their accomplishments or their people.
>Other
"I remember when having visions of Feanor's journey he was fighting this civilization's warriors. I suppose this was inevitable end result. I'm sorry this happened Arah."
>>
>>3036039
>>Follow Feanor as he ascends the mountain
>>Other
Tell me about them. Your people.
>>
“I suppose this had to happen sooner or later,” you mutter aloud, “I saw... I followed in Feanor's footsteps as he climbed the mountain. He clashed with the warriors here, drove them back and scattered them. It would be foolish to assume that it would have stopped there.” Sighing to yourself, you look around again for any sign of Arah. This would be easier, somehow, if you weren't so alone here. “I'm sorry about what happened,” you add, “For whatever that might be worth.”

“Do not apologise for this,” Arah urges you, “Just remember it. Burn this scene into your memory, and recall it whenever Impurity promises you power or glory. There is no glory to be found in his service.”

Shuddering, you look away from the city below you. The first fires have already started to burn, flaring up with plumes of oil-black smoke. A stringent smell reaches you, darkly suggestive of some reagent that burns hotter than any natural fire. Whatever it is, it hungrily feeds on the stone buildings below. Of all the strangeness that has been lost throughout the changing iterations, you can only hope that that incendiary was included. To shut out the sound of fighting, you speak up once again.

“Tell me about them,” you ask Arah as you stalk after Feanor, “Your people. Your city. I want to know about it.”

“We lived humble lives, as hard as any down in the forests. Life on the mountain was not easy, but we found ways to survive. To thrive, even. We sought to refine ourselves, to cleanse ourselves of the impurity that we had been stained by. No, we sought escape from more than just that – we fled the ignorance and superstition that thrived below us. Letters and numbers were important to us. We followed the movements of the stars and drew charts that predicted their paths for years to come,” Arah – or whatever it is that has adopted her name and persona – explains, “More than anything else, though, we sought serenity. Can you imagine it, son of man? To leave a land of near-constant dread and fighting behind, and then to find a quiet and peaceful home?”

Ahead of you, Feanor slumps low and falls to his knees, sinking down into the snow. Carried on the wind, you hear the sound of an anguished roar before he forces himself to rise. “You were free, then?” you venture, choosing your probing words carefully, “Free to learn and live as you pleased?”

Silence, then, as Arah weighs up your question. “Within the limitations given to us, we found freedom,” she answers carefully, “For the good of all, we followed holy laws. Breaking with our ways was taboo, a threat to our whole civilisation.”

A civilisation that could be derailed by a few taboo acts... not quite the image of serene stability that she might like to suggest.

[1/2]
>>
>>3036092

“To take life was virtually forbidden, although righteous self-defence permitted. To venture down from the mountain was forbidden, except in a very few exceptions. Polluting the body with unclean substances was forbidden. To worship the unclean gods and spirits of the forest was forbidden,” Arah continues, “These were our most important laws. Simple laws, given down to us for the good of all. Aside from the laws, we were taught to live humble and restrained lives. Grasping, avaricious desires were to be discarded, as were violent urges of the flesh. You understand the value of these laws, do you not?”

Perhaps you do. Without a lust for power and glory to drive the masterminds behind it, the Annexation War could never have happened. Without Eishin's mad hunger for anarchy, countless lives would not have been thrown away. So much could have been avoided. Yet... to live with your passions restrained and your urges controlled? If this place is a paradise, then it is a paradise for castrated sheep.

Again, Feanor cries out from ahead of you, and the sound of his yell sends a shiver down your spine. “This is where his freedom led him,” Arah murmurs to you, and this time you see her silhouette through the whirling snow. Her voice comes from behind you, but her image hangs transfixed in front of you. To say that it gives you a strange feeling would be an understatement. “He alone reached this point, and he reached it as a broken man,” she laments, “Was it worth it, do you think?”

“But that's not how it really happened, is it?” you point out suddenly, your hackles rising, “He WON. He reached his prize, and even if was just for a few short moments, he claimed it. Perhaps he was broken by his ordeal, but he still found victory here... and his victory dragged you further down into the mud. You're just showing me this to scare me off – I came here to learn from you, Dogma, not to be threatened.”

A rumble shakes the mountain, and you see the shadow of a wyrm coiling through the clouds above. You're going off-script now, and Dogma isn't happy. A shudder runs through you, and your next breath clouds the air as the cold clamps down upon you. All of a sudden, you feel far more real, far more... here. In the skies above, you spot winged forms falling away from the wyrm – living statues, the sort that you've fought before... but never in such numbers.

“I'm here!” Feanor screams from ahead of you, brandishing his sword at the sky as the statues descend, “Do your worst, you bastard, you won't stop me!”

Glancing around, you see that the Arah silhouette has vanished. Neither do you feel any trace of an unseen guide. Save for Feanor, you're all alone out here.

Feanor. In this world, is he an ally or an enemy?

>Help Feanor fight off the statues
>Attack Feanor while he's distracted
>Abandon Feanor and flee back to the city
>Other
>>
>>3036092
PRAISE GOD PRAISE GOD PRAISE GOD PRAISE GOD PRAISE GOD PRAISE GOD PRAISE GOD PRAISE GOD PRAISE GOD PRAISE GOD PRAISE GOD PRAISE GOD PRAISE GOD PRAISE GOD PRAISE GOD
>>
>>3036155
>Other

Continue up the mountain, only attacking the statues that threaten you specifically leave Feanor to his fight.
>>
>>3036155
>Help Feanor fight off the statues
This isn't tossing our lot in with Impurity, but I'm not interested in false histories. Feanor makes it. For all his faults, the man had will.
>>
>>3036155
>Help Feanor fight off the statues
>>
>>3036155
Backing
>>3036164
>>
Rolled 2 (1d2)

>Okay, looks like we've got a tie here. So, I'm going to roll off for this. 1 is helping Feanor, 2 is fighting our way up the mountain.
>I apologise for this delay!
>>
>>3036208
Not your fault we can't agree, my man.
>>
>>3036208
hehe we could tell Feanor to win as we pass. kind of like how he told us to kill the Wyrm that one time.

Its just an army of labotomized souls shoved into giant statues. What is he a bitch.
>>
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>>3036216
>>
“Damn it...” you hiss, surging forwards through the snow. Feanor's blade... that is to say, your copy of Feanor's blade... burns brightly in your hand as you draw it, although the blade does not resume that same excessive length as before. It hardly matters – it's served you well before, and it'll serve you well again. As you struggle onwards towards Feanor, one of the statues drops low and crashes into the ground with a spray of powdered snow. Even up close, the thing's outlines blur with the blizzard around you both, lending it the hazy appearance of something half-remembered from a dream.

But you see enough of it. The long, slender limbs. The blank face, any and all features hacked away as if with a chisel, the skeletal wings that sprout out from the creature's back... all carved from white Abrahad stone. It carries a long spear, the tip glowing with its own blade of white light. Without breaking stride, you dart around it as it thrusts the weapon forwards, the tip singing as it cuts past you. It's a song without words, neither a mournful dirge or a hopeful refrain, but something deep within you recognises it as a never-ending hymn of praise.

Twisting away from the spear's reach, you turn and split the statue open down the spine. Shattered stone flies as the statue falls, but you don't have time to savour your victory. Even before the first statue has completely hit the ground, a second is swiping high with its own spear. Ducking under the blow, you cast a fleeting glance towards Feanor. Casting off his furs and taunting the statues with a glimpse of his bare flesh, Feanor salutes them with his blade.

“Come, you carrion crows!” he roars, “Come, if you wish for a taste of killing light!”

He's got this under control. Whatever else you can say about Feanor, you won't deny him his victory – it was his will that brought him here, and you won't swoop in to take the glory. He wouldn't want it any other way... at least, that's what you tell yourself. Without wasting another moment thinking about it, you slash upwards and part a probing arm from its shoulder, knocking the attacking statue back and pressing on ahead. You're close to the summit of the mountain, and you can't waste this opportunity.

“Fight hard, Feanor!” you call out as you run off ahead of him, “You'll see victory yet, so hold fast!”

“Who...” the warlord blurts out, your appearance taking him by surprise.

“We'll meet again someday!” you promise him, a mad laugh bubbling its way out from you, “I promise you that. I'll see you at the peak – with the prize!”

Feanor's last reply, a wordless shout halfway between a laugh and a cry of anger, seems to follow you for a long while. It's not the only thing that follows you, though – above, a few of the statues have broken off from the rest of their flock to give pursuit.

[1/2]
>>
>>3036229

They don't attack straight away, these statues. They follow you, easily keeping pace as you run through the deep snow, stumbling and falling on the uneven ground. It's not hard to guess what they're doing – they're letting you tire yourself out before swooping down to attack. Even knowing this, a mad desperation pushes you to race on ahead. Haste has its drawbacks, however, and you soon lose your footing as a clump of ice cracks underfoot. Tumbling forwards, you land face first in the biting cold of the snow. Spluttering, you begin to pull yourself upright before pausing, a slender hand presenting itself to you.

“Please don't be angry,” Arah murmurs to you, and this time her voice feels REAL. This isn't something wearing her face or using her voice, this is the real thing. Her hand feels comforting – and oddly familiar – as you take it, allowing her to pull you upright. “The god of this mountain has become... tainted. No longer does He think with one mind,” she adds, “He lashes out in rage, even as He yearns for help. He can be made whole again, however, you must-”

Her words are cut short as one of the statues swoops down in front of you, kicking up a blinding spray of snow that hides the disfigured girl from sight. When the snow settles, she is nowhere to be seen.

“Don't you have better things to be doing?” you snap at the statue, “Someone having fun somewhere that needs to be stopped?”

No reply. Perhaps the statue tilts its head a tiny bit to the side, but that's all the reaction you get. Brandishing its spear, the statue advances upon you. Still too tired to push ahead, you raise your sword to meet it. All the while, one deadly question circles your mind: where are the others?

>Dice! Calling for a dice check, 2D6 aiming to beat 9-10 for a partial success or 11+ for a full success. Now, this is at +2 due to our sword and I'll take the highest of the first three results
>>
Rolled 6, 2 = 8 (2d6)

>>3036259
I'm a genius!
>>
Rolled 2, 1 + 2 = 5 (2d6 + 2)

>>3036259
>>
Rolled 5, 5 + 2 = 12 (2d6 + 2)

>>3036259
>>
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>>3036284
We've been really lucky lately holy shit
>>
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>>3036284
>>
>>3036259
Poor Dogma

These gods ain't shit
>>
>>3036284
S A V E D
>>
>Full success!

No time for that now. Kicking off and lunging towards you, the first statue takes to the air for a brief moment before slamming down, plunging the tip of its spear towards you. Jolting forwards, you duck low and feel the statue whistling over your lowered head. When the harsh sound of breaking stone signals its landing, you spin around and thrust forwards into the statue's exposed back, spitting it on your sword. Bracing your foot against the smooth Abrahad, you kick the destroyed construct off the blade and scan the skies for the next target.

It doesn't take you long to see the remaining pair of constructs. Although they show no sign of communication, they seem to reach some decision – one splits off and flies back down to where Feanor presumably still fights as the other swoops down to engage. Ducking low for the second time, you strike out at it as it flies overhead. To judge by the shudder that runs up your arm, you certainly hit something although you can't say what. Whatever you did, it's enough to send the statue's controlled dive into a clumsy tumble. Before it can rise up, you pounce upon it and swing Feanor's blade down to split its skull open. Does it even have a skull?

No matter. It dies all the same.

Stepping over the remains, you wipe the last of the melting snow off of your face and press on ahead. You've got an appointment with the mountain peak.

-

On the final stretch of the journey, the path grows that much harder. Steeper than you had ever expected, the path forces you to carefully cling to whatever handholds you can find. Halfway between crawling and climbing, you drag yourself towards a new plain. This, you recognise – the most recent fragment you collected showed you a vision, a vision of an empty plain drowned out by a blizzard. Closing your eyes, you listen closely – true enough, you hear the sounds of battle from below. At the time, you had assumed it to be a battle between Feanor and the mountain's defenders, but...

“But they were fighting amongst themselves,” you mutter aloud, dragging yourself another few inches forwards. Finally, the ground levels out and you manage to pull yourself upright. No help from Arah this time, it seems. Through a break in the blizzard, you spy what could only be your goal – a solid wall of rock, faintly adorned with indistinct markings. Putting one foot in front of the other, you slog through the snow until you reach it. Slate grey stone greets you, lined with countless seams and cracks, all leading to one single point – a hollow, perfectly sized to hold a disc. THE disc, the relic that you've been piecing together.

“Come on,” you breathe, pressing your forehead against the rough stone, “Come on, move. Open up...”

But nothing changes. The wall remains stubbornly immobile.

[1/2]
>>
>>3036328

“It is not yet time,” Arah announces sadly, her voice causing you to turn. Just looking at her, with her flimsy robe clinging to every curve of her body, makes you feel colder, and you can't stop yourself from slumping down into the snow. Kneeling down before you, she looks you dead in the eye before continuing. “The god of the mountain can be made whole again, but only with the power contained within this vault. There is little that that power cannot do. With just a fleeting grasp of it, the man you call Feanor created a new land – a home for his people,” she whispers, “But this was not a power meant for men. To wield it invites disaster. That is the truth that the King in Exile realised, although his knowledge was a crude and unformed thing.”

“He wanted ME to wield it,” you rasp, “That I might suffer whatever disaster it brought, while he...”

“While he turned upon you, to destroy you and leave the throne empty. An endless world of transition, a land where no law could not be broken. That is the land he sought to create,” Arah finishes for you, “His dream is not yet dead. It may yet come to pass, even if he is not able to see it realised.”

One more thing for you to worry about, then. As you look into Arah's eyes, you see something there that you cannot explain. Something that exists outside of both Impurity and Dogma. “What are you?” you whisper, “You're not part of him – part of Dogma.”

“I am. But I am also Impure,” Arah tells you, “Balance can be maintained. Men can live with both Dogma and Impurity, and they can live with neither. As an agent of Dogma, I would tell you to return this power to Him, that he can rebuild the world anew – as a perfect, orderly machine. As an agent of Impurity, I would tell you to grant this power to Him, that he can fully taint the world – creating a changing land where men can be savage and joyful. As Arah, the girl who was once a slave and then something far greater, I would tell you... to do as you please. Free will is not the domain of Impurity, no matter what you might have been told. It has been twisted by his hand, yes, but not entirely.”

Offering out her hand, Arah gives you a tiny smile. Reaching for her hand, you feel your connection on this vision growing weaker. Your path to reality, then. “Feanor,” you ask her, “Will he make it here?”

“He will, and he won't. Now, nothing exists beyond this peak. It does not NEED to exist. You could wait for a thousand years, and he would not arrive,” the girl explains cryptically, “Though they touched briefly, your paths have diverged once more.” A sad sign escapes Arah as her eyes flutter shut. “I fear that you could not find the answers you were seeking,” she laments, “I will help you how I can – I remember the kindness you paid me, so very long ago.”

>Take her hand and leave. You're finished here
>Seek further answers... (Write in)
>Other
>>
>>3036363
>What happens with the souls of the followers of the various gods? Dogma in particular?
>>
>>3036363
>"If I return the power to Dogma, it won't just go to waste? Impurity won't be able to keep bombarding him with new kings until he finally falls?"
>>
>>3036363
>>Seek further answers... (Write in)
Why and how does this power invite disaster when used by men?
>>
>>3036363
Removing Impurity and Dogma. What would that do? Can this world function without them?
>>
>>3036378
This, and

>Were the gods once united? all six of them as one whole?
>>
>>3036363
>Other
The Pleonite. What is it? How are the wyrms connected? I had one form around a core and another one talk to my ship as if it was alive.


Why is the world dead past the ocean? Why can't we fly out there?
>>
Oh god our questions are all over the place. We're gonna get cut off and booted back to reality, where Rhea is taking pictures of our comatose form for wholly legitimate and not creepy reasons.
>>
“Impurity and Dogma, what happens to the souls of their followers? I'm... curious,” you ask slowly, bracing yourself for whatever answer comes your way. Probably something that you can't even begin to understand, but you need to ask regardless.

