RE: Swamped
"Arlene, what do you make of this?" you ask.

"Well, I think I recognize those two. Sunflower and Black. Local troublemakers."

"And they aren't moving," you note. "Neither is that woman hanging in midair. And the unconscious people aren't breathing, but they don't feel cold either. So I don't think they're dead."

"The muckbeast seems fine," Arlene says.

"Yes, but it's also not likely to answer any of our questions." You glance around. "And considering that group frozen around the cauldron, I'm not sure it's safe for us to stick around here. Unless you're secretly part muckbeast."

"If only," she sighs. "Think it might help if we stick near it?"

"No, I think it's best if we get what we came for and get out. Then we'll try to meet the Golem as it comes into port."

"Yeah, guess you're right. But I think I missed a step somewhere, Min. What'd we come here for, again?"
RE: Swamped
Stevedore costumes!
RE: Swamped
"We're going to meet with the Golem," you remind her, as you're looking around. "To get close enough, the plan is to disguise ourselves as dockworkers."

"Yeah, I got that much. You sure I can't do it with my mask on?"

"Yes, Arlene," you sigh.

"But this is a fishmonger's. I doubt they keep stevedore uniforms in here."

"Stevedore?" you ask. "Never heard that one before."

"Fancy name for dockworker. You live here long enough, you hear pretty much all the names for 'em. Anyways, quit circling the stone, as the greblings say. You're the one who said we ought to be in a hurry."

"I've been looking the whole time," you continue. "The easiest way to get dockworker uniforms is to bribe some dockworkers."

"What, with fish?" Arlene asks. "Seems to me booze would be more effective with a lot of 'em."

"Not these ones. Remember, this is supposed to be a holy ship. They won't let just anyone go near it. And yes, plenty of Nual's priests get drunk, but not when they've got to help unload a blessed ship the night before the holy festival. Which means we need a way better bribe than booze."

"So, we looking for some kind of holy fish, then?" Arlene asks. "Whatever it is, this'll go faster if you tell me what it actually looks like so I can actually help."

"Afraid you can't, it's not exactly distinguishable by ordinary sight. In fact, you probably ought to head outside."

"Hold on, I thought you said you couldn't see ether. That was the whole reason we needed to find a wizard."

You sigh.

"I see auras. They're different from ether. Don't have time to explain that mess, it barely even makes sense to me."

"Oh, I've heard of those. But I thought that was a priest thing."

"So did I. Never heard a peep from any god, though." You glance around. "And hang on, I think I spotted it. Definitely something unique about this aura."
RE: Swamped
It's coming off a wooden crate that seems to contain old netting.
RE: Swamped
You walk towards a partially open crate. Seems there's some nets in here - probably where the ones restraining several of the frozen people came from.

But there's something else in here. It looks fairly ordinary to the eyes alone, but you can tell it's different.

"Is that a seashell?" Arlene asks.

"Depends. Would you call the Empress of Aedra a landowner?" you ask.

"At this point? I'd call her a corpse. Unless you know something I don't."

"Good one," you chuckle. "Point is, this is no ordinary seashell. But now that we've got it, best not to linger here."

"Do I get to hear why it's not so ordinary? Or should I ask the Empress about that one?"

"The main special property it has is that Nual's priests are going to want to get their hands on it, and it'll go a long way towards convincing them we can be trusted to check things out on the Golem," you reply, as you start leading her out. "Do the details really matter?"

"I suppose not that much," she agrees. "But maybe there's a story we could make a good play out of."

You muse on that.

"There might be, but I don't know it. I just know it'll help us."

"And you knew it was here," Arlene notes. "Did you see the aura from outside or something?"

"Not quite, I saw a trace of an aura from someone who'd handled it." You glance around just before going through the exit. "Think it's that one with the arm tattoo, actually."

"Huh. Funny, I think I've seen that tattoo somewhere else."

"Really? Maybe it was the same person. Could've been watching one of the shows."

"No, that wasn't it," Arlene says, shaking her head. "It wasn't a tattoo, now that I think about it. But it did look like that, even down to the word underneath."
RE: Swamped
When we were camped on the road outside town, a couple of us scouted down an old unmaintained path that connected to the road. It led to some crumbling remains of a small village. Not much left, but there was a large rock with this painted on it.
RE: Swamped
"You remember when they made the troupe leave town for a couple days? Even us locals?" Arlene asks.

