Welkin has already charted a course west, since they had been told the oasis was on the way to their next mission, so it’s an easy trip over the barren desert. While on their way, though, Txori receives a report from the elemental spies she placed in Sanity’s Weeping Wound’s courts. Apparently, they had missed a caravan worker who escaped into the desert and died of exposure, and whose ghost was then picked up by Sanity’s Weeping Wound’s forces and interrogated. Between that and the last report from the White Bone Mistress, they now have a good idea of what the Crimson Gale is like, including its shapeshifting power, and all spies throughout the South have been instructed to keep an eye out for it. This means that Welkin does not want to leave his ship unattended and also doesn’t really want Edelweiss to take the ship without any support away from Gem, so he says he will drop Sam, Txori and Grey at the outskirts of Gem and come back for them in a week or so.
Welkin drops the party at the outskirts of Gem under cover of night and takes off, leaving them only with instructions to locate their contact, who they only know by name and sight. Gem is a very, very large city of over a million inhabitants, but it seems at night the most active places in the slums are the water sale stations, when the water evaporates less. Visiting the nearest of these major stations, the party spots a woman who matches the description they were given. This woman also spots them, as she’s looking around using her essence sight, noticing a Realm-ethnicity man wearing an illusion of a Southerner and a woman wearing Orichalcum artifacts under her loose clothing (and also Grey, who doesn’t seem to stand out much).
They meet and go somewhere less conspicuous, and Crystal reveals that there is a weapon of mass destruction somewhere in this city that has been appropriated and, once activated, will likely shatter the crystals under Gem, set off the volcanoes, and generally kill everyone in Gem, leaving only an active volcano. This is apparently supposed to be for the First and Forsaken Lion to get a shadowland, but the volcano will prevent the shadowland from forming, and no one will be happy. Some probing from Txori prompts Crystal to reveal that she was the original constructor of this device, and Sam’s use of Revelation of Associates Hunch reveals all of Crystal’s acquaintances are demons or other Yozi servants. This is all suspicious as hell but Crystal seems fervently committed to keeping Gem from exploding, so they join forces.
The party snoops back around the water sale station and Crystal points out two cultists (identified from minor trinkets they’re carrying that are not commonly known to be cultist gear). Sam then buddies up to them using Crystal’s provided code phrases, and talks up his desire to serve the Yozis after a dream sent him here. The two cultists, Achmed and Billy Bob, are impressed with Sam and bring him back to their home, where Achmed probes him further on his dream. Sam uses Revelation of Associates Hunch again (which the DM is beginning to believe is way more powerful than intended) and mentions he was sent to meet with Bishop Agonidal, who happens to be Achmed’s bishop. Coincidence!! This further impresses both cultists, and they go to sleep so as to head up in the morning. Txori is able to hear all of this using her super senses and updates Crystal, then they all hide and rest as well.
Morning comes, and Crystal wants to send advice to Sam about how to get the cult’s attention, so she tells Txori about it, and Txori makes an ad: “Camels for sale!” with details that only Sam can read as advice: “Mention you had a vision of you toiling at a crystal sphere. Eat no more than 1 bug.” Sam gets it while walking up the hill with Achmed and Billy Bob, as Txori, Grey and Crystal tail them. They head into the market of Gem, underground in the lava tubes, and stop by a respectable shop built directly into the rock. Achmed, Billy Bob and Sam head to the back and talk with the shopkeeper in what is fairly plainly coded language, after which they are permitted into the back room. There they see a couple stock boys coming and going, and a thin elderly man studying a strange device of some kind. He sets it down and asks Achmed and Billy Bob who they have brought. Sam introduces himself, and after a bit of back and forth with a suspicious Bishop, Sam uses Revelation of Associates Hunch yet again, identifying the Cardinal Lieuchrie as the next man up the ladder. Sam claims no great skills but hard work, good hands and dedication to the Yozi cause. The Bishop raises an eyebrow, then snaps a finger, sending a stockboy running out the door (and past Crystal and Txori). The stockboy disappears down an alley and soon four big guards hustle through the door carrying a large wooden crate. They drop the crate in the back room, right in front of Sam, and then leave. Achmed and Billy Bob open the crate, revealing a bound, gagged and blindfolded wealthy man. The Bishop pulls out a big serrated knife for Sam to ritually sacrifice this man with, and as Achmed and Billy Bob start putting down newspaper, Sam remarks aloud what a proud day this is for him and he wishes his friends were there. This is definitely for Txori’s benefit.
