The subtitle for this one could be, "No, Kieran never did hear Jasmine speak when she was busy chasing Nia."
Soft white light heralded the newly-grown party of Exalts, Jasmine's robes still casting the light that was preventing hungry ghosts from approaching as they traversed the paths towards Hath. The others listened as Alina explained how she had met Jasmine, along with the rogue deathknight Twice-Forged Steel, and the circumstances of their last departure. As she finished, Tenrek nodded slowly. â€œAlright. It's kind of weird â€“ actually, it's really weird â€“ but if Alina trusts you, I guess you're okay in our books.â€ He paused, glancing to the others. â€œRight, guys?â€
â€œSure. Never met a rogue deathknight before.â€ Kieran nodded thoughtfully. â€œBut that doesn't explain... well, anything, really. How did you get here? Where did you get those powers?â€
â€œAnd why did Blade flee from you?â€ Aegis had a furrowed brow, clearly trying not to leap on the ghost and demand an explanation immediately. â€œAnd those things you said...â€
â€œAnd where's Steel?â€ Alina interjected. Jasmine raised a hand soothingly.
â€œOne thing at a time. If I may, I will answer all of your questions chronologically.â€ She paused, and when no one objected, continued smoothly. â€œI reunited with Steel in the Labyrinth after his death, and we made our way to Stygia. We had evidence that the Lover was planning to interfere with the process electing the Dual Monarchs. Suffice to say that we were correct, albeit not in the way that we expected. We narrowly avoided her plan, aided in large part by her destruction that Calibration, and came into the service of the newly-elected Monarchs, who gave us their trust as thanks for our efforts.â€
â€œThere's a long story in thereâ€, Fokuf observed blandly.
â€œIndeed.â€ Jasmine did not elaborate. â€œOver the next few months, the Monarchs observed that the Deathlords were being surprisingly quiet on the Competition front, and began to investigate. Prophecy and investigation together uncovered disturbing information â€“ the Unrepentant Sage, in tandem with the First And Forsaken Lion, had uncovered a pathway to Autochthon's sleeping husk, through the lower depths of the Labyrinth. The Sage sent five of his Deathknights into Autochthonia over a year ago, in order to hasten the sleeping titan's demise.â€ As everyone opened their mouths to speak, she held up her hand again and pressed on. â€œAfter Calibration, with the groundwork laid, the Sage himself followed, leaving his affairs to be managed by the Lion. Thus has the Lion been mimicking the work of two Deathlords. The Yozi are the obvious threat, but the Deathlords remain the more dangerous â€“ despite their battering.â€
â€œThere is a DEATHLORD here?â€ Tenrek gaped at Jasmine, who nodded simply. â€œHow are we supposed to deal with that?!â€
â€œThe Sage is currently in the nation of Jarish, preparing it for the second stage of his plan â€“ a stage that will take place in two weeks' time. His servants have spread out through the eight nations, disguising themselves as simple mortals, and are pushing the nations of Autochthonia to war. At the same time, they are spreading knowledge of the Shadowland Integration Module to others.â€
â€œYou used that term before.â€ Aegis shook her head, refusing to meet the eyes of the ghost's mask. â€œIt is what Blade was using to control the hungry ghosts?â€
â€œPrecisely. The Module allows Alchemicals easy access to necromantic magics, and it can be reproduced through a system of factories that are simple to construct. In the wars to come, those with such modules will easily triumph over the other nations, forcing them to install their own Modules to defend themselves. Barring intervention, I expect that every nation will have the blueprints and will have installed at least one factory by the end of this month.â€
â€œSo what?â€ Fokuf shrugged. â€œNecromancy spreading isn't going to kill Autochthon. What's the catch?â€
â€œThe 'catch', as you put it, is that the Shadowland Integration Module has a serious flaw. It is a piece of technology specifically designed by the Sage to invite the Whispers of the Neverborn.â€ Jasmine glanced over to Aegis. â€œI believe you term it as Gremlin Syndrome?â€ When Aegis stopped dead in her tracks, Jasmine nodded. â€œI see that I am correct.â€
â€œDissonance.â€ Aegis swallowed heavily. When the others looked at her quizzically, also stopping, she shook her head. â€œIt happens, very rarely. An Alchemical is tainted, starts advocating destruction and tries to serve the Void. But it's incredibly rare...â€
â€œWas. At this moment, there are over fifty suffering Alchemicals, including three Patropoli â€“ two in Yugash, one in Sova.â€ Jasmine resumed walking, and, after a moment, the others joined her. â€œHath was the first infected.â€
Tenrek stopped again. â€œAnd we're going there because...?â€
Jasmine did not break stride. â€œHath believes you are walking into his trap. This will allow you to reach his core and destroy him. Without doing so, you will never reach the Maker's Core.â€ She glanced over her shoulder. â€œWhich, I presume, remains your intent.â€
â€œIt does.â€ Tenrek reluctantly resumed following her. â€œSo we have to somehow face off against an elder Alchemical, then get to Autochthon's core before a Deathlord notices that we're here and kills us. All while watching out for an Infernal Paladin running around her.â€
â€œThe Paladin will not be a concern. Steel is in the process of seeing to that.â€
â€œLovely. That makes me feel much better, the deathknight's ghost I've never met is handling the Infernal.â€ Tenrek shook his head. â€œThis plan is really going bad...â€
â€œWe don't have a choice.â€ Fokuf spoke grimly. â€œIf Jasmine's information is accurate, we really do have to go through Hath. Aegis, how bad is this likely to be?â€
â€œVery. Much of Hath's Essence should be engaged in regulating his internal systems and rendering his population comfortable... but if he is Gremlinized, those figures could be drastically out of balance. We are likely to have to challenge security systems, devastating mechanical guardians, and the direct attacks of Hath himself.â€ Aegis looked at the group. â€œIt will take much fortune to survive, let alone succeed.â€ She tested her , then smiled grimly. â€œI welcome the challenge.â€
â€œYou don't seem too shocked by all of this.â€ Fokuf spoke blandly. Aegis replied in kind.
â€œI suspect I don't have the in-depth knowledge to truly understand the magnitude of this disaster. But I always knew the Alchemicals of Yugash were fools. This only confirms my theories.â€
Kieran laughed. â€œRight. Well, let's give this a try.â€