The four of them tried to speak for a while, but it didn't take long for them to lapse into silence, each lost in their own thoughts. Vex was still trembling slightly, clearly upset, and so without a word Derivan went to do what Vex had done for him, not so long ago — he sat down next to the lizardkin, offering a quiet show of support.
He didn't say anything. There weren't any words for what had just happened; not really. The immediate worry was dealt with by sheer fluke, Derivan understood, and while it was amusing that Jerome had failed so utterly in what he had set out to do, there was a grim realization settling in.
That realization was the fact that they weren't prepared to deal with threats from people.
Monsters were one thing. Monsters moved in predictable patterns, for the most part; they had skills that were mostly known, and very rarely did any of them have skills that could just lock down an entire room. What Jerome had done to them struck them hard because they had no solutions for it. The suppression hadn't been an attack, so Misa couldn't deal with it, and once suppressed, she couldn't block the geas.
She'd tried, according to her.
But they had an advantage now that they didn't have before, at least against the man that presented a threat to them. Derivan had a rough understanding of Jerome's position at almost any given time. That was useful. That was something even the Guildmaster's people hadn't had, if they'd managed to lose track of Jerome long enough for him to secure the deal with Elyra. And that might be only the beginning of what the stat did.
"We need to update the Guildmaster on what happened," Sev finally said. "Regardless of anything else, she needs to know that Jerome tried this. And then... I don't know. We need to deal with Jerome in some way, right?"
"I'd sure fuckin' like to," Misa growled. Her anger was still a little subdued, but she was rapidly getting her spirit back — but she held herself back when she saw that her anger made Vex shrink backwards slightly.
"We need to be sure he is not a threat to us," Derivan said. "The Guildmaster may be able to ensure such a thing, I suppose. But we run into the same problem we had before."
"Elyra loses those deals on food," Sev said with a sigh. "I didn't miss how relieved all of the delegates looked when we didn't ask for them to break that off. I'm guessing they're in more trouble than they indicated. Do you... I hate to ask, but do you know anything about that, Vex?"
The lizardkin shook his head. "I haven't kept up with events in Elyra," the wizard said in a small voice. "I... I could check, maybe. Send a message to one of my brothers. Just — just give me a moment."
Vex reached out to compose the message, letting out a trembling breath as he did so — but he still shook, and his claws kept missing the keys. It was only when Derivan reached out and placed a hand on his shoulder that he steadied slightly, like he needed the reminder that his friend was fine.
"...Yeah," Vex said after a moment. He seemed almost surprised that his brother had replied so quickly. "Elyra's undergoing some serious food shortage issues right now. He says that growth magic isn't... working anymore? Or at the very least it's suppressed, or twisted in some way. They can't figure it out. But that... that doesn't make any sense."
"It's not working?" Sev frowned. "This seems like an entirely new problem."
"Can we get the Guildmaster to supply the food instead?" Misa asked.
"I can ask," Sev said. He was already in the middle of composing a message to the Guildmaster. "But I honestly don't think so. The Guild is already stretched thin trying to keep all the smaller villages supplied with crystals. Then again... maybe if we get all those small villages to pay us in food instead of coin..."
Sev lapsed into silence, thinking. "I'll ask," he said eventually. "It depends on how widespread a problem this is, I guess. We haven't heard of any food shortage problems recently, as far as I know..." Sev frowned at the screen in front of him, then composed the rest of his message, firing it off to the Guildmaster.
Derivan, in the meantime, had been mostly silent — but now he frowned, looking around at his friends. "There is another solution here, yes?" He said cautiously.
"What do you mean?" Sev asked, glancing up at him.
"He is under a geas. Some sort of compulsion, at least, that keeps his mind in whatever state needed for him to lie under a truth spell. Can we not just... remove it?"
There was a short pause. A small intake of breath from Misa.
"Oh," Misa said softly. She sounded surprised — and yet there was an edge of something else in her tone, like there was something that she'd forgotten, and she'd only now remembered. "You want to help him?"
"Deri, he... he wanted to hold you hostage," Vex said. He fidgeted, his tail coiling around him nervouly.
"Vex is right," Sev said, shaking his head. "Jerome's dangerous. If we let him run around, we might not be his only victims. And there's no guarantee that he'll be any better even if we do somehow manage to remove it."
"There is a guarantee that he will not get worse. And the alternatives seem cruel, if we do not first try this," Derivan offered quietly.
Derivan understood their concerns, to a degree. Physical Empathy was helping him out here, letting him see details he ordinarily wouldn't — lines of stress and tension in the faces of his friends. They were worried and angry and frightened, and he understood in some way that they wanted to see Jerome punished.
But it was an abstract sort of understanding. Something he was 'missing', perhaps, as a monster, or as a creature created from magic. He was upset, certainly, but that emotion felt distant from him.
They were facing a paladin that was a Gold ranker, which was rare enough as is — someone that could do so much good, but did not. They had the option here to end the threat he represented to them, and there was a wide chasm of possibility in front of them for just such a thing. With consequences, perhaps, but solutions for those consequences, too.