“They are held, as a mother might clutch an infant to her breast. Each of the two has their own... a world, you could call it. A land, a realm, a plane of existence. There is no language in which I could suitably describe these things. The Nightlands, you have seen. Souls tainted by Impurity's touch are drawn there to dream, although few are ever really... aware of where they are. It is no easy thing, to cling on beyond death. Dogma...” Arah pauses for a long moment, her face growing blank. “They are divided. Their memories, their dreams and thoughts, their wishes and loves, are drained away. The purified soul is granted new form as an Immaculate.”

The statues that you destroyed on the way here. Well, now you just feel guilty. “The memories and... all that,” you add, “What happens to those?”

“They are kept within Dogma's own system, a counterpart to the Nightlands. There is no word in your language for it,” Arah smiles bashfully, “The Dogma System, then.”

You recall something, then, from the Vault of the Sun. Grace had fallen into a memory, or something of that ilk. That, then, must have been the Dogma System. A faded snapshot of reality, perhaps, but anything must be better than oblivion. “Say that I do return the power to Dogma. What would that achieve?” you wonder aloud, “Surely, it would just delay the inevitable. The cycle could repeat, another monarch could rise and drag Dogma back down into Impurity's reach... right?”

Here, Arah looks uneasy. “Not if Impurity is written out entirely. A perfect iteration of the world, with the flaws boiled away by Dogma's true and complete power,” she offers at last, “Impurity must be destroyed in the world of transition, and then the perfected world can be born anew. Without Impurity's influence, no new monarchs would rise.”

“But within the world of transition, both Dogma and Impurity can be destroyed,” you counter, “What happens then? Can the world still function without them?”

“I think it can, yes. Men have grown old, and perhaps it is time that they stand on their own,” nodding slowly, Arah smiles, “Without Impurity, your blood would cool and grow stable. What has been corrupted cannot be mended, but you need not fear further degeneration. Without Dogma, the Abrahad stone will no longer sing. The world will be robbed of this miracle. Without the gods, the world would be... changed. It would be a quieter world, devoid of wonders and mysteries, but it would be YOUR world. A world of men.”

A world of men. With all the blessings and curses that that entails.

[1/?]
>>
>>3036395
It's the one of the few times we can really dig into the secrets of this world so it makes sense things are spread out a bit and varied
>>
>>3036404

“Were they gods... all six of them... were they ever united?” you ask her, pushing yourself to your feet and shivering as your frigid muscles cramp up, “Were they ever whole?”

“No. Even from the earliest days, they were divided. I wonder why,” Arah frowns, her uncertainty as genuine as yours. “Perhaps men would be slow to accept a god with power over all aspects of their life. To pick and choose from a handful of gods, gods of the natural world that men are born into, must be easier,” she suggests slowly, “A system must have many parts to it before it can work.”

This talk of systems leads you to engines – and the Pleonite cores that power them. “Pleonite...” you mutter, “What IS it? What connection does it have with wyrms?”

“They are both a synthesis. Pleonite is the crystallised power of the divine, of both Dogma and Impurity. It has power over natural laws, and yet it also opposes them. It is a miracle given form, formed during a world of transition and scattered during the changing of iterations,” your guide explains, “Wyrms are... more. The synthesis of Dogma, Impurity, and the gods of nature. Dogma was already tainted when he created them as a means of punishing Feanor, and so they were ill-suited to that purpose. Now, they are rootless and aimless, each one seeking their place in the world. Wrathful like a beast, curious like a child, wise like a sage... they are as varied as men.”

“One of them spoke to me,” you admit, “To my ship.”

Arah giggles and covers her mouth, the gesture striking you as surprisingly girlish. “Maybe it thought you were a wyrm,” she suggests, “Both have Pleonite hearts, after all.”

As much as you'd like to match her laugh, you can't summon up the energy. “Why is the world across the ocean so... dead?” you ask her bluntly, “Why can't we fly there?”

“It was an imperfect creation, sustained by will alone. When that faded, so too did the land. Men were not made to handle the divine, no matter their power. It was an admirable thing that Feanor did, but it was a doomed endeavour,” Arah sighs, her laughter fading, “As for your ship... Pleonite is bound to the land, and it cannot travel far from it. Outside, the natural laws begin to fail. Without them, Pleonite also fails.”

You're not sure if her explanation helped or just made you more confused. A little bit of both, perhaps. Setting that issue aside for now, you return to the last question you had. “Why does the divine power invite disaster?” you ask, “And how? What causes that disaster?”

“It would be a poor answer, I think, to say “fate”, but I fear that I have no better answer to give you. Disaster can take many forms – Grundvald's city fell into ruin when the land tore itself apart. Feanor's ambitions were spoiled when his army turned upon itself,” Arah shrugs, “Destiny itself conspired to ruin these men.”

[2/3]
>>
>>3036442
Could Dogma be mended without giving him control of the power? Or is that one in the same?
>>
>>3036442

“That's a load of crap,” you declare, causing Arah to look around in surprise, “I'm not going to lie down and let fate or destiny ruin me. There has to be something I can do, something calling the shots that I can deal with.”

“Maybe so. Something higher even than the gods,” Arah agrees with a vague gesture, “But if there is, I know little about it – and I, to allow myself a moment of pride, know many things that are hidden from others. That is my privilege, as... what I am.” Stretching her arms to the sky, Arah allows her withered wings to flutter slightly. It's a calculated gesture, one meant to emphasis her disfigurements. “A power higher even than Dogma, with no active role to play in the world,” she thinks aloud, “A quiet hand ensuring that balance is maintained. An intelligence beyond anything that we can conceive of. It could be any of these things, or none of them. I'm afraid that I must leave your question unanswered.”

“It wasn't really about intellectual curiosity,” you admit with a blunt laugh, “I was more hoping you could help me avoid whatever disaster was coming my way.”

“That, I fear, is your problem,” Arah replies, not unkindly, “But if this is of any comfort to you, then know this – I will be with you every step of the way.”

Saying this, she offers out her hand to you. With one last look around the mountaintop – and promising yourself that you'll return here soon enough – you reach out and put your hand in hers.

>Okay, I'm going to pause things here for today. I'll continue this tomorrow, starting at the same usual time
>Thank you for your contributions today, and I appreciate your patience!

>>3036448
>Essentially, those are one and the same. We don't really have the ability to "fix" Dogma by ourselves, but he could do the job himself with the missing pieces
>>
>>3036462
>“A power higher even than Dogma

Does our beating heart in the middle of the world potentially have something to do with that or is that Impurity's thing?

Thanks for running Moloch. You've given us a bit to think about.
>>
>>3036462
Thanks for running!

Out of idle curiosity, could we give the power to one of the other four gods? What would Fire do with all that divine energy?
>>
>>3036462
>Pleonite is bound to the land, and it cannot travel far from it.

Well it looks like we need to build that island with engines.
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>>3036467
The heart is separate from Impurity, I can say that much. Otherwise, it's all a bit of a mystery!
>>3036477
That would certainly throw some fuel onto the fire!
But really, the four natural gods are incapable of making use of that power. There needs to be intent behind the power's use, and they're just not capable of that.
>>
>>3036519
Dogma's death would cause all Pleonite to stop functioning and have both airships and Azimuth + Zenith fall wouldn't it?
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>>3036519
Arah seemed to imply Wyrms aren't under Dogma's control and are just free spirits looking for a place in life yeah?
>>
>>3036568
Pretty much, yes, although wyrms do have their own natural inclinations. So, the wyrm we encountered high up in Zenith was more aggressive than the wyrm we've seen down in Nadir. They certainly aren't under anyone's control, however!

>>3036533
Oh, I wouldn't worry about it!
I can confirm that airships won't stop working. We won't need to walk everywhere like some peasant
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>>3036612
Good, I want our peasant days to be fivever behind us.
>>
>Miriam is actually dead
rip in pepperoni
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>>3036462
Well now, this is significantly more complicated.

I'm trying to find the downside to killing Impurity. Will all future children be free from mutations, even ones that would save their lives?

I'm thinking maybe we can force Dogma to share control with the elemental gods. Don't fix the superdragon, but empower the elements to take a more solid stand against impurity. If Dogma refuses, then he faces eventual destruction. If he agrees, then maybe a stalemate can be reached. Problem is that maybe this won't work without killing Impurity in the world of transition anyway.
>>
>>3036692
I'm down with just giving it all back to Dogma. His world isn't perfect, but it's better than the alternatives.
>>
>>3036703
>>3036692
I don't want to kill either if them if possible. Mundane human world seems kind if boring. Maybe we can maintain balance while still putting our own spin on things.

We should still look into this potential higher power. I think the heart is a clue.

>>3036665
F
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>>3036730
True, Impurity isn't the pure evil his name suggests. If we find a way to let them both live I could get behind that.

Otherwise gotta side with the Dogmeister.
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>>3036692
>Will all future children be free from mutations, even ones that would save their lives?
Oh right, I missed this. Yes, with Impurity out of the picture, children would be born without any of the Nadir taint. It wouldn't do much for existing sufferers, save for them not getting any worse, but you wouldn't see any new children being born tainted
>>
I'm for killing them both or kneecapping both somehow. Tipping the balance seems like a shitty idea. Fugg, Moloch always stops running when I wake up, so I'm definitely going to miss the vote.
>>
>>3036763
Clearly, we need to find a way to make white snake people and sane dragon people the new race of "humans".
>>
>>3036764
>>3036772
>kneecapping both somehow.

It's simple! See we just to need to somehow modify Impurity so the only mutations are of the cute kind like Grace's white scales or our new recruit's tail.

Then everyone, even stuck up Carths that won't admit it, would be happy.
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>>3036784
Maybe we can fuse them with Arah as the vessel and make her the new maximum overgod.
>>
>>3036462
You write really well, Moloch. Are you a professional writer? Have you written any books or are planning to translate some of your quests to book format?
>>
>>3036784
These mutations are rejected by Dogma because they deviate from established normals and "ideals".

Getting ONLY nice mutations in a way that Impurity would be happy about would be killing off all ugly mutations as they appear. Not, um, great.

We need to consistently reverse mutations, while enforcing some kind of committee to squabble for which mutations are nogo and which ones are GOAT.
>>
>>3036784
Catgirls and Lizardgirls are the salvation of mankind.
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>>3036462
We should ask about Mirriam.

And also about the dead lands outside the Pleonite. Where did they come from? What was there before? How can we expand to them?
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>>3037912
Feanor created them with the power he obtained. We shouldn't expand there because they're shit and don't even have natural laws.
>>
>>3037912
>>3037920
I think it was probably more of the fact that they were Conan tier barbarians living in a place where they weren't fighting every day to not die.

I mean the place was still mostly intact centuries after everyone left and the things that were important to people (the grave markers, the doll, etc.) had hardly deteriorated. I think thats because of the Nadir blood/genetic memory thing which is probably related to the Nightlands which would suggest the only reason it didn't crumble was because people came back inside.

Bringing the divine with us or incorporating it into the land in the form of paleonite would kind of act like a foundation or rebar to hold it together beyond human attention span. Feanor wanted a land just for men without the gods and he got it. problem was the men he had with him were barbarians who couldn't see and wouldn't want the future that they had built for themselves. No mutations and no rules except those agreed to of forced upon them.

The people of Azimuth would probobly thrive in Feanors world since they could do without the constant threat of death and the gods are kind of far from their mind. That does make me think about how The two powers are basically just two sides of the Zenith coin, Order and Faith. Is that what she meant by Dogma being broken?
>>
>>3038013
>Iraklins and Carths are two halves of Dogma
huh. I hadn't thought of that. Was it really a good idea that we helped them get chummy, then?
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>>3038013
>The two powers are basically just two sides of the Zenith coin, Order and Faith. Is that what she meant by Dogma being broken?

That would be an interesting development. They would probably be pissed if it were true.
>>
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Disorientation is the overwhelming sensation that greets you upon your return to the waking world. It's not just that you don't know where you are, it's that you can't tell who else is with you. You don't feel alone, and yet... there isn't anyone else here. Other than the faintest ghost of a floral scent – too delicate even to be perfume – you can't detect any trace of another living being. Maybe it's just this place, the white Abrahad walls and the cold sun above giving you bad vibes.

The sun? Then you've been here all night. No wonder you're hungry. A covered dish sits a few paces away from you, paired with a ewer of water. Groaning aloud as your stiffened muscles protest the sudden motion, you limp over to the dishes and help yourself... not that there's much there. A tough crust of bread and some water just slightly warmer than ice, but it's enough to fight back your hunger for now. As you chew over your meal, you think about what you learned from Arah.

It was a lot to take in. You're still not even sure what she was. Something beyond – above – both Impurity and Dogma. Whatever she is, you're glad that she's willing to lend her aid... although you're not entirely sure why. Because you freed her from captivity in an entirely different dream? Then again, these spaces are more than just dreams. More than a dream, less than reality... it makes your head spin just thinking about it.

That, or you're getting light-headed from hunger.

-

The long, long spiral stairs down to the main area of Cloudtop Prison help to ease the stiffness out of your muscles, but you're still feeling sore by the time you see another human face. The white-garbed servant quietly points you in the direction of the prison's refectory, and you eagerly make your way there. It's quiet, save for the rattle of cutlery and the sound of chewing, and that eerie quiet is almost enough to drive you away. It's just not right, this number of people eating without talking.

On the other hand, free food. Taking a pewter bowl from the counter, you let a servant fill it up with a hot vegetable broth. No meat here, you notice. As you're looking for a seat, Trice waves to you. Even this small disruption causes eyes to turn her way, and she hastily stops. Taking her bowl and plate, she scurries away to a corner of the room. Following her over, you sit opposite her.

“Looks like you got that peace and quiet you wanted,” Trice murmurs to you, before abruptly leaning across the table and staring into your eyes. She gets so close that, just for a few moments, your foreheads touch. “Just checking your eyes,” she explains as she leans back, “Sometimes when people meditate in the tower, they come back... different.”

“Different,” you repeat slowly. Toying with her spoon, Trice just shrugs and coyly smiles.

[1/2]
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>>3038332

“So you're right, I DID get some time to think. I don't know if it answered many of my questions, though. If anything, it just gave me even more,” you admit, pointing your spoon at Trice as you think aloud, “Like... say you've got a chance to fix the world, all the world's problems, but it's a risky thing. You might end up making things a whole lot worse instead. In a situation like that, what would you do?”

“Me?” Trice frowns, “You're going to hate me for this, but I'd go around and ask my friends for what they'd do. I... guess this is what you're doing now, right?” She falls silent for a moment, concentrating on spooning broth into her mouth. “Yeah, I guess I'd do it,” the provost decides eventually, “But the important thing is, if it did go wrong... I wouldn't run from it. Wouldn't just throw my hands up and give up either. I'd own up to making a mistake, and then I'd work to fix it.”

“Very responsible,” you chuckle, “If a few more people thought like that, the world might be a far nicer place to live in.”

“Flattery, is it? Well, I won't complain,” Trice replies with a warm smile, “I suppose you'll be leaving here soon, though. Important work to be doing?”

“The usual. Some business down in Nadir,” you tell her with a vague gesture, “What about you, you keeping busy?”

“Could be. You can keep a secret, right?” leaning forwards again, Trice continues in a low voice, “Drift scavengers found something out there, and the church wants to investigate. The problem is, we're pretty sure that the scavengers spread their information far and wide. Could be that we're not the only ones going in to check this out. Could get a little dangerous up there, so Bishop Rhea wants me to head down to Azimuth and get some support. The church militia, though... I don't know. Sometimes it can take some time to find a volunteer, and we don't really have time to spare.”

You know where this is going. “What did they find out there?” you ask casually, “Anything dangerous?”

“It was described as “strange ruins”, that's all. The scavengers claimed to see movement further inside the debris field, so they fled the scene pretty quickly. That's not going to help my case – hard to convince a volunteer captain to run into an unknown situation,” Trice laments, “So, if that Nadir business of yours isn't urgent...”

“Hmm,” you murmur, “What kind of pay are you offering?”

“...My eternal gratitude?” Trice offers with a wan smile, “Officially, that's all I can offer you. Unofficially... I suppose it depends on what's up there. Hey, listen, if you can't make the time then I'm sure I'll be able to find someone else to lend a hand. No hard feelings if you're busy.”

