On the Shirley, the party has another delightful dinner whipped up by Barbara and shares a lively conversation on the nature of atma and its role in the human body. Charlotte shares her theories on how atma saturation could possibly be “cured” while the rest listen on intently. Milo and Malcolm share some of their insights as well, which leads Malcolm to discuss the cause of his wife’s death. She had succumbed to atma saturation and, upon transforming into a preta, had attempted to kill Malcolm’s infant daughter. Malcolm was forced to kill his wife to save his child’s life.
Arriving at the Bolmorey bluffs, the Shirley docks and the party takes to land once more. The bluffs lie on the very edge of the Morose continent, a place older than time and steeped in fearful mystery. Cordoned off from the meat of Morose, the bluffs remain unaffected by the scourge that razed Morose to nothing during the First Age.
The bluffs give way to a vast expanse of verdant green fields rife with wildlife. These are the Geryon Hills, named for the city they used to border during the First Age. Milo marvels at the foliage while Honoria fights off the advances of a fawn, all the while hiking forth toward an old house on the highest hill.
Inside the house, Malcolm explains, lives an old friend. Sure enough, a wild-looking old man approaches and his expression softens when he sees Malcolm. After some confusing banter, the old man introduces himself as the arcanist Kierney, a transplant from Gandharva who has been living the life of a hermit and a free agent for some time now.
Malcolm shows Kierney the orb they were conscripted to bring him, and the arcanist gives it a good going over. With the help of Charlotte’s insight Kierney determines that the orb must be well prepared before any intensive study is to take place. He requests that the travelers take the orb to a secret location in the forests near Geryon Hill and find an altar there. According to Kierney, they will know what to do when they see the place. Honoria almost throws a fit, suggesting that she’s being used and that her obvious talents are being overlooked. Malcolm calms the lady with a few kind words and requests that they all do this favor for him as well as Kierney. Unfazed by the swordswoman’s display, Milo and Charlotte leave and take Honoria with them while Malcolm and Barbara stay behind with Kierney, catching up with each other for the time being.
Geryon’s environs are easy enough to navigate and the party finds the path into the forests with little difficulty. Initially the path is blocked by a large, clumsy-looking creature that Milo identifies as a grass hippo. With a pert smack to the rear, the shaman boy sends the creature reeling further into the forest with a dissatisfied grunt after running headlong into a large tree. Fruit falls from the tree, catching Milo and Charlotte’s attention. Before they can test it for toxicity, however, Honoria’s already downed one piece. Luckily Milo detects no poisons and scoops up as much of the fruit as he can carry.
Further down the path the party finds the grass hippo blocking their progress again. This time it is accompanied by small rodent-like creatures identified as nalak mice. With a combination of the succulent fruit they’d gathered and the ravenous appetites of the nalak mice, the party manages to scare off the grass hippo once more and make their way further into the dense forest.
They encounter the hippo once more upon reaching what appears to be a dead end in the forest. The hippo grazes obliviously on some bright red grass…while standing on top of a trapdoor the party obviously needs to gain access to. Milo attempts to reason with the creature but is turned aside and rammed by the hippo, who seems more than ready for a fight by this point. The party raise their weapons, but one swift spell from Chalotte renders the creature unable to fight, leaving the trapdoor within reach. Hastily the travelers make their way into the tunnel and, with some of Honoria’s swordplay, they find the ladder leading back into the forest.
Soon the party is greeted by a majestic sight; a lone temple sitting in the middle of the forest, bathed in ochre sunlight and kept in seemingly perfect condition despite its obvious age. Finding that this must be the place they were meant to reach, the three of them travel inside and are immediately immersed in blue light. Inside the temple, though smaller in stature than the one found in Moregnon, sits a well filled with atma.
Charlotte deduces that they must have been sent there to immerse the orb in the well’s atma and steps forth to do so. Before she can carry through, haggard voices ring through the air of the temple. Three hideous women materialize before the travelers. Calling themselves Luna, Selene, and Celeste, they say that they own this temple and the land it sits on and that Kierney is a fool for thinking otherwise. Honoria attempts to argue with the creatures but they are uninterested, instead attacking the animists and attempting to wrest the orb from their possession.
The battle is hard-fought. Selene is clumsy and just about kills herself for the party while Celeste and Luna’s sisterly bickering leaves plenty of opportunities to strike. When Luna is the only one remaining she immerses herself in the well’s atma in a last-ditch effort and begins to manipulate the dead bodies of her sisters in a display of necromantic prowess. Charlotte summons a denizen of the lower planes to fight alongside her and her companions and, with a lucky strike, the creature gives Luna a fatal wound. She fades away with a gentle breeze, leaving the temple in silence once more.
Finally able to carry out their business, the party sets their sights on the well again. Charlotte drops the orb gently into the swirling blue waters and immediately a blinding blue light manifests all through Geryon and its environs. The orb appears to absorb all the atma in the well, reducing it to a gaseous state and drawing it in like a magnet draws in metal particles. When the atma is spent, the orb falls silent and grows dim.
Kierney chimes in with a mind-touched communication, letting the travelers know that they’ve done an excellent job and that his theories can now be discussed in earnest. He leaves them a way to travel back to his old house, causing Honoria to bristle at the possibility that their trek through the forest could have been avoided.
Back at the house, Kierney confirms what he had already suspected. The orb is not a shard of crystallized atma – at least not in the strictest sense. It is in fact a spirit matrix, a tool used during the First Age to hold nigh infinite amounts of atma. The matrix is capable of holding the atma from the wells, which leads to the possibility that it could be used to neuter Olmenna’s attempts to control those pools of soul energy. Charlotte is more than intrigued by the possibilities this single artifact holds, but there’s no time to celebrate their discovery. Barbara informs them that a powerful and notorious Olmennan battleship known as the Gorgon has been circling the bluffs for hours, watching the Shirley intently. The ship is captained by none other than Avae. Moregnon has finally declared war on Olmenna, so there’s no need for the would-be empire to hold back in their aggression any longer. Malcolm decides it’s time to go, bidding Kierney good luck before bolting out the door and shouting for the party to follow.
Boarding the Shirley once more, the party is caught in a taut battle between ships. The Gorgon has less power than the Shirley but is much more swift and agile. Charlotte and Milo contribute their magical powers to the battle, summoning monsters and forces of nature to hold the Gorgon back while the Shirley positions herself for Honoria to fire the cannons. The battle is long and tough, but eventually the Gorgon pulls out their trump card; a disintegrater cannon. It blows an enormous hole right through the Shirley’s lower hull, causing the vessel to sink rapidly.
The crew board lifeboats while Malcolm gathers up every bit of valuable treasure he can salvage. The party board as well, watching the Shirley take on water with incredible speed. Luckily the Gorgon is tangled up in seaweed and monstrous tentacles or else the crew and the animists would be dead.
Malcolm instructs the lifeboats toward the near shore of the Shura continent, home of the vast city Gandharva. Since Gandharva is a neutral territory with no political ties, they will be safe from Avae’s pursuit there for the time being. Tired and soaked, stressed to the bone, the team make their way down Shura’s expansive highways until the sprawling continent-city of Gandharva comes up to greet them. The guards at the gate raise their weapons instinctively, but lower them again when Milo and Charlotte produce their diplomatic passports from Jeanne. Malcolm inquires after one Ravi Wachter, a professor at the academy at Aeon Home, and a sentry informs the pirate that Ravi is indeed in the city. Heading for an inn known as the Soma Drop, the party hang their heads, feeling the sting of defeat at Avae’s hands yet again.