"Oh, yes. One of our best shows, that," you chuckle. "Elliot didn't care much for it, as I recall. Couldn't sit still. You and Maxie wandered off with him, right?"

"Mostly to keep him company. Then I spotted some grass that looked weird. Turned out there was an old dirt road underneath it. I suggested we follow it, check out where it went. Maxie said it was probably real old, couldn't remember seeing it on any of the library's maps." She giggles. "Because of course they'd make it about work. Anyhow, we followed the path as best we could, and we found... well, an old pile of rubble. Looked like it might have been a village once. And right in the middle, there was a big rock. Same symbol there."

"Did Maxie have any idea what it meant?"

"Might have been a sign indicating the town's name." Arlene shrugs. "That was her only guess. As for the town itself, they figured it'd probably been wiped out in the war a hundred years ago. That's about as far back as the library's records go."

Hmm. Could be the shell came from the town, then. Or it could be just chance. You're not that curious about it, though, since the shell's just a bribe as far as you're concerned.

But you do find yourself curious about one thing.

"Did Elliot have anything to say about it?"

"Oh, now that you mention it, he did. Not entirely sure what he meant by it, though."
RE: Swamped
He said that the gods had abandoned that old town and humans should too.
RE: Swamped
"Something about, the gods abandoned this place and we should follow their lead. Honestly, felt overly dramatic for someone who's not that big on the troupe."

Right, Elliot basically joined to make a little extra money for a month or so. Not especially keen on acting, but he was taller than anyone in the troupe, which had its uses.

But it does sound a little like he might know something specific about the symbol. Not that you see it mattering right at the moment.

"Well, that was an amusing little story, but I think it's time to pay the temple a visit."

"You sure that's safe?" Arlene asks. "If someone's trying to mess with the festival, they might pull something at the temple, too."

"Oh, it's definitely not safe. Not the sort of night where anything is." You give her a quick smirk. "But if there's a problem, we'll deal with it when we get there."

You head for the temple and soon see that there's a bigger problem than you were expecting.
RE: Swamped
What's going on with those fires?
RE: Swamped
Several small groups have gathered around makeshift fires. You don't know who they are, but they don't look like priests. Or like they're desperate for warmth, at that. No, they all look like they're waiting for something.

And they've essentially surrounded the temple. You don't know if this is an attack or something else. Might help if you could get closer and figure out if any of them are carrying weapons... but if they are, and you get that close, you could be in trouble.

"Arlene, is this any sort of local custom you know about?" you whisper.

"Nope. I can tell you this much, though - these people are from out of town."

"Really! What makes you say that?" You certainly don't see anything, but you've only been here a month.

"The smoke. It's a bit of an odd color, right? They're burning shipwood. Which is damn valuable and any local - or hells, any sailor with a lick of experience - would know not to waste it on fire when it could be sold to a shipwright."

Huh. The smoke does look weird, now that she mentions it.

"Most likely hirelings from one of the Guild factions, then," you muse. "But what are they doing?"

Arlene glances around, then points.

"I think they're waiting for those people."

You see a rather large crowd carrying a number of cauldrons towards the temple. You don't know what they're planning, but you strongly suspect it's not good.

At the very least, it's likely to complicate meeting with a priest unnoticed.
RE: Swamped
Maybe there'll be fewer of them at the Temple's side door!
RE: Swamped
"Do you happen to know if there's a side entrance?" you ask Arlene. "Think our best bet is to get inside. We can warn the priests and maybe make our bargain as we do."

"Well, I don't come here very often, but let me think, might have heard someone mention something..." She's silent for a while. You glance at the side you can see while you wait for an answer, but you don't spot anything.

"Oh, I might have something. Overheard a couple of guards chatting after a show earlier this week they mentioned someone broke in through a window on the second floor. Couldn't figure out how they got up there, though - the thief didn't have any rope on 'em when they were caught, and didn't leave one behind. Anyhow, they said that apparently the priests were too busy to get it repaired before the festival."

Well, now that she mentions it, you can see the window. Of course, it's on the second floor.

"That would be much more useful if we had a way to get up there," you mutter. "Pity we're not an acrobatics troupe, eh?"

"Yeah, I don't think even Elliot could reach that," she agrees. "Afraid that's all I remember, though. We could circle around and see if there's anything better."

