Character catch up time!
- Fi has never been to a place like this before: either a higher education institution, nor a place full of cats. She’s therefore a little intimidated by it all, but nonetheless fascinated by her surroundings despite feeling out of place.
- Roe likes animals and so is enjoying being around this many cats, is also impressed by the weird architecture, and is nervous about meeting the professor so she can ask about star maps, the horseman, and all that jazz. She’s used to rolling with weird situations by now, and this is certainly not the weirdest she’s encountered with this group, but is anxious to get some answers about things.
- Serra is more experienced with the university setting than the rest of the group, but is not particularly conscious of being in a collegiate environment; she’s still thinking of it more like a weird building than a familiar milieu. Given recent events with her apparently being overtaken by the god of the swamp and the emergence of new powers, she’s hoping somebody here can help her understand why she’s suddenly being compelled to do weird things.
Now, back to our regularly scheduled programming…
The group enter the offices of Professor Joachim Bachman, who is a cat. After being bid to enter, they push open the heavy door — which is not quite cat-sized, but not quite humanoid-sized, either — and crouch to do so. The room is large, but cluttered, with the same impossible architecture they’ve seen in the rest of the university. There are bookcases that span the length of two walls, and then continue across the ceiling, without any of the volumes falling out onto their heads. In the middle of the room is a large stone table covered in lab equipment, bunsen burners and such, and a complicated network of glass pipes feeding into any number of conical flasks and test tubes. At the wall furthest from them is a glass cabinet full of specimens. Protruding from the wall next to the door is a brass spiral staircase leading to a skylight on the opposite wall.
From halfway up one of the bookcases, the professor welcomes them, but is surprised: he didn’t have any appointments scheduled, but asks how he can help. Serra is requesting information on the elf poachers, who appear to be in the professor’s employ, and says they were sent by the orc revolutionaries of Belbury. He nods his assent, yes, he knows them, and asks how they’re doing. Roe says they’re fine, “they’re alive…or they were when we last saw them.” Professor Bachman is less concerned with the strange wording of her answer than the unconscious elves Rurron is carrying. Roe waves them off as “collateral damage” and apologises for bringing them. She then asks instead if he can help the group with identifying the importance of the star maps.
The professor explains that maps are not his area of expertise. His focus of study is on parabiology and exotic flora and fauna, but Dean Hustvedt has some knowledge of cartography along with being a historian of the Chord du Vide. He reiterates that, despite Roe brushing the question of, he really does need to know what the deal with the elves is. It becomes clear that neither the elves nor the professor have ever met in person before, and so don’t recognise each other by sight. Serra sets the record straight and asks if he knew that the spores he had them collecting was, in fact, sentient. The gravity of that information, on an ethical level, doesn’t seem to phase him. Instead Professor Bachman is simply fascinated by the new information; he knew it was sentient, but it taking a human form is new to him.
He asks the group if they are adventurers, and if so, have they witnessed any similarly peculiar phenomena during their journeys? Fi is cagey, admits that they’ve seen “some.” Serra gestures to the skull she’s holding. Roe looks at Rurron. Serra explains the origins of the skull, found in the swamps outside Lynpythgow, which the professor finds very interesting. As they talk, Serra sees a vision of a snake slithering across the lab table, but when she cranes her neck for a better look it has disappeared…
When Roe changes the subject back to Dean Hustvedt, Professor Bachman again apologies that he can’t help with the map thing, and that the dean is currently on his lunchbreak but the group are free to hang out in his lab or explore the rest of the university before going to meet him in his offices across the atrium. Serra suggests that he might consider a less invasive form of research in the future, since the work he had the elves doing seemed to be actively damaging the mould; he agrees, insisting he has no interest in harming these interesting flora and fauna, he just wants to study them.
Roe asks if he’s ever been to Barent, which he doesn’t appear to have heard of. He says he doesn’t leave the university at all, really, and she’s unsurprised that he doesn’t get out much. She tells him about the worms the group tangled with there, drawing a crude diagram of one on a chalkboard set up at the side of the table. Roe also mentions the existence of Inu, but doesn’t divulge any further information about its “physiology” apart from “it was a big dog.” As he presses her for more information, saying that he’s seen all sorts of things, he begins listing some of the specimens he’s come across.
