Day 8: Morning
The Peers were arrested and dragged to the Penitence Tower, where they’d await a trial. Dhaval ordered the city watch to find the other Lumos, who would face quicker judgement for the twelve deaths he caused, including Kareen’s.
Inside their cells, the Peers took the time to discuss Phaenna’s secret nano abilities and Lumos’s falsified mutant status. As the sun sank over the city, they wondered what other secrets still hung between them.
Day 9: Morning
A smug sergeant woke the Peers and was happy to report the real Lumos was in custody and sentenced to be executed. The sergeant and his retinue of guards escorted the Peers in shackles to the High Chamber, where they met Dhaval and Bacchian; joined by Galia Ezrek, Commander of the Army; and Yoosha Ni, the emissary of Ni-chodoss. The sergeant was surprised to see Lumos in the room, standing beside a nobleman with an intimidating gaze.
Isak Hashem, revealed to be the second wealthiest person in Nihliesh — and Lumos’s father — dismissed the guards. The lord remarked their services were no longer needed and demanded the sergeant’s resignation by dusk. Dhaval detailed the conditions of the Peers’ parole before releasing their shackles.
Dumbfounded, the Peers asked what was happening.
Galia Ezrek revealed a large army from the Pytharon Empire was sighted crossing the Sadara River to conquer Nihliesh, likely taking advantage of their weakened state. The force would arrive in eleven days.
To create stability and consolidate the city’s resources to mount a defence, Dhaval spoke with the most powerful figures in Nihliesh and established an agreement that benefited all parties. In exchange for financial and political support, Ni-chodoss would be granted authority over the Second Tier’s Lower Plaza and surrounding districts.
Isak provided 10,000 shins to the republic as well as a hundred of his elite household guard to replace the corrupt city watchmen, who’d be reassigned to the army to bolster its numbers. He was named Justiciar of Nihliesh in return, and his son Lumos was freed and promoted within the Fah priesthood to fill the vacant position of high priest, with the backing of Ni-chodoss. To balance the scales of power, Dhaval recommended Twarog take Gayv-oreth’s position among the Fahat, as a means to breach the gap between the Fahat loyalists and the free republic.
Finally, the Black Shack would be demolished and in its place a statue of Kareen erected. Plans were in motion to name the girl a martyr of Nihliesh.
The Peers realised Dhaval’s urgency to save the city, astounded all this had been decided before they left their cells. They agreed to help defend Nihliesh, though Dhaval reminded them that this would not erase their crimes and they would be punished in time. The Peers took note of the warning and the chamber began planning for war.
Commander Ezrek recommended building artillery, mainly ballistae and trebuchets, though it required a great amount of wood — a scarce resource in the Cold Desert. Bacchian reported a caravan from Guran, loaded with the supplies they needed, was due to arrive five days ago. Ezrek’s scouts in the area had also vanished. The Peers agreed to find the missing caravan and were reminded by Dhaval that time was of the essence.
Day 14: Afternoon
After five days of trudging through ice and enduring howling winds, the Peers found the caravan looted. Bodies of merchants littered the area, most stripped and some half-eaten by the giant carrion birds. Phaenna took notice of the hoof tracks, identifying them as margr prints.
Tzefira, Dahm, and Reina searched for survivors while Garrus, Twarog, and Lumos checked crates. A man lying in a pool of crystallised blood called out to Tzefira for water. Badly injured, he spoke of a margr tribe — the largest he’d ever seen — and how its chieftain split him open with his warhammer. The tribe had taken everything before leaving them to die in the cold. Hallucinating, the man mistook Tzefira for his daughter, Sara, and apologised to her as he wept. The tears froze on his face and his eyes glazed over.
The Peers burnt the bodies of the dead and pursued the margr tribe.
Day 14: Evening
In the husk of a burnt down aldeia, among black huts and scorched fencing, the Peers found the margrs around a campfire, surrounded by stacked wood, metal, and other stolen material. They sneaked close, counting twelve warriors and a chieftain.
Garrus used his hover belt to fly over the camp, dropping a smoke bomb that turned the margrs into humanoid plants. He fired an incendiary bolt and spread the smoke across the camp, paralysing all but the chieftain.
As the chieftain watched his men grow sprouts and roots, the Peers charged and ambushed him. Phaenna fired a dart that shot radiation into the giant margr, weakening him. He fought fiercely, snapping Reina’s spear and throwing her hard to the ground. Tzefira’s lightning onslaughts and Garrus’s bolts pushed the beast back long enough for him to succumb to the radiation poisoning. He fell forward, dead.
Before the Peers could sigh in relief, a group of twenty brigand riders approached, led by a monstrous warrior in bone plate and mounted atop a frilled baul. Garrus used one of his cyphers on Twarog, granting him the ability to repel metal in a large radius equal to his enormous weight. The magnetic field halted the brigands, though their leader muscled through until he reached the Peers.
The warrior dismounted and towered over the party, standing half-beast and half-titan at eleven feet tall. He mocked their efforts against the margr and removed his greatsword from behind his back, the heavy blade of bone easily capable of cleaving a man in half. As the Peers looked on, the warrior gave them a choice: stay and die fast, or run and die slow.