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ZEITGEIST Tizbiz Zeitgeist Campaign


Episode 60
A broken Lion

Auryn immediately gets that something isn't right at all regarding Asrabey, so she uses see invisibility to keep the Dreadnaught in sight. As Asrabey's ethereal state allows him to move to virtually any direction, she also activates her wings of flying to stay close enough to not lose touch with him.

“Asrabey I don't understand! Why are you running from me?”, Auryn calls out to him, but Asrabey refuses to give her any concrete answer, trying to have her stay away from him and leave him be.

After a minute of cat-and-mouse through the streets of the harbor district. Asrabey's etherealness wears off, giving Auryn a chance to take over and place herself directly in his way. But before he clashes with her, Asrabey activates a flying spell of his own and takes to the sky, ascending at full speed. And of course, Auryn follows his trail close by. She calls out to him again and again, trying to confront him as directly as possible, but Asrabey simply avoids her, while obviously doing his best to not harm Auryn in the process. Being both irritated and encouraged by this more familiar behavior, Auryn finally dares to grab him by his arms and look him straight in the eyes.

“Just give up and let me go. I'm not bluffing this time!”, Asrabey cries, reversing the direction of his flight all of a sudden, which makes both of them descend downwards at an alarming rate.

“I wont! I won't give up on this world and I won't give up on you! You were the one who encouraged me to never stop dreaming when I realized that Elfaivar wasn't what I thought it to be. We can still make a better future – together.”

With these words, Auryn embraces Asrabey, spreading her wings wide, desperately trying to slow both of them down. All of a sudden, Asrabey looks back at her in horror, then breaks down altogether while he passivizes his flight spell. Auryn finally stabilizes both of them him and slowly glides to the ground, wrapping her arms around him to support his weight.

(I... kind of imagined a sort of pieta scene there)

Only then does Asrabey reveal to her that he is convinced that the Obscurati are right and that the world is broken and needs a restart. But due to her reaction and persistence, he sees that there is no way left for him. Ultimately, the Obs had been founded by Kasvarina and the world as it was, with all its conflicts, had only led the Eladrin people to the brink of destruction. So championing their cause seemed like the reasonable choice. Auryn agrees with Asrabey that the Obscurati's idea of creating a better world is laudable on paper and that the original plan for change was a good one. However, this plan was not implemented and she learned that Nicodemus didn't care about the means used to get there.

Kasvarina had also turned her back on her former companion after realizing that he had only manipulated her for centuries, Auryn continues to explain. And then Nicodemus committed the ultimate crime by being responsible for Launga's death.

“But Gabriel and me are different. We want to save this world, yes, but we will do it the right way. You cannot walk the path of utter darkness to reach the light. And empathy can't be achieved by slaughtering everyone in your way and mind-controlling the rest. Empathy needs faith and trust.”, she says gently, touching the Dreadnaught's hair as if he was a lost child.

Only then does she realize that Asrabey also seems to be affected by this mind-controlling influence and offers to take the magic away from him. Asrabey finally decides to trust Auryn, and she removes the influence from him. Afterwards, she takes him with her and spends quite some time with him to help the Eladrin sort himself out and eventually find a new path.
Meanwhile, Beshela and King Gabriel are left utterly confused at the scene. Gabriel senses that there is something odd with Asrabey, but decides to best leave it to Auryn to deal with him.

(First, Gabriel still isn't the biggest fan of Asrabey and second, this didn't seem like a situation where the bonding between two veterans would be helpful)

So he calls for a retreat and invites the druids and some high-ranking mages, including Kasvarina, Harkover Lee, and other Eladrin, for training. After all, the confrontation with the Kraken will require a lot of magic, and access to the new magic could also give them a decisive advantage in defending against the Obs and the Danorans.

It takes two full days for Asrabey and Auryn to return to the King and his Kraken-squad. Asrabey appears to be a bit more stable now and takes the opportunity to explain himself to King Gabriel. He reports that he had come into contact with Obscurati followers in Ber, and that their arguments had sounded more and more logical. He had then searched for a text that he had once seen in the Forbidden City, describing a ritual that could be used to strip a Fey Lord of his powers. He wanted to use it to bring She Who Writhes under control. Luckily, Auryn was able to open his eyes in time, and so he asks to be allowed to prove himself once again.

Gabriel is of course surprised at first and also skeptical if Asrabey can still be trusted after such an almost-betrayal. Auryn promises him that this time Asrabey will dutifully fulfill his role as Beshala's protector, and the King nods to Asrabey's request.

“Alright. I still have doubts, but I trust her judgment. Take this chance, but be assured that I give these only once.”

Since the Eladrin is without any further mission besides taking on the Kraken, he states that he'd also needs another duty afterward. Gabriel briefly looks at Auryn, and she is quick to take his hint as a call to “do something with him”.

“Be my Champion. Help us defend against the Obscurati, reach Axis Island and save Lanjyr.”, she says.

“Your...Champion? I don't... I mean... who are you that I can champion you?”, Asrabey responds, looking pretty unsure on what to do with this proposal.

For quite a moment, Auryn is shaken, struggling to find the right words, if any.

“Or you can... become guard of King Gabriel. Join his loyal force and protect him from his enemies”, she continues, looking pleading at Gabriel who appears to be very much not happy with the prospect of having to have Asrabey around him far more often than he feels comfortable with.
But finally King Gabriel reluctantly recruits him for the team that will search the Axis Island.

(Aw man, such an uncomfortable situation for all involved.

Gabriel had the most obvious part. He respects Asrabey as a warrior and veteran, but he hates his chaos and methods. So he deems him useful but tries to have him around as little as possible. And now he's going to have to give him orders and have him as part of his team on a regular basis.

Auryn was visibly shaken by Asrabey's refusal to be her champion. In her eyes, taking the opportunity would be an honorable task for an Eladrin man, especially one of her family and especially after what she had just risked and done for him. So basically a no-brainer. Bring refused by – in her eyes – basically saying that she is “no one” took that tiny crack in her self conscious and brought an axe down on it. Yet another sign that she was out of the grand equation. And a terrible state to enter the encounter with She Who Writhes as we will see.

Asrabey had been convinced that the Obs were right and after all that happened between him and Kasvarina he had also settled with the thought of breaking up with his wife and Matriarch. They had just ended up on different roads and it was for the better. This Kas wasn't the woman he had married, but Auryn reminded him of her. At least her stubbornness, spirit and willpower. They had a connection, which is the only reason why she was able to get through to him. But – and this is my interpretation – being Auryn's champion would put him in basically a similar situation that he was in for centuries. A situation he'd just escaped from and that just led him to tragedy. So he needed a cop-out. Better a quick cut now than risk another tragedy.