>I am busy, actually. I'll have to decline
>No, I can make the time. I accept your offer
>Other
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>>3038333
>Details first then i'll decide. Obviously I won't tell anyone.
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>>3038333
>No, I can make the time. I accept your offer
Strange ruins sounds up our alley. Also after yesterday's session I think making the key and going straight to throne would be a bad idea if we can avert the 'disasters'
>>
>>3038344
>can
can't*
>>
>>3038333
>No, I can make the time. I accept your offer
There's no point rushing to complete the key until we've got a gameplan on who to kill and who to kick in the nads and demand they play nice
>>
You don't see any real reason to decline her offer – there's no need for haste now that Eishin has been taken off the board, and you're always interested in a chance to poke around in some ancient ruins – but that doesn't mean that you can't push her a little. If nothing else, you're used to pushing your luck. “Details first. I want to hear anything you're leaving out before I decide,” you press, “Obviously, I won't let anything slip.”

“How do you know that I'm leaving anything out?” Trice asks with a raised eyebrow. When you leave her question unanswered for a short moment, she sighs and shrugs. “We did a background check on him, and the scavenger in question has some links with criminal gangs. He was willing to part with his information for a suspiciously low price, so we're assuming that he sold it to someone else as well. Dodgy business, right?” she continues, “So we're expecting trouble. The region of the Drift that he highlighted has been restless lately as well – we recorded some activity a few days ago, probably unstable Pleonite deposits detonating. So, that's just one more problem to keep in mind. Does that change your mind?”

“Sure,” you agree with a laugh, “It makes it sound more entertaining. Come on, you can count me in. Lead on.”

“I'll take the Saint Ann and go on ahead,” Trice concludes, slapping you on the arm, “You follow behind me. If we run into trouble, I'll come crying for help.”

-

Back on the bridge of the Spirit of Helena, you spend a few moments checking over the controls before you realise that you're not alone. Branwen stands at one of the forward observation windows, gazing out at the open skies with naked wonder visible in her reflected eyes. Mindful of what Grace mentioned, you glance down at her lower back for any sign of a bulge or lump in her “borrowed” clothes. You don't see anything, but she's chosen a loose outfit with plenty of layers. Crafty girl.

“Settling in okay, then?” you ask her as you fire up the engines, “It must be odd, going from the Deep Forest to an airship like this.”

“Strange, these engine noises,” she intones, “I find it hard to sleep. I keep expecting to wake up and see a beast, a monster. You're used to it by now?”

“It just takes time,” you explain, watching as Trice's red-painted skiff takes off from the landing strut ahead of you. Easing the Spirit of Helena into a gentle ascent, you watch as Branwen crouches low to keep her balance. Obviously, she's not used to roaming about a moving ship yet. At least she's not crawling everywhere, like some novices that you've seen. “All crew, to your stations,” you announce over the intercom, “We're going for a quick jaunt in the Drift, and there might be trouble. Best behaviour, everyone.”

[1/2]
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>>3038373

“Morning chief. Glad to see that you're looking rested,” Dwight announces as he enters the bridge, taking the seat next to you, “I've got a status report for you, I figured you... is that my jacket?” This last part, he directs at Branwen. True enough, the girl's leather jacket does look baggy enough to be made for a man's form. When she ignores the question, Dwight lets out a low sigh. “It's an old jacket anyway. I've got another,” he sniffs, “Where was I? Oh right, the report. Here you go, boss. I'll take the controls while you read it over.”

Taking the flimsy sheet of paper, you move aside before skimming it over. There's not much to read – mostly just a summary of your newest upgrades. Better to refresh your memory before needing to test them out in the field...

>Vaandemere Condenser: Reduces the power drain created by shielding, allowing for greater efficiency. Increases shield power to 2 damage reduced per 1 power spent.

>Megiddo Cannon: Attacks from the Megiddo Cannon ignore damage reduction from passive shielding. However, the Megiddo Cannon can only be used once per combat encounter. Before it can be used again, the Spirit of Helena must land and undergo brief repairs.

“The Megiddo Cannon breaks itself every time that it fires?” you ask, looking up at Dwight, “Who the hell designed this thing?”

“Something to do with how much power flows through it, I dunno. It burns out the wiring, then we need to replace it. Like changing a light bulb, I guess,” Dwight answers with a shrug, “Could be a consequence of the, uh, crude modifications we were forced to apply. This old girl was never designed to fire a cannon like that.”

“Fine, whatever. We can call it our ace in the hole,” you mutter. Whatever else happens, it's a little trick that you and you alone have access to. You fall silent as you look out at the Drift before you. It's a dense patch of it, with light flaring as arcs of discharging power leap between islands. A few of the smaller islands have great cracks in their surface, revealing glimpses of white Abrahad stone underneath. As you press further in, the radio crackles into life. “Trice?” you ask, “That you?”

“That's me,” the provost replies, “We're approaching the debris field now. I'm seeing... a whole lot of nothing. No, wait, I see... oh boy, this looks like trouble.” It doesn't take long before you see the reason for the unease in Trice's voice. Another airship is already waiting near the largest island of this place, hovering in place by what is unmistakably a tower – a deliberate construction, barely any difference to Cloudtop Prison itself.

That's your goal... and someone beat you to it.

[2/3]
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>>3038393
I forgot Kez was nice enough to put our name on the condenser. Also we should chat with Branwen, make sure she understands the concept of personal belongings.
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>>3038393
>Vaandemere Condenser
That reminds me, we need to marry Kez.
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>>3038398
>I forgot Kez was nice enough to put our name on the condenser

It's what led to that smooth line about her taking our last name. I'm a Freddyfag and that was too good.
>>
>>3038400
That'll probably be epilogue stuff
>>
>>3038403
Thanks anon.
>>
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>>3038393

“I know that ship. Chief, that's the Typhon – Rusalka used to do business with them,” Dwight explains, his voice lowering as he mentions his previous employer. “Captain Gresh. A right bastard, he is. If he's here, then his sister can't be far. She's got a ship of her own, the Echidna,” he continues, “Luther and Ischia Gresh. They make their business out of smuggling, taxing any lone ships they find out here, looting sites like this. Oh hell. So much for my hopes of a quiet day...”

“Attention, unidentified vessels,” a hard voice announces over your radio, “This site has been claimed by Captain Luther Gresh. Leave immediately, or we will be forced to defend our claim.”

“This site under official church authority,” Trice counters, a layer of static failing to disguise the venom in her tone, “You leave. We can have a dozen ships here to evict you by force if you want to make things difficult for us.”

A bluff, surely. In the time it would take for Trice to gather up a force half that size, Gresh could have looted anything worth carrying and left, maybe even destroying the island out of spite. Holding your tongue for now, you wait to see if Gresh is going to fall for the ruse. As you wait, you glance aside to Dwight. He shrugs – no mention of the other Gresh sibling, but he's got no idea what to make of it. A good spot for an ambush, this place...

“Oh, the church, is it?” Gresh muses, “Well, that DOES change things. Why don't we discuss this in person, then? You send a skiff down to the tower, and we'll do the same. We can... negotiate.”

Dwight raises an eyebrow, mouthing the word “trap”. You nod, quickly switching the radio to a closed channel. “Trice, what do we think?” you ask, “My sources suggest that there could be a second ship waiting in ambush. Do we actually have any authority here?”

“Yep. Sites like this fall under church jurisdiction, according to... hell, just about a dozen different treaties. We'd be entirely within our rights to blow these guys out of the sky,” she pauses a moment before reluctantly adding, “Although we really should try and resolve this peacefully.”

She says that, but her heart just isn't in it. Glancing across at one of the data screens, you check the results from your scanning array. True enough, it's picking up a second ship hiding deeper within the Drift – just waiting to join the fight if needed.

What to do...

>Seize the initiative and attack the Gresh siblings
>Agree to their invitation to negotiate
>Pull back and let them have their prize
>Other
>>
>>3038412
>Gresh we know your sister and her ship is lurking about. Not going to walk into a trap blindly. We can talk just FINE from here.
>>
>>3038412
>You have the time it takes for me to charge the Megiddo to vacate the premises.
Actually hit the Typhon with it. If they see us use it first, they might think we can use it all the time.
>>
>>3038412
>Agree to their invitation to negotiate
>But tell them we have weapons locked on their second ship.
Maybe it'll scare them straight.
>>
>>3038412
>Agree to negotiations
>>
>>3038412
Hey Moloch, airship engines that control propulsion are on the outside right?
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>>3038417
>>3038418
Guys, guys we can negotiate from here without risking ourselves.
>>
>>3038421
>That's mostly correct, yes. They have some internal components, but a large part of them is external
>>
>>3038429
Could a skiff's guns or Caliban's arrows damage them enough to force them to make repairs.

I was thinking of having Freddy and Caliban sneak into the drift and sabotage the Echinda while we do 'negotiations'

Dunno if people are for that though.

In the meantime.
>>3038412
>>3038415
I'll second this.
>>
Okay, closing the vote here. For now, we're taking a shot at negotiating from inside our nice comfy ship!

>>3038433
>Unfortunately not. The skiff's weapons are mainly for light support, and Caliban's arrows just aren't big enough to damage a full sized airship.
>>
>>3038448
Shame. Oh well.
>>
Switching back onto an open channel, you pull the radio mic a little closer. “We can see you on our scanners, Gresh, and we can see your friend. Your sister, is it? You can't hide from us,” you begin, pausing a moment and smiling as you hear a muffled curse slipping across the radio link, “We have our weapons locked on and ready. If you really want to negotiate, then we can do it from here. I'm happy to talk over the radio. If that doesn't suit you, then I'd suggest vacating the premises as quickly as you can.”

“You're an imperious shit, whoever you are,” Gresh replies, more amused than angry, “Can I have a name, at least?”

“Captain Vaandemere,” you tell him. As arrogant as it may be, you had been hoping for a startled intake of breath. Instead, you're greeted by a cold silence as Gresh thinks – or discusses your offer with his sister.

“I think I've heard of you,” he concludes, sounding anything but impressed, “Very well then. Allow me to outline my position – I've seen those ruins down there, and there isn't much chance of us getting deep inside. There must be something special in there, because the doors are sealed up tight. This really would be easier to explain if I could show you the doors.” Gresh pauses again for another round of discussions. “Perhaps we could join forces and split the prize?” he offers, “If you're here on the church's authority, then you must know you way about these places. Together, we could uncover the secrets of these ruins!”

This is starting to remind you of the Vault of the Sun. Clicking back to your private channel, you nudge Trice for her opinion. With a sigh and an audible shrug, Trice speaks up. “I don't like it much, but it's within regulations,” she ventures, “I'm the ranking church officer here, so I can permit it. We could have trouble when it comes to this “prize” of his, but that's something we can work on. Maybe we could arrange compensation in return for taking any relics they find...”

“Dwight,” you ask, looking around to the pilot, “Do you think that Gresh would honour any deal we made with him?”

“Well... I guess?” Dwight replies with a shrug, “He never tried to stab old Rusalka in the back, and he had a few chances. He's a career criminal, and they either get good instincts for these sorts of things or they die. Plus, you heard him – he needs us to get inside those ruins.”

“So he won't stab us in the back until he has what he wants,” Trice sighs, “Great.”

Snapping back to the open channel, you hear Gresh humming to himself. “Oh, so you're back,” he announces roughly, “You've heard my terms. We can cooperate here, or we can fight over this miserable little place. Hardly seems worth the trouble, does it? So what do you say?”

Trice remains silent, leaving the final decision in your hands.

>Accept his terms and join forces
>Reject his terms and attack
>Withdraw from the site and return to Zenith
>Other
>>
>>3038499
>Accept his terms and join forces
>>
>>3038499
>Reject his terms and attack
As much as I kinda want to play Indiana Jones I'm not sure it's worth the risk.

If it's something important to our situation we aren't splitting shit. Also with two airship complements we are outnumbered if make this a ground issue.
>>
>>3038499
>>Accept his terms and join forces
Exploring the ruins with a bunch of pirates sounds fun!
>>
Alright if we are doing this we need to take some precautions.

Dwight, Keziah, and Gunny should stay on the ship in case we need to fight as they are pilot, engines/telepath radio, and gunnery respectively. Megiddo should be trained on Typhon

Masque, Caliban, Freddy, and maybe a few regular crew willing to fight should come with us on the ground. I kind of want to take Grace due to her knowledge, but it's going to be dangerous.
>>
>Okay, going to close this vote here. We're joining forces with this eminently trustworthy gentleman and doing a spot of digging!
>>
>>3038499
>Accept his terms and join forces
>>
>>3038569
Huzzah! We can regale him with our tales of action and derring do.

Also I feel like meeting our crew will be confusing enough to make them think twice about whether or not our stories are exaggerated.
>>
>>3038592
>Here is a highly trained Iraklin soldier that can put a shot between someone's eyes at most ranges or cut you apart with her glaive.

>Here is my scout who can hit you with arrows that'll explode on impact or slide up behind you and slit your throat before you know he is there

>And here is a daemon with a magic sword that could probably easily kill everyone here, including the two people I just mentioned, without breaking a sweat
>>
“Very well, Gresh,” you decide at last, “I'm willing to accept your-”

“Capital!” Gresh interrupts, “I'll bring the Typhon down, and...”

“I'm willing to accept your terms, but on one condition,” you reply, “I don't want your people outnumbering us down there. Take a skiff and a handful of your men down with you, but no more. Call it an issue of trust if you like. I'll do the same – no more than five of us down there, while the rest of my people wait up here. We'll be on an even playing field.”

A pause, and then Gresh laughs curtly. “You're no stranger to cutting these kind of deals, are you?” he declares, “Very well, I accept your terms. I'm bringing my team down now, so don't leave me waiting for long. Not what you'd call comfortable, these ruins.”

They never are.

-

Leaving the controls in Dwight's hands, you head down to the cargo hold and the waiting Eliza. Freddy is already there, of course, along with Caliban and Grace. Gunny and Keziah are waiting at their stations, ready to take command if there is a battle. That got more than a few complaints out of Dwight – he's not shy about his dislike of open combat – but he accepted the role nonetheless. As for taking Grace along...

“It'll be dangerous,” you warn her, “If you don't want a seat on the skiff, just say so. We can always take Masque along. If it comes to a fight, I'll appreciate having the extra muscle. So if-”

“I will not need a seat,” Masque argues, appearing behind you with his usual looming menace, “I will hold onto the side of the ship once again. Until you need my skills, I will remain out of sight – it may... unnerve these people to see one such as I. They may suspect ill-will.”

“Who would ever accuse us of ill-will?” Caliban gasps in mock horror.

“I'm coming with you,” Grace insists, “You won't make it very far inside the ruins without my knowledge, and I'm prepared to take care of myself.” Saying this, she brushes aside her velvet half-cloak to reveal the blunt shape of an automatic pistol. Against the finery of her garb, it seems as ugly as a grave marker. “I won't be a burden,” she continues, “I promise you that.”

What a motley crew you've gathered around yourself. Nodding cautiously, you gesture for everyone to take their places. “You know,” Caliban mentions as you're getting seated, “Gresh mentioned that he's been down there before. He could have a dozen of his men waiting down there to ambush us the instant we step inside.”

A long, cold silence, then, as you all consider the possibility. “Hey Caliban?” Freddy replies at last, “Fuck you.”

[1/2]
>>
>>3038607
Don't forget our witch, who is cute and adorable!

And also built us a big fuck-off cannon.

Us ourselves has a corrupted gun, a spooky ghost sword, and a tendency towards getting real handsy with people we're upset with.

Additionally, think of who these people *are*. Freddy is Nobility as is Blessings, Trice is a Church Official, Kez is infinitely less terrifying than her mother, and even us ourselves are a Person of Interest for both Carth and Iraklin.

So even if they won against us, they would be in no shape to deal with the fall out.

It's just a numbers game. They can work with us, get a fair deal, and still profit.

Or they can try to screw us, have a dangerous fight and possibly lose people or a ship, and then have to worry about important people from 3 major powers having personal motivations for acting in their official capacity to declare them criminals and hunt them down.
>>
>>3038628

Your first impression of Luther Gresh is surprisingly positive. Not only does he NOT ambush you with two dozen armed men, but he actually looks halfway respectable. Tall and slender, dressed in formal garb that gives him the suggestion of a military officer, he cuts a dashing figure. It's hard to reconcile this with what Dwight told you, stories about a looting, extorting bastard. Apparently unarmed, Gresh keeps no bodyguard at his side – instead, he is joined by a wizened sage. The other three men he brought with him are armed, and well armed at that, but they linger at a respectful distance.

