Tibié tries to get more definite information from Abraxas about the fate loop trap they’re in, but as the tolling of a cloister bell marks the passage of precious minutes, Mrrurrr decides it’s time to act. She gathers and releases her full necromantic might, sending out tendrils of power that draw herself, Tibié and Castiel into the borderlands between the worlds of the living and the dead. (Saga dodged the magic; this may have been a mistake.)
The three heroes sink into an almost-void of shadows and mist that slowly drains the life and light from them. Mrrurrr explains (more or less) her plan – to rescue Max’s ghost and avoid the time loop resetting – as they move deeper into the borderlands, the sound of the cloister bell still faint above/behind them. They find Max’s ghost in a grove of dead, ash-white trees near the very cusp of the Afterworld – but he is not alone. There are more ghosts there – fragmented, half-sentient ghosts of Saga, Castiel, Tibié and Max himself!
Talking to their own ghosts, the heroes work out that they must have died (in some surprisingly awful ways) exploring The Black Meridian during previous cycles of the fate loop; when the loop reset, their souls returned to their bodies, leaving only these shells behind. As the sound of the bell is overwhelmed by a terrible grinding, shattering din, Mrrurrr tries to convince the most recent Max-ghost to return with them, but his soul is pulled back to the tower by cords of fate. Still, she manages to channel a little of her knowledge and ebbing lifeforce into his soul, hopefully blunting the effects of the fate loop, and the heroes leave the borderlands before the ghosts consume them.
With a rush of light and colour, the adventurers rematerialise in the brig, in front of an astonished (but still trapped) Abraxas – they’ve escaped the loop! They’re soon joined by Max and Saga – both are still trapped in the loop, but Max’s retained enough of Mrrurrr’s knowledge to get a powerful case of deja vu and know where to find his vanished friends. (Saga’s confused by all this, but wise enough to roll with it.) As they discuss next steps, Abraxas tries to convince them to free him from the Wizard King’s bindings so that he can help them escape. Castiel offers a compromise – he’ll release Abraxas if the devil binds itself to him instead, so that he can prevent it from working its evils upon the Dragon Empire. The devil agrees, and dissolves into oily smoke that infuses both Castiel and the magical binding chains, which Castiel takes up to use as a weapon.
Short on time, the heroes climb further up into the tower and discover the upended and smashed quarters of its crew, most of whom are missing. They find a few corpses of human-ish folk with runes flickering around their heads; Abraxas’ knowledge washes greasily through Castiel’s mind and he identifies them as arcanites, post-human servitors reshaped by the Wizard King’s magic. The size of the quarters suggest a crew of around 25, wielding considerable magical power – a formidable force, but where are they? Most likely on the ship’s former command deck or bridge, along with – perhaps – the chance to end the fate loop permanently.
So long as they don’t succumb to the dangers between them and the top of the tower -dangers that killed some of them before…