And yes, this is a rather short entry, but the return of Asrabey is better as a standalone before returning to more Titan shenanigans)

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I think you're the only group not to have to beat Asrabey down. Nice job having enough of a bond with him to get him to have perspective.
Oh yes! I'm really glad that we managed to get through to him. But as I said previously, we got some rather unusual cast of characters on the final "living" and "dead" list. Asrabey is among the former right now :)

Dawn Knight and deadly whispers
Before we deal with the Kraken, the whole team is tasked with more magic training to be fully prepared for going against a Titan. We also take this time to discuss our plans for the future. Gabriel takes Auryn aside and states that he needs to talk to her as he understands Auryn's desire for an official role or office.

“When you proposed to become the Green Knight, I knew that you would be up to the task, but all other matters aside, you are more than just a warrior. For Risur and especially for me. Perhaps you are more capable of giving people hope than anyone else. And since this world needs more hope, and especially more light, I thought that this is what I see in you: A bringer of light, the only one I would task with returning to the world what it needs in these dark times: A sun. So if you agree to take this task, I would appoint you as Dawn Knight.”

“Of course I accept! Thank you! I promise that I won't fail Risur and all of Lanjyr.”, Auryn exclaims, with an expression of pride and joy on her face.

“Leave the vows to your inauguration”, Gabriel replies with a mischievous wink. Afterwards, he signals his staff to prepare for the appointment of another official office of Risur as soon as possible.

The royal staff heeds the King's orders and it doesn't take too much time for the inauguration ceremony to take place in Flint. King Gabriel repeats the tasks of the office of the Dawn Knight to the public, stating that ever since Starfall Lanjyr was riddled with darkness and despair, and that he and Auryn are making a stand against this breakdown. He explains that while he as King of Risur has the duty of keeping Risur safe and also keeping the Titans in check as a result of Kelland's legacy, he will leave the task of restoring overall hope to his most loyal companion, whom he would task with returning the light to Lanjyr. A task that of course isn't limited to Risur alone. He then goes on, stating that the Dawn Knight will be given complete independence in her duty, being allowed to even defy the King's orders, but she will be held responsible for any action after her deed is done should she overstep the moral boundaries of what is good and appropriate.

Auryn officially accepts the role of Dawn Knight, states that she feels honored to be given such a pivotal mission and vows to fulfill her role as the bringer of dawn whatever it may take. She ends her speech with the claim that darkness is nothing to fear if one keeps the light in their heart and concludes with a song about bringing a new dawn accompanied with her light of Srasama.

(Shortly after this scene I stumbled across this song and I thought it fit the scene wonderfully. The singer also is pretty close to my image of a live-action Auryn if she was more east asian inspired than indian.

And like the powers of the King, the Dawn Knight came with a progression of perks akin to an epic destiny. The major feature was the ability to use several light-based spells which was a truly unique feature in a world where this was extremely difficult otherwise. Lore-wise it was based on the growing support of the populace in Auryn's ability to actually bring back the light and usher in the new Dawn. And yes, this was a genius idea of Carlyle's player which will become a recurring theme from this point onwards. He really put some effort into finding an office that would suit Auryn and put them on equal terms again.)

Shortly after the appointment, we consult with Viscount Price-Hill about foreign policy and a general option for cooperation of the intelligence agencies of the remaining free nations of Lanjyr, as all nations seem to be under the influence of the Obs Ritual. As far as Ber is concerned, Price-Hill explains that the the Secret Service appears to be surprisingly uninfluenced and interested in good cooperation – a fact that we had already noticed during our exchange with El Extrano.

Regarding Ber, there are two main currents in the Beran population: one that wants to join the Obs and one that fears the former group and would therefore present Risur as "hostile" in order to signal to the Obs that they are not friends of the enemy. Auryn suggests emphasizing the good relations between "Elfaivar" and Risur to Ber to set an example for the Berans so they may see that Risur is not interested in tensions at all. Also, she stresses out that the mind control effect emitted by the Lanterns needs to be publicized more in order to sway the populace away from the Obs. Gabriel asks Price-Hill to send Burton to Ber to see what is going on there in person and truly get an in-depth analysis of the situation.

Since the effect of the Lantern's mental influence seems to be widespread, we suggest the development of magical detectors and ask that appropriately trained magicians be commissioned to banish or at least suppress the enchantment. In addition, there would likely be a problem with a few mages using their newfound new flight abilities to commit burglaries. This could be prevented with flying mages or druids on police duty.

We are also trying to gather the remaining fey in Risur to discuss their future and brainstorm ideas for the Dreaming. We also notice that Asrabey still seems to be avoiding Kasvarina and is quite clinging to the King's side. We don't see a concrete reason to confront him right now and agree to observe the Dreadnaught and his stability fpr a while. Auryn also suggests using Margit's awakened nature magic to revive the Ash Wolf's dead cub, but Gabriel doesn't believe this to be a good idea because it might be too much of an intervention. Besides, he remarks, it'd not be wise to bring people back to life just like that. After all, death is nothing to fear not inherently to be avoided. Auryn sees things a little differently in this regard, since she only has this one life and still has a lot of unfinished business to take care of. Also, dead Eladrin can hardly help her people to prosper again.

As soon as a sufficient number of Druids feel able to control the sea, we finally head out and lure the Kraken Titan to our site with the plan of setting her down on a sandbank near the Avery Islands (we rescued the islanders who had been stranded for days first, of course...). Gabriel uses his weapons to keep her from teleporting, while Beshela and Asrabey try to get to her head so that the Fey Lady can communicate with her mistress.

(Gabriel's weapons have the dimensional lock enchantment as some of our enemies had the tendency to slip away via magical teleportation)

Meanwhile, we have to deal with the giant tentacles, which initially prefer to grab Beshela, who is closest to the Titan's head. Luckily, she frees herself quickly. She Who Writhes retaliates with her deadly ululation, which Gabriel shakes off quite well. Auryn however is instantly struck by the malignant voice and she drops to the muddy sand. Margit and Gabriel both make haste to get to their comrade and are barely able to sustain her spirit, bringing her back from death's door in a combined effort.

