A gentle nuzzle and the deep bassy purring of a large cat awaken you in the middle of the night, it is a deep and unsettling darkness outside, a night without stars and without moon. As Pants and Selena awaken you, your consciousness is drawn away from the realm of dreams by the smell of coffee and fresh bread.
Once you've made your way to the living room, you see breakfast set, the family doesn't seems to be around, just Kestrel and Lucia are there, waiting for you to rouse. You hear a soft sound from outside, it sounds like a siren
Serenity‘ grogily makes cat shoving motions. "Others things we… don’t… do… in civilization: midnight snacks outside of research hours."
Serenity: "Goin' back to bed until morning."
Serenity‘ rolls back over, face down.
Harriet grumbles, swats at the cat, manages to get vaguely upright and in the living room. "Ugh, it’s too early for this shit."
Hughbert sits down at the table. "Is there something the matter?"
Amal perks their ears up. "It's gonna rain. And… you really don't wanna be outside in it."
Those of you wearing watches or clocks otherwise would realize: 10 AM
JayM: It's already day, but no sun
Kestrel: "Yes, it's arriving. Perfect chance to show you something, if we leave now we can outpace it to Hidden Valley, and you can understand why it is so important to us, and why we need to rebuild it"
Amal: "…ooh, runnin' out the rain, huh? I like your style."
Hughbert nudges Serenity and simply says "Look," pointing to his watch.
Serenity: "Uuugh I thought we were waiting until morning?" Serenity shouts from understairs in the conversation's direction.
Lucia: "Thank the goddess for that Continental Radio… One of the trader clans was broadcasting to everyone they ran into those massive rainclouds, give every other clan in range time to prepare"
Lucia: "Or I hear I should be thanking you actually"
Serenity‘ turns her head, stares for a few seconds before narrowing her eyes and giving an exhausted sigh.
Serenity: "In my defense I drank a LOT last night."
JayM: In anyone’s defense all the usual signs of daytime aren't there either
Amal: "Ooh, that's handy! Nice to have an early warning system."
Hughbert: "I believe I saw a pot of Masharas-style coffee at the table. I'm no doctor, but I am willing to believe that's the medicine to cure your condition."
Harriet: "Wait, so it's like… uuuuugh this is so dumb." Harriet reaches for the coffee.
Serenity‘ makes some mumbling noises before pushing herself up from the ground and going to get changed
Hughbert sits back down at the table. "So, when you say ’rain'… I assume you are not talking about a mere drizzle, no?"
The breakfast is light and in a familiar style, there's coffee as it's made back home, a loaf of sliced bread as well as small, soft buns that go really well with the butter they have, it's slightly different from what you're used but still good
Kestrel: "I mean a storm. And not like the harvest season storms, either"
Lucia: "No, ashing season rains… They're dangerous. They damage metal, kill plants, even wound people"
Serenity: "Gross."
Lucia: "Ashen rain was already acidic, but ever since the Shattering… It's getting just absurd"
Lucia: "Would be that you'd get your house's walls damaged in a decade, and lose crops to it, maybe light ski ndamage if you spent a day under the rain…"
Harriet: "Damage metal??? Yeah we definitely need to keep the car out of that, one sec." Harriet downs the coffee in a single gulp - researcher's trade secret - and hurries off to change.
Kestrel: "Nowadays… An hour under ashen rain is a death sentence"
Amal: "Yeah. Sooty, ashy rain. It didn't used to be this bad, but- yeah, what he said."
Amal: "…wonder if we can science that. Once we're done savin' the world, y'know."
Lucia: "If anyone can it's your people"
Serenity‘ scratches at the back of her head as she comes down and grabs whatever’s left of the not-desert coffee. "Nothing immediately comes to mind since you guys kinda use the volcano's for farming but… who knows."
Kestrel stands up, you notice he's already set up to leave. He's wearing a heavier jacket that's definitely padded and combat-ready, boots that are familiar to Anton but his seem bulkier, given they're connected to what seems like a smaller extra battery pack under his jacket they're probably capable of either something incredible or something dumb. Two pistols with with knife blades rest at his hips "We'll be taking off as soon as you're done eating. I'll get my transport ready in the meantime"
Amal wolfs down the rest of their breakfast and gets their things together! "It'll be kinda nice to be on the road again, hehe."
