2018-01-27: Hope Springs: Tobit's Side

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Note: This scene occurs at the same time as Hope Springs: Rosaline's Side.

============================<* Kislev-Aveh Front *>=============================

The frontlines of the Kislev-Aveh War have shifted many times in the last few hundred years, but they have left their scars on the land. One can, of course, find fighting between their infantry and Gears here. Such places are dangerous, and most Drifters know to steer away from them. However, sometimes there is no choice; even the rail lines thought to be away from the front can get caught unawares by a patrol, and skirmishes have resulted in delays and death for those trying to get to the Badlands.

The areas not currently being fought in are also dangerous. Deserters and monsters alike can wander them, and the dry, dusty land leaves little succor for those in need. To make matters worse, abandoned fortifications and trenches make an excellent hiding place for the bandits seeking to profit here. Drifters are sometimes drawn here, though, to either fight for one side or to excavate abandoned ARMs and Gears left behind in a battle. This sort of salvage work is risky, but the rewards can be great.

BGM: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YxynM-xwLUs


DG: A party led by Tethelle Cirdian is now entering Hope Springs.
===============================<* Hope Springs *>===============================
===================<* CHALLENGE - The Salamander Sentries *>====================
|Type: Entry       |Dungeon Ability: Agility   |Challenge Rating: 2          | 
---------------------------< Challenge Information: >---------------------------
 Tobit Calice's bandits haven't set up guard towers around their makeshift     
 bandit camp. They have, however, placed red-scaled, lizardlike guards in      
 tattered Black Tie suits, who cling to the walls of buildings bordering the   
 camp. Their necks are twisted at uncomfortable-looking angles, allowing       
 their bulbous, unblinking, independently-moving eyes to dart around the       
 desert landscape restlessly. You should find a blind spot and hotfoot it,     
 lest they alert their comrades. If they did, this infiltration would be off   
 to a very bad start.                                                          
=Dungeon Conditions: Hesitate, Injure=========================================
<Pose Tracker> Tobit Calice has posed.

Welcome to Hope Springs.

Rosaline has put out a call to several Drifter friends (and in a couple cases, friends-of-a-friend) in order to apprehend the bandit leader who shares her last name. She was quietly distraught when she explained the situation: Tobit Calice was once her best friend, having grown up in the same orphanage as her (hence the name). It does seem possible to her that he would have performed all these crimes-- he was always a little "troubled", she said --but she would prefer he be captured alive.

The trek to Hope Springs was dangerous, requiring agile maneuvering around an actual war zone, not to mention packs of predatory monsters. No bandit ambushes, at least. For now.

The group is sizeable, which proves a good precaution: If rumors are to be believed, the "Calice Gang" (Rosaline hates that name, for obvious reasons) outnumbers you at least two to one. Most troubling, however, is the faint dissonance that assaults the spiritual senses of the most sensitive, upon approaching the frontier town. It is a force most present are growing sadly accustomed to, a miasma newly plaguing Filgaia, like tumors in the planet's soul.

Malevolence.

Yes, it's going to be one of these days.

The plan was to split the group into two teams, each infiltrating the camp from a different direction. There will almost certainly be fighting involved, but it was decided that the full group storming the gates where they expected it most would be suicide. Instead, a more subtle approach will be necessary.

Your group approaches from the north. Your entry point is an alleyway between several hollowed-out homes. It's one of the few places where you can expect reliable cover: Indeed, Hope Springs harkens back to days of a booming mineral trade, with a frankly irresponsible amount of wood in its buildings. It paid for its hubris a year ago, having in part been consumed by a great fire. This means a substantial amount of open space in which to be sighted.

By those salamander sentries, for instance. To the untrained spiritual eye, this is a very odd sight indeed: a handful of brutish-looking men and women in tattered, once-expensive suits, clinging to walls for dear life and seeming unperturbed by the harsh desert sun. But the resonant will see them as red-scaled lizardmen, with quickly-darting, beady eyes ideal for spotting intruders.

How will you sneak past them?

DG: Tobit Calice has contributed a Agility Basic Action toward its party's challenge, The Salamander Sentries.
<Pose Tracker> Cyre H. Lorentz has posed.

How will you sneak past them, indeed?

Well.

One drifter in particular has decided to straight up ignore the front door and instead take to the skies! Yes, way up high, Cyre Lorentz sails silently on canvas wings, looking every bit like some kind of oversized bird looking for someplace to roost. Getting down might be a problem, but it's certainly less of one than having to risk the front door. But...

Why is he here, exactly...?

Well! That's an easy question to answer. He's here because Rosaline asked for help!

ALSO, because his spiritual awareness told him that there was some awful shit going down in these parts. His bird's eye view gives him ample opportunity to ascertain that, yes, shit is fucked. Fucked in that dreadful, cloying, purple way that nearly cost him so much. To find it here, too... Is it destiny? Or simply a sign that the Trial Knight is stepping up his plans?

One way or another, they'll need to get through to discover what exactly is going on, and how to put a stop to it...!

(And of course, his unique vertical position also gives him excellent time to try and find another way for the others to make their way around the sentries.)

DG: Cyre H. Lorentz has used his Tool Reverse Parachute toward his party's challenge, The Salamander Sentries.
<Pose Tracker> Tethelle Cirdian has posed.

Tethelle was happy to take Rosaline's request. She's not personally especially close to the nun, but she's good friends with some of Rosaline's good friends (Talise, for one) and she does like the beastwoman priestess.

She is getting progressively less happy as they approach. The spiritual tension, the dissonance, is something she can feel, and when they're still a ways away from the town... "There's something there," she says. "Something... unpleasant. Dark. Watch yourself."

Tethelle isn't really the leader (it's more of a confederation of equals) but she puts herself near the front anyway because she's probably one of the most able to survive actually being spotted. That means she's in a good place to spot the strange salamanders, and she frowns. How is she going to get people past that?

Tethelle's approach is to stay to the shadows as best as she can. She keeps her sword sheathed to try to make it glint less (it doesn't work perfectly; it's not fully covered), and her white clothes stick out a little bit, but if she stays close to the ruined buildings, she might go overlooked. Right?

...right?

DG: Tethelle Cirdian has contributed a Agility Basic Action toward her party's challenge, The Salamander Sentries.
<Pose Tracker> Lydia Seren has posed.

Family's pretty much awful, Lydia thinks, having no trouble believing that Rosaline Calice has a family member who is a gang member. Really, the Church of Granas is basically a gang itself if she thinks about it! But this seems more gangrene gang than religion so she agreed to lend a hand.

Just...just who invited her along though? Let's face it, it's probably Cyre.

Naturally Lydia just uses her portal pistols to just try and skip the stealth section entirely if possible. Of course, the glowing portals might be too obvious to really 'stealth' with--nevertheless, it's what she has on hand.

Malevolence, Lydia thinks. Just like what was fucking up Ginny. Was this K.K's doing? Is the plague spreading using drifters as carriers? If so, even if they're ressilient to the effects...

She considers sharply as she ports.

DG: Lydia Seren has used her Tool Portal Pistols toward her party's challenge, The Salamander Sentries.
<Pose Tracker> Cyre H. Lorentz has posed.

Cyre did. Cyre invited her along.

The conversation probably went something like 'Hey who wants to catch a cannibal bandit' and then Lydia exploded out of a portal with a bug net or something.

<Pose Tracker> Arash Khan has posed.

Arash Khan scratches his bushy head at the sight. He's gone on a dizzying number jobs before, but this Rosaline's is definitely shaping up to be one of the odder ones. Goodwill leads you all kinds of places.

 Now these fine fashionable finks are clearly here on purpose. But why? No bandit gang worth their salt would leave so much once-decent fabric around unlooted. And from Cyre's ominous expression, even Arash's lime-green spiritual sense can tell something nasty is afoot.

 His method of infiltration is simple: put up a big rock-colored sheet and sidle along the wall of the alley. Switch it for a wood-patterned one at the right moment. Move with the rhythmn of their gaze. Cover, camouflage, and concealment.

 He may also have disguised himself as one of the Calice gang, down to scent and mannerisms. It took him a while to get the appropriate eau du sweaty outlaw, but he's proud of himself for doing so. Arash certainly hopes it wasn't effort wasted.

DG: Arash Khan has contributed a Agility Basic Action toward his party's challenge, The Salamander Sentries.
<Pose Tracker> Lily Keil has posed.

Lily Keil is comfortable with overwhelming force as an approach--but her past work in Kislev and Aveh has taught her the value of stealth, especially at times like this. ...She's been quiet, of course; that's not new. She's being paid for her time. ...But she also looks pale, a little less than at full health, in her armored clothes and stealth gear. A situation like this however is something she's willing to help with.

Besides, it's helping a priestess. A reasonable job to take.

As she gets closer though, she feels the Malevolence growing, the cloying approach that causes her breathing to go very slightly shallow. She does not stop, though, save to pause, making something of a perimeter as she looks around. Two teams...

The cover is what Lily focuses on for the moment; she is a little stiffer than she ought to be, but she moves from place to place, eyeing the sentries as she goes. On her way here she's given a lot of advice about places that have better cover, places that are more open, where the Avehan and Kislevi armies are likely to patrol; she has inside knowledge of the situation, even if it is out of date by now... But the trends still help.

...She does however have a very sharp-looking knife in her hand as she goes. Just in case.

DG: Lily Keil has contributed a Agility Basic Action toward her party's challenge, The Salamander Sentries.
<Pose Tracker> Gwen Whitlock has posed.

        So. A childhood friend is now a leader of bandits, doing nefarious deeds and being generally unpleasant for all who had known him growing up.

        ... Yeah, the fact that Gwen just tabled a few deliveries the moment she got Rosaline's message would be putting it lightly. As Gwen travels with the group now, her face spread in a thin frown, she can only think one thing.

        Thank god Janus does not happen to share her last name. That'd get awkward *real quick*.

        When the sickly 'scent' of Malevolence hits her nostrils, the courier's freckled cheeks drain of color, the taste of bile threatening to rise in her throat at the sight of the climbing bandits. Something about seeing human beings acting not only like animals, but ones more apt to be found on the shady side of a woodshed, harmless and timid. She falls in behind Tethelle, unbuckling the strap on her right glove. "Man, this is gonna get nasty..." Hunching low, she attempts to follow behind, trying her best to keep a low profile. She may not be the best at sneaking, but any time they can spend avoiding the notice of the salamander guards is fine by her.

        Either way, Gwen's not liking the way things look in the least bit. Rosaline's not going to like it either, most likely.

