Everyone apart from Sasha and Grizzop lands back in Rome, and Hamid screams when he realises that neither of them are there. He starts looking around for them frantically while Azu tries to comfort him. The room that they’re stood in is incredibly well fortified, better than it was the last time they were here. There are barricades across the entrances, a massive pile of supplies in one corner, and a number of cots in the room. Einstein is decked out in tactical gear, with goggles and dark clothing, ammo belts, etc, and he’s incredibly excited to see them. Hamid checks in with Ishaq and the rest of them, and each one of the hostages seem fine. Vesseek and Bi Ming both look a little bit lost, since Grizzop and Sasha are gone. Vesseek drops the sword, and Hamid runs over and hugs them, saying that they’ll find a way to get Grizzop and Sasha back. Hamid asks how long they’ve been gone, and Einstein waffles for a bit, before saying that it’s been about a year and a half. Hamid starts hyperventilating as Einstein says that a lot’s been happening. Azu still tries to calm Hamid down, and Hamid starts to compartmentalise, saying that they can’t focus on that now, and that they need to figure out how to get Sasha and Grizzop back.
Einstein apologises, saying that he doesn’t know how to get them back, and that this is all he can do. Hamid asks if the gate is still there, and turns to look at it, but thinks he sees a pile of rubble on the other side; he asks who would know about planar shift, and Einstein says that it’s going to be hard to find people, now. Hamid asks what he means, and Einstein tells everyone to calm down and have some stew, because a lot is going on, and he tells Hamid to breathe.
Smash cut to the same exact place, centuries earlier - it’s completely full of people dressed strangely, with conversations happening on all sides. It’s nighttime, and there are lots of lit braziers around the place. Suddenly, Sasha and Grizzop drop to the floor, both hurt when they land. They feel atrocious. There’s a mosaic on the floor beneath them, but they can’t make it out since the room is full of people. Grizzop recognises that they’re speaking Latin, but cannot understand any of it. No one seems to have recognised that they’re here, since they’re underneath a crowd, but they’re next to each other so they don’t lose each other. Grizzop pulls out his bow and nocks it. Sasha gets up. A cry goes up from the corner as people notice Sasha - they don’t seem to have noticed Grizzop yet - and Sasha realises that most of the people in the room are fat and in various stages of undress. She whispers to Grizzop that she thinks they landed in the middle of an orgy, and Grizzop says that he thinks they’ve gone back in time. Someone notices Grizzop, and an even more panicked cry goes up through the crowd as they start to back away, tripping and falling. Sasha and Grizzop decide to run out of the building; they already know the layout a bit, because they had been in this building in the future. There are a few guards at the entrance; they miss grabbing for Sasha, but one of them grabs Grizzop. He presses the bow against their chest and shoots them through the chin; the guard drops him, and they continue running along the road. It’s a gardened avenue with a few braziers set into the sides at points along the way. There are a lot of people wandering around, many of whom are nude, and canape tables throughout the area. Sasha and Grizzop continue running, making their way down the avenue. It takes them a while until they can find an alleyway to duck into, because everyone has their eyes peeled for Grizzop, specifically. Eventually, they do find someplace to hide in a back alley. Grizzop is still a liability, and so Sasha tries to disguise him, making him look like a child who’s got their face covered. He’ll have to keep very muted, but people won’t recognise him as a goblin.
Time jumps ahead - centuries again - to where Einstein has convinced everyone to eat. Over food, he starts to explain what’s been happening over the past 18 months. The riots that the party had heard about in London and Paris, spreading through Europe, seem to have been connected to something else; the riots stopped in London, and then they stopped in France, and Einstein says that they seem to be under some sort of hostile occupation. Azu asks by what, and Hamid asks by who. Apparently, something has been turning people, somehow. They’re acting kind of robot-y, even if they’re the same people who were there before. The entirety of Europe and Australasia seems to have been taken; Africa and Eastern Asia seem okay, and there’s no word on the Americas - it seems to be okay. Whoever (or whatever) has been taking over seems determined to take over everything. There were questions about whether or not it was mind control, but some of the Harlequins went to investigate, and determined that it wasn’t that. They captured some of the infected people, and realised that something seems to grow in them before they change sides, in a way. Einstein doesn’t completely understand what’s happening, but explains it the best he can. Hamid asks after the Meritocrats, and Einstein says that they’re holding a council to discuss what to do now that Guivres has disappeared. A lot has happened in the time they’ve been gone.
