[Editor’s note: Ben starts off the episode with a brief note: a few episodes ago, he’d made a note of Zolf’s sexuality, but it was accidentally cut out. He confirms here that Zolf is biromantic grey-asexual.]
We pick up with Zolf and Earhart waiting for the ship to be transported up the giant bear. They both try to tie themselves to the wheel but eventually Earhart backs off. She pulls out her captain’s chair, lashes it to a railing, sits in it, and lashes herself to the chair.
Zolf comments that it’s nice to see some of Earhart’s fight back; she replies that this is a weird situation and she’s winging it more than usual. There’s a pause (or paws, thank you Bryn) in the conversation in which nothing happens. Earhart is getting fidgety and annoyed. They contemplate the possible the “bear logistics” of lifting the ship.
Earhart says she wants to talk about something serious with Zolf and he sighs loudly; his oldest friend’s died, and he doesn’t have the energy for talking. Earhart says that this is important: they both know that nothing comes for free. If there’s a price to be paid, she’s going to pay it. Zolf says she’ll probably have to fight everyone else to do that, that she doesn’t have to prove she’s a good captain, and that no one’s going to take her or the ship.
Earhart half-jokingly suggests that they might fight Guivres with a giant bear — which Zolf shuts down, telling her she can’t become the “bear mayor.”
Zolf then hears the sound of multiple wingbeats, and about twelve mechanically large/huge/chonky eagles emerge and dig their talons into the ship, damaging it further (to Earhart’s displeasure.) The eagles all simultaneously and awkwardly start lifting the ship through the air. It’s an uncomfortable, though quick journey.
Back to the rest of the party, still on the platform going up to the bear city. Above them is a large timber crane, providing a counterweight to the platform with big blocks of stone, and levering them over the side of the bear.
Looking out over the city, Hamid can see that it’s built on top of a horizontal palisade, made of large tree trunks strapped together. There are “park” areas with no palisade; fur pokes through these. The city is crowded because of the city’s density, not because of any overpopulation. It’s actually a fairly small number of people using a limited amount of space as efficiently as possible.
The majority of the population is human, but not by much; there are a decent number of elves, as well as smaller numbers of orcs and halflings. Additionally, some of the population has pure white hair, dotted randomly.
[Editor’s note: Helen connects this to Zolf’s white hair, but Alex doesn’t confirm that this is related. Additionally, the cast briefly discusses the contents of the Patreon-only Into the Wilds side quest, a 3-episode D&D5E adventure with Alex, Ben, Bryn, and Helen, set in the RQG universe. The PCs Zoya, Kwami, and Piotr similarly traveled into the Northern Wastes and encountered a settlement on the back of a giant bear. Additionally, while they didn’t meet any people, the group was tracked by a “manimal,” a Bigfoot-esque creature.]
There are also many humanoid plants and animals walking around; they look like they’re “awakened” (a rare spell that grants sentience/sapience to non-sapient things.) They don’t seem to be doing anything different from the rest of the population.
Most people are wearing simple (eg. tunics) but colourful clothing (eg. bright yellows, greens, reds.)
The platform, once brought across the bear, is then brought to a dock. Sohra steps off and gestures for everyone to follow. There are a few people waiting on the dock with stretchers. Sohra offers for the airship crew to carry their own dead, and they do. As the group starts moving in procession through the city proper, the townspeople step aside to let them through, creating an avenue to their destination. People don’t seem to be mourning; as soon as they have passed through, people continue as if nothing’s happened. The group draws a few stares from children, but in general, they’re not the talk of the town.
Back to Zolf and Earhart — after about 20 minutes, the ship is plopped on a similar dock. The two unbind themselves and awkwardly thank the birds. Earhart asks uncomfortably to be brought to their people, while Zolf looks around and spots the tail end of the group. The eagles have dispersed, except for one, who turns back into a humanoid. The person gestures for Zolf and Earhart to follow; they accept Zolf’s thanks for transporting the ship, adding that it might be harder to repair the ship than to transport it. They guide Zolf and Earhart through the city, though no one moves aside for them. They quickly rejoin the crew, which is moving fairly slowly.