DG: Gwen Whitlock has contributed a Agility Basic Action toward her party's challenge, The Salamander Sentries.
===============================<* Hope Springs *>===============================
===================<* CHALLENGE - The Salamander Sentries *>====================
|Type: Entry       |Dungeon Ability: Agility   |Challenge Rating: 2          | 
---------------------------< Challenge Information: >---------------------------
 Tobit Calice's bandits haven't set up guard towers around their makeshift     
 bandit camp. They have, however, placed red-scaled, lizardlike guards in      
 tattered Black Tie suits, who cling to the walls of buildings bordering the   
 camp. Their necks are twisted at uncomfortable-looking angles, allowing       
 their bulbous, unblinking, independently-moving eyes to dart around the       
 desert landscape restlessly. You should find a blind spot and hotfoot it,     
 lest they alert their comrades. If they did, this infiltration would be off   
 to a very bad start.                                                          
=Dungeon Conditions: Hesitate, Injure=========================================
==========================<* Hope Springs - Round 1 *>==========================
=====================< Results - The Salamander Sentries >======================
Player                               Exhaustion                      Pass/Fail
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Tethelle Cirdian                    0 --(20)--> 20                 Fail
Rush                                0   Agility Effects: BASIC                
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Cyre H. Lorentz                     0 --(10)--> 10                 Pass
Reverse Parachute                   1   Agility Effects: Rally and Quicken    
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Arash Khan                          0 --(20)--> 20                 Fail
Rush                                0   Agility Effects: BASIC                
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Lily Keil                           0 --(20)--> 20                 Fail
Rush                                0   Agility Effects: BASIC                
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Gwen Whitlock                       0 --(20)--> 20                 Fail
Rush                                0   Agility Effects: BASIC                
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Lydia Seren                         0 --(10)--> 10                 Pass
Portal Pistols                      2   Agility Effects: Stalwart             
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Tobit Calice                        0 --(20)--> 20                 Fail
Rush                                0   Agility Effects: BASIC                
-----------------------------------< Party >------------------------------------
Leader: Tethelle Cirdian            0 --(10)--> 10                 Fail
Conditions: Hesitate(2)|Injure(2)
Effects: Quicken(1)
===============================< Dream Chasers >================================
DG: The party led by Tethelle Cirdian has failed this challenge! The party gained 10 exploration! If anyone needs to use party
management commands, do so now. Otherwise, the next round's GM may begin the next round with +dungeon/draw.
DG: Tobit Calice has drawn a new Challenge.
===============================<* Hope Springs *>===============================
=========================<* CHALLENGE - Bandit Brawl *>=========================
|Type: Exploration |Dungeon Ability: Combat    |Challenge Rating: 2          | 
---------------------------< Challenge Information: >---------------------------
 After rounding a corner, you come face-to-face with some more of Tobit's      
 lizardlike goons in the middle of decking the streets with garlands of pure   
 white flowers. They attack you on sight, with pitchforks, flame breath and    
 gunsmoke ARMs alike.                                                          
=Dungeon Conditions: Bad Luck=================================================
<Pose Tracker> Tobit Calice has posed.

The party attempts to sneak. Cover is found and camouflage is employed while Cyre and Lydia bypass the problem altogether. Already, Lydia is in the relative safety of a dark alley. Arash has decades of subterfuge under his belt, and so is the first to make it.

Until, that is, he peers around the corner to see a man pass by.

And there he is, a man whose face adorns wanted posters you've likely walked past several times before coming here.

Actual cannibal Tobit Calice.

In contrast to his drawn representation, the man is impeccably combed and shaved, and in fact wears a pristine white tuxedo. If he's a Hellion, he isn't showing it right now. Only a scar across his eye and a black eyepatch suggest he might not, in fact, be the finest of gentlemen.

He turns to face Arash, despite his not having made a noise.

"You," he says, with relative calm, "why aren't you DRESSED yet?"

The disguise has him fooled-- At first glance, at least. But a moment later, he sniffs the air a few times, and his attitude shifts. His eyes light up, and his mouth opens into a wide grin.

"Hold on, one second, you've got her smell on you! Intruders, here? No, make that guests! Oh, what a reunion it's gonna be!"

He laughs, loudly, and snaps his finger. His lizard guards drop from the walls, peering around in stilted motions. Tobit breaks into a run, laughing uproariously, as the sentries discover the party's members, one by one.

This IS off to a very bad start. Subtlety has failed, it's time for Plan B.

DG: Tobit Calice has contributed a Combat Basic Action toward its party's challenge, Bandit Brawl.
<Pose Tracker> Cyre H. Lorentz has posed.

Subtlety has failed, it's time for Plan B.

What is Plan B, you ask?

Well, technically it's plan V. The V stands for Violence, you see. But Cyre knows it to be Plan B for one very good reason.

'B' stands for 'Beam.'

"Shit," Cyre cusses as everything begins to go solidly tits up down below. He's not close enough to identify Tobit Calice from all the way up here, but he is close enough for his JRPG targeting reticles to start kicking in. He's got a lock on the enemy, and his answer to the brawl unfolding down below is as obvious as it is effective.

BEAMS FROM ABOVE.

The power of Solais Emsu manifests in the best possible way: prismatic laser beams!!

DG: Cyre H. Lorentz has contributed a Combat Basic Action toward his party's challenge, Bandit Brawl.
<Pose Tracker> Tethelle Cirdian has posed.

Though Tethelle likes to be in front, when it comes to sneaking she often isn't. She's not very good at it, for all that she tries; hunting animals is one thing, but sneaking around people and trying to avoid a fight just seems vaguely unsporting to her, subconsciously, and she doesn't do a great job.

Like, say, now.

Tethelle isn't with Arash when he gets spotted. She is a whole alley back, and is rather surprised when a pair of lizardmen drop in about five feet from her. No time for subtlety; Tethelle draws her great sword and strikes at one in the same sweeping movement, holds a defensive stance for a moment with the blade held flat as she mouths a quick prayer to Equites, and lunges at the second.

It's fast. If they're not expecting their surprise guest to fight back like that, Tethelle is quite capable of taking them by surprise; she's less worried about killing them and more about breaking a path toward the rest of the group. The lasers suggest there are other people in the same situation as her...

DG: Tethelle Cirdian has used her Tool Icon of Equites toward her party's challenge, Bandit Brawl.
<Pose Tracker> Arash Khan has posed.

Arash Khan , his cover profoundly blown, decides to close the charade off properly. "Pft, I never trusted ye anyway, Mr. Tobit 'sir'. No honest man leaves his ribs unchewed like that. I may be a cannibal, Calice, but I ain't no picky eater!" The Fake Femur-Chewer Johnson spits at Tobit's feet, exeunts stage left.

Or not. During the split-second Tobit should've looked at his shoes, Arash draws his spade and hurls a wad of sand at the bandit's eyes. Then, leveling his truty bolt-action under one arm, he fires as many rubber bullets as he can at Mr. Calice's groinal region and neck while leaping backwards like a maddened ape.

The pinballing rounds careen off abandoned spittoons and as-yet-unbroken window, before lodging themselves painfully into the gathering lizardmen. Let it never be said that Arash is not a resourceful man.

DG: Arash Khan has contributed a Combat Basic Action toward his party's challenge, Bandit Brawl.
<Pose Tracker> Lydia Seren has posed.

Lydia decides to lend a hand here...

...by staying in the shadows and hiding while letting other people fight. Lydia isn't actually too fond of fighting, to be honest. She would prefer to circumvent problematic individuals rather than kill them,

She pushes against the wall, thinking. Dressed yet? What could he mean by that? He doesn't feel like Hellion, but if he's experienced he might just be hiding it.

It's when Cyre unleashes Solais Emsu--she feels a chance. She adds her own Solais Emsu death beams from above while in hiding.

She doesn't like fighting, but there doesn't seem to be an alternative just this moment.

DG: Lydia Seren has contributed a Combat Basic Action toward her party's challenge, Bandit Brawl.
<Pose Tracker> Lily Keil has posed.

Nasty. Well, that's happening. But it was likely to, with all this Malevolence and with a cannibal on the loose.

...Lily isn't bad at stealth, but she's not the fastest about it, either. She has some surprise as well when they're spotted, and is not in the most ideal position at all as a lizardwoman drops down in front of her abrubtly. She doesn't hesitate; in an instant she's already in motion. Her left arm hangs out of the way, but her right switches her knife to a downward-pointing grip as she darts to the side and shoves it straight into what should be a vital organ of her opponent.

She talked with Lydia before about violence. Now she demonstrates what she means.

The knife twists as she ducks down and attempts to grab at a wrist, lock with her elbow, and pull in entirely the wrong direction. It's... very nonmagical, for Lily.

It's also very ugly. She doesn't bother defending much in all this.

DG: Lily Keil has contributed a Combat Basic Action toward her party's challenge, Bandit Brawl.
<Pose Tracker> Gwen Whitlock has posed.

        This was a disaster.

        Gwen is pretty easily found, her hunched position keeping her from escaping the glance of a guard that just so happened to make her fall backwards just as Tethelle is discovered in front of her. "D-damn..."

        And there, in the foreground, there's a man in a white suit, running and laughing. "So much for bein' sneaky, man..."

        Well, when things get tough, the tough get *punching*.

        Wait, is that how the saying goes?

DG: Gwen Whitlock has used her Tool Full Metal Courier toward her party's challenge, Bandit Brawl.
===============================<* Hope Springs *>===============================
=========================<* CHALLENGE - Bandit Brawl *>=========================
|Type: Exploration |Dungeon Ability: Combat    |Challenge Rating: 2          | 
---------------------------< Challenge Information: >---------------------------
 After rounding a corner, you come face-to-face with some more of Tobit's      
 lizardlike goons in the middle of decking the streets with garlands of pure   
 white flowers. They attack you on sight, with pitchforks, flame breath and    
 gunsmoke ARMs alike.                                                          
=Dungeon Conditions: Bad Luck=================================================
==========================<* Hope Springs - Round 2 *>==========================
===========================< Results - Bandit Brawl >===========================
Player                               Exhaustion                      Pass/Fail
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Tethelle Cirdian                    20 --(5)--> 25                 Pass
Icon of Equites                     1   Combat  Effects: Cleanse              
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Cyre H. Lorentz                     10 --(10)--> 20                Fail
Fight                               0   Combat  Effects: BASIC                
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Arash Khan                          20 --(10)--> 30                Fail
Fight                               0   Combat  Effects: BASIC                
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Lily Keil                           20 --(5)--> 25                 Pass
Fight                               0   Combat  Effects: BASIC                
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Gwen Whitlock                       20 --(5)--> 25                 Pass
Full Metal Courier                  2   Combat  Effects: Embolden             
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Lydia Seren                         10 --(5)--> 15                 Pass
Fight                               0   Combat  Effects: BASIC                
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Tobit Calice                        20 --(5)--> 25                 Pass
Fight                               0   Combat  Effects: BASIC                
-----------------------------------< Party >------------------------------------
Leader: Tethelle Cirdian            10 --(20)--> 30                Pass
Conditions: Bad Luck(2)|Hesitate(1)|Injure(1)
Effects: Cleanse|Embolden(1)
===============================< Dream Chasers >================================
DG: The party led by Tethelle Cirdian has passed this challenge! The party gained 20 exploration! If anyone needs to use party
management commands, do so now. Otherwise, the next round's GM may begin the next round with +dungeon/draw.
DG: Tobit Calice has drawn a new Challenge.
===============================<* Hope Springs *>===============================
=========================<* CHALLENGE - Painful Past *>=========================
|Type: Exploration |Dungeon Ability: Wits      |Challenge Rating: 3          | 
---------------------------< Challenge Information: >---------------------------
 The air is thick with sickening Malevolence. Regrets and traumas past haunt   
 this place, quite literally. Ghostly images play out in front of you, over    
 and over. Meanwhile, some of your own most painful memories come unbidden,    
 as if wrenched out of your heart. You must fight to keep it together-- You    
 came here for a reason, after all.                                            
=Dungeon Conditions: Reckless, Exhaust========================================
<Pose Tracker> Tobit Calice has posed.