He adds that the weather issues don’t seem to be linked, and affect everyone the same. Azu asks how widespread it is. Einstein says that everything between the Atlantic oceans and India, north of the Mediterranean, has been overrun with this infection. They think that the entire thing started in London, but can’t confirm it. Hamid asks how it spreads, mentioning that Einstein said something grows inside people and asks if they can remove it. Einstein says that they haven’t been able to yet; he implies that it has only led to death, so far. It’s hard to explain, so Einstein decides to draw it. He starts digging through the boxes, and it’s clear that he’s stocked up incredibly well. Eventually, he finds some paper and draws; he’s not the best writer, but draws a person with blue, shiny veins crawling along their skin. They still don’t know how it’s transferred, really, and they’ve been struggling to contain it. The Cult of Mars is on the front lines of the containment, but it’s definitely loads of infected people versus an ever-shrinking number of people trying to combat it. There is no divine protection against the infection (so paladins and clerics can be affected), and no cure for it as of yet.
Hamid, clearly tense, grabs Ishaq’s hand and asks about the situation in Cairo. Einstein says that he’s kept up to date on the al-Tahans and that they’re fine, and says that Cairo has become a sort of refuge hub, along with Damascus. Azu’s family is well out of it, still down in Kenya. Bi Ming speaks up, then, asking about what’s happened to people in London and where he can go to check in on them. Einstein apologises again, because he doesn’t have the info, but he can maybe try to find out. The Harlequins and the cult of Mars have become unlikely allies, and the Meritocrats have started to almost retreat.
Hamid brings up the simulacrum; Einstein says that that sounds like what he’s describing, but not mechanical. He mentions that he’s looked into Wilde, but that he went off grid. Azu asks how they can help, and Hamid says that they need to get all the refugees somewhere safe. Einstein says that Cairo is probably the best option for them to go to now, and mentions that he’s been popping back into Rome twice a week for the past 18 months to check on him. Azu and Hamid thank him profusely for not giving up on them. Einstein squeezes his eyes shut and concentrates incredibly hard, before pointing at a random spot, where an illusion of him appears, giving everyone a thumbs up. Hamid congratulates him, and Einstein winks at Azu, who he confided in before the 18 month gap regarding his brain not remembering different types of magic. They discuss where to go next; Hamid offers Cairo as an option, asking if Emeka wants to go home instead. Emeka decides to come with them back to Cairo, and Einstein says that he’ll drop a line to Curie, who seems to be heading the resistance efforts in Cairo. Hamid mentions that maybe she could tell them if there’s anything that they can do to get Grizzop and Sasha back. Einstein asks what actually happened there, delicately, and Hamid explains that they had all been standing in a circle, but that when they’d come back, three people were missing. Azu can remember Eldarion stepping back and linking hers and Grizzop’s hands together, and Azu remembers Grizzop’s hand slipping out of hers. Hamid hugs her tightly.
Back to Ancient Rome - neither of them really know what’s going on. Sasha is wondering if they’ve been sent back to the beginning of the ritual, but Grizzop says that he thinks they just got thrown back in time. The city doesn’t seem to be at war, which is how it fell when Rome and the Meritocrats fought. Sasha asks if Grizzop’s god is still there, and Grizzop reaches out. He doesn’t feel different, but he isn’t glowing, and uses lay on hands again - it works fine. Seems as though Artemis is there in some form. Sasha asks if anyone would be on their side, and Grizzop says that he doesn’t think so - the Cults were allowed to exist, even if they weren’t friends with the Meritocrats, but he doesn’t know if they’ll be sympathetic or able to do anything.
Before they continue on, Grizzop tells Sasha that Eldarion sacrificed herself to save them all, and that she’s probably gone-gone. He describes how she stepped out of the circle, and mentions that she did it for Sasha, and that she did care even if she didn’t show it well. Sasha doesn’t process any of this, just staring at wall. He also tells her that they all escaped a god - the rumbling that they all felt was the hand of Hades, and even with everything else, they beat a god. Sasha seems more muted than normal, and Grizzop suggests that they go try and find the temple of Artemis; she’s still just staring at the wall, so Grizzop tries to comfort her, telling her that they’re still alive, at least. Sasha agrees, saying that they’re probably easy to rob. Grizzop says that even if everything doesn’t work out, he’ll just kill all the Romans. Sasha says that she asked Eldarion about all of this before they left, and that Eldarion had never been nice to her or given her any sort of support, so Sasha doesn’t really accept that she was sacrificing herself for Sasha or for something else. Sasha goes back into the crowd to nick her and Grizzop some sandwiches while Grizzop tries to figure out where to go next. She remembers most of the layout of the land, and they’ll probably at least be able to make it to the temple district.