Harriet gets done with getting dressed, piles back in to hoover up some food. She's a pretty quick eater when she tries.
Serenity: "It HAS been a little weird not being behind a wheel for twelve hours a day after the last couple of months…"
Once you're ready and make to the car you see that Kestrel has boarded what looks like a micro-car, fourwheeled alright and with metal cover on the sides. A buggy more or less but armored, Harriet might notice the roof of the vehicle is connected to the body with explosive bolts- A single command and the roof is ejected. It looks like some sort of personal interception vehicle
Hughbert: "Considering how dangerous this rain is, saying we 'might' outrace it worrying. But seeing how you're set, I suppose there's no talking you out of it… We'd best not delay, then."
The darkness outside is kind of overwhelming, and you come to realize how important the moonlight has been to your nighttime travels. Kestrel has boarded his vehicle, Pants has also boarded with him, in a small space to his side. He has what seems to be a compass with him, but it's connected via wire to the car, and it shows no cardinal directions but 360 degrees around it "I don't know how good your car is. But yes, let's go" he revs up and accelerates
Amal: "Hehe. We'll make it, of course we will."
Harriet: "Uh, my car is amazing, thanks." Harriet piles on in.
Serenity‘ shakes her head, flooring it behind Kestrel
Hughbert takes his seat and buckles up (praying, of course, that there’s a seatbelt).
His interceptor is surprisingly fast, although not nearly as stable a vehicle as the Postal Services' windseekers. As he accelerates the little car jumps off of dunes and hills, landing uncerimoniously. Your heavier car isn't as volatile, however, and he isn't taking a particularly hilly terrain either so provided Serenity has a stable hand it isn't a very bad trip
Serenity: "Whew not as bad at getting here was."
However, you hear the sound of lightning- A bolt of lightning crashes mere meters behind you calling your attention, and you notice the rain… Have you ever witnessed black rain? Water black and dirty falls from the sky in a torrent that is akin to a waterfall follows you. You give it a kilometer or less away, you can see it moving like a wall of water towards you
Serenity: "Wow this is literally the dumbest fucking thing we've ever done, including all the stuff we've done."
Serenity‘ keeps a finger very, very near the turbo button.
Kestrel remains focused on his compass as he rides, until he takes you to a large hill- Despite the darkness your lights reflect in the distance in what seems like… Glass? There’s… Some sort of giant formation of glass far in the distance, but you're not heading that direction
Harriet: "This is pretty fucking dumb."
He leads you into a cave- Such a familiar sort of cave, it reminds you of the passage through the Divine Aegis- But the moment your car makes it through you hear a loud noise that sounds like a rockslide for a moment- But if you look behind you see instead a great metal door. For a moment the only light is the car's in the dark tunnel, but then a trail of ragnite lights come to life, showing a well-constructed tunnel through the hill. Kestrel slows down to a more sedate pace
Harriet: "And, like, kind of awesome???"
Kestrel: "Alright, we made it"
Serenity: ",,,Huuuh."
Amal: "AhahahahaHAHAHAH that was AMAZING."
A few moments later you emerge on the other side- And there's light. Clear blue skies, and the air is fresher than anything you've felt in Rissan, there's absolutely no dust
Serenity: "Ya'll should really look into building more of those underground roads."
The roaring noise of water accompanies, however- As you emerge besides a clear water waterfall, a veil of mist accompanying you as you enter- Ahead of you… This area must have been beautiful once, green like a forest, plateaus of plantations set against the hills.
But little of that remains, a great tear in the land has cut through it's center, piercing through the hill and all the way across, tearing the land apart
You notice right from here why it's called Hidden Valley, just like Masharas it is, or was, shielded on all sides by the hills. Hills which stopped the rain on your heels.
Harriet: "Ohhh boy…"
Of the farms there's only small patches precariously braced against the hills with stone and metal, attempts to salvage what the cataclysm has destroyed, yet for some reason something still stands tall in the center of the cleft in the land: An outcropping of rock as if the disaster elicted to leave a single object intact, stairs have been built going all the way up to it, on the outcropping lies a single tree, a great and majestic tree that is now in full bloom, flowers of so many colors it's as if the entire rainbow was in there
Serenity: "I found your problem, there's a giant ass canyon running through your paradise."