Frankly, it makes you feel somewhat vulgar.

When you enter the ruins, Gresh just barely looks around at you before turning his gaze back towards the sealed door – almost a blank wall in how featureless it looks – that has frustrated his explorations. He wasn't kidding when he mentioned how little of the ruins he had been able to explore. After descending a short set of stairs, you entered into a small chamber, an atrium of sorts with nothing other than the sealed door. The dark is thick, almost a living thing that threatens to snuff out the gas lanterns that Gresh's men have placed about. Illuminated by the flickering flames, you see the white Abrahad stone that makes up the walls and ceiling here. The air is bitterly cold, colder than anything you had felt in Cloudtop Prison even with a lack of wind. What really makes these ruins uncomfortable – as Gresh had called them – is the background noise... or rather, the impression of noise. Although you're certain that you can't hear anything, you constantly think that you're hearing something.

Whispers, dancing at the very edges of your perception. It's enough to make a man lose his nerve.

“The door there. It has markings on it, but my expert has no inkling towards their meaning,” Gresh announces, looking round again, “You there, the girl in white. Are you with the church?”

“I am,” Trice replies, “Provost Lavinia Trice. Just to be clear, I'm here to make sure that you don't damage this site or any of the relics found within. As much as possible, we want this site recovered intact.”

“And I want to recover whatever treasure it holds,” Gresh counters, “So we stand at an impasse. Until this door is unsealed, however, neither of us can achieve our goals. Do you have, by chance, any ideas?”

“Let me take a look,” Grace states, taking a small notebook and pen out of her pocket as she approaches the door. Freddy follows her, taking out a bulky flashlight, and Gresh nods for his sage to accompany them. So far, at least, you're all working together.

[2/3]
>>
>>3038703

“Educated girl, is she?” Gresh asks, glancing briefly at Grace before looking back to you, “Well, I'm ready to accept whatever help I can get. Now, though, the air in here is stifling me.” Shaking his head, he gestures for a pair of his soldiers to fall in behind him. “You two, come with me. Perhaps some natural light will help me think,” he mutters, “Abraham, you stay here. Give me a shout if anything changes.”

“Yes sir,” the final soldier declares, pulling down his thick scarf to reveal an equally thick beard. As Gresh leaves, you suppress a moment of panic. You landed the skiff a fair way away, with Masque hiding well enough out of sight. No need to worry about the daemon being caught in the act. “Suppose we've just got to wait for the scholars to do their thing,” the solider mutters to himself, leaning back against the wall without letting his rifle hang loose. Well trained, this one.

Letting her eyes wander about the ruins, Trice paces restlessly. Suppressing a sigh, Caliban watches her with a wan smile.

Some people are better at waiting than others.

>Speak with Trice to try and take her mind off the wait
>Check on how the scholars are progressing
>Sneak outside to eavesdrop on Gresh
>Other
>>
>>3038721
>Sneak outside to eavesdrop on Gresh
>>
>>3038721
>Speak with Trice to try and take her mind off the wait
>>
>>3038721
>Sneak outside to eavesdrop on Gresh
>>
>>3038721
>Check on the scholars

Masque can eavesdrop on Gresh for us.
>>
>>3038721
>Check on the scholars
>>
>>3038721
>Other

Go out and directly talk with Gesh about how this will go down.
>>
“Don't freak out,” you murmur to Trice, “You're making me stressed just looking at you, and if you're making ME stressed then you're definitely going to be making HIM stressed.” Here, you nod across at the soldier. Even if he's not aiming it directly at you, you can't ignore the fact that one burst from his heavy rifle could cut you in half. Anxious men with large guns is not a good combination. “Sit down and relax,” you add, “We should have brought something to drink.”

“Got it covered,” Caliban remarks, taking out a small metal flask, “Care for a taste, Provost?”

“Can't. I'm on duty,” Trice replies, “But thanks for the offer. What about you?”

“Oh, maybe later. I'm going to get a spot of fresh air myself,” you tell her, giving her a wink. Nodding knowingly, Trice sits down and makes herself comfortable. Her eyes still flick restlessly about the room, but a casual glance would see a calm woman. Holding out the flask like a peace offering, Caliban approaches Gresh's soldier. While the gunman is distracted, you slip off towards the stairs and follow Gresh's tracks. The wind gets louder as you near the surface, but you manage to catch a few of his words as he speaks with his bodyguards.

“These bastards have us in a corner,” Gresh spits, his charm cast aside like a cheap mask, “They're cold killers, every last one of them.”

“All of them?” one of the soldiers asks, a note of dull humour in his voice.

“Well, not the girl. Maybe,” the captain concedes, “We've got to play this one carefully, boys. If we give them an opening, I don't doubt these fiends will sink the knife in without a moment of hesitation. Just don't do anything rash for now – if they really can get that door open, we might have a chance to make some money here. If not...” He pauses for a long moment, and you sense a bitter note in his silence. “We'll think of something,” he concludes, “Just play nice and keep quiet for now. That's an order.”

Leaning back against the wall, you let out a soft breath. Is that really how you came across to them? Maybe you've misread this entire situation, coming into it with an eagerness for violence. Maybe...

From the top of the stairs, you hear the scuff of thick boots against stonework. Jolting back so abruptly that you nearly fall down the stairs, you melt into the blackness and retreat back down to the atrium. When Gresh returns down, you'll talk to him properly – face to face, with nothing to hide. Later, though, hopefully when you have a spot of good news to sweeten his mood. As for good news, that all depends on what the scholars can dig up.

Quietly returning to the atrium, you pass Caliban as he chats with Gresh's soldier. The man never even notices you as you approach the sealed door.

[1/2]
>>
Hah, maybe we are the monsters guys.
>>
>>3038811
No Milos you are the demons
>>
>>3038811
I think Gesh knows we killed Rusalka. He thinks we're a ruthless and unprincipled killer for hire.
>>
>>3038811
I'd actually like to argue that Caliban is a very warm killer. Not cold at all.
>>
>>3038811

“This isn't a particularly complicated language,” Grace complains, her attention still fixed upon the carved doorway and not upon your hushed approach, “It's not even in the upper hierarchy of... what did you say that you studied, again?”

“I was educated by the church,” the sage replies, a waspish tone in his reedy voice, “My studies included a thorough examination of the church's history and-”

“Well that explains it!” Grace snaps, causing Freddy to cough as she covers up a laugh, “This pre-dates the church by countless decades! Just make yourself useful and hold the flashlight. Here...” Leaning up on her tiptoes, Grace pulls off one glove and runs her bare hand across the Abrahad stone. “Stars... sun... celestial bodies,” she murmurs to herself, “They all had something to do with this place. When you were here before, what time was it?”

“Shortly after sunrise,” Gresh announces, his voice cutting through the haze of not-whispers, “Are you finished tormenting my scholar, then?”

Jolting around, Grace stifles a quiet scream of surprise. “I... have a theory,” she ventures after a moment, quickly regaining her composure, “I think this place reacts to moonlight. Just, ah, don't ask me how. This is the first time that I've seen Abrahad reacting in this way. Normally sound is the trigger – language or song – but light? This is new to me.”

But maybe not to you. In the Vault of the Sun, you saw light being put to use, directed by a great mirror onto the risen Saint Alma. Exactly what function it served remains unclear to you, but it might offer a hint of support to Grace's theory. Before you can raise this suspicion, Gresh speaks up.

“Moonlight. Perhaps so,” he offers, “It would be my guess that this island was uncovered only recently – the rubble around here is fresh. Until recently, I dare say that it formed a shield around this tower. How such a thing could come to be, I cannot guess. Could it be that this tower was build beneath the rock, to await the moon's touch when – after uncountable years – it was exposed?”

“Ah... maybe?” Grace replies with a shrug, “I can only think of one way to prove my theory, and I think you can guess what it is.”

“It's simple,” you conclude, “We wait.”

>I'm sorry about this, but I think I'm going to close things here for now. My concentration is shot today. I'll continue this tomorrow, things should be better today
>Thank you for your patience today!
>>
>>3038899
Thanks for running.

You know between this and Caldwell saying we have a 'hint of mania' does Milos really look scary to people that don't know him?


>>
>>3038899
Thanks for running!

Does Caliban have enough alcohol to keep everyone supplied until night? What kind of party games will we play with Gresh and his men to pass the time?
>>
>>3038899
Thanks for running!
Will you write an omake of this expedition from the POV of Gresh and his men?
>>
>>3038913
I'm not quite sure how best to answer that, out of a fear that anything I might say colour perceptions later on. As a personal thing, I do envision Milos as seeming fairly intense - something that can be unnerving to some and fascinating to others
>>3038917
There are many miracles in the world, but a bottomless flask is not among them. I'm sure that Gresh's men can help us wait things out. They seem like friendly, fun-loving sorts, don't they?
>>3038994
I'm undecided about that. I like the idea of writing bonuses from other PoVs, but I'm not sure if there's much material here. I suppose it really depends on how things play out with Gresh!
>>
>>3039087
A fun omake would be Branwen snooping around the ship and the culture shock of leaving the deep forest.
>>
>>3039087
>>3039111
That reminds me. How is the Doc taking to his new assistant and vice versa?
>>
>>3039180
On the plus side, Branwen hasn't been helping herself to whatever she can find around the infirmary. That's good! On the other hand, she's been too busy with adjusting to life aboard an airship to really do much in the way of "learning". These things take time, I think. She's a bright enough sort, once she settles down to focus on something
And writing a Branwen episode sounds pretty fun. Definitely something I'll be considering
>>
>>3039087
The ultimate abrahad tool: A stone flash that endlessly generates killing white.....alcohol.
>>
>>3039853
*flask
>>
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Mutual distrust hardly makes for the most pleasant atmosphere, to say nothing about the many other problems you have to deal with. You can't take a nap, because whenever you start to feel drowsy you imagine a snatch of voices calling your name. You can't spend the long hours drinking, as Caliban's hip flask quickly ran dry and you've got nothing else to drink. If Gresh's men do, they're certainly not sharing. One of them has a deck of cards, but the novelty of playing with sullen, unfriendly men soon began to wear off.

So now you just pace restlessly – all too aware of Trice's ironic smile – and wait for the moon to appear. Grace sits in a corner, reading over her notes, and you hear her soft voice whenever you near her.

“The sun and the moon, the stars and the night sky... and the heart?” she whispers, frowning down at her notes, “That still doesn't fit. Can't rule out the possibility of a mistranslation, but everything else seems to correlate. How troublesome...”

“Hey,” you mutter, kneeling down next to her, “Did you just say “the heart?”

“I did, yes. Those were the most prominent words. Carved in big, bold forms, essentially, which means they're important. Most of them, I understand well enough, but... here, just listen to this. It's a rather rough translation, but it should get the message across,” clearing her throat, Grace begins to read from her notes, “Obeying the heart, and the pulse of the world, the sun fades as the moon brightens.”

Slowly, you nod. “I see,” you muse, “And that means...”

“I don't quite know yet. As I said, I understand the references to the sky and the stars, all those sorts of things. You see, the night sky is fixed and unchanging – the stars move, yes, but only along their own paths. They never deviate or falter. The night sky is, essentially, a perfect and unchanging system,” Grace pauses here, a note of venom creeping into her voice as she continues. “And they never ever think or act for themselves,” she sneers, “They can't. How very perfect it must have seemed to these people, looking up from their mountain.”

“Compared with a home where they lived in constant fear, constantly struggling to survive, you mean?” you counter, raising a curious eyebrow, “Yes, I imagine that it must have been a nice change.”

“Hmm. Perhaps so,” the young scholar concedes, rubbing her gloved hands together as her expression clears. “Best that we finish this conversation later,” she adds, leaning forwards a little to peer behind you, “I think someone wants your attention. Hopefully, it's not about anything bad.”

Slowly, you turn to see Gresh lurking by the far wall. True enough, his cold gaze is fixed on you. He doesn't even pretend otherwise, calmly meeting your eyes with a sardonic twist to his lips.

[1/2]
>>
>>3041378

“We'll get that door open eventually,” you tell Gresh simply when you approach him, “Then we can go our separate ways. Until then, I'm happy to play nice and keep quiet if you are.” When Gresh's eyes widen a little at that remark, his calm certainty shaken, you have to keep yourself from smiling. “A bad habit of mine, listening in on conversations,” you admit, “But I had to know where we stood. Wise of you, to be careful.”

“A man in my position needs to take care,” Gresh counters, “I can't exactly go running to the “proper authorities” when I'm in trouble, after all. I've found that those who claim to act in accordance with the law are often little more than executioners and hunters of men. Am I wrong, Captain Vaandemere?”

“This isn't the kind of conversation that will lead to a long and fruitful relationship... Captain Gresh,” you point out, the veneer politeness never leaving your voice, “The church takes a dim view of needless bloodshed, and I can't say that I'm much of a fan of it either. I'm not what you think I am, but that doesn't mean I'll be an easy mark. Keep that in mind, and we'll all come out of this smiling.”

Gresh considers this for a few long moments, tapping a slender finger against his well-formed chin. “I believe that we're more alike than you might care to admit,” he ventures, “What I do, I do for the sake of my family and my crew. These are lean times, and we're all starting to get hungry for a real prize. This world, I think, doesn't have many of those left in it. The church will pay us a pittance for what we find here, if they pay us at all. I don't know if I can swallow that kind of... insult.”

As he says this, Gresh peers past you and gives Trice a long, meaningful look. “Go on then,” you press, “If you've got something to say, just say it.”

“The Drift hides a multitude of sins. People can just... vanish here,” Gresh states, “I know people, collectors, who would pay a king's ransom for this place. We could split it half and half, you and I, or you could take your pick of the relics on offer. A better prize than anything the church would offer. I won't even ask that you dirty your hands – just stand down and leave the provost to me. Nobody needs to know about any of this.”

“And if I say no... then what?” you muse, “You're going to take us on? A bunch of “cold killers” like us?”

“I'm no fool, Vaandemere, I know when the odds are against me,” the rogue captain sighs, “But I had taken you for a fellow Free Captain, not a lapdog of the great powers. Was I wrong? We can still claim this prize, you and I...”

>I can't do that, Gresh. Just stick to the original plan
>Very well, let's claim this prize for ourselves. We can both profit here
>Other
>>
>>3041380
>I can't do that, Gresh. Just stick to the original plan
"You misinterpret my motivation for coming here. It's not for money Gresh, just knowledge and helping out a friend. You'll have to find another hideout. May I suggest Rìoghachd na Creige. It's falling apart now and is probably ripe for renovations.

As for the relics, I'll see if I can get Trice to bump of the prices somehow so you aren't getting scraps."
>>
>>3041380
>>I can't do that, Gresh. Just stick to the original plan
>>
>>3041380
>If the provost wasn't a personal friend I might've taken you up on your offer.
>>
>>3041452
also leave the door open for negotiation with the provost.
>>
>>3041452
>Milos betraying an employer and leaving them to get murdered for some extra shekels

You sure we've been playing the same character. Sure there is some self interest and greed, but that's a little much.
>>
“I can't do that, Gresh, and I think you knew that all along,” you reply slowly, “Just stick to the original plan, and things should work out just fine.”

“Just fine?” Gresh repeats scornfully, “You try saying that when the church rewards us with a blessing and a sermon against the perils of avarice. See if that fills your belly at night.”

“I'm not here for the money. I came here to study this place, and... you see the provost over there? She's a friend of mine, and I'm here to help her out. I can't just sell her out to make a quick score,” you counter, nodding back towards where Trice sits. “A word of advice, Gresh. You can't keep this up. Sooner or later, you're going to get yourself in the kind of trouble that you can't slip out of. You need a place to lie low,” pausing here, a thin smile comes to your lips, “I suggest the Rock. You'd fit right in there.”

“The Rock?” the captain lets out a clipped laugh, “It's a myth. A children's story.”

What kind of children's stories was he raised on? “It's not a myth – I've been there,” you correct him, “How about we make a deal? If you behave yourself, I'll see what I can do to make sure you get a good pay for this place. When we're finished here, I might even throw in the location of the Rock. That's worth more than just money, I should think.”

