Flora asked Nomizo for a few minutes of delay. She wanted to contemplate about the abbot and Cuxhaven.
"I'm sure the running will do you good, dear Bishop. I would appreciate it if you could make time to support the entourage with Pray for stamina and mana in the next few days. You could use this opportunity to train up to a higher RGS." Flora suggested. She was appalled that somebody with a Recommended Group Size of only three made it to level 250 and in the council of the best church in the Cetviwos.
"Do you have any additional insights into Irden's behavior and reactions during the meeting?" Flora asked AIs, mentally.
"No, Milady. A toast obstructed his face. It slid over the camera lens when Irden grabbed his second serving."
"Coincidentally? If it wasn't an accident, then the abbot is even sharper than I thought. Sharp enough that he should have noticed that something is rotten in Evailyn's church." Flora clicked her tongue. "Please summarize the attack on the shrine debacle with an emphasis on Caihaven and the actions of the council members."
"On Monday Two, the attacks started on the shrines and temples of five churches on the Cradle."
"Wait. Five churches? The Church of Evailyn wasn't the only one affected?"
"Yes, Milady. All the Cetviwos Churches who wanted to send a candidate to the competition were hit:
Church of Awil, God of Farming
Church of Jel, God of Precious Stones
Church of Maennik, God of Masonry
Church of Goira, Goddess of Geography
Church of Evailyn, Goddess of Home Appliances
The information of the destruction flowed from the officials of the location to the church and landed in the Council's inbox. Nomizo accessed it first and notified Zander and Irden. The bishops send out priests to Reye and Ib, and the monks investigated Laug.
Reye is the north-western continent where Deriga went. Ib the central continent in the south on which Talpica is located, and Laug is in the north-east with Zauberberg and Caihaven."
"Did the monks go alone, too?"
"While the priests went alone or with a novice accompanying them, the monks went in pairs." Aidan continued. "Before they reported back, the attack on the temple in Caihaven started. Ceart went with ten paladins to defend it. Until they had arrived, the temple guard fortified it with monks' help from the monastery nearby. Irden hadn't joined them because he reported a suspicious group of people near the monastery. Dave Lupe confirmed that the attackers had people stationed there, so Irden's decision to stay was prudent."
"How many clergy members were killed?"
"I'm thankful that the number is low, but I expected it to be higher. How can I envision a prolonged attack with no victims?"
"The temples have wards and shields, Milady. The attackers in Laug were from the clan ClownyClowns. They had surrounded the temple for one day and fired spells at the entries. One paladin died when Ceart broke through their siege and entered the temple, and one novice died because she wanted to vent her room, and a fireball entered."
"Dave Lupe ruled both deaths as accidents. All the attackers had instructions not to harm the natives. On Tuesday One, Lupe talked to the ClownyClowns, and they lifted the siege on the church of Evailyn and switched to attacking the temples of the other Cetviwos churches."
"Dave just talked to them, and they went away?"
"He paid 1000 VirDos ransom money for the nine clergy members they had captured."
"That's around 100 Euro. That has to be the lowest ransom money since Robby and Hub tied Birgit to her deck chair. They let her free for two cups of ice cream. And somehow that was my fault because I read them stories about Native Americans and cowboys. Good that I don't have to socialize with her anymore."
"Is Birgit RadBear's mother, Milady?"
"Yes. We don't have to talk about that unpleasant woman. Please continue."
"Would you be interested in being informed if she would enter the Cetviwos?"
"Yes? Oh no. Please don't tell me she has joined the Riverstones. Can I leave the clan?"
"Milady, please don't make it so difficult for me to tell you something. Should I sing the information? And yes, you could leave the Riverstones at any time."
Flora laughed. "Okay, having it sung to me would make it easier to stomach, but I have some sympathy with your plight. You may tell me about Birgit."
"Preciosa Stonedottir entered the Cetviwos on Wednesday one. She is the new merchant of the Riverstones. She is very active in the clan chat, and Aito highlighted some of her comments for me, but I couldn't see the relevance."
"Example, please. No, let me guess, it's something like: 'Some people know how to raise a son, while others don't.' or 'Single mother just can't provide their kids with the attention they need.'"
"Wow, Milady. You got the first correct with only a slight variation! How did you guess, and do you know why Aito highlighted them?"
"Because Birgit said them very often, and Aito marked them because they were aimed at me. She thinks I raised Robby wrong."
"How insidious! I would have never guessed that, Milady! I assigned the highest probability to the interpretation that she has regrets how RadBear turned out and that Aito wanted you to know for commiserating!"
"I like your interpretation better than mine." Flora laughed. "The strategy is called passive-aggression. It's an art form. You say nothing that can get you tied down in front of a jury. Additionally, the recipient has only the right to be insulted if they admit that they are targeted and, therefore, that the derogatory statement could be applied to their situation. So if I feel insulted by her general statement about child-rearing, I'll lose the game because I implicitly admit that I associate the statement with me. Hence please don't inform me about comments not concerning me directly."
"Yes, Milady. This art form intrigues me. May I try it out?"