Kestrel: "Welcome to Hidden Valley. Where we keep our emergency reserves, an oasis in this land, shielded on all sides by hills that block the ashen clouds. Hills that aren't quite tall enough to block proper rain"
Kestrel: "Here the weather is, or was, entirely unlike the rest of the country, perfect to grow food…"
Amal stares at the cut through the land, scowling hard…
Kestrel: "Now you see why I wanted dirt" he points to the hole through the hills "And engineers"
Kestrel: "That's what we need fixed, rebuilt. We'll remake the entire mountain"
Kestrel: "Or at least something that has the same effect on the weather, hence why we needed a weather specialist"
Serenity: "Luckily for you we got part of a mountain displaced recently and need it to go omewhere…."
Kestrel: "Or, did serendipity strike?"
Serenity‘ folds her arms over her chest after stopping the car. "… I wonder if he planned that."
Kestre: "Oh, yes" he points to the great tree "That is the Tree Of All Fruits. I am quite confident it bears every single fruit of the land, even those not found on trees. The only remnant of the ancient empire."
Kestrel brings you to a stop in a camp nearby the canyon. It’s definitely some sort of staging point for supplies coming in and out. You notice something different here: Unlike the otherbits of damage caused by the cataclysm, the land here has turned to glass, a dark and opaque glass but glass nontheless
Serenity: "Well, good that it made it out alright, I guess."
Harriet: "So this is sand-based, huh?"
Kestrel: "Seems liek in the end the deeper parts of even here were still as much sand as outside"
Kestrel: "So when whatever that was happened, it tore the sand up and melted it so"
Amal: "Tch…"
Serenity‘ gives a weird look at the tree over her shoulder before shrugging.
Kestrel: "Well, this is basically our secret, and the price for the fullness of our cooperation. As long as Hidden Valley can supply us the bare minimum for survival, we won’t have to rely on any shady contracts"
Serenity: "Hmm. I wonder if we could just pull up the glass and use it to patch up the holes in the valley walls."
Amal: "C- can you /do/ that!?"
Harriet: "It's not impossible. Glass doesn't necessarily have to be brittle."
Amal: "I guess that's right…"
JayM: There would be enough glass to raise a barrier
Serenity: "If we had something to do the heavy lifting yeah. Depends on how thick it wound up. Probably not a super practical idea on the whole, but definitely the first random idea that came to mind."
Harriet: "It'd be a temporary solution, but, like, we're talking hundreds of years temporary. Totally enough time to get something less liquid up."
Hughbert takes down some notes in his notebook. "I'll relay any ideas you have to our teams back home."
Kestrel raises an eyebrow "Glass? That's…" he's the face of a man who did not believe one could even concieve the idea
Harriet: "If we got glass cutters in, we might be able to go brick by brick, then go over it with some fire to melt it all together and keep it solid. You know, comparatively speaking."
JayM: One thing's for sure, there's certainly not enough material here to erect a barrier of stone. Plus you're not quite certain what the final effects on the weather are either way
Serenity: "We're probably…. gunna want a decent chunk of support beams no matter what we do here though. Since I can't imagine you guys have an easy way of getting proper construction materials out here." Serenity glances towards Kestrel.
Amal: "Mmm, yeah, you'd need… hmm. I wish we could 'liberate' some from Akavir, hehe."
Kestrel shakes his head "Unfortunately, that'll be difficult. We did get some decent materials from Orsis recently, however, as both payment and spoils from participating in their recent… Conflict
Amal: "Oh! Well, that's convenient."
Kestrel: "They're limited, but better than what is natively avaiable. The Dustfire settlement isn't too far from here, mind, so if we could broker for materials with them that'd be possible but they specialized in metals"
Serenity: "Sounds like getting this place patched up would be in their best interest anyway?"
Kestrel: "I imagine so"
Amal: "Helps everyone out, yeah."
Harriet: "If they've got the right basic stuff, I'm sure I can whip something up."
Serenity: "Yeah and if we can get a little from home it won't even be all on them so we should be able to scrap something together."