Back to current Rome: Einstein asks if Cairo is the final choice, and Hamid asks Vesseek where they want to go. They pick up the sword and agree to go to Cairo, and Azu realises that they are filled with righteous anger. Azu asks Ed where he wants to go, and Ed asks what Apollo’s up to. Einstein says that he’s actually missed Ed, and Hamid says that Ed can go to the temple of Apollo in Cairo. Ed pauses for a minute, and realises that he’s going to be so late returning from his pilgrimage. They all decide to go to Cairo, so that people can get back to their families and so that Azu and Hamid can talk to Curie about what’s going on, and ask about planar shift. Hamid and Azu both remember that Eldarion said that she would only be able to return eight people, and so she might have stepped back to save all of them. He wishes that he could thank her. Einstein heads off, suddenly, and comes back bearing bags for everyone. Each bag is a survival pack: two potions of cure serious wounds each, two potions of endure elements, a full set of desert weather gear, circle of rope, ten days of ration, a water skein, and a mobile stone. Einstein is so proud of himself for putting these together, and Hamid thanks him, saying that this is amazing. They leave in groups - Einstein can’t carry all of them at once. Azu and Hamid thank him again for his assistance. He takes them all back in two trips.
Back to Ancient Rome: the cloak Grizzop is wearing is a bit out of fashion, since it’s quite warm out. He starts to cough a bit, feigning ill, and gets some weird stares, but not suspicious ones. They make it to the temple district, and things look slightly weird to Grizzop. The temples don’t have any sort of distance between them, next to each other on the streets. In modern times, the temples are much more spread out; there’s not outright antagonism between them, but they aren’t as close as these temples seem to be. He easily recognises the Artemisian temple even with the Roman style (more stone than timber) as it’s the only one with arrow slits. They head up, and there’s someone hammering a poster of some kind on the wall - Grizzop thinks it’s a bounty poster, and there’s some old Roman geezer on the poster, with the name Cicero along the bottom. The guy hammering the poster turns and sees Sasha, and then begins chatting with her in Latin. She doesn’t understand, but tries signing ‘help’ and ‘inside’. He seems to sort of get it eventually, and then gestures to Grizzop, miming rocking a baby to sleep, to which Sasha shrugs. Suddenly, there’s an explosion from a distance away, followed by huge amounts of screaming.
- "We’ll find, we’ll find a way to...we’ll find them!"
- ―Hamid goes over and hugs Vesseek.
- Hamid: "A year and a half! We can’t think about this yet, we...three people got left behind, how do we find them, professor? How do we...find them?"
- Azu: "Okay, take a breath, Hamid, okay, let’s just...long breath."
- ―Hamid and Azu return to Rome with the hostages, 18 months after they left.
- Hamid: "We were all standing in a circle. Everyone closed their eyes when we came back here, three people were missing."
- Einstein: "And Eldarion?"
- Hamid: "Eldarion, Sasha, and Grizzop were all…"
- Azu: "She let go of me, deliberately I think."
- Hamid: "When?"
- Azu: "Before we went, I couldn’t stop her. Grizzop slipped as well."
- ―Azu remembers that Eldarion let go of her hand in the circle.
- Azu: "Eldarion left...Grizzop…"
- Hamid: "What do you mean left, what happened?"
- Azu: "She stepped away, and...then Grizzop was there and then…"
- Hamid: "Before it started?"
- Azu: "You know how it was, we began to fall and then...she left...and then I was holding Grizzop, and then Grizzop wasn’t there. And I couldn’t catch him."
- Hamid: "I hug Azu."
- Helen: "Azu hugs back."
- ―Azu confesses that Grizzop slipped from her grasp.
Dice rolls and Mechanics
- Azu and Hamid make a Perception check: Hamid gets 28, Azu gets 21
- Sasha and Grizzop make a Perception check: Sasha gets 16, Grizzop gets 20
- Sasha and Grizzop take 19 and 23 damage from falling.
- Grizzop makes a Knowledge (geography) and Knowledge (religion) check when they land in Rome: 11 and 16, respectively
- Sasha makes a Knowledge (local) check: 19
- Sasha and Grizzop make Reflex saves: Sasha gets nat 20, Grizzop gets 14
- Grizzop attacks one of the guards: 26 on the hit, dealing 5 damage
- Sasha and Grizzop make Reflex saves: Sasha gets 24, Grizzop gets 16
- Sasha and Grizzop make a Stealth check: Sasha gets 29, Grizzop gets 12
- Sasha makes a Disguise check on Grizzop: 18
- Grizzop uses lay on hands: gets 10 hit points back
- Sasha makes a Knowledge (local) check in Rome: 19
- Azu makes a Sense Motive check on Vesseek: 17
- Sasha makes a Performance check: 11