On the other side of town, Team Rosaline is likely seeing laser light bombardment occuring in the distance and coming to some alarmed conclusions. Then again, they've probably got problems of their own to deal with right now.

Arash thoroughly sasses Tobit, before throwing sand in his eyes and shooting at him. He certainly looks confused by the japes at his expense, and sand does find its way in his face, but even in spite of this, the outlaw weaves out of the way the moment the old man has drawn his gun, moving with inhuman speed. His trick shots slow down some of the salamander henchpeople closing in on him, but more interpose themselves to cover their boss' escape.

Meanwhile, Cyre and Lydia's heavenly beams work to great effect (though Cyre's targeting reticles may need further calibrating). The bandits scatter and get fried, certainly not expecting this multicolor light show.

What they did expect slightly more, at least, was getting cleaved by a great sword. THAT DOES NOT MAKE IT ANY BETTER. Meanwhile, Lily demonstrates why some call her the Boss (or if not, maybe they should), prompting a sickening crunch of bone that gives another bandit several seconds' pause.

Giving Gwen ample time to clock him right out with her metallic arm!

The party regroups, and with Arash's help, can head in the direction he ran away in. Though the coast seems clear for now, the ambient Malevolence thickens to a sickening degree, even for those who can't quite feel it. Tobit's passage seems to distort the purple-tinted air, triggering... a recording of some sort, a trauma imprinted in the world itself.

Two children are fighting in the courtyard, both in their very early teens. One is a snarling boy with unkempt hair and too-loose clothes. One is a long-haired beastwoman with feline features. Children and older teens cheer on them. The two lock into one another, punching and kicking. The boy attempts to push the girl away, and succeeds, but she swipes her hand at his face. Sharp claws tear into it, leaving a bloody gash. The boy collapses to the ground, convulsing in pain. The girl breathes heavily and stares at him with muted horror, taking in the enormity of what she's done.

Those who can't see Malevolence are spared this sickening scenario. And yet, painful memories of their own are wrenched out of their hearts, now, at the worst of possible times, some of them even playing out in similar ghostly images for the others benefit.

DG: Tobit Calice has contributed a Wits Basic Action toward its party's challenge, Painful Past.
<Pose Tracker> Arash Khan has posed.

Arash Khan escapes the growing assault and hunkers down behind a long-abandoned dentist's office, planning on using its giant novelty tooth to reflect his gunfire. But something stays his hand. He sees Cyre high up above them, reacting to some threat at...his level? Come to think of it, Cyre doesn't quite look like Cyre anymore, so much as a certain other beastman. A treasured comrade, a Manx-like brother-in-arms, who would've been his daughter Aiman's godfather had he not been executed due to one of Arash's goddamn mistakes.

To hell with it all! The sounds of battle distort into those horrid howls that still hound him, of so many dead and forgotten in the sewers of Bledavik. Arash remembers. He ran like a coward. He made himself lie to their families' faces, each and every one. Even those of his enemies'. That was a professional's duty, wasn't it!?

The decades he spent recovering, with his imam and his wife and whatever stray drifters he told parts of the tale to, that forged steel of pure will begin to melt and buckle. "Calm down, Arash, take a good look at yourself. Can't expire just yet." Arash draws his flask.

There's a small sticker on it, beneath the more faded ones of hawks and ponies that Aiman once put on it. A crude mustached face drawn in charcoal. No. He can't expire just yet. Arash climbs the office, up the protruding nails and planks, and bellows encouragement that echoes through the pass.

DG: Arash Khan has used his Tool Mixed Berry Isolate toward his party's challenge, Painful Past.
<Pose Tracker> Tethelle Cirdian has posed.

If there's one thing Tethelle is good at, it's violence. It's not something she always wants to do - in many cases, she would be happy using her swordsmanship as nothing more than an example of athleticism and skill - but sometimes being the strong arm means... well, you need to, to protect someone else.

And when it's time for it, she doesn't hold back much.

Tethelle sweeps through her opponents and leaves them, rushing toward the main cluster of the group. She catches up as the Malevolence begins to thicken, and Tethelle isn't entirely sure what's going on but is sure she doesn't like it; she keeps her sword in hand rather than putting it away, prepared for... whatever.

Though probably not what actually happens. Images fill Tethelle's vision, but rather than let them form, she squeezes her eyes closed. It doesn't help, and she opens them again, staring right into the vision of children.

Tethelle lets it wash over her. A new image starts form around her, near her; a young dark-skinned girl, speaking to an adult with head hung; an older version of the same girl - now more recognizeably Tethelle - in an argument with someone older and in the robes of a Baskar shaman; a Tethelle that looks downright modern, screaming at - herself, but not quite, as it feels different somehow. One of the Tethelles swings a fist at the other.

The images end when Tethelle sweeps her sword through them, a blade glowing white with inner energy and her prayers to Equites. She'll suffer, but she won't show anyone else. Her jaw is set.

DG: Tethelle Cirdian has contributed a Wits Basic Action toward her party's challenge, Painful Past.
<Pose Tracker> Lily Keil has posed.

Lily can use a bit of fear and nerves from her enemy, and apparently so can Gwen. Lily looks to the metal-armed girl and nods to her once, before she continues forward, leaning down to wipe her blade on her pant leg, keeping it in hand... Just in case. With Arash's guidance she falls in with the old soldier, looking around thoughtfully for any further ambushes. Regrouped, at least, they're unlikely to be caught unawares. But...

Lily, even when she blinks for an instant, cannot get rid of the vision in her eyes. The memory is clear, but the feelings in it are all the worse; Lily can imagine that sort of situation, and unbidden, a similar memory is torn free from her mind...

...A black-haired girl in formal school clothes stands in the snow staring down a boy with her golden eyes. She is utterly silent, until he speaks something, the words audible, "So does your mom really not have legs?"

The little girl--little Lily Keil--lunges for the boy, talking him outright and starting to punch him, fist reared back hard and slamming into his face first. ...In utter silence, enraged, she keeps punching until her hand is red, until the teacher is pulling her off of him. Hate beams in her golden eyes--

Lily shakes her head, sets her injured hand to her forehead. "Ugn--" She stops for a moment, grits her teeth... and pulls her notebook from her satchel, pulls it out and flips through, knife held more loosely, "For something like this... You have to fill your mind with something else--"

Water. Water, everywhere. A teenaged girl is slipping underneath the frigid water, amidst ice, gasping for breath, her golden eyes wide. She--

"In the snow above the frozen peak, a single blossom sits. It reflects the emptiness--"

...She recites a traditional Kislevi poem. It's... It's pretty grim. But it's something to focus on. She keeps walking, reading aloud.

DG: Lily Keil has used her Tool Lily's Notebook toward her party's challenge, Painful Past.
<Pose Tracker> Lydia Seren has posed.

Man, Lydia thinks, why did we even bother with stealth? These people probably have killed at least a hundred dudes each. That Tobit guy is fucked.

The group, uh, the group regroups. Lydia moves to rejoin everybody and grimaces as she heads into malevolence. What regrets does she have?

She sees mini-Rosaline totally claw a dude in the face. ... ... but she doesn't really know Rosaline, so this doesn't have much significance to her well ok it actually has one key significance.

"Score one for team Beastman." She agrees solemnly.

Lydia, no. No Lydia. That wasn't the point of this. Come on Lydia. Wrong lesson.

A younger version of Lydia starts walking besides her as she moves.

"Hey Lydie...don't you feel bad? Don't you feel bad for not saving Ginny from this earlier?"

Lydia glances back towards her taunting younger self.

Ghost Lydia continues, "How about biting Lily's arm nearly off. She still hasn't recovered. Did you even notice?"

Lydia frowns and reaches into her shirt. Young-Lydia seems confused until Lydia pulls free a cat out of there which seems to be sleeping. Its nametag indicates its name is Schrodinger.

The cat splits off into another cat that leaps towards Young-Lydia.

"Kitty!"

Lydia passes by Lily during her walk and offers her a chance to pet Schrodinger just in case too. "I know my psychological fuckups at this point." She asides to Lily. "I mean, it'll probably be a few months before I have enough new ones, you know?"

DG: Lydia Seren has used her Tool Schrodinger the Cat toward her party's challenge, Painful Past.
<Pose Tracker> Cyre H. Lorentz has posed.

This isn't Cyre's first rodeo with Malevolence. It wasn't too long ago that he was dealing with that awful miasma choking his hometown. He knows all too well how it seeps into the cracks of your mind, digs through the scars, exposes wounds you thought had healed so long ago. The shaman hisses a soft curse as he pivots mid-air and terminates his flight atop a conveniently placed rooftop.

He blinks, trying to chase the images away from his vision with raw willpower, but he can't help but see it play out in front of him. A pair of children wrestling with one another, one far too familiar; but why is this appearing? What kind of person has trauma rooted so deeply in their childhood...?

The images change quickly, shifting to something... Else. Something closer. More recent. Memories of Wehaca play across Cyre's senses. He remembers the vile stench of bog, the sight of childhood vistas corrupted in unspeakable ways. The sight of his brother turned into a monster--

Cyre is thankful only that he has so much recent trauma to draw on. At the very least, he's dealt with it once before-- and it's not like it's anything new to his brain. But... Can he pull through it?

Probably.

Can he do it without trying to bite through his tongue to pull him out of the nightmare?

Probably... not.

DG: Cyre H. Lorentz has contributed a Wits Basic Action toward his party's challenge, Painful Past.
<Pose Tracker> Cyre H. Lorentz has posed.

Or maybe Cyre can acquire one of the many passing Schrodingers? I mean, it's Schrodinger, so there are dozens of them. Dozens here meaning 'arbitrarily as many as necessary.'

<Pose Tracker> Gwen Whitlock has posed.

        She and Rosaline were much too similar than Gwen ever realized. A few different turns, and Gwen could've easily been a fellow nun.

        Except she wouldn't have ever met Rosaline.

        Because she wouldn't be alive today. Gwen's certain of that. Her heart's condition wasn't one that was very easily treated.

        But there was that time, when that choice was offered up to her, wasn't it?

        .... "They say I got a lotta potential. They want me to be a member of Ethos when I get older, but I think I'm gonna be a priest instead." A boy, looking about ten or so, with a large, awkward frame stands there, dark hair and eyes, wearing the heavily mended clothes that probably pass as 'formal' for orphans like them. In one hand there's a bag, supplied by the Granas church for his belongings. "Why can't you come with me? There ain't nothing here for you."
        