"Too many of 'em around. If we move too much, we're sure to be spotted," you mutter. And there's no trees nearby...

But you catch a glimpse of an aura through the broken window, and a thought strikes you. Maybe you don't need to go in. Maybe you just need to get the attention of someone inside.
RE: Swamped
Time to toss some rocks!
RE: Swamped
"Okay, new plan. There's someone inside, and we need to draw their attention."

"We could make bird calls?" Arlene suggests hopefully. "I do a pretty good crow, if I do say so myself."

You shake your head.

"No, that would get everyone's attention. All we really want to do is get the priest to look outside and see what's going on. They've probably got no idea about the whole mess happening here." You reach down and pick up some rocks. "How's your throwing arm?"

"Probably not good enough to hit a second-story window. Could give it a try, though."

"I used to play with a toy skyslicer when I was a little one," you muse. "Learned to toss it pretty far. Maybe I still remember enough of the technique."

You pick out the biggest rock and hand the rest to Arlene. You carefully make your toss, and it bounces off just next to the window.

Did they hear it? Well, you notice the aura reappearing. You grab another rock and toss it as close to the same place as you can. You repeat a few times until you see the window opening up, and an old priest pokes her head out.

She also looks directly at you after a few minutes. Maybe your aura stands out or something. Whatever it is, she goes back inside soon after.

"So, now what?" Arlene asks. "Do we just wait for her to do something?"

"That's about what I was thinking," you say with a shrug.

You aren't kept waiting for very long.
RE: Swamped
But you weren't expecting the priest to be armed and angry!
RE: Swamped

"Is that a goddamn cannon?" you exclaim.

"I think that was a warning shot," Arlene says. "Like, a shell filled with mistflower or something. See, there's a lot of smoke up high but not much else."

And it seems several of the gathered groups have taken it as a warning. You spot a number of them running, and about a half dozen or so yelling at them to get back to their positions.

Then there's another shot and it hits one of the fires. That frightens off the rest of them, before the shell even explodes.

"She's got good aim," Arlene observes.

"You down there!" an elderly voice shouts. "The ones throwing rocks! I'll be having a word with you. Get inside."

"Not with me, I hope. You were the only one throwing rocks."

"I don't think she's going to be all that concerned with the details," you sigh. "Maybe our little prize will catch her interest, though."

You walk towards the temple doors. They don't seem to be locked. But you don't see anyone when you enter. It's probably taking her some time to get downstairs.

As you wait, you take a look around, and something catches your eye.
RE: Swamped
Looks like a little aquarium
RE: Swamped
There's a glass case filled with water. You can see a variety of plants growing in there. No animals as far as you can tell, though some of the vegetation's thick. If something were hiding in there, you doubt you'd notice.

"Wonder if any of these are edible," Arlene muses. "Or smokable, for that matter."

"Well, even if they are I doubt the priests appreciate people reaching in and helping themselves," you reply. You don't think you recognize any of these, but then, it's not like you've been to the bottom of the ocean. Or even a riverbed.

"Most of them are herbal remedies," says a stern voice. You turn around and see the priest. "A few are for ceremonial use. Can't say I've tried eating or smoking any myself, but none of them are poisonous. So I suppose it can't hurt to try."

"You're awfully quiet," you say. "Sorry, did we keep you waiting long?"

"Only about a minute. Far be it from me to interrupt when you're appreciating the beauty of Nual and Brume's realm." She takes a step forward, tapping her cane forcefully as she does. "Now, I've got a few questions for you, starting with what you know about that ruckus outside."

She's got quite the presence for an old woman hunched over on a walking stick. You have no trouble believing she knows her way around a cannon. Her aura's one of the strongest you've ever seen, too.

"Very little. We think it involves a particular criminal organization, but we have no idea what they were actually trying to do. We thought we'd get your attention, if only to warn you..."

"And that's not the only reason you're here," she interjects. "You've got a holy relic of Nual. And by the looks of your aura, you're hoping to get something for it. Not entirely for yourself, though."

"You can see that much from an aura? I had no idea." You regain yourself. "Never mind. Put simply, we think there's some trouble brewing and it involves the Golem. We want uniforms so we can approach it to investigate further."

"I see," she says, and goes silent for a while. You can't tell what she's thinking, and you don't know that she'd give anything away with her aura even if you had any idea how to read motives off them.

But when she speaks again, she asks a fairly straightforward question.

