Hardy finds a greater calling and leaves the party. The party is downhearted but can only continue on, which they fruitlessly do. Fortunately, an encounter several days later with an anti-magic cleric and a scout interjects hope. Shared values and goals lead to the formation of a new party. This new party soon has their first trial.
Hardy continues to pull away the party and their mission. He has been a faithful member of the party, driven to explore the Cauldron, fulfill the mission given by Krisyra, and patch in the memories lost of his old life. But now, adventuring and searching and discovering have become less important. The lives of the workers of Gathela, Ferran, and the massive underground world of mining and depravation has replaced that adventure in his heart.
He is spending more time in the Worker District, a densely packed area of warehouse dwellings and entrance pits to the greater underground metropolis of Gathela. The miners and processors that get to live above ground are lucky. Most people (mostly humans) never see light.
There, Hardy helps heal people, fixes things that need fixed, and takes the side of the weak when violence erupts.
On a standard reconnaissance run, the party notices a thick drift of smoke from deep inside the city. Hardy knows where it's from. He asks the party to help and they reluctantly follow.
A tertiary effluent plant and part of a neighboring housing complex are on fire. A chain of workers are drawing water from an open sewer while the Gathela firefighters look on dispassionately. The party helps. Their rich clothing draw stares but they work unbothered.
The full front face of the housing complex trembles and lurches as its load bearing beams melt. Workers are streaming out. But hardy runs in. He knows the building could collapse, but his people need help. He has infernal heritage and he knows he can stand the heat.
As soon as Hardy enters, the building collapses. The party is stunned. It's too hot to approach.
Hardy receives a telepathic a message from Hardy: "I'm fine, I slipped underground. The situation is desperate. I'm needed here. Please go on without me." Orryn and Hardy exchange several messages, but Hardy's mind is set. He will stay underground in Gathela until the workers have the freedom they deserve.
Hardy is now unreachable and it's slowly sinking in that he won't be continuing on. The party is dejected: down Hardy, no where closer to getting on the Fortress, their temporary transmutation surely reaching the end of its duration.
They settle into a daily pattern of aimless wandering and drinking at a second-story bar that overlooks the great plaza that separates the Fortress construction from the rest of the city.
On their fourth night of mourning, down on the plaza beneath the second-story bar patio of the Trunnion inn and restaurant where the party has chosen to pass the night, the Gathelian Tormgar and friend Manos are on an evening walk, casing the town for magic users. Tormgar is looking for people he can recruit into the Umbrella or mark as heretics.
Tormgar can sense and detect magic with a hound's precision and it's with this ability he notices several dense magical auras from the second story balcony of the Trunnion. He must investigate. He heads to the front door, past the minder, and up the stairs.
Manos has aggreed to come, but will follow in shadow. He approaches potential conflicts with the care of an expert scout: information first, action later. He follows Tormgar unnoticed up to the second floor and out onto the balcony.
Tormgar spots the party, grabs a chair, and sits at the party's table. He asks if anyone in the party is evil. Someone says no, and he is fully and completely (and absolutely irrationally) satisfied with the character of the party. He says "great" and sits. Tormgar puts people into two buckets, "good" and "evil".
The awkward introduction from Tormgar and reticence from the party somehow turns into a protracted conversation.
Manos decides he wants to be seen and approaches the table. Tormgar introduces him. He's an Tabaxi, a peculiar humanoid race that they haven't seen in Gathela.
Deep in their converstation, close to closing, party learns that Tormgar and Manos share the same goal: they want on the Fortress. It might be worth meeting again and continuing their conversation. A new party is formed.
As the conversation stretches out into evening, the (new) party notices a male Dwarf step in and out of the second story staircase several times, apparently keeping an eye on the party.
Later, down in the Plaza, Orryn spots several figures in hooded travel robes coalescing towards the Inn. He surmises they must be armed. The party tracks the figures to the restaurant entrance. There are six in total.
They show up on the second floor and walk outside onto the balcony. Selene gets up to great them. They want to know who everyone in the party is, what they want, what they're doing, etc.
Selene is able to diffuse the situation, despite Orryn's drunk attempts to draw attention from the Dwarven women in the interrogating party. Selene convinces them that they're only here to seek adventure on the Fortress. The Dwarves take everyone's name and refer them to some bureaucratic post within the city.
Relieved, the party decides to close their tab and leave.
Orryn's is the first with astute enough eye to catch a dim, stationary light on the horizon outside the city. It doesn't twinkle light a star. Over the next few days the pinprick of light gets bigger, reveals its extent. It's something big.
The party notices high-level engineers and Administrators are in panicked disarray. The news leaks that the incoming object is a Fortress that has returned several years prior to it's expected date.
Orryn and Manos secretly trail several higher-level Administrators and manage to get a few tidbits of good information:
As the new party continues to plan and keep watch over the approaching Fortress over the next couple days, Tormgar receives notice from his leader of a new important effort that needs his help. The Umbrella is building a small flying ship they are informally calling the Minnow with the intent of using it to board and enter the Fortress. It's being built outside the city, down in the Cauldron, away from view.
But there's a problem. Anything from up in the plains that finds its way down in the Cauldron receives attention, and this construction effort is receiving more than its share. The site has been fighting off biweekly attacks.
Tormgar and Manos share this information, and the rest of the party, fully interested, wants to help.
They trek an hour outside the city, down into the Cauldron, and to the construction site, a large, unseemly collection of welded metal and magical apparatus. They keep watch.
Later that night, a group of eight Rutterkin attempt to raid the site. The party uses the descending, rocky landscape to their advantage and dispatch them. The ship is unharmed.