        "I can't, Silas." There's a second figure there, of a girl in a dusty dress and apron, a handkerchief protecting her head from the blazing sun overhead. The right arm of the dress is pinned in place at about the arm socket, the empty looped fabric waving in the slight breeze against her right side.
        
        "Why?"

        The freckled face of the girl frowns. "It ain't a life. They'll take me in because they'll feel sorry for me n' because they want you. I don't wanna be someplace where people'll just feel sorry for me. Even Little Twister's better."

        The boy's face falls, threatening to cross over into tears, but, for the first time Gwen's ever seen him manage, he holds them back-

        Dusty visions are cast away by the light of Gwen's ARM, outstretched to cast a brilliant light like a beacon in fog. "Sorry, Silas," she murmurs softly. "Didn't want you to spend your dream watchin' me die. You deserved a future."

        Looking across at the others, Gwen offers a weak smile, having witnessed their own grueling memories. "He turned out real good, too! Hey, let's keep going, what'd'ya say?"

DG: Gwen Whitlock has contributed a Wits Basic Action toward her party's challenge, Painful Past.
===============================<* Hope Springs *>===============================
=========================<* CHALLENGE - Painful Past *>=========================
|Type: Exploration |Dungeon Ability: Wits      |Challenge Rating: 3          | 
---------------------------< Challenge Information: >---------------------------
 The air is thick with sickening Malevolence. Regrets and traumas past haunt   
 this place, quite literally. Ghostly images play out in front of you, over    
 and over. Meanwhile, some of your own most painful memories come unbidden,    
 as if wrenched out of your heart. You must fight to keep it together-- You    
 came here for a reason, after all.                                            
=Dungeon Conditions: Reckless, Exhaust========================================
==========================<* Hope Springs - Round 3 *>==========================
===========================< Results - Painful Past >===========================
Player                               Exhaustion                      Pass/Fail
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Tethelle Cirdian                    25 --(20)--> 45                Fail
Investigate                         0   Wits    Effects: BASIC                
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Cyre H. Lorentz                     20 --(5)--> 25                 Pass
Investigate                         0   Wits    Effects: BASIC                
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Arash Khan                          30 --(5)--> 35                 Pass
Mixed Berry Isolate                 2   Wits    Effects: Efficient and Cleanse
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Lily Keil                           25 --(5)--> 30                 Pass
Lily's Notebook                     2   Wits    Effects: Enlighten            
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Gwen Whitlock                       25 --(20)--> 45                Fail
Investigate                         0   Wits    Effects: BASIC                
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Lydia Seren                         15 --(20)--> 35                Fail
Schrodinger the Cat                 2   Wits    Effects: Enlighten            
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Tobit Calice                        25 --(20)--> 45                Fail
Investigate                         0   Wits    Effects: BASIC                
-----------------------------------< Party >------------------------------------
Leader: Tethelle Cirdian            30 --(20)--> 50                Pass
Conditions: Exhaust(1)|Reckless(2)
Effects: Cleanse|Enlighten(1)
===============================< Dream Chasers >================================
DG: The party led by Tethelle Cirdian has passed this challenge! The party gained 20 exploration! If anyone needs to use party
management commands, do so now. Otherwise, the next round's GM may begin the next round with +dungeon/draw.
DG: Tobit Calice has drawn a new Challenge.
===============================<* Hope Springs *>===============================
===============<* CHALLENGE - Father Mackenzie's Secret Cache *>================
|Type: Exploration |Dungeon Ability: Brute     |Challenge Rating: 1          | 
---------------------------< Challenge Information: >---------------------------
 Tucked within a partially collapsed building is a safe, its door already      
 half bent out of shape. It bears the Ethos insignia, and likely contains      
 useful equipment and supplies. It might come in handy if you, the masters of  
 unlocking, pry it open. A little noise is inevitable and might draw some      
 unwanted attention, but this seems like a worthwhile gamble.                  
=Dungeon Conditions: Overzealous, Treasure====================================
<Pose Tracker> Tobit Calice has posed.

The Malevolence in the air does everything it can to open scars anew. Some are recent, some ancient. Some try to forget them, some make their peace in their own way, sometimes with mixed success. But cooler heads prevail, and the party proceeds without anyone losing their head.

For now!

Tobit is still visible in the distance, his white tuxedo almost glimmering in the harsh sun. He seems to believe he's lost you, entering a mostly still-intact saloon.

You follow him here, carefully. The establishment is kept in obvious working order, an obviously great addition to any bandit camp. And yet, it seems eerily empty. Besides the sentries and Tobit himself, the camp has been oddly quiet so far.

A quick search reveals Tobit Calice is still inside, in the back. His head whips around at your approach. He finishes closing a large safe bearing the Ethos insignia, staring you down.

"YOU, again? Don't stick your nose where it DOESN'T BELONG, or someone will bite it."

Satisfied with his quip, he kicks one of the wooden support beams next to him. Perhaps it really was that fragile, or perhaps he really is that strong, but it snaps like a twig.

In a thunderous crash, half of the room collapses on top of him, or rather, on top of the safe. Tobit is already gone when the smoke clears. It seems whatever was in that safe was obviously important to him, and who knows what useful tools you could find in an Ethos cache. Of course, now there's the added challenge of clearing away... half of a ceiling in addition to a metallic door.

DG: Tobit Calice has used its Tool Obstruction Complication toward its party's challenge, Father Mackenzie's Secret Cache.
<Pose Tracker> Arash Khan has posed.

Arash Khan can feel it: Tobit Calice is a tremendously petty wad of expired beef jerky. He also plainly has no idea what he's up against. Does he think he can keep a gang of Drifters from doing what Drifters do best?

"Ethos treasure, eh? Wonder how he got his grubby mitts on that. Probably nicked it from some napping quartermaster. Well then, I don't think Rosaline'd mind our taking a gander at what's inside, do you?" Now if a partially collapsed building is a square hole, then Arash has a well-machined, micrometer-precise square peg. His King of Spades whips out with a quick fluorish, its shining Geo Crest shaking the ground around him with its aura.

"Heave...HO!" With a quick two-handed wrench, an entire floor's worth of rubble is flung off into a neat pile to the side. The safe now sits on a clean, dry, perfectly accessible flat surface. Even some of the sand jamming up its mechanisms has flown away.

DG: Arash Khan has used his Tool King of Spades toward his party's challenge, Father Mackenzie's Secret Cache.
<Pose Tracker> Tethelle Cirdian has posed.

Tethelle Cirdian keeps her head, but she's more upset than she wants to show. Not just for her own images, cut off - this time, but how many times will she be able to do that? - but everyone else's.

Fortunately, Tobit gives her someone else to focus her anger on.

"You...!" Tethelle raises her voice as she advances - but then leaps back as Tobit kicks the support beam. Over the sounds of a collapsing part of a building, she yells, "If you want to try to bite it, I can work with that - but don't be surprised if I sting back!"

Tethelle wades into the fallen wood, shoving it roughly aside. She's strong, and her gloves are good for this - giving her a good grip so she can shove and lift, pushing her way in case Tobit is still hiding in there. She's not going to let him break away if she can help it... and while she might be too late, she's curious as to what else he was trying to hide.

DG: Tethelle Cirdian has contributed a Brute Basic Action toward her party's challenge, Father Mackenzie's Secret Cache.
<Pose Tracker> Lydia Seren has posed.

Lydia follows after Tobit SNEAKILY LIKE but of course maybe...maybe he's just going to recognize them. She throws a small wave towards him and says, "We're drifters it's our job to be annoyingly nosy. Maybe we can talk this out, find a sheperd pot pie and purify the place and oh okay yeah those are support beams."

Lydia smirks faintly. "Heh... my head is a rock, you can't--"

Pause. Blink.

"Oh wai--"

SMACKED IN DA HEAD.

DG: Lydia Seren has contributed a Brute Basic Action toward her party's challenge, Father Mackenzie's Secret Cache.
<Pose Tracker> Cyre H. Lorentz has posed.

Schrodinger is the best cat in the world. Cyre knows this because Schrodinger came to help him in his direst hour. Good cat, Schrodinger. Such a good cat. He will get so much fish later.

Ahem.

Back to more immediate concerns.

"Lydia!" Cyre shouts as Tobit dumps the roof on them. "Lydia! Your horns! Headbutt the ceiling!"

She seems to take his advice to heart.

For better or for worse.

"Damnit, let's clear this rubble out before she suffocates. Hang on, Lyd," Cyre mutters and takes the moment to light up his handy dandy INCENSE BURNER. Now, you might wonder why an incense burner helps a bunch of diggers move a mound of rubble. The answer is: IT DOESN'T!

It does, however, help clear the mind of whatever awful memories might still be lingering. Also, it smells nice and soothes aching muscles. So maybe it does help a little.

DG: Cyre H. Lorentz has used his Tool Invigorating Vapors toward his party's challenge, Father Mackenzie's Secret Cache.
<Pose Tracker> Lily Keil has posed.

Lily hears Ghost Lydia's talk about her, and schools her expression to say nothing as she keeps reading bleak Kislevi poetry aloud to keep her mind off of her own memories. She doesn't particularly look until Lydia walks by her. ...Ordinarily she wouldn't be seen dealing with such cute things but...

The black-haired woman lifts a glovedhand to scritch the cat very slightly. Just a little bit. She looks at Lydia for a moment and lets her reading be interrupted with a brief, "Heh." ...It's not quite a laugh.

...She doesn't appreciate the next room collapsing, and darts out of the way of the falling rubble only to see--the safe. As others work on the rubble...

"I'm on it," Lily suggests, and starts planting small objects with fuses. These are explosives. In addition, she reaches the safe, cuts one open... and starts funneling some powder into the lock. She sets the remaining charge in the bend. "...Fire in the hole!"

Boom.

DG: Lily Keil has used her Tool Explosive Charges toward her party's challenge, Father Mackenzie's Secret Cache.
<Pose Tracker> Gwen Whitlock has posed.

        "Well, if a friend hadn't asked me, I would've maybe been out just deliverin'." Gwen beams at Tobit, serving up a quick helping of her best 'aw, shucks' charm. "C'mon now, you're worryin' her! Surely you gotta admit, it's nice havin' someone concerned about your well-bein', you know? If you come all easy-like we could have a *real* reuni-"

        Of course it wasn't going to be that easy. As the roof collapses, Gwen blinks at at Lydia. "But your head ain't-"

        *CRASH*

        Thank goodness she managed to stumble back, receiving only an irritating amount of debris on her head. Nothing Gwen hasn't pulled herself out of before. Lydia, however...

        "Already on it!" The courier moves to attempt to just manhandle the larger bits of debris away, pausing to just watch in amazement as Arash just slings the floor's debris to the side in a tidy pile.

        She continues back onwards, moving towards Tethelle. "He was just over here, right? I don't think he's in any danger of bein' too hurt, if he was able to do that to a wooden beam. Even I gotta strike it just right, when they're made from decent wood n' all."

        Unfortunately, Gwen's contributions just might make poor Arash's clean-up job all in vain, if she's not careful with where she's punching. But with how mellow she feels from whatever great things Cyre's smoking over there, she's just plowing through, all the while explosions happen nearby. "Oh, Lily, did ya find anything in there?!" She pauses, then shouts louder, "Can you hear me okay?! That was pretty loud!!"