"Why do you two need to go? Why is it not enough to inform us of the threat and allow us to deal with it ourselves?"
RE: Swamped
Well, there's also this whole thing with the family map, and, well, it's personal.
RE: Swamped
"Because I'm fairly sure whoever's doing this swiped a copy of my grandmother's map. Her name was Matilda Laikenne - you might have heard of her."

The old priestess looks wary all of a sudden.

"I knew that damn woman would come back to haunt me sometime. And if she's poking her nose in this from beyond the grave, it must be even worse than it sounds." She looks you right in the eye. "But I don't know for sure that you're her granddaughter, do I? She left town before I learned to read auras, so I can't see how yours compares."

"You can't tell from mine if I'm lying?" you ask. You actually weren't even sure you could use them to tell if people were related. There's apparently a lot you've been missing about auras all this time.

"Auras aren't that direct. All I can tell is that you're trying not to tell me something specific. Can't tell if any particular thing is a lie." She turns to Arlene. "Have to say, though, if you're trying to pull something over on me, it's real daring to do that while your friend is wearing a Kanathe mask."

"She's just weird like that," you sigh. "But getting back on topic, I can prove my heritage if that's the issue."
RE: Swamped
Got the paperwork from the orphanage right here. Was left in their care after ma passed on.
RE: Swamped
You reach deep into your pockets and pull out a special pouch. Inside is your certificate of adoption.

"Matilda raised me after my dear mother died. Spent about a month miserable in an orphanage until she came by. Couldn't prove Mother was her daughter, so she just adopted me to save trouble."

The priest looks over the certificate skeptically.

"Have to say, that sounds less like old Matilda than if she'd swept in under the cover of night and taken you to a hut in the mountains," she mutters.

"Well, she was getting on in years," you shrug. "I was ten when she adopted me, and she died when I was fifteen. Maybe she didn't have the energy for it by then."

"And you just happened to keep this on you today?"

"The day Grandmother got me out of there was the most important day of my life," you reply. "That piece of paper is a link to that day. So I always keep it with me."

"Plus, you're in an acting troupe," Arlene interjects. "Not like you have a permanent place to keep important stuff anyways."

"Acting troupe," the priest mutters to herself. "Now it makes sense. There's been a show about Matilda going on, hasn't there?"

She glances back at the certificate, and starts pacing.

"I hadn't paid much attention, but it certainly seems to me that playing up one of Matilda's descendants being in the show might help to sell tickets. And maybe they have a nice adoption certificate to show off if anyone asks. If they have the right connections, would it be that hard to find a decent forger to make it, I wonder."

You don't think she actually doubts it. But you do think she's trying to make you uncomfortable. And it's working better than you'd like.

"Well, there's one more thing," you say reluctantly. "Take a look at the back of the certificate."
RE: Swamped
It's got magic words
RE: Swamped
The priestess turns the certificate around, and stares at it.

"Runes?" she asks, confused. "Been too long since I had to translate these. I recognize 'wind' and 'sea' off the top of my head, but half of these I'm not sure on and I definitely can't remember the grammar."

"That's all right. The interesting part isn't what they say. It's how they're written." You point at the glass case. "Try looking at the reflection."

She clearly doesn't like you playing around, but you don't like her playing around so it comes out even as far as you're concerned. But she looks. And then she seems baffled.

"I don't see any runes in the glass," she says. "Just blank paper."

"Of course," you reply. "Auras don't reflect, after all."

"Oh, is that why I didn't see anything while she was looking over the front?" Arlene asks. "It's written in some kind of ink that only shows up as an aura? I was pretty confused when you pointed it out, honestly."

The old priest suddenly laughs.

"She really did it! She really made the goddamn auric ink!"

Grandmother did tell you that the church never thought she'd do it, but you weren't expecting a reaction like this. It takes her a while to calm down.

"It's just - when I was in training, half the time I had an idea, my mentor said that was about as likely to work as auric ink. It was something of a joke among the clergy here. And now here it is, right before my eyes!" She laughs briefly again, before handing back the certificate. "All right. That's proof enough for me. I'll get you to the Golem. But before that, I'd like to actually see the artifact. You don't have to hand it over yet, I just want to lay eyes on it."

You see no reason not to humor her. You hold out the seashell.

"Huh," she says. "That's odd. I know it's real from the aura, but it doesn't look like it's supposed to."