(That was a combination of bad luck and botched communication. Beshela warned us of the deadly ululation that could make people kill themselves. And we interpreted it as an enchantment effect, not the death effect that a reskinned Wail of the Banshee would be and protected against the wrong type of magic. And I rolled a nat 1 on my con save. When Tiz asked why we didn't bother using Death Ward, we explained that we had no reason after Beshela's briefing, and he allowed Gabriel to bring back Auryn with a Breath of Life that would otherwise not be possible with an instant death effect. So dear DM s, please stress out the correct effect even if the fluff suggests otherwise ;) )

Auryn appears pretty pale, but she recovers quickly enough to join Gabriel and Asrabey in defending Beshela against the onslaught of a swarm of flying fish. Beshela finally reaches the Kraken's head while we keep She Who Writhes busy tickling her smaller tentacles. Finally, the Titan uses her large tentacles to try and grab us and eat us, but luckily she doesn't succeed as we teleport out of reach. Then she fixates the still battered Auryn as as familiar voice calls out to her:

“Auryn! Help me, please! I'm in here!”, the voice of a young man cries, sounding just like Zahir did when she last saw him. This throws her off balance for a moment as Auryn is very much convinced that She Who Writhes could have indeed swallowed her branch-brother whole back then. But before Auryn climbs into the Kraken's mouth to rule out the possibility that Zahir has been stuck in there for years, she fortunately realizes that these calls are nothing more than a good imitation of the friend she lost at sea so many years ago.

“Stop defiling his legacy! You are not Zahir and you have no right to claim his voice!”, Auryn cries in anger.

Gabriel meanwhile was for a split second completely ready to enter the Kraken's mouth alongside Auryn and is very much relieved when she calls it a bluff. He is very much enraged by the shift in focus on his partner instead of him as the Titan of civilization and retaliates against She Who Writhes in righteous fury.

After a long minute of constant beating, the Titan comes finally out of her rage and seems confused. We explain that someone tampered with the planar configuration and changed the oceans along with it (her reaction: "Yet Again?"), which probably woke her up in the process. She is quite angry that there are so many motorized ships in her sea and demands a tribute from the king. We tell her that the Voice of Rot is probably partly to blame for the current situation, that we have to save our world from getting caught in the Gyre and at the same time prevent those “crazy machine disciples from the north” from invading Risur.

After some back and forth, we agree that the Titan will destroy all motorized ships on the high seas (especially submarines, which she seems to hate the most), and we assure her that we will deliver tribute in the form of captured machines, which she and her servants are welcome to destroy. We also warn her that creatures from other worlds may try to invade the seas as we don't know where the portal of Mavisha's Ziggurat might lead now and whether it would still be safe.

The Kraken then retreats and we agree to take the fastest route to the Impossible to cross over to Axis Island. But just as we are about to leave, a familiar figure appears from the blood left in the water: an image of Ashima-Shimtu...

(Oh my... seems like someone just failed the final test of the Titans. Or maybe she barely made it, but not without taking some serious scars. I guess I will interject some of my “Auryn thoughts” in between this session and the next, as they will also cover some of the stuff happening on Axis Island. And yes, using Zahir's voice was quite nasty.)
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haha, yep. We ordererd all of our motorized ships to the coastlines, which is not technically "on the sea". This way we thought to avoid the appearance on letting loose a rampaging Titan on the behalf of Risur.

Regarding the Dawn Knight office: What we didn't think too much of back then was that the duties of the Dawn Knight were global and not limited to Risur. Which led to some rather unconventional diplomatic situations later on.


How to save your dragon

Ashima-Shimtu reports that her restraints are much less severe in the new world, and she still points out her hope that we will eventually free her - though she knows that we have more important things to do right now. She also explains that she has learned empathy over the years and now wants to show signs of her good will as well.

Then the demoness freely tries to share several information with us, some of which we already knew: that the Obs are planning a conference in Danor and have invited the whole world to participate. Well, everyone except us and her. Ashima-Shimtu also tells us that she has been trying to gaze upon Ber, only to have "something stare back at her" and we suspect that our neighboring country might just have a serious Gidim problem. Also, she muses that her prison might have been changed yet again. And finally, a fleet of Berans had sailed off to Axis Island, but at the moment a Danoran Obs fleet is probably on its way there as well, so we should hurry should we still call the Berans “our friends”.

Then the Titan Blood Construct collapses and we are still not sure what to do with the demoness as she is obviously trying to stay on good terms with us, but probably just trying to win us over in the long run. What we are sure about though is that we will most likely return to the Crypta Heraeticorum in the near future...

After Ashima-Shimtu has vanished into bloody sea foam, we head straight to the Impossible and give the order that all motorized ships should stay ashore or near the coastline for the time being. Together with Margit, Flying Spark, Xambria and Asrabey, we head for Axis Island, repeating the very same nightly maneuver from almost two years ago. We dive through the hidden cave again appear right next to the very same petrified tree. Only that now we can classify the split tree as one of the fine adjustments needed for the Axis ritual.

(Ha! There was the missing part with the motorized ships :D)

As we try to make our way out, Gabriel suddenly smells the scent of unwashed human and old blood, and we stumble upon a run-down woman named Cosette Arianne who was in charge of taking care of the ritualists on the island. We tell her that we didn't come here to harm her, but are just seeking information and our people, she starts talking about what happened to her during the Calamity: When everything fell apart here, she hid, she says, but then all of a sudden everyone wanted the same thing. Then the remaining workers worked until they succumbed. and she got so hungry that she started eating her own, deceased people.

We feel a mix of pity and disgust regarding Cosette's situation, but then Gabriel realizes that the woman is not alone but also possessed by the spirit of Nicodemus.

As soon as Nicodemus realizes that we know about his presence, he immediately asks us for a cigarette and bluntly asks us why on earth we sabotaged the ritual. He notes that due to our interference, the world is not a better place as he and the Obs had planned it, but a pretty broken one.

We look at Niocodemus in bewilderment in return.

“How can you even think that we had a hand in your failing? Yes, we send a team to investigate, but if Lya Jierre reformed in your Ghost Council just as we believe she did, she might have told you that we literally admitted we had no chance in stopping your ritual.”, Auryn says, irritated at the combination of obvious lack of information and prejudice of the Obs' leader.

Nicodemus takes a deep drag from his Leaf of Nicodemus and replies that his magic had revealed quite clearly that "the order" to sabotage the ritual came from Risur, so nothing to debate here. Whereupon Gabriel raises his eyebrows and points out the obvious:

“From Risur does not necessarily mean 'from the Risuri'. Or do I have to remind a 500 years old spirit that within my land lie powers much grander and older than any of us here? We have good evidence that the Titan known as the Voice of Rot has been planning something for quite a while now, and the fact that this very same Titan who is so keen on bringing on the End of the World is now nowhere to be found points toward some pretty strong evidence, don't you think? Besides, our very own 'investigation magic' revealed his agents to be your saboteurs. You're welcome.”