The whole group proceeds to what feels like the city centre. There, they find a round thatched building, made primarily of timber with plaster on the walls, and an open centre. The building is in the exact centre of a town square. It’s not large, but appears so because it’s the only building that stands apart from others, with no other buildings built on top of it.
Sohra leads everyone through to the main entrance, and stops before large double doors. They say that for the ritual, each deceased must have one guide, and only the guides will be allowed in. The guides don’t need to practice magic, but they must know the deceased; it should be someone the deceased will listen to. She gives them a moment to decide on who will be the guides.
Zolf immediately volunteers for Wilde. Cel kneels down next to Skraak, and asks to be allowed to guide one of the kobolds, since this is their fault. Skraak goes quiet and gives Cel a deep look, trying to read their motives. Skraak says he understands why Cel needs this and that Sassraa will listen to Cel — but cautions that Cel needs to do it solely for Sassraa, not for Cel or their guilt. Skraak pats Cel’s hand and then steps aside.
Earhart asks if one person can guide everyone; Sohra says no, and that this isn’t based on authority or responsibility. Azu asks Barnes if he’d like to get Carter. Barnes sighs, pulls Azu aside, and in a businesslike manner says that he normally would, but he thinks that it’s better for someone with a greater understanding of life and death to go — the most spiritual he’s ever gotten was getting very drunk and looking at the stars. He asks Azu to go instead, because Carter needs the best shot. Azu agrees to go, honoured, and shakes Barnes’s hand.
Hamid asks Sohra if there are risks involved. They say no; it will be a conversation, not a journey. Hamid tells Skraak that if it had been a risk, he would have gone, but as it’s not, Skraak would be the better choice to guide Meerk. Skraak agrees. Earhart’s uncharacteristically quiet, having been deflated after learning that there would be no danger.
The guides having been chosen, Sohra tells them that everyone else will be waiting outside; this may take a few hours. Zolf tells everyone to find a pub and have a drink (Sohra confirms that the city has pubs “of a kind.”) Sohra also warns that this ceremony may not work for all, as they won’t be forcing unwilling deceased to return.
Sohra pushes the doors open, and eight attendants inside come out: five humans, an orc, and two halfings. They’re wearing grey shapeless robes (like cassocks.) The attendants bring the deceased on stretchers inside, and the Sohra gestures for the four guides to follow. Azu waves goodbye to Hamid and Kiko. Hamid offers everyone luck, hugging Azu and Cel, and receiving an arm clasp and pat on the shoulder from Skraak and Zolf respectively. Azu, Cel, Skraak, and Zolf enter, and the doors close behind them.
Hamid stays outside with the rest of the party outside the ritual hall. Here, the ground is of timber, with non-awakened trees, benches, and urns (that appear to be water sources) dotted around; it seems to be a space for quiet contemplation, and there are a few people sat around. The rest of the crew seems to be settling themselves around the area, having the occasional quiet conversation. The kobolds seem to be in a more reverent mood, sitting similarly as they had done around Meerk and Sassraa's bodies. Hamid approaches Natun and asks if he can join them, and the kobolds make room for him. Hamid sits in meditation with them. He catches Barnes’s eye and nods; Barnes and Earhart are keeping an eye on everyone.
The inside of the ritual hall is very light, given the open space in the roof. There is a surrounding corridor with space for paraphernalia (eg. torches, incense.) The guides head into a large, sanded circular space; there are no markings, but it has a slight mound to it, and sunlight streams into it. The stretcher-bearers lay out the deceased in compass points in the circle, then take up positions with backs to the encircling wall, facing inwards with their heads bowed. Sohra gathers the guides around themself. She warns the group that the ritual will vary depending on who’s involved; they can tell the guides how to begin and how it will end, but the middle steps are variable.