DG: Gwen Whitlock has used her Tool ARM-ored Fist toward her party's challenge, Father Mackenzie's Secret Cache.
===============================<* Hope Springs *>===============================
===============<* CHALLENGE - Father Mackenzie's Secret Cache *>================
|Type: Exploration |Dungeon Ability: Brute     |Challenge Rating: 1          | 
---------------------------< Challenge Information: >---------------------------
 Tucked within a partially collapsed building is a safe, its door already      
 half bent out of shape. It bears the Ethos insignia, and likely contains      
 useful equipment and supplies. It might come in handy if you, the masters of  
 unlocking, pry it open. A little noise is inevitable and might draw some      
 unwanted attention, but this seems like a worthwhile gamble.                  
=Dungeon Conditions: Overzealous, Treasure====================================
==========================<* Hope Springs - Round 4 *>==========================
=================< Results - Father Mackenzie's Secret Cache >==================
Player                               Exhaustion                      Pass/Fail
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Tethelle Cirdian                    45 --(15)--> 60                Pass
Force                               0   Brute   Effects: BASIC                
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Cyre H. Lorentz                     25 --(15)--> 40                Pass
Invigorating Vapors                 1   Brute   Effects: Cleanse              
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Arash Khan                          35 --(15)--> 50                Pass
King of Spades                      2   Brute   Effects: Resilient            
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Lily Keil                           30 --(15)--> 45                Pass
Explosive Charges                   2   Brute   Effects: Strengthen           
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Gwen Whitlock                       45 --(15)--> 60                Pass
ARM-ored Fist                       2   Brute   Effects: Strengthen           
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Lydia Seren                         35 --(15)--> 50                Pass
Force                               0   Brute   Effects: BASIC                
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Tobit Calice                        45 --(15)--> 60                Pass
Obstruction Complication            1   Brute   Effects: Sacrifice            
-----------------------------------< Party >------------------------------------
Leader: Tethelle Cirdian            50 --(25)--> 75                Pass
Conditions: Overzealous(2)|Reckless(1)|Treasure(1)
Effects: Cleanse|Resilient(1)|Strengthen(1)
===============================< Dream Chasers >================================
DG: The party led by Tethelle Cirdian has passed this challenge! The party gained 25 exploration! If anyone needs to use party
management commands, do so now. Otherwise, the next round's GM may begin the next round with +dungeon/draw.
DG: Tobit Calice has drawn a new Challenge.
===============================<* Hope Springs *>===============================
====================<* CHALLENGE - Saint Calice Orphanage *>====================
|Type: Climax      |Dungeon Ability: Combat    |Challenge Rating: 2          | 
---------------------------< Challenge Information: >---------------------------
 The Ethos-run Saint Calice Orphanage is ground zero of the fire that          
 consumed part of this town a year ago. It is a blacked-out ruin, still        
 smoldering somehow after all this time, likely due to the ambient             
 Malevolence. You approach it from the back, where nine shallow, makeshift     
 graves have been set up, adorned with mismatched crosses salvaged from the    
 surrounding buildings.                                                        
                                                                               
 After a moment, the ground shifts around the graves. Six pale, translucent,   
 empty-eyed figures rise out of the dirt, all of them children of various      
 ages. They invite you to play with them, in games that inevitably involve     
 dragging you back towards their graves, scalding you with each touch of       
 their little hands. And regardless of which game you play, gentle or          
 violent, they laugh and keep asking, "Why?"                                   
                                                                               
 They are dangerous, whether you can see them or not. You must fight, if you   
 are to put these souls to rest.                                               
=Dungeon Conditions: Fright===================================================


<Pose Tracker> Tobit Calice has posed.

For the record, Rosaline would probably fine with cracking this particular safe, since she likely had a key to it at SOME point. Of course, maybe she and the others are encountering an identical one at the other side of town right as we speak. Who even knows, sometimes.

In any case.

Tobit doesn't answer before kicking that beam over, though his eyes do greatly widen at Gwen's suggestion that her friend is concerned for his well-being. But soon he is buried by rubble. Or is he?

The rubble is cleared, thanks to Arash's surprisingly correct tool for the job and Tethelle's immense strength. But that was close! Lydia was almost a Lydia sandwich. Tobit is already gone, it seems, and there's a still-smoking, charred hole in the wall next to where he was standing. Hm.

Nevertheless, Gwen moves in to loosen the door further, with the help of her mechanical arm and Cyre's drugs, before Lily's explosives blow the lock wide open.

Success. The safe is cracked open, and inside is, indeed, a cache of valuable and useful items. As one would expect of the Ethos, it contains medicine and ARMs in equal measure.

Some of the medicine is about what one would expect, though a few of the drugs are fairly specialized and sought-after. The ARMs, meanwhile, are mostly gunsmoke weapons, though a small and simple but well-maintained Day of Collapse-era ARM or two might be in there if one rummages. There are even a few parts one could use to make something more heavy-duty later, if arts and crafts interest them.

There are also some odds and ends: For starters, dusty and empty liquor bottles, untouched in some time, at the bottom. But a much more recent addition is a stack of folded paper that seems to be made up of letters, none of which appear to have even made it into an envelope, much less been sent.

Gwen may have professional qualms about reading someone else's correspondence, even if it's a jerk's, and even if unsent mail may just not be mail at all. But it's a safe assumption that at least one person here (LYDIA??) will be enough of a gremlin to at least give these a skim.

The letters are signed "Toby", and are all addressed to Rosaline, starting around May of last year. The handwriting is impeccable, the result of many rulers across the knuckles. The content, meanwhile...

These are love letters. Cloyingly sweet in part, though a couple bear bloodstains that undercut the intent. Amateur poetry, childhood recollections, open talk of hopes and dreams, and oblique at best mentions of being part of a criminal organization, much less leading one.

But a few alarming passages stand out, even on a skim:

        "I know how you feel. We are both beasts, now."
                "I FREED you, why aren't you GRATEFUL?"
                        "I've achieved so much thanks to the Witch."
                                "They're happy in Heaven, I'm sure of that."

                                        "Will you marry me?"

Outside, a church's bells are ringing.

<Pose Tracker> Cyre H. Lorentz has posed.

Oh thank goodness Lydia isn't a pancake. Pan-cake. Hm. Goat puns.

As the smoke and the debris clear, Cyre is among the first to peer into the safe and begin collecting the items that were stored within. That's... a lot of ARMs. Bits and useful parts, too. Sure, a lot of it's gunsmoke, but there are a few gems in there! Not that Cyre would know, really. Still. "Anyone mind if I take a few of these parts? I've got a project I'm working on, y'see..."

A special project.

Yes indeedly.

But more importantly, there are... Notes. Letters. Correspondence that has never actually been sent, judging by the fact that they're stuck in this safe instead of out on the road. Cyre gives Gwen a questioning glance-- does she know if these things were at all sent out into the courier network?

Their content is reason enough for why they might have been returned. Both beasts? He freed her? This could only mean...

"Tobit," Cyre mutters, "Did he set fire to the orphanage...? What kind of monster..."

"Who is this witch he mentions? Is she responsible for this... corruption?"

<Pose Tracker> Tethelle Cirdian has posed.

Tethelle is not adverse to using her strength to bail someone out. Even if it is Lydia, who she's not sure what to think about - but she does know she doesn't want her to get squashed by rubble.

But Tobit got away before she got to him. Tethelle looks like she's going to punch the wall, but thinks better of it - the lat thing she wants to do is make anything that hasn't already collapsed fall in on her. Instead, she takes out her lingering emotions on some more of the rubble, pulling and working it away from the safe.

When the safe is opened, Tethelle goes for the medicine. She doesn't know much about ARMs, all told, and she has no interest whatsoever in the detritus of drinking or the papers. But she is going to help herself to the medicine, because that serves a practical purpose - they might need it in a few minutes, even.

Which means she is taken by surprise when Cyre starts talking about it. "What?" she asks, followed by: "Let me see." She doesn't take no for an answer after that, grabbing a few of the papers Cyre is done with away from him. Her scowl intensifies as she skims. "Rosaline..."

She lets the paper fall, when she's done. Usually, Tethelle can manage to look pleasant. She's more prone to smiles than frowns. Today... not so much. "Arson," she reminds Cyre, "is on his bounty."

<Pose Tracker> Lydia Seren has posed.

Lydia rubs at her head which is now bruising. She plucks up several of these letters and starts reading them. They're shitty poetry and not engineering documents which limits her interest, but a phrase stands out to her. "The Witch?" it sounds familiar, but that could mean a million things. She shoves that particular letter at Cyre, whom she figures will get appropriately enraged at the right time. Eventually (after everyone's had a look) she just gathers them all up and shoves them into her pack to enter the court record or appropriately set on fire later. She'll figure it out later.

"Let's get to the church." She says. "This guy's a total nutjob and a Hellion. He might have been a nutjob before becoming a Hellion." She frowns though before adding, "And like, he's obviously super racist. Like, just because someone's a cute girl with catears, it doesn't make them a cat. Even if they go 'nyaa nyaa'. I'm honestly getting annoyed. We're both beasts now? I guess I know why they call him Tobit. Because he's Tobitally a psycho."

She looks back to Tethelle, "Oh thanks for the help."

<Pose Tracker> Cyre H. Lorentz has posed.

"I am totally a cat though," Cyre says as Lydia so rudely steals his reading amterial. "I'm just piloting this human-shaped mini-gear."

<Pose Tracker> Lydia Seren has posed.

Lydia looks over to Cyre as he reveals the dire truth. "I guess I shouldn't just assume you're talking shit. We can perform tests." She pokes Cyre in the nose. "Is this how you open up?"

<Pose Tracker> Cyre H. Lorentz has posed.

"No," Cyre says ominously, "That's my self destruct switch."

Beat.

"The countdown is a few hundred years long though. You'll be waiting a while."

<Pose Tracker> Arash Khan has posed.

Arash Khan rifles through the assorted pistol parts and shotgun rounds in the safe for anything that might fit a man of his caliber. Suffice to say he's not disappointed, though he does wonder to himself how folks managed to fit an entire lightning strike into a pinch of powder. Science. It's scary, folks. The medicine doesn't particularly interest him - he knows where to get better.

More explosive than these exotic .303s is the promise of gossip. Arash can discretely read over shoulders and in the reflections of gun-barrels, but what he sees prompts him to rush forwards and gaze at the text from within spitting distance. "Tsch, that's the kind of thing that'd make a hardened geohound do this job for free. Whether or not this here 'witch' he's rambling about is real, I think we ought to get a move on."

He also can't resist contributing to the Cyre abuse. The cat-man's stomach is poked, right where a Kislev gear's evacuation switch would be. "Well darn, we gotta get you out of there then! Wouldn't want you missing your quinienceanera!"

<Pose Tracker> Cyre H. Lorentz has posed.

"That one," Cyre says of his belly-poke, "Is the night vision."

<Pose Tracker> Arash Khan has posed.