“It's a tragedy, really...” Auryn adds with slightly less snark than Gabriel. “...that it was ultimately your lack of knowledge about the mysteries of Lanjyr and your underestimation of any of its players that isn't part of our modern nations caused you and your plan to fail so horribly. All that we ask of you now is to admit your mistake and help this dying world survive another day.”

We then tell him about the planar invaders we had warned about in advance, who had tried to set up their own domain days after Starfall and ask Nicodemus if shattering the planar barrier was an accident as well. But it turns out that the Obs had actually readjusted the plan after the incident on Mutravir.

“It was Han Jierre's idea, wasn't it? He was so keen on getting his teleportation powers at any cost back then at Mutravir.”, Auryn interjects, but Nicodemus doesn't react in any readable way.

As we mention the Hiveminds and the Gidim, Nicodemus appears to be well aware of the Hiveminds, but it is still news to him that they were actually Gidim. He points out that he and the Obs will deal with the problem, and that everyone needs to pull together first, whereupon we accuse him of not really trusting people after all, since he "had" to resort to mind control - which the Berans in particular won't like very much.

When Nicodemus mentions talks about the conference he has planned for bringing the world together, Gabriel remarks that the king of Risur has not yet received an invitation, and that he wouldn't be opposed to joining their meeting on peaceful terms. Nicodemus laughs at that suggestion, stating maybe that the others might at least agree to fight against Risur. We, in turn, have no interest in conflict and war (which seems to be the only thing Nicodemus is really good at), but offer to work together to improve the situation.

“You're serious then?”, Nicodemus asks with a mix of disbelief and challenge.”Then lower your resistance against our lighthouses and join in the community of rationale. We will be glad to have you at our side and stop this conflict.”

“And you still don't understand your own philosophy. What good is cooperation, when it is forced by magic, and when its outcome is already set by your ideas?. So no, we won't submit to your thought control.”, Gabriel returns

“Then face the storms of the world all on your own, while the rest of Lanjyr comes together in unity”

“You speak of unity, when you don't care who you're inviting at all, sowing the seeds of dissonance right from the start. You'd arrogantly rather work with those in league with literal devils than with the sane people of Kellandia and the enclaves, just because they are affiliated with Risur. Do you have no conscience left?”, Auryn asks Nicodemus rather angrily when she remembers that an invitation had gone out to “Mad King” Vardanis.

“It doesn't have to be him though. You could easily become leader of Elfaivar and ensure the safety of all your people forever, if you just abandoned your pride and joined me instead. Come to my side, and find the peace you're longing for”, he offers her all of a sudden, his voice returning back to the soft, almost gentle tone he had during the Convocation.

“We both know that this is only a little bit better than straight blackmail. Sorry, but I know exactly where I stand in this regard.”, Auryn replies with a similar calm demeanor.

At some point, Nicodemus realizes that his other host is approaching the island along with the Danoran fleet, and he leaves Cosette's body after begging her not to hurt the poor woman.

“I'm not the one hurting innocents, Nicodemus...” Gabriel whispers in disbelief just as the spirit dissipates. Cosette is at the end of her tether and we prefer to cast a sleep spell at her and put her in the Absurdist Web to spare her any further suffering.

(Wow, Nic has really lost much of his cool over time. It is quite certain that he is quite desperate after having his plan fail so horribly at Axis Island, and we also got that divination magic can be misleading, but at this point he was very much set on scapegoating Risur as a means to keep face. He just could not deal with the fact that he and the Obs alone screwed this up by underestimating the Voice of Rot. Which is an escapist behavior that's very much consistent from this point on.)

Next, we take a moment to magically contact Fordren and ask him about his whereabouts. He tells us that he is currently locked himself up in the tower of the island's fortress, and from his words it is also clear that a huge Hivemind has spread out there and is preventing him from leaving the tower again. So it seems like it's time to rescue the princess from her tower...

We wait for nightfall and fly to the fortress under the veil of darkness. Once at the fortress, we see that some soldiers are working extremely efficiently to guard the place, while another group is busy assembling a strange, box-shaped ship. From the sight of several domes we guess that there are new fortress defenses in play, and as we approach, we see that there is indeed a huge tentacle-armed brain hidden in ethereal form right above the fortress.

Remembering our last encounter with such a creature in Slate, we decide to attack it to incapacitate the soldiers. We protect ourselves from mind control and Xambria pulls out a tuning fork she created especially for Gidim to make them vulnerable to her attacks. Seems like someone has spend quite some time researching the Gidim and their weakness. We then fly towards the Gidim brain and finish it off before it really realizes what is happening. However, the Hivemind Cerebrum seems to be unstable and is about to explode.

Fortunately, Gabriel is quick to react and protects us all from the magic wave with a cleverly placed anti-magic field. And just as we expected, all the workers and soldiers fall into a deep coma after the Hivemind is dissolved. We then knock politely on the gate of the inner tower and are greeted by the sight of a much confused Mr. Fordren. He nods his head towards King Gabriel and then hands over a letter to the new king of Risur.

“Thank you, Mr. Fordren. I appreciate your... renewed affection for the Kingdom of Risur despite your Danoran roots.”, Gabriel states with a friendly smile and “Fordren” is immediately able to get that no one but Auryn and the King know about the Pact of Boyle. So he reacts rather reserved and keeps up the image of the famous Danoran businessman.
“Oh, and Miss Auryn... Thank you for coming to my aid as well”, Fordren adds, appearing to be... genuinely glad that we helped him leave his fortress imprisonment.

Fordren then reports that he came to the island alongside the Danorans right after they had realized that this new world allowed larger objects to fly. There, he was assigned to build an airship for them. Even after the explosion, the people continued to work on the project until it became too scary and he retreated to the tower. We tell him about the Gidim and ask him to show us the island and especially the ritual site. We also warn him that a Danoran fleet is on its way, so he should avoid being seen with the Risuri if he'd wish to keep up the facade.

(I guess this is much different from the original book where Gradiax straight up took Axis Island. Here, he was invited, waiting for the right moment to seize control and gut surprised by the formation of the Hivemind.)

We agree that we should first get the airship airworthy so that we can move around the island more easily. Even if Gabriel still has his reservations regarding airships. So we all work like madmen and actually manage to finish the project before the approaching Danoran fleet can retake the island. However, a vanguard of 15 ships is approaching at an alarming rate, which in turn sends the Porteurs du Mort to the fortress. But since they have no idea what's going on or where we might be, they first go through their standard procedure, which presumably includes sifting through their own unconscious men.

