Thirty-second of Bloom
Dawn revealed that the meadows beyond Fairbanks were littered with dead orks and man-sized holes in the fields. These proved to be inhabited by humans in curious green armor, bearing a strange combination of unfamiliar spells and identifiable objects such as shovels and swords. Valon Sarqhardt spotted the sign of the aquila on their armor, and some at least carried an aquila devotional icon. They were led by one Willard Eush, who identified himself as the “lieutenant” of the ‘2nd platoon, Echo company, 8th Breslin Infantry,’ commanding the “Vetter detachment.” Eush demanded that Fairbanks open its gates in the name of the king. When Philippa Darry, speaking for the town, informed him that Nova had no king, Eush replied that they did now. He gave the town half an hour to open the gates to feed and accommodate his soldiers.
With the help of Olive Mollin, her sister-in-law Reyna Mollin, Vhetin Cooper, and her ladies-in-waiting, Philippa organized food for the Bresliners within Eush’s deadline. Suspicious that all of Fairbanks’ military-age males were absent despite Philippa’s explanations about the battle, he dispatched his soldiers to search the town. This they did roughly, in spite of Philippa’s protests to their commander.
Meanwhile, Valon was surprised to meet two preachers amongst their number – Patrek Bellows, the younger of the two; and Jasper Hetman, the elder. Both were dressed in working habits and carried swords. Preacher Patrek expressed great interest in Fairbanks Cathedral, which Valon was happy to show him. He confessed to Patrek the apparition of St. Veronica and showed him the Sacramentarium of Saint Veronica with the unfamiliar sigil on its cover. Seeming somewhat perturbed, Patrek kept Valon from opening the book, warning him that it was dangerous to meddle with rites that deviated from those propagated by “Mother Church,” especially when given under mysterious circumstances by apparitions. Patrek did not recognize the statue of the saint in front of the cathedral, nor many of the figures and tales portrayed by the artwork within. He excused himself to find Preacher Jasper, promising to return soon.
At the tavern where Eush and his men were eating, Philippa informed the lieutenant of her intent to return to the site of the battle. He was distracted by a map that he seemed to think should be of the area, but Philippa did not recognize the region depicted. Vhetin interrupted, close to tears, and insisted that Philippa return with her to the house in which they slept the previous night. Once there, Vhetin told her mistress that one of the Bresliners had raped her, and that two others had passed by without giving aid – including a knight in a black coat who merely asked her attacker if his crime would “impair his combat readiness.” On her knees, Vhetin begged for Philippa to honor her feudal vow and bring her attacker to justice.
Keenly aware of the imbalance of power in the town, an armored Philippa returned to the tavern and asked to speak with Eush in private. Once alone, a distracted and bemused Eush listened to her accusations, and then informed her that he had more important things to worry about. Discipline of the Emperor’s holy Imperial Guard, he said, was a matter for the commissar – the very black-coated man, it turned out, whom Vhetin had seen. Unwilling to press the issue further while Eush’s men held the town, Philippa told Vhetin that her attacker would be disciplined. Furious and disappointed, Vhetin stalked off to the cathedral in tears. Eush informed Philippa and her ladies-in-waiting that all of the townsfolk were wanted in the cathedral, and they left the tavern to go there.
Fearful of the strange soldiers, Olive had taken refuge in the cathedral. There she watched Patrek continue to question Valon on the history of the cathedral and the doctrine to which he adhered, as if these matters were foreign to him. Finally fed up with Patrek’s questioning, Valon demanded to know where he and the Bresliners had come from. With apologies for his impossible-seeming answer, Patrek replied that the stars are full of mankind, all of whom live within the Imperium of Man under the rule of the God-Emperor – but that Nova was suspected of departing Imperium, and the Emperor had appointed Lord General Vikram al-Gerez as king to rectify this situation.
By this point nearly one hundred townsfolk had entered the cathedral, wondering why they had been summoned. Among their number were Cyrian Dylan‘s sister Valla and his son Falcus Dylan. Vhetin entered, and when Valon went to comfort her, told him of her rape. Philippa and her staff arrived in time to see Vhetin in Valon’s arms.
Incensed, Valon confronted Patrek with the crime, and was referred to the commissar – who by now had entered the cathedral. When Valon turned his ire on the commissar, the latter took Preacher Patrek outside the cathedral for a short conference. When they returned, Patrek was holding a flame wand and the commissar a smoke spell. Patrek apologized to Valon, saying that he hoped this was all a mistake, but Valon should understand the need to be better safe than sorry, and used his spell to immolate the first pew of townsfolk. The commissar began to slaughter townsfolk as well, his spell causing bodies to explode from within.
A fight ensued in which Philippa and Olive overcame the commissar, staving his head in and decapitating him with simultaneous strokes. Valon, meanwhile, finally overcame Preacher Patrek by thrusting his flame wand into his face and using it to burn off his sword hand. In the aftermath, Valon, Olive, and Philippa agreed to lead the survivors of the cathedral through the north gates of Fairbanks and make for the jungle, while Olive took Patrek’s flame wand to start a fire in South Market. The rest of Fairbanks’ population, some 400 souls, is unaccounted for and presumed to be hiding from Eush’s soldiers. The fight at the cathedral appears to have gone unnoticed for the moment.