And yet over that chasm was a thin, fleeting bridge. A possible solution that didn't feel as steady and as reassuring as the others, but would get them all across intact. Even Jerome.
Who ever said the only choices available were endings?
"I think Derivan's right," Misa said softly.
Vex looked conflicted, and seemed almost betrayed when Misa spoke up. He looked over at the half-orc, almost pleading. "He's dangerous."
"Well," Misa said, and this time she grinned, just a bit — an attempt to be reassuring. "So are we. We just gotta figure out how to deal with his particular brand of nonsense, right?"
Vex hesitated. "We got overwhelmed by him once..."
"We were not prepared," Derivan said. "But we have some sense of what he can do, now, and he still does not know what we can do. And he does not know that I have escaped his geas."
"What about the Guildmaster?" Vex tried. He seemed reluctant, still, and the way he was leaning into Derivan for reassurance told the armor that he wasn't over what had happened yet.
Sev spoke up. "She's going to send us someone to help with whatever we want to do. She's busy. Whatever we choose, she says, get her operative to help us do it."
"We will need your help, too, Vex," Derivan said, the words gentle. "None of us are as versed in magic as you are, and whatever this new stat of mine does, we need to know more about it if we are to confront Jerome. If it gives us some advantage over him, however slight..."
Vex sighed, his tail curling in on himself. "I don't want to help him," he said, his voice small. "I know I should. But... it sucks, and I don't want to. He's just been..."
"He has been, as Misa would say, a giant asshole," Derivan said calmly, the sudden expletive making Vex snort in surprise. It seemed to lighten his heart, though. "He has lied and he has assaulted us. But the deals he made with Elyra helped them, even if it was to his own benefit. He came to us with an offer first, when he could have just done this from the beginning. So let us try, and bring down the hammer only if we fail. Only if he fails."
"I don't have to like that we're doing this, right?" Vex asked. He seemed almost pleading, but resigned.
"You do not," Derivan said. "I would not ask you to."
Sev sighed. "I haven't shared my thoughts so far, but... yeah. This sucks. I want to be angry. I want to burn him down, damn the consequences. But fuck, we don't know how much this geas does, I'm not — Derivan's right and I hate it. I know how you feel, Vex."
The lizardkin only nodded. There was some relief in his eyes, like he was glad that he wasn't the only one that felt this way.
"But if we're doing this, then we're going to do it taking as little risk as possible. Vex is right, too; he overwhelmed us. We need to know more about what he can do. We need strategies. We need a way to beat him, and hold him long enough to pull off this geas, and we need to know how to do that."
There was a knock on the door.
"I think I can help you with that," a voice called through the door. The four adventurers exchanged glances.
"Is that Max?" Misa asked, incredulous. "The clerk?"
"That's me!" Max said, sounding surprisingly bright and cheery. Nonplussed, Sev stood up to open the door, and Max strolled in with a bright grin. "I hear you're plotting revenge! Let me help you with that."
"We are explicitly not plotting revenge," Sev said.
"Yeah, but that was more fun to say than 'I hear you're planning to hold down Jerome and extract a magical compulsion that was apparently forced upon him and I don't know anything more than that so you'll need to brief me'," Max rattled off. She smiled. "Guildmaster sent me. What can I do for ya?"
"Uh..." Sev glanced at the others, still looking perplexed. "I guess we brief you on the plan, first? I don't know what's going on, to be honest."
"I moonlight as a clerk when I'm not spying for the Guildmaster. It's a tough job, let me tell you," Max said with a dramatic sort of sigh. She seemed to gather herself a moment later, though. "Seriously, though, give me some sort of briefing. I know the basics of what Jerome did, but I want to know how he got through you four, how he got through our wards... Everything."
So they did. They explained what had happened, and Max listened attentively, frowning when she heard that Jerome had shown up in their room with no explanation — the wards were explicitly supposed to prevent mana surges for teleports from being even visible, much less allow the man to track them to their room. Her eyes darkened when she heard that Jerome had worked around the wards, and she made a quick note to get all their enchantments updated, though she knew it wouldn't help adventurers outside the Guild branches.
And then they came to the geas, the wording of it, and what had happened to Derivan. They even explained how it had shown up on his status, with Derivan sending her the box as proof. Max's eyes widened when she saw it, and she almost laughed out loud.
"Oh," she giggled. "Jerome isn't gonna know what hit him."
"What do you mean?" Sev blinked at her.
"You could tell him pretty much anything and he'd probably believe you," Max said with a grin. "The guy thinks he's holding one of your members hostage. You hold an advantage on him in terms of information, and he's primed to believe almost anything you tell him, and I can get you Guild resources on geas removals and binding spells, and you've got me to help you fight."
"You can fight?" Misa grinned at her. "Oh, I think I like you."
"I'm a level 81 [Adventuring Clerk]," Max said flippantly. Then she grinned back. "It's an Elite class."