Kestrel calls out for someone "Give me a moment" it isn't long before he can generate a report with all the avaiable materials in loco, as well as a list of other materials that can be moved "Here, this is an inventory of what we have classified as building materials" it's a bit short of a list, but it includes stone of various kinds (most marked as spoils), and a considerable amount of metal.
Hughbert: "Hmm… I wonder how that project went. Masharas… Might have something in development that could help. Sort of a wide-range barrier force gear. I don't know very much about it, as the project is among R+D's best-kept secrets, but… A wide-angle barrier force gear is likely to be applicable."
JayM: Then again, it'd take… A different set of specialties than yours to figure out how much you will actually need to be useful here
Serenity‘ glances over the list briefly before handing it off to Harriet for proper sorting.
Serenity: "…I can’t imagine they have the necessary fuel or more importantly PIPING for something like that Hughert. Hell, I don't think even we do. Which is probably why it never left R&D."
Amal: "Hehe, don't say that too loud around Harriet, she'll take it as a challenge."
Hughbert opens his mouth to say something, then points to Amal because they said it first.
Serenity: "Just sayin' you usually don't wanna be shoving that much power into your emergency bunker all the time.
Serenity: "Especially with as resource starved as they are."
Harriet looks through it, tapping a curled finger to her chin. "Yeah, this should work. I mean, all of it. I think I can refine the binding process with the glass to help reduce the need for materials, though we may still need to bus some extras in from Masharas, but like… I can do most of the work with this. It should hold up unless another complete disaster comes along."
Serenity: "Awesome."
Amal: "Nice!"
JayM: I'm certain you can make sure no other complete disaster happens
JayM: Though, of course you won't do the entire work. This is going to take at least a couple of years to finish.
Kestrel: "Huhn… I'd ask you to run through me your idea, but i'll be honest, I don't have the knowledge to understand whatever it is you'd tell me"
Harriet: Man, who has time to sit around for the entire construction? It's the way of the inventor to pave the path and then let other people do all the gruntwork.
Kestrel: "But the very idea of rebuilding the mountain with the glass left in the wake of the very disaster that destroyed it"
Kestrel: "It's honestly straight out of a fantasy novel"
Harriet: "Okay, so, like, basically, we carve up the glass, then we stack the glass, then we heat the glass so it sticks to the rest of the glass, then we put in support beams to help the glass stay where it is."
Serenity: "Uhh we'll draw up plans, for sure, that you can show to your foreman."
Harriet: "If you need it any dumber than that I can't help you, but, like, yeah, we'll give you all the blueprints you need to get this done."
Amal: "Hehehe. There's a certain poetry to it!"
Serenity: "I imagine you'll know what to do with the dirt without further instruction though."
Kestrel: "We might be warriors, but we've been working the land here for a while"
Kestrel: "That part, we can handle ourselves"
Serenity: "Great."
Hughbert: "I believe I have a general outline of what the additional materials we'll need from elsewhere… Double check this for me, Harriet, and I'll get the message sent back home." He looks up a bit, taking in the sunlight. "I never would have guessed another place like Masharas- a stone crucible of civilization- would exist. It's most fascinating."
Kestrel looks towards the great tree "Indeed. I wonder if there are other hidden places like this. I wonder if other cities sprung up around them"
Serenity: "It's kind of wild yeah, although given how well Masharas held up it's not too surpring they'd try and find any place like this."
Amal: "Hmm… nothing I've ever heard of."
Amal: "Doesn't mean one doesn't exist, though."
Serenity: "Well there was that city under all the ice…"
Serenity: "Temple rather."
Kestrel: "A temple under the ice?"
Harriet looks through Hughbert's outline, makes a few notes in the margins, and hands it back. "Looks good."
Kestrel: "You've been to some interesting places"
Serenity: "Mmhm."
Amal: "Mmm, that's true. And Paws says this place looks a lot like Masharas viewed from the air."
You notice that a scattering of the Tree's petals had been fluttering around caught in the wind for a while
Kestrel looks at Amal "Paws"
Harriet: "Yeah, Puppy Paws!"
Serenity: "Oh right you can talk with her normally."
Serenity: "Ask her what the deal with that tree is it sounds weird."