Fi perks up when he mentions twig people, and confirms the group came across such a thing in Barent, too. He says he has never actually seen one himself, much less studied one, but has heard stories. Roe asks Serra if they might give the professor some of the remaining Rowan seeds, but she’s not convinced by his research ethics. He tries to reassure her, partly by insisting that the twig people aren’t sentient in the same way as Osti. Instead, they’re a form of homunculi (a concept Serra is familiar with from fiction, but not real life) that are created and controlled by some sort of master, perhaps a wizard or mage of some sort. He asks if they communicated with the one they met, which she confirms.
Serra suggests a deal: if Professor Bachman will meet with Osti, realise that he has been harming things in his research — however unwillingly or unknowingly, she is not entirely convinced — and commit to doing any further studies in good faith, she will agree to handing over some seeds. The professor agrees, but asks if they might do it in the morning the following day, as he has classes to teach that afternoon and a dinner to go to in the evening? Serra agrees, and Professor Bachman rushes off to his next class, but again insists that the group feel free to make use of his lab, recommending the view from the skylight.
Left alone in the professor’s office, Serra begins examining the lab equipment, Lissie takes a look at the display case, and Rurron sets down the two unconscious elves by the door. Fi and Roe take the professor’s advice, and clamber up the sideways spiral stairs. The ranger sees from the window that the university’s impossible architecture is reflected on the outside too, with spires and walls jutting out at all angles. She also sees two drones, of the sort Serra encountered last time, flying right at her! She and Fi manage to duck in time, avoiding the mechanical flying machines. They smash through the glass, which hangs in mid-air for a moment as if it’s not sure where it’s supposed to fall, and then begin to double back to attack Fi and Roe again.
Roe slides down the staircase bannister and fires an arrow at the closest drone before it has chance to turn around, confused by the weird gravity. It embeds itself in the back of the drone, but doesn’t appear to have much of an effect. She sees that there is a metal tube protruding from underneath the drone, where the ones Serra saw had bayonets. The druid looks up from the test tubes and stuff at the noise and, deciding that it’s too enclosed a space to take on an animal form, instead wields her staff and attempts to clobber the other drone.
Unfortunately the only effect is that clanging a metal enemy with a wooden stick causes the weapon to almost shake out of her hands. Well, not the only effect: it also means the drone is now focussing its attacks on Serra. The tube on the enemy’s underside turns out to be a flamethrower, and it shoots a small fireball at point-blank range. Noticing this, Fi attempts to control the flame and direct it out of harm’s way, but doesn’t manage to react in time. Serra, too, fails to dodge the attack and suffers serious burns to her back.
Lissie turns from the display case and attempts to throw a handful of knives at the mechanical beast attacking Serra. Aim doesn’t appear to be their strong suit, however, and one of their blades ends up sticking Fi instead. Rurron has had time to assess their surroundings, and leaps onto the wall next to the drone attacking Roe. Their gravity shifts, and they run along the wall, grabbing the enemy out of the air and tearing it in two. Roe was all ready to flee in the face of her pals getting hurt, but is galvanised by Rurron’s brute strength and instead leaps off of the ceiling with Baxter and wrestles the second drone to the floor. Baxter shields her from the rotor blades, and takes a nasty nick, but they succeed in disabling the machine.
Fi jumps down to defend Serra, who has rolled onto her back to put out the flames and is now resting on her front, while Rurron tears apart the drone Roe and Baxter have pinned down. After everyone is safe, Roe notices Baxter’s wounds and bandages him up. Lissie helps Serra up, and — feeling a bit useless after whiffing the dagger throw and hurting Fi — suggests investigating the wreckage, but the druid just wants to leave and heal up. Rurron picks her up and puts her over her shoulder, carrying her out of the office.
Roe suggests taking one of the piles of nuts and bolts out to reception, either demanding an explanation or perhaps dumping the thing as a warning: do not mess with us. Lissie sifts through the broken gears and internal workings of their attackers, and pulls out a punch card that appears to have been controlling each of them. Roe recognises the technology from the equipment used in the factories back home, and identifies the logo on the punchcard as being the same, too.