We take the opportunity to take off and fly towards the ritual site, but are targeted by the ships armed with a laser weapon. Auryn takes a look at the soldiers operating the laser cannon and then turns to the rest of the group.

“I have a plan that will buy us some time. Just keep steering this ship to the ritual site.”, she explains sternly.

“Are you sure...?” Fordren replies, but Auryn is already busy turning invisible and spreading her wings of flying.

“Keep flying. I'll return later.”

Then she invisibly drops down onto the ship with the laser crystal. With a quick glare of her rapier, she manages to blind the operating soldiers and have them make an otherwise well-aimed laser shot at the airship miss before she sneaks into the control center for the cannon and overwhelms the Porteurs there. She then tries to aim the weapon at her own ships, but is unable to operate the heavy mechanism all alone.

After a while, Gabriel spots her inside, understands what she is trying to achieve and comes to her aid. Together they adjust the weapon, agreeing to jam and overload the firing mechanism. So after the next shot, the weapon overloads and explodes as we make our way back to the airship.

When we are well on our way to the ritual site, Fordren warns us of a brain-controlled robot that is apparently capable of forcing the ship to the ground. We confront the thing on the ground (Asrabey and Auryn won't let the King fight alone), and Auryn manages to take control of the robot body with her apparent master spell. Unfortunately, the magic does not extend to the Gidim brain. We hope that the robot can still be used against the Danorans and fight the brain. Unfortunately, the automaton becomes quite immobile without its brain as it is missing its head and we have to leave it behind.

Just as we are about to return to the airship, we discover a group of Berans led by none other than Brakken Heffanita who are just as surprised to see us as we are to see them...
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Episode 61
Breaking Bad

We are surprised to find that “the Berans” who came to Axis Island are actually Brakken and his crew. Brakken is surprised as well to see us here. He congratulates us on our new titles and explains that his ship was struck by the Kraken and they are now stranded on the island. Fortunately, he was able to mentally shield his people when the Hivemind was formed with the Danorans, and explains that a certain “Team 1” of the RHC must also be roaming around somewhere out here.

We thank Brakken for this good news as we feared that our dear colleagues might have died on duty. And while the Ambassador himself, being the mental titan that he is, appears to be quite unaffected by the widespread mental influence of the Obs, his loyal soldiers are far from immune. We get that fact pretty quickly as they appear to be wary and outright suspicious to our presence.

We use some persuasion to free the Beran sailors from the Obs' spell and explain the whole situation to Brakken. The minotaur tells us that he already felt that something was odd, but he couldn't put his finger on it until now. It doesn't take us too much time to find Team 1 and reunite with them. And they are just as happy to see us come to their rescue as we are seeing them again. We update them on the newest events and they swear loyalty to their new King Gabriel

(they missed the coronation ceremony... and I guess they were pretty proud to see one of their fellow RHC agents truly become King of Risur)

Finally, we bring Brakken, the Berans and Team 1 to the airship before flying to the destroyed ritual site. There, we see the remains of the destroyed Borne buried under a massive gold plate. The whole area is still scarred by massive eruptions of planar energy, and we can only dare look around with pretty strong protection and antimagic.

On the ground, we find several bunkers that show signs of detonations that happened not too long ago. On a closer examination, we see that the explosions were fueled by using fey and nature magic, resulting most likely in the death of the ritual mages and the loss of control over the ritual's energies. We gather as much evidence as we can and also take a look at the rest of the ritual site. There we discover several shafts, each containing petrified trees with planar essences from the corresponding planes, including planets with moons. We connect what we see right in front of us with the knowledge we gained from Lieshi and are thus able to get quite a good picture of the mechanisms of the ritual.

In the end, we have to admit that we won't be able to hold the island once the full Danoran fleet arrives and decide to retreat with a heavy heart. Just as we are discussing this, we are visited by El Extrano, who tells us of said approaching Danoran fleet.

(Now... where did that one come from again? He is both a useful ally and creepy at the same time)

The kobold also tells us that his people in Cherage have managed to used a rat hivemind to get more information. We are very concerned by this, but El Extrano is positive that this one is totally safe and stable and won't expand to humanoids. He also tells us about the Obs' conference (which we already knew about), but can also tell us about the construction project for a second Colossus and a hidden divination ward that is protecting Obs officers from all kinds of divination. And he hints that he could place more than just Obscurati names there...

Brakken takes this as an opportunity to tell us that his psychic abilities have become stronger and that he can now create a temporary link with another mind so that they can see through his eyes. He offers to go to the Obs' Conference, have himself inscribed on the divination ward, and let us see through him and interact with him at the same time. We think this is a clever plan, but Auryn hints that she would like to attend the meeting in person as an emissary of the Unseen Court. This way, Brakken would not be as strained and could focus entirely on Gabriel, who is in turn more adapt at forming mental links.

As the airship is about to take off again and leave the island, Auryn approaches Fordren who is busy checking several mechanical parts.

“Do you have a moment to spare? There is something I'd like to share in private.”, she says, pointing towards a more secluded space.

Fordren is of course intrigued as prior to this Auryn had always done her best to not be “in private” with him, so he follows her lead with curiosity.

“And what would be so 'private' that you wouldn't share it in front of your friends, my dear?”

“Your family. It appears that we have met another daughter of yours not so long ago. She was born in the Dreaming. And she was quite interested in knowing more about her father.”

Now this seems to be real news for Fordren, who falls completely silent for a long moment. The n he raises his eyebrows and urges Auryn to go on with her information. She tells him that the name of his daughter is Alluriel, and that she is a guardian of the Fey. However, and she states this with a fair amount of irony, Alluriel is no friend of technology as she wants to save the Fey from its corruption that leaks from the Waking to the Dreaming and that's driving the Fey on the other side mad. Fordren thanks Auryn for sharing this news with him, and he appears to withdraw into his thoughts afterward.

(She approached him for two reasons: First, it felt as if they met on common ground for once, and Gradiax genuinely cared for his child, so it would be fair to not withhold info on the other daughter. Second, Auryn knew that the Dreaming was off limits now, and in grave danger on top of that. Which would give Gradiax/Fordren a very good reason to try and save the Dreaming as well. And it would be quite the asset to have that ancient dragon be on the same road.)