Arash Khan puts a pensive hand on his chin. "I suppose that would be handy for a feline, huh. Does that come standard or did the salesman give you a run for it?"

<Pose Tracker> Gwen Whitlock has posed.

        While Gwen initially hesitates on looking at the letters, even looking away when they're opened. "Well, I know a good home for some of this medicine," she idly comments, her eyes looking through the contents, skimming through the various labels. "If there's any left over after you guys have your share, if they're airtight, I can get 'em to a friend of mine in Little Twister." She clears her throat, realizing how that may sound. "... The Ethos orphanage. I'll check with Rosaline first, of course." It seemed like an apt use, considering this may have been what some of this may have been used for that. "The gunsmoke weapons..." She winces. "W-well, Silas wouldn't be too happy with any of those lying around, eheh..."

        The reason why Gwen finally relents and looks at the letters is clear, after she catches that look from Cyre. She shakes her head. "Ain't no postmark. They were never sent in the first place." Rubbing her chin at Arash and Cyre's comments, Gwen continues. "The only witch I really know about is that Agatha lady. While this kinda sounds like somethin' she'd do, 'sounds like' can't be confused with 'definitely did'. 'Specially considerin' I haven't solidly *met* Agatha. But why are you s-..." Her eyes suddenly go wide.

        Leave it to a person like Gwen to not realize just what those letteres were implying. ".... By the Guardians..." Then, because she's Gwen, she adds, "It could be somethin' else! Just 'cause he said this don't mean he..."

        'Arson is on his bounty.' Tethelle's words seal Gwen's optimism in a corner. "W-we can't tell Rosaline about this. Not until Tobit's put away. This'd... this'd right break her." Tears are beginning to collect in Gwen's eyes. "This is her friend. Maybe Lydia's right n' he was nutso before he became a Hellion, but, I mean. This ain't somethin' Rosaline needs on her conscience. 'Cause it ain't her fault, n' I'm almost certain she'll think it was." She wipes her eyes on her left sleeve, and sighs. "Sorry, some of this's hittin' close to home. You're right. We gotta keep goin' before we start thinkin' 'bout what all this means."

<Pose Tracker> Tethelle Cirdian has posed.

Tethelle Cirdian appears to be resistant to joking this time, but at least she doesn't interrupt. She busies herself with sorting through more of the medicine instead.

She agrees with Gwen, "Yeah. Well... If it was because he was a Hellion, it would be one thing. 'We are both beasts now...' But if he's chosen to do this since before that, there is only so much we can do."

Tethelle reshoulders her sword in its carrier. It catches the light along the edge of the blade. She doesn't say anything else.

<Pose Tracker> Cyre H. Lorentz has posed.

"The question is one of timing," Cyre agrees, his brief bout of escapist good cheer evaporating before the... enormity of what is being implied. "If he was corrupted by an outside power before setting the orphanage on fire, that'd be one thing, but... Until we know more, this stays between us. Alright?"

<Pose Tracker> Tobit Calice has posed.

Following the sound of church bells, you catch up to Tobit once more. He is no longer running, having stopped in front of the row of nine makeshift graves. He stares them down, defiantly, remaining silent until he hears your approach. He speaks up, for your benefit.

"The orphanage, this church, the people in them... They were her prison. They had to go. Nothing short of that could have freed her. I had no choice, do you understand? I HAD NO CHOICE!"

He turns back to face you, traces of tears streaking down his intact eye as he snarls. He holds out his arms as child-sized apparitions slowly emerge from the graves. He steps back right through them, used to their presence. They have been his constant companions for almost a year, after all. And once more, he's off, running through the orphanage's remains.

Already, the children are laughing and playing, their shapes indistinct. The smallest boy runs up to one of you, palm outstretched. "Tag! You're going to jail now!" Despite his demeanor, his palm is is red-hot, burning anything it comes in contact with.

One wants to drag someone to play hopscotch in his grave. One tugs on someone's sleeve, inviting them to play hide and seek. And throughout, amidst the laughter and invitations to play, they keep asking "Why?" Their eyes plead for answers about something none of you had anything to do with.

Like the earlier memory apparitions, those spirits dissipate when attacked, though they're rather more persistent. The lingering emotion that conjured them is tenacious indeed.

Of course, this scene must be very odd to poor old Arash, who can't even see nor hear the children. The damage they do is undeniable, however. He'll need to figure out a way to fight or get past something he can't even see.

DG: Tobit Calice has contributed a Combat Basic Action toward its party's challenge, Saint Calice Orphanage.
<Pose Tracker> Tethelle Cirdian has posed.

Once again, whether Tethelle is guiding the group or not, she ends up near the front. It's the best place for her, and it's where she wants to be.

At least she can tell which way he went. And where he's going. The bells...

When Tobit stops in front of the graves, and speaks to her, Tethelle feels something burst inside of her. "There is ALWAYS a choice!" she yells right back, in something like a fury. "That is the one thing that can never be taken from you! You choose! It may be painful, but YOU CHOOSE!"

Tethelle sees the ghosts - the Malevolence - rise, indistinct at first but becoming sharper as she focuses. Her lips start to move as Tobit flees, and when the ghosts approach her, she does not immediately strike them. She is calling upon the power of Equites in a way she does not, very often - but just because she doesn't doesn't mean she can't.

Tethelle's sword blazes a green that fades to a yellowish-gold near the tip. Rather than strike at the Malevolent ghosts, she reverses it; point-down, she drives it into the ground in front of her, somehow embedding its point a good foot with a single blow. Even she isn't that strong, without magic.

Where the graves are, swords like feathers fall, a truly impossible colour; yellow-gold at the base, then green, then yellow again before fading toward orange and red. A ring of the same swords fall around her, shielding her directly. Tethelle does not fight them directly; she blesses the ground with the only power that she knows how to, attempting to dispel them at the source and simply let the memories rest. It would never work on a Hellion, but for something like this, she hopes it is sufficient.

DG: Tethelle Cirdian has used her Tool Icon of Equites toward her party's challenge, Saint Calice Orphanage.
<Pose Tracker> Arash Khan has posed.

Arash Khan can't see a goshdarn thing in front of his face. He had pieced together some of how this whole 'Malevolence' thing works, but now that he's facing in its general direction...frankly he doesn't like it one bit. What did his wife always say in this situation? "If magic keeps you from seeing something, just keep punching until you hit something that breaks?" Well that certainly worked for her but it doesn't exactly fit his physique.

Come on, Arash, deduce something. We're at a burned orphanage, if anything awful lingers it's probably going to be small children. Very deprived small children.

So Arash takes out a small rubber ball. Painted tackily in yellow and blue, bought for a pittance in January. He throws it out with a cheery laugh. "Catch!" As expected, it freezes in mid-air and hurls itself back. Arash throws another, runs a course forwards, keeping an eye on the movement of dust around feet that aren't there.

Does this little game help some of these poor souls pass on? He can only hope.

DG: Arash Khan has contributed a Combat Basic Action toward his party's challenge, Saint Calice Orphanage.
<Pose Tracker> Cyre H. Lorentz has posed.

It's not hard to find Tobit. Not when he's practically announcing his presence with those damnable churchbells. Cyre follows close behind Talise, his expression dire and unreadable. What enables the Malevolence to take root in the heart? What is it that causes it to spread? And why does it seem to always find the most terrible way to stab you in the heart?

These are very important questions that must be answered. They will not be answered today.

Cyre stares at the man standing in front of the graves as he speaks, allowing the words, the tears, the rage, all of it to roll through him. "Prison? Is that what you think this was?"

He turns his head towards the ruins, the graves. Everything. Everything. All the smoldering dreck that used to be a town. "Don't you realize what you've done? By destroying this place, you've shackled her to it. You are the one responsible for her prison. By driving that wedge of guilt into her heart, you've chained her to this. To you. You have given her no choice."

No choice.

Cyre's stare turns to a scornful glare as those... Those phantoms emerge from the graves. "You... You're using their spirits as weapons now? What kind of hypocrite--"

No. No time for that. The shaman whispers a prayer to the Guardian of the Skies. Arcane circles unfold in the sky. Even as Tethelle summons the power of the Sword Guardian, more impossible color floods down into the world. Cyre channels his strength through the medium, weaving it into an Arcana that some crest sorcerers might find... Familiar.

Though it typically manifests in the form of spheres of multicolored light, not actual honest-to-goodness sky lasers. Cyre roars its name into the world as the beams pour down. Valkyrie

DG: Cyre H. Lorentz has contributed a Combat Basic Action toward his party's challenge, Saint Calice Orphanage.
<Pose Tracker> Lydia Seren has posed.

Lydia hopes that that was enough booping of Cyre to keep her chill for the duration of this adventure.

 "Man," Lydia says to Tobit. "You killed a buncha orphans. Don'tcha think we're' a little past the whole 'please understand me' bit? Did you kick handicapped people down stairs too? I don't know much about this Rosaline gal, but I think she could've killed the orphans herself if she wanted to, y'sick fuck."

She pauses for a moment and adds, "Sorry for losin' my temper. Granny Halle said I should not act outta anger, but I've gotta plenty more emotions...wanted to tear you a new one, so I think it'll be okay."

She does not seem to be interested in Tobit's cosmic mind. Nevertheless, Lydia deals with the orphans the way she's been trained to. She plays with them.

She drops down a soccerball and says, "Get it past me, if you wanna win!"

She darts through the crowd of orphans with the ball, kicking it between her legs and at one point hopping over a small ghost child by holding the ball between her feet as she jumps.

"I mean I get whatcha saying. Small towns totally suck to be 'trapped' in...but nothing stopped her or you from leaving!" She points dramatically like a lawyer at Tobit. "So quit your nonsense and show us your true form, Hellion!!"

DG: Lydia Seren has contributed a Combat Basic Action toward her party's challenge, Saint Calice Orphanage.
<Pose Tracker> Lily Keil has posed.

Lily, who is rooting around for a heavy pistol and some ammunition for same, a particularly sturdy model from what she's seeing, is not the witch referred to in this... Though as people read that title aloud, Lily glances--particularly at Lydia. "Different Witch," she says flatly. "...And I can keep a secret." But that's before Tobit speaks up, before they're at him following church bells, and he... explains.

Lily listens, expressionless, the witch with this group staring at him as he shows his tears, steps through the ghost. She stares after him.

"...I can almost respect that," she admits. "Doing whatever it takes for the one you love, no matter what it does to you. ...But you have to tell her. You have to bring it to her. And to use the spirits of those dead this way..."

Lily shakes her head. "That can't be forgiven. I'm being paid to take you alive... But that's all."

She steps forward; a child burns her arm badly just touching her as she stares down into the apparition, golden eyes boring through as she puts out a hand and a spark of golden fire engulfs her palm. She brings it down on the child's shoulder. "...Sleep." Nuclear fire is... one form of purification.

From there she walks forward, loading her weapon, walking right through, bracing herself for impacts as the others interact more direction with them. She flicks her wrist, and the chamber closes as she walks inexorably for where Tobit went.