Gresh considers this for a moment, then spreads his hands wide in a helpless gesture. Taking this as agreement, you turn and start away. As you're leaving, though, he calls out to you. “You know, the church puts on a righteous act, but deep down it's as rotten as anyone else,” he sneers, “Those collectors I mentioned? A good number of those are churchmen, their coffers fat with tithes and donations. Still happy to help them?”

“Just stick to the plan, Gresh,” you repeat, refusing to take his bait.

-

You'd like to say that the air clears after settling this little matter, but it really doesn't. If anything, the tension seems to have grown harder and more obvious. Abandoning the prospect of sleep, you slump down against one wall and pull your coat tighter around yourself in a futile attempt at keeping warm. How anyone could stand to live in a place like this, you'll never understand. Deprivation might be good for the spirit, but comfort is good for the body.

A few hours pass, crawling by at a tortuous pace before something jolts you from your boredom. From outside, from above you, there comes the muffled rumble of an explosion. Mere seconds later, you hear the echoing clatter of rubble raining down upon the ruins. Already drawing your revolver from its holster, you leap to your feet and look about for any sign of trouble. Gresh and his men do the same, the fighters shouldering their rifles in anticipation.

[1/2]
>>
>>3041477

“What's going on up there?” you send, jabbing a hard thought at Keziah. Reflected back at you is an echo of her emotions, a swirl of panic and relief all at the same time.

“False alarm, false alarm!” she replies quickly, “One of the smaller islands up there just... blew up. Unstable Pleonite, I guess, you know what these places can be like. We're picking up some disturbance on the scanners, so there might be further detonations.” A pause here, perhaps as Keziah listens to the latest updates. “Okay boss, we're okay. The Typhon is moving a little, they were a bit close to some of the unstable islands, but we're keeping the guns trained on them. I figure they're doing the same, mind you. Bit of a stalemate up here...” the witch continues, “Anyway, the Echidna is pulling back. Too dangerous, they say. We're having trouble picking her up on our scanners now, so there must be a lot of interference over her way. Things okay down on your end?”

“That might be pushing it a little, but nobody's killing each other yet,” you conclude, holstering your revolver. “Settle down everyone, it was probably just an unstable island detonating,” you announce aloud, giving Gresh a firm look, “Nothing to be concerned about.”

“I think I'd rather go topside and see for myself,” Gresh mutters, turning and walking back towards the stairs. Gesturing to Freddy, you nod for her to follow him up.

-

A short while after the brief flurry of drama above, something within the ruins begins to change. At first it's so subtle that you can't be certain that anything is happening at all. But then, when the lantern flames start to seem dull by comparison, there's no denying it. The air is starting to glow, the light building as life returns to the ruins. Yelping faintly, Grace leaps away as a disc of silver light begins to form in the centre of the floor. Moving like mercury, it creeps across the floor and rises up onto the sealed door. The carvings there glow for a moment, and then the doors fluidly slide open.

“It's about that time, I suppose,” Caliban drawls, glancing up towards the ceiling, “Shall we?”

“Bal, stay here,” Gresh orders, glancing across to his sage, “No telling what kind of traps this place might have inside. Stay down until we give the all-clear.”

Cautiously advancing, you pass through the newly opened door and enter a square chamber, empty save for a staircase running the length of the walls. Nodding for Freddy to take the lead, you form a single file line and carefully start to climb the stairs. It's slow going, with the Iraklin checking each step for traps or any signs of instability. All the while, you're painfully aware of Gresh standing behind you, your back perfectly exposed to him.

Time to put this relationship to the test.

[2/3]
>>
>>3041561

It's... an observatory.

When you reach the upper level of the tower, you're greeted by the sight of a fearfully complicated mechanism, all gears and rings of Abrahad stone. Starting at the very top of the tower's high ceiling, panels begin to open in the walls. They move with a ponderous pace, the ancient structure clearly in no hurry to reveal its secrets. Wind whistles through the observatory as the windows begin to open, plucking at your clothing and further chilling you. As everyone else looks up, Grace turns her attention downwards. The floor is different, slate-grey stone covered in ancient carvings, and the young scholar wastes little time in kneeling to examine them.

“What is this?” Gresh snaps, looking about him, “Where... where's the treasure? They sealed this place up, they hid it away, and they were protecting... THIS?” His voice turns ragged as he spins about, wild eyes searching for anything worthy of stealing. Unless he plans to slip the entire mechanism here into his back pocket, though...

Then, trouble.

“Captain, someone just sent up a signal flare!” Keziah thinks urgently to you, “The Typhon is moving...”

“Gresh!” you yell, drawing your revolver, “What did you do?”

“What?” he barks, spinning around to face you with feverish eyes, “What are you talking about?”

“That flare your man sent up,” you hiss, “What were you signalling?”

“Boss, the Typhon is... oh hell, oh crap,” the witch sends, “She's pulling up. Shields raised, cannons hot... I think she's coming in for an attack. We've got a shot on her, if we strike now we might be able to cripple her, but we can't wait. We need to act now, we... Captain!”

The raw urgency turns her thoughts into daggers, stabbing into your mind. Your orders...

>Order the Spirit of Helena to take the shot
>Order the Spirit of Helena to hold fire
>Other
>>
>>3041598
>Order the Spirit of Helena to hold fire
>Tell Keziah to order Typhoon to depower the weapons immediately
>>
>>3041598
>Order the Spirit of Helena to hold fire
On second thought have Dwight back up and keep it within the cannon's sights. Be prepared to put as much power to shields if need be, we should be able to whether any attack with the new shields. For us we need to get topside to see what's going on.

Also
>>3041608
>>
>>3041598
>Order the Spirit of Helena to hold fire

We can always shoot Gresh.
>>
>>3041598
>Order the Spirit of Helena to hold fire
Evade, fly away if necessary. Get an abswer out of Gresh, I don't think he did anything.
>>
“Hold fire, hold fire!” you snap, both thinking your orders to Keziah and yelling it aloud to everyone present. “Get on the radio, order the Typhon to power down or be destroyed,” you hastily add, thinking this to Keziah alone, “Keep her in your sights, and prepare the shields in case they attack.” Leaving these words hanging in the void, you turn your focus back to the real and present moment. It's... a mess. Everyone has their weapons raised, pointed at everyone else. All it would take is a single spark, and the stalemate could become a massacre.

“I. Did. Not. Order. This,” Gresh snarls, pronouncing each word carefully, “Call your people off.”

“Call YOUR people off!” Trice retorts, gesturing to the heavily armed soldiers with her revolver, the pistol seeming woefully outmatched compared with Gresh's men.

“Everyone stand down!” you snap, throwing your hands up in disgust, “If this is just a misunderstanding, we'll DEAL with it.” Then, sending Keziah a blunt mental nudge, you feel her thoughts brushing against yours. “What's going on up there?” you demand, “Talk to me here.”

“The Typhon's cannons are powering down, boss. I think they got the message. Moving away from an attack position now,” Keziah reports slowly. She hesitates for a moment, then, and in the new silence you hear stone grinding. The tall windows are still opening, panels sliding down to reveal more and more of the night sky. Looking up through the windows, you watch as the Typhon ponderously turns away from your airship. It's too far away to make out much detail, but... you feel a sudden jolt of alarm. “Oh shit!” Keziah warns, her thoughts stabbing into yours, “She's firing missiles!”

“Pull out!” you reply immediately, watching as greasy plumes of black smoke signal the missile launch, “Pull back and-”

“Not at us!” the witch cries out, “At you!”

“Back!” you yell, waving a hand towards the stairwell as the missiles streak out towards you, “Everyone get-”

Too late.

-

The windows are yet to fully open by the time the missiles hit, and perhaps that saves you from the worst of their impact. Abrahad stone is tough, unnaturally so, but military grade warheads are designed to blast apart armoured airships. The blast picks you up and throws you off your feet, hurling you a dozen paces away and showering you with shattered fragments of stone. The tower itself seems to scream in pain, in protest at the damage done to it, but perhaps that's just your ears ringing.

Landing hard, the world turns grey for a short moment – maybe a few seconds, maybe a thousand years. Only dimly aware, you roll over and stare up into the sky.

The moon hangs above you, staring down like a mocking eye.

[1/2]
>>
>>3041715
Damnit. Should've gone with my gut.
>>
>>3041715
I didn't expect this. Gresh is in here with us. A mutiny?
>>
>>3041746
I felt like it was a pretty strong option. The only one that could have sent the flare was his dude outside and Gresh's initial reaction suggested he didn't order it.
>>
>>3041715

A hand falls on your shoulder, jolting you back to full awareness. Not a moment too soon, either. Grabbing you by the collar of your coat, Caliban drags you back and away as a chunk of ceiling crumbles away and falls free, crashing down onto where you lay a moment before. Considering the close call, you decide against complaining as you feel your collar tearing. If the worst injury you suffer today is a spot of wardrobe damage, you'll count yourself lucky.

“No time to be lying about, boss,” Caliban hisses, dragging you up to your feet. As you stand, you glance about you. Roughly a third of the tower has been blown apart, most of one corner reduced to rubble along with a chunk of the ceiling. Freddy lies over Grace, shielding the young scholar with her body, while Trice is standing, covering Gresh's prone form with her revolver. His men are scattered, some wounded but all left stunned by the blast. Before you can act, the sky lights up with the flare of Pleonite cannons and something violently explodes.

“NO!” Gresh cries, twisting around and staring up at the sky as the Typhon dips low in the sky, trailing smoke from a grievous wound. As the Spirit of Helena gives pursuit, you spot a smaller airship flitting down. A skiff, darting lower as it approaches the shattered tower. Static blares as it approaches, then a magnified voice rings out.

“You survived that, did you?” the unseen pilot sneers. A woman's voice, dripping with venom, and Gresh's face pales at the sound of it. “Then I'll have to clean up myself!” she continues, “It's nothing personal, brother dear, but you're starting to weigh me down. It's about time that I went independent – and this prize will make a fine start to my new success!”

Blank horror fills Gresh's face. “Ischia...” he murmurs, slumping down and staring up at the skiff as it pivots around. You stare too, but your attention is fixed on the bulky autocannon mounted at the open door. With a sense of bitter irony, you realise that it's an Iraklin skiff – the same kind you saw in the attack on Eishin's camp. You've seen the kind of damage those autocannons can do...

Yelling in panic, Trice grabs Gresh and hauls him backwards out of the line of fire. Throwing your weight into it as well, you pull the barely-responsive captain into the relative shelter offered by the telescope array. A masked gunner fires a short burst from the skiff's autocannon, the heavy shells kicking up great clouds of powdered stone as they stitch their way across the floor. Flinching back, you see Caliban drawing back his bow and readying an arrow. Meeting your eyes, he nods towards the skiff.

Covering fire. A distraction, in other words. You can do that.

>Calling for a dice check, 2D6 aiming to beat 9-10 for a partial success or 11+ for a full success. Now, this is at +1 due to our pistol and I'll take the highest of the first three results
>>
Rolled 1, 1 + 1 = 3 (2d6 + 1)

>>3041836
>>
Rolled 4, 2 + 1 = 7 (2d6 + 1)

>>3041836

>>3041845
OOOF
>>
Rolled 3, 2 = 5 (2d6)

>>3041836
>>
>>3041845
oof
>>
Looks like we aren't covering shit
>>
Rolled 2, 4 + 1 = 7 (2d6 + 1)

>>3041836
I hate how swingy this dice system is
>>
>>3041852
The probability of 9+ on 2d6 is 27.78%. We've been too lucky previously.
>>
>>3041861
The +1 makes it 41.67%, but yeah the odds are against us
>>
RIP Caliban
>>
>>3041877
>>3041861
They actually are in our favor when taking best of three into account.

A 41.67% chance with three chances is 80.2%
>>
>>3041920
Hopefully he's smart enough when he sees us fail to not stick his head up
>>
>Failure!

Leaning out from behind the telescope's cover, you fire a hasty shot at the gunner. It doesn't hit him, but it causes him to flinch back and hold his fire for a moment. Seizing his chance, Caliban raises his bow and takes aim at the skiff. Just as he's about to let his arrow fly, the gunner twists around in his mount and fires a quick burst of cannon fire in his direction. There's no real “aiming” with an autocannon, but you hardly NEED to aim with a weapon like that.

Caliban falls back with a curse, and you can't see whether he's been hit or not. His arrow flies wide as he loses his grip on the bow, shooting straight up into the remains of the ceiling. It detonates a moment later, causing a fresh chunk of the rock to tumble free. The floor, already weakened by the missile blast, collapses under the hail of debris, and you fall with it. It's not a long way to fall, especially compared with the caverns beneath Eishin's camp, but you land badly amidst a torrent of stone. The grand telescope, once the centrepiece of this place, now collapses around you like so much scrap.

For the second time today, consciousness slips briefly through your fingers. This time, though, you black out fully instead of just greying out. When you return to the waking world, you find yourself staring into the muzzle of a gun. The skiff hovers a short distance away, autocannnons hanging slack now that the crew has disembarked. Blinking away the haze, you spot about ten men including the one waving a gun in your face.

No, not ten men. Nine men and one woman. Ischia Gresh stands with her back to you, her attention focused on the ruins of the telescope.

“Didn't think that one through, did you?” Caliban spits, “You stupid bitch, you blew up the prize that you wanted so much. So much for-” The sound of a fist striking flesh cuts him off, and you wince as if you were the one struck. Slowly, Ischia turns and studies you all with a dubious eye. Then, leaning down so that her face is an inch away from yours, she smirks.

Under any other circumstances, you wouldn't mind being this close to her. She's a beautiful woman, Ischia Gresh, with straight black hair and smooth skin the colour of expensive clay. A delicate gold chain hangs from her earlobe to her nostril, and you hear it jangle whenever she shift in place. “I will admit,” she murmurs, “This wasn't entirely according to plan. Improvisation has never been by strongest point. Dear Luther was always better at that... and it didn't end well for him, either.”

She glances aside, then, and you see Gresh lying in the rubble nearby – his neck twisted at a sickly angle, while his eyes are glassy and dead.

[1/2]
>>
>>3041949
>The grand telescope, once the centrepiece of this place, now collapses around you like so much scrap.
Man what a waste. I think we've made every wrong decision here. The main takeaway is that we should be blowing pirates out of the sky. Too much drama otherwise.
>>
>>3041966
Gresh seemed alright. If only his sister wasn't a greedy idiot.
>>
>>3041978
I'm just irritated cause if this place held any clue on how not to implode when taking the throne we just lost it.
>>
>>3041949

Straightening up, Ischia raises her hand and gives an expansive gesture. “Search the area!” she orders, “Scavenge what you can from the ruins. Even a fragment is worth something to the right buyer.” As she looks away, you shift your aching body a little. You don't even try to rise, but that's enough to make Ischia's soldier shove you back down to the ground. Grimacing, you take a quick glance around at your companions. Caliban is sitting sullenly back, blood seeping from his split lip, while Freddy watches the unfolding scene carefully, waiting for the first hint of an opening. Grace looks... calm, calmer than anyone else here, while Trice stews in her anger.

“You killed your own brother,” the provost spits, “Do you understand what you've done? You won't ever be able to wash this stain away!”

Ischia turns back, and just for a moment you wonder if you see regret in her eyes. Then, she looks calmly away. “Shoot them. Search the bodies for anything of value,” she sneers, “Any jewellery, that curious weapon, anything that-” She is interrupted, here, by the heavy sound of stone crashing against stone. Immediately alert, Ischia points to three of her men. “Go, find out what made that noise,” she orders, “Go nowhere alone, and report back if you find anything. Shoot on sight. I don't care who it is.”

Shooting on sight might not be enough for them. Who else could it be outside, save for your ace in the hole?

“You should have just walked away, Captain Vaandemere,” Ischia purrs, kneeling back down to look you in the eye, “But I'm glad that you didn't. I've been aching for a chance to see you die, ever since you murdered Carmen. Tell me one thing, at least – did you give her a clean death? Was it just business for you? Did you-”

“Can't you count?” you interrupt, grunting softly as Ischia slaps you across the face. It's not a hard blow, but it cuts your sarcastic reply short.

“Speak!” she demands, pulling a small knife – small, but wickedly curved – out of her belt and holding it against your cheek.

