We start with the party (Zolf, Azu, Cel, Hamid, Wilde and Skraak) and the druids (Sohra and Sumutnyerl) overlooking The Garden of Yerlik from an exposed bluff. The garden appears to be naturally occurring, with trees of many different ages. the saplings are the size of 'normal' trees- the older trees are much bigger. The trees are all blue. In the centre of the garden is a patch where the trees do not have any colour, although they still appear to be blooming. There appears to be movement between the trees, apparently medium and large creatures. There is more movement around the edge of the blighted area. Cel is sure they can see trees moving around (both healthy and blighted). They also think they can see spectral creatures in the garden.
Cel asks what the trees represents to the druids (friends, gods, people, a neighbouring culture). Sumutnyerl explains that the garden is the final resting place for their people, both serving and sustained by the spirits laid there. The garden serves as a place for contemplation and serves as a sort of oracle. Sumutnyerl explains that the blight started around three years ago, but worsened around two years ago (approximately when the campaign started). They explain that the blue veins in a corpse are a sign that the person has been accepted by the garden, and should not affect living beings. The veins show that a person's spirit is now free to wander the garden and converse with the others there. Cel asks what happens with people that are not accepted, and Sumutnyerl explains that this is very rare, but these people are usually cremated. They explain that it's not a sign of evil to be rejected, and that since it only seems to happen with very independent, free-spirited people, they're not even sure if it is the garden rejecting them or them choosing not to join the garden.
Zolf asks if anyone else, outside of their culture, is aware of the garden. Sohra answers that this is a hallowed ground and that nobody else knows. Sumutnyerl, however, replies that there has been one person, a man who went by the name Nik. He stayed with them for around a year and was granted a visit to the garden. His physical description matches that of Nikola Tesla, and Hamid explains that he must have stolen the seed that's in the notebook when he left the garden. Sohra is visibly shaken by the news that someone from outside was granted access to the garden, and Sumutnyerl is very awkward. They explain that it has happened before, and that Nik was very respectful towards them prior to apparently stealing the seed. Sumutnyerl explains that taking the seed is a betrayal, an act beyond desecration, taking the fruit of ancestors beyond count; a violation they struggle to put into words. Sohra tells Sumutnyerl that they should have told Sohra of this happening, and the atmosphere between them is very tense.
Hamid explains that their goal is to understand what is happening in their homelands, but that since the garden is the place of the Ursans, could the party help the druids to understand the nature of the blight or even repair the damage? Sumutnyerl says that the only people that enter the garden are those to be laid to rest, Sumutnyerl themself, and those they grant entrance to as representatives. They explain that the Garden does not show entrants what they wish to see, but what the Garden wishes the entrant to know. The closer to the blight one gets, the more dangerous and confusing those visions become. The party discusses what they think they will learn (about the infection) from entering the garden. Cel believes that they will only know that by entering the Garden, but suspects they might be able to see visions of what was going wrong. Hamid wonders if spirits in the garden may be able to offer advice. Wilde wants to know the level of danger they will be facing. Hamid asks Sumutnyerl if it is their intention to enter the garden and talk with the residents there. Sumutnyerl says they would value the insight of outsiders, but that they should not be there at night, since there are more than just ancestors in the garden now- those that have the power to confuse, lure, and harm- and that they are generally dormant during the day.
Sumutnyerl (representative of Yerlik) explains to Zolf that Sohra, as a representative of the Clawed One may not enter the garden, but that having the whole party is the best idea. Azu asks if, as one with a different faith (Aphrodite) from the Ursans, whether it would be appropriate to enter. Sumutnyerl replies that the Garden does not recognise such boundaries, adn that the creatures within are more concerned with life rather than factions therein. Hamid asks if there are any observances they must undertake before entering, and Sumutnyerl says there are some basic cleansing rituals they will do; also that the party must respect and not harm the garden, (it is sick rather than evil). They also explain that the party may encounter the spirits of people that have come before, including people they know- Nik certainly experienced such things- but that the party shouldn't hope or expect to see anyone specifically. Cel is pale, but hopeful nevertheless. Sumutnyerl also cautions that the malady might warp such visions, that the party might encounter beings pretending to be their loved ones, or twisted versions of them. Zolf and Wilde worry that misinformation from the garden could be more damaging than no information, especially if that information is delivered from the mouth of a dead loved one.
[At this point, out-of-character, Ben explains that in between the sessions he has done a lot of thinking and has decided that Zolf's deep, meaningful relationship with Wilde will be platonic rather than romantic, purely because he feels uncomfortable roleplaying romance with a character that is based on a real-life historical figure- he clarifies that a Zolf-Wilde romance would be a perfectly valid story option, it is just the roleplay he is personally uncomfortable with.]