DG: Lily Keil has contributed a Combat Basic Action toward her party's challenge, Saint Calice Orphanage.
<Pose Tracker> Gwen Whitlock has posed.

        "What you did, sir, is take her out of one prison and slam her into an even darker prison. One that's gonna haunt her for the rest of her life." Her voice quiets, her gaze falls down. "You were tryin' to help her. I can get that part. But you can't make decisions for someone else. She could've really used your confidence instead. No one likes tryin' to break from a safe path alone."

        It'll take more than words to make this right, however. She's only said a few sentences, and Tobit's had at least a year to fill himself with denial over what he's done.

        Maybe, that's where Gwen's childhood was different. All the kids she hung out with were different, and cruel in their own ways, but none of them tried to run her life. She got to choose.

        "We got spirits 'ere," she says, raising her voice for the benefit of anyone who may not be able to see the children. Lydia, Tethelle, and Cyre are Baskar, so that means they can kindasorta see them, right? Lily's... Lily. That leaves... Arash. Maybe. Gwen's not sure what Arash's abilities are, outside of 'being kind of amazing'. "If you can't see 'em, uh... be really, really thankful 'cause I ain't havin' good dreams tonight."

        Like Lily, one of the children grasp for her right hand, their hands leaving the burnt remains of a handprint on her glove. Gwen flinches back, her metal ARM sending the odd sensation of heat and hollow pain, even if the surface of the ARM itself is fine.

        "I'm real sorry, really I am..."

        The same ARM the child grasped is extended outwards, panels beginning to shift and spark to life with a growing electric charge. "If you were alive, I wouldn't even be considerin' this, really. But even I got my limits." Gwen continues to charge her ARM, the charge making the wisps of light red hair peeking out from under her hat float upwards with the force of her body's own energy. "So what I'm sayin' is... uh... real sorry..."

        Throwing her arm around, she casts a field of electric energy, consciously moving it to miss her comrades. If they're anything spirit-like, maybe these ghosts will respond to electricity.

        "... I'm... not real okay with this," Gwen finally says, her eyes beginning to tear up again. "But I'm more worried about Rosaline right now. Let's keep goin'."

DG: Gwen Whitlock has used her Tool Full Metal Courier toward her party's challenge, Saint Calice Orphanage.
===============================<* Hope Springs *>===============================
====================<* CHALLENGE - Saint Calice Orphanage *>====================
|Type: Climax      |Dungeon Ability: Combat    |Challenge Rating: 2          | 
---------------------------< Challenge Information: >---------------------------
 The Ethos-run Saint Calice Orphanage is ground zero of the fire that          
 consumed part of this town a year ago. It is a blacked-out ruin, still        
 smoldering somehow after all this time, likely due to the ambient             
 Malevolence. You approach it from the back, where nine shallow, makeshift     
 graves have been set up, adorned with mismatched crosses salvaged from the    
 surrounding buildings.                                                        
                                                                               
 After a moment, the ground shifts around the graves. Six pale, translucent,   
 empty-eyed figures rise out of the dirt, all of them children of various      
 ages. They invite you to play with them, in games that inevitably involve     
 dragging you back towards their graves, scalding you with each touch of       
 their little hands. And regardless of which game you play, gentle or          
 violent, they laugh and keep asking, "Why?"                                   
                                                                               
 They are dangerous, whether you can see them or not. You must fight, if you   
 are to put these souls to rest.                                               
=Dungeon Conditions: Fright===================================================
==========================<* Hope Springs - Round 5 *>==========================
======================< Results - Saint Calice Orphanage >======================
Player                               Exhaustion                      Pass/Fail
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Tethelle Cirdian                    60 --(5)--> 65                 Pass
Icon of Equites                     1   Combat  Effects: Cleanse              
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Cyre H. Lorentz                     40 --(5)--> 45                 Pass
Fight                               0   Combat  Effects: BASIC                
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Arash Khan                          50 --(5)--> 55                 Fail
Fight                               0   Combat  Effects: BASIC                
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Lily Keil                           45 --(5)--> 50                 Pass
Fight                               0   Combat  Effects: BASIC                
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Gwen Whitlock                       60 --(5)--> 65                 Pass
Full Metal Courier                  2   Combat  Effects: Embolden             
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Lydia Seren                         50 --(5)--> 55                 Fail
Fight                               0   Combat  Effects: BASIC                
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Tobit Calice                        60 --(5)--> 65                 Pass
Fight                               0   Combat  Effects: BASIC                
-----------------------------------< Party >------------------------------------
Leader: Tethelle Cirdian            75 --(0)--> 75                 Pass
Conditions: Fright(2)|Overzealous(1)
Effects: Cleanse|Embolden(1)
===============================< Dream Chasers >================================
DG: The party led by Tethelle Cirdian has passed this challenge! The party gained 0 exploration! If anyone needs to use party
management commands, do so now. Otherwise, the next round's GM may begin the next round with +dungeon/draw.
DG: Tobit Calice has drawn a new Challenge.
===============================<* Hope Springs *>===============================
==========================<* CHALLENGE - The Chapel *>==========================
|Type: Final       |Dungeon Ability: Wits      |Challenge Rating: 3          | 
---------------------------< Challenge Information: >---------------------------
 The smoke clears. Before you looms the chapel adjoining the orphanage, still  
 standing despite being surrounded by fire-crumbled buildings. It has been     
 put back together like a puzzle whose pieces have been jammed into one        
 another haphazardly, with minimal regard towards forming a coherent picture.  
 Grotesquely misshapen stained glass windows, broken pews and shattered angel  
 statues have been assembled into the general shape of a church and spackled   
 with pulsating, purple gunk.                                                  
                                                                               
 The belfry is elsewhere in town, and so an entire side of its                 
 cobbled-together replacement is a gaping hole. Despite the lack of bells,     
 their distinct sound makes itself heard at your approach. Bandits gather at   
 the entrance, looking in good spirits-- They haven't noticed you yet. No,     
 this is not an alarm, it's a celebration, to which they've all been invited.  
 From their words and demeanor, you understand.                                
                                                                               
 This is a wedding. Tobit Calice, the groom, is the first to enter, wearing a  
 white tuxedo. The bride should be along very shortly. His goons remain        
 outside, awaiting her arrival.                                                
                                                                               
 If you can make your way inside the chapel without alerting the bandits       
 outside, you could get the drop on Tobit and outnumber him. But considering   
 the building's hazardous architecture and the amount of eyes on it, this      
 will require a lot of skill. Most importantly, this will take one hell of a   
 plan. Any suggestions?                                                        
=Dungeon Conditions: Reckless, Overzealous====================================
<Pose Tracker> Tobit Calice has posed.

People are mad at Tobit, and righteously so. Tethelle screams that he had a choice. He bares his teeth at her, seeming to respectfully disagree. Lydia has no patience for his psychopathic pity party. Lily almost sees where he's coming from, but draws the line. Her threat only deepens the eyepatched man's scowl. Cyre points out the flaws in his twisted reasoning, his obvious hypocrisies. Gwen spells it out further. Tobit has chained Rosaline to this horror he started. To him.

"...That's the idea," he says, somberly, before stepping away, following the sound of bells. He won't be showing them his true form just yet. Soon, though.

The children are glad at least someone is willing to play along. Arash and Lydia toss and kick balls, respectively, but a moment later find them coming back superheated, which makes further playtime difficult.

It calms them, at least, setting the stage for the other, more aggressive approaches. Tethelle's swords do what they can to purify the land, in their own way. The apparitions waver in response, not actually seeming to notice them.

Then comes Cyre's own form of purification presented as multicolored orbital bombardment. Lily and Gwen contribute nuclear fire and supercharged electricity, respectively, all managing to disrupt the apparitions, which... do not reappear. It's hard to tell whether they were banished for good, but hopefully it'll be possible to finish the job later.

The group proceeds towards the ringing bells. In the distance, partially obscured by a forming crowd, Tobit is walking into the patchwork church's front door. He glances over his shoulder. He knows you're coming. He likely knows Rosaline's group is coming, too.

That's the idea.

The doors close. Though festive, his henchlizard-people and his hellhounds have likely been warned about the Drifters' arrival. It might be possible to use the husks of the neighboring buildings as cover to sneak in, but it will be a treacherous climb, and a distraction might be warranted. But if you succeed, this may mean finally cornering that terrible, slippery man.

This will either be one hell of a fight, or one hell of a sneaking mission. Or why not both?

What's the plan?

DG: Tobit Calice has contributed a Wits Basic Action toward its party's challenge, The Chapel.
<Pose Tracker> Arash Khan has posed.

Arash Khan takes in the chaos and confusion of the chapel, the overwhelming stench of ash, the ravening crowd of bandits

<Pose Tracker> Arash Khan has posed.

Arash Khan takes in the chaos and confusion of the chapel, the overwhelming stench of ash, the ravening crowd of bandits. Tobit, on top of his other sins, is a terrible wedding planner! Arash didn't struggle for months without sleep setting up his own to see this layabout disrespect the art! "Disgusting. The man hasn't even planned for food service." Indeed, the gurgles of outlaw bellies are audible from here.

With a deft finger he traces out routes that he figures are well-concealed, or easy to navigate for less swift, though "you could charge down from 'em well enough to, if'n it comes to that." He figures the other Drifters know what to do. "I'll be, ah, assisting from a more direct route."

One rubber bullet to a head and a few style adjustments later, and Tobit's wedding has a new caterer! And despite this outlaw's rough appearance, his food has a distinctly intoxicating scent to it. More than a few members of the Calice gang saunter over for a quick bite.

Arash's cart of goodies wheels just far enough from the main crowd to avoid too much of a fuss, of course. And is there a special surprise the other Drifters may have hidden beneath its curtains? There very well might be.

DG: Arash Khan has used his Tool Mixed Berry Isolate toward his party's challenge, The Chapel.
<Pose Tracker> Tethelle Cirdian has posed.

Of all the things Tethelle has learned, in her travels and before, that is the most important: You choose your own path.

That he's chosen a bad one - and blames everybody but himself - grates on her. Exactly what he's choosing to do makes her angry. She's ready to come down on him like a hammer - or a sword. Is that not what she's for? Isn't that what Equites chose her to do?

Tethelle pulls her sword out - it actually sticks, she has to really yank to get it back out of the ground - as the Malevolent images fade. It will take more work to finish the job, but hopefully they will stay down for now; they don't feel like ghosts, just hollow images full of too much malice. They've upset her in a different way than Tobit has.

Tethelle actually lets Arash cause a distraction before she barges in, which is better than people would likely expect from her; she tends to be pretty direct at problem solving. But she's not stupid, and she can restrain herself.

She climbs into position while he's rolling the cart around; the treacherous climb is the easiest part of this for her. Eventually, she sees the guard who is looking near where she wants to drop down turn, and that's when she takes advantage of it to leap down. She has a cape wrapped around her shoulders that hasn't been seen before, a white and grey-feathered cape that goes with her decorative skirt.

Holding the sides of it as she descends, Tethelle doesn't drop so much as drift into the building; she holds it closer to her body to accelerate, touching down and immediately trying to scurry under a pew. She half-expects to be spotted at any time, and she's ready to lash out as soon as she is, but she'll at least try to sneak closer, first.