>Go to hell, Ischia. I'm not telling you anything
>Caliban was the one who killed her, not me
>Rusalka got what she deserved. That's all there is to it
>I'll tell you this... (Write in)
>Other
>>
>>3042039
> Why do you care, you just killed your own brother.
>>
>>3042039
So what she to you? Friend? Lover? Doesn’t really matter now anyways. She was mad, she either wanted to make everyone hurt as she did or an end. So she got put down like the mad bitch she was. I hope losing your ship was worth the shot at killing me.


Keziah break I want that ship out of my sky.
>>
>>3042039
>I'll tell you this....
weave a grand but enough distorted tale of how Rusalka died to keep ischia listening while masque does his thing.
>>
>>3042039
>I'll tell you this... (Write in)
"I was chasing Sinclair Ischia. I gave Rusalka a chance to walk away and leave him after he threw her men's lives away, but she was too angry and stupid to listen to reason. How she died? She took a rifle shot during a firefight and that was that. I don't know how clean you'd count that."

We just need to keep her distracted while Masque Agent 47's everyone.
>>
>>3042039
Seconding >>3042052
>>
“Why do you care?” you spit, “You just killed your own brother. Don't pretend that you've got any standards!”

Ischia lets out a soft hiss of anger, then grabs your face tightly in her hand. Elegantly manicured nails dig into your cheek as she raises the knife until it hangs in front of your eye. This close up, it's damn near impossible to focus on the blade. “It matters,” she whispers to you, “Because I wanted Luther dead and I wanted Carmen alive. She was useful to me, and he wasn't. Furthermore, it matters because I'M the one in charge here. I'm giving the orders, and I order you to speak. If you don't want to talk, I'm happy to cut the tongue from your head.”

Just keep her distracted, that's all you've got to do. Masque is out there somewhere, hopefully cutting his way though whoever comes his way. You just need to give him time to work. “Fine. I'll talk. I don't think you'll like what I have to hear, though,” you begin, choosing your words carefully, “I was chasing Sinclair, not Carmen. You know Sinclair? You know the sort of company that your friend was keeping... or was she more than a friend to you?” Ischia says nothing to this, her ink-black eyes offering no hint either way, but she slowly lowers the knife from your eyes. “I gave her the chance to walk away. I really did,” you add, “But she wouldn't take it. She preferred to throw away the lives of her men because of her stupid anger.”

“Captain,” one of Ischia's soldiers mutters, “The others should have been back by now. There isn't many places to check around here. We should-”

“Quiet. I'm BUSY,” Ischia snarls, pointing her curved knife at the man, “Go and find them. That's an order.” Looking back to you, she bares neat white teeth in a grimace of anger. “How did she die?” the knife reappears as she presses, “I want... I need to know!”

Pausing, you watch as another group of fighters leave. Another three men gone. The odds are looking more friendly now. “Keziah,” you think, reaching out with your thoughts, “The Echidna is hostile. I want it out of my sky.”

“We're working on it, boss,” the witch replies tersely, “It's on the move, we can't get a shot on it. Fast little bastard, this thing, and the debris field isn't helping. Call it a work in progress.”

“Fine,” you say aloud, “You want to know how Rusalka died? She was shot down like a mad dog, and it was exactly what she deserved.” Ischia's eyes widen with anger as she takes this in. “So now you know,” you jeer, “Was it worth losing everything for?”

Just as you finish saying this, as if adding insult to injury, a long burst of automatic gunfire rattles out. Ischia starts to pull back, looking around for the source of the gunfire, but you're quicker than her. Jolting forwards, you headbutt her roughly in the face and send her sprawling. The knife falls from her hand, clattering amidst the rubble.

[1/2]
>>
>>3042039
Backing >>3042063

We gave her chances to walk away and she refused. Maybe you can learn from her mistakes.
>>
If one of our companions refused to betray us, and later their killer told us they were too angry and stupid to listen to reason, I wonder how anons would react?
>>
>>3042165
Carmen did actually somewhat betray Sinclair. Remember when we gave her the offer to walk away there was fighting and a mutiny. It's how Dwight joined us. But at the end of the day she wanted to fight cause she was pissed off we damaged her ship and at the Iraklins who we were working for.

If I'm remembering correctly.
>>
>>3042171
I think the Iraklins were the main reason.
>>
>>3042178
They tend to raise people's ire don't they?
>>
>>3042129

With a loud crash, a thrown body flies through the open door and slams against the wall. Following closely behind it, Masque lunges and buries his cleaver in the closest soldier. As the survivors turn and raise their rifles, your team pounces. Kicking out and snapping one man's knee sideways, Trice knocks her target low as Freddy grabs him, roughly twisting his head around with a crack of bone. Gleefully taking revenge on the man who struck him, Caliban pulls the final man to the ground and straddles him. Just before you look hastily away, you see him slamming the man's head repeatedly against the rubble.

But you've got more important things to worry about. With blood fouling her beautiful face, Ischia is up and running back towards the skiff. Snatching the fallen knife up out of the ruins, you leap after her. She reaches the craft first, slipping into the cockpit and reaching into a small compartment. You catch her there, wrapping an arm around her neck and pressing the curved knife to her throat. She freezes, her hand still buried in the compartment.

“Don't do it,” she hisses, “You don't want to kill me, Vaandemere.”

“Actually, I rather DO want to kill you,” you correct her, “And I'm in a perfect position to do it. If you're going to bargain with me, you'd better have something really good.”

Ischia takes a moment to think it over. “I do, in fact. I have the real prize that this place was hiding. It's delicate, oh so delicate. I could smash it, and you wouldn't ever be able to put it back together. All I need to do is clench my fist. Shed even a single drop of my blood, and I'll do just that,” she whispers, “But if you let me go, and step out of this skiff, I'll give it to you. I leave with my life, and you live with the real prize. How does that sound?”

“The real prize?” you ask, feeling your grip on the knife growing sweaty, “What is it?”

“I don't exactly know. A glass cylinder, with tiny inscriptions. I rather think that you need a special device to read it,” Ischia explains carefully, “It was hidden inside the telescope. I'm sure it's valuable. Don't you want to walk away with the prize?”

As much as you DO want the prize, it's hard not to be suspicious. If nothing else, the Eliza has a compartment like that, and Freddy likes to keep a spare pistol in there. “Show me, then,” you order, “I don't trust you not to have some trick up your sleeve.”

Letting out a soft growl, Ischia carefully pulls out an object. It's glass, it's a cylinder, and it certainly looks delicate enough. “Well?” she asks sweetly, “Do we have a deal?”

>Agree to the deal – her life in exchange for the prize
>Refuse the deal, and cut her throat
>Other
>>
>>3042214
>>Agree to the deal – her life in exchange for the prize
>Report her to the Qarths and Iraklins for kinslaying and murder.
>>
>>3042214
>Agree to the deal – her life in exchange for the prize

Better than going home empty handed.

>Other
'Keziah if you spot an Iraklin skiff heading back to the Echinda make it a priority to blast out of the sky.'
>>
>>3042214
"Place it in my hand. You seem spiteful enough to break it the moment I get out. You may be a deceitful bitch but I honor my deals. If you give me that I will not kill you."

Keyword 'I'
>>
“Keziah,” you think out, “You're probably going to see a skiff coming your way soon. Iraklin model, a troop transport. If you see it, have Gunny blast it out of the air. Is that clear?”

“Uh... hearing you loud and clear, boss,” Keziah thinks back, “We'll keep a look out for them. Stay safe down there, okay?”

Nodding to yourself, you tighten your grip on the knife and think, just for a moment, about how nice it would be to see the look on Ischia's face when the Spirit of Helena blows her skiff out of the sky. At least you'll be able to imagine it. “A mutineer like you doesn't deserve a clean getaway,” you mutter, feeling Ischia's body tensing up against yours, “And neither does someone who kills family. But I guess we don't always get what we deserve. I accept your deal, but if you even think about crossing or cheating me...”

“Oh no,” Ischia purrs, “I wouldn't dream of-”

“Captain, we've swept the area. That was the last of them, and...” Freddy begins, climbing aboard the skiff and poking her head into the cockpit, “Captain, why is she holding a spare radio fuse?”

Silence. Dead silence. “Ah,” Ischia gasps, fumbling for some excuse, “You see, I must have picked up the wrong thing. They do feel so alike, and it's hard to concentrate when one has a knife at the throat. I assure you, I meant no-”

“You've got ten seconds to hand over the prize – if there was one in the first place – otherwise I'm going to open you up like an envelope. You can place it in my hand, too. I don't trust you not to smash it as soon as my back is turned,” you order, pressing the flat of the knife against her throat for emphasis, “Do that, and I give you my word that I won't harm you.”

Scowling, Ischia reaches back into the storage compartment and searches for a moment, pulling out another cylinder. This one definitely isn't a radio fuse – it looks more like crystal than glass, and tiny glints of gold and silver wink at you. Only when she's placed it delicately into your waiting hand do you take the knife away from her throat. Just for a fleeting second you feel tempted to HURT her, for no reason beyond petty spite. Shaking off the alien urge, you step back and jump out of the skiff.

“Go on then,” you tell her, “Have a good flight. If you want a piece of advice... go somewhere very far away, and don't come back.”

Hissing a curse, Ischia looks away from you and jams the skiff into a sharp ascent. With a reckless disregard for safety, it shoots straight up into the sky and hangs suspended for a moment before starting to move off. Then, in a bright flash of light, the skiff explodes into a rolling fireball.

“Well then,” Freddy murmurs to herself, “Nothing like a nice fireworks display, is there captain?”

[1/2]
>>
>>3042318

Sitting on a pile of rubble – rubble that might have been a priceless relic once upon a time – you turn the crystal vial over in your hands. It seems to weigh nothing at all, as if it had been spun out of the air. There's no way of knowing what secrets it might contain without devising a means of reading the inscriptions on it. A common magnifying lens might work, but you get the feeling that it's more complicated than that. These things always are.

A short distance away, Grace is collecting pieces of the shattered stone tiles, peering at the markings on them before either discarding or keeping them. As you watch, she casually heaves Gresh's body aside and picks up a dark, discoloured tile from beneath the corpse. Wiping tacky blood away with her sleeve, she nods with apparent satisfaction before moving on. Curiosity forces you to break your silence at last.

“So,” you ask her, “Can any of those be used?”

“This will be the final creation of Ibn'ah the Exile, the Heretic, the Free Thinker,” Grace reads aloud in response, “When it is finished, he will step forth and give himself to the void.” Looking around, she gives you a faint shrug. “Sometimes these sorts of things were written in the third person. This man, Ibn'ah, wrote his own epitaph,” she explains, “Before, I must assume, committing suicide. An exile, a heretic... and a free thinker. Very interesting. I wonder which thought it was that saw him sent into exile.”

Before you can answer that, Trice comes over to sit heavily by your side. “What a mess,” she groans, “I've taken another look at the site, and I don't think it's a complete loss. Nothing in Zenith really is – ANY new discoveries have value to them. It didn't exactly go to plan, but I'm glad I had you along with me. Light only knows what might have happened if I was here on my own.”

“I'll call that a job well done, then,” Caliban agrees, idly dabbing at his split lip, “About our reward...”

“I wouldn't get your hopes up,” Trice replies gravely.

>Right, I think I'm going to close things here for today. I should be able to continue this next Friday, and I hope to have a bonus interlude on Wednesday
>Thank you for your contributions today!
>>
>>3042409
Well that was a clusterfuck, but at least everyone is okay. Except Caliban's face again.

So it seems like astrology gets you kicked out of Dogma's camp huh?

Thanks for running.
>>
>>3042409
Thanks for running!

The vial is weightless, you say? How high could we toss it?

Also you write too well for a human. I've started a bit myself and it's given me new appreciation for how well you can set the tone for spooky and dramatic scenes. Especially on a forum like this with goofy comments in between your posts.
>>
>>3042422
Astrology isn't forbidden - in fact, it was held in quite regard, at least on an aesthetic level. The problem comes when you start looking too closely and asking the difficult questions
>>3042502
I'd say you could toss the incredibly fragile, potentially unique relic pretty high, yeah. Just because you can do something, mind you, it doesn't mean that you should!
>>
>>3041598
Oof

>>3042583
How would Gresh have reacted if we took the shot?
>>
>>3042653
Probably very pissed until he realized his crew was mutinying.

Then doubly pissed but less so at us.
>>
>>3042653
Pretty distraught, I expect. He might even have tried to kill us for it, mutiny or no. It certainly wouldn't have been a pretty situation one way or another, but that just keeps life interesting!
>>
>>3042683
Hey speaking of them. What happened to the airships. Did Helena splash both of them? Did Megido fire?
>>
>>3042687
The Typhon went down entirely, but the Echidna fled the scene once the remaining crew realised their captain was down. I get the feeling that they won't be rushing in for round two.
The Megiddo Cannon wasn't used, partly because we weren't there to order its use. If we'd ended up back on the Helena, we might have needed it again. Just a precaution, really
>>
>>3042687
>>3042696
Best not to waste the one shot wonder.
>>
>>3042702
It's one shot per repairs. So we could have set down after this for a day got our shot back
>>
>>3042409
We should probably emphasize the mind effecting nature of the island.

Grace being totally unaffected by the death around her
We made a point of being extra aggressive in our dealing with Ischa.
Everyone being really agitated since we got here.

I mean being surounded by mutineers and smugglers wasn't the recipe for calm but everyone was a bit extra.
>>
>>3043416
free thinking? Perhaps he was a heretic because he went out of his way to purge himself of morals.
>>
>>3042231
I like you. You have good plans.
>>
>>3043416
Hey, hasn't this happened to us several times now?
>>
>>3043416
Yeah there was an odd amount of unnatural aggression

>Only when she's placed it delicately into your waiting hand do you take the knife away from her throat. Just for a fleeting second you feel tempted to HURT her, for no reason beyond petty spite. Shaking off the alien urge, you step back and jump out of the skiff.

>A short distance away, Grace is collecting pieces of the shattered stone tiles, peering at the markings on them before either discarding or keeping them. As you watch, she casually heaves Gresh's body aside and picks up a dark, discoloured tile from beneath the corpse. Wiping tacky blood away with her sleeve, she nods with apparent satisfaction before moving on.

Something to tell Trice to make a note of before she hands it over to the Church

>>3043857
Zenith islands, the big ones always seem to have some kind of mind affecting power. Some subtle, some overt
>>
>>3044213
Yo mommas big islands mind control people.
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Branwen Mac Hillborg de na Flùraichean, whose name seemed wildly out of proportion with her diminutive size, was busy. She was exploring. It was a new experience, living aboard this great iron beast, and she wasn't sure if she liked it yet. There was always some new noise to startle her, and on more than one occasion she had found herself growing at a noisy pipe or some other piece of nonsense. Still, it wasn't all bad – these clothes that she had found lying about, for instance. They were so... soft, especially compared with the scratchy goat's wool garb she had grown up with.

Now, she was on the prowl to find something else to do. Something novel, ideally, something new. Picking a room at random, she nudged the door open and let herself inside, wrinkling her brow with distaste at what she saw there. Stacks of those paper things – no real interest – and not much else. There was a smell of food, though, which was enough to draw her in. Without even pausing to consider matters of privacy, she began to open one drawer after another until she found the prize – a box of candied fruit.

Halfway through eating the sweets, Branwen felt a tingle forming at the base of her spine. Beneath several layers of expensive Azimuth cloth, her tiny tail began to lash nervously from side to side. Slowly turning, she realised that one of the people was here, staring down at her. She wasn't used to their names yet, and she often forgot them even after learning them, but she vaguely recognised this boy. His clothes tended to have the faint smell of candles about them.

“Ah, um, can I... help you?” Candles asked, fumbling awkwardly for something to say as he looked down at the Nadir girl.

“Lots of noise before,” Branwen replied, rising up and wiping sugar off her lips, “Shaking, explosions, yelling. Were we fighting?”

“Er, yes, I think we were. I think we won,” Candles laughed nervously, running a hand through his floppy gold hair, “We must have done, I mean. If we had lost, I don't think we would be having this conversation. Ah, what I meant to say is... did Grace lend you those clothes?”

Looking down at clothes as if seeing them for the first time, Branwen plucked at the hem of her long skirt. “Grace. Um... Spiced Smoke?” she ventured, miming the act of smoking, “With the pipe?”

