The town Ilirra: Many refugees, some areas cordoned off for them. Marketplace deserted, people staying inside. Feeling we should leave asap. We go to see Strong in his nearby “Stronghold”. Polena worries about the church’s reaction to her use of magic; Strelok points out they don’t need to tell Strong. Polena reluctantly says this is true.
We are given separate rooms, our weapons are taken. Then Strelok, Zephyr, Hayden, and Sheila are put in a waiting room; Polena is not with us. Sheila is summoned to see Strong alone. Strong is sitting at his desk, not looking very happy; he looks disappointed, in fact, which is harder to deal with than angry Strong. There are no other chairs, so Sheila must stand. Strong says he’d “had more hopes from this mission than he probably should have had”. Sheila outlines our trek, including some creature encounters. Also: the corpse balls found in ruins and the city. Strong then asks how studies with Polena have been going. Sheila says she’s been improving. Strong agrees, yet the part of her they’d hoped would have been quelled in her time with Sheila had only gotten stronger. Polena is no longer welcome in the church. Strong suggests this may have resulted from Sheila’s poor choice in companions. He also says he’d been thinking of Sheila taking over his position one day, but clearly may not be suitable… Sheila snaps. She’s done all she’s been told, everyone has survived and contributed, gone through more than most could. Strong’s eyebrows nearly reach his hairline. Sheila concludes, and is overcome with an “oh shit what did I do” expression.
Strong: I see fieldwork has been hard on you; why I thought mentorship program would be suitable. By now you should have settled down and have your own students. Understand adventure is in your nature; however, not questioning your place in our flock, you are a valued member and did impeccably; however, “we have lost a young and brilliant girl from our group because it was difficult for your to multitask and guide her toward the light”. Not a failure on your part; a lack of aptitude for teaching. As I was saying, many other venues in the church that might better suit your nature. I do not plan to renew any contracts with your party. Clearly not aligned with our point of view; although effective mercenaries, little more than that. I understand your loyalty & sense of friendship with your group; willing to grant you a sabbatical to sort out your loose ends, at which point you can return—
Sheila: what good if world is ending?
Strong: We’re doing what we can…
Sheila: You need us. You need me, you need this group.
Strong: not my decision to make. I trust you, but you don’t have good graces with rest of council. Don’t test them. I strongly advise against it.
Sheila has had it. Especially because he went after Polena. She defends her ward passionately, saying Strong has not been there to see her accomplishments or growth. Also frustrated that he hasn’t even talked to any of us about the mission yet has decided it is done. She has done her duty. Skyler snickers. She says mentorship is more about character, about making sure they do things in the heart of Iomadae. Strong looks sad. He says he understands her feelings. But the church is very clear on the dangers of the unpredictable nature of arcane magic; they cannot abide a viper living amongst them. She’s shown great strength of character. Perhaps they can one day be allies. But as a member of our church… it is just not possible. Sheila says this situation is not working for her. Strong says he regrets that this might be their last conversation. He would not say this to anyone else. In ancient church lore, have been paladins who devoted lives to Iomadae as “heart wanderers”; did not attend church or belong to organization, instead independent bringers of her word. Isn’t that what Iomadae did herself? Few are strong enough to travel this path; none of chosen it in past 600 years. Strong says there is a ritual, and then Sheila will not receive help from the Church again. Sheila says she hasn’t really been getting help as it is. Strong says he is sorry she feels that way. The ritual will take place tomorrow at dawn. “You are dismissed.”
It is early afternoon. Zephyr gets a summons.