The one she really wants, after all, is Tobit.

DG: Tethelle Cirdian has contributed a Wits Basic Action toward her party's challenge, The Chapel.
<Pose Tracker> Cyre H. Lorentz has posed.

Cyre spends a moment in the wake of the elemental cataclysm to clasp a hand around Gwen's (non-metallic) shoulder. "Gwen, I know this must be tearing you up inside. But don't worry, if they were actually children, then all you did was to set their spirits free of this... This nightmare. If they weren't, then... Well. Don't let the guilt get to you, is what I'm saying. That's the way they take you down. Everything is meant to inspire an emotional response, to get us to feel helpless. Fight through it. We can't help the dead, but Rosaline is still alive in the here and now."

"Come on," Cyre says, having done his duty as Resident Divine Spellcaster. "Let's keep going."

Going... To deal with what is possibly the most macabre wedding he's ever seen. Cyre frowns and quietly manipulates the local atmosphere, muffling the sounds of the group's footsteps and the creak of loose floorboards as they make their way upwards and into the chapel. A fight that they don't initiate would be disadvantageous, to say the least. Sneaking in, they're almost sitting ducks. But if they can get through, then they can get the drop on that bastard before he does anything stupid.

To this end, Cyre tries to live up to his namesake.

Speciessake?

He is a cat and does as cats will do, moving sure-footedly as Arash busily works to keep the enemy's eyes on him down below. He's a regular at this; a natural cat burglar, keeping knees and back bent low and stepping deftly up and into the building before making his way into the rafters to prepare an ambush.

Of course, if it doesn't work out, he has... Other methods.

Other, much more violent methods.

DG: Cyre H. Lorentz has contributed a Wits Basic Action toward his party's challenge, The Chapel.
<Pose Tracker> Tethelle Cirdian has posed.

Tethelle Cirdian has no words of wisdom for Gwen.

She's so upset she doesn't trust herself to come up with any.

<Pose Tracker> Lily Keil has posed.

Lily stares in golden-eyed silence at Tobit when he speaks, when he steps away. "...Save your apologies," she says to Gwen, her voice taking on a more gentle cast. "Save that energy for the man we have to stop. For now, you do what you have to do. You don't have to be okay with it; you only have to live. If you live, you can protect those you care about."

Such is Lily's reaction for Gwen. ...But as they approach, she sees opportunity; there are guards here... but the chapel doesn't have a lot of exits from what she can see. There's warning, but the nearby buildings might be usable. Arash is already working on a distraction, so Lily starts shifting to the side, towards the buildings, considering her next move. She gets to climbing, carefully, a little slowly, but once she's above... She plots out her path towards the hole, to literally drop in. In the meantime...

She closes her eyes, puts out a hand, and the entryway begins to... chill. Ice crystals begin to spread at the path the henchfolks would have to take in, rendering it slippery, treacherous, though the effort costs Lily, makes her grit her teeth and her head swim briefly. She nearly slips. Only nearly.

She'll be along in a moment. She's just doing her part. ...And in her hand is a notebook, where she's recorded what looks like the approaches of the rest. If she can use this data, then the best place to strike will be...

She makes her plan.

DG: Lily Keil has used her Tool Lily's Notebook toward her party's challenge, The Chapel.
<Pose Tracker> Lydia Seren has posed.

Lydia proceeds to the chapel, glancing over to Gwen. She looks away quickly, clenching her fist. She looks towards Lily as she writes in her notebook and turns to look at the lizardpeople and hell...hounds.

Hellhounds.

Lydia closes her eyes. Hell....hounds.

"I got it." She says, plucking Schrodinger out from her clothes and throwing the cat forward and then ducing behind some cover.

Schrodinger splits into several Schrodingers that split further into other Schrodingers and they scamper about the area.

The hellhounds perk their ears and give chase.

"YAP YAP YAP YAP YAP YAP YAP YAP YAP YAP!"

DG: Lydia Seren has used her Tool Schrodinger the Cat toward her party's challenge, The Chapel.
<Pose Tracker> Gwen Whitlock has posed.

        ' ...That's the idea.' Tobit's words stun any snappy response Gwen might've managed, leaving her stunned as he makes his departure.

        The fact that she had to use force to possibly send a bunch of kids' spirits to the afterlife is insult to injury at this point. At least, she *thinks* they're spirits. Or ghosts. Or something spooky. She wants them to be, for so many reasons.

        Seeing the resolve of those who go forward makes Gwen already feel better. Lily offers wise words, and Cyre takes a moment to press a hand on Gwen's left shoulder. She gives Lily a small, genuine smile, and Cyre a brief sympathetic squeeze with her right hand, her grip very gentle. "Thanks. I'll be fine. Felt I needed to cry a little bit. Been takin' this too personally." She doesn't offer any other explanations or apologies, just a further nod towards Lydia. ... Okay, maybe that was one more apology, as that nod was very apologetic. "Let's go."

        One thing's for certain: as Gwen comes upon the Malevolence-decked chapel, Gwen's feeling *extremely* thankful that all Janus really wants to do upon seeing her is 1. chat with her, 2. shoot her, 3. stab her, 4. some or all of the above. He doesn't want to marry her or fix her life. So yeah, Janus is looking really great compared to Tobit!

        The other thing is... Gwen doesn't know how the heck she should handle this. When Arash supplies them all with a proper distraction, Gwen clasps her hands together and shakes them in front of her, as if he was answering her prayers. Even if her stomach threatens to join the chorus of the others. So. Yes. Time for a good method to get into the church!

        Unfortunately, she follows Cyre instead, something she quickly realizes is kind of a mistake, as she's not, well, a cat, but a young woman with a goddamn metal ARM to balance with.

        She'll manage. Hopefully.

DG: Gwen Whitlock has contributed a Wits Basic Action toward her party's challenge, The Chapel.
===============================<* Hope Springs *>===============================
==========================<* CHALLENGE - The Chapel *>==========================
|Type: Final       |Dungeon Ability: Wits      |Challenge Rating: 3          | 
---------------------------< Challenge Information: >---------------------------
 The smoke clears. Before you looms the chapel adjoining the orphanage, still  
 standing despite being surrounded by fire-crumbled buildings. It has been     
 put back together like a puzzle whose pieces have been jammed into one        
 another haphazardly, with minimal regard towards forming a coherent picture.  
 Grotesquely misshapen stained glass windows, broken pews and shattered angel  
 statues have been assembled into the general shape of a church and spackled   
 with pulsating, purple gunk.                                                  
                                                                               
 The belfry is elsewhere in town, and so an entire side of its                 
 cobbled-together replacement is a gaping hole. Despite the lack of bells,     
 their distinct sound makes itself heard at your approach. Bandits gather at   
 the entrance, looking in good spirits-- They haven't noticed you yet. No,     
 this is not an alarm, it's a celebration, to which they've all been invited.  
 From their words and demeanor, you understand.                                
                                                                               
 This is a wedding. Tobit Calice, the groom, is the first to enter, wearing a  
 white tuxedo. The bride should be along very shortly. His goons remain        
 outside, awaiting her arrival.                                                
                                                                               
 If you can make your way inside the chapel without alerting the bandits       
 outside, you could get the drop on Tobit and outnumber him. But considering   
 the building's hazardous architecture and the amount of eyes on it, this      
 will require a lot of skill. Most importantly, this will take one hell of a   
 plan. Any suggestions?                                                        
=Dungeon Conditions: Reckless, Overzealous====================================
==========================<* Hope Springs - Round 6 *>==========================
============================< Results - The Chapel >============================
Player                               Exhaustion                      Pass/Fail
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Tethelle Cirdian                    65 --(100)--> 165              Fail
Investigate                         0   Wits    Effects: BASIC                
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Cyre H. Lorentz                     45 --(100)--> 145              Fail
Investigate                         0   Wits    Effects: BASIC                
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Arash Khan                          55 --(100)--> 155              Pass
Mixed Berry Isolate                 2   Wits    Effects: Efficient and Cleanse
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Lily Keil                           50 --(100)--> 150              Pass
Lily's Notebook                     2   Wits    Effects: Enlighten            
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Gwen Whitlock                       65 --(100)--> 165              Fail
Investigate                         0   Wits    Effects: BASIC                
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Lydia Seren                         55 --(100)--> 155              Pass
Schrodinger the Cat                 2   Wits    Effects: Enlighten            
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Tobit Calice                        65 --(100)--> 165              Fail
Investigate                         0   Wits    Effects: BASIC                
-----------------------------------< Party >------------------------------------
Leader: Tethelle Cirdian            75 --(10)--> 85                Fail
Conditions: Fright(1)|Overzealous(2)|Reckless(2)
Effects: Cleanse|Enlighten(1)
===============================< Dream Chasers >================================
DG: Tethelle Cirdian is too exhausted to continue!
DG: Cyre H. Lorentz is too exhausted to continue!
DG: Arash Khan is too exhausted to continue!
DG: Lily Keil is too exhausted to continue!
DG: Gwen Whitlock is too exhausted to continue!
DG: Lydia Seren is too exhausted to continue!
DG: Tobit Calice is too exhausted to continue!
DG: The party led by Tethelle Cirdian has been fully Exhausted by Hope Springs!
DG: The party will now draw a conclusion.
===============================<* Hope Springs *>===============================
=======================<* CHALLENGE - Front Row Seats *>========================
|Type: Escape      |Dungeon Ability: Conclusion|Challenge Rating: 1          | 
---------------------------< Challenge Information: >---------------------------
 Something breaks when it shouldn't, making a disproportionate amount of noise.
 You attract attention, but narrowly avoid getting shot by a dozen gunsmoke ARMs
 at once. This plan didn't work out, but you manage to regroup.
 Time is running out. It seems youll have to fight your way in after all. At
 least there aren't THAT many bandits, right?
 (OOC: Your team will be starting the Gunslinger fight in Part 2 guns blazing,
 kicking bandit butt and so forth. This means Tobit will have all the time he
 wants to do his villain speech, but neither of you will have the upper hand
 on one another. Save the date!)
=Dungeon Conditions: Overwhelm================================================
<Pose Tracker> Tobit Calice has posed.

Arash discovers a glaring flaw in Tobit's wedding planning. The man did have food prepared, of course, but it seems to be late. Perhaps the other group knows why. His unforgettable luncheon attracts attention, but the bandits, hunched-over as they are, don't smell the scent of deceit on him.

Cats appear, or rather several instances of the same cat. This distracts the hounds as intended, causing chaos among the rest of the bandits, compounded by the icy ground causing some to domino into one another. The coast is clear for the others...

...until it isn't.

Lily has planned her entry with great precision, but even the greatest of plans can crumble when put into contact with reality. Gwen is the first to fall, likely still shaken by recent revelations. Lily does too, and so does Arash, his catering done... but perhaps the old man has a trick up his sleeve, still.

The doors swing open, and soon bandits surround the fallen ones, restraining them in short order. The others are a bit luckier. They lost the advantage, but they're still free.

They were itching for a fight. They'll get one.