As the companions aboard the Brother's Pride stirred from their exhausted slumber and debated their future plans, they glanced up to notice three figures staring at them from the far side of the broken bridge where the Aethership sat at anchor: Brassy Jons, a bizarre figure with a half-shaved, half-dreadlocked head, and Gorged Upon the Mother of a Chieftain Beyond the Spruce Grove. Casting over a grappling hook, then a harness, the three were brought aboard, Brassy and Gorge talking of stumbling into the Gibbering Priest Mud Stone and traveling instantly with him from the ruins of one crumbling Gibbering Temple to another.
After giving everyone a sloppy kiss, Brassy chided them for not waiting for her back at Aetherport. After relaying their extenuating circumstances, they asked why she was late. She replied that the Silver Order apprehended her after she warned them of the Eon Martyrs, the Captain of the Order promising to “pound the truth out of her” as to how she learned of the attacks. She had escaped and lain low in the ruins of a Gibbering Temple until Mud Stone had found her.
Recognizing Mud Stone, Michkin approached and offered a handshake. Mud Stone instead slurped on his fingers, then stated that he was correct: they were the ones who had given the Death Cult access to the Far Paths. He asked why they thought allowing the Death Cult to rapidly spread throughout the world was a good idea and got only blank stares in return as the companions worked out what had happened.
When asking after the nature of the Far Paths yielded no sensible results, Michkin asked how the Death Cult might be stopped. Mud Stone posited that murdering the murder spirit was the only means, achievable only through might of magic after drawing the Murder Spirit out with a suitably grisly sacrifice.
Rapidly changing subjects, Mud Stone asked if they managed to get the “mechanism of the dome” working. Michkin asked if Mud Stone could help them do so, to which Mud Stone replied that anything was possible.
In the mean time, Samara pulled Eliot Sam aside, upset at Brassy's sudden return and the kiss she planted on Eliot Sam. He assuaged her anger and anxiety by stating that a kiss was nothing, devotion like what he had for her was what carried meaning.
With that, Eliot Sam, Michkin, Pursus, Gorge, and Brassy set out to finish the job at the dome, Mud Stone trailing along eating leaves and plucking an errant furry caterpillar. Sneaking through the forest to the edge of the plaza, they watched Sursura swarming around the main complex, frantically patching up the jagged holes and errant shrapnel fragments. The group debated the merits of talking to the crazy caretaker or simply shooting him, glancing up in time to see Mud Stone casually talking Sursura as he joined in the repairs.
The companions approached and Pursus asked if they might be able to help, Sursura replying that they had to protect the Masters. Asking how they might help do that, Sursura told them they could perhaps repair the wall with him or bring him more “living children” so he could replace the clockworks that were destroyed. Eliot Sam said there was no way in hell they would ever do that, but he'd “loan him his sword.”
As everyone reached for weapons, Sursura let out a wail and swelled up to an eight-foot tall monstrosity of flesh and metal, channeling some perverse Shen powers that rendered him practically immune to their attacks. Pursus' magics were all that seemed to harm him, earning the mad giant's undivided attention. Pursus backpedaled as he launched more magics, but was beaten down into the cobbles of the plaza before Michkin, Eliot Sam, Gorge could land precisely aimed blows that wore the giant down, Eliot Sam's final blow removing Sursura's head.
As the rush of battle subsided, the survivors mournfully returned dead Pursus to the ship, CI frantically pawing, chittering, and cuddling to bring his master back to life.
With no capability of doing so, the others returned to the ruins, finding one room full of alchemical reagents, a clockwork laboratory with a single half-built clockid dissected on a workbench along with a clockwork rat that Brassy cranked to an imitation of life. In the corner, the corpse of a small girl floated in a glass tube full of murky brown liquid.
A third room held a man-sized dissection table, strange brass apparatus, mechanical parts, and bizarre instruments. Through the annex lay a fully-furnished philtrology laboratory, the walls lined with long-expired herbs and agents, a sturdy glass display case packed with several dozen arcane potions and philters. Despite not knowing their use, they liberated the concoctions and pushed on. Beyond, a room packed with massive clockwork machinery, a crude stone wall mortared together through the middle of the mechanism. The rough-built wall was so at odds with the immaculate construction of the rest of the complex, they became immediately suspicious.
Hammering a breach into the wall, they discovered four high-backed chairs, one bearing the desiccated corpse of a woman, while another woman and two men lay scattered along the walls in the fetal position, rotted in their age-moldered finery.