"Only on our enemies, dear." Flora smirked. As an engineer, she hadn't the mindset to produce such sentences, so she was excited whether an AI could do it. "Please continue with the happenings."
"The attacks and defilement of the shrines of our church stopped on Tuesday One. Thanks to your quest, players restored most shrines. The other four churches implemented a similar tactic, but they are still suffering from attacks−at least until today. Dave Lupe attributes this to their champion candidates' involvement in the defense."
"Yes, we chatted in the Real World. Dave told me that it was wise to stay out of the mess. The reason for all of this seemed to be to tire out the champion candidates before the competition."
"On Tuesday Two, Squad 3-1 uncovered the responsible people of the Ib's offensive, Clan VirtualHighAspirations, and they freed the hostages. Lupe tied the ClownyClowns and the VirtualHighAspirations to the SwordOfMichael. The church of Evailyn went back to normal, except for increased security and suspicions about impending attacks. We don't know why Ceart thought there would be further attacks on Caihaven."
"Remind me to ask him about it. Were the other champions ambushed like me?"
"We received no information about assassination attempts on the champion candidates or their lairs' infiltration."
"Ah, they make me feel special!" Flora grinned. "Do we know more about the SwordOfMichael?"
"Yes, Milady. Lupe sent a dossier. The clan consists of disgraced members of the catholic clergy. Their leader, Sergius Cathedral, is a Bishop in the real world. He resigned from his diocese when three nuns in the main monastery became pregnant."
Flora sent a Refresh to the panting Nomizo.
"Interesting. The SwordOfMichael is an omega company. The term comes from the military, but in big companies, omega departments will form, and there are places for politicians, too, like the European Parlament in its early days.
If you can't fire someone, but they have disgraced themselves thoroughly or are impossible to work productively, you send them to an omega company. Those departments have fancy goals, but nothing which is paramount to the mother company's success − basically a place where they can play without being able to do damage.
It only ends in catastrophe when the omega company suddenly is vital, like in the pandemic of 2020. The countries had loaded up the World Health Organisation with scummy administrators for years, and then everybody wondered how they could fail so hard.
Not all omega companies are trash, though. I have worked with a delightful one on solar-powered toasters. The project manager had to pray every half an hour for five minutes. So we paused the meetings for it. The other project member had a multiple personality disorder. She was the finance, marketing, and production officer and had to change her clothes and accessories for each personality and role. So both used the time-out while I fixed the protocols. Their superiors' faces were priceless when we really developed a viable model.
Sorry, I got side-tracked. So we are facing an omega company of the Catholic Church. Pretty smart to send their scum to the VR. Did Lupe suggest how to handle them?"
"Lupe drafted an article about the SwordOfMichael containing the real names and deeds of their members and sent it to their leader and the official representative of the Catholic Church in the Cetviwos with the request not to bother us anymore. First, they have denied vehemently any involvement, but after Lupe parleyed with them, they agreed that the Catholic Church is a friend of all other Yellow High Faction churches. The reply came today, and the attacks on all churches have ceased."
"Wow, excellent work. Please pay the entire squad a bonus of 1000 VirDos each and remind me to write to Dave. I owe him a favor, at least. So how do you rate the contribution of the Council in the debacle?"
"Irden did the right thing hunkering down. Of the 34 monks he had sent out, 18 weren't bothered, nine were taken hostage, and seven escaped. (loss ratio 27% overall, 56% of the attacked)
Zander and Nomizo send out 50 priests, 1 paladin, and 14 novices. 33 weren't bothered, 29 were taken hostage, and three escaped. (loss ratio 46% overall, 91% of the attacked)
Ceart went with ten paladins. Three were captured, one killed. (36% loss ratio)
The council sent mixed teams to investigate the disappearances. We thwarted further abductions on Reye, and none happened in Laug. However, some of the groups that went to Ib were captured, too."
"Oh dear, I don't need the numbers for them. Please make a list of everyone who escaped and how they did it. I want their class, rating, RGS, and level. There might be some hidden talents in the church. It's too late for the entourage selection, but good people are always needed."
"Babra and Konstantin both eluded capture. Babra even twice. Ursula fought in Ceart's team and wasn't captured. Should I include the paladins of his group in the list, Milady?"
"No. They didn't face a surprise attack. Is Konstantin the lone paladin who Zander and Nomizo sent out?"
"I fancy him for the entourage. We'll see what Mia says," Flora decided. "What else did or didn't the council do?"
"That's it, Milady. You initiated that the players repair the shrines, better guard schedules, and bigger investigating teams. The council implemented your suggestions promptly. Nomizo, Irden, Ceart, and especially Zander cooperated well with Squad 3-1. Zander exchanged and provided information about the other Yellow High Faction churches. That Ceart insisted on guarding the Caihaven temple didn't impact the results."
"We have to speak with Ceart about it. I'm interested in where he got his information. And I would like to ask him about Konstantin." Flora glanced at the Treadmill Tunnel next to them. "Let's proceed with Nomizo, and we'll catch Ceart when Mia allows him a break."