The Danoran fleet follows our airship after takeoff and fires at us with harpoons as soon as they come into firing range. Since Fordren wants to continue to be our eyes and ears in the Danoran War Council, he decides to jump from the ship and be “rescued” by his countrymen.

(So no cinematic dragon revealing escape scene. Which, to be honest, would have been really cool. If one had to reveal that dragons still existed, this would have been the perfect time. But there wasn't much need for it and Fordren staying in his Danoran persona would be more of an asset for us. On top of that, this would have politically been a really bad time to connect Risur to the Tyrants of old.)

We flee to Risur with our newly captured airship and hand over the plans to our technicians to make more ships airworthy sooner or later.

For our trip to Cherage, we agree that Brakken and "Barn Owl", the herald of the Unseen Court, will take the train from Sid Minos to Cherage, while the rest of the group will take the secret route by airship. Brakken tells us that if he is close enough to Gabriel, he will be able to connect with him, so no further physical meeting will be necessary.

Once on the train, Brakken and Barn Owl, who has donned her Unseen Mask and is wearing robes and a coat made of feathers, meet King Vardanis' envoy, Finduliel, who is accompanied by three Feladrin. She seems rather snooty and we ignore her at first. Gradually, other Symposium participants join us, including Kulp from Nalaam and Sagu Jacksdottir from the Malice Lands.

(Magically transforming clothes, yay :) Also, I think I forgot to mention that Auryn's mask got a lightning-shaped mark during her encounter with the raging spirit of Old Stag.)

When we cross the border to Danor, we realize that the nation is hermetically sealed, at least for strangers, and Brakken needs to give quite the explanation that "Barn Owl" is his official companion. But after a while, the Danoran guards agree to have an invited guest bring another representative from a foreign group that isn't Risur. So, although we are being watched, we are able to enter Cherage and the parliament building where the Forward Symposium is being held.

We take a look around and find out which guests have been invited besides Brakken and see them arrive one by one: In addition to the obvious candidates Nicodemus and Han Jierre, there is the Chancellor of Drakr, Dmitra Takhenova, Eloise Duffet of Danor, Tito Banderosso of Crisillyir, and some who are considered more oppositional. We also see that the Obscurati are acting now openly, using their own signet. Regarding Drakr, we hear that the Chancellor is about to be re-elected and is therefore eager to present any results to her nation. Instead of Han Jierre, his wife Jelsy arrives, as Han is currently being "on a mission", which obviously means being part of the fleet that's trying to “liberate” Axis Island.

Brakken introduces himself as Ber's emissary and independent observer, always trying to be the voice of wisdom and reason in all discussions, mentioning among other things that the king of Risur was apparently not even invited to the Symposium. He states that he knows the current monarch pretty well, and that King Gabriel is a people's servant, not a warmonger or a saboteur. But the “Big Three” in particular make no secret of their desire to wage war against Risur. Eventually Barn Owl raises her voice and throws in some random thought of hers:

“Lord Banderosso. If I am not mistaken, the nation of Crisillyir sees the reborn Deva as 'revered holy men'. Is the King of Risur not one of them? Wouldn't it make sense to try and bond over your shared beliefs?”.

Tito is not really impressed by this and states that not all Deva are on the path of righteousness, and that this individual in particular had even the audacity to affiliate with their ancient enemy of Elfaivar.

After a while, it becomes clear that War Minister Duffet does not want to wait for the official start of the Symposium to discuss the means of invading Risur. She invites the Chancellor and the Cardinal into a back room, where she presents them with prepared orders. Fortunately, Barn Owl catches wind of the plan in time to follow the trio while staying out of sight. Duffet suggests that they declare war on Risur together, and she discusses with them an ingenious (but absolutely poorly researched) strategy for bringing the enemy to its knees.

The other two sign the pre-written letters without much ado, and Auryn tells Brakken and Gabriel mentally what she has just seen. Brakken then arranges for the Beran Secret Service to intercept the letters directly via the rat network or, in case of doubt, via El Extrano. We agree that this “invasion plans” do not consider the Titans at all, or even the resolution of the right now very militant citizens of Flint, so we could easily form a defense strategy should the need arise.

Meanwhile, Heid arrives at the meeting via teleport with Kvartiy as his bodyguard. Kvartiy and Heid seem unaffected by the Obs' mental influence. Instead, Heid allows himself to take a few jabs at the Chancellor, who obviously has a problem with the radical forces among the Eschatologists. Brakken and Gabriel talk to the philosopher for a while to assess him and his attitude, with Heid actually coming out of spiritual interest, not because he wants to join the witch-hunt against Risur. Kvartiy, on the other hand, feels a spiritual connection to the Obs' ideas, but also admits that the current leaders of Risur are actually nice people, and that he once accidentally shot one of their friends. He also apologizes to Brakken for his unknowing collaboration with Komanov's people. Barn Owl laughs at Kvartiy's tale and tells the dwarf that she has heard the story from his “victim” Rock Rackus in person. That guy is quite famous in the Dreaming, she adds.

At some point, Heid, Barn Owl, and Brakken also talk to Tito, who turns out to be an arrogant jerk who obviously looks down on the common workers and their work. To prove that he is superior and doesn't need craftsmen, he summons an actual angel just to buy him new shoes. Gabriel/Brakken and Barn Owl remind him that his god Triegenes was a fisherman himself, so he is actually being quite blasphemous there, but he doesn't seem to mind. Barn Owl also talks about the dangers of summoning beings from other planes, as not all visitors from outside are so easy to control.

After a while we notice that Nicodemus, in the form of one of the waiters, has mingled with the people, but obviously wants to remain unrecognized for the time being. After the informal preliminary discussions, we are finally called to the actual symposium, where Nicodemus - this time in his official persona - is to speak first.

Nicodemus begins by introducing himself and expressing his pleasure at the large number of participants and his wish that the Obs' actions will lead to better cooperation between the various rulers in the future. Even if they had to deliberately use deception to do so. He then stresses out that the Obs do not want to take over the world, but rather want to utilize the ongoing change for something positive. He admits to being the power who initiated the Ritual, but he tried to bring a better world for everyone.

Up to this point, we are actually positively surprised to see Nicodemus trying to actually bring these ragtag people together. Even though we know that most of the attendants might just have their own interests in mind. And though we do have the Convocation in mind, where matters started quite peacefully until Nic tried to murder half of his own people when things didn't went as he had in mind.

But Nicodemus then blames Risur for everything "bad" that happened: First and foremost the sabotage of his ritual, but he also mentions Risur being the aggressor against Danor in the Yerasol Wars.