As the others looted a sizable handful of gem-studded rings from the corpses, Michkin caught a faint wheezing plea for “water” from the corpse on the throne. Splashing a fair bit on the woman's face and down her throat instantly revitalized her – at least those areas where the water touched. She urged them to hurry before mad Ser Suramon found and killed them and her relief was palpable when they pronounced him dead.
They poured enough water to restore the flesh of her face and neck, intentionally leaving the rest of her body dry and desicated. The woman proclaimed herself Aslen Throne and demanded to know if the Jade Warriors were still overrunning the Eon Baronies and whether the civil war still raged between the Endovin and Raikast Dynasties and if the Demon-Possessed still roamed the world. Eliot Sam used these scraps of lore to place her memories at at least a century ago.
Pushing her further, they learned that she had fled the Eon Baronies in search of something that might give them an edge against the Saitese Empire and their unstoppable Jade Warriors, discovering several means to do so and also creating a machine that could grant immortality in the process. Unfortunately, their guardian Ser Suramon went mad in the course of an experiment, walling the four of them away after killing everyone else to “keep them safe”. The other three masters had killed themselves rather than shrivel to nothing.
Eliot Sam pressed her for something that might bring Pursus back to life. She promised that one of the potions would do so, swearing she would tell them which one if they just gave her another phial that would greatly help restore her. Michkin promised to give her the one for which she asked only when Pursus was restored. Agreeing, she pointed to a metal flask.
Nanoc ran back to the ship to revive Pursus, who came alive – to the delight of CI – but remained too weak to join them.. As soon as he returned, Eliot Sam plunged Widow's Reprisal into Aslen's throat.
“Can't have her competing for the Throne Barony,” he said by way of explanation as he wiped his blade clean on her robes.
Finally moving on to the dome, they found it to be empty of all but a giant bronze door built high above into the side of the dome, and a series of massive lenses in a brass machine all leading to a huge prism mounted over a chair in the center of the room. A heavy metal lever jutted from the wall nearby. As Mud Stone wandered over to lick the chair, Nanoc told him to take a seat. Mud Stone complied and Nanoc pulled the lever. The massive bronze door fell away as the gearworks in the other room tore themselves apart in Sursura's stonework.
Nanoc shrugged and the pushed on, climbing the stairs on the far side of the dome and pulling open a heavy door leading to the massive cage outside. Within lay heaped the skeletons of ten adults and thirty children, ten of which bore collars of unknown metal, each studded with bits of gem and crystal and bearing a single metal ring. Nearby, a staff of strange metal affixed with two tiers of ring-clips.
After swiping the staff and a couple collars and looting some lenses and prisms, they left the main building to investigate the two-story guardhouse squatting across the plaza. Within, rotting clothing, a century of BO, crumbling weapons, and a small splintering chest full of coin. Before heading back to the ship, Michkin discovered the collars clipped into the staff, hypothesizing that the staff gave some sort of control over those wearing the collars. All agreed it was nasty business.
Back aboard, Michkin asked Mud Stone how they might access the Far Path, to which Mud Stone pointed up at the nauseating blur of the newly-risen Gibbering Moon gliding north-to-south across the sky.
While they appraised Pursus of their discoveries, the clockwork rat and CI began to play, Pursus discovering that it was a mechanical familiar, a flood of variants pouring through it and into his mind. Deciding to push on after the Twins, Pursus used his new magic to fire arrows and, by their flight, learn that the Twins lay North.
Launching the ship and leaving the ruined dome complex behind, they headed North all day, spotting tens of thousands of creatures migrating south across the plains below, but unable to make out what they were in the fading light. The following morning Pursus used one of the lenses swiped from the dome to discern that the migration was in fact an invasion of Boulderlanders.
Upon hearing of this, Nanoc stated that that many Boulderlanders during summer could only mean not only had some Thane found a way through the impassable swamp in summer, but had become Khan, unifying all of the Boulderlands in a single massive invading migration of what might be all of the Boulderlanders. He then asked Mideru if the time frame of the explosion might have something to do with the Twins, Mideru agreeing that the culmination of the week-long trip of the Paradise East they were pursuing would closely coincide with the explosion.
As they floated onward, a wall of fire in the north filled the horizon, that night they sailed over it and, at dawn, spotted a massive still-glowing crater in the distance.
At mid-day they passed the rim of the miles-wide crater, a pinnacle of grassy earth still standing at its center, a shattered column of black stone rising from the center of the earthen column. Another arrow augury pointed Pursus to a group of a hundred-odd Boulderlanders heading south beneath them. Wasting no time, they ordered Eliot Jr. to take the Aethership to the nearest mountain, then launched in tandem from the ship in the three gliders left behind by the dead sky pirates.