|The Eye of Eternity|
No story is ever as simple as it appears at the inception. When the premise is told by the narrator, the characters assemble on the stage, and the curtain first pulls back. The story is full of promise, then, ripe with possibilities. But one by one, possibilities are knocked away until only the true path — or what appears to be true — is left standing. Like all good stories, life follows this course; and like all good stories, it often ends with a twist. — The Professor
The following morning would come with revelations. After meeting with Knight-Commander Reinn and Knight-Marshall Delecroix and updating them on the status of the Demon of Almas, Birch, Oniia and Seriphos were granted full command of a handful of eager young Eagle Knights and members of the city watch. A plan to watch the night skies for the prowling beast with a canvasing of additional guardsmen would hopefully end in another chance to corner the murderous beast.
After the meeting, the three would part ways to continue their own independent aspects of the investigation. "Nuvo" would return to the Winterbrook Orphanage and revert to the identity of Oniia. Here, she would discover the disappearance of one of the boys she had been caring for, and learn that the children feared "disappearing" as well. Oniia would talk to a young, timid boy that seemed to know more than he was letting on. Pressuring him for information, Oniia discovered that the drow boy — Aelsith — that the orphanage had been keeping an eye on had not found a family, but instead had fled the orphanage. He reveals to Oniia that Aelsith has been hiding out in the clock tower in the heart of the industrial district for days. Worried for all of the children of the orphanage and the mysterious figure who would take children in the night while they slept, Oniia offered one of her thunderstones as a means of protection.
Worried for Aelsith, Oniia made plans to meet up with him, but not before checking up on the other residents of Winterbrook. The Madame of the house, normally cantankerous, was sunken into depression in her bedroom, drinking the tonic prescribed for her cough by the orphanage's groundskeeper and retired alchemist.
She spoke to Oniia through the drugged haze, and when Oniia pressed about her heritage, the old caretaker revealed a necklace that was with Oniia the day she was left on the orphanage's doorstep. In this conversation, Oniia would discover that it was none other than the huntsman Balgus Gelder that left Oniia at the Winterbrook orphanage all those years ago.
Skulking about further in the orphanage, Oniia slipped into the private room of the second administrator, Gedrick Shalan, and began poking about. Discovering an odd prayer book to Pharasma, a cookbook and a burned tome she found little of use. The knife laid under the bed made her skin crawl, but it was the wooden puzzlebox tucked away in his armoire that drew her curiosity. A strange contraption full of gears and moving pieces, it seemed too difficult to solve. Figuring it best to leave it be, Oniia crept out of Gedrick's room, only to run into the man himself right around the corner.
Gedrick grilled Oniia about where she had been for the past few weeks and ordered her back to the dorms. Oniia paid him lip service, before slipping out of the orphanage to follow up on the lead about Aelsith's whereabouts.
Meanwhile, across the city, Seriphos spent much the day with his dwarven forgemaster Voras Olode, working in the shop and honing his craft alongside the old smith. His time at the forge helped clear his head, and Seriphos found new focus in the investigation, prepared to begin a more thorough search for people bearing the tattoo that all of the deceased shared in common — a mark all too familiar.
Leaving the blacksmiths, Seriphos would travel into the mercantile district to ask around about the symbol and tattoo artists who may have made it. That brought Seriphos to a Taldan-run parlour where many pieces of body art were on display; one of which being the symbol attached to the murders. Asking after the artist who created the symbol, Seriphos was introduced to a tattooed woman named Lydia. She admitted to creating the tattoo and seeing it originally on a traveling Tian woman years prior. It was clear to Seriphos that the owner and the artist were hiding something, but he would wish to confer with his allies before pressing further.
Birch would catch Oniia on his way into Winterbrook, having a passing conversation with the young woman — and confirming his suspicions that she was, in fact, Nuvo — before heading in to talk to the Mistress about the children and the state of the orphanage. In his time there, Birch would learn of the lady's displeasure with the children, and that she no longer wished to be in charge. Plans began to form with Birch about how best to redistribute the forgotten children of Winterbrook to a safer, more affluent environment.