Zephyr is greeted happily, and shown to a chair. He comments on the parties progress and the loss of the mercenary and Hayden’s hand. Z informs him of the threat the information in the book contains and that the forest is not a current problem. Strong is confused at first and asks for context to her excitement. She explains how she came upon the book she has been translating. She explains how the bugs while a threat, are not nearly as important as the plague worms and their growing numbers and connection to Faramil. She also inquires about Hornswaggle and his work with the bombs. She volunteers the party to save the world. Strong is seriously disturbed and tells Z that they must immediately quarantine the entire east continent. He informs her that even though some ships did get through the blockade they are being quarantined in the bay. He also informs her the party will not be further employed by the church and that the church is pulling out entirely from the eastern continent. He looks forward to her continuing to work with the church on the bombs. Z expresses concern about the paladins being recalled, S informs her that those that wish to stay can. He expresses that the church simply cannot sacrifice their soldiers considering the current circumstances. They must protect their own and cannot focus on peoples that can only offer “Dust and horses”. He tells her that the creatures are growing in size and lessen in number. There is a wall separating Ardova and the northern parts of the continent. It has been holding, but that is currently the best hope. The creatures however are getting more dangerous as they grow. Z also inquires about Javid. He was killed. Euthanized. The weapon is nearing completion resulting in a steam powered grenade launcher. A trebuchet like launcher as well. The weapons will be stored and set up to be used in case of emergency infection or other breach of quarantine. Hornswaggle is still working on the crystal production but needs more resources to grow enough for mass productions. Zephyr asks if the weapons will then be sent to Oras; Strong admits that, no, they will not. They will be kept in Amas for its protection should the plague worms reach this continent. But can just cultivate more… Strong says it is very costly. Zephyr inquires as to whether that is from materials, or manpower; she is told the vast majority is paying people to do the work. She points out that people fighting to survive are unlikely to ask for wages; Strong offers to part with a prototype, and Zephyr accepts. She then asks for and receives directions to where Hornswaggle is working. It is several days away.
Meanwhile, 20 min after Zephyr summoned, Hayden and Strelok’s things are returned; told they would not be needed. Strelok asks about money; told they could stop by the treasurer. Sheila is awol (stormed off after meeting w/ Strong), and Polena was taken from the start. There aren’t sure where the women are. They go to the Hawk N Swallow inn for a drink. Hayden mentions he’s got money to blow; Strelok says: we can use that for planar travel. Hayden:…. Huh? (Would need to find an outsider already here to transport us, as we don’t have that tech) (Strelok tries to explain: Our universe is a pancake. There are an infinite number of pancakes. We can go to one of those other pancakes. Why haven’t others done it…? Difficult, expensive. Some leaders of Strelok’s college can do it. Hayden: “sure, why not. Could be fun. Hopefully less tentacley death.” Strelok also says we might try to do something about the problem here. Hayden is doubtful. Strelok says escape is a plan B. Hayden asks what plan A is; Strelok says it is to get drunk.
Back with Zephyr and Strong…
S gives Zephyr voucher for money, 24Kgold. Z goes searching for the rest of her group and does not find them. She then goes to the treasury to receive her payment. Bag of holding is good. She inquires about Sheila and Polena. She is informed that Polena left the city and is heading towards the train station. She asks for a rookery and sends a message to Polena to return. SCRAW!!! She then inquires about the boys and Sheila and is informed the boys went to a bar and that Sheila in the training yards beating the shit outta some poor noobs. They are terrified. Wimplow style. They conspire to reform the group. Z informs Sheila that she is going after Polena. She requests that Sheila find Strelok and Hayden in that time, as Zephyr has much she needs to say to the group. They will meet back here in 2 hours. Zephyr steals a horse. The stable boy is very accommodating. No not like that. sigh
Sheila finds the boys, surrounded by empty cups. They seem jovial. Sheila is tempted to have a drink herself. She takes a swig of one of their cups… and wonders why they like it. Sheila asks what their plans are. What about money? Z has. Where is Z? Going after P. Where is p?? What’s going on? Sheila briefly explains that church rejected Polena, Polena headed to train station, Zephyr currently fetching her back; Sheila also leaving church (they kicked YOU out? No… parting ways…) Hayden likens it to telling a fish to get out of the ocean. Sheila says she was apparently starting to swim upstream. So, Hayden asks what Sheila’s plans are. She says she will be doing nothing sanctioned by the church. Hayden is wondering why they are letting her go solo rather than kicking her out. Meanwhile, Strelok is asking about how the church does duels. He wants to challenge Strong.