“Oh, I was sure that she had given that up,” Candles sighed, “Well, um, I was making dinner just now. Sort of an awkward time for a meal, but I think we're all hungry after that excitement. We're having-”

Before he could finish that sentence, Branwen leant forwards and took a deep breath, tasting the air around him. “Pig?” she guessed, looking at the boy's flushed red face, “Right?”

“Ah, well, pork, but... yes, right,” he stammered, “Would you like-”

“I'm very hungry,” Branwen agreed, stepping away from him and walking out of the room.

[1/3]
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>>3048054

Gathered around the dinner table, Branwen was too busy cramming down her pig... pork to really pay much attention to the conversation. Engine Oil was here, eagerly talking about the guns or something of the sort, but Branwen couldn't have followed the conversation even if she wanted to. Too technical by far. She was more concerned about his name – it was really something she should learn, because several other people here smelled of engine oil as well. It was a wonder that anything at all got done aboard the ship in this state. Didn't these people get confused?

“I dinnae ken how you do it, Gunny,” the other Engine Oil joked, her words so muddled that Branwen could barely understand her, “Skiffs are tiny wee things, they fly bloody fast, and you were still able to swat one outta the sky. I just dinnae ken what your secret is.”

“Well, captain's orders. He wanted it done, so it got done,” the old man replied, wedging a cigarette in his mouth. Another complication – Cigarette Smoke was already taken, taken by the skinny man who liked to sleep a lot. “You're awfully quiet, girl,” he added, gesturing to Branwen, “Did the battle get you rattled? If it was your first time...”

“I didn't know we were fighting. I expected to see a lot more... fighting,” Branwen answered, brandishing her cutlery like weapons, “I thought you'd fight by getting close and... jumping across. You know, fighting like normal people.” Shrugging, she dropped her cutlery back down and began prodding at a bit of gristle stuck between her teeth. “You don't even know you're killing people this way,” she added, “It's not really fair, is it?”

An awkward pause. “Well, little sister, they could have shot us and then we would have been the ones who died,” Engine Oil Guy replied, “Course, we had a few advantages on our side...”

“And WHO do you have to thank for that?” Engine Oil Girl shot back, tapping her scrawny chest for emphasis.

“I don't know,” Branwen answered vaguely, “Who?”

“I...” the snake-eyed woman began, before slumping her shoulders and letting out a melodramatic sigh, “No, dinnae mind me. True genius is fated to go unappreciated, I suppose. At least I have pride in my own work. That's what's really important, after all...” Sighing again, and making sure that everyone heard it, she poured herself another cup of wine. They were a strange lot, these people, but Branwen liked them. They felt like family.

And, just like with family, they were best appreciated in short doses. “I'm done eating,” the young Nadir healer declared, rising from the table, “I'm going to see the doctor.”

[2/3]
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>>3048057

Barnum was one of the few members of the crew who Branwen could always remember. Part of it was necessity – despite the fact that he spent most of his time surrounded by chemicals and medication, he never smelled of much. So, Branwen HAD to remember his name. Plus, she liked him. His whispered voice and subtle manner was calming, and there was something tantalising about his habit of writing down what she told him. It was forbidden, and that was what made it so exciting.

“Take a seat,” Barnum whispered, taking out notebook and pen, “Now then, Branwen, what do you want to talk about today? Last time, I believe, we were discussing soporific-”

“Last time. You said something,” Branwen interrupted, “You said that I was a very lucky girl. What did you mean by that?”

Barnum's eyes widened a little, a pleasant surprise entering his features. “Why, I meant no offence by it. You are lucky, Branwen, because you have had the privilege of meeting two great men – King Eishin, and our very own captain,” he explained, “I say “great”, but I make no claims towards their virtues. I speak only of the magnitude of their deeds. That is how you see things in Nadir, is it not?”

Branwen nodded. It was true – in many ways, Doctor Barnum knew more about Nadir ways than she did. “Do you know what makes some men truly great?” the doctor continued, “Their dreams, Branwen. In their dreams, they see the world as they want it to be. Dreams are important things. When I was a young man, I recorded my own dreams quite carefully. I might still have my old dream diary somewhere...”

“Dream... diary,” Branwen repeated, those two words seeming to hold a great and talismanic power. Her hand twitched as she spoke, jerking in mute imitation of writing. Smiling, Barnum wrote the two words out on a fresh sheet of notebook paper.

“Like this, you see?” he told her, showing Branwen the page. As he did this, his smile twitched a little at the sight of the food stains on the girl's clothing. “I think you should change into something clean,” he suggested, “You have a change of clothes, do you not?”

“Yes,” Branwen assured him, “I can change. I'll do it now.”

-

Later, as Branwen was rummaging through Spiced Smoke's drawers in search for something to wear, she found a slim leather book. Normally, that wouldn't be much of a surprise – she had a lot of those book things – but this time, Branwen recognised the words printed on it cover. “Dream diary,” she read aloud, idly flipping it open and glancing down the unfamiliar words. There were only a very few that she could read, but one word seemed to jump out at her.

“Kegare...” Branwen whispered to herself.

>This concludes the (late) bonus episode for this week. Regular updates will resume on Friday
>Thank you for reading along!
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>>3048059
Uh oh. Is Grace dreaming about Impurity?
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>>3048059
This was supposed to be cute, why is this sinister instead?
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>>3048269
It was 95% cute
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>>3048059
We need to start calling people Engine Oil. Keziah especially.
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>>3048059
Barnum. Please instruct Branwen on the nature of Owned Clothes.
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>Just posting a quick update here to explain the situation. A relative has fallen quite seriously ill, and I need to head into hospital to see them while I still can. I don't know if or when I'll be able to run this weekend, but I'll post updates as I know more about the situation
>Thank you for your patience, and I apologise for this unexpected disruption. I'll try and get things back to normal as soon as possible
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>>3050485
Shit, man.
Take as much time as you need.
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>>3050485
Best wishes Moloch
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>>3050485
I hope your relative recovers.
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Enough of the stairs remain for you to climb back up to the top of the observatory and sit at the edge of the ruined floor. Idly kicking your feet back and forth, you look up into the night sky. A thin layer of clouds have closed in, shrouding the moon in a haze, but that doesn't seem to have any effect on the ruins. The air still glows, as it normally does in these Zenith structures, but you can't recall ever seeing it glow under the open sky. It's uncanny, seeing misty tendrils of the light reaching out into the empty air. It's like watching steam rising off a pan of boiling water, only... bright.

Feanor's sword lies across your lap, the ruined blade exposed to the air. You're curious to see what he makes of a place like this – either way, though, you feel fairly confident in guessing that it won't be kind. When the apparition takes form beside you, you're not disappointed.

“Imagine the kind of life that would allow a man to spend hours, days, on end, staring up into the sky,” the shade mouths, his silent words still carrying venom, “Weak. A safe, pampered life. Why care about the sky? It does not fall down and crush you, that is enough for any honest man to know.”

“I'm sure,” you reply breezily, “What about dishonest men?”

“Dishonest men get the death they deserve, as a lesson to all those who might follow their example,” Feanor shoots back. His lips draw back to reveal sharp teeth, and you feel terribly exposed beneath his scrutiny. “You are a man living under a shadow. Somewhere in this world, there is a doom meant for you – and it approaches, day by day,” the spirit continued, his words both gloating and sympathetic, “Do you really think that you can escape it? Or perhaps you seek to master it?”

Laughing humourlessly, you shake your head. “Right now, I'd be happy just knowing what to expect,” you correct him, “I don't like the idea of some formless disaster waiting in the shadows.”

Feanor is silent for a moment. He always is silent, of course, but now he doesn't even mouth any reply for a while. Then, at last, he gives you a bitter smirk. “As one who has walked this path before, I give you this advice,” he remarks, “Abandon this futile hope. There is nothing to gain by staring at the stars. When disaster finds you – and it will – you must meet it head on. Fight back. Defeat it... destroy it. There is nothing that cannot be killed.”

“I wonder...” you sigh. It's a typically blunt suggestion, but you'd be lying if you said it had no appeal whatsoever. “So,” you add after a pause, “Do you really think-”

“Talking to yourself?” Trice interrupts, her voice coming from the top of the stairs, “Or talking to God?”

Glancing around, you give the provost an ironic shrug, your reply deliberately ambiguous.

[1/3]
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>>3052509

“Tell me something, and don't think too hard about your answer,” you ask Trice, “How are you feeling? About all this, I mean.”

True to your request, Trice doesn't even pause to think for a split second. “I'm damn angry about it, to tell you to truth,” she answers, “Can you blame me? Look at this place, the mess those heathens made. This place should have been treated with respect, not used as the site for their grubby little squabble.” Scowling hard, the provost draws in a breath and forces herself to calm. “So, yes, I'd say that I'm annoyed,” she concludes, “Why do you ask?”

“Because I've felt the same way, and I think this place might have something to do with it. These Zenith ruins, you know, they can have this influence over people...” you finish this with a shrug, “Anger, though, that's strange.”

“Is it?” Grace offers, her voice rising up from down below. Both you and Trice jolt a little at the sound, and you lean over the edge to see the young scholar sitting thoughtfully atop the rubble. “The man who built this place, this Ibn'ah, was an exile. He was banished here, presumably for some petty crime,” she continues, “If that was you, wouldn't you be angry? His anger is woven into the very core of this place.”

A brief silence answers this. “Then we'd best not remain here any longer than we need to. That's what I originally came here to talk to you about. I've radioed this in, and the church is sending out another ship to secure the site. It should be here by sunrise... apparently. I think we should remain here until they arrive, just to make sure that nothing else goes wrong,” Trice continues, “Second of all, I was searching the bodies and I found something interesting. Here, I took this off the sage.”

Taking out a small leather notebook, Trice hands it across to you. A record of misdeed, along with a surprisingly short list of contacts. Most of them are crossed out, marking associates who have retired, vanished or died, but a few remain open. Trice points to one in particular, and you raise an eyebrow in surprise. “Leto Abelli. Carth landowner, wealthy gentleman and collector of rare items,” you read aloud, “One of Gresh's potential buyers, I assume. Have you radioed this in as well?”

“Not... yet,” Trice replies with a faint grimace, “We're not meant to discuss things like this – men and women of status – over the radio. People might be listening in, and even the hint of a scandal might embarrass the church. Better to handle matters like this personally – and that means paying Abelli a visit.”

“An unannounced visit,” you add, “Terribly rude.”

“What a shame,” Trice remarks, a humourless smile tugging at one corner of her mouth.

[2/3]
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>>3052510

“So!” you announce, once you're all back down on ground level, “Provost Trice says that we need to wait here until sunrise, when the church can take over properly.”

“That's right. They'll assess the site, and then decide what kind of reward you'll be due. Speaking bluntly, don't expect much – a grateful handshake and the offer of a few prayers said in your name, that might be your best guess. It's nothing personal, so don't get offended,” Trice explains, “If you're willing to stay here with the Spirit of Helena and guard the ruins, I was planning to take my skiff and speak with Abelli. Even if he's not guilty of anything, I don't like leaving loose ends.”

“Oh, I see. I was going to ask if you would do me a small favour. You see, I wanted to visit Saint Alma's Academy, to see if their archives had any reference to this place. I have a theory that I'd like to follow up,” Grace sighs, “Miss Lhaus, would you be willing to fly me over there?”

“Of course. I don't see much use in sitting around here until sunrise,” Freddy agrees, “Nothing left here but ruins.”

As dismissive as she is, you wonder if that's quite right. This place does lie in ruins, she's not wrong there, but you feel like something might remain. Nothing physical, but the shadow that Ibn'ah the Exile left upon this place. You've felt his anger already, but who could say what else might be teased out of this place?

“Well, I suppose we'd best get to work,” Caliban drawls, sitting down on some broken ruins and making himself comfortable. Work, he says.

>Remain in the ruined observatory until dawn
>Accompany Grace to Saint Alma's Academy
>Track down Leto Abelli with Trice
>Discuss an issue with the team... (Write in)
>Other
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>>3052511
>Remain in the ruined observatory until dawn
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>>3052511
>>Remain in the ruined observatory until dawn
I'll bite
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>>3052511
>Track down Leto with Trice
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>>3052511
>Remain in the ruined observatory until dawn
Milos could do with a little anger, maybe. Gotta grind some wrath to reach godlaying fury.
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“You're right, we'd better get to work here,” you agree, giving Caliban a firm nod, “I'd better stay and keep an eye on things. Otherwise, nothing would get done.” Leaving the hunter to sigh in weary dismay, you look around to the two skiff pilots. “Freddy, you take Grace to Saint Alma's. If she needs help with any of the heavy lifting, be sure to lend a hand,” you order, gesturing to Trice, “Can you investigate Abelli on your own? I don't want to leave the observatory until your allies get here.”

“Sensible, considering what happened. The Echidna could still be prowling about, although I doubt it. They'd have to be pretty foolish to risk their lives again, so soon after getting away,” Trice stretches, covering up a yawn before gesturing across to the waiting skiff, “I'll hit up the capital on my way down, see if I can grab someone to come with me. Pull Abelli's file while I'm there, see if he's ever been in trouble for anything...” Still muttering to herself, the provost turns and strides out. A short moment later, you hear the sound of an engine powering up. When Freddy leaves as well, taking Grace with her, you're left alone with Caliban.

“So...” the hunter muses, “What work are we supposed to be doing, exactly?”

“I'll let you know when I've figured it out,” you reply, heading back up the stairs to the ruined floor above.

-

Settling down on your earlier perch, you look up into the sky and deliberately empty your mind of all thoughts. This way, you theorise, you'll be open to anything that these ruins have to tell you. It's not so different from when you tried to make contact with Dogma, and... actually, you can't remember what it was like when you involuntarily reached out to Impurity. Maybe you were just too drunk to focus on any one thought, and that opened you up to his influence. The church does warn against poisoning the body with impure liquor, after all.

Now that you're thinking about it, you could really do with a spot of impure liquor. Something to warm you up and soothe your nerves, that's all. Thinking about what happened here, about everything that has happened, you feel a spiteful anger starting to smoulder within the pit of your stomach.

“Hello, Ibn'ah,” you murmur, leaning into the anger and letting it flow through you. It moves like a living thing, worming through your mind and probing at the memories it finds there. It's a curious sensation, but for now you feel confident that it's... safe. Safe enough, at least, with little risk of lasting damage. Like holding your hands close to a flame, though, you know that getting too close could be painful, or even dangerous.

And so, clearing all doubt and hesitation from your mind, you open yourself up to the phantom anger.

[1/2]
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>>3052556

This is different to what you had been expecting – there's no sense of travelling elsewhere, no sense of movement involved. This is purely a mental change, images tenuously forming in your mind, and it holding onto the sensation pushes your concentration to its limits. Unlike with Impurity's journey into the Nightlands, you won't need to be escorted out of this place. Instead, you have to fight to remain here. What you see, then, is...

Confused. Unclear. What is a barren mountain peak one minute becomes a fully formed tower a moment later, and the two states constantly phase in and out of each other. Even so, you recognise the tower as Ibn'ah's observatory. Heading inside – and how much of this action is your choice remains uncertain – you hear a deep voice raised in a wordless song. Following the sound, you travel up to the top floor of the observatory itself, where you yourself sit back in reality. Ibn'ah sings, the bass drone of his voice causing the white stone around him to flow like water. Laced with anger, his song causes the hot anger to bubble up within you. Even so, you feel something else there. Something... peaceful.

Acceptance. After his anger, there came acceptance. His song becomes softer as he shapes the Abrahad stone into the great telescope that now lies in ruins beneath you. This, you watch with close attention, engraving as many details as you can onto your memory. Telescopes aren't exactly your area of expertise, but you might be able to learn something from the sights you witness here. As his song draws to a close, Ibn'ah raises his empty hand up towards the moonlit sky. The white light coalesces there, floating above his palm, and then it forms the glass vial that you now possess.

Reaching it to place it inside his telescope, Ibn'ah pauses and looks around in surprise. He's a powerful looking man, tall and muscular with loose robes that show off his chest in spite of the cold. For a few seconds, he looks straight through you with no hint of recognition, and then he turns away again. Leaning down, the exile peers into his telescope and-

And you lose it. Flickering between past and modern day, the vision finally settles on the modern day. Reaching up to touch your face, you feel the cold air against your skin once again. The anger is gone now, and knowledge remains in its place.