In speaking with the orphanage's groundskeeper, Birch met a kindred spirit; a kind-hearted man who had a passion for herbs and alchemy, a healer and a good soul. Birch's suspicions about Gedrick's motivations and those of the Lady of the House's were steadily increasing. When Birch discovered that some of the alchemist's poisons had been stolen, he began to suspect something rotten may be transpiring within the orphanage.
Determined to make a difference, Birch set out to meet up with Seriphos and get permission from the Eagle Knights to move the children to a safer location and out from under the care of the many whom do not wish to help any longer.
While this happened, Oniia left for the clockworks. Here, under the guise of Nuvo once more, she would charm her way past the gate guard under auspices of an official investigation relating to the Demon of Almas. Given reign to search the clocktower, Nuvo discovered an army of clockworks lying in wait inside, sitting idle and awaiting purchase or deployment to some far-flung engagement.
At the top of the clocktower, she would meet Aelsith again. There, the preternaturally wise boy would come to expect Oniia's arrival, and he was not fooled by her disguise as Nuvo. Aelsith revealed, in no small part, that he had foreknowledge of events transpiring. He warned Oniia that "a darkness" is coming, and that he cannot see beyond "The Nothing."
"Forests will die, the sky will turn black, and on that day the Nothing will come to devour us all. We cannot sit idly by and wait," Aelsith said to her cryptically. "The crown king of Nothing on his empty throne must not come. The time has come to go where this one is needed."
Oniia tried to pry specifics from him, but Aelsith only looked at her with sad, knowing eyes of what was to come. "We are sorry for what is to come, but know that Aelsith is always watching. We will meet again, but not yet." With that, the boy disappeared in a flash of violet light, not to be seen again.
Confused by this bizarre occurrence, Oniia left the clocktower confused.
The three would converge on the orphanage roughly the same time, with Seriphos and Birch arriving with a series of carriages to escort the orphans to other homes across Almas as temporary measure until more permanent structures could be erected. But something was already transpiring when they arrived. The orphanage was in disarray and an evident sign of a scuffle had taken place. Oniia bolted upstairs to find the boy she had talked to earlier missing, and the Lady of the house dead with a knife in her chest. When Birch made it upstairs, he found the alchemist staggering around with a stab wound in his side, claiming that Gedrick had attacked him after he questioned about his stolen poisons. Gedrick had kidnapped one of the children and dragged him from the orphanage.
Together, Oniia, Seriphos and Birch made a hasty collection of the children with the assistance of the Northwatch city guards that accompanied them. The trio would follow Gedrick's bloody path through the industrial district, tracking him down to no other location than the abandoned church of Pharasma that Birch had encountered the Demon in just a night before.
In the cellar, they discovered a grim truth. Gedrick had been sacrificing the children of Almas in some insane ritual, believing that the world was "inherently painful" and that by killing them he was "saving them from the pain of the world; doing them peace."
One of the boys from the orphanage was held at knife-point, about to be "saved" by Gedrick before the others could interfere.
Oniia could not maintain her composure, but when she charged Gedrick, the old man proved to be more than simply a lunatic. It was to everyone's horror that the bodies of the sacrificed children all rose to a mockery of unlife and began attacking at Gedrick's request.
Slaying the undead children, the group would intend to bring Gedrick back to justice, but only after Oniia nearly murdered him with her garrote. Gedrick was dragged back to the watchmen and personally escorted to the Northwatch as sun set on that very eventful day.
Unfortunately for the Heroes of Almas, the day was about to punctuate its eventfulness.
Cries began ringing out as sun set from the watch outposts — the Demon had been seen.
Soaring overhead, the Demon of Almas spread its wings and rushed towards the mercantile district over the water.
…and in its shadow, the Heroes of Almas gave chase.
Just when they thought they had figured it out, when the pieces of the puzzle were leading together, they had realized they were not in charge of the play. The script they had been using belonged to another play entirely, and the story took a dramatic turn towards the unexpected. But when the Heroes of Almas did truly catch up to the Demon they had been chasing… the closing of the middle act would be unbelievable. — The Professor
|Continued In||The Best Laid Plans|