Sheila explains she has a certain personality type that the church doesn’t welcome in their daily functions… Strelok: honorably discharged? Sheila: well, yeah. Strelok: So… pension? Sheila: no. Not connected to the church. Strelok to Hayden: What are you doing tonight? He proposes a party to celebrate Sheila leaving church. He holds up a glass and tells her she has eight or nine more to drink to catch up. (Throughout all this, Strelok keeps saying he should go get Polena, and Sheila explains Zephyr left already and etc.) Strelok realizes after being told 3rd or so time that Zephyr is meeting them with Polena in about 1.5 hr that he should sober up. He goes to bathroom, and Hayden asks what Sheila is going to do; wait. What? Wait? Disciple was kicked out, you are leaving the church, and you’re just going to wait? Strelok returns and says plan is to duel Strong, and then he and Hayden have extracurricular activites… H: eh? S: well, she’s not getting a pension… H: and they already fired us… and world is ending… there is a lot they won’t need… Sheila tuned them out at “extracurricular activities”. Strelok suggests he and Hayden case the place…
Zephyr comes upon a sad Polena sitting dejected on the side of the road. Out of her clerics robes she’s quite fashionable. Zephyr greets her casually and asks where Polena is going. Polena says she was thinking of going to the school Zephyr attended, since Zephyr had spoken so highly of it. Zephyr says that unlike what Polena told Strelok awhile back, it is not the case that she “has no where else to go”; she can stay with Zephyr. However, where Zephyr is going will be dangerous; she requests Polena come with her for the time being to meet up with the rest of the party, and Zephyr will explain everything. Then if Polena would like, Zephyr will write her a letter of recommendation to get her into the school. Without yet knowing what the danger is, Polena says she wants to stay with Zephyr.
They return to the city. She crafts a sobering potion for the drunken party. Zephyr has had a lot to say bottled up for several hours; when she returns to find Strelok and Hayden drunk, she is a tad frustrated (the words “I will blow you up!” may have been used). She quickly crafts a sobriety potion. When Hayden complains of the smell, she tells him that she has the party’s money. He and Strelok drink.
She explains the situation in the soon-to-be abandoned continent. She outlines her plan: go to Hornswaggle and make sure she knows everything there is to know about the crystals and the bombs made from them; obtain promised samples, then steal or pursuade Hornswaggle to part with much of the weapon that Strelok had intended to keep on this continent for protection. Find a ship — either hire some of the many people who have relatives still in Oras, or buy (if inter-continental transport is cut off, merchants with large fleets have lost most of their need for them). Go to the wall that has been constructed in Ardova and recruit the people there to cultivate the crystals and help with the weaponization process. Chuck crystal bombs over the wall and the advancing Plague Worm horde. Hopefully kill enough such that even if the remainder consolidate into one being, the resulting beast is not as unstoppable as Faramil’s Monster at full strength would be. She plans to sell most of her things, anything that is not useful against the plague worms, to raise money; she may need to call in debts, as she has lent money out to the party previously. She apologizes to Hayden, as she had previously promised her funds to aid in the regeneration of his hand. She asks if any will join her, speaking to each directly. She explains how if we cull their numbers now we can prevent them from completing the transformation. Hayden is skeptical as to what we can really do against these things, but is at last convinced. Zephyr attempts to use the prospect of damsels in distress all over Oras, honestly thinking that this is good motivation, and having no idea it comes off patronizing to Hayden.
Other thoughts: Zephyr wonders if we might spread word that we are going to Oras to help; many people have family there, and the fact that the church is withdrawing aid and leaving them on their own will not sit well with many. They’d need to bring their own food for the voyage.