“Paper and pen!” you shout, hurrying down the stairs, “Get me some paper!”

Your words jolt Caliban up, and he thrusts a notebook at you – the book taken from Gresh's dead sage, you note, but this isn't the time to be picky. A pen follows, and you quickly get to work sketching what you saw.

[2/3]
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>>3052613

When you're finished, Caliban takes a moment to look at what you've drawn. “I have no idea what I'm looking at,” he admits, “Do you?”

“Not really,” you concede, “I mean, I do and I don't. I was able to pick up some bits and pieces, but not everything. This telescope has a number of mirrors in it, but one of them was special...” Shaking your head, you return to the pile of rubble and start sifting through it. Here and there, you spot pieces of shattered mirror sticking out from the rocks. No chance of salvaging anything usable from here, but maybe you can find something.

“What exactly are you doing?” Caliban asks bluntly, “Explain it to me in terms that a fool could understand. Don't just tell me to look at that diagram either, it looks like something a child would make.”

Whatever your skills are, artistic talent is not included there. “This one specific mirror reflected the light into a sealed part of the telescope, and that sealed section contained the glass vial,” you explain, “It doesn't seem to serve any practical purpose - the vial itself doesn't serve any practical purpose – but it has to be important. Perhaps the most important part of the entire telescope. Mirrors... what's the significance there?”

Silence for a moment, then Caliban lets out a clipped laugh. “Wait, were you asking me?” he remarks, “Exactly how am I supposed to know about any of this? Ask someone who goes to church, maybe they'll know something about it. I try to avoid mirrors these days.” Shaking his head, he gestures back towards the outside. “I'm heading back to the ship. They dropped a line down, so we won't need the Eliza to fly back,” he adds, “I'm surprised you didn't notice. Were you napping up there?”

“Not exactly...” you murmur, turning a long sliver of broken mirror glass over in your hands. Was this what Ibn'ah had been trying to tell you?

You'll think on it. It's a few hours until sunrise, so you've got time. Maybe you should sleep on it.

>Head back to the Spirit of Helena and rest
>Pass the time in some other way... (Write in)
>Other

>Sorry for the delay, I hit a bit of a block there
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>>3052689
>Head back to the Spirit of Helena and rest
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>>3052689
>Head back and rest

Would be nice if we like purified the island of the rage.
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>>3052689
>Head back to the Spirit of Helena and rest
the telescope could be all for gathering light into the cylinder and looking in it.....hmm.

Is the whole thing designed to read the LIGHT rather than the sky? Instead of working with abrahad or vague whispers, he was trying to look directly at the motes of light.
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>>3052689
>Head back to the Spirit of Helena and rest
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“Heading back sounds like a good idea,” you agree, speaking aloud to nobody in particular. Outside, the Spirit of Helena has descended lower in the sky to hang transfixed above the ruins. Two thick lines trail down from the cargo bay door, and you waste little time in hooking one to your belt. Tugging hard on the cord, you hear the faint whine of a motor starting up before you're yanked up off your feet. It's always more comfortable going down this way, going back up just seems... wrong. Like you're leaving a part of yourself back down on the ground.

Everything seems to be intact, though, and you check yourself over quite thoroughly before heading to your quarters. There, you sit heavily down and pour yourself a glass of brandy before taking out the glass vial and setting it down in front of you. Sipping your drink, you wait for an idea to strike. Nothing major hits, leading you to aimlessly search the drawer – Miriam's drawer, once – for something. You're certain that there was a magnifying lens in here somewhere, the sort used for maps.

When you find it, you lean in to take a closer look at the lens. The delicate glass surface is covered in tiny silver symbols, but when you take a magnified look at it... the symbols are nowhere to be seen. They vanish under close inspection, leaving you with nothing to work with. The urge to hurl the glass vial against the wall, you tell yourself, must be a lingering remnant of Ibn'ah's ancient anger. Definitely.

Successfully resisting the urge to destroy a unique relic of some bygone age, you throw back the last of your drink and collapse back onto your bed.

-

After a deep and dreamless sleep, you wake to a profound sense of disorientation. Stumbling onto the bridge, you look out the window to see another airship hanging low above you. The church ship, you figure, here to answer Trice's hail. Behind you, the click of a lighter causes you to look around, and you see Dwight sitting slumped in the chair. Touching a finger to his lips, the pilot nods to a bundle of coats lying at the far side of the bridge. Branwen seems to have made a nest here, rather than in the quarters she was given.

“No, I don't get it either,” Dwight agrees, reading your expression, “But hey, she seems happy enough. I had a dog like that when I was a kid, it would sleep all manner of dumb places. Once it went to sleep sitting atop a big cupboard, and it couldn't jump down afterwards. Just howled until someone carried it down.”

“Uh...” you reply, searching for some way to reply to that, “Have you heard from Grace or Trice?”

Nodding sagely, Dwight takes a thoughtful draw on his cigarette. “The Eliza is on her way back now. Should be back soon enough,” he explains, “And the provost said that we shouldn't wait for her. Going to be busy down in Carthul, apparently.”

Never a dull moment.

[1/2]
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>>3052762

After a short and almost painfully brusque meeting with Captain Daniels, the volunteer captain of the Carth ship, you don't have long to wait before the Eliza appears on the horizon. Although he never says it aloud, Daniels clearly blames you for the sad state of the ruins. Not even you specifically, just the kind of man that you are – just another Free Captain rampaging through the land looking for profit, or so he seems to think. Changing his mind would have been more trouble than he deserved, so you let him think what he wanted to think. After he gave you an official letter of thanks on behalf of the church, he returned to his ship, the Diadem.

“Good riddance,” you mutter, waving across to the Eliza as Grace and Freddy climb out. The young scholar looks smug, almost triumphant, and you feel a flush of optimism. “Welcome back!” you call over, “What did you find?”

“Nothing at all!” Grace replies, rubbing her hands together with glee, “Exactly as I had predicted – there was nothing at all that mentioned Ibn'ah by name.”

“Grace,” Freddy warns, “It might be best if you keep this simple.”

Frowning prettily, the scholar rubs her eyes. Judging by how red they are, she hasn't slept at all for quite some time. “Yes, I suppose you might be right. Very well then. The ancient Zenith people were quite good about keeping records, especially names. I searched every list I could find, especially those related to educated men or stargazers, but I couldn't find any trace of his name – what I did find, though, was an absence,” Grace stresses this word, “He wasn't just exiled, his name was struck from all records... as I had been expecting.”

In the space of a few seconds, your optimism sours and turns to frustration. “This isn't very helpful,” you state bluntly, trying not to snap at the girl.

“I know. Blame Dogma and his flock, not me – I wouldn't have destroyed any knowledge that displeased me. Frankly, the idea offends me,” she replies with a coy smile, “But it did get me thinking about the academy. It's technically a church institution, but it has a certain degree of freedom to teach what it likes. People can study all manner of subjects there, and all knowledge is welcome – even knowledge of taboo things. But I wonder... if Dogma descended tomorrow and remade the world in his image, do you think the academy would please him?”

Glancing aside and meeting Freddy's eyes, the Iraklin just shrugs helplessly. There's something that Grace is leaving out, and now she's testing you with these questions. Daring you to answer, to judge by the looks in her reddened eyes, but what kind of answer is she looking for?

>No, I don't think the academy would please him
>Yes, I think Dogma would respect the academy
>I think... (Write in)
>Other
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>>3052800
>No, I don't think the academy would please him
From what Arah told us, his previous civilization wouldn't have allowed studying taboo and everyone has been implying Dogma's next try would be even stricter.

Still Dogma is currently in a messed up state right now, something about split personalities one angry, one crying out for help? It's hard to say what a dysfunctional Dogma would do in it's current state.
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>>3052800
>>No, I don't think the academy would please him
>But by the same token Impurity would see it as weak, as something to be broken and subjugated beneath the heels of the strong.
>Really neither one of them want us to truly think for ourselves, just follow their lines and dance to their tunes.
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>>3052800
>Probably not
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>>3052800
>Maybe it'd piss Impurity off so much that Dogma would be pleased.
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>>3052800
>Not as he is now. If we complete him, I hope he would.
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>>3052848
Mending him requires giving him the power. I wouldn't put my faith in a vain hope he goes against his nature and doesn't completely subjugate humanity
>>
“No, I don't think the academy would please Dogma,” you answer simply, “From what we've all learned, his previous civilisation wouldn't have allowed the teaching of taboo knowledge. That won't change – if anything, a newly empowered Dogma could be even more strict. You knew this already, though, didn't you?” Grace doesn't answer this, either to admit it or deny it, and so you continue on. “But I don't think we can know for certain. Dogma, as he is now, is damaged – broken,” you explain, “And that damage is causing him to lash out. If he could be made whole, his rule might be more benevolent.”

“Is that something you're willing to gamble on?” Grace wonders aloud, “To gamble the fate of the whole land on?”

“I'm curious. Do you think that Impurity would look fondly upon it?” you ask instead, “He might see it as a weak place, to be brought low and subjugated.”

“Strength and power are not the same thing. Look at the witches – they aren't strong, but their rites and the spirits they call grant them power. It would be a mistake, I think, to assume that Impurity urges ignorance upon his followers. Eishin sought to suppress knowledge, it's true, but his actions were rooted in superstition and an urge to control. It doesn't have to be so,” she argues, “So yes, I think that Impurity would look fondly upon the academy – certainly in comparison with Dogma.”

“With the incomplete Dogma,” you point out, a correction that Grace waves away with a casual gesture. “In either case, both powers are trying to meddle in our affairs. I want to know if there's another way... hopefully a way that doesn't involve killing both of them,” you continue, “I believe that Ibn'ah might have known something about that, but to learn what he knew...”

Sighing, Grace brushes a lock of hair away from her tired eyes. “So you need knowledge,” she ventures, “Taboo knowledge, say?”

This time, you're the one who sighs. “If that's what you want to call it, yes,” you concede, “Were you able to learn anything at all? If not about ibn'ah himself, but about telescopes, mirrors, anything like that?”

“Mirrors. I did find some references to those, yes,” Grace admits, slowly flexing her gloved fingers, “Not a lot, mind you.”

“You said you didn't find anything,” Freddy mentions, her voice soft and almost disappointed, “Why didn't you tell me?”

Finally, you see a flicker of guilt in Grace's eyes. “That's not...” she begins, a weak note of protest in her voice, “You asked me about solid leads. You said – you specifically said – that you weren't interested in abstract scholarship. That's what you said.”

“Never mind that,” the Iraklin decides, shaking her head, “Abstract scholarship is better than nothing... I think.”

[1/2]
>>
>>3052886

As she thinks, Grace idly tugs at the thin leather gloves she wears. “I had a hunch, so I checked the list of recovered artefacts and relics. It's a record of... well, exactly what it sounds like, all the various items recovered from Zenith and other sites throughout the land, sites thought to be associated with Zenith. It's terribly long in full, but there are smaller sections to... What I mean is, I found a reference to mirrors within the list,” she begins, “Several examples, given the name of “thousand year mirrors”. According to the information, they were special ritual mirrors that could only be made by the painstaking work of a saint – that's their term for one of their holiest men.”

“Okay, this is good,” you muse, “So what did these thousand year mirrors do?”

“They were items of ritual significance – which means that we don't really know,” she answers with a hint of a smirk, “But they were very rare. The records were a little unclear, but I gather that all of the recovered examples were brought back down to Carthul. What happened after that, I couldn't say. Hidden away in some dusty vault somewhere, I assume. What a sorry fate for a-”

“Um...” a new voice interrupts, “Did you say a thousand year mirror?” You all turn to see Blessings standing at the far end of the cargo hold. Blinking in confusion, as if he was the one who had been surprised, he hurries over to join you. “I've seen one of those before. It was in a museum. In... um, Senesca. Have you ever been?” he continues, “I was just a boy then, so I don't remember it all that well. It was very beautiful, though.”

You'll confess, the name means nothing to you. When he notices your confusion, Blessings lets out a quiet little laugh. “Ah, well, I don't blame you for not knowing. They call it “the hidden city” for a reason. Well, I mean, the reason is that they don't include it on maps. Back in the day, it was said that the Lord of Rising Light would guide pilgrims there. It's not a big city, but it has a lot of schools. Um... priest schools,” he pauses here, “There's a word for that, isn't there?”

“A seminary, I think,” Grace tells him, glancing down at her hands to make sure that they're covered, “Are you suggesting that we steal this mirror?”

“No!” Blessings protests, his eyes widening so much that they look like they could pop out of his head, “No, not at all! I just mean we could... go and... look at it? They might be able to tell us about it, that's all.”

“Oh. That's probably the safer option,” Grace remarks as she starts to slink out, “Please excuse me, I need to check if my wardrobe has been raided again.”

“Oh dear...” Blessings whispers to himself as Grace leaves, “Is she... okay?”

>Leave Grace alone for now
>Follow after Grace. You need to talk
>Speak with Blessings some more... (Write in)
>Other
>>
>>3052966
>Follow after Grace. You need to talk
I have a feeling she thinks that because of her mutation she has to be an Impurity follower now. Which leads to her starting to act without restraint.
I don't think this is good.
>>
>>3052966
>Follow after Grace. You need to talk
>>
>>3052966
>Other
"She does seem agitated. Freddy, was she acting differently while you were with her? Has she slept at all?"

>Follow after Grace. You need to talk

>>3052983
That might be a little too meta from the interlude. I'm doing my best to pretend I don't know she is dreaming of Impurity.
>>
>>3052989
I don't remember what interlude you're talking about.
>>
>>3052989
>>3053005
By which I mean I didn't base my assumption on any interludes. This thread's GRace is completely unlike herself.
>>
>>3053005
Then I'm worrying over nothing. My bad.

As for the interlude see >>3048054
>>
Blessings, you remind yourself, wasn't present at the observatory – he hasn't seen what you've seen. He didn't see the way Grace casually, almost callously, pushed aside Gresh's corpse to get at a piece of interesting rubble. If he had seen that, he wouldn't have needed to ask. “I'll go and check on her,” you assure him, “Freddy, did she seem... okay while she was with you? Did she sleep at all while you were at the academy?”

“No. She was focused on her research. There was one...” the Iraklin pauses, “There was one incident. No, it was hardly anything that bad. Just, there was someone else in the library. An acquaintance of hers, it seemed like. She tried to talk to Grace, but Grace just rebuffed them and sent them away. I can't ever recall her being quite so rude to someone, much less a friend. At the time, I put it down to fatigue. Maybe that's all it was.”

“Maybe,” you agree, keeping your doubts to yourself, “I'll ask her about that as well. Just hold on, I'll see if she'll talk to me.”

You're fairly sure that she will. What she actually says, though... that's less certain.

-

The door to Grace's quarters is ajar when you reach it, and you can hear the young scholar moving about inside. Lightly knocking, you allow the door to swing open. Inside, you see Grace pacing back and forth as she looks into her wardrobe. “Someone's been IN here, and I know just who it was,” she complains, “Captain, I really must insist that you teach that Branwen girl the meaning of personal property. I fear that we might come to blows if you don't.”

“I'll talk to her,” you assure Grace, “You're not the only one she's been “borrowing” things from. I saw her wearing one of Dwight's jackets just the other day.” Reaching out, you tap her on the arm. “But I wanted to talk to you first,” you tell her, “You're... acting strangely. We're all tired, and we've been exposed to the influence of those ruins, but I think it's something more than that. Do you want to tell me anything?”

Before answering this, Grace slowly peels off one of her gloves and gazes down at the silvery scales covering her hand. The lights are dim, but they still glint whenever she gestures. “It was the academy. I shouldn't have gone back there,” she confesses in a hushed tone, “I thought that it had changed, but really I was the one who changed. When I was there, I saw... there was barely any life at all. It was lifeless, colourless, and it made me sick to my stomach. I said that there was taboo knowledge there, do you recall?”

“I do,” you tell her, “But I'm not sure that I understand your point.”

“There was taboo knowledge there, and the people just ignored it. One and all, they've chosen to turn away from it,” she hisses, “Instead, they've fled into a safe orthodoxy. It would be pitiable, if it wasn't so tiresome.”

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