Kestrel raises an eyebrow "Now that's a cute name, for something that can fly"
Harriet: "Listen, Falcon. You have cats, and we have weird disembodied metaphysical forces."
Harriet: "Just be happy all of your cats like to have names."
Kestrel: "Hey now!" a moment "I just didn't know you were dog people"
Kestrel: "Hey, sometimes you don't like your name"
Hughbert: "I don't think Amal is exactly married to Paws… Err… Right, Amal?" His confidence level drops below 100% after saying it ~out loud~…
Harriet: "I mean, they're weird, so I wouldn't put it past them." Handwobble.
Amal laughs and shakes their head. "Naw. We just talk. We've been through a lot together!"
Amal: "Haha, now Paws is curious about the tree. Good job."
Serenity: "Well I mean, I can hear it, which is weird on it's own. But it also sounds kinda like one of those weird ragnite drenched mutants? So I 'uno."
Amal: "Huh, that's neat."
Harriet: "Say, Hughbert, are you getting anything from that with your gear?"
Hughbert: "That's a good question." Hughbert rolls up his jacket sleeve and looks at his readings, flipping switches and turning dials to look for anything unusual.
Amal tilts their head and peers at the tree, smiling curiously. "Woah, this is weird. Paws says the threads are all twisted like the barrier back in the Bloodworks tower, except, like… halfassed?"
Serenity: "Huh."
Amal: "Maybe the Goddess' cat got trapped in the branches." They grin.
Harriet: "Ugh, no, we don't need a Kitten Claws."
Hughbert: "No anomalies or interference, Harriet. Can you talk to the tree, Serenity?"
Serenity: "Naw it's not really sentient."
Amal giggles at Harriet!
Harriet: "Still, it's interesting that you're not getting any interference. There must be an x-factor to metaphysical presence."
Serenity: "It's closer to like, a microwave, than something like your rig, and definitely not even close to a Grove."
Hughbert: "That might be for the best. I'm quite willing to leave what trees have to say as a mystery for us to explore another day."
Serenity: "Yeah not a huge deal I was just kinda curious since… tree's don't usually make noise."
Kestrel: "I've heard about those mutants from Lucia"
Kestrel: "But what do you mean noise?"
Serenity: "Uh, long story, wouldn't make sense if you're not a witch."
Kestrel: "Sadly, then. For what's worth, as I mentioned, the tree is ancient and has been here for as long as we have, at least"
Serenity: "Yeah, don't doubt it."
Kestrel: "It's quite a clear case of grafting but it bears some types of fruit that really don't make sense. One particualr branch has watermelons, which is just absurd"
Amal: "Haha, yeah, there's definitely somethin' weird going on with that tree…"
Kestrel: "What were your plans for after here, then"
Serenity: "…Watermelon???"
Hughbert: "I wonder which of its seeds you would plant to grow another of its kind."
Amal: "Uhh…" They glance at Hughbert.
JayM: /npc Kestrel It was
Kestrel: "It was just absurd"
Serenity‘ basically ignores the rest of the conversation and wanders over tree-ward.
The tree’s a bit of a ways off, and it's a bit of a climb but the stairs they've built are gentle if not long
Hughbert: "I believe our plan was to visit the Dustfire clan after this, was it not?"
The tree itself is massive for a tree, you've seen bigger only once. Each branch has only a few fruits (it's blooming season, not fruit season) but you can see the raw variety. Hundreds of different types of fruit, basically every kind of fruit you know, and many others you don't
Should you hunt for it, there is in fact a watermelon branch. There's a single watermelon in it, but the branch isn't bent at all, it's holding right there. The watermelon is growing next to a fruit that looks a breed of it and a pineapple, except even denser and more dangerous looking
Serenity: "The fuck."
Amal grins. "That's so weird…."
Serenity‘ climbs up into the tree to harvest some strawberries before anyone can tell her not to.
Harriet: "You’re the schedule guy, you'd know. Dustfire sounds right, though."
Anton: "What I would do for one of these at the church. My mouth can barely contain itself~."
Amal giggles. "Maybe someday."