Sumutnyerl thinks for a while, and tells them the party never lies, but it may harm with truths. The party is rather worried about this. Sumutnyerl says that the Garden responds to what people take in with them. Cel just clarifies all this, flustered and babbling, and Zolf calms them, and makes it clear that it's fine for anyone who doesn't want to enter to stay outside. Skraak asks the extent to which the Garden accepts people from less-humanoid people, and Sumutnyerl replies that it accepts all sentient beings.
Hamid suggests they all make camp and process their thoughts and emotional baggage. Sohra and Sumutnyerl have laid two campfires, and they retire to one to talk through their tension from earlier; the party sits around the other. Something of a blue-tinted aurora moves through the garden, and as night falls the garden glows blue and the movement of spectres and be seen. Cel and Azu talk. Cel talks about their husband that they lost five years ago to old age (he was an orc and they met when he was already 25), and how it would be nice to see him again- although they acknowledge that the Garden might not oblige; they also say that their former fiancee is probably also dead by now, given human lifespans. They say that seeing their fiancee might 'clarify a few things', but that it's dangerous to hope. Cel says they could tell their husband's spirit that their boys are doing OK (Azu asks if Cel & their husband had them together, and Cel says that they were their husband's children from a previous relationship), and that they're about Azu's age and that they sail trade routes across the Pacific and, given the storms around Japan, they're probably staying in the Pacific Islands at the moment, but that they haven't seen them in about four years. They then ask Azu if she has anyone she's hoping, or hoping not, to see. Azu mentions that she's lost friends along with Hamid (referring to Sasha and Girzzop). Cel is still worried about their fiancee telling them how they messed up, but hopes Azu's fiends are doing OK. Azu replies that one of them (Sasha) left a letter that said she was doing fine and lived a happy life; Azu reminisces briefly with Cel about Sasha and Grizzop, and Cel tells Azu that, given that Azu's village seems to be out of the main infection-war action, they hope Azu doesn't meet anyone they weren't expecting. Azu wants the same for Cel. Zolf (cleric of hope), who has overheard, reminds them that it's OK to hope (for one loved one or another), but that it's expectation that can lead to disappointment.
Later, Hamid approaches Azu for a private conversation. He's glad that the resurrection happened, but is worried that Apophis had explained why resurrection was wrong and that Apophis had good reasoning. On the other hand, he's concerned that he'd been brought up to believe that the so-called (by the Meritocrats) 'Northern Wastes' were uninhabited, but that clearly that wasn't true. He's worried whether they did the right thing resurrecting their compatriots. Azu replies that clearly, given what's happened in Meritocratic lands, the Meritocrats are not infallible, and that resurrection doesn't really have a morally clear answer. Azu says that given that they had to ask the fallen whether they wished to return, she doesn't believe what they did was wrong, especially given that the 'waiting rooms' weren't necessarily pleasant spaces.
Hamid then asks that if resurrection was so good, why couldn't it have also been permissible for other people that had been lost, for example Aziza- Hamid couldn't save her, but why couldn't they have brought her back? Azu says that, since Hamid wasn't aware that resurrection was an option at the time, he made the best decision he could at that moment. Hamid questions his belief in the Meritocrats and the systems they've put in place, given the things he's seen in recent months, and given their abdication in this crisis. He says he looks up to Azu for having faith in Aphrodite, and says he's not sure what he has faith in anymore, apart from his friends. Azu agrees that having faith in other people is just as valid as belief in a god, and that the reason for her faith is that she can see the good Aphrodite does in the world. the Meritocrats, on the other hand, have never proven themselves to Azu, and she doesn't believe that, intelligent as Apophis is, he really has the capacity to govern several continents well. Hamid says Azu can talk to him at any time too, hopes she's feeling alright about the following day, says he thinks they'll be OK, and gives her a big hug.
The cleansing ritual is bathing in a water source in the cirque. As the group is about to enter the Garden, the sun is shining and there is no movement from the spectres. Wilde says that he's gone there (i.e. death) and come back in a way, and that it's not all that bad.
- Sumutnyerl: "The Garden will not show you what you wish. It shows you what it wants you to know."
- ―Sumutnyerl imparts their wisdom about the Garden.
- Azu: "It would be worth it, to give your life for Sasha."
- Cel: "She sounds really cool! What an excellent character! What a wonderful being! Well done to whoever made that!"
- ―Azu reminisces about Sasha to Cel.
- Zolf: "You can hope, right, that's the thing that keeps you going. Expectation, that's the thing that can disappoint you. It's OK to hope."
- ―Zolf philosophises.
Dice rolls & mechanics
- Perception check to notice things about the garden: Hamid (24), Cel (33), Zolf (16), Azu (17)