At Sohra’s instruction, the guides sit quietly at the head of their subjects. Sohra tells them that matters will take their own course, and not to be alarmed by the attendants’ actions, as they are here to assist. Additionally, she warns that nothing here can harm them, but it may be emotionally painful; it is not unusual for someone not to want to return.
Sohra steps back, and then the supporters step away from the circle. A slightly acrid, pungent smell (that Cel can’t place) starts to permeate the space, emitting from urns around them; it smells like slightly rotted flowers in vinegar. The attendants brings out fans to blow the fumes around the space, then back up and stand waiting as the guides continue to sit.
Zolf is the first guide to succumb to the fumes. The ambient sounds of the city drop away, followed by the sounds of the building, and then the others’ breathing; it’s similar in a way to the borealis (but without the chimes.) Then the sound expands back outward again. The sand under Zolf’s feet feels coarser than it was when he first knelt, the building around him seems more open, and while he can hear the creaking ropes and shifting timbers of the city, there appears to be no people.
Zolf waits a couple of moments after the transition has finished, then opens his eyes. He appears to be where he was before, though no one else appears to be there. There are footsteps in the sand from where Wilde had lain, leading out of the building. Zolf follows him and pushes open the doors; he is indeed in the city, but there’s no one there. Though Zolf doesn’t know exactly why and he can no longer follow footsteps, he somehow knows that Wilde has passed through here, and can track where he’s gone. Zolf closes his eyes and walks; this seems to make life a lot easier, and doesn’t bump into anything.
Meanwhile, Azu experiences a similar contracting and expanding of sound, like Zolf — although the building seems larger, more echo-y, more stone-like, colder, and more still. There is a distant susurration of many people being very quiet. Azu opens her eyes, and finds herself in a museum, though she doesn’t recognize it; it feels vaguely reminiscent of seminary. It’s a large stone circular space with ancient items (ex. fractured stone column, ancient sword) dotted around the walls. Azu seems to be alone. She calls out for Carter, and is shushed; she heads towards the shushing.
Lastly, Cel goes through the same transition, though nothing happens for a long time after the sound contracts — until they realize they can hear the sound of faint, controlled first, coming from along a cave or tunnel. Cel calls out for Sassraa, with no response. They open their eyes to find themself in an unusually large tunnel. There is a woven rug on the floor and the sounds and colour of fires from a distant bend in the tunnel ahead; Cel walks towards it.
- Earhart: "Mr. Smith. There’s something that, um, I want to raise with you on a serious note before everything goes strange again."
- Zolf: (sigh) "Yes, captain."
- Earhart: "What was that?"
- Zolf: "That is the, um, probably my oldest friend has died? And I really don’t have the energy for big talk unless it’s very relevant."
- Earhart: "It is very relevant, Mr Smith, so thankfully, I’m going to take that sigh as a '(sigh) I’m sure that this is exceedingly relevant and hopefully a helpful comment.'"
- Zolf: "Captain, this is a fight you don’t wanna start, so please get on with it."
- Earhart: "There is an element that is going to be at play here, which both you and I are aware of even if the others aren’t necessarily acknowledging it. Nothing comes for free."
- Zolf: "Sure."
- Earhart: "In the event that there is a price to be paid, it shall be myself who is paying that price. Do you understand me, Mr Smith?"
- Zolf: "Ha. I think you’ll have to fight everybody else for that privilege, so you can have that conversation —"
- ―Zolf and Earhart talk on the ship.
- Earhart: "You know what, forget it, Mr Smith. Let’s just sit in silence. We’ve gotten quite good at that"
- Zolf: "Fine. But look, they’re not taking you and they’re not taking the ship."
- ―Zolf and Earhart talk on the ship
Dice rolls & mechanics
- Perception check on bear city: nat 1, 12 total (Azu), 19 (Cel), 27 (Hamid)
- Hamid Knowledge (arcana) to identify the awakened plants and animals: 27
- Cel Perception on the incense: 16
- Will save during ritual: 30 (Zolf), 10 (Cel), 22 (Azu)
- Zolf Perception check looking for Wilde: 20