Txori comes up to the guard at the front of the store and tells him that the Ashen Guard are on their way there, and hints that he should immediately tell the Bishop. The guard, being none too bright, immediately dashes back, with Txori, Grey and Crystal right behind him. As soon as the guard gets there and sputters out that the Ashen Guard are coming, the Bishop whirls and asks if he saw them. The guard blinks and says that Txori saw them, but what happens next is an ambush, as Crystal pins the Bishop to the wall with telekinesis, Txori dodges the guard’s attack (“You tricked me!”) and winds up outside the shop, and Achmed attacks Sam (“We trusted you!”) only to find himself strangling Billy Bob instead. Sam then whips the guard to a pillar with his chain, Txori shoots and kills the clerk who was pulling out a large firewand (which goes off and sets the shop on fire), and Crystal demands compliance from the Bishop while flashing her caste mark at him. Agonidal immediately cracks and says he doesn’t know where the device is but it’s deep underground. Meanwhile, Txori has Achmed and Billy Bob at arrowpoint but reads defiance in their eyes and kills them, while Sam takes his chain off the unconscious guard and wraps up the Bishop. Agonidal says the Cardinal is in charge of the device and it will be ready in less than a week, but rolls 5 successes on conviction after that point and refuses to give up any more info. He ceases to be useful awake at that point.
Txori unblindfolds and ungags the victim, getting his name and giving him the Bishop to do with as he wishes. The party goes to put out the fire, and while they’re doing that, the stockboy runs back in the shop, takes in the scene, and tries to flee, but Sam snags him with his chain. The stockboy knows very little, but offers to take the party to where they want to go, but it’s merely to the nearby guards, so Sam threatens him with the fire, and when it doesn’t work, he knocks him out and leaves him in the shop.
Sam steps into the back room alone, takes on the appearance of the Bishop, then comes out, and the four of them head over to the guards. They find at least eight in the room down the alley, and the Bishop immediately calls for four to escort them to the Cardinal. The guards immediately comply, walking them through the market and into the residential area of the wealthy. They stop at one of the great manors, and Sam tells them to wait outside. They are escorted in by servants and Sam calls to meet the Cardinal immediately. The party is kept waiting for only a few moments before Cardinal Lieuchrie arrives, smooth-talking and earnest (and encased in Demon armor, according to Crystal’s eyes).
The party’s story is that they need to modify the weapon of mass destruction to require fewer souls since the Despot’s people are getting suspicious of the disappearances. The Cardinal is surprised by this, especially since he says he was assured that Meticulous Owl was handling the Despot’s people, and questions their credentials, but the party claims they were sent by Xeroclea, and there was no time for any dream-missive or other communication, especially since they are specialists who can make the modifications. Once Crystal delves into lies about the geography of the region, the Cardinal appears totally convinced, and says he can escort them himself to the device through a secret door in his basement. Txori checks his words through Sagacious Reading of Intent and finds instead that he intends to imprison them all, so when they reach the stairs, Txori puts an arrow into the lock of the door that he was about to open with a big key, then points an arrow in his face.
The Cardinal is surprised and confused, of course, and when he is asked if the door leads to the Clown, he exclaims that of course it does, but Crystal sees through his feeble lies. Pressured by the entire party at his throat (and by Crystal’s caste mark), the Cardinal explains that he cannot bring the party to meet with the Clown, but he can bring them to meet with Meticulous Owl. The party goes along with this, so the Cardinal leads them out of his mansion and down the street a few blocks to another mansion. They are let in by an exceptionally frazzled butler who brings them to a waiting room with food and drink (and a dancer).
Txori heightens her senses to their limit and listens to the butler’s footsteps as they go up the stairs, and on the next floor he opens a door and speaks with someone, advising them that he has visitors who are familiar. With some brief banter between the mysterious host and the butler, and from the sound of his voice, Txori determines their host is the same man they rescued a few hours ago, and that the butler (and presumably everyone else in the house) thought that the returning man was an evil doppelgänger who has been dealt with already. Once the butler leaves, the host returns to writing down some note, which Txori is able to discern using Discerning Savant’s Eye and her absurdly good perception+awareness roll. Apparently the note is updating someone that this person is onto them, has sent descriptions and plans to send their heads in for identification. The note is placed into something that clicks and scrapes and then vanishes.
Txori manages to clue the rest of the party in on this imminent problem, and warns the Cardinal that his usefulness has come to an end. Crystal decides this is a hint, and telekinetically snaps his neck, much to Txori’s shock. The demon armor slithers off him and up a chimney, and the party arranges him to be reclining and resting. Once the merchant friend opens the door and finds them, the party indicates they should let the Cardinal rest, and step into another room. What follows is a bizarre conversation about all manner of things, with each side trying to indirectly get information out of the other. By the conclusion of it, it appears that this Meticulous Owl is a liar, a troublemaker, and is planning to kill off the party, but Txori gets him to agree to a binding oath to bring them to the Clown and for neither to harm the other until he is found.