(that sly bastard... when it was actually him who wanted Danor to combat Risur in order to force them to progress their tech so he may build Borne.)

He mentions that Risur is also the only nation that would oppose the Obs, and their leader is obviously missing, so there won't be much to expect of them anyway. So this problem has to be taken care of first before we can fight together for a better world. He then lays out the same strange invasion plans as Duffet (apparently no ghost asked Romana for advice...) before returning to the actual topic of the Symposium: visions for the future. Here he asks for ideas on how to create a better life for all inhabitants of Lanjyr.

Gabriel-Brakken then raises his voice first:

“I am thankful for your invitation, Nicodemus. But as ambassador of Ber, and with my niece also being ambassador in Flint, I do have some diplomatic connections. And therefore, I find it strange that you do mention the missing leader of Risur when you have never actually invited him. Nor did you ask him for a statement on the matters of your ritual. On top of that, everyone who is adapt at divination magic...” - with these words he's looking at Banderosso - “...knows that the answer to questions is very much dependent on the exact question being asked. And while we are at it: I was in Flint more than a year ago, when that creature named 'Borne' emerged from Cauldron Hill. So I can see why Risur would be reserved to cooperate with those who let that monster trample their citizens... But to each their own.”

Nicodemus clears his throat at this remark, and asks if someone else has something to contribute. Unfortunately, the only people who appear to react visibly to Brakken's speech are Heid, Kvartiy, Kulp, and “Leone Quintal”. Tito turns out to be a classist thinker, because above all he wants a good future for those who make an appropriate contribution to society. He states that he would join the Obs and their war, but only if the could help him restore order in Crisillyir. Dmitra also likes the idea, but fears giving the workers too much power when their increased military expenditures would give them the idea that they are actually needed for their war effort.

Nicodemus points out that the aim should be to create more prosperity for everyone, which is why he and the Obs conducted the Ritual in the first place.

“So you mean redistribution, communal ownership and the like?”, Kulp asks with curiosity.

Finduliel rejects that idea, stating that her King Vardanis' people were only able to survive the Malice because they adapted and everyone contributed so their nation could prosper.

Jacksdottir interjects that she and the Malice cities urgently need help, even if she is glad that the magic is no longer going crazy. So she'd need people who are willing to contribute to their safety.

But apart from Brakken, who remarks that the "little ones" also need to be taken care of, and that those who are strong should support those who are weaker, so they might get strong someday, Jacksdottir is skillfully ignored. Gradually, the others ramp up their hatred of the poor and weak until "Leone", notices that the group is starting to talk more and more like a hivemind. Nicodemus explains that this is impossible, as they have now developed means of detecting and destroying emerging Hiveminds, but suddenly appearing tentacles prove that this is exactly the case.

Nicodemus is furious at the development of the discussion and curses those present for having created a new world for this catastrophe unfolding. He boasts that apparently he is the only one who is not corrupted by power and announces that he will have to resort to other means in the future, while shouting at the politicians that they are getting what they deserve.

“No, Nicodemus.”, the Barn Owl states, removing her mask and revealing her true self.

“Your fault was to invite the wrong people. You will seldom find any magnanimity from the powerful but corrupt. Instead, you chose to declare the only leader who truly wants prosperity for all to be the enemy without further ado.”

Nicodemus doesn't stay to debate her, as he and the rest of the Obs flee like rats from a sinking ship. We make haste to try to free as many of the attendants as possible before the Hivemind closes over us, and Gabriel tells Brakken and Auryn mentally that he will make haste to join us in person as quickly as possible.

(That escalated quickly. And yep, Nicodemus has retained the same flaws he had during the Obscon. Even though this was a wholly different situation, and he did want to focus on prosperity. Still he does not know how to deal with those who basically want the same, but walk on different paths. He has some neat ideas, but is lacking in execution and is too delusional to see his own weaknesses. But... his good ideas can be adapted in the future ;) )


The mind's eye

Just when the Hivemind is closing on us, a familiar figure appears to us, apparently able to see even those only present as spirits in Brakken's mind: Sijhen. We see that, apparently, this Hivemind was created by none other than our old Gidim adversary, who finds it utterly ironic that his "old acquaintance" now has to share a body with someone else. Just like he had so long ago. Auryn evacuates Heid and Kulp, while Gabriel arrives at the scene and teleports Brakken and Kvartiy into the hidden airship. The latter, however, remains mentally connected to the others, even though he resists.

From a safe distance, Gabriel sees how a part of parliament hill starts to move and take the parliament building with it.
"The last time we had something like that, it wasn't good at all", he states dryly, looking at the scene with bewilderment. From the distance, it now appears as if a gigantic hivemind has formed, gradually sucking in more and more rich inhabitants and disintegrating the poorer ones nearby with black, flowery jets.

Gabriel orders the airship crew to get the ship airborne as quickly as possible and, in the meantime, reveals himself to the baffled Kvartiy, who is quite embarrassed by the whole thing and - once again - allows himself to be convinced of having made yet another mistake. Meanwhile, the parliament-hivemind threatens to gradually reduce the whole of Cherage to rubble. Next, the ship collects the group around Auryn, who has managed to calm Kulp and convinced Heid that they will all be safe very soon.

But despite all the animosities, we don't want to leave Cherage to the Gidim. As a first idea, we consider contacting Han Jierre, who could certainly organize the city's defense well. However, we remember that the man is still on ship with his armada and we don't have enough time to send a message via sending.

(Yeah, we debated going down the route of claiming that Nic and crew just unleashed a catastrophic hivemind on Danor's capital and not taking on the responsibility of fixing their mistake, rather preferring to save their own hides. But... who knows if Han Jierre would have cared more for the Danorans than for the Obs?)

So we make our way to some experimental-looking ballistae and explain to Commander Mitterand, the man who is currently in charge of manning the ballistae, that we want to help him defend the city. Which would be possible thanks to Brakken and his connection to the Hivemind. But first we'd need an opening to get into that damn thing. At first, Mitterand is hesitant to help “the enemy” Risur, but we convince him that at this rate, Cherage will be eradicated in a matter of hours. It takes a while and the Danorian commander agrees that the defense of his city is more important than the protection of his ballistae.

The combined weaponry is finally able to shoot a hole in the hivemind's hull and we hurry inside alongside Brakken, Flying Spark and Xambria Meredith. King Gabriel appears to be more determined than ever to face this alien creature and he grows luminescent wings as his own spark of divinity manifests itself openly. But he is not alone with his stance towards Sijhen, as Xambria still has a score to settle with the Gidim.