Kestrel: "We tried taking seeds elsewhere from all of it's fruit"
Kestrel: "Turns out each fruit gives birth only to it's proper type of plant"
Kestrel: "Makes sense given how grafting works but still"
Serenity: "Yeah." Munch munch.
Amal giggles at Serenity.
Anton scratches his head before frowning. "Man, this things been around forever. Like, I don't see a point in time where it didn't exist."
Harriet: "To be fair, you are kinda short-sighted."
Anton places a hand to his chest. "I'm touched, you do remember!"
Kestrel: "If you're heading towards the Dustfire settlement on Mount Hope, you can just follow the crevasse until it's made it's way out of the hill and head north. It's rough terrain down there but we did do some work to smooth out a sort of road that we've been using to transport supplies coming from that direction"
Anton: "And once we were invited back into such a paradise, oh how hard it is to leave." He smiles to Hughbert. "I hope we enjoy ourselves to our fullest these next few days."
Kestrel: "If you're heading towards the Dustfire settlement on Mount Hope, you can just follow the crevasse until it's made it's way out of the hill and head north. It's rough terrain down there but we did do some work to smooth out a sort of road that we've been using to transport supplies coming from that direction"
Amal: "Hey, as long as it's not raining…"
Kestrel: "Shouldn't be, the rain was moving eastwards, so it should be safe that way"
Hughbert nods. "The wonderful piece of art we call a vehicle is perfectly fine handling rough terrain. Would you mind if I gather up some fruit from the tree for the road? It seems my careful rationing of our supplies is causing some discontent."
Serenity: "Amal's got scurvy."
Harriet: "Yeah, I mean, I'm not that fussed about food and even I'm getting sick of trail mix."
Kestrel chuckles "Help yourselved but be conscious. We're off-season for harvesting, so it isn't a big loss either way"
Amal snorts. "I've been concealing it with healing magic, clearly."
Anton expression becomes concerned as he stares at Amal.
Amal: "We have to have lots of delicious fruit for everyone on our way out, or I will waste away and perish~."
Anton scrunches up his face. "Serenity, I don't see a timeline where Amal…"
Serenity: "Uh-huh."
Amal giggles! Can't hold it any more, just… giggles.
Harriet: "I mean, I don't pay that much attention to that stuff, but I guess it's possible."
Anton shakes his head. "For a moment I was worried that you had unlocked your inner potential. But it seems you still need me around after all~."
Hughbert climbs up and grabs some apples, some oranges, pears- whatever isn't at risk of spoiling or getting damaged if it gets bumped around. He leaves the watermelon, though.
A sizeable basket of fruit, all tasting delicious
Kestrel helps you bring it down the stairs to the car- You'll honestly need either him or anton flying down because it's too big for the stairs
Anton is more than willing to help when it comes to food!
Amal: "Thank you~!"
Harriet: "Yeah, this'll help."
Hughbert: "We appreciate it."
Kestrel: "No, thank you. You've definitely done, and will do, more for us than you can feel you did, i'm certain."
Kestrel: "I'd escort you to Mount Hope, but i'll have to double back the moment the storm lets out to assess the damage and deal with the fallout, unfortunately"
Kestrel: "So go in the shade, friends"
Serenity: "No problem."
Harriet: "It's what we do!"
Hughbert: "Nothing you should feel guilty about. We've both got work to do. You have been a wonderful host, considering that, and I hope our countries' partnership from here on serves as sufficient repayment."
Saying your farewells, and leaving behind the broken oasis that is Hidden Valley
The way out is different, heading out through the glassy canyon left by the cataclysm. It's… Strange, surreal to travel down a tear in the ground made of glass, it's like you're inside a fantasy story, about to be taken by the fey
There is perhaps some truth to that. You turn north, as instructed, and you can see in the distance the smoking peak of Mount Hope. There is no road, as you aim yourself towards the volcano you must travel through the dirt and sand and ash
For a moment, you have a feeling of deja vu, this kind of scenery is so common in Rissan… But something unusual breaks it up, someone sitting on a rock up ahead. As you draw closer you recognize who it is. A giant arbalest by his side, silvery hair glistening in the sun
Alcor looks at you as you come by "Well, that's enough stalling on my part, I guess" he says
JayM: Though
JayM: That's where we end for today

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