Meticulous Owl leads them down the stairs, out some streets, and down into a mineshaft. Soon they arrive on a catwalk overlooking a large chamber, with Crystal’s weapon of mass destruction sitting in the center, and a number of slaves being fed into its soul-flaying chamber. Other slaves are being kept in cages, and pillars and piles of rubble lie all around. The Clown himself, Ja de Veon, is standing amongst the slaves, cackling as they are fed into the machine. Meticulous Owl calls out loudly, “Hey Ja de Veooon, we found you!” Battle is promptly joined, and Txori tries putting some arrows through Meticulous Owl’s chest, only to find he is impossible to hit, flitting around the room and stopping behind a pillar. Sam runs down to try and bring combat to Ja de Veon, who snaps a huge axe out of nowhere, and the two begin a fast-paced, cagey duel. Meticulous Owl tries throwing a crypt bolt at Txori, who dodges to behind another pillar, and then tries for Grey but botches and puts the crypt bolt through the machine, starting its countdown.
Crystal identifies how to stop the machine but suffers two setbacks: first, her use of Past Life knowledge to diagnose the machine causes her First Age Solar personality Kalinda to take over. Luckily, Kalinda wants the machine taken down as badly as Crystal does, if not more, so that’s not an immediate problem. Second, she botches her athletic attempt to get down from the catwalk, spraining her ankle, which is an immediate problem. Grey gets down with her and helps her over, so she can use her telekinetic abilities to put a stop to the machine, while Txori puts some arrows in Ja de Veon while Sam is still attempting to chain him up. Out of nowhere, Meticulous Owl hits Sam with a crypt bolt from the shadows, grievously wounding him, and he hobbles out of the way of Ja de Veon, who is also limping around from aggravated damage from Txori’s arrows. Crystal puts a stop to the machine, then gets back out of the way of trouble, while Meticulous Owl’s attempt at sneak attacking Txori isn’t nearly as productive as it was against Sam. Txori puts two arrows into Meticulous Owl, who just barely manages to hobble away, and after Sam sneaks up on Ja de Veon and wounds him further, Txori finishes him with an arrow as well.
At this point Txori and Crystal are both glowing like bonfires, but after dismantling the machine beyond repair and releasing the slaves (some of whom run screaming about anathema) there doesn’t seem to be much immediate response from the authorities, so once the anima banners have died down a bit the party vacates the premises.
Kalinda’s still in control for a while, and after some fruitless efforts to see if anyone in the party is anyone she used to know, she’s happy to spill the beans on why Crystal built a doomsday device in the first place: it was supposed to destabilize Creation in its area of effect so the Yozis could re-form it as they wished, but Crystal meant for it to be used somewhere where it wouldn’t destroy resources she actually needed, and definitely didn’t want it removed from her control and adapted into a shadowland-generator and every-adult-in-the-area killing machine, which is what Ja de Veon had intended. Apparently Crystal thinks her machine would have left the land too unstable to even settle into shadowland anyway, such that _no one’s_ goals would have been served by setting it off (and she’d be left with the blame for building something that “didn’t work”). The party listens politely, but naturally see no reason to improve their opinion of anyone involved.
Crystal regains control by nightfall and decides now is a good time to try and get back to Malfeas while the getting’s good, so she tracks down the Bishop, who had escaped thanks to Meticulous Owl, extracts the location of the nearest portal to Malfeas from him, then kills him, ostensibly leaving no loose strings. She gets back to her lab to find Amber Veins already there, much to her surprise, and her version of events that Felhart has coached her through doesn’t match what he has in his letter, nor does it match the truth as his own lie-detecting charm reveals. Stricken with the knowledge that she is now an outcast from Infernal society and liable to be locked up and executed, Crystal throws Amber Veins through a window with her telekinesis, grabs some of her lab stuff, and sprints back through the portal into Gem, stopping to yank out important parts of the portal once through. She returns to the party, asking if she can catch a ride on their airship, and the party seems to take it somewhat in stride. Welkin was already called by Grey’s spell, and soon arrives to pick up everyone and whisk them away to their next mission.
- Debbie, Re: Taylor’s absence and Welkin’s taking the ship away: “Oh THAT’S why you did that”
- DM: “Don’t suppose anyone questioned why Barabella is gone and Welkin has shiny new goggles?” Eli: “I would happily trade her for a fine bottle of wine.” Debbie: “Or maybe not so fine…” Alejo: “I will trade you for the amount of whiskey it would take to forget you.” Debbie: “That might be a lot of whiskey.”
- Debbie, on seeing the contact: “Oh THIS is Jennifer’s character.” Alejo: “I’m glad you’re feeling better today, Debbie, we’re getting the sassy version.”
- Jennifer, on über-sense vision charms: “The dust mites! THEY’RE EVERYWHERE!”
- Crystal: “Well the machine runs on souls.” Txori: “I don’t care if it runs off sand and ground lamb, how does it kill people?”
- Eli: “If we try to convince people honestly we’ll need strong evidence which doesn’t exist…” Alejo: “So we try to convince people dishonestly!”
- The Yozi cultist greeting includes the phrase: “I for one welcome our Eternal Yozi Overlords.”