Inside the hivemind, we first meet Gonzo, the planetar summoned by the cardinal and tasked with killing us. We realize that he has been controlled as well, and protect his mind with Brakken's psychic powers and a shielding spell. Gonzo then tells us that his summoner Tito Banderesso is in danger, and that he just wants to save him. We promise the celestial to take care of it.

After some searching through the mindspace, we arrive in a room where the entire assembly is being held down by tentacles. Everyone seems to be continuing to debate and discuss, and all attempts to get actively involved in the discussion unfortunately fail. So, with the help of Brakken, we try to get inside the heads of the individual members and leaders to take them on one at a time.

We start with Tito Banderosso, who we gradually accuse of hypocrisy for ignoring the teachings of his god Triegenes, indulging in idleness and wealth. Auryn in particular puts forth the Humble Hook, stating that what is left of Triegenes rather chose to affiliate himself with an Eladrin than even come close to a Clergyman like him. His ghost then stabs himself with a quill pen.

Then we discredit Eliose Duffet, as she is obviously of little use as Minister of War if she is not part of Han's armada, develops an obviously absurd and weak strategy against Risur, and now cannot even protect Cherage, the very heart of Danor.

Finduliel is accused of betraying the great Eladrin people by mixing their pure blood with devils and making herself a slave to the Golden Legion while the enclaves remain free, growing stronger even in the face of tragedy. She then, too, disappears.

With the three main beacons of the hivemind removed, we can now penetrate the hivemind's brain space. However, the mind itself proves to be extremely resistant. To make matters worse, Dr. Meredith notices that Sijhen is obviously not here in person. So she charges what's left to fight heads on. We take on the ectoplasmic “body” of the hivemind, but Auryn is struck quite hard by one of the black flowers as she gets to close to its bud. This prompts Gabriel to get back at the mind all the harder. As he unleashes a barrage of force slashes at the creature, more and more “prisoners” are being spat out of the conglomerate.

After a fierce battle, the Hivemind is defeated and the prisoners are freed. Cherage seems to be saved. As we climb out of the gooey ectoplasmic mess, we meet the planetar Gonzo again and ask him why a noble creature like him is serving Tito, of all people. Gonzo doesn't appear to care for his master's nature at all, as he sees defending the one who called him as his duty. We explain that Tito seems to have no problem killing poor people if they are unworthy in his eyes, but that doesn't seem to mean much either.

“Apparently, I have held angels to too high standards for all of my life, if they care so little for morals. Oh, Ancients, your decision to cut off the planar pathways was more than right...”, Gabriel muses with a disgruntled sigh.

For once, Gonzo seems to care for a mortal's disappointment, as he plucks out one of his feathers and hands it to Gabriel, in case we have to do some more persuading with other angels (or Crisillyiri). As we're about to head back to the airship, a group of citizens of Cherage approach us to... thank us for our help in defeating the monster that threatened to kill them. We reply that while the government of Danor may claim that we're the enemy, we don't hold any ill will against the nation of Danor and its citizens, which is why we would never leave them to fall to disaster. But alas, we'd have to leave before all of Danor's military might will be on our heels.

We then take the airship back to Risur. On the way, Gabriel uses a divination spell to inquire about Sijhen's true whereabouts and gets a surprising answer: Ursalina in Ber. Since we had asked Brakken to stay in Cherage to continue to act as a neutral observer and tell people what really happened, it is now apparently up to us to save Ber from disaster.

We also send a message to Grappa on flight and ask if he's okay so far, as we last saw him fleeing with the other Obs. He tells us about the new Colossus project, in which he has also been involved, and explains that the Obs have managed to escape so far. We then ask him to keep us up to date and agree that building a new Colossus will most likely be required in order to fix the planar ritual.

Next, we send a message to Nicodemus and ask him what happened in Cherage to cause the symposium to get so out of hand. We also express our hope that the city is now safe. Nicodemus states his disappointment that the guests apparently did not share his vision of a better world, even though he had arranged all the necessary conditions for a mutual understanding.

(well, he had just left out the empathy... so he better understand that pure logic isn't enough to make the world a better place).

We offer him once again to team up and set the world straight together, as we seriously fear for the future, and Nicodemus seems to agree... on the condition that we fully support him and his plan for peace and harmony. We reply that we continue to believe in free will and insight, but are willing to negotiate on a feasible plan for the future. Whereupon Nicodemus sees no other option than to continue to go separate ways.

(This... is a trend that will continue on and on. Us trying to reach out to Nic and offer cooperation with him being hellbent on his all-or-nothing route, not seeing that the other leaders besides the Danorans and the Obs agents are much less willing to share his vision. He is such a bull head...)

Back in Slate, we are contacted directly by Harkover Lee, as there is a guest who wants to speak to us urgently. As it turns out, this guest is none other than a badly wounded Executores named Mysana del Salvataia, who had to cut off her arm in the High Bayou due to snake poison. While we send for Margit, she tells us that the Lady Glaucia is asking for help, against all Executores tradition, because someone is killing their fellow sisters. We suspect Obscurati, Gidim, or both may be responsible, and immediately assure her of our help.

(That escalated quickly. But at least we now have a reason to fully pursue Sijhen as our primary target. As bad as Nic might be, we have just witnessed how fast a hive-mind can get out of hand and kill hundreds, if not thousands...)

I mean, from Nic's perspective, you guys keep showing up and telling him he's wrong. Why would he want to listen to that, when he built his whole identity around being unjustly punished for being the only one willing to stand up for what's right?

("What's right" here includes "callous utilitarian murder of Elfaivaran prisoners who won't help him to make sure they don't give up his plans to the hierarchs" and "sabotaging the Clergy during a holy war because he figured letting hundreds of thousands be slaughtered by the Elfaivarans was better than having hypocrites in charge.")

I do acknowledge that having the villain be a super-sized version of the Principal Skinner meme -

- might undercut him a bit as a respectable foe in the third act, but it's not like history is short on examples of highly intelligent people refusing to accept new information or perspectives that might undermine their authority. (And I had tried to establish the idea of ghosts being unable to change, though that's sort of secondary.)

One thing I'm trying to work in with the novel I'm writing now is the theme of being limited in what we as individuals and as a society can do now due to choices made by people long dead, which they enacted into laws that hold power over us and resist our attempts to change them, even when we know they're flawed.

If anything, looking back on the 8 years that have passed since when we first finished it, I think perhaps ZEITGEIST offered players a too-optimistic idea that it's possible for societies to be changed in a single lifetime simply due to good leadership or good philosophy.

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